Besides the big story of the #MahinaJourney, there are many small stories along the way. For example, my growing collection of photos of different European cycle paths. If you look at these pictures, it becomes clear that mobility has so far only been meant for cars.
On most roads, there is one side for cars and one for pedestrians and everyone else. This is not a safe solution!
In the Czech Republic, I also met some people who simply wandered from one place to another on the country road. But in many areas there is no pedestrian or bicycle path. This can quickly become dangerous. And even signposted cycle paths are often structurally unsuitable for bicycles. in the city, you quickly end up between cars and tram tracks, in the countryside are sometimes railroad tracks in the way. Very complicated, even for sporty people. And what about wheelchair users, prams or elderly people who walk on a rollator?
If there are suitable paths, then only within one region. But we want to get commuters and frequent travellers off the roads and use alternatives to air travel to ensure a green future in Europe. For this to work, the routes have to be adapted to people’s destinations. Only very few of them will live and work on a well-developed cycle route.
Using the railway would also be a great opportunity here. In the Silicon Valley, for example, you see many commuters in the morning, who cycle to the train station and then take their bikes with them on the train as a matter of course. The Netherlands are also well-known for their bike-friendly infrastructure and consideration in road traffic.
On my journey, the obstacles already start at the station: Faulty or too small elevators, badly marked bike compartments. And their equipment is also anything but up to date. As long as you can carry your own bike and it fits into the designated suspensions, no problem. So far I have only met one cyclist who was able to store his bike in this way. All the others and also I often had to manoeuvre the bikes over steps into the waggon, then hope that there is enough space and in the best case there is a safety belt so that bike and luggage don’t fall through the waggon during the ride.
As part of its European Green Deal, the European Commission envisages a “Strategy for sustainable and smart mobility”. Overall, no person and no place should be left behind. For this to work, mobility concepts must be conceived from the customer’s perspective. Across communities and regions – so that the well-maintained circular routes and problematic sections can actually become usable long-distance routes for sustainable mobility solutions – and, by the way, to make Europe more accessible.
The cracking point is, that – like with any other innovation – decision makers will have no reliable data for the planning. Many people started usind their bikes instead of public transport. But they will know which routes are well passable in their region and which are not. So the deal for green mobility will be: build the paths and people will use them.
But why should the EU heavily invest in cycle paths?
1. Bringing people together: My experience from my first week of bikepacking, is that I have never gotten such a good idea of what other people’s daily life looks like – and how different it is depending on the region one lives in. I get a much better feeling for what Europe really means, than during my five-year political science studies or any other trip to European cities.
2. Economic growth: In many areas, it’s very hard to find a supermarket or bakery. People have to take their car and drive to the next bigger village or city to buy their daily goods. Having more tourists in the region, it would be worthwhile to open new shops, from which local people could also benefit. And in the end: also use their cars less often – less emmissions.
3. Individual travel, while keeping distance: Covid19 will probably change the way we travel for a long time. Even if a vaccine is found, the trauma remains. Cycling is a good way to see the world, be out in the fresh air and keep distance at the same time. The way of travelling for the future.