The term “Model Bike Neighbourhood” (Fahrradmodellquartier) awakens fantasies and desires in me. It sounds like “city of the future” and rather cool. It sounds like a neighbourhood, in which everyone can move in the public space with the same right and without fear. People like to hang around outside and engage in conversation or participate in public life. Cargo bikes are being shared and walkways and spaces are free from parking cars. Nobody is run over by two-ton metal boxes, nobody is harked at or pushed aside. Air is pure – besides the Neustadt watermark of malt and liquid chocolate – and you can hear the birds singing. Cars play but a marginal role.
In answer to a call by the federal ministry for the environment (Bundeswettbewerb Klimaschutz im Radverkehr), an alliance formed made up of the University of Applied Sciences, the ADFC (bicycle advocacy group), the local network of cultural initiatives, local parliament, a number of kindergartens and others. Together with the Senator for the Environment of Bremen they drew up a project draft and applied for funding of such a “Model Bike Neighbourhood”. The chosen projects are about to be announced by the end of this year and Bremen expects chances to be high to receive funding of around 2.4 million Euro for implementation.
Initially, I was surprised by having a dream suddenly filled with life. Soon after, a feeling of curiosity and even, unfortunately, a certain distrust spreads. How do the initiators imagine a “Model Bike Neighbourhood”? Meaningful civic participation in the formulation of the draft plan has not taken place and only limited opportunities are planned for the future. The concept is ready, as of now only the money is missing. Even though not all details are known, the general gist of the project is not hidden from the public. An information event at which the quality of the catering dwarfed the possibilities to give input as well as an early version of the project plan and a couple of media reports are available and draw a general picture how the “Model Bike Neighbourhood” Bremen Neustadt could look like, if the money is coming in at the end of this year.
These are the key facts & figures and planned measures of the initial project draft:
- Space: Alte Neustadt between Friedrich-Ebert and Langemarck streets as well as betweeen Am Deich and Lahnstraße.
- Time frame: Implementation until the end of 2018.
- Implementation of cycling streets (Fahrradstraßen) on most streets with the slogan of “cycling zone”. Exceptions are Wester/Oster, Friedrich-Ebert and Langemarck streets.
- Installation of asphalt corridors on cobblestone streets for greater cycling comfort including on Roland, Delme and other streets (not included is Rückert street).
- Calmed traffic area (similar to shared space) including street level elevation on Neustadtswall between the night club Modernes and Langemarck street.
- Improved possibilities for crossing of Wester/Oster and Langemarck street.
- Up to 360 additional bicycle stands and the replacement of 10 car parking spots.
- Installation of a bicycle center (Radstation) on the campus of the University of Applied Sciences offering safe bicycle parking, sanitary installations, gastronomy, (self-help) bike repair shop, (cargo) bike lending system etc.
- Improvement of bicycle parking (simple and roofed bicycle stands) at three University of Applied Sciences sites (Neustadtswall, Flughafenallee and Werder street).
Alte Neustadt could become a “Model Bike Neighbourhood” and for taking this initiative thanks is due to the initiators as well as to the Senator for the Environment. We are hoping Bremen will be awarded the funding for this project that is aimed at strengthening cycling and making our city more liveable. It can be perceived as an important step in the right direction, towards inner cities that carry less of a mark of car mobility. Yet, inspite the good intentions and the hard work put into the project by the initiators, there is room for constructive criticism. There is no intention of creating a near-car free and human-sized neighbourhood. At least two other essential aspects in climate and human friendly urban mobility planning are underrepresented in the project plan for the “Model Bike Neighbourhood”.
1. Whose city?
Without direct democratic participation there will be only limited ownership of the project by residents of Alte Neustadt. When is the paradigm of fake participation processes finally being replaced by a new understanding of the importance of truly shaping our cities together? During on-site inspections obvious mistakes can be ruled out and concerns can be voiced. But this is not enough, if nobody listens to these concerns. The city is a living, growing organism that is made by and for the people who live in it. There have to be well communicated, transparent and powerful tools of participation and shaping these kinds of projects. The lack of real participation in the present case is far from being surprising, yet it is regrettable. It should only encourage us more to use those forms of participation that we do have even more actively: getting involved in local parliament, citizen initiatives, even inofficial and self-organised planning workshops.
2. No bike neighbourhood in car city
The initiators of the project at hand conceive of the strengthening of cycling as enough of a penalisation of motorized private transport. Therefore they are planning almost exclusively infrastructural measures benefitting cycling. Yet, to fully unlock the potential for bikes, public space needs to be reconquered from car traffic. To be clear: In a neighbourhood in which everyone can feel safe enough to move about unmotorised there can be no right to free parking in puclic space and no unconditional right to travel by car, either. This demand may not be politically attractive and the initiators point out their step-by-step approach. The opportunity to embed infrastructural measures in a wider political concept is thusly foregone, however.
What are further measures that are conceivable and desireable to really make Alte Neustadt a model neighbourhood for cycling?
Real Cycling Streets
The proposed implementation of cycling streets seems impressive – but it turns out to be somewhat of a fraud. While the relevant law (StVO) makes it clear that cars may only use bicycle streets exceptionally, in Bremen the opposite is the case. Accordingly, there are only fake bicycle streets planned for the “Model Bike Neighbourhood”. Experience in Humboldt street and Parkalle show that bicycle streets open for all cars are not sufficient to make cycling and walking safe. Instead, cyclists should have priority in all of the project area and cars could be banned everywhere except Oster/Wester and Lahn street. Neustadtswall could be open only to the cars of residents, if parking space on public land should still be provided.
Effective Parking Management and Neighbourhood Car Park
The proposed number of parking spaces that will make way for bike stands is ridiculously low. The fact that not only residents but also tourists visiting the inner city or catching a flight at the nearby airport are using public space to leave their cars for free is scandalous. Effective parking management is urgently called for. A planning conference on this topic, after long delay, is finally planned for spring. A positive decision on the “Model Bicycle Neighbourhood” could support a climate and human friendly position in this process as well. An additional option could be the installation of a neighbourhood car park while banning all parking in the “bicycle zone”.
The “Model Bike Neighbourhood” is an encouraging first step and potentially one towards a more liveable city of the future. How far the project will carry and in how far the modal share of non-motorised mobility will be increased heavily depends on the implementation and engagement of the local community. If Bremen receives the funding, it will be our job to work towards a wholesome implementation of the concept. We need to do even more for Alte Neustadt to become a real model of climate and human friendly mobility. The project “Model Bicycle Neighbourhood” can be a good first step in that direction. Whether it will be, depends on us.