Transport Minister Olaf Lies ennobles cities and districts with the title of "Bicycle-Friendly Municipality" – yet most cyclists are dissatisfied.
Bicycle-friendliness in Lower Saxony: It didn’t take much for Hanover to win the award Photo: dpa
The setting was large, the invitations went in the mail weeks ago: At the Academy of the State Sports Association, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economics and Transport, Olaf Lies (SPD), awarded the city of Oldenburg, the district of Bentheim, as well as the state capital of Hanover and the surrounding region the title of "Bicycle-Friendly Municipality."
In Oldenburg, 40 percent of all journeys are already made by bike – the city received the award for its management of bicycle traffic: At intersections, thermal imaging cameras detect the number of cyclists; traffic lights show green longer if necessary. The county of Bentheim was praised for the good condition of its bike paths as well as for a film designed to explain the meaning of traffic signs to refugees.
In Hanover, on the other hand, the blue markings of the City Ring and handles and running boards that make it easier to stop at traffic lights were enough to win the award. The region around the state capital was praised for creating bicycle parking at train stations, more space for bikes on light rail trains, and its so-called "stirrup program": 1,000 metal stirrups are to be installed each year, to which bicycles can be more securely attached.
"Cycling is booming," said Transport Minister Lies at the awards ceremony, which was embedded in a symposium called "Fahrradland Niedersachsen." With a 15 percent share of total traffic, cycling in Lower Saxony is "already above average," Lies added. It is important to "continue to develop sustainable concepts," said the minister, who also sits on the supervisory board of Germany’s largest automaker, VW. In Lower Saxony’s red-green coalition, the Greens in particular are pushing for special support for quiet and emission-free cycling.
This certainly seems necessary: In the last bicycle climate test conducted by the Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrradclub (ADFC), which is supported by more than 17,000 members in Lower Saxony alone, the cyclists surveyed in 2014 rated their situation in the state only slightly better than "sufficient." 32 questions, which asked, for example, about the condition of bike paths, conflicts with motorists, guidance at construction sites or bicycle transport on public transport, resulted in a school grade average of just 3.7 – the situation is similar in Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and Bremen.
"In Lower Saxony, there is only one bike path concept so far. We have been calling for a cycling concept for a long time," criticized Lower Saxony’s ADFC chairman Dieter Schulz. Things that go without saying, such as uniform signage for bike paths, are missing, as are secure parking facilities, for example in lockable bike parking areas, especially at train stations.
In addition, not even the preservation of the existing structure is secured. It is true that Lower Saxony, with almost 8,000 kilometers, is the state with the longest network of bike paths in Germany, Schulz said. "But according to statements made by the Ministry of Transport in 2014, 15 percent of the cycle paths are completely unfit for cycling," the ADFC man complained. "And another large portion is in need of rehabilitation."
"I don’t see any concept. The streets and squares look like they were made for cars and not for bikes."
There was also a lack of bicycle expressways, which, especially in a time of electric bike boom, not only in the Hanover region, connect the surrounding countryside and the city and thus promote an alternative to the car. Nevertheless, in Lower Saxony there is only one such expressway in Gottingen – and it is just four kilometers long. "Despite this, the state has so far not supported the construction of such cycling expressways at all," said the ADFC chairman.
As a result, Hannover, the most bike-friendly city in Lower Saxony, is still a long way from successes like those in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, where one in three trips is made by bike. In 2011, 19 percent of traffic here was by bike. The main reason for this is inadequate planning, criticized the Dane Mikael Colville-Andersen back in 2015 at an alternative urban planning conference: "I don’t see any concept," he said. "The streets and squares look like they were made for the car – and only after they’re built do they consider how to make room for the bike, too."