Germany's automotive pope says Berlin needs better biking infrastructure

Residential parking permits are a gift to local car owners and a congestion charge could be a useful tool, the founder of an automotive thinktank says.

The pope in 2011.
The pope in 2011.imago

Duisburg-Germany's capital needs higher parking fees, a congestion charge like London and better cycling infrastructure that separates bikes, cars and pedestrians, Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, head of the German automotive thinktank Center for Automotive Research (CAR) said. 

"A congestion charge in Berlin would, I think, be useful," Dudenhoffer said in an interview with our sister German-language publication. He said that although the congestion charge hasn't lowered London's inner-city traffic, it's brought in extra cash that can be used to improve infrastructure.

"The decisive argument for a congestion charge is that it is a market-based tool that can guide traffic policy," he said.

Dudenhoffer is known as the pope of German automotive policy and is often seen as a voice for the country's massive car industry. He worked at carmakers including Porsche, Open and Peugeot before becoming a professor at the Duisburg-Essen University in Germany's Ruhrgebiet rust belt in 2008. He then helped form CAR, which is attached to the university. 

Buskers are a welcome change

Dudenhöffer says he's never driven in Berlin, preferring the city's public transport instead when he visits. He even praised the many buskers working illegally in U-Bahns and S-Bahns. Although he's never cycled in Berlin, he called for better cycling infrastructure.

"When lots of people ride bikes instead of driving cars, it takes pressure off the streets. Drivers benefit when there are lots of cyclists, even if not all drivers agree," he said. "The problem is when bike traffic is directed so that there are automatically conflicts with cars. It's also dangerous when cyclists and pedestrians have to use the same paths."

The car pope said Germany needs more and better bike paths - including in Berlin. Dudenhöffer admitted he used to be opposed to bike highways but has seen the benefits through his co-workers. He also wants politicians to do more to protect cyclists.

"If it's possible to save lives in the corona crisis by taking drastic measures - why not do the same in road traffic? It's clear to me that trucks and buses should only be allowed to drive in inner cities when they're equipped with turn assistants that warn when a collision with a cyclist, for example, is imminent," he said.

A gift for you!

So far this year, five cyclists have been killed in Berlin traffic, often by trucks turning right at intersections. 

And while he called for more pampering of cyclists, he said car owners are pampered too much. 

"€10.20 for a resident parking permit is laughable - it's a gift. You might as well just charge nothing," he said. "I would divide the inner areas into rings. The closer you are to the centre, the more expensive parking permits get for residents. Outside €10, inside €100."

Despite growing environmental consciousness, the academic says studies actually show interest in cars growing, not declining. For every 1,000 residents, Berlin had 336 cars in 2020, up from 335 a year earlier. 

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