Germany is in the process of a cycling revolution, one that gas-guzzling Americans might well be wise to learn from and possibly emulate. Since the start of this year, an area of western Germany has been building a network of roads solely and specifically for bicycles. As of this moment the network is small – just around three miles long – but the ambition is to develop a 60-mile system of velo roads in the Ruhr Valley connecting Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm, as well as a number of important universities.
Once completed, this road system will allow over two million people in the area to get onto their bikes and move around without fear of cars, trucks, diesel exhaust and all of the other factors that make urban cycling a dangerous type of hell to endure.
More than just a regular cycle path, the road system for bikes will really be a miniature replica of Germany’s famous autobahn, 13 feet wide with traffic lights, passing lanes, overpasses and so on. It just won’t have the cars at all. According to studies, it’s expected that the new system will take 50,000 cars off the road each day as drivers occasionally swap getting behind the wheel to getting onto their bikes. It’s also expected that many people will switch to electric bikes as well to give themselves a helping hand getting up some of the hilliest routes in the region, although true cyclists obviously would call this cheating.
The Ruhr Valley region where this is taking place is not the only region of Germany that’s opening itself up for bicycle highways. In Frankfurt, they are planning a 30-mile route between that city and Darmstadt and both Munich and Nuremberg, as well as the capital city of Berlin are looking into feasibility plans to construct their own networks.
One wonders whether in years to come the whole of the country might have it’s own network of bike routes, matching the autobahn system in typical German efficiency.
Before that dream is fulfilled, however, the realities of financing come into play. Unlike the federal government, which pays for the road systems for cars in the country, when it comes to cycling that is strictly under the control of local authorities, and some have more money than others. In the case of the fledgeling Ruhr Valley network, the local authority and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where able to get 50 percent funding from the European Union, although this might not be the case throughout the rest of the country. It’s expected the full cost of the 62-mile system is going to come to around $196 million.Martin Toennes from the regional development group RVR, which is constructing and also part financing the new route said that without the state and EU contributions, the project would be impossible. Other parts of Germany are looking into funding options as parts of their feasibility plans in case that their systems don’t get state and EU support. Berlin, for example, is looking at getting private funding from business through providing advertising hoardings alongside their routes should they be built.
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Despite the differences in funding and the worries in being able to raise the money for these projects, most Germans agree that getting cars out of cities and getting more people out into the fresh air cycling can only be a good thing for both public health and the environment. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and in this case, no-one would bet against Germany in making this happen for the good of all.