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Car-free zones? Not in Berlin

The closure of an intersection in Berlin divides the neighbourhood. Many older people oppose the pilot project, families with children and younger people were in favour. The project shows how important the car is to many Germans. Other countries show that it is possible to live without a car.

An already quiet corner in Berlin-Charlottenburg was to be used as a pilot project for a car-free zone. Citizen surveys before the start of the project revealed that 4 out of 5 people think that pedestrians should have priority in the city. However, already on the launch night of the project, the notice board where people could find information and leave comments was smeared with butyric acid. In the weeks that followed, there was a lot of dislike for the project among the comments. There was anger about the lack of parking spaces and problems with car traffic in adjacent streets, but also concern that the car-free zone would lead to increased noise and litter from children playing and people gathering. Older people in particular opposed the project. Families with children saw the car-free zone positively. In a second survey after the 5-week project, the neighbourhood community is divided. 45 per cent are in favour of keeping the car-free square, 45 per cent against.

At Lausitzer Platz in Berlin-Kreuzberg, traffic calming was decided by the district, but designed with the participation of the population. There was much less resentment here because people were directly involved in the implementation. Thus, car-free zones are slowly increasing in Berlin.

But other countries are already much further along. Barcelona, for example, is to become practically car-free by 2030. So-called superilles (super islands) are to be created. These are areas of 9 blocks of houses that will be joined together to form a traffic-calmed zone. Only residents and, for example, the refuse collection service will be allowed to drive here at walking speed. Playgrounds and green areas with park benches are also being built in the superilles. In Paris, too, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has declared war on cars. At the end of her first term, 54 percent more cyclists were on the streets, while car traffic had decreased by 8 percent. Among other things, it made about 100 streets car-free, introduced car-free Sundays in the districts and had 1400 stations with city bikes installed. Cultural offerings and urban gardening projects should also make the city more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists. In her new term of office, she wants to make it possible for people in Paris to reach everything they need in daily life within 15 minutes. In this way, car traffic is to be further reduced.

In Berlin, it seems that some persuasion is still needed. It is astonishing that residents prefer traffic noise to the noise of playing children and revelers. Concerns about a lack of parking spaces and traffic jams in neighbouring streets are certainly justified. So it is important not only to close roads to vehicles, but to create alternatives to traffic. As is already being done in other cities.