The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Dispatch from Munich; where old cycle tracks can’t keep up with demand

Posted by on November 8th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

In Munich, narrow cycle tracks separated from auto traffic have fallen out of favor and there’s a growing push for wider bike lanes in the roadway.
(Photos © Denver Igarta)

— This guest article was written by Denver Igarta. Denver is a transportation planner with the City of Portland who’s on a study trip in Europe funded in part by the German Marshall Fund.

Denver Igarta
(Photo © J. Maus)

In 2009, Munich’s City Council set the target of increasing the share of bicycle traffic from 14% to 17% of all trips by 2015. They embarked on a creative marketing campaign called Bicycle Capital Munich to help make it a reality.

Today, the city faces an awkward dilemma. The latest numbers show that they have reached the 17% goal four years ahead of schedule. Now, they must decide whether to continue promoting cycling, set a higher target, or simply be content with their success.

“The existing infrastructure — commonly 4 to 5 foot cycle tracks built two to three decades ago — is no longer adequate to serve the growing demand, and conflicts with people on foot are on the rise.”

And beyond the marketing conundrum, the cycling boom has been accompanied by rising concerns about inadequate facilities. Many who work for the city will admit the swelling number of people on bikes has caught them a bit off guard. And, the existing infrastructure — commonly 4 to 5 foot cycle tracks built two to three decades ago — is no longer adequate to serve the growing demand, and conflicts with people on foot are on the rise.

Coming from Portland, a city that has experienced its own cycling boom — from 2% to 8% commute share in 12 years — the issues of bicycle volumes exceeding capacity on the most popular routes is all too familiar.

Interestingly, the bicycling community in Munich is fighting for the right to use busy streets alongside motorists. The hottest issue among bicycle advocates in Munich appears to be the fight to eliminate rules obligating people on bikes to use narrow cycle tracks.

A cycle track pavement marking fades away.

The sign sporting the blue circle with bike symbol means riders must use the designated cycle track, which in the case of a narrow cycle track is increasingly viewed as more of a restriction rather than being granted permission.

The most fascinating aspect of Munich’s dilemma, for me, is the fact that the bicycle community is demanding wide bike lanes rather than cycle tracks.

Wider bike lanes preferred over cycle tracks.

On two popular bicycle routes, i.e., Seidlstrasse and Rosenheimerstrasse, the cycle tracks have been decommissioned and replaced with wide bike lanes (2 meters) on the roadway.

On Seidlstrasse, the only signs of the old roadway configuration are faint lines where the old travel lanes were once marked. The asphalt that once delineated the abandoned cycle track has been removed and replaced with the standard pavers used for Munich sidewalks. The width of the new bike lanes seems to offer ample space for riding side-by-side comfortably despite the steady flow of traffic. There are still some who prefer to have a separated cycle track, I learned from local experts. But most recognize widening the cycle track would require a complete, and costly, rebuild of the street. For now, it seems wide bike lanes are considered a big improvement and they allow the City to more immediately address the most hazardous conditions.

At the moment, the conversion of Rosenheimerstrasse is a work in progress. The asphalt of the old cycle track remains, but the signs clearly instruct riders that they are now prohibited to ride there. At the southern end of the street, a sign (white with red circle and bicycle symbol) has been erected forbidding people on bike from entering the cycle track. I still saw several people using the old cycle track, but most seemed content to follow direction and enter the roadway. This cycle track will soon be removed and the entire space will be given over to the sidewalk — which actually represents a bit of “mobility justice”.

You see, back in the 70s and 80s, Munich officials came to the realization that increasing automobile traffic was a threat to the City’s quality of life. As a result, they decided to build cycle tracks on nearly every major street in town. However, when they went to install the bicycle facility the travel lane was generally not touched, and the space was instead carved out of the sidewalk. The tight conditions for people both on bicycles and on foot have set the stage for the tensions that now exist. Only, today, the position of those advocating for bicycling and walking is much stronger.

The question still remains, is it strong enough to push for the removal of an existing travel lane or on-street parking where ever it is necessary? Time will tell.

— Read more dispatches from Denver on his trip blog.

Note from the editor: I have changed the headline from “…cycle tracks have fallen out of favor” to “… cycle tracks can’t keep up with demand”.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Dave November 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I think it’s important to note here that the issue doesn’t seem to be cycle tracks in general, but simply that they became too narrow for the number of cyclists, and people felt it would be easier to increase the space allotted by putting in wider bike lanes.

    If you look at the average Dutch or Danish infrastructure, for instance, the cycle track widths are more like 6-7 feet minimum, especially the newer installations.

    Basically, Münchners are having the same problem with their cycle tracks that we’re having with our bike lanes. They’re just too narrow for the number of people using them.

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    • Harald November 9, 2011 at 7:37 am

      I’m sorry, but that’s not the case. Portlanders might want to believe that “Europe” loves cycle tracks, but in Germany there has been a big push away from them and toward on-street lanes for several years now. Cyclists in Germany regularly get killed by right-turning trucks because cycle tracks put them in a spot where they are highly vulnerable and badly visible.

      Now you can argue that the example of the Netherlands shows that you can have both cycle tracks and no right-hook issues, but in Germany the current conclusion is that separate facilities and their mandatory use are not the solution.

      All this has nothing to do with demand and it’s unfortunate that the new headline to the article now implies just that.

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  • Spencer Boomhower November 8, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Denver, my sense is that cycle tracks can, here in the states, be thought of as offering refuge to the “interested but concerned,” those who might be not feel the painted line of a bike lane offers them enough protection, particularly older folks, kids, or parents with their kids on their bikes. Is there an analogous group in Munich? One of my most striking memories of Germany is of an older lady in street clothes trucking down one of those sidewalk/cycle tracks on her bike – it wasn’t a sight I was used to seeing in the states, and I took it as (anecdotal) evidence that that kind of infrastructure can get that kind of person on bike. How do you think that lady would react to the removal of cycle tracks? Do you suppose the ability to ride on a cycle track might have, over time, given her the confidence to get closer to car traffic on an unprotected bike lane? Or would she miss the cycle track once it’s gone?

    Obviously you can’t speak to what’s going on inside that particular person’s head, but I’m wondering what your sense is to the demographic breakdown over there; how riders at various confidence levels feel about protected infrastructure vs unprotected bike lanes.

    Great write-up, thanks for keeping us posted. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

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    • 9watts November 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

      “I took it as (anecdotal) evidence that that kind of infrastructure can get that kind of person on bike. ”
      that little old lady was already there – before the paint, before the path, the track, the lane. I grew up in Germany in the seventies (before any explicit bike infrastructure was installed), and the old folks, the grandparents always constituted a substantial portion of the folks biking. Many of them never got drivers licenses, and having always biked, there was very little reason (to my eyes at least) for them to stop. Same in the eighties and nineties when I lived there. I am less sure what the demographic range of bicyclists is today.

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  • Richard Campbell November 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    A rather unfortunate headline and article that misses the the real issue. A lack of long-term planning for cycling networks.

    Cities simply are not properly planning for bike route capacity and safety upgrades as well as routine maintenance. In Vancouver, for example, almost all the cycling facilities built over a decade ago need both capacity and safety upgrades. Unfortunately, it seems like many cities are not planning on this and do not allocate anywhere near enough money for these upgrades. The other problem is that bicycle facilities are not being planned for future growth. New facilities should be built so they can handle the growth in bicycle traffic for at least 30 years.

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    • Alex Reed November 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      Looks like Jonathan has edited the headline; I like the new headline better.

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  • Jessica Roberts November 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    It seems to me that the moral of this story isn’t that cycle tracks as a facility type are deficient, but rather that when you sacrifice sidewalk space instead of travel lanes for bikes, everybody loses…

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  • spare_wheel November 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    And ironically in PDX we are replacing wide bike lanes with narrow cycle tracks (see Moody).

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    • Hugh Johnson November 8, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      that’s a cycle track? it appears to be new sidewalk.

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    • Chris I November 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      When did Moody have wide bike lanes?

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  • Graham Smith November 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    New headline makes more sense and more positively.

    The German Urban Road Manual RAsT06 presumes facilities for cycling, everywhere, but I haven’t noticed it addressing the large cyclist capacity issue.

    The context in Haren, Netherlands was that a rebuild of the main street in mid 80s, with a bike path segregated from the ‘car’ carriageway, became too congested by the early 2000s. Hans Monderman responded to the congestion issues by creating a shared-space. There are hardly any physical barriers to crossing by foot, cycle or where possible, by car and the speed of motor vehicles is moderate (on average 36 km/hour; V85= 43 km/hour). Motor vehicle flow is 9k vpd and 4k for cyclists. Some complaints from a cycling organisation relate to the unusual position of cyclists sharing with other traffic, but here the available space obliges this solution.

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  • Alexis November 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    This is actually one of my concerns with separated infrastructure. When you are sharing the road, it’s easy from a technical standpoint to dedicate some space for cycling, or to expand that space: just paint. Whether that happens depends on the politics, but at least it’s not usually a huge budget problem.

    Whereas usually when separated infrastructure is used, you have a hard limit on space, and expansion is going to be not just politically hard but technically hard/expensive. It looks like Munich is doing a decent job considering the situation — they’re doing the cheap expansion, and in the process walkers get more space too.

    One way to mitigate this is to repeal any mandatory sidepath laws/rules that exist. I would advocate for this in any case, but it’s especially useful if separated infrastructure is part of the toolbox.

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    • spare_wheel November 9, 2011 at 8:09 pm

      The combination of a mandatory sidepath law and “lowest common denominator” separated infrastructure has turned me into a foaming at the mouth vehicularist. I have yet to meet an experienced commuter who does not loathe the B-way cycle track.

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  • Denver Igarta November 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks everyone for sharing your comments. It is nice to get feedback while I’m still traveling. Yes, there is concern about the less confident riders, particularly the younger and older ends of the age spectrum. And, today the spectrum remains remarkably wide. My wife is originally from Munich, and her grandmother rode a bicycle for errands well into her 80s. Young children must ride on the sidewalk until they are eight and have the option to use the sidewalk until they turn ten. Some of those I spoke to commented about extending this option to older children and seniors; however, that would require a change in the laws. Still, the comfort-level on the new bike lanes is quite high (as you can tell from the picture of the three girls riding carefree side-by-side). They have made the bike lane “as wide as possible” without giving drivers the false impression that it is another travel lane or on-street parking.

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  • Denver Igarta November 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Jonathan, One correction…my trip is entirely funded by GMF. Thanks, Denver

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  • matt picio November 9, 2011 at 2:11 am

    Richard Campbell
    The other problem is that bicycle facilities are not being planned for future growth. New facilities should be built so they can handle the growth in bicycle traffic for at least 30 years.
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    Not necessarily – it depends on what’s driving the growth. If growth represents a shift from motorized transportation to non-motorized, and if that trend appears to be long-term, then it doesn’t make sense to spend on new infrastructure rather than repurposing existing pavement. The existing paved infrastructure in cities carries an enormous cost; in absolute dollars (or other currency), in stormwater costs, right-of-way acquisition, and other costs. In the current economy (and for at least the next 5-10 years), there isn’t a lot of discretionary funds for large new infrastructure projects, and much of what’s available is being used to repair existing pavement. This is a funding environment that requires thinking smarter, outside the box, and multi-purpose.

    OTOH, if overall growth is driving the growth in cycling (i.e. the mode share remains constant), then perhaps new infrastructure is the best option. That’s not the case, however, in Munich (or in Portland).

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  • resopmok November 9, 2011 at 7:16 am

    One of the “problems” associated with trying to determine a bicycle’s place among other mode of transport is the wide variability of speeds that different people ride at. For some, speeds are barely greater than walking, from 8-11 mph or, and for others, they approach nearly 20 mph. The former is manageable on small facilities with low volume, and the latter really does belong on the street with faster moving traffic, where they don’t represent a danger to pedestrians. Obviously most cyclists fall somewhere between, and so does the needs of the facility to appropriately accommodate them. Unfortunately without unlimited right of way and budget to segregate traffic by speed class, we must make do to some degree with the paved areas we do have and make compromises in travel in order to make sure everyone stays safe on the road. There are seemingly a lot of people who think these rules shouldn’t or don’t apply to them, creating hazards on the roads, leading us back to the egg of segregation which sits next to the chicken of integration.

    The reason Muenchners want to take more space on the roads is because they need the volume capacity to support the additional cycling population, and the only right of way which currently exists to accommodate them are those roads. Fortunately Germans are pretty good rule followers, so I doubt it would really impact (literally) the population in a significant way.

    To bring this problem home for a moment, let’s suppose that Portland’s ridership suddenly shot up to nearly 30%. It seems doubtful that the Springwater, or even (the proposed and not even built) Sullivan’s Gulch trail would be able to handle the daily commute volume. We would need to take back full lanes of major arterials like Burnside or Sandy in order to handle that much more. This would be no problem though, since those bikes would be replacing cars on the road so not as many travel lanes for them would be needed.

    I didn’t really mean to turn this into a cycle track bashing rant, but I want advocates for them to take these logical points into consideration. Cycle tracks are desirable to protect people from lawbreakers and dangerous drivers, but do not provide a long term solution to handle the real volume that would be created if all the “concerned but interested” actually did take up cycling for reals. They are also expensive, due to the redesign and rebuild of the surrounding right-of-way (see congressional budget related article).

    The best way to promote cycling: place greater restrictions on driving, make it more expensive, and prevent dangerous drivers from taking to the roads. Unfortunately this is also political suicide, so we’re basically effed for now.

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  • q`Tzal November 9, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Logic fault:

    Cyclists in Germany regularly get killed by right-turning trucks because cycle tracks put them in a spot where they are highly vulnerable and badly visible.

    Right hooks occur with on street paths and bike lanes. Cycle tracks in themselves are blameless in the case of auto driver carelessness except in cases where visual obstructions are added between the motor vehicle lane and cycle track.

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    • Dave Thomson November 9, 2011 at 9:06 am

      I believe that is exactly what he meant by “badly visible”. That includes putting people where drivers don’t expect them (and don’t look for them), which applies to anyone crossing an intersection in a two way cycle track going against the flow of motor vehicles. This is the exact reason why riding on a sidewalk against the flow of traffic is statistically the most dangerous place to ride.

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    • spare_wheel November 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      both cully and broadway have a barrier of parked cars that make it difficult for motorists to see a cyclist until they enter the intersection. in my experience bike lanes present less risk of a right hook than portland’s poorly designed “cycle tracks”.

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      • NF November 10, 2011 at 8:55 am

        Cycle tracks are designed to bring bicyclists into the visibility of drivers prior to intersections. You think Cully doesn’t do that soon enough. How much length do you think is required for adequate visibility by drivers on a street like Cully? 50 ft? 100 ft? 200 ft?

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        • spare_wheel November 11, 2011 at 12:40 am

          the cully and b-way cycle tracks could have been positioned adjacent to the traffic lane which would have made cyclists far more visible.

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    • are November 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm

      where right hooks do not occur is where the bike is claiming the lane, in front of or behind the nearby cars and not to their right

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      • q`Tzal November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm

        Darn Straight!

        Vehicular cycling all the way!
        Where I diverge from John Forester’s manifesto is on the potential safety of separated cycle facilities.
        As they are developed now they are engineered, at best, to pedestrian guidelines in terms of safety, sight-lines, speed crossing priority and right of way. Usually much worse.
        “Common sense” tells drivers that they do not need to stop for a cyclist crossing a road when the auto driver has no signed guidance indicating that they have to.

        For separated cycle facilities to be legitimately safe they need to be engineered to the same safety standards as automotive roads.
        I expect that that would remove the cost savings than come from just cramming a cycle facility on to a preexisting road.

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  • oliver November 9, 2011 at 9:10 am

    The problem I see with the cycle track that they are trying to get away from is that from a cyclists perspective, it turns the main travel route, which is met or intersected by a multitude of side streets, into many de-facto side streets which intersect a number of roadways just before these roads intersect the main travel lane.

    This recreates the problems associated with riding on a sidewalk and forces motor vehicles to stop twice before joining the main arterial. I certainly don’t want to stop every block, but riding into a street from a sidewalk without stopping is suicidal.

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    • was carless November 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      Most European blocks are many, many times longer than Portland’s. Munich city blocks in the central city can be on the order of 1,200 ft or longer – 6 times that of a Portland city block. Hence, fewer crossings.

      In Amsterdam, some blocks are around half a mile!

      That makes it so much safer than in Portland, where we constantly have to be “on the lookout” for a car creeping out past the crosswalk as it nudges its way into traffic.

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  • Richard Masoner (@cyclelicious) November 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Apropos given the mandatory sidepath law in S.1813 currently on the Senate floor.

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  • dothebart November 12, 2011 at 2:39 am

    I must admit, I don’t know these streets in munich, but I know a lot of cycle lanes in germany.
    The average picture is, that inner city every 10 m you have a high frequent exits of a supermarket, gas stations, other parking lots (its not that big as in the average USA generica) and smaller streets.
    In all of these junctions you will face the risk of a “sleeping” motorist knocking you off.
    You will cycle right next to pedestrians, which are able to step aside (into your way…) every moment.
    Then you have cyclists riding into the opposite direction (even motorists, see the videos on for example) because of there are cycle ways open to use into both directions, and some which are not.
    These risks might be accepteable up to a speed of 15 km/h, which you reach with those holand cycles;
    but if you have a modern cycle with a descent gear or even a roadbike (or maybe a pedelec…) 25 to 40 km/h are no problem to reach; and using cycle lanes with them is like half a suicide.

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  • Richard Campbell November 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    was carless
    Most European blocks are many, many times longer than Portland’s. Munich city blocks in the central city can be on the order of 1,200 ft or longer – 6 times that of a Portland city block. Hence, fewer crossings.
    In Amsterdam, some blocks are around half a mile!
    That makes it so much safer than in Portland, where we constantly have to be “on the lookout” for a car creeping out past the crosswalk as it nudges its way into traffic.
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    In Vancouver, we have small blocks too with alleys and driveways. The separated bike lanes have proven to be much safer than the painted bike lanes they replaced.

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