The urban bike magazine

Faster, higher, further: Just slow down a bit please. Why fast bikes and cycle express paths no longer mean quality of life

If you want to get from A to B, you want to be uncompromisingly quick. Whether it’s by bike, car or train. But in reality, you don’t actually gain any time. Slowing down trumps everything when it comes to quality of life. A manifesto!

Tobias Finger square
Tobias Finger studied social sience and works as a freelance journalist in Berlin. Whenever he takes a break from writing, he is riding his bike through the German capital.
Photo © Mike Kotsch / Unsplash

Faster, higher, further – this model is widespread in many areas of life. The success of an economy is measured by its growth rate. The ability of a workforce by their performance. The power of supercomputers by their computing speed. Mankind has internalised the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius“, first quoted at the Paris games in 1924, to the extent that everything is now more a matter of breaking records. On the one hand, we celebrate this. On the other hand, it is not appropriate everywhere.

We’re quicker while we’re on the road, but the time needed for mobility
has remained almost constant for years.
Why?
Because we are faster, we can cover greater distances!

Mankind is intoxicated by speed
Take a look at everyday mobility. When it comes to means of transport, progress and improvement concepts are the yardstick and “driving force” behind development. Cars for example: Over the last 100 years, motorised personal transport has become continually faster.That generally doesn’t save the driver any time, for example when commuting. This is because the distances travelled to work have increased in line with speed, and simply become further, on average by 2.5 Kilometres between 2002 and 2008 alone.

With higher speeds, the risk of accidents has also increased. From 2016 to 2017, the absolute number of accidents recorded by the police in Germany went up 2.2%, and this is around 14 per cent up compared to 1991. While the risk of a serious injury has fallen thanks to new technology, it is clear the principle “faster, higher, further” has not led to an improvement in quality of life – as the promised “gained” time from extra speed simply does not exist. The Federal statistics office says: “We’re quicker while we’re on the road, but the time needed for mobility has remained almost constant for years. Why? Because we are faster, we can cover greater distances”. It’s the same scenario with cycling, although muscle strength and stamina are intervening variables which have an effect on speed.

Instead of this, every stretch of road should have its own appropriate speed. Short distances can be covered in a short time. You can see this in the “5 minutes by bike” feature from Bike Citizens, which shows everywhere you can reach in 5 minutes from a certain point. Cycling should not be affected by traffic jams, noise or poor air quality – and every route should be covered at the right speed.

Towns will not become better to live in,
just because you’re rushing on your bike not your car.
The problem is moved, not solved.

A city worth living in
Instead of commuting by car, more and more people n Germany are using their bike to get to work. This is a positive development, as it is good for health, the environment and our open spaces. This is the underlying thought behind “A city worth living in” which is driving the development of modern urban areas by bodies from city planners, to politicians and citizens’ initiatives. To cap it all, on distances up to around 8 km in urban areas, traveling by bike is usually fastest, according to the current position and a widely accepted argument in favour of bike mobility. Conclusion: Cycling is the future, according to the revolution in mobility. But if bikes get faster and distances greater, there will be no gain in quality of life in that valuable currency “time”, and towns will not become better to live in, just because you’re rushing on your bike not your car. The problem is moved, not solved.

Speed Bicycle Pedelec Infrastructure Urban

Cities need specific infrastructure for each kind of mobility. That is much more important than fast bicycles! © Eduardo Enrietti / Unsplash

Infrastructure not speed
Speed is not everything. First and foremost, for better quality of life and good progress, we don’t need (even) faster bikes, but we do need (a), lots of cyclists (alongside lots of other cyclists) and (b) suitable infrastructure. Cycle express ways are onegood option (out of many), which have already been used in cities from Copenhagen to London. The “Radbahn” is another really popular initiative in Berlin. In some ways, pedelecs (e-bikes which offer pedal support up to 45 km/h, count as mopeds and require insurance) are also justified.

But we’d like to turn the tables. When it comes to “quality of life”, maybe it’s not a matter of “faster, higher, further”Maybe we need to take a step back and put aside the TINA thinking (there is no alternative) of the omnipresent growth model. Faster does not necessarily mean better. Not when it comes to cycling. For example, in pedestrian areas, residential areas and anywhere people come together. Street play areas for children, for example. They are a real blessing offering great added-value for families and neighbourhoods – not a free-for-all high-speed short cut. Or shopping streets with traffic-calming; contrary to expectation and protests (!), these drive growth in retail customer numbers and deliver a high-quality experience.

It’s not about thwarting cyclists. On the contrary: As before, the first step is appropriate infrastructure. Traffic planning should not exclude anyone, but it should allow people to go fast or slowly in equal measure. The speed that anybody chooses to go at should be allowed to develop and be justified everywhere – this is the only way cycling will become a genuine alternative to motorised personal transport.

Why is faster the norm,
while slower remains the exception?

The ideal road
Separate, clearly assigned infrastructure for all rectifies the position. Appropriate slowness allows a very sensitive plant to flourish: Quality of life! The slower the traffic, the higher the quality of life: We can also see this in a study carried out by VCÖ in Basle, 27 per cent of those surveyed said that “meeting zones” with a speed limit of 20 km/h would be “(almost) their ideal road”. At a speed level of just 30 km/h, only 4 per cent agreed.

Oases of peace are created to counter the all-pervasive intoxication of speed in the area of mobility – so far, so good. But is that not absurd? Why is faster the norm, while slower remains the exception? We should use a different benchmark. The natural, human speed limit should be the norm. And oases should act as a balance to speed, wherever we need them. Speed is indispensible. It has a justified place in our society. And also in infrastructure planning. But it has to be designed clearly: In through roads and main traffic networks, on our motorways and cycle express paths. On the ICE express from Munich to Berlin and on a flight from Frankfurt to New York.

But there are also places where we have nothing to lose. Places where people meet – no matter what age, where children can play safely, explore or even (learn to) ride a bike, and where we take our foot off the accelerator a little.  Where they’re not slow, but “normally” quick. This would deliver genuine quality of life and time!

Tobias Finger square
Tobias Finger studied social sience and works as a freelance journalist in Berlin. Whenever he takes a break from writing, he is riding his bike through the German capital.

Leave a Reply

Interested in our Magazine?
Browse through it now