Nadja Sayej is a Berlin-based freelance journalist covering arts and culture.
The Radbahn, a proposed five-and-a-half mile protected route under a U-Bahn bridge, would connect the east and west sides of the German capital.
While Copenhagen continues to live up its reputation as the best city in Europe for cycling, Berlin continues to fall behind, with what seems like Autobahn-levels of congestion.
But there is a solution that could help put it on the right track: The Radbahn, a proposed five-and-a-half mile protected bike lane under a street-level subway bridge that connects the east and west sides of Berlin.
The idea comes from Finnish entrepreneur and cyclist Martti Mela, who hopes to see construction start by 2018. The concept was recently awarded the Federal Eco-design Award by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Environment, and the first part of their feasibility study will be released on July 30.
“Cycling is an integral part of culture, but there is still a lot to be done,” says Mela. “Our cycling infrastructure needs to be better.”
The bike lane will start from the Zoologischer Garten subway station in Charlottenburg and snake through the districts of Schöneberg and Kreuzberg before ending at the Warschauer Strasse bridge in Friedrichshain with snack stops, bike repair stations, resting stops, and planting areas along the way. While they’re calling it “a piece of Copenhagen in Berlin,” it’ll prove that Berlin can hold its own as a bike city.
“The city needs to make driving a car in the city uncomfortable so people can take public transportation or cycle,” says Mela. “It doesn’t really happen by keeping bikes secondary, it needs to be the number one priority and only at the expense of car ownership.”
The idea came about in 2014 when Mela was biking to work in the city and would see a straight line under the U1 subway line for parked cars. “I cycled through it and realized it was wide enough,” he says. “I was wondering, ‘why hasn’t this been thought of before?’”
Mela talked to a friend, Matthias Heskamp, an architect with David Chipperfield’s Berlin office. He was excited about the idea and brought three other architects on board as they developed the idea further.
Financing the project is manageable considering roughly 80 percent of the work is already done since most of the road is paved with asphalt. “Some parts would require repaving but the infrastructure, the groundwork, has already been done. With minor modifications, it could be converted into a bike lane,” says Mela.
Some parts have stairs which could be converted into ramps; others will require more serious construction, like the realignment of car lanes and a bridge built over the Landwehr Canal.
The removal of parking spots along the proposed route is up to the city. However, the Senate of Berlin has embraced the Radbahn and is in the process of passing a provision to finance the project, as well as the Stammbahn (another bike highway which will connect Berlin to the neighboring city of Potsdam) with €400,000 ($442,000 USD) over the next two years for a feasibility study for both projects.
But since the Radbahn team has yet to see any money from the government, they’ve started the feasibility study on their own. Perttu Ratilainen, who works on strategy with Radbahn, says they’re expecting to establish themselves as a non-profit association to finance this and future projects.
The hope is that construction can start in 2018, but no one behind Radbahn is getting their hopes up. “We know how fast things happen in Berlin,” Mela notes facetiously in reference to the city’s never-ending construction at Berlin Brandenburg Airport. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s delayed.”