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I have seen the future and it's got pedals attached.
Englishman ROBERT POOLE experiences a very different approach to cycling on a visit to Germany.
‘I have seen the future and it works' was one American visitor's comment on revolutionary Russia in 1919. As the revolution didn't work and is now in the past, such claims are clearly risky. Recently, however, I paid my first visit to Germany, and I can proclaim: I have seen the future and it works with pedals.
Simply, I saw cyclists treated as normally as pedestrians, and mixing happily with them.
To be more accurate, I didn't see “cyclists” as such, for the term commonly implies a distinctive category of road users. What I saw was a lot of people of all ages and types, shapes and sizes, who happened to be using cycles for all sorts of purposes. And they were all over the place: on the road, on roadside cycle paths, on shared-use sidewalks, or simply on the pavement. Even in the busiest pedestrianised part of the centre of Munich, room had been found for a pair of dotted lines a couple of yards apart marking off a channel for cyclists, who passed through every few seconds.
And they didn't keep ringing bells either. Ding-a-ling! Here comes Noddy on his bike! Ding-a-ling! Look out, you naughty gnomes! None of that in Munich or Augsburg, even though they lie in the most conservative part of Germany. Here, passing cyclists create no more of a ripple than a shopping trolley or a buggy.
All this seemed to be taken completely for granted. In some pedestrian zones some cyclists got off and pushed, so perhaps you weren't supposed to cycle there, but there were no forbidding signs, and no policemen to stop people. The situation seemed to be self-regulating. Where there were lines painted on the pavement for cycles, people walked in them anyway and cyclists just melted through. I spent some time watching over several days, and never once saw anything that threatened a collision, although I saw plenty of cyclists and pedestrians very close to each other. Germans on cycles, at least in urban areas, simply cycle slowly, mostly on upright roadsters, often with the instep flat on the pedal, occasionally with an ice cream in one hand.
Quite commonly, pavement riding is officially sanctioned. Germany has one road sign that England doesn't: a blue circle, containing hieroglyphics of a parent and child above a bicycle, with no dividing line between them. It indicates a motor-free path or zone for pedestrians and cyclists without distinction. The parent and child logo is a nice touch, reminding other road users what to look out for; it is found on “home zone” streets in particular, but also others. In home zones, people old and young cycle freely, and no contradiction is felt between pedestrian zone and cycle access. This is what home zones are for: creating an area where children in particular can play and learn to cycle, and to grow up to be full citizens of the streets and not mere pedestrians clinging onto the sidewalks.
In England, raise the question of cycle access to pedestrian areas or seaside promenades and the prospect will immediately be conjured up of (as one local councillor put it) “hordes of racing cyclists terrorising old ladies”. Cyclists here are still thought of (wrongly) as athletic males charging around at speed, or as two-wheeled juvenile delinquents. Even on segregated shared-use paths, walkers flatten themselves against the bushes two hundred yards in front of you, seizing errant children with cries of “mind the bike!”
Recently in Lancaster the road safety lobby staged a children's cycling event in the city centre pedestrian zone. Children had to walk to a small reserved area where they were lectured briefly on the need for helmets, then equipped with full safety gear and allowed to cycle around a prescribed course on cycles supplied by the organisers. Nothing could be better calculated to drive cycling out of the normal traffic environment to the recreational margins. And how does our government go about targeting anti-social road use? By enforcing the laws against speeding, pavement parking and drink driving? No – by introducing on-the-spot fines for pavement cycling.
Where there is a true cycling culture, this sort of nonsense doesn't happen. You don't expect to race through city centres in Germany, but you do expect to get through. In Germany, cyclists are people too.
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