Freiburg – Cycling and Sustainability

We’ve seen a lot of examples of cities around Europe that are doing great things for cycling. But our local readers might say “You’ve shown us big cities (e.g. Munich, Vienna, London), small cities (e.g. Enschede, Houten), and hilly cities (e.g. Bristol, Zurich); how are they really relevant to Christchurch?” To which I would reply: Freiburg.

The CBD is a hive of sustainable transport options
The CBD is a hive of sustainable transport options

The German city of Freiburg im Breisgau in the southwest of the country has a population of only 230,000, although the surrounding greater metropolitan area encompasses about 550,000 people. Nestled between the foothills of the Black Forest and the Rhine River valley, Freiburg has a relatively flat topography.

A kerb-separated cycleway crosses a side road
A kerb-separated cycleway crosses a side road

Freiburg has been a stronghold of the Green movement since the early 1970s and thus there has been a strong pro-sustainability push by successive councils there in terms of energy, waste, land use, and of course transport. This includes an extensive city tram network that continues to be expanded (currently over 30km), a 30km/h urban area, and a comprehensive network of over 400km of cycling routes. All this has led to a cycling modal split of over 25%, and only about 30% of trips being driven.

Most streets in Freiburg have speed limits no faster than 30km/h
Most streets in Freiburg have speed limits no faster than 30km/h

The city uses many of the same transport strategies that we’ve seen elsewhere in Europe. For example, the central city is restricted at times for motor vehicles (especially delivery trucks), allowing trams and people walking/biking easy movement.

Entering the central city pedestrian zone - motor vehicles only allowed at certain times
Entering the central city pedestrian zone – motor vehicles only allowed at certain times

Elsewhere, various street restrictions make it hard to drive around, whilst still allowing easy biking access.

One-way only, except for bikes
One-way only, except for bikes

“Bicycle-friendly streets” (fahrradstrasse) also get used in Freiburg as well, where other traffic has to yield right of way to bikes (or, in the case of some bridges/underpasses, may be completely prohibited altogether).

A "fahrradstrasse" bike-friendly street
A “fahrradstrasse” bike-friendly street

The main traffic route in Freiburg is away from the central city, following the Dreisam River. Along this corridor, the “FR-1” cycleway also provides a 10km grade-separated cycling route with only one point where bikes have to stop for traffic.

The Dreisam River directs the main arterial highway and main cycle route
The Dreisam River directs the main arterial highway and main cycle route

The interaction between public transport and bikes has also been thought out. For example, a cycleway might be re-routed behind a tram stop to avoid conflicts. As streets are reconstructed to include new tram routes, invariably there is also provision for cycling along these corridors too.

This cycleway gets re-routed behind the tram stop
This cycleway gets re-routed behind the tram stop

Interestingly, in talking to a colleague at the City Council, there is a current policy of shifting some of the off-road shared facilities alongside busy roads to on-road cycle lanes. The thinking seems to be to minimise the crashes at intersections, where cyclists may not be so visible when set further back (a similar approach is used in many cases in Copenhagen). It will be interesting to see how this approach affects both the safety and usage of cycling in Freiburg.

A separated cycleway drops down to the road, approaching an intersection
A separated cycleway drops down to the road, approaching an intersection

Here are a few more interesting photos from around the city:

Covered bike parking near the Albert-Ludwigs University
Covered bike parking near the Albert-Ludwigs University
New cycle lanes as part of installing a new tram line
New cycle lanes as part of installing a new tram line
All traffic, even bikes, have to stop for passengers getting to/from the trams here
All traffic, even bikes, have to stop for passengers getting to/from the trams here
This bridge, over the main railway corridor, only carries pedestrians, cyclists and trams
This bridge, over the main railway corridor, only carries pedestrians, cyclists and trams
New tramlines under construction - check out the low speed temporary bicycle street
New tramlines under construction – check out the low speed temporary bicycle street
This park has separate routes for walking and biking (amazing how much signs are defaced though)
This park has separate routes for walking and biking (amazing how much signs are defaced though)
A cycle lane rejoins an off-road path
A cycle lane rejoins an off-road path
Some speed limits only apply at night, for noise reasons
Some speed limits only apply at night, for noise reasons
Comprehensive cycle network signage everywhere
Comprehensive cycle network signage everywhere
Another city, another cycle counter display...
Another city, another cycle counter display…
Another traffic-free route over the railway corridor...
Another traffic-free route over the railway corridor…
...and one under the railway corridor
…and one under the railway corridor

Freiburg has demonstrated that, with the right political will, a mid-size city (not unlike Christchurch) can be very successful at limiting the influence of motor traffic in the urban area, while providing viable public transport and active transport alternatives.

Can Christchurch follow Freiburg’s lead?

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