CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE: IT´S NOT GOT TO BE PERFECT
Bicycles on are the advance worldwide. Diverse examples show how quick and easy it can be to create a functioning infrastructure – and improve quality of life for city inhabitants. The German National Cyclists’ Association (ADFC) presented a wide range of best-practise case studies that could also be conceivably implemented in Germany. They demonstrate that: Changes have not got to be perfect, but they do need to show people quick wins.
Last autumn a new branch of Ikea opened in Karlsruhe. What makes it so special is that e-cargo bikes are available to hire for transporting furniture – and are even free of charge for three hours. The idea is being implemented in cooperation with a service provider. Ikea wants to encourage some 15 per cent of its customers in Karlsruhe to visit the furniture store without a car and do their bit towards a climate-friendly future. Increasing use of alternatives such as travelling on foot or by tram are additional aims. The site also has 315 spaces for bicycle parking, some of which are especially designed for cargo bikes and trailers. In addition, there are lockers for bags and helmets as well as a service point. The new concept is intended as a trial run, according to Ikea. Collaboration has even taken place with the city council of Karlsruhe on developing an extra mobility concept. “Ikea is publicly committed to reducing greenhouse gases by the year 2030. The company has launched a series of initiatives aimed at achieving these goals in its 30 markets. Among them, for example, is also the offer of cargo bikes and e-cargo trailers for our customers,” says a company spokesperson. Bike hire is now also available at Ikea stores in Hamburg and Magdeburg.
It is not only Karlsruhe where cargo bikes are an essential part of the much-discussed turnabout in traffic policy. In recent years, sales figures have displayed a clear upward trend. In 2020, according to the German Cycle Industry Association (ZIV), 103,200 cargo bikes were sold in Germany, roughly three quarters of them with an electric motor. And in spite of – or perhaps because of – the Covid-19 crisis, manufacturers are expecting further growth. While the various lockdowns reportedly led to a decline in B2B sector logistics operations that rely on cargo bikes for deliveries, the upside is that direct customer business has grown. “The subject of ‘sustainable mobility’ has received a boost due to Covid-19. Private use of cargo bikes has also grown. This is giving added momentum to the topic,” explains Arne Behrensen from the agency Cargobike.jetzt.
An example from Switzerland shows how the subject can really function. Under the leadership of the Mobility Academy of Touring Club Suisse (TCS), and developed with funding from the Migros Group, a concept has been developed to promote cargo bikes in a business and private context. A key part of this was the sharing project Carvelo2go, which proved to be so successful that it was continued after the initial project came to an end in 2019. The idea is simple: instead of a purely digital solution for rental and return, the initiative is based on local partners with bricks and mortar premises, such as shops, cafes and restaurants, who function as hosts. They are responsible for issuing the bikes and take care of service and protection against vandalism. In return, the shops responsible are allowed to use the bikes free of charge for their own transport needs, which means they also act as multipliers. The concept has since spread to more than 80 towns, with 330 bikes in service. Just short of 24,000 people are registered and use the bikes for shopping and on trips of up to ten kilometres.
However, arranging a successful large-scale rollout of a project such as this also requires an improvement in the underlying conditions. And this is where the problem lies: a lot of municipalities have missed the chance of pressing the right buttons in time and implementing the necessary changes in infrastructure. Cycle tracks, for instance, are often too narrow for the wider cargo bikes, and parking spaces are extremely scarce. Arne Behrensen points out though that a cargo bike can be conveniently parked in a car space or at the side of the road. However, this solution repeatedly leads to conflicts, as happened recently in Graz, Austria, where a cargo bike rider parking on spaces intended for cars was issued a legal warning by the city authorities. In the long term, it would make more sense if dedicated areas were reserved for cargo bikes. “We need more spaces that offers sufficient parking facilities for all types of bicycle,” says the expert. This means infrastructures should not be designed solely for cars, but should also take other vehicles into account. The state and local authority regulations governing parking spaces also need to be adapted accordingly.
To be honest, though, it should perhaps be pointed out that not all cargo bikes are the same. The various models are forever adding new features and applications – and as a result imposing different infrastructure demands. Classic trikes are now available with tilting mechanisms, two-wheel Long Johns come in various sizes and even as low-loaders, and longtails with their extended luggage racks are now even approved for transporting adults. Retailers, craftspeople, service providers, logistics companies and private individuals all make up the clientele of Berlin-based trader Velogut. Requirements are becoming increasingly heterogeneous. Families tend to look for comfort for transporting children, while tradespeople and logistics operators want extremely low-maintenance bikes. Above all, it’s service and the aftersales where improvement is needed most. It’s not possible to simply transport a defective cargo bike to the workshop in the boot of your car, it will probably need to be collected. This requires the appropriate structure. One company seeking to create a solution for how to bring cargo bike users, maintenance partners and producers together is mintworks. The Berlin-based company is providing an IT infrastructure that makes it easy to arrange service appointments. On the other hand, however, bicycle retailers have a major personnel shortage – and not just since the Covid-19 pandemic started. According to expert opinions, there are currently up to 6,000 vacancies in retail, with many shops already struggling to keep up with workshop orders on conventional bikes. Cargo bikes present completely different demands in terms of workshop tasks, training courses and servicing. For many retailers there is currently not enough time to manage this.
On top of this comes the discussion on safety brought on by the growing demand. At EU level, committees are drawing up a special standard for cargo bikes, which has actually been in force in Germany since early 2020. It regulates the technical safety requirements for various models in relation to their intended use, as well as the corresponding test criteria. Due to their high load capacities and maximum weights, cargo bikes are inevitably subject to different requirements than normal bikes. The standard now enables tests for loads of up to 300 kilograms. This means that component manufacturers also know what requirements to expect and can supply suitable, standardised products. Electric motors and brakes, for instance, are already available for cargo bikes. However, the diversity of cargo bikes is already so great that it extends far beyond the standard. Citkar, a company that supplies a sort of blend of car and bike, installs components that can actually be found in a motor vehicle. Repeatedly adapting the standard to developments such as this would take years. And as many amateur mechanics, start-ups and small enterprises are also experimenting on cargo solutions, further discussions about standardisation and safety will be unavoidable in the coming years. The market still has to find its way.