“So what’s going on with that bike referendum thing now Rose?” I hear you ask. Good question, helpful ice-breaker person.
Here’s the deal. We had our initial petition over the summer; this petition was to show the government that there is widespread public interest in the issue, meaning that if we were to get over 20,000 signatures (and we got about 105,000) the Senate would have to approve our application to have ANOTHER petition, which would then allow us to have a referendum about the city’s bike infrastructure. Please accept my apologies for the boringness of that sentence.
Anyway, the real drama starts now. The Senate has had months to review our initial petition, and has long ago missed the deadline for giving us the approval for the second petition. This is a problem, because it means that when we do finally get the approval for the second petition, that phase will end a lot later than planned, and so the referendum will also take place a lot later than planned. And that is a problem because the whole idea was to have the referendum at the same time as the big election next year.
Why? Because if you combine your referendum with a larger vote (like an election), you can count on a substantial voter turnout – most people who go to vote in the election will be happy to take an extra second to cross another ballot paper. If the two votes are separate, however, the turnout for the referendum is likely to be tiny. Most humans won’t get off their sofa for anything more effortful than a second cup of tea, let alone traipsing over to some designated Kindergarten lobby or community center. And since the referendum is only valid if a certain percentage of the population vote (regardless what they vote for), it’s likely to be rendered invalid by poor turnout, and it will all end up having been a colossal waste of time and energy. Adding to the annoyment of the whole thing is the fact that having two separate voting events is a lot more expensive for the state, having to organise voting stations and personnel and counters and all that flim-flam twice. And that, of course, will add extra grist to the mill of all the B.O.-smelling, beardy, chain-smoking drivers who already hate cyclists and love to laminate the asphalt with them.
So the referendum is, essentially, off the table. The first and most troubling implication of this whole thing is that the Senate has done this deliberately, to avoid having to deal with our requests; rather than just say no, it’s so much smoother and more palatable politically to say, “Jeez guys, we’d totes LOVE to carry out those infrastructure upgrades you requested, honestly, but the numbers just show that it’s not what the people want, sorry tho, smh.” There’s no way of knowing whether it was in fact deliberate (unless…Wikileaks, lend us a hand?) so in the interest of not being jailed for treason, I refuse to speculate further.
As for our campaign, our benevolent leader Heinrich is launching a much more righteous mission: get our bike infrastructure plans pushed through, by persuasion or by force. We’re now raising a juicy sum of money so that some of the members of our team can quit their day job and fight for cycletopia full-time, and so that we can pay for all the requisite stickers and badges we’ll need to get people on our side. We need to convince the entire city to support the Volksentscheid Fahrrad team so that the Senate has no choice but to listen. There is nothing stopping Berlin’s government from making significant improvements to this city’s cycle systems – they don’t and shouldn’t need a big push from the people to do this, but unfortunately they clearly do.
So it looks like we’re headed for a fight. I am frankly rather horrified that this all needs to happen – that people need to get tens of thousands of euros together just to try to get the Senate to protect the tens of thousands of cyclists who are just trying to calmly get through the city. Cyclists who currently have the resting heartrate and the flinchy disposition of a young chinchilla, thanks to the stressful atmosphere on almost every street in this city. I expected so much more from Berlin. This is a city where failing to recycle is anathema, and where expensive organic veganicious (I feel that this is a word we need) supermarkets outnumber Starbucks branches. It’s mind-blowing that this place will continue to fail to meet EU emissions regulations, steadily turning into the boring and flatulent old dad of European cities, even while we prance around sucking up tofu and pretending we’re making a difference.
I suppose we mustn’t give up though. We might actually achieve something if we hit our donation target. Heinrich is a pretty epic PR wizard. And I can tell you this for free: when Trump takes the White House and armageddon begins, I’ll be on my bike sprinting towards the horizon before Michael Müller has even opened the doors on his escape vehicle.