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Berlin Looks to Create Car-Free Zone Larger Than Manhattan

Berlin Looks to Create Car-Free Zone Larger Than Manhattan

Berlin’s regional parliament is considering creating a car-free zone in the German capital in response to a concerted push from a local advocacy group. The car ban would apply to the space ringed by the S-Bahn train line, which circles the city center, an area larger than Manhattan.

Volksentscheid Berlin Autofrei, or People’s Decision for Auto-Free Berlin, the group behind the measure, was started in 2019 by a group of friends who worked with pro bono lawyers to draft a new law that would restrict vehicle use to trucks, taxis, emergency vehicles, and limited car-sharing programs. The group then collected 50,000 signatures in support of the measure, forcing the Berlin Senate to take up the issue next month, Fast Company reported.

If the Senate rejects the measure, Autofrei will seek to collect 175,000 signatures, enough to force the Senate to consider the matter again. If the Senate rejects the law once more, it will go to a referendum in 2023.

In Berlin, ample bike lines, regular trains, and a robust networks of public buse make getting around without a car more manageable than in many other major cities. Cars account for just 17 percent of trips within the S-Bahn ring, according to a 2014 report commissioned by the Berlin Senate.

Nevertheless, in the city center, cars still crowd roads and parking spaces, trends highlighted by campaigners in renderings showing how Berlin roads look today and how they might appear without cars.

“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, a part of the Autofrei group and an American expat now living in Berlin, 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.”

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