Small means of transport with a big future

With increasing environmental and health awareness and in the face of massive traffic problems created by individual automobile traffic, two-wheeled means of transport are gradually taking over the cities. Find out how the infrastructure is adapting to this new bicycle mobility in our article.

200 years ago, the Baden inventor Karl Drais presented his first running wheel, the prototype of all means of transport moved by muscle power – the ancestor of all bicycles. With such wheels, children today are still learning to balance on two wheels, and we are learning to rethink and correct a development that has marginalized the bicycle from the mass transportation vehicle it once was until the 1950s to a mere recreational vehicle.

The triumph of the automobile has almost made us forget the importance of Drais’s invention for the development of modern urban societies by offering everyone affordable access to individual mobility. The car-oriented topography of our cities has virtually cemented the displacement of bicycles, leading to their functional fragmentation and, in some cases, their desolation.

However, with increasing environmental and health awareness and in the face of massive traffic problems created by individual automobile traffic, the bicycle is gradually taking over European cities again. In many places, bicycle-friendly municipalities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam are seen as the ideal by transportation and urban planners oriented toward sustainable mobility, but this seems to be achievable only with considerable investment in bike lane networks and public parking facilities. From an urban planning perspective, traffic concepts that take into account the interests of all road users also open up the prospect of a higher overall quality of life in cities.

Infrastructure adapts

The tenacious struggle of citizens and well-organized bicycle lobbyists is gradually leading to a rethinking of policy makers “from the bottom up” and across party lines. In order to create a bicycle-friendly infrastructure, municipalities and states depend on the support of the federal government, and the federal government seems to understand this more and more: As part of the National Cycling Plan (NRVP), for example, the federal government now invests 100 million euros a year and participates in campaigns to (re)popularize cycling among broad sections of the population.

According to the current NRP, the share of bicycles in urban and rural areas is to increase to 15 percent in 2020 – a not necessarily ambitious goal, the realization of which, moreover, is not assured, transport experts complain. The potential is more likely to be 40 percent or more, and not just in Denmark or the Netherlands: Until the start of the car boom in the 1960s, the proportion in Germany was also around this level, says scientific transport expert Dr. Heiner Monheim.

Bicycle advocacy groups are calling for at least an eightfold increase in federal funding, as well as a series of measures and reforms to ensure and accelerate the implementation of projects that promote bicycle mobility across the board, including interdepartmental management of all bicycle issues in the various ministries.

The bicycle renaissance

While politicians are hesitantly reorienting themselves, society is rediscovering the bicycle and its many uses, from tourism to urban logistics. Bicycle rentals, which already exist in all major cities, complement carless mobility and, in conjunction with car-sharing services, make owning a car superfluous. Improvements and innovations in equipment and accessories, as well as electric assist drives that help even the untrained over any mountain, are revitalizing the bicycle industry, creating and securing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Environmental scandals are virtually impossible with this emission-free mode of transport, and the internationally agreed decarbonization of the global economy, a prerequisite for successfully combating climate change, will remain a mere vision without a significant expansion of bicycle mobility. Interest in making our way of production and living more sustainable is therefore likely to increasingly feed into the green image of the bicycle.

Unbroken enthusiasm

200 years after its invention, the bicycle still inspires. According to the German Federal Ministry of Transport, around 82 percent of the German population use it regularly, and the “small” means of transport certainly has a great future in Germany, where the bicycle and the automobile were invented. The prerequisite for this is that it succeeds in making its use more attractive in everyday life. Then it can hold its own in a sustainable mobility mix and assert its unique advantages.