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Berlin’s Popular Shopping Streets Will Go Car-Free (citylab.com)
415 points by jseliger 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 182 comments



As someone who lived next to the main square in Amsterdam

I never understood why people choose to drive with a car on the roads that cross the city (if they don't live there/uber/taxi drivers)

Main streets in cities should be car-free

I'm glad to hear about Berlin decision. For many more to come


I really don't see why taxis or Uber should be allowed, at least if they are not fully electric. They are often larger than private cars, and they drive only the chauffeur and typically one grown up customer around, who could easily have walked, taken the metro or a bus. Half the time they are just waiting around for customers while the engine is on so the chauffeur can cool down or warm up inside.

A better exception would be EVs. Then lower their speed limit to 20 or 30 km/h in the city center, narrow car space to one lane in each direction, and free up the rest of the space on the streets for pedestrians, bikes, electric scooters, etc.


Not everyone is capable of walking long distances, using bikes or electric scooters. Taxis are a form of public transport.

I'm not saying everyone who uses them needs to use them, but if you ban them outright you ban certain people outright, which is discrimination in the absence of alternatives.


> in the absence of alternatives

Can't make this argument any longer. Plenty of electric vehicles which can serve as taxis, and in the UK they manufacture one especially for the purpose. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LEVC_TX


Amsterdam in particular (mentioned in the GP) has excellent metro and tram networks, so you never have to walk far if you don't want to.

That said, the trams can still be really awkward if you're disabled, particularly if you're in a wheelchair as, somewhat incredibly in this day and age, not all trams are wheelchair friendly. And on those that are, you are reliant on the conductor to manually push out a ramp for you.

I do also agree that taxis are a form of public transport, and I don't personally think they should be excluded from places that buses and trams are permitted.


At least in the US, you could make a compromise along ADA lines.

Maybe I'm ignorant of this exact situation, but if it's only one road that's closed, shouldn't the other roads be close enough? What stops a car from entering an alley so someone with limited mobility can enter it?


Should they blow up all hotels in the city centres?

Some people have 2-3 bags. Good luck rolling them around on cobblestone streets during a rain storm


Electric taxis, metro etc.


Stop packing so much crap when you travel. You don't need it. I can fit everything I need for a 2-week trip in a backpack.


Trip? Son I need to buy 3 boxes of bagels and donuts for work, plus 2-3 boxes of brewed coffee, and maybe pick up or drop off some camera/recording equipment. This isn't backpacking, this is a weekly meeting.

I'm glad you can fit your life in a backpack but that's not realistic for many day-to-day situations.


Well, don’t buy bagels and donuts and coffee. I don’t do lunch and I also skip breakfast on odd days. I’m also constantly in motion, like, right now, I’m doing leg lifts that are imperceptible to the the human eye - I call them hummingbirds. You really should stop cultivating mass, and start harvesting.


We call them "carts". They have four wheels, let you haul around a lot on foot and have been in use for centuries.


Sounds like you aren't traveling with a baby or young kids.


Travelling with small kids with a small backpack is very liberating, a paperclip solves most problems if you are a hacker even when handling small kids. It's more of an attitude than anything.


For city centers, rickshaw taxis are effective. They can be pedal and/or electric.


Not during a Berlin winter.


Why not? Put big (fatbike) tires on and a strong motor in, done.


There are closed-cabin tuk-tuk style designs too that would provide weather shelter.


Then what's the difference with a small (electric) car?


(Assuming you mean a very small EV on the "smart car" scale.)

They are less broad, seating is in-line rather than side-by-side (more suited for a taxi), they are designed to move through messy traffic such as pedestrianized areas rather than on open roads, at lower speeds, with lower energy expense.


Taxis are pretty cramped already, as a rule. I cannot fit comfortably in many smaller cars, and have difficulty getting my legs in front of me and keeping my head upright. I'm considered tall, but not hugely so; what are such people to do? Let alone wheelchair transport? Keep in mind that smaller transport options such as these are typically used in places where the average person is much shorter. They are also usually not accessible to the handicapped. Finally, many Americans are too fat to fit in narrow seats.


They are super-annoying and they don't give a shit about rules - dangerous for pedestrians and other cyclists.


That's cultural and not intrinsic. There are places with "what rules" car driving culture too.


This is how I feel about Manhattan/NYC. It should be limited to taxis/uber, buses, garbage, ambulances, and delivery trucks. There should be large garages/parking lots that are free/cheap just north of it in the bronx and people can quickly commute in via a shuttle, bus or bike.


It should be limited to taxis/uber

Wouldn't that just lead to everybody becoming Uber drivers that just happen to never quite getting around to picking up passengers?

Same with delivery trucks. "No officer I'm not driving to work, I'm a one man delivery company delivering this briefcase to my office in my car".

I'm in no way a fan of the medallion system, but if your goal is to put a hard limit on the number of cars in a city then you're going to need some way to enforce that limit.

One idea might be to rework the "medallion" system so that they're sold at auction at the start of each year, and are only valid for 1 year. Then let both taxi companies and Uber/Lyft/etc. drivers bid against each for medallions once a year in an open market.


There are a number of ways to handle "cheating" - greatly increased insurance and license expense for CDL drivers would probably cut down on most systemic fraud.


You don't need a CDL to drive for Uber. The whole point is that any one can pick up is phone and start driving. How do you stop that? Given the climate of Houston summers, I'd just come in an hour, hour-and-a-half early and do three trips to call myself a driver; literally just so I could avoid the heat.


New York requires that you get a license from the Taxi and Limousine Commission in order to drive for Uber.

https://www.uber.com/drive/new-york/resources/ https://www.uber.com/drive/new-york/get-a-license/


I was about to object, but I think as long as Taxi/Uber/Ride share are allowed in the center it'd be a huge improvement for Amsterdam. Taking a car anywhere inside prisengracht is already an exercise in pain, but opening up the city a little bit more would make the few "dicey" intersections in Amsterdam easier on a bike.


Why should taxis be allowed. They are even worse than personal cars because they spend a lot of time driving with no one being transported.


Taxi exemptions make no sense to me either, it would just make life easier for well-off people.

Biking or public transit it the answer.


Transporting bulky or heavy items can be impractical by bike or public transport, as in when shopping or moving.

People with ilnesses and/or mobility issues also come to mind.

Cars' carrying capacity and weatherproofing are useful. As long as the number is limited and their usage is shared (taxis, carsharing), their existence can be a net positive in my opinion.


If you've been to Amsterdam, you'll realize that people don't give a fuck about weatherproofing. They're out riding bikes in normal clothes in the biggest of deluges. It's frankly jaw-dropping for me to see.

Nevertheless, the examples you've stated are easily dealt with by allowing as-needed exceptions for the disabled. I don't see what moving houses has to do with wanting to go to the town center in a car though.


The difference in amount of bikes you see on a rainy/cold day vs a warm spring day is huge though.

I think what he means is that when you want to move a couch/bed/big television for example you don't really have good options, because even disassembled these are usually pretty bulky boxes to move through public transport or by bike.


A flatbed bike trailer can carry more than a pickup truck. We moved house by bike. 20 friends makes easy work.


Well, some years ago I helped a friend move from a place in central Amsterdam to Berlin. It would have been really expensive to hire a moving company, compared to renting a van and a car.

In Berlin, where I live (in the center in fact), we're big on reusing and recycling. I don't own a car, but quite often I need to transport bulky second hand items from wherever I bought them, or bulky trash to the recycling center. So I drive one from a car-sharing app.

I've also needed to take someone to a hospital, and it was just quicker to grab a car2go than waiting for an ambulance.

My point is, there are many use cases where the ability to drive or call a taxi is better than the existing alternatives. I agree that cities everywhere need far fewer cars in them, and I think Berlin with its focus on biking and public transportation but availability or car-sharing vehicles for on-demand private driving is heading in the right direction without having to outright ban cars.


But your life is the perfect example to make my point!

We SHOULD use cars. But we should treat them as garnish, not the main course. Use them for exactly the things they're great for: moving houses, needing to visit the hospital, long road trips to a destination where you'll need flexibility to drive around once you reach etc.

I'm not advocating a ban on cars. I'm not even advocating not owning them. The simple step of banning them on the main shopping street is a far cry from any of those things, but makes the actual experience of being on that street a lot better for the shoppers.


>Transporting bulky or heavy items can be impractical by bike or public transport, as in when shopping or moving.

You don't use a taxi for moving residences, you use a moving truck.

For shopping, if you can't carry it yourself, then have it delivered.


Bikes and public transport work well for people who can afford to live centrally, close to dense transport networks and within range of easy biking.

But if you're out socializing, you may be drunk (so unsafe to bike) and late (where transport networks start getting sparse). That's when taxis make more sense.


But if you're out socializing, you may be drunk (so unsafe to bike) and late (where transport networks start getting sparse). That's when taxis make more sense.

Sure, but why does the taxi have to pick you up right outside the club. Most of the time it's not unreasonable to expect people to walk a short stretch to a place where a taxi can pick you up.


Oh I fully agree with pedestrianizing streets, what I don't agree with is banning taxis from city centres.


I guess it all depends on how big your definition of "city centers" is. Is it 1 km or 10 km across? Thinking realistically about my own city, I could probably draw 3-5 "islands", each ~1km across, within in the larger city center that I would make car free, but still have roads running between/around them.


Taxis are important for elderly or disabled people who can't use public transport or walk medium distances.


Why can't they? I see people on wheelchairs and elderly get on the bus all the time. Yes walking long distances could be an issue but a good public transport system does not require you to walk long distance. Elderly people usually can't afford to get a taxi everywhere.


There some that can, and some that can't. Some that can innrush our, somemthst can't in rush hour.

And about costs: At least here in Germany health insurance for isntance cover some costs for Taxis (when going to a doctor ... while they got stricter) Also in Germany Taxis have regulated prices in order to give some affordability. (Which is one of the critiques on Uber over here, as Uber can pick the routes they like and can raise prices on high demand, while making it cheap innorder to compete with regulated market during other times in hardly predictable ways, which isn't good for people who depend on working transport infrastructure)


I don’t think they’re worse, because the total carbon footprint is much smaller compared to everyone owning their own car


Also much less space would be taken up by street parking. Eliminate parking space in those limited zones, and you can have wider walking spaces, more greenery, that's already a benefit.

A solution doesn't have to be 100% perfect immediately to be of benefit to people.


Higher standards enforced on commercial drivers license/taxi, adhoc transit for elderly/mobility reduced (you're on crutches), things like delivery of a modest amount of heavy shopping from stores without delivery, and because the central area of Amsterdam is actually relatively large.


As someone who studied in Groningen... I really miss the car-free center[0][1]

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svN1xSJ_AAU

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fv38J7SKH_g


yeah it's great, you also get kind of more a village vibe / forum in the city because there is a real pedestrian heavy city centre instead


Because wealthy people shopping at the Bijenkorf want to drive and park there. Other than that, I also can't think of a reason. If the area became car-free I would warrant that the shopping giant would move.


It’s not that hard to understand. People want to take their cars shopping with them. Walking home with your shopping, catching public transport with your shopping, dragging your shopping around from one place to another, are all either inconvenient or impossible depending on what you’re going shopping for. Unless I can easily fit everything I intend to buy in my bag, I’d want to take car with me.


For this reason, furniture shop, hardware shop, or any shop that tend to sell bulky things is usually not in the city center in a place more accessible by car and with a parking. At least, that's what happening in my city.

For other shopping, you can usually park in a relay parking (a parking close to public transportation) and you will be 5 to 15 minutes from the shops. And unless you brought a real shitons of things (which already means that going shop to shop is going to be annoying anyway) it's not going to be an issue. I lived 8 years in my city without a car. I was very rarely a problem.

The only thing is for people with disability. I can understand that for them, a car can still be practical.


I’ve lived in cites without owning a car for long stretches of my life, I’m in no way a private transport evangelist. But what you’re describing demonstrably a compromise in convenience, and not one that all people are will to make, or one that people will be willing to make every time. This is perfectly easy to understand.


I honestly don't see it that way. Car in city center usually lead to horrible horrible traffic, especially in our old European town where the centers are usually full of narrow streets.

It then becomes annoying for everybody: As a driver, you will be stuck in traffic and pollution most of the time. As a pedestrian, you will have to always mind your surrounding to be safe and you will have to smell the horrible car exhaust.

Since our center is mostly car free, it honestly feel more convenient. Sure you have to sacrifice the convenience of being close to your car, but you can be in and out of the center in a matter of minutes, never be stuck in traffic, and being there is much more enjoyable.

Also, my city converted a lot of road into pedestrian way and they added a lot of place to sit down, take a break, ... Before that, you where always stuck in a narrow sidewalk, bumping into other people with cars going full speed less than 1,50 meters next to you... Not really a pleasant experience. Your only hope to catch a break was in the shops themselves, meaning you where trying you damnest to go from shop A to shop B as quickly as possible. It made people overall more aggressive and your experience very bad.

And finally, they added more green space which help prevent flood which started to appear in the last years because we had too many area covered in asphalt.


But that’s still a compromise in convenience. You’re trading not dealing with one problem for not dealing with another. You’re making a qualitative judgement about which problem you care about the most. It’s not reasonable to assume that everybody cares about the same conveniences that you do.


I prefer the convenience that doesn't eventually set the atmosphere on fire because of mass CO2 release. Car free areas, especially integrated with housing drastically reduces the amount of travel necessary.


Funny thing is for cities with cruise ship ports cars are minor priblem: https://www.thelocal.es/20190606/barcelona-and-palma-ranked-... And for those blancket ban for four wheels won't even make a dent. Interestingly general perception is to get more cruise ships!


The tradeoff being made is a slightly more convenient experience for the shopper at the expense of everyone else in the city due to congestion, noise and pollution. It is selfish.

however, the infrastructure must be in place to make the public transport option viable in the first place.


Drivers cause congestion on the roads not the sidewalks, they’re only affecting other drivers, and if you expect the center of major cities to be a quiet and peaceful place, then I think you’re just setting yourself up for a lifelong disappointment on that front.


Convenience is a low, low bar for anything.

We already live in a society that is WAY too convenient. Instant messaging, online shopping, GPS, Google and all the rest of it has moved us one step closer to a ultimate, permanently-cathetered lifestyle of never having to leave the couch.

Let's welcome a reduction to the tiresome noise of internal combustion, methinks.


If you think convenience is a bad thing, then you’re free to live your life accordingly. But you’re not going to convince many other people to join you.


You can still park outside the city and walk the short distance or if it's too heavy to carry then most stores do free delivery for large orders.


Personally, I just avoid shopping in the city center unless I have a particularly good reason to. But the parent said they couldn’t understand why anybody would want to drive into the city. The answer is perfectly obvious. Convenience, even though it comes at the expense of taking more time. Everybody could do things the way you suggest too, but it would still be less convenient, so not everybody will do that every time. I’m sure many of those same people also buy things online, in circumstance where that’s the more convenient option.


this is a us/australia way of thinking. most of the world just buys what they need for that day on the way home. they don’t need huge refrigerators. and there are more opportunity for social interaction and more exercising.


this is one thing i greatly miss from having worked next to a small grocery store. there were always fresh flowers in the house, and even when i wasn't up to cooking dinner or going out, they had fresh-made items that could quickly heat up.

unfortunately, after leaving that job i could never get back into that habit - maybe because my only other option (two blocks from home) was a large chain store, and the food quality was never quite the same.


I don't even understand why anyone is driving down a road like that in the first place. Where are they coming from and where are they going? Where are they planning to park when they get there? They surely aren't parking outside individual shops?

I can understand taxis, delivery vans, busses, chauffeur cars, disabled people, but when I see a private individual in a small cheap car driving through the very centre of somewhere like London I can't think of any explanation for that whatsoever. I wouldn't attempt to drive through a major city unless my life depended on it. Even if you were radically pro-car there doesn't seem to be any logical explanation as for what these people are doing.


Every day, I ride the NYC subway over the Williamsburg bridge. I can look out at the traffic a few feet away and see hundreds of gridlocked cars with no passengers (other than a driver).

I think it's coming from both sides -- there's an entire industry that sells car ownership as a lifestyle, and on the other end people think driving is a constitutionally protected right. If you think people are using logic, I encourage you to sit in on a bike lane proposal meeting.


Drivers are also often unaware how much time they lose on the last mile, whereas a bike can be parked nearly everywhere, and pedestrians just walk up and in.

Living in a north american city, it was insane how much faster I could get to places compared to drivers in a 10 min window.


Drivers are very much aware of how much time they spend in their cars. However you can safely presume that for whatever reason, they’ve decided that the benefits outweigh the costs. Everybody’s free to decide how they want to live their life, but it’s incredibly condescending to presume that just because somebody makes different choices, that they must be entirely ignorant to their own life experiences.

This isn’t coming from somebody who commutes in a car either. My decision to do that has meant some benefits for me, but those come at the cost of other benefits I no longer enjoy.


As somebody who has once lived next to a major crossroads in a big German city. When I sat at my balcony after wiping a layer of black dust from the table and chair I could witness the daily spectacle of the commuter induced traffic jams.

The most surprising finding for me was how rare one could see more than one person in a car. Most of the traffic where you saw more than one person inside was vans with workers of some kind. Regular cars were mostly just the driver with their personal 6m².

If cars didn’t exist and we had to come up with a system of individual transportation today, it wouldn’t look anything like a car. And I think one can see that more clearly living in Europe, where most cities weren’t designed with cars in mind.


> The most surprising finding for me was how rare one could see more than one person in a car

Reminds me of :https://thumbs.gfycat.com/CharmingShamelessFrogmouth-mobile....


Visual reminder of how much space a car uses on the road. Then you remember parking...


That street (Friedrichstraße) is a major north-south thoroughfare because it connects to the bridge in the north. See https://www.google.com/maps/dir/52.5010589,13.3914406/Friedr...

It actually isn't as bad as the photo makes it seem: that seems to be taken with a telephoto lens, flattening a kilometre's worth of traffic into a single layer.


Side-point -- In many towns across Europe, delivery vans also will have restrictions on when and where they're allowed to make their deliveries. I also agree with you. It is very frustrating to drive in these shopping districts and old town squares. I never understood why my FIL would always want to drive in Manhattan given how much longer it took to get around and how much more the parking cost.


There is a ridiculous amount of free parking in Manhattan (and most of NYC) if you've got the time to look for it. It's a little obscene, because the city is leaving a massive amount of money on the table to appease its driving population.


How do you know the city is leaving money on the table? Increased economic activity due to people looking for free parking may well surpass losses from parking fees. If the possibility of free parking exists, people well may come out more, or spend more when they are out, and via taxes the city will certainly be earning something.

It's probably impossible to measure exactly, but I think it's far from a given that NYC is losing money by providing some free parking.


Here’s some very straightforward evidence for you: compare the cost of using the parking space to either the price of equivalent square footage in neighboring building or a private parking garage on the same street.


Don't forget that neighboring buildings have several stories, you need to add the appropriate multiplier.


I'm one of these people driving through Berlin city center streets with a car but I only do it once or twice per week to haul something heavy. I have a car because that's how I came to Berlin and the car has been very useful from time-to-time. I would never use it for daily commute as parking is complete nightmare but I would not get rid of it either. Public transport is very good here but I prefer bicycles.


I ended up selling my car and using a car sharing service instead. This had multiple positive aspects:

- it was cheaper - I didn’t have to deal with any car related stuff anymore (insurance, maintainance, remembering where I parked, ..) - The cars are usually just close by to where I lived and needed to go, no long roundtrips to get to the car or from the car somewhere else

Whether this works depends on the amount of usage – but should your usage decrease, it could be a viable alternative.


This is definitely the right way to go unless you have a need to take longer trips, outside the country, potentially hauling all your stuff. My life has not been that stable here, I needed to drive abroad some time ago and might need it again. But after some years, I would certanly get rid of my own car.


These main roads contain the places people want to go. Anecdotally, I was one of these crazy private drivers last year. My hotel was on Friedrichstrasse. I was driving from Munich, and AVIS has a car rental location directly on Friedrichstrasse where I was returning my car: https://goo.gl/maps/HLHKsmBtdcGkE2KZ6

The maps directions routed me straight through Checkpoint Charlie and down Friedrichstrasse, and I got 10 solid minutes of being that tourist who seemingly didn't know where they were going.


> I was driving from Munich

That's 4 hours by train or 6 hours by car. The train costs 160 Euros without any reductions. I wonder what you paid for the car rental and fuel costs etc. A random calculator I consulted estimated about 60 Euros for fuel alone.

(Much of this is moot, of course, if you did other stuff than just do a single-person straight Munich-Berlin trip.)


Yeah, this was something more like Munich-Salzburg-Dresden-Berlin. I like trains in general, but Germany is sufficiently spread out that cars can still make more sense than in most of Europe.


Mostly just coming through to drive to work or buying groceries at a larger supermarket.


If there are any large supermarkets in Friedrichstraße, I’ve missed them. Medium and small, sure, but not large or huge — those are elsewhere in the city.

Likewise for commuting, the U-Bahn and the ironically underground S-Bahn is more reliable in that area than the surface traffic (including busses) because there’s too much surface traffic and therefore jams.


S-Bahn means Schnellbahn, not Straßenbahn - so it's probably not ironic.


Fun fact:

“The term S-Bahn was until 14 March 2012 a registered wordmark of Deutsche Bahn, where at the request of a transportation association the Federal Patent Court of Germany ordered the wordmark to be removed from the records of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office.[9] Prior to the said event Deutsche Bahn collected a royalty of 0.4 cents per train kilometer for the usage of the said term.“

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-train#Etymology


Thanks. For some reason I brainfarted and thought it meant “Surface-Bahn” even though that’s Denglish not German and therefore implausible given when it was built.


TIL: I thought it meant Stadtbahn.


(Since I'm going to use a lot of terms where I don't always know the translations, I'm just going to write this one in German.)

Eine "Stadtbahn" ist eine Straßenbahn, die auf separatem Gleiskörper fährt, also nicht auf derselben Spur wie Autos. Der kritische Unterschied zwischen Stadtbahn und S-Bahn ist, dass erstere unter die BOStrab (Betriebsordnung Straßenbahn) fallen, letztere aber unter die EBO (Eisenbahn-Betriebsordnung). Das heißt insbesondere:

- Stadtbahnen fahren auf Sicht und folgen den Straßenschildern und Lichtsignalen für Straßenbahnen. S-Bahnen hingegen folgen den Schildern und Lichtsignalen für Züge und fahren ausschließlich nach Signal oder (bei Ausfall der Signale) nach per Funk erteiltem Fahrauftrag.

- Stadtbahnen verwenden das Stromnetz des jeweiligen Straßenbahnunternehmens, also in Berlin z.B. 600 V Gleichstrom. S-Bahnen sind Eisenbahnen und fahren mit Bahnstrom, also 15 kV 16,7 Hz Wechselstrom.


> S-Bahnen sind Eisenbahnen und fahren mit Bahnstrom, also 15 kV 16,7 Hz Wechselstrom.

Wrong, in Hamburg it uses 15 kV AC only on one track outside the city, everywhere else it's using 1200 V DC.


Interesting. And Wikipedia explains that they intend to standardize on DC again. It appears the power aspect is a case of "Ausnahmen bestätigen die Regel".


It’s actually “Stadtschnellbahn”.


In Berlin, which is of course the relevant one here, but the meaning of the S- does vary across cities and history.


I wanted to point out in general, why people drive from a to b through a city like Berlin. That's what I did when I lived in a big city.


and what does "small cheap car" have to do with it?


Because it seems even less likely that they even live there when I see a random small cheap car driving through somewhere like St James in London. And they clearly aren't driving because they love cars because they've just got the cheapest car they could. If they're driving through London in a Bentley then maybe they've got a house with a garage and they have to drive through there because that's where they live, or they really love cars.

So they don't live there, they can't be going somewhere in St James as there's nowhere you can park, and they're not driving for pleasure. So what on earth are they doing? Did they somehow pick a route that includes driving through one of the most congested places in the country? Why would you try to do that?


I take it you don't know that some areas of London have a wide mix of classes with poor people living almost next door to fabulously wealthy ones.

It maybe a some one working a late night shift going home or some minimum wage delivery driver working for Just eat etc


Poor people but with enough money to buy a parking space in central London, and a job that also includes the benefit of a parking space? Most rich people don’t have either of those things.


Berlin's public transport is notoriously bad (imho), a lot of it is owed to being divided for decades and the rest is just Berlin not taking care of it. Personal transportation is a much better alternative for many routes time wise, and hard to ever beat comfort wise.

There's a lot of commercial parking available, and it's not that expensive either.


Notoriously bad? Compared to what cities? It's certainly one of the better ones in Germany, if not even the best. You can absolutely get around in Berlin without a car.

The other larger cities and conglomerations in Germany don't compare favourably, with Rhine-Ruhr (which stretches roughly from Cologne to Dortmund) being particularly bad.

In Europe Berlin's public transport system probably is only rivalled by those in London, Paris and Amsterdam.


I agree.

I've been to berlin about five times and I've never used a car or taxi. I'm not afraid of walking so I walk to the hotel from a public transport stop, most I've experienced is around 2 km.

While there I find riding a bike a superior means of transportation. You can even rent electric ones and Berlin is _flat_. Also the public transportation works well. I've not been to Rhine-Ruhr area but down south around München it's not so good but still passable, I didn't need a car there either. It was a bit slow though when going far like München - Erding.

Amsterdam is pretty good although I wish the trams would run a little longer in the night. There are always buses and rickshaws though.

London I wouldn't even dare to drive, they do it on the wrong side! But I've never needed a car there either.


It's far from the German best, but it's still more good enough, especially considering how it is plagued by cheer scale and all the construction sites all the time.


You can get around in Berlin without a car, you're absolutely right -I've done it myself- it's just not convenient compared to using a car (or bike, if you're traveling light and reasonable distances), which is why, I believe, many people are using their cars despite the fact that public transportation exists. I very much prefer Hamburg's public transportation for speed, reliability and upkeep (though they often sucked at planning for rush hour and large events when I was living there), and the (albeit limited) experiences I have in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Bonn were better, too.

It wasn't my intention to insult anyone's home town, Berlin's history explains a lot of the situation, which I mentioned in my comment, so please don't take it personally.


Maybe you have a much higher level of stress tolerance than me, but driving though Berlin is anything but convenient.

And unless you are driving at night or the early morning it's also not faster than the S or U-Bahn with the added hassle of having to find a parking spot.


Possibly regarding the stress tolerance, the fondness (or lack thereof) of Berlin's specific culture likely plays a role as well.

And I'm not saying that the car is superior for any and all connections, but that it's superior for many that aren't easy to do by PT. It's similar with trains: Berlin to Hamburg is easy by train, but if your destination requires a switch or two, the car is often the quicker option on medium distances.


My partner drives to work by car from Fhain to Reinickendorf because the PT connection is not great and it takes more time. So that totally makes sense. For me commuting to work into Mitte is 20 minutes with PT with one change at Alexanderplatz, which is super easy. So it depends i guess.


Berlin's public transport was perfectly fine for me just like a large city such as Amsterdam is (which is where I live). If it adds anything of substance: when we were in Berlin we were on babymoon, my partner was 6 months pregnant at that time. Also, I've been in Berlin on several occasions. As a Dutch person, I find German people rather friendly, with a near-excellent detail to service and hospitality.

Actually, the worst part of the whole travel was the way back with the ICE. The part in Germany went great (apart from having terrible LTE connectivity but I also saw loads of forests and such so that makes sense). It just stopped at the middle of nowhere, in Bad Bentheim, in December, with snow and all. The train wouldn't go further in The Netherlands. The DB allowed us to remain in the train with the heating on while NS (Dutch Railways) got another train instead which took an hour to arrive, was less luxurious as ICE, and was full. At the same time I caught a flu on the last day which was setting on during the train travel. Together with all our baggage, and a 6 months pregnant partner who I don't want to carry much. Fun times...

OK, one more point to make: German people are attached to cash money instead of cards. So sometimes I could not even pay with card. I like it, in a way, because it adds to privacy, and there's a nostalgia feeling, too. But if I'm used to card, it also feels like a step backwards.


I know a lot of expats living in Berlin who are all impressed by the public transport. Granted, they are mostly not from Europe and I personally also prefer to take the bike whenever I can, but it's far from "notoriously bad".


Op is right, though. The PT in Berlin is certainly quite large and offers quite some options on paper. But it is notoriously crowded, unreliable, and sometimes just plain slow.

Edit: forgot to mention dirty and often unsafe.


Kind of right, but it's not THAT bad. I commute from Neukölln to Prenzlauer Berg every day and taking the S41/S42 trains is by far the fastest way of getting to work. Car is slower and it's quite annoying to go through the city, bike is a bit slower but I prefer to get my exercise by running.

Another story are the renovations and building projects that just cut whatever part of the public transportation down for days/weeks. There are alternative routes one can always take, but I prefer to stay out of the hot U-bahn during the summer days. There can be some nice surprises, like that one Monday morning when this guy decides to start smoking heroin in a full and sweaty U8.

Edit: Forgot to add that the trams are awesome. Air-conditioned, fast and comfortable in the eastern part of the city.


In what way do you feel it's unsafe? There are a few notorious party lines (U8, M10) which can get pretty crowded with tourists on weekends but this is just annoying at worst. There is also a large amount of people begging on PT in Berlin but I never felt threatened by them. I don't take PT much here regardles, usually just ride my bike.


Don't know how unsafe it is, but it is a bit nasty to see the stuff that goes on in U-bahn stations such as Moritzplatz, Kottbusser Tor, Schönleinstraße, Hermannplatz, Leopoldplatz, Boddingstraße et.al.

Never felt unsafe, but the heroin usage and dealing is very open and in your face during the commuting hours.


Crowded: no, you can almost always find a place to seat. Paris PT is crowded, not Berlin's.

Unreliable: true for the S-Bahn, outages are frequent.

All things considered, it's still better than all other big cities I have visited.


Slow, yes. That's a main gripe i also have mostly because the routes are bad. But crowded? Have you been in the Paris or London metros at peak times? If anything it's worse if we are talking only about crowdedness. Even in places like Tokyo, known for their perfect schedules and reliable PT, the amount of people stuffed into a single train is on another level.


What do you mean by unsafe?


UBahn is (surprisingly frequently) used by people that appear to have some kind of mental disorder, yelling at and attacking other passengers, to a lesser extend by what I would describe as wannabe gangs, people under the influence and plain drug criminals. Nevermind that the subway has a lot of strict rules in that regard but Berlin being Berlin they are hardly ever enforced.

Just an anecdote: I once witnessed a really large muscular and completely drunk guy attacking an actor that was dressed up as Friedrich II., including what looked like a rapier or small sabre. The situation was definitely unsafe for the actor and (if he would not have managed to protect his rapier, because that was what that drunk guy was after) potentially dangerous for anyone else.

Another day I had to interrupt some aggressive youngsters trying to rob other passengers in the middle of the day. When they left it turned out they were armed with knives. Not a fun thing to learn. I notified the subway driver once I got out (the gang was moving from wagon to wagon), but he essentially did nothing to stop them.

I have not witnessed such stuff in other cities' public transport. And certainly not in that frequency.


Nonsense, compared to other cities such as London, almost any city in the US, etc. public transport here is awesome. There is a dense network of buses, trams, underground, and commuter rail. Service is frequent and reliable.

Anyway, this is a (tiny) start but it won't do much else than move the congestion a few blocks. I'd be in favor of much more aggressive measures. Simply making parking a lot more expensive will help discourage people using their cars inside the city. Some people actually commute by car inside the downtown area. This is not a thing in most normal cities these days.


Sorry, I wasn't comparing Berlin to US cities, but to other German cities (similar culture, similar geography, similar climate, similar funding). Obviously, a car culture will generally have a less pronounced public transportation system.


Are there other German cities with a similar culture to Berlin? I’d like to visit them!


Leipzig is smaller but has a similar vibe. Also good public transport there.


Good.

Where I live (town of around 250k inhabitants), cars were banned from the main shopping street in the city center in the 1970s. It was an extremely controversial decision. Today it is one of top 15 most expensive shopping streets in Germany and the 9th most visited shopping street [0]. If anyone would propose to again allow cars there, there would be an outcry from the public and the businesses.

Before: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Kreuzung...

After: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/2017-05-...

They slowly extended car-free zones during the 80s and 90es. Five years ago, they closed down another major 4-lane street and made it a pedestrian or reduced traffic zone, which was also (again) hugely unpopular, but is now seen as a big success (despite minor controversies which have nothing to do with banning cars) [1].

Before: https://deacademic.com/pictures/dewiki/85/UB_Freiburg.jpg

After: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Werthman... (the black building replaced the abhorrent building in the previous picture)

[0] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiser-Joseph-Stra%C3%9Fe_(Fre...

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platz_der_Alten_Synagoge_(Frei...


To put this in perspective: The plan is to do this for a single weekend.

And maybe even more putting it in perspective: Berlin's senator of traffic and environment has announced a lot of things regarding "traffic change", new bicycle paths etc. But there's a really huge gap between announcements and what's really happening.


Correct. Living in Berlin for 5 years now and do almost everything by bike. Change is extremely slow or non existent. Some stuff is going on in Kreuzberg and Mitte, but it’ Taking ages.


I can think of quite a few streets where one oftthe lanes were converted to bike lanes over the last few years. Still have a hard time believing they had the guts to do this to car owners. Yes, progress is slow. Especially compared to capitalistic endeavours like the recent scooter rollout. Who's it were faster, but also hate the "they are just talking" narrative.


That's a pretty much normal outcome of Rot-Rot-Grün government. A lot of populist slogans before elections and not much done after.

Also, they decried a "moratorium" on new underground lines, which are very much needed, with the growth of the city. It's especially visible in the North an NW parts.

Ironically, Morgenpost wrote today exactly about that: https://www.morgenpost.de/berlin/article226722951/Berlins-Ro...


I also think that there would be many opportunities to do much more, but local politicians often aren’t brave enough. Which I can totally understand, since there will always be very worried people when you propose a change like that.

In my small hometown it took construction work and the resulting closure for months of one of the main retail streets with no bad consequences to traffic flow at all to convince local politicians in the 80s to turn that street into a pedestrian only zone (originally it was planned to just open the street back up to traffic).

In that way temporary experiments might just be a good idea to demonstrate the worthiness of an idea but I fear that closing something for a couple of days might just be too short. In the beginning these disruptions will always be bumpy and unpleasant, so you probably won’t be able to tell a good change from a bad change within only a couple of days.


Exactly, free for a weekend to have a big party. So nothing special around there: every weekend they close one or the other street off to host a festival.


Hooray! In my locale (Vancouver BC) we've slowly watched the city deploy more of those fake on-road-patios onto the main commercial street here and I'm hoping we'll just shut down car traffic soon since, honestly, if you're driving in downtown you're doing it wrong.


i've been told by people in the planning office (in my town, not vancouver) that that's the main purpose of those on-street "temporary" patios - to get people used to the idea that streets are public spaces, not thoroughfares for cars.


Wish Victoria would do the same, but they're very pro-car here.


Calling the Friedrichstraße a popular shopping street is not really correct. It's pretty crowded by foot and car traffic because it's close to Checkpoint Charlie and not far from the Brandenburger Tor. But it's not very popular. For normal customers, new soulless shopping malls have been built in other areas. For luxury shopping, people go to Kurfürstendamm. There's a small shopping mall that's 80% empty (Quartier 205 or 206). The idea to close the street for traffic is also to see if it makes it more popular again. But then it should be done during the week,too.


I don't know the middle steps, but the end step is everyone wishing they had made the area car-free earlier.


Looking forward to this. I've just spent two weeks in Kiev, where they block a large section of Khreschatyk St. (8 car lanes plus very wide side walks) around Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) plus some of the side roads each weekend. It makes for an amazing atmosphere and lots of people come out to socialize, chill, shop etc. and I'm almost certain business is better on pedestrianized days vs. 8 lanes full of cars for no good reason.


How do citizens who have limited mobility get around in the area this is enforced in? Huge proponent of these efforts (having experienced car free zones in Spain), but I’m always interested in how accommodations are made for people who have a hard time walking (whether it’s due to age or an ailment).


I've lived in various places in Europe (most recently Eindhoven) with large car-free areas. Car-free only applies to folks who have no mobility issues. The areas are all fully driveable (in the early mornings delivery vans and trucks are all over) usually with electronic pylons or gates as blocks. Folks with mobility issues can drive in. I often hear the question from North Americans - but again, car free is not a punishment but a reward. It is actually safer for folks with mobility issues because there are massive pedestrian areas with limited/no curbs and no cars.


They walk...

Check Google Maps for some representative distances (i. e. picl some apparment building, then map the route to the next supermarket, doctor's office, etc).

You will have a store within 500m for the vast majority of residential buildings, and often within 200m. The closest bus stop should also rarely be farther away than about 150m.

Wheelchairs and electric scooters are used almost exclusively by paraplegics, not by, say, elderly people with arthritis. Having far lower obesity rates compared to the US helps.

My impression is that car ownership is exceedingly rare among the elderly, below the already low 30% of households owning cars.

But these pedestrian areas don't make too much of a difference: they tend to be just single streets, so you can always park on the parallel streets and walk just one block.


> They walk...

My grandmother is 90, and is unable to walk more than a few feet at a time without being in debilitating pain from advanced arthritis and her being too old for knee replacement surgery. These are the edge cases I'm interested in, especially as the first world rapidly ages and the number of people in the population with mobility issues increases. If the solution is exceptional accessibility for wheelchairs and electric scooters, perfect!


Surely they can use those single person electric kart things.


Not sure if this answers your question, but some of those rascal scooters are pretty fast...


Don't forget about Podil, where they closed off a major 4-lane street permanently. Now the street is full of outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes, and it's always busy with people.

I wish more American politicians would visit Europe and see how great closing off a few streets could be.


>I wish more American politicians would visit Europe and see how great closing off a few streets could be.

How's that going to help anything? American politicians are just doing what they were elected for by the American people, and the American people love cars and hate public transit. Enlightening some politicians will either have them doing nothing different because they want to appease their constituents, or doing something different and losing their re-election bid. The problem isn't the politicians, it's the voters.


As a former delivery driver I’m curious how shops get shipments of multiple pallets of...everything? Early in the morning are trucks allowed? are the pallets broken down and handtrucked to each shop?


I've seen this in some cities (Vienna, for example), and the bollards are lowered (either manually or hydraulically) in the early hours of the morning so that deliveries can be made. They go back up around 7am.


I was in Denmark where they had that. Unfortunately, they'd constantly let through "special" vehicles, just enough to pretty much ruin it.


In many smaller Danish towns you _can_ drive on top the shopping streets, but there'll be big signs telling you that it's only allowed for "service/special vehicles".

If you get caught there you'll probably get a nice fine. And you can be sure all the pedestrians will make you drive slow.

Finally, the road usually has tiles so you don't get in there by accident, nor would you want to.


There were plenty of them driving, slowly, and loudly beeping. Enough so it was simply impossible to walk without constantly having to move over for them.

It didn't really work as a pedestrian mall. I've been in other European cities where it did work, i.e. no vehicles.


> There were plenty of them driving, slowly, and loudly beeping. Enough so it was simply impossible to walk without constantly having to move over for them.

Where in Denmark was that? I don't see any loudly beeping delivery cars in Copenhagen.


It was about 10 years ago. I don't remember just where it was.


Pedestrian zones here in Lübeck, Germany: Delivery trucks are allowed between 6 and 8 in the morning.


Either in the morning or, especially for larger stores, they have delivery docks on the other side of the building. Usually, only a single street is closed for cars.


A common design is to interleave pedestrianized representative main roads with parallel utilitarian back alleys that are used almost exclusively for deliveries.


I’m extra curious for things like Madrid’s superblocks that are 9 blocks square!


In Boston there's a pedestrian only area downtown. Commercial vehicles, taxis, and cops are still allowed to drive into the area. They go very slowly.


Perhaps we need more electronic handtruck startups...


In the sixties it became popular among urban planners, at least in the American Midwest, to have shopping districts ban cars. It did not prove popular, in fact you could say it led to the rise of shopping malls. Most if not all of these car free plazas were torn out. Is history repeating itself in Europe?

What happens if everyone moves to electric cars and the pollution problem from car exhaust disappears or is greatly abated in the inner city? Does closing the street off still make sense?


You should visit Europe once, you'll see that life here is different.

Specifically regarding Friedrichstraße: It's in the city center, brimming with tourists. 3 major subway lines have stops there. Few cars drive in there as it is, because you have bigger streets nearby that are better connections. If you still want to go with your car, you just park in a parallell side street, there are even parking garages if you don't want to look for a spot.

Having it car free will be lovely for the tourists, cafés and restaurants will put out tables.

The same was done in other city centers like Budapest or Vienna decades ago, and it worked out extremely well for everyone involved.


Making cars electric means they don't spew CO2, which is important so that the planet doesn't become uninhabitable (for us) BUT it doesn't actually stop them polluting.

Rolling at speed means two surfaces are ground together which will produce tiny particles of stuff that get stuck in your lungs. Which causes a statistically detectable increase in breathing problems, thus a small bump in deaths.

Getting rid of motor traffic in city centres mitigates this problem, regardless of whether the cars are ICE or electric. We can't make it go away altogether because rolling fast is very useful - the public transport will be doing it too, but we can significantly reduce it.


Surely that has more to do with all the people with money moving out to the suburbs and favoring shopping locations closer to them more than it does with a few streets being closed off to traffic.


Americans moved to the suburbs and built shopping malls because of two things: the auto industry, and white flight. Mainly, they wanted to get away from all the black people in the city.

Generations of racism have had a huge, huge affect on American society and the design of American cities.


Fun fact: I live in a car-free "downtown" area in Europe. I have to walk 15 minutes to reach my car... but just 5 minutes to the train station.

Not complaining though; it's a beautiful walk.


What happened in Barcelona? I read that they are unwinding the superblocks (large, largely car-free zones). Is that correct? I t thought it had gone well.


I heard they did some prototype that ended up being successful once they added some green elements and child playground.

http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/superilles/es/


Thanks!


There was a discussion about that here not so long ago:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20200760


Thanks!


The (European) city I live close to has done this very step about 30 years ago when their main shopping strip was converted to a pedestrian / bike-only street.

However, everytime I go there, the street is still full with cars: delivery trucks that bring the retail goods to the stores (which are not easily accessible otherwise), construction trucks for the apparently constant repairs they're doing on the road, ambulances, etc. Even when most of them are not driving you're still constantly surrounded by (mostly big) vehicles.


In Vienna the central pedestrian tourist/shopping streets are open for deliveries until 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning, so if you go there at those times, it's quite chaotic. But then all the vehicles are gone for the rest of the day.


These days most shopping streets also tends to be closed from traffic for security reasons. So it is probably mostly an organizational issue.


Well, it's a fact of life, you need those vehicles even when people are not driving (I see a similar situation on the pedestrianized street in my city)


Please please do this in the US too.



The interesting part of the story is not so much that Berlin is finally making its main shopping street car-free, but why it hasn't done so before.

Dutch cities and towns have had car-free or car-poor shopping streets since as long as I can remember, certainly the early 1980s. It's not unusual even in smaller towns. And Munich shows that car-free city centers also exist in Germany, just not in Berlin.


We have a car free shopping street in Adelaide, Australia. It's fairly nice. I used to work in an office on that street and the one thing I miss that I didn't expect was how fast it was to get around. Now I'm working somewhere else and the places I get lunch from are the same distance away but navigating through the roads means it takes twice as long to walk to where I want to go. It's also just generally ugly and louder at the new place.


Friedrichstraße is not a shopping street by any means. It's probably one of the most desolate places I can think of in the city 'centre' (Berlin has many city centres)


The official Berlin website disagrees with you, https://www.berlin.de/en/shopping/shopping-streets/. I live in Berlin and disagree too.


Quite the opposite. Some of the biggest international corporations are located either on it or on side streets flowing into Friedrichstraße.

It also attracts a lot of tourists due to historically relevant spots.


> At Tauentzienstrasse, the street is wide enough for a more radical makeover. If it’s fully closed for good, it could accommodate cafés and what Germans call “lying meadows”—lawns intended for lounging and sunbathing—in its median.

Wow, I was just thinking an hour ago that they should do that to queens boulevard, while crossing it (always very scary).


So when does this begin? I'm about to go to Berlin for ICFP and would love to stand in a car-free street and imagine all cities were like this.


It's starting. Finally.




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