Whoever drives in Berlin has too much time

The famous Berlin ampelman is not the only thing bringing traffic in Germany's capital to a stillstand
CC BY-SA 2.0 Amanda Slater

Jens-Holger Kirchner, a Green party member, and Secretary in the newly created Department for Environment, Transport and Climate Protection of the Berlin Senate, challenged readers of der Tagesspiegel with his claim that

"whoever drives in Berlin has too much time."

One of the first jobs for Kirchner involves reacting to Berlin's bicycle referendum, billed as the 'first citizen-initiated cycling referendum." Bicycle club "lobbyists" have written laws that would promote better bike routes, bike parking, and traffic infrastructure fine-tuned to optimize travel by bike -- and want to enforce their adoption by a "decision of the people."

Kirchner emphasizes his refusal to let lobbyists dictate laws. He favors solutions representing the interests of a wide alliance of affected parties. Nonetheless, he assures readers, he assumes that the objectives of the cycling referendum can be met, and the people behind it will be happy.

Kirchner hopes to have trials using cargo bicycles as solutions to the "last mile" problem before the end of this year. The project would have a two-fold benefit:
  • reducing the environmental and traffic burdens of inner-city delivery by trucks, and
  • clearing the double-parked trucks out of the bike lanes, leaving more room for those who aim to go car-free in a city where that should be imminently feasible.

Kirchner's thought-provoking quote comes in the context of the motivation for delivery firms to engage in such pilot projects. It's not because they are environmentalists, he claims, but because their are efficiency experts: the force controlling the choice of inner-city mobility is time.

And time comes into play in many decisions facing city planners. Accidents can be reduced, and alternative forms of mobility can be encouraged, when automobile speeds are limited. Kirchner is careful to avoid the conclusion that as a "green" he is an auto-hater. He says that's just the direction in which city traffic is going. Cyclists are not health-freaks and eco-oriented; rather, the growing trend towards cycling reflects the fact that it gets you where you are going, and faster.

Kirchner enters the job promising a new policy, that won't shy away from conflict in the quest for safer and more efficient mobility. In his opinion, road safety should be enjoyed by all. "Including motorists," he notes.

Perhaps in some cases it's good to have a leader the Tagesspiegel describes as a "friend of clear language" and a "politician without fear" at the helm - of the administration for environment, transport and climate protection. After all, a politician who can reduce traffic accidents will save more lives than have been lost to terrorism.

Whoever drives in Berlin has too much time
In which a brash-talking politician takes on the lobbyists - and everybody wins (hint: the "lobbyists" aren't who you think!)

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