Germans do not want to give up the car. More than half of them are against car-free city centres. Even among younger citizens, who tend to be more in favour of reducing car traffic, there is no majority in favour of locking out car traffic.
"Volksentscheid Berlin Autofrei", the initiative that wants to radically change Berlin's streetscape, will probably have a very hard time if it actually comes to a referendum one day. It wants to ban cars in Berlin's tram ring generally, with a few exceptions. But even if the plan of more space, quieter and cleaner city centres and green spaces with benches and playgrounds actually sounds nice, the majority of Germans are not convinced. They prefer the car right outside their front door.
A Civey survey commissioned by Business Insider with over 5,000 people showed that only 28.6% are in favour of car-free city centres. Many are not even completely convinced of this, but gave a somewhat more hesitant "rather yes" as an answer. 66.5% vote against car-free inner cities, again with a tendency towards "No, definitely not".
Of course, there are also more positive reactions in different population groups. Younger people are usually more positive about car-free inner cities. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 38.4 percent are in favour. In the city, the concept also finds more approval than in the countryside. Perhaps this is also because local public transport actually makes the car superfluous here. In the countryside, a full 74.6 % are against car-free measures.
However, as has been shown in other countries, a negative attitude is not unusual at first. Often, citizens lack imagination, are afraid of change and of having to do without things due to the absence of a car, instead of seeing the benefits of car-free parks and recreation facilities. Where city tolls have been introduced to reduce traffic in city centres and entire streets have been closed to through traffic, the citizens affected were often much more positive about the measures after a short time than when they were introduced, for example in Stockholm, Paris and Barcelona.
So it might be time for German politicians to dare to introduce car-free streets and neighbourhoods in order to trigger a turnaround in the population. Test projects like the Friedrichstraße in Berlin could not be tested for a long time because of the pandemic, but they could prove to be quite positive, also for the neighbouring retail trade and gastronomy.
Because at the moment, the number of vehicles per inhabitant in this country continues to rise. So if we don't want to give up our cities completely to car traffic, we have to change our ways now. To do this, we simply need a push from politicians to show us the advantages of car-free zones and better alternatives to the car.