Dispute over car traffic in berlin: building bridges between red and green

Transport policy will become an election campaign issue. The SPD wants to present itself as a friend of small car drivers. Only not in Mitte.

What should it look like in the future? The Muhlendamm bridge, here still completely in the GDR style Photo: dpa

Berlin’s SPD recently had its sights set on Environment and Transportation Senator Regine Gunther. The comrades gave the Green senator a run for her money with her climate package in the Senate – wisely ignoring the fact that all SPD senate administrations had already given their approval.

Shortly thereafter, the SPD parliamentary group followed up with criticism that Gunther had simply ignored key climate policy concerns of the Social Democrats. The message behind it: Berliners would have to pay too much for the climate policy of the Greens, for example for parking their cars or for buses, trains and streetcars – this could not be done with the venerable SPD. In the 2021 election campaign, this spin is likely to be heard even more often.

In the Mitte district, however, it sounds quite different. Here, an SPD city councilor is sharply criticizing the transportation senator because, in his opinion, she is pursuing a policy that is too car-friendly.

The background is the necessary demolition and rebuilding of the Muhlendamm Bridge, the main link between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz. The bridge over the Spree, a structure from GDR times, is as dilapidated as the Elsenbrucke upstream, which is already being dismantled. In the near future – and the Senate Building Department responsible for the project does not yet know exactly when – the competition for the design will be announced.

Dispute over a bridge

This alarmed City Councilor Ephraim Gothe, who is responsible for urban development in Mitte, among other things. Because the traffic senator’s plans assume 60,000 motor vehicles per working day will use the bridge, as her spokesman Jan Thomsen confirms. That’s less than the current figure of around 72,000, but still twice as many as Gothe would like to see on the bridge in the future. "The district demands that it be dimensioned for 35,000 motor vehicles," the councilman informs us. In addition, he says, the space on the new bridge should be divided equally among pedestrian, bicycle, motor vehicle and a future streetcar traffic.

Several times Gothe has appealed to the responsible state secretary of the transport administration. Without success. The specifications of the competition must now be changed quickly, demands Mitte’s city council; even the SPD-CDU coalition at the time had only planned for 40,000 to 50,000 motor vehicles in its 2011 urban development plan for traffic.

Lost the connection?

"My role model is Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris. She is radically transforming traffic in Paris, planting street trees where cars drove yesterday," Gothe emphasizes. Berlin, on the other hand, has "lost touch with cities like Barcelona, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Paris when it comes to climate adaptation." That sounds quite different from the recent motorist-honoring tones from the SPD faction in the House of Representatives.

The spokesman for the transport senator nevertheless rejects the criticism. The future bridge must meet the current requirements of all types of traffic on and under the bridge, says Jan Thomsen, in agreement with the construction administration.

How many cars will be allowed into the city? Photo: dpa

The emphasis here is on "current": In 2011, the Senate still assumed a stagnating population until 2030. "The old plans for traffic reduction in Mitte are based on long-outdated population forecasts and on the idea from ten years ago to build the A100 with the 17th construction phase through Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and later through Pankow," Thomsen says. "That’s not our approach."

On the future bridge, he says, a median strip will be kept free for a streetcar line. "This means that by far the largest part of the future bridge cross-section will be available to the environmental alliance of public transport, cycling and walking."

The lesson to be learned from the dispute: Even supposedly striking car issues are not suitable for overly platitudinous election campaigns.

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