Trying to explain the concept of bike paths to an alien

Sometimes it’s enlightening to pretend you’re explaining a phenomenon to an alien.

Let’s say you have an alien by your side who doesn’t know what a car or a bike is. You would say:

These are two means of transportation for humans. One of them is powered by fuel, the other one is powered by human energy. Get it? (You have to be pedagogical with these aliens.) In the first case, no human energy at all is needed. It doesn’t matter if the road goes up or down, you basically just push a button and lean back. Whereas in the second case, only your own energy is what moves you forward. So everything that slows you down – upslopes, curves, road bumps – will demand more energy of you.

The alien now has a clear image of the two means of human transportation. Then you ask it:

Let’s say you want to separate these two means of transportation. You want to build two different types of roads for them. Now, let’s say you build one road that is straight and smooth, and another road that is curvy and full of road bumps from tree roots. Which one would you give to the fuel powered type of transportation, and which would you give to the human powered one?

That’s too easy! the alien would reply. Even I get that it would be better to give the straight and smooth road to the human powered method, because it would demand less energy from you, and the only energy you got is your own. Whereas the fuel powered method can make do with a less smooth road, since you just push a button to move forward anyway.

Then you explain to the alien that it is the opposite way around: The road for human powered things goes in crooks and circles around the straight road for fuel powered things, often crossing it every few hundred meters, causing extreme loss of human energy. In addition, these winding “roads” are so cheaply built that they quickly deteriorate, with tree roots penetrating the surface in a way that doesn’t happen in the more expensive road made for fuel powered things.

The alien is of course shocked! Then it realises:

Oh, I must be missing something. Maybe the fuel powered method is very sensitive to bumps? Maybe every tree root in the road makes the fuel powered thing really uncomfortable to drive? And the people on the human powered things don’t mind these roots?

And you reply that no, it’s actually the opposite way around in this case too; the fuel powered things – and by now you can reveal to the alien that they are called cars – actually weigh a thousand kilos and have thick tires and heavy suspension, whereas the human powered things – ok, they are called bikes – are extremely sensitive to tree roots and other hindrances in the street.

But then I don’t understand at all, the alien says. On my planet we’re fostered with a very logical way of thinking, but this isn’t logical at all to me. If what you’re saying is true, then why are the roads for what you call “bikes” often made of uneven stones, while the road for “cars” next to it is smoothly paved? And why is the “bike road” constantly interrupted by cobblestones, when the “car road” is not? The alien shows you a photo:

11 February 2015: Street vs bike path on Adlergestell east of Grünau, just before Schmöckwitz.

Why? The logical alien doesn’t get it. And frankly, neither do I.

Berlin bike accidents roundup March 2015

[box type=”alert” border=”full”]Note: This is not a summary of my bike accidents. Thank god. Rather, it covers all bike accidents in Berlin which were serious enough to make it into a public report by the Berlin police. Read more about the background here.[/box]

3 March 2015: Car driver hits cyclist on pedestrian crossing


Male cyclist, 29, crosses Jaffestraße at 22.00. A male car driver, 38, turns left from Messedamm and hits the cyclist on the pedestrian crossing. The cyclist suffered severe damages to the head and was taken to a hospital. (Meldung #0541)

5 March 2015: Car driver hits 79-year-old cyclist on bike path


Street view of the scene. (Meldung #0555)
Street view of the scene. (Meldung #0555)

Male cyclist, 79, bikes on the bike path along Falkenseer Chaussee at 15.10. It’s the kind of bike path that is painted red. A male car driver, 53, ignores the give way-sign as he wants to turn left into Falkenseer Chaussee. He hits the cyclist on the bike path. The cyclist was seriously injured – among other injuries he broke a leg – and was taken to a hospital. (Meldung #0555)

5 March 2015: Car driver hits cyclist in the bike lane


Male cyclist, 50, bikes in the bike lane on Tiergartenstraße at 19.35. A female car driver, 51, drives in the same direction on the road. She sees a free parking space and turns right over the bike lane and hits the cyclist, who came up from behind, probably as the car driver was slowing down. The cyclist was taken to a hospital. (Meldung #0558)

9 March 2015: Police causes bike crash, escapes the crime scene!

This one is not described in enough detail to be illustrated: A plainclothes cop was tracking a suspected thief, 15, in his car when he got stuck in the opposite lane when turning left into Boxhagener Straße, probably from Kynaststraße, at 19.45. Meanwhile a male cyclist, 31, got a green light and entered the intersection, but slowed down when he saw the chaotic traffic situation. The cop got his car free and accelerated, thereby somehow causing the cyclist to fall and break his collarbone. The cyclist was taken to a hospital. The cop fled the crime scene, but managed to catch the 15 year old he was tracking. The cop is now being investigated for careless driving and abandoning a traffic accident. (Meldung #0600)

18 March 2015: Car driver hits cyclist in the bike lane


Male cyclist, 36, bikes on the bike path on Kiefholzstraße at 10.25. As he crosses Südostallee, a male car driver, 48, driving a Ford Transit van, comes from the opposite direction, turns left without respecting the cyclist’s right of way and hits the cyclist. The cyclist got severe head injuries and was taken to a hospital. (Meldung #0665, #0679)

18 March 2015: Drunk driver hits cyclist


Male cyclist, 39, is biking on Wisbyer Straße at 21.00. A male car driver, 54, waits for a tram to pass. He then ignores the give-way sign, crosses Wisbyer Straße, and hits the cyclist. It’s not clear whether the cyclist was biking in the bike lane, but the police writes that the cyclist had the right-of-way, and the street view also shows the double give-way signs:


The cyclist got severe head and leg injuries and was taken to a hospital for intensive care. The car driver smelled of alcohol, a breath test showed 0.3 promille. (Meldung #0673)

25 March 2015: Truck driver hits cyclist when turning right


Female cyclist, 29, bikes on Friedrichstraße. She bikes straight in the intersection of Kochstraße/Rudi-Dutschke-Straße, but is hit by a male truck driver, 60, who turns right into Kochstraße. BZ reported:


The truck rolled over the cyclist’s legs, so she got severely injured and was taken to a hospital. The intersection remained closed for traffic for two hours. (Meldung #0748)

Non-car-related accidents


3 March 2015: Male cyclist, 26, bikes on the bike path on Bismarckstraße at 13.00. The bike path is of the heightened kind that goes on the outer edge of the pavement between parked cars and pedestrians. A line of trees divides the bike path from the rest of the pavement.

At the intersection with Am Schillertheater a woman walks into the bike path. (My comment: This happens all the time – it’s the most dangerous kind of bike path for cyclists and pedestrians alike!) When the cyclist tries to avoid hitting the woman, he crashes into a tree.

The cyclist got severe injuries and was taken to the hospital, where he is still (as I write this on 5 March) being treated. The woman escaped the scene and the police are now looking for witnesses. (Meldung #0549)

More non-car-related accidents:

  • 8 March 2015: A female cyclist, 21, biked in the bike lane on Schlesische Straße at 5.40, while chatting to her boyfriend, 25, who rode on his skateboard on the pavement. The cyclist lost control and bumped into a parked car, hurt her head and was taken to a hospital. (Meldung #0578)
  • 24 March 2015: A male cyclist, 62, was found lying on the street at 20.30 after having fallen from unknown reasons. He had severe head injuries and was taken to a hospital. (Meldung #0736)
  • 29 March 2015: A female cyclist, 66, crashed with a male scooter driver, 50, who had the right of way. The scooter driver broke his leg, the cyclist was not injured. (Meldung #0776)

Bicycle theft update

[box type=”info” border=”full”]In 2013 there were 26,513 reported bike thefts in Berlin.[/box]

  • 14 March 2015: A male e-cyclist, 26, was approached by two men in Kreuzberg at 5 in the morning. When the cyclist stopped, a third man appeared. The three men knocked the cyclist to the ground and stole his e-bike and his phone. (Meldung #0635)
  • 23 March 2015: Plainclothes cops caught a male bike thief, 48, in the act when he stole a bike in Reinickendorf. (Meldung #0272)
  • 25 March 2015: Two men, 48 and 57, loaded several bikes into a van in Prenzlauer Berg. Witnesses called the police, who caught the bike thieves. (Meldung #0746)

Berlin bike accidents roundup February 2015

Welcome to the first monthly roundup of serious bike accidents in Berlin. Serious as in serious enough to make it into a short press release by the Berlin police. (Those short “meldungen” can be found here.) It’s interesting to see what kind of situations led to the accidents, and whether something could have been done to avoid them. So I’ve made a simple illustration of each accident to make them easier to understand. (Sorry for inconsistencies in style, I just started this and am trying out various ways of illustrating accidents.)

[box border=”full”]Traffic deaths in Berlin

In 2014 there were 52 traffic deaths in Berlin, up from 37 in 2013, according to the yearly traffic safety report. 31 of these 52 deaths, or 60 percent, were cyclists or pedestrians.[/box]

I partly do this out of self-interest. Always when I come upon a notice in the newspaper about an injured cyclist, I ask myself: Could this have been me? Usually the answer is no. These roundups of serious bike accidents in Berlin, where I live, will provide a more substantial picture.

I will only make illustrations of the accidents involving cars – there were four of those in the last month. The post ends with a couple of unillustrated incidents that involved pedestrians.

I could not get access to the “meldungen” from the first week of February. I asked the police if they could provide me with these somehow, for the benefit of this micro research project, but they replied that those reports were not available to me.

9 February 2015: Hit when crossing the street


Female cyclist, 18, crosses between cars when turning left on Luisenstraße from a bike path at 18.45. She is hit by a female car driver, 21. The cyclist suffered severe injuries and was taken to the hospital. The car driver was not hurt. (Meldung #0333)

10 February 2015: Hit in the bike lane


Female cyclist, 28, bikes in the bike lane of Friedenstraße at 17.30. The bike lane is of the most visible kind, where the tarmac has been painted red. A female car driver, 62, ignores the give way sign as she turns right into Friedenstraße. She hits the cyclist, who was taken to the hospital with severe injuries. (Meldung #0340)

18 February 2015: Hit by taxi in the bike lane


Female cyclist, 34, passes through the Moritzplatz roundabout at 21.20. A male taxi driver, 49, ignores the give way sign and hits the cyclist as he enters the roundabout. The cyclist suffered severe injuries to the head and was taken to the hospital. The taxi driver was not hurt. (Meldung #0411)

19 February 2015: 83-year-old cyclist hit by opened car door


Female cyclist, 83, bikes on Groß-Ziethener-Straße in Lichtenrade at 13.45. An unknown car driver (the police is currently looking for witnesses) opens the door of his or her parked car and hits the cyclist. The cyclist suffered severe injuries to the head and was taken to the hospital. A later press release from 23 February 2015 said she is now being treated for an intracranial hemorrhage and may not survive. (Meldung #0421, #0454)

Bike accidents not involving cars

Except for the accidents involving cars, there were also two bike accidents with pedestrians among the press releases in February 2015:

  • 13 February 2015: Female cyclist, 57, biked on Adalbertstraße, Kottbusser Tor, when a male pedestrian suddenly crossed the street and collided with her. The cyclist fell and suffered severe injures to the head. She was taken to the hospital. The pedestrian disappeared, police are looking for witnesses. (Meldung #0425)
  • 15 February 2015: Female cyclist, 74, biked on the pavement and was pushed to the ground when passing a bus stop with waiting pedestrians at S-Köllnische Heide in Neukölln. She suffered severe injuries and was taken to the hospital. Three young men, 20, 21 and 22, claim the woman tried to hit them with her bike. After she fell, they insulted her. The police are looking for witnesses. (Meldung #0380, #0388)