Last November, politicians, environmentalists, and bicycling enthusiasts gathered in Mülheim in Germany’s Ruhr Valley — one of Europe’s major industrial centers — to open the first 11 kilometers (7 miles) of a planned 100-kilometer biking highway that will run from Hamm to Duisburg. Thirteen feet wide and reserved exclusively for cyclists, the bike highway, dubbed RS1, will pass through cities, suburbs, farmland, and industrial areas, and connect four major universities, with part of its path following an abandoned railway line. The bike thoroughfare will also parallel a major highway, the A40, which project organizers hope will entice increasing numbers of the region’s residents to forsake their cars and ride bikes to offices, shops, and schools.
"We will introduce cycling highways as an official new type of infrastructure in our state’s laws, " said the transport minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Michael Groschek, who called the construction of the bike freeways an "historic moment for transportation policy."
A cyclist headed to Mülheim train station on the first stretch of a planned 100-kilometer bicycle highway.The Ruhr area, with more than 5 million inhabitants, is spearheading a growing movement across Germany to construct wide, protected, cycling highways designed to encourage ever-greater numbers of people to begin using bicycles as an important mode of transportation. In Berlin, bicycling enthusiasts are building public support for a plan to create a network of at least 100 kilometers of cycling highways connecting the periphery of Berlin with the city center by 2025. If completed, these highways would mark a new era of cycling for the 3.5 million inhabitants of Germany's capital and beyond.
In Munich, planners are considering a network of 14 proposed bicycle highways and are now moving on developing the first one, which would run between the city boundary and adjacent municipalities to the north. Other cities including Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Nuremberg are also in the process of creating this new infrastructure for cycling, known as dedicated highways. A key goal is to get commuters out of their cars.
The push for cycling highways represents a fundamental change in how cities treat bicyclists throughout Germany and in other European countries. For a long time, the Danish capital, Copenhagen, and the Dutch metropolis, Amsterdam, were lone champions of pro-cycling strategies in Europe. But that spirit is now spreading across the continent, and Germany — a leader in renewable energy generation and home to a population with a deeply ingrained conservation ethos — is beginning to play an important role in the cycling revolution.
Until a few years ago, bicycling in Germany was considered a minority pastime and a decidedly hippie-like way of commuting to work.The push for cycling highways represents a fundamental change in how cities treat bicyclists in Europe. Today, it has become a mainstream activity considered not only cool, but also something like a duty for anybody who says he or she cares about the environment.