Katie Bonomo

Biking Berlin

I saw a man on the trail this morning with a kid in a bakfiets, and it reminded me of a trip I took to Berlin earlier this year. Of course, being a bit of a bike nerd, I was constantly comparing the bike-friendliness of my home city of Denver with Berlin.

Both cities are fairly flat and not terribly dense in terms of population. And both are in countries where many people love love love their cars. So it seems like a reasonable comparison. In Denver, 6.6% of commute trips are by bike, and about twice as many men bike as women. Whereas in Berlin, 15% of commute trips are by bike and women and men bike at about equal rates.

So what accounts for the difference?

Europe as a whole has a cultural history of cycling that we don’t have in the states, but there’s at least one other major factor at play. Berlin invests about $7 million each year to improve cycling infrastructure. Though Denver’s investment in cycling has been growing recently, the city spends much less. In 2015, Denver spent $900,000 on cycling infrastructure. There’s a lot that we could do with an additional $6 million each year.

So let’s take a look at what a city that invests $7 million each year in bike infrastructure looks like:

A photo tour of biking in Berlin

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All of the large, high-traffic streets that I came across had completely separated, above the curb side paths for bikes.

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And many lower-volume streets had nicely painted bike lanes.

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Ample bike parking was available everywhere.

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And they got a little creative with it. If I’m not mistaken, this bike rack was a rack for a glass truck in a former life.

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Berlin has a robust bike share system, but I have to hand it to Denver B-cycle. Tourists visiting Denver can use B-cycle as long as they have a credit card, while Berlin’s bike share relies on access via mobile phone. I had to recruit the help of my uncles who had German phone plans since I’d turned off my cell service.

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When you spend money on bicycle infrastructure, you can save on things like postal vehicles.

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An airport has been re-purposed into a park for walking, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading and even kite boarding. One of my favorite parts of the trip was biking around this urban park with my family.

Let’s do this!

It’s absolutely possible for Denver to get to this point. Recently I’ve seen more and more women with kids in trailers, bicycle-based food businesses and people finding creative ways to shop by bike. We can get there. We just have to be willing to invest in it.

 

Katie Bonomo

About the Author: Katie Bonomo

COMMENTS (4)

Scott Pearson - Reply

Yes, we’ve come along way but there is much more we could be doing. I bicycled 10,000 kilometers last year – normally do 5,000 miles a year. Weather certainly plays into it – but even in the coldest months, I can dress appropriately and find time to ride.

Stephen Pack - Reply

Seems worth mentioning that Berlin’s population is over 5 times Denver’s…

Joe Ramey - Reply

A few points: Berlin is very flat. More importantly than that, Berlin has a culture that has always included cyclists and pedestrians. When I visited Berlin, cyclists could be ruthless if you mistakenly walked in the bike lanes!

Riding a bike in Denver, in Colorado, or even in the USA in general is to struggle against infrastructure and societal mind set that has marginalized cyclists and pedestrians for roughly 80 years. Change can and will come, but it won’t be quick or easy.

Phil von Hake - Reply

Thanks and Nice Job, Katie!

Our Sep/Oct-2004 honeymoon was in Italy (Rome, Florence, Tuscany, and Venice). While I didn’t nec. focus on bike-specific infrastructure, I was pretty quickly struck by how much more of a true transportation “system” there is in Italy (and most of Western Europe, for that matter). We only rented a car for one day, only took 2-3 taxis … and then relied on trains, buses, vaporetti (Venice’s water buses), and WALKING for all other getting-around needs. I did check out a hotel bike for one quick trip, which seemed groundbreaking to me back then …

I may not have fully realized this ’til we got back home and right into the heat of Election Season. Candidates from parties regularly spoke of ‘Mericans’ God-given right to drive the biggest truck they can find wherever they want, regardless of the economic, health/environment, etc. consequences. I very quickly missed the system that we’d left behind for American “Exceptionalism” … !

Bike infrastructure has indeed come a fairly long way thanks to Bicycle Colorado, Bike Denver, et. al. … but I agree that it has a LOT further to go before it comes anywhere close to Europe’s. Thanks to Auditor Gallagher & Co. for reminding Denver to actually spend what they said they’d spend on it!

Thanks/Congrats Again . . . PvH

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