Flashback Friday: Munich: Cycling for a Big City

Happy Matariki! Earlier this week, I mentioned how Christchurch had rated fairly well amongst large cities worldwide in the People for Bikes 2023 City Bike Ratings. Perhaps not surprisingly, three large Dutch cities, The Hague, Utrecht, and Amsterdam feature in the top five large cycling cities. The fourth best large city (and 12th overall) is the southern German city of Munich (pop.1.4 million). I’ve been lucky to visit it twice now, and it was interesting to see how it had risen to the mantle of one of the top cycling cities in the world, as I reported on in this blog post from July 2015

One of the truisms about cycling in the world is that invariably it is a lot harder for “large” cities (say, greater than 1 million inhabitants) to get a lot of people cycling. Smaller cities are more likely to have a compact size enabling more biking trips; they may also have a greater proportion of people at institutions such as major universities that tend to see more cycling (as we find in Groningen, NL, Oxford, UK, and Davis, CA). With the exception of Chinese places like Beijing, and of course the Amsterdams and Copenhagens of the world, it is very rare for large cities to see more trips to work (and elsewhere) made by cycling compared with even Christchurch. For all the news attention that places like London, New York and Paris get for their cycle-friendly initiatives, none of them currently has more than 3% of trips by bike.

The logo says it all – Munich is a bike city

One very notable exception is the German city of Munich. Munich has about 1.5 million people, although the surrounding urban area has about double that number. Despite that, Munich manages to get a very impressive 17% of its inhabitants cycling to work (with good walking and public transport as well, only 37% drive to work). Not surprisingly, Munich bills itself as the Germany’s Radlhauptstadt or “cycling capital” (which might be true for large cities, but still pales in comparison to the likes of M√ľnster we saw previously).

Lots of travel modes sharing this Munich street

Munich has a network of over 1200km of cycle-friendly routes (more than half of the total street network). Many of the formal cycleways are separated paths, typically adjacent to the footpath; often there’s not much distinction between them (on my last visit here, I was forever dragging my family off the cycleways that they had inadvertently wandered onto). There are painted cycle lanes in places too, but not as prevalent.

Sometimes there’s not much to separate cycleway and footway

At times, the maintenance and quality of the facilities provided left a bit to be desired (a few of the paths are in particularly tight spots between traffic and pedestrians). But in the main, people just accepted this and biked anyway.

Lots of cycling downtown near the Odeonsplatz

Near the city centre, as we have seen in other European towns, it becomes harder for people to drive through, thus freeing it up for easier biking and walking.

Motor traffic is restricted from entering near the city centre (except for certain vehicles/times)

Munich has embraced the use of fahrradstrassen (“bicycle streets”) as a simple way to discourage motor traffic, e.g. by making them one-way when driving and with 30km/h speed limits. Cyclists know that these will be friendly routes for riding along, even without formal cycle facilities.

This fahrradstrasse (“bicycle street”) allows bikes to go against the one-way traffic

One notable feature about Munich’s network is that much of it has been developed relatively inexpensively. Want a contra-flow bike route? Put in a few signs and markings. Want to prohibit motorists? Put a simple railing barrier in the middle of the street. This has enabled Munich to roll out a lot of new cycle routes relatively quickly in recent years.

A quick and easy way to make a street for biking only

It’s not just the central city area that has done cycling well; many newer suburban areas have been planned to make walking and cycling an easy option to shops, schools, train stations, etc. The area where I was staying (Neuperlach) is a case in point. As well as the ubiquitous 30km/h residential speed limits, pathways (with underpasses/bridges crossing busy roads) connect apartments to these destinations at least as easily as driving (and usually easier).

Modern new suburbs often have good walking/biking access right up to the buildings, with car-parking underneath

A big city needs lots of guidance to help people find their way around; fortunately there is a fairly extensive cycle route signage everywhere.

Good network signage helps people get around

And here are a few more pics of other interesting features:

Cyclists crossing at a central city intersection
A pedestrian street – but bikes can use it at “walking pace”
Another separated cycleway between parking and pedestrians
A few signs and markings are all it takes to provide simple contra-flow cycle provision
Managing ped/bike conflicts can be tricky in busy places
A quiet street near Josephsplatz
“Caution – children playing” – an enclosed neighbourhood with child-friendly streets
A suburban cycleway crosses a side-road
Good width, lighting, and even a water feature in this busy underpass near Englischer Gardens

There’s a lot to see when it comes to cycling in Munich; they have had to put in a lot of effort to provide a fairly comprehensive network in such a large city. It’s by no means perfect in its execution and ongoing maintenance, but the cycling numbers achieved speak for themselves.

Bike-friendly streets are about low traffic speeds and less convenience for motor traffic

I’ll look at Munich further in another post when I zero in on how one outlying suburb has been planned to make cycling (and walking and rail) easier.

Can a place like Christchurch replicate what Munich has done?

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