Cycle tracks all round in Berlin, where pedal power is supreme

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The Independent Online

In Germany's cities, cyclists are kings of the road. No pedestrian would dare stray on to a cycle-path, lest he should cause affront to haughty saddle-bound travellers. There appears to be a conspiracy going on, with more and more of the rights of pedestrians and motorists usurped by pedal power.

In Germany's cities, cyclists are kings of the road. No pedestrian would dare stray on to a cycle-path, lest he should cause affront to haughty saddle-bound travellers. There appears to be a conspiracy going on, with more and more of the rights of pedestrians and motorists usurped by pedal power.

Take Berlin, for instance, a city of 3.5 million people, blessed with a cheap and efficient public transport system, and cursed with an inadequate road network. Everything seems to be designed around cyclists. Underground trains all have marked carriages where passengers can load their bikes - free of charge, naturally.

The German capital has a network of cycle-paths as carefully thought-out as a national motorway grid. There are 12 radial "highways" running like the spokes of a wheel from the suburbs into the centre, plus eight tangential routes linking them.

In addition, the city has developed an array of "secondary routes". If there is not one in your street, there is probably a cycle-path in the next one along. Cyclists are, in any case, allowed to pedal on the pavement. In total, Berlin has 1,000km of routes reserved for cyclists. To put that in perspective, the total length of the city's roads is 5,200km.

Minor cycle-paths are designed to connect neighbourhoods with their local underground, train or bus station. An increasing number of stations provide racks where bikes can be locked up during the day, if their owner does not fancy lugging them around.

It costs the city government about DM3m (just under £1m) every year to maintain the cycle-paths and to build new ones. A full-time official at Berlin's ministry of transport oversees the policy and planning of cycle-paths and other schemes designed to get people onto two wheels.

It has been estimated that there are more bicycles than cars in Berlin, but city officials are still dissatisfied with their low usage. To encourage residents to travel by bicycle, major thoroughfares are closed off to cars every once in a while and declared cycle-routes for the weekend.

Last month, most of the city centre, including the Unter den Linden, was thus turned into a temporary cycle-path. And last weekend, even a section of the inner motorway was reserved for bikes, causing massive traffic jams.

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