Photo by Norbert Michalke
The Volksentscheid Fahrrad campaign wants to upgrade Berlin’s infrastructure and improve life for people on two wheels – but also on four wheels or no wheels. We need 20,000 signatures by June 10.
The first time, I ended up in a heap underneath a bus, miraculously intact. The second time, I dented a car bonnet when someone darted out of his driveway and into me. The third time, a Hell’s Angel took the skin off my elbow with his handlebar. I am not trying to scare you off your bike; I am accident-prone, and cycling is an utter joy, well worth the risk. But what if we could significantly reduce that risk, and simultaneously make Berlin better?
Hundreds of cyclists, and even more pedestrians and motorists, are hurt or killed amidst the frantic tangle of Berlin’s streets. Many are not doing anything wrong; they are simply caught out by dangerous junctions and a woeful lack of safe cycle infrastructure.
These are not facts to get scared about; they are facts to get angry about. Facts to do something about. Telling cyclists to be more careful or to wear helmets is like telling women not to wear miniskirts to avoid rape: you are not solving the problem, you are simply attempting to reduce its symptoms. It’s time for a real solution.
Compared to Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Berlin’s transport system is an asphalt nightmare. A majority of Europe’s capitals (including London, Paris and Madrid) spend well over 10 euros per head on cycle infrastructure. Berlin spends just €4. Not even enough for a decent currywurst.
And yet cycling is the answer to so many inner-city problems, including congestion, mobility, affordable transportation and sedentary lifestyles. It might be one of the only ways to make a sizeable impact on the consistently awful air pollution in the city. Most importantly, it is a natural source of 100 percent organic FUN.
The Volksentscheid Fahrrad campaign wants a public referendum in 2017 for major improvements to Berlin’s traffic system. We have 10 goals, which identify tangible changes such as more and better cycle lanes, restructuring of unsafe junctions, and speed lanes for cycle commuters.
Imagine a Berlin where the wide streets are quieter, cleaner and less stressful. There are no unexpected cyclists on the pavements or absent-minded pedestrians moseying along the lanes. Kids and the elderly feel safe to cycle. The cacophonous soup of Berlin’s all-day congestion has eased, and the people moving through the city feel fluid and free.
But first of all we have to collect a minimum of 20,000 signatures by the deadline of June 10. Meanwhile, the Senate is watching us with cynical eyes and grumbles of disapproval; its spokespeople call us "too radical" and spin the figures against us. They have quoted the cost of the changes at almost €3 billion. We estimate roughly €320 million. Somewhere hidden in the chasm between those two figures is fear: fear that people might actually vote "yes".
Sadly, only German citizens may sign these petitions or vote in the referendum. This is why I volunteer: my work is my vote, and my time is my signature. This brand of democracy is rare and is in jeopardy. Engaged people show that it has value. You do not need a German passport to be a part of that. You can vote indirectly by collecting signatures, donating funds and spreading the word.