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Bike parks and paths boost two-wheel traffic
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-19 16:04

HAMBURG: Motorists have always complained that bicyclists compete for space on city streets, but now in Germany bicycle parking garages are competing with car parks for municipal funding.

A man rides a bike in a German town. Many Germans like to get around town on bicycles. [DPA]

Millions of Germans pedal their way through the often narrow and twisting streets of historic cities in this densely populated country.

Bicycles are a prime mode of transportation in northern Germany particularly - where the flat coastal lowlands that stretch from Netherlands to the Baltic Republics make for perfect pedalling conditions.

And traditionally high petrol prices in Europe are an incentive to get out the old bike for short trips around compact German towns.

But say good-bye to the rusty old bike sheds of bygone years that dotted city centres and schoolyards and central stations in German cities and towns for generations.

These days, cities and campuses sport sprawling bicycle parking garages of post-modernist glass and steel, some of them two storeys tall and accommodating thousands of bikes.

The largest, a gleaming structure adjacent to the central rail station in Muenster that looks more like a shopping mall than a bike shed, has high-tech racks for 3,500 bicycles.

And it offers a range of bike-related shops and services, including a bicycle rental agency, a full-service bike maintenance centre and a coffee house.

Like most of the new-generation bike parking garages in Germany, the Muenster facility is totally enclosed and heated in the winter, well lit at night and has 24-hour video security surveillance.

The city of Bielefeld in the rolling dairy country of north-central Germany has one of the nicest new bike garages, a handsome structure for 400 bikes that opened last July next to the train station.

But it opened only after seven years of fierce debate between conservatives, who thought it a waste of money, and leftist environmentalist Greens, who said it was the way to pedal Bielefeld into the future.

"The car lobby at first was adamant in trying to stop us," says Joern Moeltgen, a Bielefeld city council member. "We wanted the new bike parking garage as part of a package including bike paths."

"The turning point came when the conservatives realized that getting bicycles off the streets was a step toward alleviating traffic on crowded streets," he said. "Then the car lobby embraced the idea."

It all started five years ago in the western state of North Rhine- Westphalia, which borders the Low Countries of Belgium and the Netherlands - two of the flattest countries in the world, where bicycling is a way of life.

Alarmed at worsening road traffic and air pollution, officials in North Rhine-Westphalia launched a programme to build attractive new bike parking facilities in 100 cities and towns throughout the heavily built-up state of 11 million inhabitants.

Combined with thousands of kilometres of bike paths, the idea was to encourage people to get out of their cars and to get onto bikes.

The result has been that businesses and universities, shamed into taking another look at their leaky and weed-overgrown bike sheds, have joined the trend and constructed shiny new parking garages for their two-wheeling staffers, faculty and students.

The latest is a two-storey tall garage at the University of Hamburg that accommodates 350 bicycles and which is operated commercially. "We offer all-around service for bicyclists," said Christian Scheider, the university garage owner, on the opening day in May.

"People can leave their bikes with us and our mechanics will check the brakes and tyres and do a general overhaul, cleaning and fixing whatever needs doing," he said. "We guarantee that it will be ready when the owner comes to pick up his or her bike at the end of the day."

Scheider has a staff of eight trained bike mechanics and security personnel.

Like most German cities, Hamburg is densely populated and most people live in apartment buildings. Scheider is counting on local residents in the university district to take advantage of his long-term parking rates - so that they no longer have to park their bikes in a corner of the living room or on the stairway landing outside their flats - or else chained to a tree at the kerb.

"A bicycle is a precision-built instrument that requires good care," Scheider said. "Well-maintained and looked-after, even a cheap bike will give its owner many years of pleasurable service. It hurts me to see a bike rusting out in the rain."

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