Pen reports from Kiel

Kiel : A Baltic biking bliss

This story is part of our youReport series.

We saw Pen tweeting from Kiel – and got curious. The ADFC biking barometer lists Kiel as 4th best cycling city in Germany. So what does the user make of it? We asked Pen.

Pen replied: I had done quite a lot of cycling in Germany in 1996 when I spent six months contracting in Wolfsburg, North Germany. If I had any free time I would be on my bike and off for a ride around the surrounding villages. Although it’s plain to see Germany has really moved on with its cycle infrastructure since then, even in 1996 Wolfsburg was way ahead of my home town of Southend on Sea. Even nearly twenty years later and being a cycling demonstration town with all the talk of making cycling a real way to get around in the UK, it hasn’t really happened here has it?

So returning to Germany was a bit of a new experience. We did briefly cross the border last year whilst on a tour of Netherlands. If I am honest it felt very unsafe that the cycle paths seemed to stop and we were sharing the road with cars, a bit like the UK. Except it’s not. German driving really is the most considerate I have ever encountered. The Dutch and the Danish are extremely good, the Germans are exceptional when it comes to sharing the road.

Cycle infrastructure in Kiel is at all the places where traffic is busy, helping to take the cyclist away from possible conflict and danger. It’s very cycle friendly, no paths just stopping or throwing you out onto a busy road.

From my cousins house in Hammer, the 4km journey into the city centre starts on a residential street, I think this is a 20mph street. It was no problem to cycle two abreast, cycle whilst walking your dog, with your kids cycling with you, drivers would just wait patiently behind, no high revving engine, just a safe distance behind until you acknowledged them and moved over for them to go past.

Once off the side roads you meet up with a path that leads you straight into the centre. There was a section of one way street where you cycled against the traffic. Again no cars or vans ever coming near you. At any major junctions you would find your own cyclist traffic lights, and it makes sense so cyclists obey the rule. Traffic lanes are free of obstructions like parked delivery vans. These would be parked in the traffic lane, not the cycle lane when we did encounter them.

The Post Office, train station, harbour, shops, Town Hall or Rathaus in Kiel, all cycle paths take you there, directly. There are massive bike racks at various places, all full. It really works this cycling thing. Provide for cycling. Provide cycle routes and they will be used. It’s one of the things. I cannot understand road designers in the UK. If you want people to cycle and use cycle paths into the town, they are going to go to the shops and will require convenient facilities just like people who take cars would expect.

As we were blessed with a few days of sunshine we did the German thing and got the BBQ out. This meant a trip to the local Aldi. Again, a blissful ride to and from, through the car park and a bike rack right outside the front door. If only travelling to my local Sainsbury’s, Tesco or indeed Aldi could be as pleasant as this. And once you are there somewhere to leave your bicycle in the UK, well nowhere near the front door normally.

So in Kiel they have a city that is great to get about on bike. Everyone does it, old and the young. People riding in their normal clothes going to work, shops, see friends, or simply out for a bit of a social ride. I didn’t see many roadies, unlike in Denmark, I am sure there are roadies, I just didn’t see them. Most people here seemed to be on town bikes, racks, mudguards and big tyres.

My time in Germany was some of the best cycling I have ever done. When I compare to Netherlands where the cycle paths are nearly everywhere, and excellent they are, to suddenly be sharing the road you are expecting the worst. This must be something that has been forced into me, like a sixth sense, that constant feeling the next overtake is going to be a close life-threatening one. Maybe I am unlucky and Southend on Sea just has a larger proportion of impatient drivers… but sharing the road in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands etc really does work. The cycle infrastructure is brilliant, and when that ends the respect shown by other road user really is something I very rarely feel in the UK. A good overtake or pass in the UK is the exception, not the normal. I talked to my cousin a little bit about cyclists, yes he has a car and drives mostly, his reply “If I am behind a cyclist, then that’s where I am until its safe for me to pass”. Simples

Photo 1 – traffic crossing with abundant separate cycleways next to the town hall

Photo 2 – little things count, public bike pump in the street – next to the cycle path outside the post office/tourist office. Also visible in picture one.

Photo 3 – bicycle parking facility – secure cycle parking at the railway station. Next to this was a cycle hire and workshop. The storage is one euro per day, but less expensive if you have a weekly/monthly ticket.

Photo 4 – artistic shot of Photo 1 with sea birds and ferry – view from the Karstadt roof top restaurant