Unterhaching, Munich: Cycling and good planning

While I was in Munich for a week, I made a visit to one of the outlying suburbs of Unterhaching. Technically it is a self-contained town just 10 km away from central Munich (about 20 minutes by train); what began as a simple farming village (over 800 years ago!) now contains ~23,000 people and forms part of the greater Munich urban area. Much of the growth has occurred in the last 40-odd years, with new housing areas to the east and northwest of the original village.

A handy shortcut near the shops, for bikes but not cars
A handy shortcut near the shops, for bikes but not cars

What interested me about Unterhaching was the way that it had been laid out and how cycling was accommodated within it. Rather like Houten in The Netherlands, Unterhaching is based around a north-south rail spine that connects it into Munich’s extensive public transport system via two stations. The railway line also serves as a barrier, limiting motor traffic movements to just two underpass crossing points. However, cyclists and pedestrians also have four other connections across the railway line, thus improving the permeability of their networks.

Map of Unterhaching, with railway stations shown by "S"
Map of Unterhaching, with railway stations shown by “S”

Around the main station near the town centre, traffic is again rather restricted in how easily they can get into the area, with pathways radiating on both sides of the railway line (and along it) for walking/cycling access.

Traffic-free routes through the central town area
Traffic-free routes through the central town area

Away from there, all streets are traffic restricted to some degree. They might have a 30 km/h speed limit, they might be a shared space (spielstrasse or “play street”), or they might be a fahrradstrasse (“bicycle street”) where bikes have right of way.

All road users share the space in a "play street"
All road users share the space in a “play street”

Busier roads had off-road sidepaths and there were plenty of pathways away from streets and along the railway corridor. Interestingly, they generally weren’t separated from pedestrians, as seen in many parts of Munich. I suspect the relatively low population allows them to get away with that in most places.

One of the car-free pathway connections across the railway corridor
One of the car-free pathway connections across the railway corridor

What really struck me however was how most streets without formal cycle facilities were designed in such a way to make cycling an easier option. Street design (in terms of geometry, width, surfacing, etc) made streets look no more threatening than your average driveway.

If it's not a 30km/h zone, then it's usually a shared street
If it’s not a 30km/h zone, then it’s usually a shared street

Meanwhile the network also provided additional connections for cycling that weren’t available when driving, using shortcuts between streets.

A dead-end for cars but not for active travel modes
A dead-end for cars but not for active travel modes

As usual, it was just the “little things” that seemed to make the difference about accommodating cycling. Here’s a few more photos:

This sidepath serves as both cycleway and footpath
This sidepath serves as both cycleway and footpath
Bike parking and pathway right next to the train station
Bike parking and pathway right next to the train station
One of the few road crossings of the rail corridor - bikes can also go over top
One of the few road crossings of the rail corridor – bikes can also go over top
This crossing near a school is only one-lane wide, so traffic has to take turns
This crossing near a school is only one-lane wide, so traffic has to take turns
A "fahrradstrasse" bicycle street - cars are guests
A “fahrradstrasse” bicycle street – cars are guests
No pathway priority on this roundabout but it worked OK
No pathway priority on this roundabout but it worked OK

I’m not entirely sure that some of what was seen in Unterhaching was deliberately geared towards encouraging cycling (especially 40 years ago); I suspect some of it was simply more about taming traffic. But in doing so, they have created a community where cycling is an easy option to choose.

Should we be developing our new neighbourhoods like Unterhaching?

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