Cycle path as a solar power plant – now the floating cycle highway is also coming to Germany

Cycle path as a solar power plant: now the floating cycle highway is coming to Germany

Tuesday, 06/21/2022, 10:06

A Swiss start-up has developed a cycle lane on stilts that can be put together like a track for toy cars. The cycle path should also function as a solar power plant. The ambitious concept could soon be tested – in Germany.

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Many cities want to get more people on bikes. This should reduce car traffic, CO2 emissions and fine dust and relieve local traffic. Cycling is also healthy – for body and soul. However, there is often a lack of the right infrastructure to make the switch to two-wheelers attractive, comfortable and safe.

The cycle paths in particular perform poorly in many cities. Not only is there a lack of dedicated passages for cyclists. Those that exist are often not continuous and usually not clearly separated from car traffic – which can be proven to be dangerous for cyclists. However, there is often a lack of space for new and attractive cycle paths in urban areas. Because it is occupied by roads for automobile traffic and pedestrian walkways.

More space for cyclists with elevated cycle lanes

The Swiss start-up URB-X promises a solution. Instead of cutting off part of the paved roads or pedestrian paths for bike lanes, the cyclists simply want to be moved higher up. And with slender pillars on which a two-lane cycle highway is simply placed in both directions. Bike Highways calls the concept URB-X. The idea of ​​elevated cycle lanes or bicycle elevated railways is not new in itself. In the Netherlands, cycle lanes on pillars have stretched across motorways, rivers and roads for years. What makes the concept of URB-X special is how it is implemented – and its promised value beyond infrastructure for cyclists.

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As URB-X’s Bálint Csontos says of 1E9, the Bike Highways are a “modular building block system”. The tracks consist of individual segments that are plugged on and on top of each other like a Carrera racetrack. The basis is a 20 meter long energy rail on which lanes, boundaries and everything else is then placed. This can be done quickly and with comparatively little effort. In addition, the modules are not made of steel, sheet metal, plastic or concrete, but of local wood. The idea for this came to the Swiss developers after their own experiences as cyclists in the city and in the country.

“The concept was born in one day”

The cycle paths that exist “are important and bring a lot, but you can’t stop there,” says Csontos. Cyclists need a high-performance infrastructure. And that’s exactly what the Bike Highways are supposed to represent. This means that the roadways should be equipped with heating elements, for example, that keep them free of ice and snow in winter. Each segment is equipped with lighting from the outset, but this is only activated when the lane is being used. This is to be determined by sensors integrated into the floors. In addition, there is also a traffic control system with small traffic lights for longer distances, which can warn of accidents, lane changes and road closures. A green roof should also be possible, which protects cyclists from direct sunlight and rain – and also looks nice.

“The concept was born in one day,” says Bálint Csontos. Because many of the requirements were simply obvious. However, it took much longer to design the bike highways in such a way that they can be manufactured and installed in large numbers. The construction of transport infrastructure is actually an industry in which everything is custom-made. It therefore took two years of research and development to balance the concept and perfect the prefabricated elements. Also because the Bike Highways not only function as cycle expressways, but should also provide added value.

Great interest in the Swiss bike system in Germany too

For example, the side boundaries of the cycle paths are to be clad with solar panels. As a result, each route is intended to represent a power plant at the same time, which can supply the route itself as well as households with electricity. How well and effectively the routes function as a power plant will soon become apparent. “We are currently building our test track of almost 200 meters in Basel and will then [Energie-]production over the course of the year,” says Csontos. However, the start-up is fairly certain that a route can supply “several times the heating energy required” for the winter.

The cycle paths should also be suitable as cable ducts. For example, fiber optic cables could simply be routed through the hollow wooden floor of the bike course instead of underground. According to URB-X, because of all of this, there is quite a lot of interest in the cycle superhighways. Both for cities and municipalities in Europe as well as for real estate developers and operators of industrial sites. Among those interested are Winfried Hermann, Minister of Transport of Baden-Württemberg, and Winfried Kretschmann, Prime Minister of the state. Both want to test the Swiss bike system.

Test cycle highway in the Stuttgart region for two million euros per kilometer

One of the first URB-X cycle highways is to be built in the Stuttgart region. “That’s exactly what we need,” said Winfried Kretschmann to the TV station SWR. Initially, there will only be one pilot route. Where exactly is still pending. What is certain, however, is that the test cycle express route should be at least one kilometer long. According to URB-X, one route costs around two million euros per kilometer – plus 300,000 to 500,000 per kilometer for the supporting structure. Ramps for entry and exit represent separate costs. By way of comparison: one kilometer of asphalt road costs between six million and 20 million euros on average – in exceptional cases even up to 100 million euros.

According to URB-X, the pilot project came about as a result of a visit by Winfried Hermann to Switzerland. The transport minister was very impressed by the plug box cycle path. However, the URB-X system is not entirely without criticism. Since the route is made of wood, the train acts as a permanent CO2 store. But of course, wood is also a material that can be damaged by wind and weather is attacked. The risk that some infrastructure planners see is that segments would have to be replaced after just a few years or sections of track would have to be rebuilt.

“Wood is still grossly underestimated for its performance and durability,” says Bálint Csontos of URB-X. “Assume that we know our material and that we don’t have to shy away from comparisons with steel, concrete and asphalt.” In fact, more and more planners and architects are relying on wood – also for high-rise buildings and other critical infrastructure. Properly crafted and processed, it can be strong, resilient and durable.

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*The contribution “Now the floating bicycle highway is also coming to Germany” is published by 1E9. Contact the person responsible here.

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