The revolution on Berlin’s streets may fall flat at an early stage. The Senate rejects the people’s initiative “Berlin car-free”, with which an initiative wanted to ban private car traffic in the city center to a large extent. The bill would play “downtown against outskirts” and create more problems than it solves, said Transport Senator Bettina Jarasch (Greens). At the same time, the Senate submits the referendum to the state constitutional court, because it considers its demand to be “not proportionate”.
The legal concerns were anticipated, and it makes sense to clarify the constitutionality of a potential car-free law early on. At the same time, the Senate decision is a missed opportunity. Because the capital government is thus taking the opportunity to discuss traffic and the question of how to deal with private cars with the general public. Both are of central importance for a successful future in metropolises.
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The plan of the referendum is certainly radical. Since Berlin consists of many centers due to its history and there is not one city center that could be sensibly converted into a car-free zone, car-free zones should be ensured within the Berlin S-Bahn ring (exception: the federal roads). But the area is almost as big as the whole city of Paris. It’s way too big for something like this.
As Jarasch pointed out, the areas outside the S-Bahn ring would also suffer, into which the driving and parking stock of more than 1.2 million cars would be displaced. And then there is the practical question: How are all these people supposed to get to their destination instead? Local public transport is already full at peak times, and the range of trains and buses will not grow fast enough in the coming years to be able to transport tens of thousands of transfer passengers satisfactorily.
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At the same time, the referendum asks the right question. Should city dwellers – unless they are physically handicapped or are traveling as commercial transport – give up the right to private car use altogether? What right should there be for individuals in the future to drive their cars through the city, when it is clear that they are inefficient, take up too much space, that their noise is harmful to health and their exhaust gases pollute the environment. The question of proportionality could therefore also be raised by the car opponents with good reason.
It is also obvious that the plans of the traffic activists are a massive cut in individual self-determination. At the same time, however, if one restricts oneself to this point of view, one ignores the burden and limitations that are imposed on other people. Just because people in cities have become accustomed to an auto-tolerant mode does not necessarily mean that it will be the right one for all time.
There needs to be a public debate about this. And as many ideas as possible are needed as to how things could be improved in the future. So far, all attempts to reduce traffic, which have been rather hesitant, have failed. In view of the inexorably increasing number of car registrations in the capital, it is only understandable that the traffic activists now want radically more. Even if the question arises as to whether such a referendum, if allowed, would find a majority at all.
One can doubt that, because the many people who drive in the city also vote. Why should they forbid themselves a form of mobility that they could do without voluntarily? The following applies: Even if the people’s initiative “Berlin car-free” could now be settled – before that, the state constitutional court has to deal with the Senate decision – the traffic turnaround is still necessary in view of the congested streets.