BONN. Overtaking cars often cause difficulties for cyclists because they drive by too closely. Four Bonn residents want to make cycling safer using a patented distance keeper. We do a test ride.
On the B9 towards the city centre, the safety lane for cyclists suddenly ends shortly before the Koblenz Gate. There is no more space for it because the road narrows. On the afternoon in question, this does not stop some car drivers from overtaking cyclists in the passageway through the gate. “Such behaviour is really dangerous and arrogant,” says Fritz Schwirz, annoyed.
However, the sprightly pensioner does not just want to get annoyed. Long before a 25-year-old female cyclist was hit by a turning lorry on Bornheimer Straße at the start of last week and later died of her injuries, the Bonn resident and other active members of the Change Traffic initiative in Bonn had considered how cyclists in road traffic could in future get the space they deserved.
“We can’t wait until good cycle paths are finally built. As citizens, we must do something now,” says Schwirz. The engineer disappeared into his garage and reappeared with a practical accessory for every bicycle. He further developed the red disc intended to keep cars at a distance of 50 centimetres as early as the 1970s. Schwirz designed a bracket that can be screwed onto the bicycle frame. If you pull it up, it can be folded in and out during the ride.
The German Patent Office has protected Schwirz’s idea, from which hangs a flexible one metre extendable aluminium rod with a bright yellow pennant. There is also a matching sign for the luggage basket or a printed safety vest calling on car drivers to keep their distance. Relevant decisions of German courts find time and again in favour of cyclists who feel pressured by overtaking cars.
But does it also work in traffic? At the Alter Zoll, Schwirz, his wife Cornelia Bröschen, Maya Krieger, a high school graduate involved in Fridays for Future and Herand Müller-Scholtes, a father of three who is involved in transport policies, start a test ride through the city centre.
On straight roads, the distance keeper works: on Rabinstraße towards Alter Friedhof, many cars give the outstretched yellow pennant a wide berth. It also works on Bornheimer Straße.
Schwirz and his co-campaigners cycle further north on Hochstadenring. A police patrol car without sirens comes close to them while overtaking. On Kölnstraße tramtracks force them onto the middle of the road. Not all drivers seem to understand this. Oxfordstraße is perhaps the narrowest bottleneck. Cornelia Bröschen does not dare go further there, even with helmet and distance keeper. “Many car drivers think the road is a race track,” she believes.
“Many of my acquaintances tell me: we’d like to ride a bike, but it’s too dangerous for us in Bonn. That’s why we take the car,” says Bröschen. Last Wednesday, after weeks of planning, the four activists together with the Traffic Club Germany (VCD) started a national crowdfunding campaign for the distance keeper on the Startnet platform. The first 100 items will be produced for donors once Euro 3000 is collected.
They have also sought a close alliance with the police. A long-planned appointment to present the project to the head of the traffic directorate in March was cancelled at short notice. Schwirz was told there was no time for such a project. Simon Rott from the police press office confirmed the event. There had been an important meeting. He does not know why there was no alternative appointment.
(Original text: Martin Wein. Translation: kc)