Auto ban? Berlin city centre could go car-free

It could create the biggest car-free urban area in the world

Samuel Webb
Wednesday 13 October 2021 12:59
Climate change protesters from group Extinction Rebellion block rush hour traffic on London roads

Berlin may be about to go vehicle-free after more than 50,000 people signed a petition to ban private cars in the city centre.

The Berlin Autofrei campaign wants the 34 square mile area encircled by the S-Bahn train network – roughly equivalent to zones 1 and 2 in London – to be almost entirely traffic-free.

If successful, it would create the biggest car-free urban area in the world, with exceptions for disabled drivers, businesses dependent on road logistics, and other vital traffic.

The campaigners say the ban would improve the health, safety, and quality of life of city centre dwellers.

A statement on Berlin Autofrei’s website reads: “Cars cause great consequential damage to human health and the environment.

“A city centre with few cars improves the air quality, lowers the noise level and thus has an enormously positive effect on everyone’s health.

“Public space in downtown Berlin is a valuable and scarce commodity. It should be usable for everyone. The street is also there for everyone and should not only be driven on and parked by a few.

“Cars park and drive a disproportionately large amount of space. This area is urgently needed: for trains, buses and trams, for wider footpaths and bike paths, for playing, for neighbourly coexistence and public life.”

The Senate of Berlin is currently examining the proposal to change the law, and from January 2022 the House of Representatives will have four months to discuss it. A second collection phase requiring 170,000 signees is the next stage of the proposed law change. If the city government refuses to implement the law, the proposal goes to a public vote.

Manuel Wiemann, a spokesperson for the initiative, said organisers are confident the proposal will advance to the next stage.

“The federal environmental ministry did a study recently and 91% of people said they would be happier without a car. Moreover, only a third of individual Berliners actually have a car,” he told The Guardian.

“(But this) doesn’t mean people will automatically be in favour. If it does get to a final vote, it will be about motivating the base just like in every other tight election.”

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