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World Bicycle Day: Germany sees COVID bike boom | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW


A few years ago cyclists in Germany could only look enviously at cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where bicycles have long been an integral part of everyday life.

But now, from narrow city streets to wide country roads, bicycles are everywhere in Germany. The number has increased dramatically in recent years and in some urban areas bikes are even beginning to be the dominant mode of transport.

Boost from the pandemic

The pandemic has given bicycles a further boost. In 2020, around one million more bikes were sold than the year before, an increase of around 35%, according to the German Bicycle Industry Association.

On average, people spent almost €1,000 ($1,217) on a new bicycle, more than twice as much as in 2010 (€460). This increase can partly be explained by the increased number of more expensive e-bikes.

During the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, many people switched to bicycles, especially to avoid public transport. And while gyms, theaters, and restaurants were closed and group sports were banned, a bike ride was always possible.

Transport Minister backs bikes

Ahead of World Bicycle Day on June 3, German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer presented his “Cycling Plan 3.0.”

“We want to make Germany a cycling country,” he said in April. “Coronavirus does not have many positives, but we do see one positive: A boom in cycling.”

Scheuer now plans to provide tax incentives for the purchase of expensive bikes or e-bikes, just like train tickets. The minister from the Bavarian center-right CSU party has been criticized during his tenure for promoting more car traffic — but now he wants to double the number of cyclists in Germany by 2030. That would mean people cycling an average of around three kilometers a day, compared with one and a half at the moment. The government plans to invest €1.46 billion in cycling infrastructure by 2023. 

Conflicts between cars, pedestrians, and cyclists

This can inevitably lead to problems if cars are forced to share the roads with even more bicycles. Pedestrians also often suffer when more cyclists use the sidewalks.

Many cities and municipalities are planning separate but expensive bike lanes, with large bike parking garages at stations, as already exists in the city of Münster.

In addition, many bicycle bridges are planned to go over busy roads. And there are even bicycle highways in the works, such as in the western Ruhr region. Ultimately this bicycle highway with wide cycleways in both directions will connect around 10 cities and be over 100 kilometers (62 miles) long.

‘Shared mobility’

For renowned mobility researcher Andreas Knie, improved bike infrastructure is only part of the answer. Building expensive new bicycle lanes from the suburbs into the city center, as the city of Berlin is planning, will not address all the issues: instead, the future is a model that Knie calls “shared mobility.”

Knie himself owns neither a bicycle nor a car and believes that bike and car-sharing schemes need to be expanded.

“We’ll have a lot more mobile work and we’ll have to learn to share cars, even in rural areas,” he told DW. “And to rent bikes instead of owning them.”

 

Accidents at traffic hubs

But until that happens, more and more bike enthusiasts and car drivers will be fighting over fewer road and parking spaces. And accidents occur primarily at busy traffic junctions, as a study by the Insurer’s Organization of Accident Research shows.

According to the study, some 66% of all accidents which injured or killed cyclists in Germany occurred at major road junctions. It could be a long time before Germany is truly bicycle-friendly.

This article has been translated from German.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.





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