I’m profoundly disturbed by the notion that, as an experienced cyclist, I “should” ride in mixed traffic alongside cars and trucks. Doing so makes cycling more stressful and dangerous. As a non-motorized “lightweight” I’ve “lost” this “game” before I even start. What’s worse is that such “infrastructure” makes cycling more difficult and more dangerous for children, new cyclists, or people who simply do not want to play “road warrior.” When I’m cycling with my kids, I’m forced to follow them on the sidewalk; other parents simply do not even cycle, choosing the “safe” alternative of driving their kids everywhere. The stress and the imminent conflicts which mixed traffic cycling forces us to endure would not exist if adequate infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians were present everywhere.
What does Bremen do for cyclists?
The State of Bremen needs to do its utmost to make walking and biking safe and pleasant. Instead, we are forced into dangerous situations as a direct result of a lack of infrastructure. This infrastructure is lacking because decision-makers are too cowardly to take space away from private motor vehicles. Instead, private cars dominate public space and even illegal and dangerous behaviour is not sanctioned. Politicians continue to concentrate on winning elections rather than addressing the needs of society. This is particularly salient in transport politics, where democracy, participation, and equal rights for all are long overdue. Transportation infrastructure, like education, like electricity or water, are public goods and should serve society and its needs.
Cycling should not be a battle for my rights but a relaxed way of getting from A to B
Of course as an experienced cyclist I’m perfectly able to “assert myself” on the road. I can cite the correct paragraphs of the motor vehicle code every time a driver threatens me, I can use hand signals to indicate turns, I can always act in a perfectly law-abiding way at all times and be a role model for drivers and everyone else. But I don’t want to have to do so. Cycling should be a relaxed part of my daily life and not a battle for my rights and my physical safety. Cycling should not be a test of my will and strength, and my safety in public spaces should be guaranteed through the provision of transportation infrastructure and not through my constant vigilance. Again, this game is one I, as a non-motorized vehicle on an unequal playing field of mixed traffic, cannot win.
Are we being forced into a sort of “rule fetishism”?
I feel like I am forced into a kind of “rule fetishism” that has little to do with my reality and, above all, should not be my responsibility. Furthermore, slavishly following the rules does not make me safe. These are not isolated incidents but demonstrate the systematic failure of transportation politics. Furthermore, it represents a hierarchical and exclusionary way of thinking which, sadly, is all too often present within established cycling and environmental organizations as well as in many activists’ thinking.
In Bremen the number of cycling trips are decreasing because of the sacred car
The fact is that although Bremen’s infrastructure, which at one point was cutting edge in terms of bike paths, does not contribute to more people cycling. In fact, the modal split of cycle traffic is declining. Many bike paths are too narrow, and the intersections are often not planned for cyclists at all (Pappelstrasse, Kirchweg, Gastfeldstrasse, Meyerstrasse and the highway underpass at Neuenlanderstrasse, just to name a few examples here in the Neustadt). Furthermore, the ways in which transport planning is carried out does nothing to make more, and safer, space for non-motorized traffic, because politicians remain committed to the sacred car and too afraid of enraged citizens to do anything.
10 year old Elisabeth is afraid riding in mixed traffic
Recently, after a bike ride in mixed traffic here in the Meyerstrasse in Bremen’s Neustadt, my ten-year-old daughter told me that she is always afraid when she has to ride on the road with cars, even if she doesn’t show it. She asked me why the city doesn’t do anything about this problem, and I couldn’t answer her very intelligent question. The fact that people like my daughter – who is involved in Fridays for Future and who knows very well how important sustainable transportation is for her future world –are ignored in transport planning makes her – and me – angry.
Elisabeth one year ago
Too much focus on “bad cyclists’ behaviour” and little on the real dangers from car drivers
The fact that discussions around traffic safety continue to focus on the behaviour of individual cyclists- wearing helmets and reflective vests, never cycling on the sidewalk even if there is no safe or logical alternative, hand signals and “correctly” holding your line, rather than the objectively much more dangerous behaviour of motorists (speeding, holding a safe distance to other road users, obeying the laws for example with regards to parking), is a real problem and shows how non-factual such discussions are. An alternative would be what the transportation planner Julian Agyeman calls “democratic streetscapes,” where all groups in the population are not only invited to participate but are, from the beginning, explicitly involved in planning processes. (Agyeman 2013, p. 113; pp. 124-5). Social justice also includes participation, especially for disadvantaged groups, and this kind of democracy is long overdue in transportation planning processes. (see for example Stehlin; also Senatsverwaltung für Umwelt, Verkehr, und Klimaschutz).
I want to cycle safely, period
Cycling must be celebrated and also promoted. All people should feel comfortable and safe, especially in densely populated areas like Bremen’s Neustadt. And the measures that need to be taken should not only be small changes like a single intersection, rather should focus on overarching principles of making cycling possible, and safe, for all members of society regardless of how experienced, physically fit, or large they are. On days where my mind is somewhere else, or when I have my kids with me, days when I simply want to leave my stressful work day behind me, I want to be able to cycle safely. And I want my daughter to be able to visit her friends, and travel to school on her own, here in the Neustadt, and later on in her life.
I demand cycling infrastructure for all people who want to travel by bike – relaxed day trips, little kids on push bikes, disabled people on trikes, older people – everyone who wants to get around without a motor. This is urgently necessary for our society, but particularly now, when political decisions need to be made and actions need to be taken to ensure a safe, just, and emission free society.
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