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Berlin's new law gives legal footing to pedestrian safety, including over cyclists

The so-called ‘pedestrian law’, an amendment of the city’s 2018 Mobility Act, was passed by the state parliament at the end of January and is the first time a German city has put pedestrian travel on a legislative footing

Juliana O'Rourke
12 February 2021
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Berlin has introduced a law elevating the status of pedestrians and making its mobility ecosystem more usable for wheelchair users and the visually impaired, reports Deutsche Welle (DW).

It's about so many small things,' said Stimpel, not 'large and spectacular projects like making the city car-free, which would have faced stiff political resistance from auto groups

The so-called ‘pedestrian law’– an amendment of the city’s 2018 Mobility Act – was passed by the state parliament at the end of January and is the first time a German city has put pedestrian travel on a legislative footing.

Faster modes of transport have enjoyed right of way for nearly a century in Germany. That means, generally speaking, pedestrians and cyclists yield to cars and trucks — not the other way around, says DW. Until now, 'slow defered to fast',  Roland Stimpel, the Berlin director of Germany's Foot Traffic Association (FUSS), told DW, referring to German traffic laws from the 1930s that in large part are still on the books. 

Berlin Mobility Act

In July 2018 Berlin’s Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection passed a law to provide safer and more climate-friendly transport within the city. The Berlin Mobility Act was aimed at improving cyclist welfare by redesigning dangerous junctions, expanding spending on cycling infrastructure and parking facilities, and creating safe bicycle lanes along all main roads.

The law was primarily introduced to reduce the number of deaths or serious injuries from traffic accidents — in 2020, almost 75 percent of the 50 traffic fatalities recorded in Berlin were pedestrians or cyclists.

Like the original law from two years ago, which noticeably boosted bike infrastructure around the city, the 2021 pedestrian-focused amendment lays out a hefty to-do list: longer green lights for pedestrians, safer school routes for kids, more crosswalks and more benches for older people and others in need of a rest along their route; curbs are to be lowered to make them more wheelchair accessible; construction sites will need to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists can safely navigate around them; and city authorities are supposed to crack down harder on illegal parking and dangerous driving.

FUSS called the passage of the latest amendment a 'milestone' for Berlin's traffic system. It was one of several groups that consulted on the law, which passed with the support of the three-way governing coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), the Left and the Greens, as well as the business-friendly Free Democrats.

'The law further pushes the city's transformation from car-first to pedestrian-first, to improve the quality of life for all Berliners,' Harald Moritz, the Berlin Greens parliamentary transportation spokesperson, said in a statement.

The new legislation directs each of Berlin's 12 districts to develop a relevant pilot project within three years.

'It's about so many small things,' said Stimpel, not 'large and spectacular projects like making the city car-free,' which would have faced stiff political resistance from auto groups.

Additionally, bike groups now have to accept firmer enforcement of riding and parking on sidewalks, which endanger pedestrians. 

According to the European Transport Safety Council fatalities from motor vehicle accidents across the European Union fell by almost 25 percent between 2010 and 2018, with pedestrian fatalities falling by 19 percent – but Germany was below the EU average in year-on-year reduction in pedestrian fatalities.

 
 
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