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October 2006

Be Ready to Roll in VeloCity Year

During the World Cup, we all learned that "Munich Loves You." In this city, though, bikers are especially beloved. A 2005 survey found that 91% of Munich residents consider their city to be "biker friendly." International entrepreneurs agreed, and bestowed upon the city the honor of hosting the annual VeloCity 2007 bike conference, and its 500 visitors, this coming June. Local politicos (especially the Green Party) have seized the opportunity to make significant improvements in the city's biking infrastructure in preparation for what has been recently coined "VeloCity Year" in 2007. Here's how to navigate what's been done and what's to come.

Munich already has an impressive infrastructure for bikers: Between 1991 and 2005 more than 30.5 million euros were spent on improvements and expansions of bike ways. The heart of it all is a network of bike paths. Since 1996, the city has constructed thirteen "Main Routes," which form a star pattern starting at Marienplatz and reaching out to the outer suburbs. Signs point the way at all intersections. Three more routes are planned for 2007, as well as expansion of the Aubing, Feldmoching, Grosshadern and Daglfing lines. The expansion of the "Free Time Routes" between Nymphenburg and Olympiapark to the Langwieder lake region, and along the Wuerm and the Isar, is also planned. These main routes are bound by two central rings: The Inner Ring runs between Altstadtring and Mittlerer Ring and the Outer Ring runs between the Mittlerer Ring and the city limits. By June 2007, the 16-km Inner Ring will be completed with the construction of bike routes around Theresienhoehe.

The city is also planning to increase the number of "Bike Streets" (Fahrradstrassen) in the city. On these streets, bikes have the right of way and are permitted to ride two abreast, even if a car is behind them. Such passageways are already popular in other German cities: Berlin has three, Frankfurt has seven and Freiburg has ten. Munich, however, has only one. It opened along the Isar in 2003. The city hopes to increase this number to 20 by June 2007, and is already planning to convert sections of Behringstrasse, Servetstrasse, Goteboldstrasse and along the Wuerm to give bikers the right of way.

Local police have expressed some concerns about the safety of such a plan, and have been even louder opponents of the proposed expansion of privileges to bikers on one-way streets (Einbahnstrassen). There are already 100 one-way streets in Munich, on which bikers may ride against traffic. This is a relatively low number compared to other German cities--a fact that city officials hope to address with the opening of over 30 one-way streets in Au, Haidhausen, Ludwigsvorstadt, Isarvostadt and Westend before the end of the year. Until then, be sure the road you're riding on has an appropriate sign, or the police may charge you a fine. If the practice of riding on one-way streets seems unsafe, bear this in mind: Cycling accidents in other cities actually decreased with the broadening of biking options.

Another such option for urban bikers is to combine street travel with travel on the S- or U-Bahn. (Bikes are not allowed on buses or trams.) Riders must purchase an extra bike ticket--€ 2.20 for those over 21 and € 2.50 for a day pass--but may not bring it on board Monday-Friday, 6 am-9 pm and 4 pm-6 pm. To avoid dealing with the details, one might wish to rent a "Call-a-Bike," located at most stations and throughout the city. The bike unlocks with a code received by calling from a registered cell phone. Riders receive another code to lock it again and can leave it at any intersection or at one of the 24,000 bike stands in the city. Charges are automatically applied to the credit card used for registration.

Mayor Hep Monatzeder recently said that he hopes to increase the number of Munich bikers from 10% today to 15% in 2015. "We're on our way," he asserted, "to becoming the biker-friendliest city in Germany." With knowledge of all of these plans and expansions, you can go along for the ride.

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