German Bike Paths 101
I honestly had no idea I was in the way when someone on a bike started ringing their little bell and yelling at me. Darn it! I was walking on the side walk–or so I thought. After the biker wizzed past, giving me the European equivalent of the finger, I started looking around me. All the bike, not just some, but all dozen or so were traveling at a very high speed down the sidewalk on a section that was colored red. The light bulb went on–ding! There must be a bike path right in the middle of the sidewalk and I had been standing in the middle of it almost causing a multi-bike pile up. This guide is for all those newbies who might be slow to catching on, just as I was, when arriving at your first heavily bike populated city.
As far as I can tell, European sidewalks seem to be divided into four zones (based on my time in Denmark, Czech Republic, Poland and Germany). These are as follows:
- Parking (a portion of the sidewalk directly next to the curb may be used for the front end of a car, a full motorcycle or moped): Usually it is designated by either painted lines, or more often, just a different treatment of paving stones or brick. It is common to see half of a car on the street and half on the sidewalk.
- Bike paths: If you see two lines of any kind–made of stone, brick or painted–chances are you are looking at a bike path. In Germany they tend to be painted red, or made with red brick. Sometimes they even have painted graphics of bicycles (particularly near intersections). Sometimes you’ll see dashed lines going across intersections connecting the parts that are on the sidewalk.
- Pedestrian zone: This area is typically not marked where the the other zones are. Often this will be the widest zone with the exception of commercial zones used by cafes and supermarkets.
- Commercial zone: Often times almost half of the actual sidewalk may be used by a supermarket or cafe. The area typically has different stone work and you’ll see chairs and tables at cafes going right up to the edge of this zone. Supermarkets also put outdoor displays like fresh fruit right up to the edge, sometimes using the far side next to the curb as well (the zone used for parking).
Street Bike Paths
Many areas have small lanes on the curb side at street level for bikes. Often they also have their own traffic lights and turn lanes. If you see a bike path and you have a bike, you better use it!
Bike Path Advice
Look both ways before crossing a bike path (sidewalk or road) or you might get run down or hit. Bikers are usually very defensive and watching for dumb pedestrians who wander in the zone, but its better to be safe and avoid getting yelled at. Listen for bike bells behind you. If you hear one, its a good idea to look and see what’s headed your way.
On a Bike But No Bike Path
What do you do if you can’t find a bike path? Do you ride on the nice wide sidewalk or in the street. Legally you are supposed to stay in the street unless there is a bike path. Personally I ride in the street unless traffic is really intense, then I either walk my bike on the sidewalk or ride it very very slowly giving the right-away to pedestrians. The only time I refuse to ride my bike on the street is at night. For night riding you really should have a light on your bike and reflective clothing of some kind. Because I currently have neither, I plan my night travels by public transport or walking. If I happen to plan poorly and need to ride home, I do so slowly by sidewalk and always wait for traffic signals before crossing any roads.