In Paris, it has been decided. In Berlin, the project has just begun. On April 25, an action group started collecting signatures for a referendum on “Car-free Berlin” and we have signed. The goal is to get the entire inner city within the S-Bahn Circle (Ring) to be almost completely free of motor vehicles. 

This should make everyday life in the German capital more liveable and bike-friendly. An almost car-free city centre will result in healthier air and safer streets. This will also make a major positive contribution to climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It is planned as the largest car-reduced city centre in the world.

What would a car-reduced city look like?

The idea of a car-free city is not new. Similar attempts have already been made in various communities, for example by legislating for car-free Sundays. Keeping the streets free of passenger vehicles throughout the entire week, however, proves to be much more difficult. It would hardly be possible to implement it all the way. 

It has become our task to think the city of the future, because only together can we shape it. Ampler Bikes is not only developing the means of transport for the city of the future but also wants to create awareness of what this city could look like. Reducing the number of motor vehicles would already be a strong start. How would this take shape?

empty Berlin city center

It would be the biggest car-reduced city center in the world.

Travelling by car into the city

The problem arises particularly from the growing number of people who are commuting. Real estate prices and rents are rising within the major cities. As a result, living space is becoming increasingly scarce and more people are having to look for a home in the surrounding suburbs. This also means that they have to travel longer distances to and from their jobs. If commuters use their own cars, traffic density increases.

In turn, this individual commute means that less usable space is available in the cities. Parking spaces and parking garages are needed, roads are expanded and spaces are being taken up by cars. In addition, air quality deteriorates and noise levels rise. 

In short, car traffic strongly influences the lives of those who live within the city.

A City for People

The consensus view is that a city is meant to be for the people who live there. This is how Philine Gaffron from the Institute for Transport Planning and Logistics at the Technical University in Hamburg sums it up. Accordingly, the goal should be to improve the quality of life of its residents.

This includes reducing individual traffic. Delivery vehicles, taxis or buses would still be allowed, but not private individuals driving through the city in their cars. This would require a well-developed public transportation network.

Also important, are bike lanes that will continue to allow residents to get around freely within their city. The absence of cars ensures greater safety on the roads. There are still many traffic accidents in Germany involving cyclists. They are among the most vulnerable road users.

Cyclingtour through the city

Let’s start to make cities for people.

A car-free city – a lovelier experience for everyone?

In major German cities, there are about 450 cars for every 1,000 residents. That means almost every second person owns one. For most of the time, such vehicles are parked, unused, in parking lots. As a result, experts consider a total of just 150 passenger cars to be sufficient and desirable.

Restricting cars could have the effect of forcing residents and commuters to use public transport or bicycles more frequently. With increased safety thanks to a reduced traffic volume, reluctance to use bicycles may be alleviated.

The so-called push-and-pull strategy could be another factor in the success of these plans. These include the use of commuter tickets, which will make it cheaper to use public transport. Well-structured bike paths, fast bike lanes and clearly structured traffic systems facilitate cycling within the cities. 

Another factor is the practicality of the alternatives. Ampler Bikes designs featherweight e-bikes that are up to any day.

Do car-free cities already exist?

As mentioned earlier, the concept of a car-free city is not new. Within Europe, it is possible to find inner cities that remain closed to private vehicles. In Germany, this is mainly the case on some of the individual islands such as Helgoland or Langeoog. Some car-free areas also promote residents’ personal initiatives. For example, in Vienna there is Maria Hilfer Street, where only buses and bicycles are allowed. Other cities and towns are proving to be even more coherently car-free.

Car-free all across Europe?

In the meantime, almost all major European cities are pushing for a reduction in the use of individual cars. In London, Madrid, Athens, Brussels and Oslo, traffic has already been severely restricted. Toll systems and bans on ageing vehicles are just the start. In Graz, Austria, the Green Party is planning a specific car-free day. In some cases, there are general bans on driving.

These attempts to reduce car traffic in inner cities were initially sporadic. It is only with the passage of time and the growing attention to climate change that interest in completely car-free cities is increasing. Even Stuttgart, one of the quintessential German automobile manufacturing cities, is now planning restrictions. This not only for the sake of the environment but also for the health of the community.

Around 85% of all inhabitants in European cities are exposed to high levels of air pollution caused by particulate matter. The international health organization WHO considers this to be hazardous. In the EU, around 467,000 premature deaths were due to high levels of air pollution. Although emission limits have been in place for some time, many governments have been relatively lax in their approach to air quality. This is now changing.

Woman standing with her Curt

From Paris till Vienna – it is a Europe-wide trend.

Which cities can serve as role models?

Some European cities are now actively working to improve the quality of air and consequently the quality of life. The countries in Northern Europe have been leading the way on this front.

  • Oslo has been working for a long time on a concept that gives pedestrians and cyclists a higher priority than cars. To this end, the city council wants to expand bike paths and make the city as a whole easier to access. Buses and trams will be unaffected so that people can continue to commute within the downtown area.
  • Stockholm provides its residents with car-free months in an effort to improve the quality of life. To this end, the city centre remains closed to car traffic during the summer months from May to September. What started in 2015 with just two car-free streets has grown in recent years. Not least thanks to the growing enthusiasm of the residents of the Swedish capital. Since 2017, some roads remain closed to car traffic even during the winter months.
  • Vienna is also planning a car-free city centre. With no designated parking spaces, the small, narrow streets in the centre of the Austrian capital quickly become overcrowded. Vienna wants to keep the ring road around the old town open for cars, but driving into the city will be restricted. However, there will be exceptions for residents, hotel guests and delivery traffic. How successful this project will remain to be seen. At the very least, they are committed to the plan of becoming the first car-free city in the German-speaking world.

Berlin nearly car-free – a local community initiative

The initiative “Volksentscheid Berlin autofrei” (“Campaign for a Car-free Berlin”) plans to implement a car-free concept for the German capital, starting by collecting signatures on its online petition. The goal is not only to keep a large portion of private transport out of the city. The overall aim is to make life safer, healthier and more climate-friendly. To this end, the collection of signatures will begin on the campaign’s website from April 25.

What will the “Campaign for a Car-free Berlin” be proposing?

The goal of the initiative, according to the proposed legislation, is to achieve “general public welfare-oriented road use”. As a result of the scarcity of housing, there is a desire for a transformation to a socially responsible transportation solution. It is also designed to help the city respond to the demands of climate change. As the previous examples show, a congested city centre is no longer considered suitable for these times.

Of course, essential trips will continue to be allowed. These include:

  • Taxis
  • Buses
  • Delivery vehicles
  • Police
  • Fire brigade
  • People with limited mobility

All of this applies to the area within the S-Bahn Circle (Ring) around downtown Berlin. If the law were changed to the petitioned extent, Berlin would have the “world’s largest car-free inner city” with a size of 88 square kilometres.

Individual use of personal vehicles within this area is to be limited to twelve days per year. This applies, for example, to transporting a load, or taking a trip on vacation. For these trips, it would then be necessary to specify a precise reason by means of a specific website. The number of these trips is expected to be reduced to six in the coming years.

Meeting with an e-bike at the cafe

Support the petition for a more bike-friendly city.

A healthier and more peaceful lifestyle in Berlin’s city centre

As already mentioned, pollution from particulate matter is particularly high in many cities and has an impact on the health of its residents. In addition, traffic creates an excessive amount of noise, which can also be detrimental. Sleeping with the window open seems an impossibility to many city dwellers.

Additionally, there is a shortage of recreational space. Although traffic accidents involving children have decreased significantly in recent years, there is however still a particularly high risk in this area. Such accidents often result from errors made by young children, according to the police, such as their ignoring a right of way, or using the road carelessly.

However, it is of course difficult and even impossible for parents to keep an eye on their children at all times. Zones and streets without any vehicle traffic would provide additional safety when playing.

In other respects, the initiative is opposed to a congestion charge or higher parking fees. These are considered socially unacceptable because not everyone can afford them. This would effectively exclude people with lower incomes from travelling into the city. Even driving e-cars is to be banned within Berlin’s city centre. These also represent a hazard and would take up space that could be used for other purposes.

How can you support the “Car-free Berlin Initiative”?

The initiative plans to hold a referendum in 2023, and because the bill refers to highway law, not traffic law, it can circumvent federal laws. To petition for the referendum, the campaigners need 20,000 signatures by June. If they achieve a referendum, this in turn will require 610,000 votes in favour.

Would you like to participate in this petition? As of April 25, you can do so here on the campaign’s website!