Friday, May 15, 2009

Berlin, Germany

Our visit to Berlin was on Thursday, 5-14-09

Berlin is quite a large city with about 3.8 million people. It is quite a mix of old architecture, new buildings and the former communist state controlled buildings, which are quite unattractive. As with some other places we have visited, there is a combined view of bicycling, walking and public transit as "green" ways to move around the city. There is a very robust public transit system here with subways and on-street trams or what we would call light rail. They make the system very easy to use and encourage the combination of bicycling and public transit by allowing bikes on all trains with no exceptions and providing bike parking at major transit stops.

Although they are providing some bike facilities, their system is still in development. They are focusing on on-street bike lanes because the city government is quite poor based on some lingering effects of the reunification of east and west Germany. They also believe that bike lanes put bicyclists in a place on the road where they are more likely to be seen by motorists and therefore more safe. It is for this same reason that contra-flow bike lanes (2 way bike facilities on one way streets) are well excepted here. It is felt that it puts bicyclists directly in motorists line of sight.

The City has bike parking as a requirement of all new development with standards for the number of spaces and their placement.

One tool they provide to encourage cycling is a web based route planner for cyclists where they can choose what type of road they want to ride on - low volume, scenic, most direct, etc. and it will help them choose the best fit between A and B.

Like some other European cities, they have a city bike program with about 1500 bikes located around the city. To take one, you call a number that is on the bike, give the number of the bike and they provide a code to unlock it. You must register ahead and then it costs 8 cents a minute or you can pay a flat rate for a whole year. They are combining this program with transit passes to further encourage the combination of these two modes.

For pedestrians, they have a program around marking crosswalks. There is some debate about the value of adding crosswalk markings. They usually provide a median refuge and narrow the street in advance of the crossing whether or not the mark it and feel these measures add to the safety.

One innovative school based initiative they have done is to get student input on a map of the area around a school. Kids tell them where it is dangerous to walk, where they like to walk and where certain attractions like ice cream shops, are located. They plan to expand this program to other schools in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I knew divided Berlin when I studied abroad in the 80s (was even detained half an hour at the Wall), and visited again in 2006--REUNITED! Another reason why it is especially impressive for Berliners to use so much transit and bike so much is that unlike many European cities, car driving is a rather quick and easy way to get around Berlin, thanks to all those boulevards built to accommodate all those German and later Cold-War military vehicles. I was disappointed Berlin did not save the entire old Wall zone as some kind of pedestrian/bike/memorial way...friends from the East even now after almost 20 years of reunification still get a psychological lift every time they pass freely through where the old barrier was, but now in many places one cannot even tell where the old Wall passed, so its former location is (except at a few spots) fading from local memory as a younger generation replaces the older.
    Because Berlin's boulevards are so very wide, I can see why some might need narrowing for pedestrian crossings, but I have seen this "narrow the roadway" mentality used here in our local area excessively and indiscriminately, on streets that are already just barely accommodating bikes and cars side by side. When these streets are narrowed, the bikes are then forced (there is no bike lane or room for one) into the car(truck/bus) lane, which is a real drawback for the bike (and motorist too) on a busy American city street. A 12 or 13 foot cartway might not be enough for a motor lane and an AASHTO-approved bike lane, but in most cases it is wide enough for the motorist and bike to be side-by-side in 25-35 mph traffic. But a narrowed-down-to 11 feet or less spot is not. (And this narrower roadwidth does NOT slow the motor speed as much as sometimes is claimed, and a 5 mph speed reduction is worse for the bike than the maintenance of continuous clearance). Why bother to narrow roadwidth at all, if the pedestrian crossing distance was less than 25-40 feet to begin with---pedestrians do not need such a narrow streetwidth narrowed even more! So please be careful when adding the statement that "Berlin narrows streets before crossings" to "Berlin is good for walking" and concluding that therefore every American city should narrow any street at crosswalks.
    I am writing in reference to a recent "curb extension" program in Lancaster City, PA, which I opposed (most curb extension programs are a waste of infrastructure money--better spend to construct sidewalks where there are now none, for example--besides being often bad for cyclists). My opposition was unsuccessful, however, since the planning community has heard so many general positives about "shortened crossing distance" and they often don't take the time to analyze their local specific (context-sensitive) situation. So downtown Lancaster will now become worse for us bicyclists who will have to calculate "who gets through the pinch point/narrowed area first, me or that UPS truck?" because Lancaster is narrowing intersections which, unlike Berlin's, never needed narrowing.
    Richard Moyer