Federal Court backs cyclists's rights in Germany
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Federal Court backs cyclists's rights in Germany

by Bjorn Haake at 1:58 AM EST   comments
Categories: General, Commuting, Advocacy
City of Regensburg loses appeal in mandatory sidepath case

Cyclists in Germany received good news Thursday from the Federal Court in Leipzig, concerning the mandatory usage of cycle side paths. The judges ruled that usage can only be mandated if the prerequisites set forth in the German traffic code are given. The groundbreaking ruling made the national news. The city of Regensburg was undeterred by the loss in the lower court, but was now handed a defeat in its appeal case.

The law had already changed in 1997, but many cities and communities continued and continue to mandate that cyclists use side paths in violation of existing law. Side paths are often in poor condition and rarely meet the minimum specifications that are set forth in the traffic code. Authorities did a lackluster job in checking on the merits of placing a blue bike path. The blue signs make a bike path that is adjacent to a roadway mandatory to use. There are three possible signs - the one pictured is for separate bike and pedestrian paths (the wording - "Cyclists dismount" - is not standard usage for bike paths in Germany...)

These checks did not happen very often - to the contrary, new signs mandating the side path usage were put up. This is what happened in Regensburg, when Klaus Wörle was suddenly forced to ride the wrong way. A bidirectional bike path was converted to a mandatory one. Wörle argued that the side path added more danger than riding on the roadway, with a posted speed limit of 19mph (30km/h).

The ruling is an important one, as other law suits are pending all over Germany. This will make it harder for cities to impede cyclists.

The city of Regensburg was arguing that paragraph 45 (9) did not apply to bike paths. The paragraph contains the following sentences: "Traffic signs and traffic infrastructure can only be put up where it is absolutely necessary due to certain circumstances. ... Especially restrictions and prohibitions to flowing traffic are only allowed if special local circumstances create dangerous situations..."

Interestingly enough the city argued that not many motorists obey the speed limit at the place in question. Rather than fixing the cause of the issue, agencies prefert to move cyclists out of the way. The idea of creating a zone 30 (e.g. 30kmh or 19mph) have the goal of slowing down traffic. By intermixing motorized and 'pedalized' traffic, awareness of each other will rise for both sides. This makes it easier to react to other traffic participants.

Bike paths are often the cause for fatal accidents, as the police reports confirm. On November 14, a woman died in Munich and on November 15, a 77-year-old was killed while riding on a bike path in Celle. Cycle lanes do not fare much better, as fatal accidents in Potsdam (October 22 and November 1) attest.

The Federal Court ruling is of special interest to faster cyclists and racers, who are often forced to dodge turning cars, pedestrians, dogs, exiting bus passengers and other sudden obstacles. Many studies have shown that riding on the roadway is safer for cyclists. There is a general re-thinking going on, with cities like Freiburg or Karlsruhe having abolished some bike paths. But there continues to be a large number of substandard paths, causing unnecessary accidents.


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