Frequently Asked Questions

This section provides an overview of Frequently Asked Questions on cycling in Berlin, as well as on the aims of the Volksentscheid Fahrrad (VEF) and our ideas for implementing our initiative. If you have additional questions which are not mentioned below, please send your question to fragen@volksentscheid-fahrrad.de.

General questions about the initiative

“Why should cycling be promoted?”

Bicycles are the most modern means of urban transport: they produce neither CO2 emissions, nor particulate matter, or NOx. Further, bicycles are very quiet and require little space, which is of a particulate concern in congested cities like Berlin. The more people change their habit and use bikes instead of cars, the better the life quality will become in the city. A general misconception is that cycling is slow: In reality, within the city centre of Berlin, you can usually reach your destination faster by bike than by any other means of transport. Furthermore, cycling is cheap, fun and good for your own and other people’s health. Cycling also poses a lesser threat on the safety of other modes of transportation, such as pedestrians, than motorized traffic, and uses public space more efficient, creating  space for various other functions.

“Aren’t there enough cyclists in Berlin?!”

The lack of quality of cycling lanes in Berlin has discouraged many people who want to ride a bike. For example, elderly and children will be able to cycle more safely through the city when the Volksentscheid will has been  implemented and safe and fast cycling lanes have been built. Examples from other cities, such as Amsterdam, New York, Barcelona and Copenhagen, have shown that expansion of cycling infrastructure reduces the number of accidents significantly, while at the same time, increasing cycling traffic. We want to follow these examples and enable everyone to cycle fast and safely through the city of Berlin.

“Why should a specific means of transport be promoted over all others?”

As of now, car transport is massively promoted and subsidized in Berlin. Our initiative aims at giving the bike the status it deserves in modern urban transport. Studies have shown that cycling infrastructure accounts for only 3% of the public area in Berlin, while car infrastructure accounts for 60%. The idea of stimulating motorized transport in urban policy started in the 1950s, and although it has been proven to be very negative for the life quality in the city and the allocation of public space, it is still standard policy in Berlin. Modern cities like Berlin should be actively promoting sustainable transport, such as cycling, for example by providing high quality, separated cycling lanes.

“Does the Volksentscheid Fahrrad only represent a small group of people?”

Cycling is beneficial for everyone, from small kids to old grandparents. Even the former Senator of Berlin, Geisel, recognised cycling as the newest way of mass transport for the city of Berlin. Cycling is available for all ages and for all income groups. In the city centre, more kilometres are being covered by bike than by car. According to an environmental study by the BMUB (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety) (2014), 82% of all Germans want to reduce car transport in the cities and would prefer to reach their destination by bike instead of by car.

“Berlin is and will always be a car oriented city!?”

All means of transport will stay available in Berlin, as there are different reasons for the individual inhabitants to choose a specific means of transport for reaching their destination. However, public transport, cycling and walking are highly beneficial for the well-being of the entire population of the city. They contribute to a cleaner environment, improve the air quality, reduce noise pollution and will make public space more efficient, creating room for other functions. This will make the city a better, safer, clearer, healthier, and quieter place to live, thus benefitting  all inhabitants. A survey by Berliner Morgenpost has shown that 62% of all inhabitants of Berlin support the goals of the Volksentscheid Fahrrad. We are hence supported by a majority of people who really demand change.

“Mainly young men between 25 and 45 are cycling in Berlin. Will the law not mainly benefit this small group?”

In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where the conditions for cycling are better than in Berlin, the majority of cyclists are women, children and senior citizens. In Great Britain, on the other hand, cyclists are predominantly male and young, while many women and elderly are deterred from cycling by the hostile traffic situation. Also physically disabled people will get the opportunity to move independently and safely on bike lanes, using adapted vehicles, when safe routes are becoming available. Bike lanes will also allow for sufficient space for family bikes (bakfietsen) or city cargo bikes. Our initiative aims to make cycling possible for everyone in Berlin, irrespective of gender, age or physical condition. Everyone has the right to feel safe on all streets of the city!

Infrastructure and conditions

“Berlin is not Copenhagen. Other conditions apply here.”

In Copenhagen and other bicycle-friendly cities, cycling lanes do not end at the city boundaries; the city centre can thus be reached comfortably and safely by bike from the outskirts. The total area of Berlin is larger than cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen; however, Berlin provides ideal conditions for developing a cycling culture: Berlin is very flat and green, and the roads are wide in comparison to the aforementioned cities. Furthermore, many people in Berlin already possess bicycles and are willing to cycle. Therefore, Berlin has the potential to become Europe’s #1 bicycle city. #. Furthermore, due to the lack of a traditional city center, a large part of social life in Berlin takes place in the respective neighborhoods, where distances are usually not larger than in other cities. Currently, , 50% of all car rides  in the city are less than 5 kilometers long. Almost all of these trips could easily be covered by bike, as confirmed by the number of cyclists in Berlin, which is already quite high despite unfavourable cycling conditions,  Other metropolitan areas, such as New York, Paris and London, have succeeded in developing high-quality cycling infrastructure within just a few years. As a result, the amount of bicycle traffic in these cities has increased significantly . These cities serve as  the proof that it is possible to develop good and safe cycling infrastructure in just a short period of time.

“What is the problem, you can cycle anywhere in Berlin, right?”

Safe cycling requires a coherent network of independent cycling lanes in order for for people of all ages to reach their destination relaxed, safely and fast. The Volksentscheid Fahrrad therefore advocates for bicycle highways for longer distances, which  would allow commuters to switch from car to bike and reduce CO2 emissions and street congestion. Another goal of the Volksentscheid Fahrrad is to make bike lanes on the main roads wider than they are as of now. This specific measure, which is recommended by traffic experts, is already an objective in the Senate’s cycling strategy. However, thus far, , the Senate has not taken any steps to implement this strategy. The results: currently, 50% of all main roads in Berlin have no bike lanes. Furthermore, of the existing bike lanes, the major part is unsafe, narrow and not sufficiently separated from the sidewalk. Finally, as long as separate bicycle infrastructure sections remain disconnected from each other, cyclists have to join motorized traffic on the road to transit from one bike lane to the next. Unsurprisingly, this leaves cyclists vulnerable, resulting in a significant number of casualties.

“Why do cyclist cycle on the streets, while there are bike lanes available?”

It is a little known fact that  cycling is permitted on 85% of all streets in Berlin. This is because legislators  recognized that cycling on the road is often safer than on poorly  maintained cycling lanes, with broken stones, garbage and illegally parked cars. However, the Volksentscheid Fahrrad advocates for all newly developed or improved cycling lanes to be separated from car lanes, which would facilitate safer cycling. If the quality of the bike lanes improves, cyclist will not have an incentive to use car lanes any more.. As an example, the improvement of the cycling lanes on Columbiadamm or Straße des 17. Juni, has led to cyclist using the bike lanes. Unfortunately, many bike lanes in Berlin are in an extremely bad condition and dangerous to cycle on, because of damage from tree roots, poor pavement, lack of separation from the sidewalks and low visibility for cars, for example at intersetions. In conclusion, many cyclists in Berlin simply choose the lesser evil and cycle on the road.

Myths in relation to cycling

“Cyclists ride like crazy and do not obey traffic rules.”

First of all, an idiot remains an idiot, no matter whether (s)he is sitting on the bike, on the bus or in a car. In Berlin, half a million people cycle every day, with the behavioral spectrum spanning everything from extremely reckless to careful and cooperative. Therefore, part of our draft law focuses on enforcement of a legal cycling style. However, if the police ensured that cycling lanes are not blocked by illegally parked cars, there will be less of an incentive for cyclists to use the sidewalks. If there was a good, safe  and comfortable network for cyclists, and if traffic lights were installed such that they promote cycling instead of impeding it, no one would be able to justify bad cycling behavior. Even at the current, very sub-optimal, cycling conditions in Berlin, we do by no means encourage any kind of bad or reckless cycling behavior.

“Bicyles are annoying!”

One effect of the measures proposed in our initiative is that car traffic will become more efficient and fluid, as the number of conflict points between cyclist and cars will decrease. Best practice examples such as Copenhagen and the Netherlands have shown that a strong cycling culture can form the basis for a more efficient transport system and will make traffic more relaxed for everyone.

Questions concerning the effects on car transport

“The Volksentscheid only strengthens the conflict between car owners and cyclists.”

The opposite is the case: a well-developed cycling infrastructure reduces the number of conflicts between cars, pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, we aim to increase the equality between the various modes of transport in the city. All citizens of Berlin are free to decide how they would like to move. We do not argument based on believes or ideology, but we use well-founded evidence and constructive discussions in developing our actions. We understand that everyone wants to reach their destination quickly, comfortably, safely, cheaply, healthy, and environmentally friendly, and is able to choose their preferred mode of transport according to their needs. The bike however should be one of these options for everyone, also for children and seniors. The spatial separation of car and bicycle lanes as well as an increased visibility at crossings will reduce the conflicts between motorized traffic and cycling. Recently, we received prominent support from the “Autopapst”, a well-known car journalist. He acknowledges that car drivers will benefit from the Volksentscheid, while they will be no longer afraid hit cyclists.

“I will keep driving my car. Additional cycling lanes will use my space.”

The Volksentscheid does not fight against car traffic, but rather aims to reduce the number of problems and conflicts between cars and bikes in current traffic. The number of cyclists in Berlin is growing strongly, which is beneficial for car drivers. Imagine that all cyclists would start taking the car from tomorrow! The city of Berlin would turn into one big traffic jam the entire day. We think that cyclists and drivers both must be able to reach their destination in a relaxed way. However the infrastructure needs to meet the growing demand for cycling. We do not block car traffic by reaching our goals. On the contrary: when more people switch to cycling, more space and fewer traffic jams will occur for those who actually really depending on the car as a means of transport.

“Where do the cars need to park?”

Reduction of the number of parking spaces cannot be avoided. The limited space in the city cannot accommodate for more cars and more car traffic than Berlin is facing now. It is no longer possible to maintain a policy of so many free and cheap parking spaces in the public space while at same time increasing urban densification, which will lead to an increase in transport demand. The same amount of space of 1 parked car, allows for 10 bicycles to be parked. This means that an increase in bicycle traffic creates space which benefit everyone. A typical apartment building in Berlin consist of 10 to 40 housing units, while on the street in front of these buildings there is only room for 4 to 5 cars to be parked. This current system of stimulating car ownership and car parking is not sustainable and cannot work in the long run. Already, less than half of Berlin’s households own a car. Many people would like to switch to cycling if the cycling infrastructure would be better. This will also decrease the demand for car parks and reduces the problem. Also the politicians realize this and have set the goal to reduce the amount of cars in the inner city as much as possible, as stipulated in the never realized project “Masterplan Parken” developed by the Berlin Senate. Cruising, the so called looking for empty parking places, is a major problem in the city with environmental and health-damaging effects, caused by exhaust gases, particulate matter, NOx and noise pollution. Politicians are currently avoiding the parking subject by all means possible. But how long can they really pretend that everything is going okay?

Questions concerning effects on other means of transport

“I am a pedestrian and I feel unsafe because of the cyclists riding on the sidewalks. Why should I support your initiative?”

Bicycles do not belong on sidewalks, but on cycling lanes. At places, with high quality cycling lanes, hardly any conflicts with pedestrians occur. The Volksentscheid therefore advocates for clearly separated cycling and walking areas. Experiences from other countries have proven that cyclist will use well maintained cycling lanes if they are available, and will avoid using sidewalks for cycling. The city of Berlin has a large number of beautiful and wide sidewalks, which we would like to keep free from cyclist and parked cars. After all, cyclists getting of their bikes automatically turn into pedestrians.

“Logistical traffic is being blocked!”

We do not envy the drivers who have to supply businesses in the city of Berlin. Because of time pressure, and a lack of places to unload goods, many decide to park illegally on a second row or on the cycling lanes or sidewalks. Hereby, they are causing a major source of danger. Although, their behaviour has led to numerous problems and accidents, and negatively influencing the cycling and walking experience in Berlin, the police policy is aimed at ignoring wrongly parked delivery vehicles and other motorized traffic. The Volksentscheid Fahrrad therefore advocates for the establishment and maintenance of delivery zones, separated from cycling lanes. Politicians are able to set binding standards for these zones. In the meantime, there are companies in Berlin which have started delivering their goods by bicycles. This is a very sensible, environmental friendly, economical and space-saving development, which is promoted intensively by the draft legislation we developed. These companies are a very positive start of a transition to sustainable city logistics, but a lot more needs to be done. 51% of urban delivery traffic could easily be distributed to bicycles with regard to volume and distance.

“What impact does the VEF have on public transport?”

Cycling and public transport belong together. Both are part of an environmental alliance: they are good for the environment, save space and stimulate sustainable urban development. By creating separate bicycle lanes, cyclists no longer have to use bus lanes, as is the case now in many major streets in Berlin. This allows bus traffic to become faster and more punctually and will save costs for the bus operator BVG. Better cycling lanes to train stations as well as good bike storage facilities at the train stations will make it easier in the future for commuters to drive to work using a combination of cycling and public transport.

Questions concerning financing and implementation

“Is the implementation of your plans not extremely expensive?”

High quality cycling infrastructure costs money, we understand that. However, by implementing our initiative we  will win much more than we lose. Our plan will increase the quality of life for citizens in Berlin and function as an investment in the future of Berlin. The bike, in contradiction to other means of transportation, does not pollute the environment, does not produce toxic exhaust fumes and does not cause any noise disturbance. Money will be saved on the health care system, because cycling improves the physical condition of people. Furthermore, there will be a reduction of serious traffic accidents either between motorized vehicles or with other means of transport. Because bikes are not that heavy, the maintenance of bicycle paths is much cheaper than that of roads. Therefore, in the long run, a lot money will be saved.
The 10 points in the draft legislation we developed are not a luxury, but a reasonable compromise among transport options. It’s not just major infrastructural changes, such as cycling highways, that are cost efficient and have a very positive effect but also small changes, such as colouring cycling lanes red and putting separation poles on the sides. Building a 3 kilometre long cycle path costs approximately 400,000 euros. Building a three kilometre long highway, such as the A100 in Berlin, costs at least half a billion euros, so more than 1000 times as much. Together with experts, we estimated that the total costs for the development of a coherent, functioning network of bicycle lanes in the whole of Berlin would be around 470 million euros. Compared to the money spent on rebuilding the Berlin City Palace (615 million euro), or the 5 billion spent on the development of the new airport, investing in cycling infrastructure is peanuts.

“Is it possible to implement the measures at a later stage?”

“The law (red. The legislation developed by the Volksentscheid Fahrrad) ignores the administrative reality,” said Christian Gaebler (SPD), former Secretary of State for Transport and Interior Affairs. If the political will is present, however, much can be done in a short time. Good examples of this are cities such as New York, London and Paris. We found out that the public authorities only react quickly if there is clear legislation they have to work with. Mr. Gaebler and and Mr. Geisel (the former secretary for transport and present-day interior secretary of the Berlin Senate) have recently admitted that it would be possible to speed up the implementation of the 2013 Senate’s cycling strategy. But this first of all requires growing pressure from the inhabitants in order to take action. This confirms our assumption that the Senate is not investing any time in implementing its developed cycling strategy without a binding law. We have asked ourselves: Why has so little happened the past 10 years? Why, for example, have only two out of 20 points of the cycling strategy been implemented? And how is possible that the total money spent on cycling infrastructure officially has declined over the last 4 years, while the amount of infrastructure has increased? All this proves that the Berlin Senate have no intention to strengthen bicycle traffic and offer cyclists safety and comfort. This has nothing to do with the administrative reality, but with a lack of guidelines and legislation developed by politicians. Moreover, part of the new legislation we developed focusses on creating new jobs in the Berlin administration in order to speed up implementation of the Senate’s cycling strategy. In the districts, the necessary coordination and planning centres will be set up to assist the Senate on a more local level.

“The city has committed itself already to improve cycling. Is that not enough?”

More and more cyclists get killed on the street of Berlin every year: In 2015, 10 cyclists died, and in 2016, this number rose to 17 cyclists, the largest increase in 10 years. Every year the air pollution from motorized vehicles is growing, because the total number of driven kilometres is also increasing. Research has estimated that per year about 10,000 Germans die at an early stage due to air pollution caused by car traffic. The Berlin Senate recognised these problems, and developed some good ideas in their cycling strategy. However, the political will to implement these ideas is still missing. While other major cities dedicate about 13 to 25 euro per year per inhabitant to stimulate investments in cycling, the Senate of Berlin only dedicates 5 euro per inhabitant. This is a huge difference. But even the 5 euro per inhabitant has not been spent in recent years. When the Senate adheres to its strategy of business as usual, it will take about 100 years to develop a decent cycling network in Berlin. Because the sense of urgency at the Senate is largely missing, the legislation we developed contains concrete targets and a clear timetable. This will guarantee timely investments in cycling lanes. However, recently, the Berlin Senate has decided to ignore all evidence from modern city planning and invest in new highways, such as the A100. This shows that the government of Berlin is largely ignoring real problems and is still focused on doing business as usual.

Questions on the impact on businesses

“Do retail stores lose customers when they become less accessible due to restrictions for car traffic?”

Concerns about the potential decline of the number of customers when implementing car restrictive measures have been expressed already 50 years ago, when the first pedestrians zones were created. Evidence has shown that the opposite of what retailers often think is true. Measures to reduce traffic speed and the development of cycling lanes, not only contributes to a more attractive living area, it also benefits the local businesses. People are spending more time in an area when it is more lively. A study has shown, that if shop owners create facilities for cyclists to park their bikes, it increase their turnover. In addition, research has shown that entrepreneurs largely overestimate the share of customers arriving by car (estimated: 58%, real number: 32%). The total sum of money spend by cyclists and car drivers is approximately identical and the sum spend by pedestrians is probably higher. Last but not least, the bicycle industry and the tourist industry are sectors with enormous economic growth potential.