True car fans will have to adjust to new times, the previous king of the road will have to make space for other mobility concepts - //next columnist Don Dahlmann is convinced of this. Especially in Europe, several cities have been taking radical measures to drive cars out of the cities.
For many decades, urban planning focused on only one question: how to get as many cars as possible into and through the city without disruption. The Hanoverian architect Hans Bernhard Reichow formulated the idea in 1959 in the book "Die Autofreie Stadt" (The Car-Free City), and urban planners enthusiastically jumped on the idea of making space for the car in cities. This led to some hair-raising excesses. In Bremen, for example, a medieval monastery that had survived the Second World War was demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park. The scars that this planning left in the cities can still be seen almost everywhere today. And it was above all at the cost of pedestrians and cyclists, who were increasingly pushed to the edge of the road. If there was any space left for them at all.
But the dispute over space in the city is now entering a new round. The question of whether the car is taking up even more space is clearly answered with "no". And honestly, where should the space come from? You would have to start tearing down houses to create even more space for vehicles. The discussion has gained new momentum in recent years due to climate change. Suddenly, the car was no longer the darling of the people, the uncrowned king of the road, but the cause of CO2 and other emissions that accelerate climate change. This also led to people becoming aware of how much space a car, which spends 95 percent of its life just standing, consumes in the city.
The lockdowns during the Corona times, when traffic almost came to a standstill, suddenly showed that things can be done differently. Many cities seized the opportunity and built new cycle paths by simply taking lanes away from cars. What was celebrated as a kind of revolution in Germany has long since become normal in other cities. Especially in Europe, some metropolises have been taking radical measures for years to drive the car out of the cities.
The cycling city of Copenhagen is well known, where almost 50 percent of the inhabitants travel by bicycle. That is significantly more than in other cities, where the percentage is between 10 and 20 percent. But other cities are also catching up. The French capital Paris in particular has taken drastic measures in recent years to reduce car traffic.
For some years now, various new forms of mobility have been tested – car sharing, e-scooters or bicycle rental. For two years now, efforts have been made to bundle the various concepts in order to offer the inhabitants a multimodal mobility model that interlocks and makes the car more or less superfluous. Now they are going one step further.
Entire districts are to be completely car-free in the future, including the area around the world-famous Louvre Museum. Parking spaces will be massively reduced in all parts of the city. Almost every public parking space is to disappear; parking will then only be possible in garages and multi-storey car parks. Gradually, the driving restrictions will be extended so that private car traffic within the city ring will be completely eliminated.
This is already very aggressive, but Paris is not alone. Barcelona has been converting its city centre to less traffic for a few years now, and a general speed limit of 30 km/h in the city exists since the beginning of 2021. Exceptions are only made for two-lane arterial roads. In total, 60 percent of the existing streets in Barcelona are to be redesignated and made car-free.
Outside Europe people are thinking about how to cope with the traffic as well. Many metropolises in Africa face a double problem. On the one hand, they are growing rapidly, and on the other hand, there is a lack of good public transport. So people use the car. Dar-Es-Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, also faces this dilemma. But they are approaching the matter pragmatically. New roads are being built, but they are exclusively for buses. Cars are forbidden there. The bus can thus reach new parts of the city and drive past the traffic jams.
True car fans will therefore have to adjust to different times, the previous king of the road will have to make space. However, these changes will not come overnight. Only when the necessary alternative transport options have been created in a city the next step can be taken and entire city districts will be made car-free. And German cities in particular are still a long way from achieving this.
Text: Don Dahlmann