While September 22 marked World Car Free Day, one European capital is going in the opposite direction; the new government in Berlin wants to protect the rights of drivers. Transport featured prominently in last February’s election, helping the Christian Democrats regain power for the first time in more than two decades.
The streets of Berlin in the early hours of the morning are buzzing with people going to work on bicycles. Some are lucky enough to use designated bike lanes, which makes for a more comfortable ride. Berliners want more bike lanes.
“There have been many plans, but not much actual construction. I think the debate is happening, but much more needs to be done”, says Elena Witte.
While many European cities, such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris, are drastically reducing car traffic in their city centers in favor of bike lanes, Berlin is lagging behind, many critics say.
At the Potsdamer Platz intersection, Eva Albers says the city must do more.
“It is difficult to travel by bike, but better compared to ten years ago. I come from Freiburg, from the south, where it is a paradise for bicycles. Compared to there, it is very difficult here. But it’s getting better.”
But opinions differ on the streets of Berlin. Car drivers are critical of bicycle infrastructure. They say bike lanes are crippling roads for cars.
“Of course, every city needs bike lanes. But you can’t tear up the road for cars and give it directly to cyclists,” says a driver.
These differences also came to the fore in the last elections for Berlin’s state parliament in February.
Berlin is not only a city, but also a state, which means that the local parliament has a high level of independence to pass laws relating to the city.
Transport featured prominently in the election, helping the Christian Democrats regain power for the first time in more than two decades. Critics say the new local government has blocked all plans for car-free zones and bike-friendly zones.
“I have no hope for this legislative period,” says Ragnhild Soerensen, spokeswoman for the “Changing Cities” institute.
“The Christian Democrats have made a proposal to change the law for this purpose. They take away all advantages for sustainable circulation for residents. Everything has been removed in favor of cars in the city.”
But the ruling Christian Democratic Party says they are simply correcting the previous government’s unfair focus on bicycles and negative views of other forms of transport.
“The safety of all types of transport is important for everyone. This includes commuters, meaning public transport such as subways and buses. This includes cars as well,” says the spokesman for the Christian Democrats, Johannes Kraft.
The German capital is unlikely to become a car-free city any time soon, while the opposite is happening.