The planned 2019 amendments to the sectoral plan for cycling are now open to further changes. Although the region won’t see any instant developments, efforts will be made to include mountain bike routes in future plans.
In 2008, the cantonal parliament passed new road laws to include recreational cycling routes. As a result, the signposting of routes to popular places triggered a massive increase in recreational cycling. "But at the time, nobody mentioned mountain bikers," says Peter Muheim, head of planning at the canton of Bern’s civil engineering department. This means that mountain bikes haven’t been taken into consideration in the new roads laws. When developing sectoral plans, the canton has focused on hiking and road cycling.
For information only
The sectoral plan for cycling is set to include information on mountain bike routes as a minimum. However, the canton is unable to take more proactive steps due to a lack of legal authority from the sovereign citizenship to justify the costs of measures like signposting mountain bike routes.
To change this, the BVE Directorate has tasked the legal department with making the necessary amendments to roads laws and the cantonal parliament has taken various steps in the same direction. "Clearly, the time is fast approaching to include mountain bike routes in the sectoral plan," says Muheim. The legislative process will take two at least years and probably longer.
“Bern is a leading hiking region”
Muheim has confirmed that the Graubünden region is a leader when it comes to mountain biking. "Bern is the leading hiking canton, with 10,000 kilometres of hiking trails and beautiful scenery," he emphasises. This image needs to be maintained. "If hikers and cyclists have conflicting interests, the hikers will tend to look for alternatives. That’s what we want to avoid." When planning, he believes it’s important to reconcile the needs of both, bikers like hikers, which is difficult as both prefer single-track trails over paved routes.
However, solutions can be found. “Since we have a very dense network of hiking routes in the canton of Bern, there are often several routes to the same destination. In addition, many other routes are suitable for biking. With good planning, attractive routes for both hikers and cyclists can be found.”
Potential for conflict
Muheim sees potential conflicts wherever cyclists and hikers cross paths on steep sections of complex routes. "When space is tight, the area is somewhat confusing and lots of people are out on the trails at the same time or bikers are descending fast, people can be caught by surprise and often get quite a fright. For example, when bikers riding downhill overtake hikers” He wants to avoid this by careful planning. Muheim refers to the working tool Mountain Bike Routes, with the canton providing concrete information for planning, project planning and implementation.
GST cannot understand this approach
Flurin Riedi, managing director of Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus (GST), expresses disappointment when talking to the Anzeiger von Saanen. He couldn’t understand why the canton of Bern doesn’t follow the example of other popular tourist and cycling-oriented cantons and believes it’s a shame that the canton of Bern doesn’t classify mountain bikes as bicycles and include them in the category of slow recreational traffic. “The canton explicitly talks about recreational traffic. In my opinion, mountain biking is part of this,” he says.
Moreover, he realises that the canton of Bern doesn’t see itself a tourist region, even though it has some major attractions and tourist destinations. He can’t understand why this is so as the canton has adopted a cycling initiative and has good examples set by the exemplary cycling cantons of Grisons, Valais or Uri. Still it doesn’t follow the same model and doesn’t do more to promote proper resources for mountain biking.
Roadmap and concrete projects
At the moment, the mountain region is working on an area road map for mountain biking. Riedi sees this as a really important step. "But we can’t just plan, we need to take action." He deems it important to invest in this area so that plans can become a reality.
Based on AvS/Blanca Burri
Translated by Justine Hewson