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City centres soon car-free?

As early as next year, the mayor of Paris wants to make the city centre almost car-free. The city is thus following other metropolises in southern Europe. In Germany, citizens and politicians still oppose strict environmental zones in city centres.

By 2022, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wants to make the city centre virtually car-free. Only buses, taxis, craftsmen, skilled workers and delivery traffic will then be allowed to enter. Those affected by the planned strict environmental zone are the four central arrondissements with an area of almost 5.6 square kilometres, in which the most popular sights such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre are also located, as well as arrondissements five, six and seven north of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

Currently, about 180,000 cars still pass through the city centre every day. The residents of the affected arrondissements themselves have just about 18,000 cars. In addition, about 100,000 of the vehicles counted daily are transit traffic, i.e. they do not stop in the city centre at all. This is an enormous burden for the residents of the area.

In other cities like Madrid or Rome, car-free city centres already exist. In Rome, car traffic has already been reduced for 15 years to protect the historic city centre. Only those who live or work in the city centre are allowed to drive in.

In Berlin, the "Berlin car-free" initiative would like to achieve something similar, but over a much larger area. The entire city area within the Berlin S-Bahn ring is to become car-free. This area would result in the largest car-free zone in the world. However, a majority of German citizens reject car-free cities.

Of course, something has to change in Germany. Politicians have still not tightened the rules on environmental zones and there are hardly any truly car-free zones. But with the "Berlin car-free" initiative, the initiators may have overshot the mark. In order to gain majority support, individual streets or smaller areas should first be made car-free. In Barcelona, for example, 9 blocks of houses, so-called superilles, are combined to form a traffic-calmed zone. Vehicles are still allowed to drive on the main streets outside these blocks. Smaller projects could also convince the sceptics in Germany if they could experience the calmed and green areas for themselves.

A rigorous ban like the one the initiative wants will certainly put too many people off their guard. Moreover, the costs of implementation are likely to be enormous. The closure of Friedrichstraße in Berlin already cost over 1 million euros until January 2021. However, the zone was not only made car-free, but also transformed into a promenade.

So Germany should take an example from cities like Paris, but find its own way to make more and more zones car-free. The easiest step towards this, however, would be to tighten the rules in the environmental zones.