Leon Kaye on Wednesday, Mar 1st, 2017
As far as the world’s smart cities go, Berlin can hold its own. Solar rooftop installations comprise a healthy business – despite a temporary moratorium last year – and urban farming thrives in Germany’s capital. City leaders are quick to tout their efforts to streamline bureaucracy and make government more responsible to citizens’ needs. The city has also committed to smarter office buildings and homes where citizens working within its burgeoning technology sector can live and work.
But Berlin’s cultural offerings, nightlife and relatively cheap cost of living compared to other large European cities have exacted a toll on the city of 3.5 million. Its population is projected to reach 4 million within a decade, which will cause further spikes in rent and home prices while increasing traffic congestion.
Enter Berlin’s transportation secretary, Jens-Holger Kirchner. In an interview last month with the German daily Der Tagesspiegel, Kirchner bluntly gave his opinion of cars: “Whoever drives a car in Berlin has too much time,” he said, and he sees better city planning, with an emphasis on bicycling, as key to alleviate Berlin’s traffic.
A member of Germany’s Green Party, Kirchner is determined to use his clout as head of Berlin’s newly formed Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection to pursue his agenda. In his view, if automobile manufacturers cannot or will not make their cars run cleaner, Berlin will simply see fewer of them on the city’s streets.
By many metrics, Berlin’s transportation system is less carbon-intensive when compared to many global cities of a similar population. According to a recent London School of Economics study, almost 40 percent of Berliners take some form of public transportation to work, while just over a third rely on their own cars. Walking and cycling both make up 14 percent of city residents’ mode of commuting. Furthermore, car ownership is on a slight decline, with 3.6 percent fewer cars in 2013 than 2010.
But those statistics do seem to not satisfy Kirchner. Claiming that he is a “multimodal” commuter himself – relying on a city-issued hybrid vehicle, walking, cycling and public transport in order to move around town — Kirchner says even more improvements can be made to reduce the city’s congestion. His vision is to boost bicycle commuting by up to 50 percent, which would perch Berlin alongside what many describe as the world’s cycling capital, Copenhagen.