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Could Berlin really go car-free?

Berlin Autofrei’s campaign has stalled in the city’s Senate – but there’s still hope for anti-car campaigners

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Earlier this year, Berlin pitched one of Europe’s boldest visions for a car-free future. Fifty thousand Berliners signed a petition by the Berlin Autofrei campaign calling for a law to ban cars from within the city’s S-Bahn ring. The proposed area covers a whopping 88 square kilometres, which is roughly equivalent to London’s zones 1 and 2, and would be the largest car-free urban district in the world.

Thanks to its huge popularity, the petition was officially considered by Berlin’s local government. However, it appears to have been stalled by the city’s Senate, who have criticised the bill for being too radical, and it looks almost certain to be rejected. So is the dream officially over for the city’s anti-car campaigners?

Well, it might not actually be the end of the story. When a bill like this one is rejected, its organisers have the option to take the issue to a public referendum and potentially override the decision of the local government. For the referendum to be triggered, the petition will need to reach 170,000 signatures.  

Now, when we say car ban, obviously the proposals don’t advocate for no vehicles at all. Public transport would still be allowed into the zone, as well as people who depend on a car for their trade or because they have impaired mobility. Emergency services would also be exempt and, because sometimes people really do need to drive (to move house, for example), each citizen would be permitted up to 12 rented car journeys a year.

Getting rid of cars seems like a great way to make a city greener, healthier, quieter and safer, but the Berlin Senate still has its criticisms. It cites parking issues and increased traffic outside the car-free area as key issues, adding that its preferred policy is low-emission zones.

In any case, dreams of a car-free Berlin haven’t been shattered just yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to the Berlin Autofrei campaign over the next few months.

Did you see that an exciting new high-speed Paris-Berlin train will launch next year?

Plus: a minuscule (but very charming) museum has just opened in an old Berlin petrol station.

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