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Cycling for All
newsid: 165788

Hamburg: high on Europe’s list of bike-friendly cities

StadtRAD Hamburg
StadtRAD Hamburg

 “Germany is fast becoming one of Europe’s most impressive (and largest) cycling nations.”

This bold reflection comes from the European Cyclists’ Federation in an article entitled Cycling Solutions: Why Germany has all the answers.

Take a look at some of the country’s statistics, and we start to understand: In 2011, 14.5% of daily trips were made by bike. That means 41 million trips every day!

There is little doubt that the country’s first National Cycling Plan, created by the Federal Ministry of Transport in 2002 when only 9.5% of daily trips were made by bike, is behind this biking phenomenon: "It's been a revolution from below", says Bettina Cibulski, spokesperson at ADFC, the national advocacy organisation. "Young, urban, well educated people have started cycling. And this group gives an example to the rest of the population, who have also started to cycle".

Hamburg’s cycling strategy

Germany’s cities are making great efforts to develop every day cycling. Let's take the example of Hamburg, which ranks 14th in the 2013 Copenhagenize Index of Bicycle Friendly Cities.

In 2006, Hamburg had more than 1700km of cycle paths, but they were in a poor state. At the request of the Hamburg Parliament a "cycling strategy for Hamburg" was developed by the "Fahrradforum", a group composed of representatives of the city administration, politicians and advocacy organisations.

The Senate approved the strategy in January 2008, with 5 key objectives:

  1. Double the share of bicycle traffic
  2. Increase road safety
  3. Expand the main route network with clear, comfortable, safe and well signposted bike routes
  4. Improve the bicycle climate by increasing traffic safety and promoting the bicycle as an accepted means of transport
  5. Secure permanent financing (3 euros per inhabitant per year).

Hamburg City infrastructures

Progress reports are published on a regular basis, and the 2013 report includes a picture gallery illustrating the measures that have been implemented.

The city is taking various actions to reach these objectives. Detailed information is available on the city website, but initiatives include:

  • a bicycle route planner (also available as a smartphone app),
  • lists of routes for commuting and touring in and around the city,
  • safety recommendations .

There is even an online shop selling bikes, accessories and touring maps.

Bicycle sharing

A bicycle sharing system, StadtRAD Hamburg, was launched in 2009. With 216'000 users, 129 stations and 1'650 bikes, the system is claimed to be the most successful in Germany. In 2012 alone, the StadtRAD bikes were borrowed more than 2 million times for an estimated total of 1 million kilometres. On peak days in 2012, each bike was used on average up to 7 times.

The stations are located at many subway and railway stations in the extended downtown area as well as in larger residential areas, business districts and major leisure and tourist facilities. The bikes are free to use for the first 30 minutes, and each subsequent minute costs € 0.08 with a maximum of €12 per day. Information about stations is available on the StadtRAD web portal.

The clients of StadtRAD can use similar bicycle sharing systems in other major German cities such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt.

Bicycles a part of the tourism industry

Cycling is also an integral part of tourism in Hamburg. Detailed information in German and English is available on Hamburg Tourismus.

Cycle-touring in Hamburg

“Hamburg is on the route of 3 major bicycle touring routes in Germany and we are using this to attract visitors to stay in our city,” says Guido Neumann, head of media relations at Hamburg Tourismus.

Vattenfall Cyclassics: for the pros and the amateurs

In Hamburg, cycling also means the Vattenfall Cyclassics. Organised since 1996, the event attracts some of the best riders in the world to the shores of the Elbe river. It is the only German event on the prestigious UCI WorldTour calendar and past winners include Paolo Bettini, Oscar Freire and John Degenkolb.

Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg

But the Vattenfall Cyclassics is not just an elite race. It is also one of the biggest mass participation events in the world with around 22'000 participants each year. They ride on fully closed roads in front of 800’000 spectators who turn out to watch both the elite and mass participation event. Participants can choose between three distances: 55km, 100km and 155km. A cycling fair with 80 exhibitors, live music and shows takes place near the start and finish area.

Other cycling events are run in parallel:

  • The Youngclassics for licensed Under-17 cyclists takes place at different sites in the days preceding the Cyclassics.
  • The Vattenfall Schul-Cup is the biggest German cycling event for children with 1000 participants, including 60 youngsters with a handicap. Special training sessions are held for this event which includes tests of skill, endurance and speed.
  • The Specialclassics sees around 120 mentally challenged athletes from all over Germany demonstrate their athletic ability around the "Binnenalster". They compete on race bikes, mountain bikes or special needs tricycles.
  • The "Vattenfall Schulprojekt" is a year-round project to teach cycling in schools. It was launched in 2007 thanks to cooperation between the Department of Education and Sport, the German Cycling Federation (BDR) and the event’s main sponsor Vattenfall, which provides teaching material and training to teachers. Every year, the "Radsportmobil" visits more than 2500 schoolchildren in 50 schools, and trains 50 teachers.

The Vattenfall Cyclassics is a shining example of how an elite race can promote the everyday use of a bike by including other events for all types of cyclists. Hamburg is doing very well on both fronts, even if some say that the city would reap greater benefits if the two strategies were better integrated. Food for thought for the bicycle planners!

More information

European Cyclists’ Federation
Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club (German Cyclist’s Association)
Bund Deutscher Radfahrer
Copenhagenhize Index of Bicycle Friendly Cities
Cycling page of the City of Hamburg’s website
StadtRAD Hamburg, the city bicycle sharing system
Vattenfall Cyclassics
Vattenfall Schul-Cup


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