Note that the explanatory captions on the video do not appear on portable devices. Please play this video on a desktop or laptop computer.
The German cycling organisation, the ADFC, recently published alarming criticisms of cycle paths in general which have been widely criticized by Dutch commentators. Remembering my own experiences on German cycle paths, I decided to make a video comparing the situations on the two country's paths, which you can see above.
|Waiting to cross the road in Essen. In Germany this often|
means a multi- stage crossing (more than one red light)
and a long wait. It's not like that here.
Dutch cycle paths are different. They've done a proper job. This is why Dutch cycle paths really are both convenient and safe.
The video doesn't claim to be comprehensive. Rather, it's the result of my looking at the small amount of video I shot in Germany, mainly near Leer, also the border near Rütenbrock, and finding similar situations which I'd already shot here in the Netherlands. Having visited other parts of Germany, and read comments by Germans about their cycle paths, I think it's fair to say that the conditions presented in the video are not far off normal.
|Essen: Take your pick by bike. Do you prefer a narrow|
shared-use path or a four lane highway ? In the Netherlands
we don't have shared-use paths. We do have wide efficient
British cyclists, comparing only with what they get in the UK, are frequently impressed by German cycle paths. I had several people say just this to me at a recent cycle show in Germersheim. The difference in quality between Britain and Germany goes a long way to explain why under 2% of journeys in Britain are by bike vs. 10% in Germany.
The Beauty and the Bike project compared the situation for German and British teenagers, showing quite clearly that cyclists in Germany in many places have an advantage over cyclists in the UK.
However, the difference between Germany and the Netherlands also explains why the Dutch cycling rate is nearly three times that of Germany. Any place which wants to truly achieve a high cycling rate really needs to copy from the Netherlands, where 27% of all trips are by bike. This country has achieved such a high rate of cycling because the experience of everyday cycling is not remotely like taking part in an extreme sport.
|Essen: "Cycle friendly city" ?|
A large part of the problem with Essen is caused by post second world war reconstruction, with the then considered to be "modern" wide roads. However, these problems due to old-fashioned car dominated planning can be overcome, as Nijmegen demonstrates.
Lessons to be learnt
On the positive side of things, in much of Germany you do find a reasonably tight grid of cycle infrastructure of some type or another. A tight grid of high quality subjectively safe routes is what enables cycling, just as has been found in the Netherlands. This is why cycling is possible by a fairly wide range of people in Germany and why roughly 1 in 10 journeys in that country are made by bike. However, the quality of this network falls well below that of the quality of cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands. This makes it is un-usable or inconvenient for those want to cycle fast (hence ADFC complaints) and not particularly easy to navigate, quick to use or so safe as it should be. In my view, the difference between the modal shares of Germany and the Netherlands can largely be put down to the difference in quality of the different country's cycle infrastructure as demonstrated in the video above. Germans want to cycle more, but their infrastructure makes it less attractive than it should be.
Campaigning for better infrastructure is a negotiation. If you ask for Dutch infrastructure, you are unlikely to get Dutch quality of infrastructure in the first instance. You may, if you're lucky, get the equivalent of German infrastructure instead. However, ask only for German infrastructure and you're very unlikely to get that either. If your aim is to see everyone cycling then always ask for the very best. i.e. infrastructure which works for all cyclists including the young and the old and the sporty, not a compromise which doesn't work for everyone. Campaigners must not have low aspirations.
Earlier this year a German TV programme showed how Germans are amazed at how bad cycling is in London. More recently, another German TV programme covered many of the same issues as I pointed out in my video about the problems with German cycling provision.
There's a lesson here. While countries like the UK may think that countries like Germany have achieved something worth emulating, this is not the right place to look to in order to progress. You need to set the highest possible standard, not set about copying something which the people who live with it don't actually find to be good enough.
The best examples of cycling infrastructure to emulate are to be found in The Netherlands, but even here you must be careful to select only the best examples. Don't assume that Dutch contractors will inherently do the right thing, because they won't.
Assen, the Dutch city which we live in, only started to claim to be a "cycling city" once and after the cycling rate climbed above 40% of all journeys. The website where the claim was made then was rearranged, and there is now no such claim made for our city.