Dozens of cities around Europe marked European Car Free Day on Friday, with mixed results, including in Berlin. Critics say the German capital is lagging behind its other European counterparts in terms of reducing car usage in the city centre.
Berlin is known as one of Europe's most sustainable transport capitals, but this year it has already put the brakes on the process of cutting down of cars in the city.
While many European cities, such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Paris are drastically reducing car traffic in their city centres in favour of cycle paths, Berlin is going in the opposite direction and becoming more car-friendly.
At Potsdamer Platz, cyclists are not impressed with the city’s infrastructure.
“There have been a lot of plans, but not much actual building. I think the discussion is happening, but much more needs to be done,” says Elena Witte.
Meanwhile, motorists criticise cycling infrastructure for eating up cars' public space.
"Of course, each city needs bike paths. But you can't steal the space from the cars and give it straight to the cyclists," one Berlin resident told AP.
Cyclists vs Motorists
The battle between cyclists and motorists was a hot-button issue during the Berlin state parliament elections last February.
Berlin is not just a city, but also a state, meaning that the local parliament has a high level of independence to introduce laws that concern the city.
Mobility was a central theme of the election, helping the Christian Democrats regain power for the first time in over two decades.
According to critics, the new local government has put a hard break on all new developments of car-free spaces and bike-friendly zones.
"I have no hopes for this legislative period,” says Ragnhild Sörensen, press spokesperson for the urban mobility think tank, 'Changing Cities'.
"The Christian Democrats have made a proposal to change the mobility law of Berlin. And there, they basically removed all the advantages that we see with sustainable mobility for people. It is all removed in favour of the cars in the city", Soerensen claims.
Some areas that had been dedicated as car-free, such as a section of Friedrichstrasse street, have seen cars return.
Other bike path projects were put on hold, or delayed, pending a review.
But the Christian Democratic party in the city says that they are simply correcting the previous government’s unfair focus on bikes and negative view of other types of transport.
“We think that the safety of all types of transport is important. For all,” says Johannes Kraft, mobility spokesperson for the Christian Democrats in Berlin.
World Car-Free Day is an initiative to promote the reduction of air pollution. In Belgium, it took place on Sunday and marked the start of European Mobility Week.
In the French capital, the initiative is now called "Paris Respire" and was also held on Sunday, with families taking the opportunity to walk or cycle freely through the streets usually filled with car smoke.