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Car drivers would have to get a permit giving them up to 12 visits to the car-free zone per year

Could Berlin become a car-free city in the next four years?

Could Berlin become a car-free city in the next four years?

An ambitious draft bill was championed by the Greens in the City’s Senate, but authorities shut it down for being too drastic. What happens now?

Recently, the Green Party in Berlin came out with a policy proposition in the City Senate that would make the city centre essentially car-free. Although the policy project falls short of outright banning cars, it does propose severely reduced motor vehicle traffic inside the U-Bahn Ring. The U-Bahn Ring is a circular subway line, veering an area of 88 square kilometres in the heart of the German capital.

If the city government rejects the proposition, it can go to a referendum

Despite the Greens being in the city government and the policy being spearheaded by Bettina Jarasch, the Senator for the Environment, it faced significant criticisms in the Senate. The ‘Berlin Car-Free’ initiative started off as a popular push for a referendum, similar to the push for a referendum on expropriating large land owners.

Furthermore, the Greens campaigned on the back of this referendum proposition in the local election last September, however, when they entered into government, the car-free policy was noticeably absent from the coalition agreement.

Thus, Senate representatives and city government coalition partners have expressed hesitation to support the bill. In fact, the Senate has recommended that the Berlin House of Representatives reject it.

If the House rejects the bill and its contents in the span of four months, the bill's sponsors can demand that it moves to a popular vote in a referendum. Importantly, the proposed legislation can go to a referendum because it has reached the required 50,000 unique signatures.

Taking cars out of the equation in the heart of Berlin

According to a statement by the city, Berlin’s Senate shares the basic principles outlined in the bill: designating traffic-safe areas, creating a climate-friendly environment and reducing the use of private motor vehicles, while promoting public transport, cycling and pedestrian traffic. However, they believe that the law is too radical and restrictive.

Essentially, the referendum for a car-free Berlin proposes that in four years the city area within the U-Bahn Ring becomes an area with ‘car-reduced streets’. These streets would allow only taxis, public interest transport like police and the fire brigade, public transport, bikes and small electric vehicles like e-bikes, motorised wheelchairs and etc. All other motorised vehicles would require a permit which would allow drivers 12 trips per year and later 6 trips.

One of the key criticisms the Senate has levied against the bill involves the fact that it would inevitably create a parking crisis outside the U-Bahn Ring and shift traffic issues to the outer city. Moreover, members of the SPD have also said that sustainable mobility needs to be an expanding and overarching policy, which includes providing adequate public transport options for people in the outer city.

The official statement also mentions that with a long-term, continuous and gradual traffic shift policy, the city’s population can experience the benefits of sustainable mobility for themselves. Furthermore, local authorities have also explained that the low-emissions zones are a great policy tool, that should be gradually expanded to cover more of the city.

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