It is a relatively small initiative, but activists of the “Berlin autofrei” certainly gained attention last Wednesday. At the temporary pedestrian zone of Friedrichstrasse in Mitte, the group presented its concept of a car-free city center in Berlin.
In a referendum, Berliners should pass a law to close the S-Bahn area to motorized individual traffic. Only buses, garbage collection, firefighters and private commercial and delivery transport may drive and park there. There should also be exceptions for people with reduced mobility.
Free test now!
At first glance, this initiative is strongly reminiscent of the Berlin referendum on bicycles, which paved the way for Germany’s only mobility law to date. In three and a half weeks in June 2016, the initiative collected more than 100,000 signatures for Berlin, which is more bicycle-friendly. Meanwhile, according to the Changing Cities Association, which emerged from the referendum on bicycles, 38 other cycling decisions were made in Germany.
Berlin is not a Federal Republic
Is Berlin becoming a trend? With great curiosity, nationwide citizens are now trying to find out whether the new Berlin referendum will further deepen the fight for the distribution of street space. In any case, it cannot be ruled out that the “Berlin car-free referendum” will also be very popular. D.
There is a critical mass in a capital struggling to change traffic, and about half of households do without a car. But how popular is the nationwide idea of a car-free center?
This was determined by the Civey Public Opinion Research Institute called “Tagesspiegel Background”. In a representative survey, 35.3 percent of respondents tended to agree that German city centers should be car-free. 56 percent were more against. 8.7 percent of the participants could not decide.
The rejection of car-free urban centers is even clearer if you look at trends. Only 14.7 percent of respondents are definitely in favor and 20.6 percent are in favor. In contrast, those who do not say are more determined: 36.7 percent unequivocally reject car-free city centers and 19.7 percent are more against it.
No difference between urban and rural
Interestingly, the survey did not reveal clear differences between urban and rural areas. In low and densely populated areas, just over a third of respondents are in favor of driving cars into city centers. The data do not show a possible conflict between city dwellers who want less traffic and commuters from the area who want to go further to the centers.
Jungfernstieg in Hamburg should be mostly car-free Georg Wendt / dpa
Respondents living in the same household with children are particularly open to car-free city centers. In this group, 43 percent could do something about the idea. In contrast, it was only 34 percent of respondents from childless households. Accordingly, young adults between the ages of 30 and 39 are particularly interested in car-free inner cities. 48.8 percent of respondents are in this age group.
Rejection is especially high for people over the age of 65. 58.9 percent of respondents in retirement age are against the ban on driving and parking in centers.
The center of Cologne without cars since 2030?
Although citizens are rather skeptical about closing entire inner cities, many municipalities now want to curb more and more car traffic. Cologne wants to make its old town without cars by 2030. And the German Association of Cities had already stated in a position report in 2018 that public space should be redesigned more as a place of residence and meeting.
“Stationary motor vehicle traffic in cities must definitely be limited.” It is also necessary to apply regulatory measures for this, “he said. Last week, the urban mobility platform demanded in its dissertation: “Motorized traffic in the city should take up less space in the future.”
In an unusual alliance, nine major German cities – including Hamburg, Munich and Cologne – have teamed up with carmakers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and Ford, as well as the Automotive Industry Association (VDA). According to the article, about a third of car owners in large cities are independent of their own car in everyday life. Cities and car manufacturers now want to educate them about alternatives.
The platform is also in favor of more alternative mobility offers, such as cycling. And even the “price signals” with which “efficient use of limited road space can be ensured” are clearly no longer taboo for the car industry.
Traffic tests increase acceptance
Geographer Thomas Stein conducts research at the German Institute for Urban Studies in traffic-free and car-free areas. He believes that the temporary closure of individual areas, as is currently the case on Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse, is a good way to encourage urban change.
“They are an element in creating acceptance among the population,” he says. Cities should ideally establish such zones in neighborhoods where there is already a debate about the redistribution of street space and where the population is receptive. Thanks to the many feedback loops, the ideal solution for the respective district can be found in real laboratories instead of planning on a drawing board.
The example of Ottensen in Hamburg
Stein cites Ottensen in Hamburg as an example. In the fashion district of Altona, several streets were closed in September 2019 for motorized individual traffic. The experiment initially led to many controversies. At the time, “Time” was titled “Riots of Paradise.”
In particular, businesses resisted the exclusion zone and in turn were boycotted by environmentally conscious residents. On the street, supporters and opponents also regularly shouted words like “slut on a bicycle” and “traffic fascist,” as “Hamburger Abendblatt” noted.
However, a survey at the University of Hamburg eventually showed that the vast majority of the population was calmed with traffic for the zone. The Altona district administration then decided in February to consolidate the “Ottensen makes room” project.
Opponents of road closures are often louder, but they do not necessarily represent a majority, says Thomas Stein. “Municipal project planners must also be able to resist resistance.” There was a significant recovery in Hamburg after the project and the citizenship elections.
At present, the central Jungfernstieg in Inner Alster is also closed to individual motor transport – without any attempt at transport. “We want fewer people to shop in their cars,” said Dennis Heinert, a spokesman for Transport Senator Anjes Tjarks (Greens). “The people of Hamburg have chosen a traffic turnaround and we are now implementing it.”