Improvements to the German highway code in 2020 have meant some changes to administrative regulations such as new traffic signage, right turns on red, bi-directional one-way street openings and bans on overtaking cyclists on certain routes. We will compare these developments to the current status-quo in Austria.
The new highway code regulations (VwV-StVO) have been in effect in Germany since June 2021. These regulations are legally binding for traffic agencies nationwide and contain the Ministry of Transport’s specifications for the correct implementation of signage and other legally codified infrastructure. This was preceded by significant improvements to the highway code (our report here) which made waves in the international community with improvements in legal minimum passing distances to 1.5m in and 2m outside of towns. Similar updates to the highway code are being worked on in Austria. We have summarised the changes in Germany.
Contraflow one-way streets
The policy for one-way streets to enable the contraflow of bike traffic is to be changed from being optional to being recommended. Indeed, these recommendations are supposed to be understood as being compulsory unless other factors make them impossible. The minimum width of one-way streets used by bus and HGV traffic remains at 3.5m instead of the planned 4.5m. As such, German policy will closely resemble that of Brussels, where one-way streets are open to both directions of bike traffic unless there is a very good reason for them not to be.
Austria: Unfortunately, the Austrian highway code is still the other way around, the bi-directional opening of one-way streets being the exception to the rule and having to be justified in width and usage.
‘Green’ for cyclists
A special, cycling specific sign now allows for a right turn through a red traffic signal on the condition that the cyclists stop first. This traffic rule, which can now be offered to cyclists, was previously applied to both motorised traffic and bicycles by a single green arrow sign at selected junctions; the fact however, that many of the same conditions still apply to the cycling-specific sign, makes introducing it widely difficult.
Austria: Under Norbert Hofer (transport minister – FPÖ), plans were made for a pilot project to test this in Austria, however they were halted indefinitely in 2018. Pilot projects in Belgium, France and Switzerland showed that the solution was safe and many have been subsequently introduced.
Bike-priority streets and Bike-Zones
Until recently, bike-priority streets could only be created along routes where the bike was the prevailing mode of transport. This, clearly, made them difficult to implement. In the future, the only criterion will be that the route can “expect a high frequency of cyclists”, leading to such routes becoming less important for motorised traffic and more important for cycling networks. Through this improvement, one of the ADFC’s key demands has been realised.
Austria: In Austria, traffic agencies can introduce a bike-priority street under the conditions that it aids “the safety and fluidity of traffic, in particular bicycle traffic, through the separation of modes of transport or if the position, usage or nature of particular buildings or areas is of particular public interest.” In Austria, through-traffic is prohibited, however some vehicles are given permission by the use of specific signage. In Germany, through-traffic can be generally allowed, making the implementation of these routes easier.
New cycle signage
With the German highway code update, comes new cycle-specific signage: bike-zone, cycle superhighway, overtaking prohibition and cargobike signage (for example, to denote specific parking spaces). The new regulations specify exactly how these new signs are to be implemented.
These signs will only be positioned in places where the specific conditions don’t allow for the safe passing of cyclists, not in all the locations where the legally required overtaking distance cannot be maintained. The situations in which they will be introduced are, for example, steep ascents or descents, narrow points in the road, or in places where other traffic is obscured, unusual or dangerous.
Austria: The highway code in Austria contains neither a legal minimum overtaking distance, nor any form of signage prohibiting the overtaking of cyclists, the only thing mentioned is a “sufficient overtaking distance”.
No protected bike lanes
The suggestion by the German Traffic Commission of protected bike lanes with clearly defined legal characteristics to be included in the new VwV-StVO has been rejected and their use has not yet been officially defined by the German highway code. However, this does not make them unauthorised as long as they are placed using markings specific to the highway code (red and white paint). Regrettably, these design criteria make successfully trialled alternative separation elements, illegal.
Austria: The Austrian legal framework also doesn’t contain specifics regarding protected bike lanes. The RVS Radverkehr only allows for the provision of either bike lanes as part of traffic lanes, or sufficient passing space. Physical separation elements such as those used to build Vienna’s ‘Pop-Up Bike Lanes’ are not generally allowed.
‘Shark’s Teeth’ on Cycle Superhighways
The ‘shark’s teeth’ which demarcate priority for cyclists are new to German roads, although the VwV-StVO reserves these for use only on cycle superhighways or at junctions in side-roads, where the ‘right before left’ priority applies. In contrast, the ‘shark’s teeth’ are already used throughout the Netherlands to give cyclists priority over motorised traffic and lower priority cycle routes.
Austria: In Austria, ‘shark’s teeth’ are only currently used to replace a stop line in conjunction with a ‘give way’ sign and in the RVS Radverkehr they are used at junctions in cycle routes to show which route has priority. They are not yet used widely to denote the priority of cycle traffic over others.
Our report on this subject can be read here.
Photos: dpa/Boris Roessler, dpa/Christophe Gateau, NDR
Traffic signage and road markings provided by BMVI.