Fewer accidents but more fatalities on Berlin streets

Corona has skewed statistics but the pandemic and environmental concerns may transform urban traffic forever.

Flowers and bikes memorialise a cyclist killed near Alexanderplatz in 2020.
Flowers and bikes memorialise a cyclist killed near Alexanderplatz in 2020.dpa

Berlin-The number of pedestrians killed last year on Berlin streets jumped about 16 per cent while overall traffic deaths climbed 20 per cent despite a significant, corona-related drop in traffic, according to police statistics released Monday. 

Last year, 19 pedestrians and 17 cyclists were killed in traffic in the capital compared with a total 30 in 2019 while overall 50 people died on Berlin's streets, 10 more than the previous year, the stats show.

"Time and again we had to join cyclists at a vigil, put up white figures or wheels, lay flowers and light candles," said Roland Stimpel, spokesperson for the German Association of Pedestrians, or FUSS. Stimpel said 2020 was "a terrible year for us."

The increase in fatalities stands in stark contrast to other statistics that show roads were safer in some respects. Police recorded 126,286 accidents in the first year of corona, down nearly 14.3 per cent from the year before. Those injured in accidents slipped 13.7 per cent, including 13,273 slightly injured people, or 2,192 less, and 2,054 with serious injuries, or 250 fewer.

"The majority of those killed on foot were elderly," said Stimpel. "They died at traffic lights, at crosswalks, at intersections or on the roadway they were trying to cross. Of the 19 pedestrians killed, 18 were hit by cars, and one elderly woman was hit by a bicycle."

The number of cyclists killed nearly tripled

Although government counting stations recorded about a quarter more cyclists in 2020 than in 2019, the number of bicycle accidents in Berlin did not increase at the same rate. The number stagnated at 7,868, which is 14 accidents more than the year before.

The number of cyclists slightly injured increased by 1.9 percent, to 4,885. A total of 688 cyclists were seriously injured, an increase of 2.7 percent. In contrast, police say the number of cyclists killed nearly tripled, from 6 to 17, 7 of whom were seniors.

More than half - nine cyclists in all - died because they were struck and killed by turning motor vehicles. Two cyclists were killed due to "inappropriate speed." One cyclist crashed after drinking too much, police said. Two cyclists "died while entering flowing traffic the wrong way," and two cyclists were riding in the wrong lane or disregarded a traffic light. One death is unaccounted for.

Top accident intersecions

Last year, Jakob-Kaiser-Platz was home to the most accidents - a total of 266. The A100 ring Autobahn and A111 Autobahn to Hamburg meet at the site. The traffic circle around the Siegessäule - known as the Große Stern - was second with Ernst-Reuter-Platz in Charlottenburg third. The most accident-prone intersection in 2019 - Schlesisches Tor in Kreuzberg - slipped to fifth place, though the intersection was reduced and traffic rerouted as the U-Bahn tracks were refurbished throughout the year.

Police last year opened 750 criminal investigations for "prohibited motor vehicle racing," 388 more than the year before. About a third involved at least two contestants. The other third included suspects fleeing from police as well as individuals just driving at high speeds.

By contrast, the number of speed traps fell by 1,071 to 9,150. Police said less traffic was one key reason. While police opened nearly 9 per cent more criminal traffic cases for serious offenses last year (24,012), 19 per cent fewer traffic tickets were written for infractions, or minor violations (almost 3.6 million).

"The corona pandemic and climate crisis are not over yet. The bicycle boom will continue. We need less and slower motor vehicle traffic in the city and above all more space for people on foot and on bikes. The Senat must act now. Implementing measures that have long been known is more urgent than ever," said ADFC board member Frank Masurat.

This article on Berlin traffic statistics was adapted by Andrew Bulkeley.

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