Regensburg appeals strengthening of cyclists's rights in Germany
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Regensburg appeals strengthening of cyclists's rights in Germany

by Bjorn Haake at 7:30 AM EST   comments
Categories: General, Commuting, Advocacy

The city of Regensburg decided end of November to appeal a decision by the Bavarian Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Higher Administrative Court) that strengthened the rights of cyclists. The Higher Court had ruled in August in favor of Klaus Wörle, a member of the cyclists's advocacy group ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad Club). Wörle is fighting for the right to use the road as a cyclist. He lost his first two rounds but kept on fighting towards the higher courts.

Wörle is the head of the ADFC Regensburg. He used to ride from his living place to where his kids went to kindergarten, over a road with little traffic and a posted speed limit of 30km/h (19mph). Then in 2002 a bike path was built and its usage made mandatory.

"Where as a cyclist you could easily roll through before, you were now massively hindered," Wörle told Radwelt. Cyclists were no longer allowed on the road and had to share the space with pedestrians, dogs and cyclists coming the other way. The bike path was only build on one side, but made mandatory in both directions. This required cyclists making two unnecessary crossing movements in the westbound direction.

Wörle felt that contrary to what the law requires - that signs can only be put up if riding on the road is too dangerous - the restrictions made riding more dangerous by adding crossing movements. Crossing is where most accidents happen in reality. In addition, German law says that in a Tempo 30 Zone (e.g. speed limit is 19mph) no mandatory bike paths are allowed.

Despite the thorough arguments, two courts rejected the aim of Wörle to take down the signs. Wörle was going to leave it at that, fearing too many costs if he lost again. But Dietmar Habermeier, head of the ADFC Bavaria at the time, encouraged Wörle to continue. The ADFC would provide financial aid if needed.

So on it went to the Higher Administrative Court, who ruled in Wörle's favor. The court's ruling was important, as it specifically mentioned that in many places in Germany, the signage was not legal.

Habermeier told Radwelt that "I never had the desire to fight through the courts, but this case absolutely made me mad." Too many blatant violations against existing laws motivated Habermeier to continue.

Wörle hopes that the decision will trickle down. "Ideally, the road traffic authorities should be required to check all bike paths that were made mandatory and change them to voluntary usage."

Little known facts about bike paths in Germany

Some background on German traffic laws as it pertains to bicyclists: It used to be that bike paths were mandatory to use for all bicyclists in Germany. With the traffic code change of 1998, bike paths were only mandatory to use if they were marked with a specific sign (a blue round sign with a white bicycle on it, potentially sharing with pedestrians). In addition, only those bike paths that fit certain requirements would be eligible to receive the signs.

To make things more complicated, many bike paths already had the sign - before the law change simply to indicate a bike path. While local authorities were required to inspect each location to see if the bike paths fit the requirements, in reality this never happened.  So many bike paths have the sign without meeting the minimum engineering requirements.

Contrary to popular, world-wide believe, bike paths aren't always a good idea and aren't necessarily enhancing bike safety. The majority of side paths in Germany are very dangerous, especially if cyclists' speeds exceed five miles per hour. So for many cyclists, bike paths can be real death traps. Their dangers have been studied for many years and the latest numbers to come in were from Copenhagen. A thorough before/after study after building many bike paths came to the conclusion that accidents overall had increased.


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