Offenburg, Germany: a small town with big ideas about biking

I spent ten days in Strasbourg, Karlsruhe and Freiburg in October 2015.  The purpose of the visit was to attend a Hands-On Mobility Workshop in Karlsruhe, which is part of a university partnership and exchange program between the transportation (planning and engineering) departments at universities in Waterloo, Montreal and Karlsruhe.  It was an eye-opening trip. All three cities that I visited have developed efficient transportation systems that make walking, cycling and using transit as (or nearly as) comfortable, convenient and competitive as driving a car. In later posts, I will write about each city, focusing on the transportation planning and design elements that cities in Canada and the U.S. should borrow.

However, in this first travel post, I’d like to focus on a small town that I spent less than thirty minutes in while waiting for a train connection: Offenburg, Germany.  The town, with a population of below 60,000, lies in the south-west corner of Germany, and borders France to the west and Switzerland to the south.  The train station, located in the center of town, is an important connection to the major cities in the region.  The lines that run through the Offenburg train station connect with Strasbourg in France, Freiburg in Germany as well as Basel in Switzerland.  It seems likely that many residents of Offenburg commute by train to other nearby cities for work and leisure.

The amount of bike parking in and around the train station is astounding. Before exiting the train station, I was already impressed with the bike parking available. The platform running the entire length of the station has continuous bike parking racks, literally as far as the eye can see.

bike parking at train station


Upon existing the train station, it was clear that the bike parking I had seen in the train station was just the tip of the Offenburg.  Hundreds and hundreds of secure bike parking spots flanked both sides of the train station.  For those who have high-valued bikes and want added security, a few dozen highly-secure bike boxes were available as well.  Remember, Offenburg is a city of under 60,000, yet it’s bike parking spots near the train station appeared considerably greater in number than all the spots available in the Montreal downtown core.

a small fraction of bike parking available outside of train station


secure bike boxes


Of course, bike parking is not the only transportation element that Offenburg does well.  The bus and tram hub near the train station were attractive with an unusual rain cover design, all signalized intersections included cycling-specific signal heads.  My favourite feature: loop detectors in the ground on the bike path detected cyclist as they approached the intersection.  Shortly after a cyclist triggered the detector, the bike signal head would turn green.

bus and tram hub near train station


bike signal head at a signalized intersection


waiting zone for bikes with loop detector to actuate signal head


German transportation authorities understand people will only choose transportation options that are competitive with respect to cost, time and convenience.  Taking a train for 20-40 minutes twice a day becomes much more feasible if the trip to the train station is fast and cheap – cycling is both.  However, the two modes will only mesh will if there is sufficient bike parking.  We have vast Park and Ride lots adjacent to train and subway terminals across North America.  It would be nice to see more and more of the choice car parking spaces converted into secure bike boxes and bike parking racks.


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