In recent years, many cities around the world have become much more aware of the plight of designing our urban spaces with a car-centric mentality. In Europe in particular, cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, and Stockholm are well ahead when it comes to reclaiming urban space from cars in favor of streets that put cycling and walking front and center.
Now, thanks to a citizens’ initiative, Berlin’s governing body is considering a proposal that could make the city home to the largest car-free urban area in the world. The campaign, called Volksentscheid Berlin Autofrei (People’s Decision for Auto-Free Berlin), was created in 2019 by a group of friends. Their aim was to push for a city-center car ban that would limit vehicles within the space circled by the S-Bahn train line — an area larger than Manhattan.
The team worked with pro bono lawyers to propose a new law that would restrict vehicle use to trucks, taxis, emergency vehicles, and limited car-sharing programs. They then gathered 50,000 signatures in support of the campaign, forcing the Berlin Senate to consider the idea by February, reports Fast Company.
If the Senate rejects the proposal, the advocacy group will then go on to collect 175,000 signatures. This will be enough for the issue to go on the ballot in 2023, letting citizens decide if the ban should come into effect.
With adequate cycling infrastructure and reliable public transport, Berlin’s vigorous urban fabric makes getting around without a car relatively manageable compared to other major cities in the world. With that said, air pollution and road congestion are still common issues that erode the city’s liveability. Fewer cars on the road would make the city much more pleasant to its residents, which is what the campaigners of the initiative are trying to bring across.
“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,” Nik Kaestner, an American living in Berlin and is now part of the Autofrei group, told Fast Company. “If you want to have an environmentally friendly, future-focused city that has cleaner air and more livable spaces for its citizens,” he said, “then you have to rip the Band-Aid off, so to speak.”