Suburban roundabout with a bicycle lane outside of Lübeck that experiences heavy cyclist volumes

The Joys of Bicycling in Berlin

Alta Abroad, Northeast
Collin Hodges

by Collin Hodges, Planner at Alta Planning + Design

The last week of May I traveled to Berlin, Germany for vacation, with a couple of side trips to cities like Lübeck and Bremen as well. Aside from exploring and practicing my German, like any good Altoid I was transfixed by the ubiquitous bicycling culture and the range of superb bicycling facilities. Indeed, bicycling in Germany was a pleasure, and not only in metropolises like Berlin. Bicycling was just as pleasant and just as much a casual part of everyday life for people in small towns and suburbs, and spandex-clad cyclists were exceedingly rare.

Probably one of the most representative photographs of this culture that I was able to take is the bicycle parking area at Potsdam’s central station (a satellite city just outside of Berlin):

This enormous bicycle parking lot shows how popular bike travel is throughout the city

This enormous bicycle parking lot shows how popular bike travel is throughout the city

I have been to Germany in the past, but this is the first time I have traveled (and ridden) through the country with the eye that I have developed as a transportation planner. My camera was constantly clicking and my mind just couldn’t quite fully disengage from planner mode, so here are a couple of points I noticed during my trip, followed by some select photos. Of course, some of these dynamics are dependent on cultural and economic factors partially induced by Germany’s land use controls, which result in consistent density even in suburban areas. However, much of it is a result of the coordinated and concerted prioritization of bicycling over time.

“Chaos” works.

Many bicycle and pedestrian planners advocate for a certain amount of social friction on our roadways that keep drivers on their toes and protect the most vulnerable users. In Germany, this concept works to a remarkable degree. In some cases vehicles share the road with bicyclists, street trams, crossing pedestrians, and buses, sometimes without clear right-of-way demarcations.

A (usually) extremely busy intersection with very few right-of-way markings in Berlin

A (usually) extremely busy intersection with very few right-of-way markings in Berlin

Opportunistic and “disconnected” bicycling
facilities work.

Cycling around Berlin drove home that connectivity often does not affect the bicycling experience. Sidewalk bicycle lanes led to on-street lanes, which then led to on-street shared space, and none of it was a problem—even for my dad, who was on the trip with me and who had never ridden on a bicycle on a city street before.

10-foot wide lanes are just fine.

Although most transportation planners would already agree with this, it was heartening to see a place where a maximum lane width of 10 feet functioned so well, even on high-speed arterials and in the face of so many users sharing the road space. Even on the Autobahn, famous for its speeds, lanes are usually no more than 11 to 12 feet.

Riding on sidewalk lanes works.

Bicycle lanes on sidewalks demarcated only by textured/colored paving (and the occasional physical barrier) function very well for all users.


Collin Hodges

About Collin Hodges

Collin is a Planner at Alta. He worked on the Daniel Burnham Award-winning Vision 2020: NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, coordinated bicycle and pedestrian advocacy initiatives at the New York Bicycling Coalition, and managed the placement and operations of a fleet of car sharing vehicles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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