Flowers laid in memory of a cyclist killed in Mitte.
Photo:  imago/Christian Mang

BerlinOnce again, a truck turned right - and ended a human life. On Friday evening, a cyclist was run over and killed in Reinickendorf. The police said the 62-year-old truck driver hit the cyclist while turning from Roedernallee onto Lindauer Allee. The identity of the woman and additional details of the accident have yet to be released.

In all of 2018, 11 cyclists were killed on the streets of Berlin. In 2019 that figure dropped to six. Friday’s lethal accident was the 14th this year, despite the city government's efforts to improve cycle infastructure and build more protected cycle paths. In the past few months alone, as a response to the corona crisis, Berlin’s districts have set up about 20km of “pop-up” bike paths, which were intended to make cycling safer.

The locations and dates of fatal bike accidents in Berlin in 2020 so far.
Graphic: BLZ/Sabine Hecher, source: ADFC

The high number of cycling deaths goes against the general trend when it comes to road accidents. The Federal Statistics Office recorded a historic low in road fatalities in Germany in the first half of the year. According to figures published on Friday, 1,281 people died on Germany's roads, 13.2 per cent fewer than in the same period last year.

“Not since German unification in 1990 have fewer people been killed or injured in road accidents between January and June,” officials announced, attributing the decrease to the corona pandemic.

Lower traffic volume had a significant impact on the number of accidents, the office said on Friday. Due to the lockdown and people working from home, fewer were out on the roads.

Cyclists, however, are not benefiting, said Siegfried Brockmann, head of accident research at the German Insurance Association, an industry group that represents 460 private insurance companies. He estimates that there are now almost as many cars on the roads again as there were before the virus.

But he said a lot of people were switching to cars and bicycles out of fear of infection, leading to lower passenger numbers on public transport.

Bike traffic up 25% thanks to corona

Speaking to the Berliner Zeitung, Brockmann cited two reasons for the increase in the number of bike accidents. First, cycle traffic has grown by 25 per cent over the same period last year. In June alone, Berlin's transport department recorded 2.3 million cyclists over its monitoring stations.

According to the accident researcher, however, there is another reason for the increase in deaths: “In Berlin, the cycling associations and the Senat are encouraging faster cycling. Wider lanes and more protected cycle lanes result in higher speeds,” says Brockmann.

He said the main problem were intersections, for which there were no solutions as of yet. According to Brockmann, the problem is not the speed of cars, but the speed of cyclists. “Developing cycle paths does not necessarily mean improved safety,” says Brockmann.

In June, a cyclist was killed in Friedrichshain when she was hit by a truck turning right after having used a “pop-up” lane.

According to the transport department, accident figures fluctuate greatly. More in-depth investigations into the causes of accidents are essential, Transport Minister Regine Günther (Greens) told the Berliner Zeitung.

“Three things are crucial for more road safety: improved infrastructure, the mandatory use of modern technology and stricter laws including consistent monitoring.” She also stressed the need for improvements in the design of intersections with separate traffic light systems for cyclists.

“Infrastructure cannot be changed overnight. That’s why it is so important that the right course is finally set at the federal level and, for example, that turn assist systems for trucks are introduced significantly faster.”

According to Günther, half of the fatal bike accidents this year were caused by trucks turning right.