Green party politician Anton Hofreiter cycles to Berlin’s government quarter every day, riding through the heart of the city. And as a public figure, he makes sure he stops at each red light.
“Often I’m the only one.”
Cycling is a popular way to get around Berlin and Mr. Hofreiter is one of several politician cyclists who have cast aside their courtesy cars to pedal to the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament.
They only have one beef: not enough places to park their bikes.
“All through Berlin it’s the same story,” Mr. Hofreiter said, locking his old, rusted bicycle alongside a heap of other bikes.
Mr. Hofreiter grabs his briefcase and removes his bicycle clips. He does not wear a helmet.
The question of better protection for pedestrians and cyclists for cars misses the point, Mr. Hofreiter said. “Politicians should be changing the roads so everybody can get safely from A to B.”
But more and more people are taking to their bicycles in Germany and a recent survey found that over half of them feel safe on the roads.
It takes time to learn to share the roads. And sometimes, a little help is needed.
Germany’s government is steadily improving infrastructure for cyclists, integrating cycle paths along roads or pavements and including them in new roads.
Infrastructure is necessary to help cyclists. Without provision for cyclists and improving awareness, “Initially there is more likelihood for conflict with trucks and car drivers who think cyclists are taking their space,” said Rene Filippek, a spokesperson at Germany’s national cycling association
Mr. Filippek observed that Germany does not have as strong a cycling tradition as the Netherlands or Denmark. But Berlin is ahead of London and Paris where governments are just starting to invest in cycle paths across the cities, he said.
“Generally the more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer they are,” said Mr. Filippek. The number and proportion of accidents involving cyclists in Germany has fallen even as more and more people ride bicycles.
This is part of an effort by the European Union to reduce people’s reliance on cars. Cities across Europe are starting to offer car-sharing and bike rental services that help people integrate several modes of transport when planning their journeys.
Attitudes to car travel seem to be changing as young people opt to buy bicycles instead of learning to drive, Mr. Filippek said. “As a status symbol they would rather have an iPhone than a car.”
At the Bundestag, other politicians say they would get on their bikes if not for the aggression of car users, the danger of theft or the devil-may-care attitude of other cyclists.
If safety in numbers applies to cyclists, perhaps more politicians should get over their fears and take to pedaling.