Interview with Mayor Jochen Partsch in Darmstadt, 21 October 2019

Kloss: How do you get people on bikes in Darmstadt?

Partsch: I think it is very important to create comfortable and fast bicycle routes, in the city and in the region. Studies from Copenhagen are showing, that most people ride their bicycle because it is fast, and only few people ride it because of health or environmental reasons. The ecological aspects are important, especially regarding the pollution in cities, that’s why we need to strengthen urban cycling. We get people on bikes by doing everything to make cycling easier. In Darmstadt a petition for better bicycle infrastructure was submitted by citizens. In several cities of Germany there were such petitions. For formal reasons this petition was not implemented, but we have reacted by investing 4 million Euros more for bicycle infrastructure and by employing four additional planners. Furthermore we drafted together with the cycling initiatives a bicycle strategy, which was decided in parliament and aims to increase the share of cyclists up to 30% until 2030. At the moment it is around 20%. We need fast success, measures that can be implemented fast, and strong north-south and east-west routes through the city. The city has grown historically, is very narrow and growing with a high share of commuters. It is a challenge, but also something we do with great passion. For sure it also helps that the mayor is a cyclist too.

Kloss: How should the bicycle highways be created?

Partsch: In Germany bicycle highways have to be 3-4m wide, which will be difficult in the city centre. But we are in dialogue and try to make them as broad as possible. At the moment a bicycle highway between Darmstadt and Frankfurt is under construction, we are on the way to lead it into the city centre. Moreover a bicycle highway to Heidelberg is about to be built.

Kloss: It is a big challenge for cities to push back the car traffic and allocate public space more just. Do you have experiences with this in Darmstadt?

Partsch: We have to take back space from the car for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. In the Rhein street we took one car lane and built a broad protected bike lane, which worked really good. Several parking lots and a car lane were replaced. The shop owners supported this when they realized that they could use more of the sidewalk. The bicycle path also created a certain traffic calming, and most of the people who parked there before were actually not business traffic but long-stay parkers. In general everone is for strengthening bicycle traffic, but when it affects the own street and parking lot it becomes difficult. This leads to discussions, but there is broad support in the city for more cycling traffic.

Kloss: This is a big challenge for cities to communicate, I guess it needs much campaigning and persuading for that.

Partsch: The best argument is when we offer good infrastructure for cycling, then people will change their habits and switch to the bicycle. Environmental arguments help little, it just must be better for people to ride the bicycle in everyday life.

Kloss: What is the future of urban mobility in Darmstadt?

Partsch: A strong increase of the share of cyclists, 30% until 2030 in Darmstadt and in the region.

Kloss: Do you ride the bike in everyday life?

Partsch: Yes I do. Of course it is possible. I also use car sharing. If the weather is bad I use public transport. If you ride the bicycle as a mayor, you can get in direct contact with citizens and hear their needs.