A plea for a compassionate new highway code

blurry pavement

*cycle cycle wobble blerk smash*

As you may already know, I am on the campaign team for the Volksentscheid Fahrrad, a campaign to have a public referendum about massive improvements to our cycle infrastructure here in Berlin. We had a few manic months of signature collecting and media junket whoring, but at the moment we’re on a kind of autumn hiatus, waiting to see what the new city government will do about us and Berlin’s streets.

Nonetheless, biking is always one of the big things on my mind. Half the time I am gleeful about just how much fun it is, especially since I discovered hundreds of exciting bike adventures on my favourite new app Komoot – who knew that there are so many wonderful cycle routes out there both in and around Berlin, just waiting for me to fall over on them?? The other half of the time, I am agonised by the stressful, manic life of a cyclist in this city. Everything needs to be improved: the cycle paths are lumpy, lethally pothole-ridden, or usually just non-existent; the cobbled streets are so rutted and broken as to make it a roulette whether you will reach the end of each road without your brain being jiggled into a rich smoothie; and the crossings are a confusing noodle-heap of road markings and random plastic roadwork barriers which guarantee that no-one ever knows what the heck is going on.

I am convinced that until we have major works done on the streets in this city, the current traffic rules simply do not allow for the flexibility you need to navigate this place either as a cyclist, pedestrian or automobilist (I say I say) without dying a gory death. I think we need to bring in a set of holistic, compassionate new traffic rules that allow us all to flow through Berlin with the organic fluidity of shoals through a coral reef. So how about this:

  1. i. Cyclists, you can go on the pavement. Go ahead. If you’re forced to do so, it’s probably because the actual road is hairy and terrifying and inaccessible. So feel free to go on the pavement. BUT (and like my own, this is a big but) you MAY NOT cycle faster than a gentle meander. Your maximum speed limit on the pavement is equal to the speed of a gentile Victorian family strolling down the promenade on a summer’s eve. Stop tearing about on the pavements and terrifying grannies into a hate-spiral.

1.ii. Further to section 1.i., the following behaviours are illegal:

  • standing on the pavement with your friend, chatting, holding your bike across the pavement, while your friend also holds his bike across the pavement. Get the **** out of the way you enormous sphincters.
  • cycling along the pavement with one of those colossal baby-trailers which reap all the people and dogs within their perimeter like wheat to a scythe.
  • cycling along the pavement while conducting any of the following activities: drinking a beer, operating your smartphone, eating a drippy ice cream, adjusting your socks or holding a large suitcase.

2. Parents: if you have small children, first of all well done. You are doing your bit to ensure that the world remains peopled and that the market value of Frozen merchandise remains slightly higher than gold. If your small children like to ride those cute little baby-bikes, well done again. You are breeding new cyclists who will make the world a better place. BUT you may NOT allow those baby-biking kidlets to scoot along the cycle lane. They are slower than the transit of Venus and swerve around constantly, erratically, terrifyingly. Imagine your child has one of those little plastic baby-cars for trundling around the garden in. Would you let them pootle along the dual carriageway?

3. i. Pedestrians: sometimes you just have to go in the road or the cycle path. Maybe the pavement is full of crates of Club Mate being delivered to the Späti, or maybe this particular building site hasn’t left any room for human beings to pass. Or maybe there’s just no decent place to cross the road. You can go in the road or the cycle path if you have to. Cars and bikes must do their best to give you space and let you get where you need to go. BUT you are not permitted to act outraged or surprised that there are cars and bikes there. You’re not allowed to gesture angrily at cars and bikes for being there, and you must try your best not to stick out into the flow of traffic like a cow that’s accidentally wandered onto a racetrack.

ii. the following pedestrian behaviours are now illegal.

  • Spontaneous Lateral Drift (or SLD, as it is known by the authorities). This is the act of suddenly veering diagonally for no evident reason and in doing so either lurching into the cycle path or in front of some other innocent pedestrian who must now recalibrate their trajectory. Why u do dis?
  • Walking in the cycle path, holding hands. Why is this so popular? Is the cycle path a particularly romantic place?
  • Checking your phone while crossing the road. Come on now.
  • Reckless kebabbery. This includes turning around from the kebab stand so quickly that garlic goop flings onto passers by, holding your kebab out to the side so that it slimes against other people, and burying your face so deep into the kebab that you cannot see where you are walking.

4. The following vehicle/clothing combinations are now illegal:

  • Birkenstocks and cycling. I know this will be an unpopular dictum, but I have now twice been terrified by a flying sandal coming at me from people mounting their bikes and accidentally flipping their Birkenstock off into my approaching face.
  • Any kind of hat and driving a lorry. You can barely see what is happening on the road as it is, without obscuring your view further with a hat. Furthermore: you are in a lorry. Why in the name of Methuselah do you need to wear a hat?
  • Three-week unwashed dreadlocks and walking slowly. Being stuck behind you (especially downwind) is severely nasty.

5. i. Car drivers, we get it. You want to go fast. Probably faster than is advisable on this narrow residential road. Cars are now permitted to go recklessly fast, but only when you adhere to two new rules: firstly, you must wear a helmet. In your car. Only council-approved styles of helmet may be worn to fulfil this rule, and these styles of helmet are chosen for both safety and superlative dorkiness. The second rule is that you must install handles on the back of your car so that skateboarders can hitch a ride for a rad speed boost.

ii. Don’t drive through red lights. Don’t phone and drive or text and drive. Don’t pull up to the kerb right in front of an oncoming cyclist. Don’t open your door right in front of an oncoming cyclist. Don’t park in the cycle path. And most importantly: don’t dangle your smoking arm out of the car window so that you scorch the tender thigh of a passing cyclist wearing a skirt. Goddammit.

Rose T