Urban development Cycling in Dublin and Berlin

Cycling in Dublin
Cycling in Dublin | Photo: GI Irland

As a student and tourist I cycled around Ireland in 1988 without a care, knowing nothing about the country. In June 2013, 25 years later, I had an unusual and unbelievably enriching experience when I came back to Ireland to talk about Berlin's policies on cycle traffic at the National Bike Week in Dublin. Now that I am a traffic planner, specialising in cycle promotion, I see Dublin through quite different eyes.

Berlin and Dublin are completely different cities with their own histories. A lot is barely comparable — from the civic infrastructure to the particular economic circumstances. Nonetheless, as I explored the city on foot and by bike, I felt myself sometimes reminded of Berlin. The city seemed to be changing radically after the financial crisis, and this showed itself also in matters of traffic. In Berlin this reorganization has been going on for about 10 years. The city's traffic development plan of 2003 was intended to effect a sharp reduction in Berlin's motor traffic.

The first successes are to be seen clearly in the behaviour of the population. Only 30 per cent of journeys are now made by car, but already about 15 per cent by bicycle. That is 1.5 million journeys by bicycle every day. Cycling has become a part of an urban life-style, and dominates the street scene in many parts of the inner city. Of course, this development has something to do with general trends. But the integrated action plan encouraging cycle traffic has also contributed. Road-markings for cycle lanes; the reduction in the 'city speed limit' to 30 km/h for 75% of all roads, even arterial roads; the good co-ordination of cycle and citywide public transport, are a few examples. But there is still much to do in 'Cycle City Berlin' and the growth in cycle traffic has brought with it new problems. Not only regular bicycle traffic jams, but mainly in traffic safety and the mood on the roads where bad behaviour by cyclists has led to many conflicts and arguments. In 2012 we launched a campaign of communication about the problem.

It is perhaps not accidental that precisely during the time of my Dublin visit a leader by Fintan O'Toole in the 'Irish Times' addressed itself to that topic — bad behaviour by cyclists on the streets of Dublin. However, it neglected to say that the problem is not only that of the cyclist. This contribution to the discussion demonstrated to me: Dublin is on the way to becoming a 'Cyclist City'. And if one looks closely, then everywhere one sees early signs of it. In the city centre it is obvious that more are cycling. The bicycle rental system 'Dublin Bikes'; the first bike couriers; here and there goods bicycles; cycle rickshaws for tourists; cycle patrols by the Gardaí; the trend to high-value and many types of bicycle — all these are signs that cycling in Dublin is increasingly popular.

Much has still to be done with the infrastructure, but that is also true of Berlin. There it was important to make cycle traffic development a permanent part of the overall traffic policy by, amongst others, a unified cycle traffic strategy (the English version is at: www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de). Dublin can perhaps get inspiration from that — but it has to find its own way. For cycling will become more important — in Dublin and in Berlin. This development needs be offensive, and also accompanied by decisions taken against motor traffic.