Cyclists’ Uphill Battle for Space on Berlin’s Streets

Cyclists’ Uphill Battle for Space on Berlin’s Streets

By Andrea Rosato

Berlin’s city planning exists between two identities. The city is simultaneously known for its outstanding transportation system,[1] while also being the capital of the “country of cars.”[2] Now, there is a third player seeking space on Berlin’s roads: cyclists.[3]

In 2018, cyclists achieved a major win with the passage of the Mobility Act.[4] The Act’s objective was to increase safer and more sustainable modes of transportation throughout Berlin, particularly aimed at promoting and enhancing cyclist welfare.[5] The new law increased bike infrastructure around the city by mandating construction of safe bike lanes and redesigning dangerous intersections.[6]

Come 2020, the coronavirus pandemic presented a unique opportunity for Berlin cyclists. With widespread fear of contagion, there has been a sharp decline in the use of public transit in order to avoid shared spaces. Instead, people have begun traveling more frequently by car and, surprisingly, by bike.[7] The pandemic has caused what is being dubbed “the great bicycle boom.”[8] Country capitals began building biking infrastructure—both permanent and temporary.[9] Bicycle shops around the world became unusually low on supplies, with producers struggling to keep up with the surging demand.[10]

In April 2020, Berlin city officials responded to the uptick in cyclists and public health concerns by setting up temporary bicycle lanes.[11] However, these temporary lanes were also part of the government’s long term plan to redesign the city’s roadways—the pandemic merely allowed them to come to fruition more quickly than they would have otherwise.[12]

While public opinion seems to support the expansion of cycling throughout the city,[13] the German car culture still runs deep in some. A local politician began the legal battle for Berlin’s streets by filing a petition in the German administrative court for the removal of the “pop-up” bike lanes. The German court initially found eight of the temporary lanes to be illegal based upon lack of investigation into safety measures, but when appealed, the higher court permitted them to remain while under adjudication.[14]

The precarious state of Berlin’s bike lanes now sees renewed hope with the recent amendment to the 2018 Mobility Act.[15] The January 2021 amendment, nicknamed the “Pedestrian Law,”[16] legally prioritizes the pedestrian’s right to the road. Specific measures the city plans to implement include increasing the time allotted for crossing the street at cross-walks, lowering sidewalk curbs to enhance access for the disabled, and creating specific “school routes” for children.[17]

Despite the recent backlash Berlin cyclists have experienced, the renewed attention on the 2018 Mobility Act combined with the impact of the pandemic on bike usage provides some hope for the survival of the city’s bike lanes. As a subsect of the environmental and sustainability movement, the cyclist movement in Berlin finds safety in the current city plans to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050.[18] Thus, it is only a matter of time before Berlin’s streets reach the status of Bogotá or Amsterdam in the cycling world.


[1] Stefan M. Knupfer et al., McKinsey & Co., Elements of Success: Urban Transportation Systems of 24 Global Cities, at 4 (2018).

[2] Sarah Staples, How Germany Became the Country of Cars, BBC: Travel (Aug. 22, 2019),; see also Melinda Reitz & Rachel Stewart, Germany’s Love Affair with the Car, Deutsche Welle (Mar. 14, 2017),

[3] Senate Dep’t for Env’t, Transp. & Climate Prot., Berlin Mobility Act, Official Website of Berlin, (last visited Mar. 31, 2021); Will Berlin Become a Bicycle City?, (Oct. 2, 2017),

[4] Berliner Mobilitätsgesetz [Berlin Mobility Act], July 5, 2018, MobG Be Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt [GVBl] at 464 (Berlin) (Ger.).

[5] Id. at §36; see also Senate Dep’t for Env’t, Transp. & Climate Prot., supra note 3; Christopher Carey, Berlin Introduces ‘Pedestrian Law’, CitiesToday (Feb. 11, 2021),

[6] Berliner Mobilitätsgesetz [Berlin Mobility Act], July 5, 2018, MobG Be Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt [GVBl] at 464, §§ 38–39 (Berlin) (Ger.).

[7] David Schaper, The Pandemic is Changing How People Get Around, NPR (Aug. 16, 2020),

[8] Adrienne Bernhard, The Great Bicycle Boom of 2020, BBC (2020),

[9] Miguel Ángel Medina et al., Bike Lanes: How Cities Across the World are Responding to the Pandemic, El País (Nov. 6, 2020, 6:11 AM),

[10] Raymond Zhong, Sorry, the World’s Biggest Bike Maker Can’t Help You Buy a Bike Right Now, N.Y. Times (Aug. 17, 2020), See Christina Goldbaum, Thinking of Buying a Bike? Get Ready for a Very Long Wait, N.Y. Times (May 18, 2020),, for insight into the U.S. bike industry during the pandemic specifically.

[11] Berlin Gets ‘Pop-Up’ Bike Lanes to Boost Cycling in Pandemic, AP News (Apr. 22, 2020),

[12] Id.

[13] Knappe Mehrheit für Erhalt der Pop-Up-Radwege [Narrow Majority in Favor of Maintaining the Pop-Up Cycle Paths], rbb24 (Sept. 25, 2020, 6:11 PM), (showing public approval of the temporary bike lanes).

[14] Aggi Cantrill, Pop-Up Bike Lanes and the Fight Over Berlin’s Streets, Bloomberg CityLab (Oct. 13, 2020, 3:13 AM),

[15] Berliner Mobilitätsgesetz [Berlin Mobility Act], July 5, 2018, MobG Be Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt [GVBl] at 464 (Berlin) (Ger.).

[16] Carey, supra note 4.

[17] See generally Berliner Mobilitätsgesetz [Berlin Mobility Act], July 5, 2018, MobG Be Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt [GVBl] at 464, §§ 50–60 (Berlin) (Ger.).

[18] Senate Dep’t for Urban Dev. & Env’t, BerlinStrategy: Urban Development Concept, Berlin 2030, at 9 (2015).