While it was initially conceived in Italy, the public highway was first successfully implemented in Germany. They wanted to create a network for the private use of automobiles, a Germany creation, in high speed transit between major cities. The first such road was between Köln and Bonn. This idea expanded over the decades in Germany as the autobahn was augmented and continues today. In nearly all German cities, the autobahn avoids the city centers and disperses its traffic at the edges.

When America began to devise their highway system, they took a slightly different approach. They cut through the cities. The intertwined the highways into the city cores and created a whole new city. Of course much of this is more the egg before the chicken, since most American cities known for their high way systems such as Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles found their expansion in the 1960s and 1970s after the highway systems were put into place. Suddenly, one could live far from work and journey in effortlessly. The highway was the city.

Europe has always embraced the bicycle more than America. Once again, I credit this to America growing up in the time of the automobile. But what I find fascinating, is that Germany has connected its cycle users in small towns, similarly to how it has connected the combustion users of the bigger cities. I have yet to discover, but have thus far experienced that one can cycle from any town, to any other town in Germany on safe, car free, “cyclebahns”. These incredible networks of limited access, perfectly paved roads allow for high velocity travel from one town to another on your bicycle. It is really incredible. It is exactly the same as the autobahn, only scaled proportionately. There are road signs, directional signs, right of ways and even rest stops along the way to take a break. They cut through fields and forests, run along train lines and even have their own bridges over water, railroad tracks and even roads.

While living in London, I was able to try out their new cycle-highway system. Some of it is quite flawed as there is basically no difference than the standard London bike lane, which is shared with the bus network. Some of it is quite brilliant with curb cuts to protect cyclists and an extra smooth surface for a nice ride. I think this is all very interesting. I wish that American would embrace this idea, and Americanize it. To induce a cycle network throughout the cities, connecting yet infusing them. Then, the cyclebahn would be the city.

About pettydesign

James Petty is an American architect experiencing and contributing to the Yale School of Architecture.