Last week, Mayor Michael Müller opened the German Habitat Forum, which is a really good thing. It was a conference full of experts offering “Urban Solutions” for making cities more “livable” and recommendations that would “empower cities as actors to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement” and “initiate informative approaches for sustainable urban development.” Basically everyone had a little orgasm when someone said “sustainable” and then went home.
In his welcoming statement, Müller said he was especially happy that Berlin was hosting the event, because this is a city where “you can experience directly sustainable and participatory urban development.” Hmm. This came as a surprise to the campaigners of Volksentscheid Fahrrad, who have been collecting signatures in an attempt to force a referendum to make cycling safer and more attractive in the city. They want more bike lanes, safer crossings, more parking spaces for bikes.
In response to the initiative, Müller’s government delayed making a budget for the new laws, to make it harder to collect all the signatures, and then budgeted them at €2.1 billion – compared to the €300 million that the campaigners said it would cost (both figures are now on the petition). The Green Party, which put the budget at €1 billion, said Müller was “playing with prices for the moon.” Either way, Müller doesn’t seem especially keen to implement the measures.
The Senat is actually obliged to produce a budget for any Volksentscheid before the petition forms can be printed and they can start getting signatures, but for this one it didn’t meet the deadline of before Pfingsten, so the campaign lost the whole of the holiday weekend to collect signatures. Which they were pissed about. Their deadline for the petition, June 10, wasn’t moved back.
Of course, making cities better for cycling is really a radical new transport policy, and we have to balance many different interests. It would be a courageous decision, and nothing scares politicians more.
The problem is, we don’t really have a choice. Berlin, like most German cities, is about to miss its CO2 targets by a long way. As this presentation shows, the plan was to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels), in fact we’ll be lucky to make 20 percent. Meanwhile, the population of Berlin is growing by about 40,000 people every year. Even if all these new people drove electric cars to the Bioladen, we’re going to have a traffic-clogged city – and cities everywhere are having a similar problem.
As the great German Habitat Forum pointed out, “Cities are responsible for 75 percent of all CO2 emissions,” and “by 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities.” So come on Müller, this is your time! Seize your moment!