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Cycle Paths of the Future

By Adam Marsal

The number of daily bike commuters is growing in most European cities and people keep wondering if politicians could do more for cyclists’ safety. Since space in big cities is limited, urban designers are thinking about new forms of cycle paths that could use the current conditions.

In Germany, people in a public survey from 2021 asked for more bike lanes and separation from motor traffic. According to the German Federal Ministry of Transport, 57% of respondents want to build more bike lanes, 53% demand the separation of cyclists and motor traffic, and 43% want more protective bike lanes.

More bike lanes that better separate bikes from car traffic sound promising, but how can one achieve this in dense historical downtowns? The answer is putting the bike lanes on the second floor, as recently presented by the Swiss start-up Urb-X. In a few cities, cycle lanes running above the streets are emerging, for example, on railroad tracks that are no longer in use. In the Netherlands and Denmark, new routes have been built on piers.

Sustainable elevated bike paths

What’s new about Urb-X’s concept is that the Swiss have developed a modular concept of prefabricated components that are connected like trails for toy trains. Presumably, the designers also found inspiration in wooden Brio toy trains. Moreover, Urb-X components are also made from local wood, so they’re more sustainable and less expensive than solid concrete structures. To make it effective and sustainable, raised bicycle highways are fitted with solar panels that provide the energy needed for the integrated lights and underfloor heating to protect it from snow and ice.

Sound viable? In Basel, the first 200 meters were made as a trial. And Stuttgart in Germany is following with a one-kilometre-long bike path made of Urb-X parts. “We simply want to show that it is possible,” says Baden-Württemberg’s Minister President Winfried Kretschmann.

Solar-bike lanes

The longest solar cycle path in the world in Maartensdijk, Netherlands. © Profimedia

Combining bike paths with solar panels is not a new idea. Since 2014, several test routes have been built in the Netherlands based on the concept of the company SolaRoad. The idea is that the entire bike path consists of solar panels. Concerns from critics that the solar technology could suffer from the traffic have not been dispelled, though, and so the construction requires further development.

On the other hand, the efficiency of the solar panels is even higher than anyone hoped: a 90-meter-long bike lane generates from 73 to 93-kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to supply up to 12 households. SolaRoad’s founders thought they’d get only 50 to 70-kilowatt hours.

Visualising new ideas

Shimano Europe and urban visionary Jan Kamensky from Visual Utopias want to show visual examples of how livable cities with more bicycle traffic could look, using computer-generated videos. As part of the Future Cities project, Kamensky redesigned Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin and the Marble Arch in London with the help of CGI videos. Existing street elements were replaced by pedestrian and bike paths, as well as places to relax and linger. The new opportunities are great, as these examples of new bike path concepts show. We are now very excited to see what will come next and which ideas will become the new reality of the near future.