A car-free Berlin

Many people are bound to consider this group’s proposed plan no more than a pipe-dream–especially some friends in Berlin who regularly complain about the existing bike situation—but regardless, it’s a bold and beautiful one.

The goal, they agreed, should be to limit cars within the space inside the Ringbahn, a huge circular train line in the city. The space is larger than Manhattan—and if the plan can succeed, it would be the largest car-free area in any city in the world.

Of course, as with most such plans, “car-free” actually means “much much fewer cars.”

Special permits would be given to emergency vehicles, garbage trucks, taxis, commercial and delivery vehicles (though many deliveries in Berlin already happen on cargo bikes), and residents with limited mobility who depend on cars. Others would be able to use a car, likely through a car-sharing program, up to 12 times a year to run longer errands. But most people, most of the time, would walk, bike, or take public transportation.

Last April (2021), the group started gathering signatures, getting to 50,000 by the end, enough for the Berlin Senate to consider the idea.

“Ripping the Band-Aid off” seems like a pretty good way of describing how cities had to quickly change how streets were used during COVID quarantines. A lot of those methods worked so well they were adopted permanently, surely quick measures can be taken again and get active and public options to a level that draws more citizens into using them.

“If you want to have an environmentally friendly, future-focused city that has cleaner air and more livable spaces for its citizens, and is climate-friendly and accessible to all, not just car drivers, then you have to rip the Band-Aid off, so to speak,” he says. “Create those conditions proactively, not eventually.” […] “My biggest takeaway from Berlin, and Europe in general over the United States, is just that they have realized that this is not just a revolution toward electric vehicles, but toward the removal of vehicles in general.”