Move over, bike lanes. Move wayyyy over. Germany put its pedals where its mouth is and opened its first bicycle-only highway, a three-mile stretch of protected roadway that is closed to cars and other motor vehicles. Unlike a traditional bike lane, which is separated only by paint on the asphalt, a bicycle highway is an entirely separate roadway where cyclists can zoom along on their merry way without worrying about car traffic at all.
Germany’s bicycle highway is just getting started. The existing three-mile stretch will be expanded to provide over 60 miles of car-free bike travel. The bicycle highway is intended mostly as a benefit to commuting cyclists, so the route will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum, and Hamm as well as four universities. Disused railroad tracks will be transformed into wide bike-only roadways in the Ruhr industrial region, making the most of existing infrastructure. A regional development group working on the project, RVR, conducted a use study and determined the new bike highway should take 50,000 cars off the road each day, since nearly two million people live within two kilometers (1.24 miles) of the route.
Europe’s first bicycle highway was approved in London earlier this year, and others are in the works in the Netherlands and Denmark. Bicycle highways are typically around four meters (13 feet) wide, with passing lanes, and overpasses and underpasses for crossroads. Just like roads intended for car traffic, the bike highway has its own streetlights and will be cleared of snow in the wintertime. The additional roadway in Germany has faced a number of hurdles, particularly when it comes to financing, but the reasoning for the trouble is unique. While the federal government is typically responsible for roadworks and waterways, cycling infrastructure falls under the management of local officials.
“Without (state) support, the project would have no chance,” said Martin Toennes of the development group RVR. He says many local governments would have difficulty paying for maintenance, lighting, and snow removal. Lucky, then, that a proposal is in the works to get 180 million euros ($196 million) from the federal government to fund the entire 100-kilometer route.