Berlin Bicycle Referendum – being safe and comfortable on your bike

Berlin Bicycle Referendum – being safe and comfortable on your bike

The Berlin Bicycle Referendum aims to improve the situation of Berlin bicycle traffic. It is our goal to make cycling safe and comfortable resulting in more Berliners using their bikes – with benefits for climate, health and generally a more pleasant city for everyone to live in. The referendum criticises Berlin’s senate for only very slowly implementing long promised measures to aid bicycle traffic. The Berlin Bicycle Referendum drafted a law (RadG) that shall make Berlin more attractive to cyclists. A referendum proceeds in three stages. In stage one 20.000 people and in stage two 7% of the registered voters – ca. 175.000 people – have to sign. Finally in the third stage – the actual referendum – at least 25% of the registered voters and 50% of the votes need to be in favour of the draft law to transfer it legislation.

The senate estimated the costs to be at about two billion Euros over a period of eight years. In contrast we expect the costs to be much lower at 320 Million Euros. The discrepancy is a result of the senate calculating with exaggerated numbers for numerous measures as they include necessary efforts to overcome the lack of modernization that has piled up over the past years. Therefore, Berlin will be facing those costs regardless of the outcome of the referendum. On the other hand multiple potential savings – as for example lower health expenses – and federal republic and EU subsidies, as for environmental projects, were not included.

In June 2016 with the help of hundreds of volunteers Berlin Bicycle Referendum finished collecting signatures all over Berlin and handed them in to the Senate’s administration. More than 100.000 people, five times as many as needed, signed within three and a half weeks – a clear indicator that Berlin is ready for a fundamental change in its traffic policy. At the moment those signatures are being counted and checked for validity. Afterwards form and content of the draft law will be checked to be in accordance with legal requirements.

Why the Berlin Bicycle Referendum?

More and more people in Berlin are using bicycles for their everyday mobility – despite the fact that the situation on many of Berlin’s streets demand cyclist to be of considerable capabilities. Or even plain courage. Ask yourself: How many kids do you see cycling throughout the city? How many elders?

Cycling is a quick, affordable and environmentally friendly mode of mobility. In times of a turnaround in energy policies, climate change and increasing particulate pollution in cities supporting bicycle traffic in conjunction with public transport and pedestrian traffic is the way to go for a change towards sustainable mobility.

In effect the space of the Streets needs to be redistributed in order to cope with the increasing share of bicycle traffic. Safety must be increased and sharing the public space in a fair manner shall be reached. A true freedom of choice for the preferred mode of transportation is the goal – cutting the privileges of private motorized traffic.

This vision of a lively and pleasant city includes making the public space available to everyone – and everyone shall be able to move freely and safely in a healthy environment.

Transport policy does not value bicycles enough

The Berlin Bicycle Referendum and Berlin’s senate fundamentally agree: Riding bikes increases overall quality of life – an increased bicycle traffic is good for Berlin. As a matter of fact the senate’s strategy for bicycle traffic actually is really promising. The problem is, how slowly – if at all – it is implemented. For instance, over the past three years only three of 50 intersections that had been identified as particularly dangerous were redesigned. Due to lacking manpower and insufficient cooperation between senate and districts the already small annual budget for bicycle traffic is regularly not fully used. Over the past five years alone 4.6 million Euros were not spent. So money is not as much the limiting factor as are lacking ability and will to invest it for bicycle infrastructure.

As demonstrated in other major cities: It is possible – if it’s desired

Nowadays Berliners are longing for situations as found elsewhere in Europe, where more and more cities realize that traffic problems, high accident counts, climate change and pollution only can be met by using bikes. Madrid, Barcelona, London, Paris, Oslo and many more are competing for the title as the world’s bicycle capital currently held by Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Those cities differ from Berlin mainly in the political will to create a city that is fit for the future.

Numbers show how Berlin has long fallen behind in this development: Berlin’s annual budget for bicycle traffic is just over ten million Euros or around 3.80 Euros per citizen. In contrast the amount of money spent per citizen by the major cities mentioned above is greater many times over. In most of them this number is between 15 and 25 Euros per citizen and year – in Oslo it’s even 35 Euros.

Taking transport policy in our own hands

The Berlin Bicycle Referendum consists of a group of people of widely different ages and professions. It is a broad spectrum of activists for environmental issues, bicycles and city policies as well as people who engage actively in societal issues for the first time. The referendum aims to redirect Berlin’s policy finally bringing new impulses for bicycle traffic. In cooperation with associations such as the ADFC  in November 2015 ten goals were formulated for a change in transport policy. They include an interconnected network of bicycle boulevards, safe bike lanes at all main roads and a network of bicycle highways. We also demand additional parking spaces for bikes at public transport stops, as well as bike orientated traffic light settings and improved road safety in the neighbourhoods and safer traffic situations particularly at intersections. For the implementation and to ensure cooperation between districts additional traffic planners are to be hired and dedicated departments for bicycle traffic shall be created within the senate and the districts. Last, not least, bike patrols and public relations work are needed to ensure a fair mobility for everyone – no matter if in cars, public transport, on foot or bike.

Our ten goals are the basis for the law that has been drafted by the initiative in cooperation with experts, many activists and the public over a four month period.

10 aims of the Berlin Bicycle Referendum

Aim 1: 350 kilometres of safe bicycle boulevards

Aim 2: Bike lanes, at least two meters wide, at every main roads

Aim 3: Making 75 dangerous crossroads safe every year

Aim 4: Transparent, quick and effective removal of defects

Aim 5: 200.000 parking spaces for bicycles in streets and at public transport stops

Aim 6: 50 main road sections with continuous waves of green light for cyclists

Aim 7: 100 kilometres of bicycle highways for commuter traffic

Aim 8: Police cycling squads and a special investigation groups for bike theft

Aim 9: More personnel for a centralised bicycle department

Aim 10: Sensitize Berlin for more bicycle traffic

What will be the next steps?

steps of a referendum in Berlin (grafic: Rabea Seibert)

The steps of the Volksentscheid Fahrrad

The first step has been very successful: Our team and many supporters of our initiative have collected more than 100,000 signatures and handed these over the Senate’s administration during a celebrative ceremony. This means that we are one step closer in reaching our goal. But what is actually a referendum and how do we continue after this first step?

In Berlin, organisations have the right to organize a referendum. Hereby, a 3 step process is used: (1) the application of a petition to hold a referendum, (2) the petition itself, (3) the referendum. For step one, at least 20.000 valid signatures which support the petition have to be handed over to the Senate Administration. These signatures have to be collected within six months. In our case, our petition also has the goal to implement official legislation. This means that a draft version of this legislation has been provided to the Senate too.

When the Senate receives the application for the petition, it will check its eligibility. This is done by checking the validity of the signatures provided. As a rule of thumb, 25% of the signatures is invalid, because one person has signed the petition several times or people who signed are not official residents of Berlin. Furthermore, the draft law will be examined by the Senate, if it fits the legal requirements.

When the validity of the application has been proved correctly, the real approval of the legislation needs to be organised. Within 4 months, the organisation has to collect approximately 175,000 valid signatures. The House of Representatives then has the opportunity to discuss the draft law within four months and to adopt it the same as it was handed over by the organisation. Also, the House of Representatives, can present alterative legislation, as was the case with the Tempelhofer Feld referendum. If the legislation is not adopted by the Senate, an official referendum will be organised. The inhabitants of Berlin will then be asked to officially vote on the petition.

What is the relation between the referendum and the 2017 national elections?

There is an official quota in Berlin, that at least a quarter of the Berlin electorate must agree to the legislation presented in order to make it official. To increase the amount of voters, it is beneficial to align the voting of our initiative with regular elections, so that enough people will vote. Therefore, we decided to align the voting of our petition with the national election in September 2017. Although this increase the pressure for us to act fast, it will also increase the chances of success considerably.