Since Berlin's Friedrichstraße was closed to car traffic, the air quality in the street and the surrounding area has improved significantly. German Environmental Aid is therefore calling for more car-free zones in other cities and areas as well. However, the reason for the improvement could also be the pandemic.
Since August last year, Friedrichstraße has been closed to motorists. Instead, a promenade with lots of seating and planters has been created. People should be able to stroll, shop and linger in the new Friedrichstraße. Measurements by the organisation Deutsche Umwelthilft (DUH) have now shown that nitrogen dioxide pollution in the closed area has dropped by a third compared to the data from the previous year. DUH sees this as a sign that the car-free zones are successful and can significantly improve air quality.
However, it is difficult to say whether the improvement is really only due to the car-free zone or also to the Corona pandemic. Since traffic has generally decreased due to the Corona pandemic and certainly fewer people have driven to the immediate vicinity of Friedrichstraße to shop and work, not only the car-free zone but also the reduced mobility could have contributed to the air improvement.
The Friedrichstraße promenade project is now to be extended until October this year, as the success of the project cannot yet be assessed. This does not only refer to the potential improvement of air quality. The impact on retail and gastronomy as well as the satisfaction of visitors could also not be assessed, so to speak, due to the closure of shops and the absence of visitors and tourists in the last six months.
Compared to other cities such as Paris and Barcelona, Berlin and other major German cities still have far fewer car-free zones. The federal government is still too hesitant to introduce car-free projects, at least temporarily, in order to convince citizens directly of the improvement in quality of life and health. Other projects, such as Berlin's partially car-free Wrangelkiez, are still met with divided opinion by local residents. Of course, at the same time as the ban on cars, there must be alternative offers such as improved public transport and the expansion of cycle paths. Otherwise, car-free zones in the surrounding streets will only create more congestion and thus more air pollution, as well as frustration among the citizens.
In a few months, we will see what the citizens of Berlin think of the Friedrichstraße promenade project and whether the air quality has actually been improved by the car-free zone. If the promenade is well received, it could be a pioneer for other car-free zones in Berlin and elsewhere.