Following the success of Volksentscheid Fahrrad in Berlin, which now commits Germany’s capital city to a 600 million euro programme of transformation of its cycling infrastructure, a number of its key activists have helped establish Changing Cities. This new organisation draws together cycling activists from across Germany to fight for a nationwide transport transition. Focussing on city campaigns, the organisation sent out invitations for an initial meeting in January 2019 More than ten different cities accepted, resulting in a meeting in Kassel – marking the start for coordinated and cooperative work to influence Germany’s national elections in 2021.
It was easy for the participants to find common ground and values: at the centre must lie the support for cycling through the construction of appropriate infrastructure and adaptation of public space. We, the participants and representatives of local campaigns, had little doubt: infrastructure must be safe and feel safe – cycling must be (made) comfortable. This would open up cycling as a real possibility to all, from a 4 year old to the 104 year-old senior. All people should feel enabled to participate in public sphere. Here are our reasons:
Without a transport transition there will be no collective justice
Germany’s transport transition has been rather slow to kick off. First and foremost, this is a political problem, as it requires the decision-makers to make big and bold decisions. Our cities and streets have to be designed for all. It enables everyone to participate in public space in a democratic and collective way: the transport transition is a question of social justice.
Germany’s transport minister acts contrary to transport transition
Cities with streets for all is not yet a reality. It is a vision. The “car-first” transport minister – as his predecessors – denies people this reality by blocking measures to reduce toxic emissions. In our view it is the minister who is responsible for the rising death toll on roads and through unchecked air pollution.
The minister seems to have an agenda. He does not act, because he does not know – but rather he acts intentionally and with purpose. We should be careful to underestimate him or deride him. Rather we should understand him as a political opponent who acts programmatically. Whose interests are at his heart? He did not want to support the speed limit https://www.zeit.de/mobilitaet/2019-01/tempolimit-verkehr-klimaschutz-andreas-scheuer or put doubt over air pollution measures, even inciting citizens to rise up against their local councils https://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2019-02/dieselfahrverbote-andreas-scheuer-gerichtsurteile-grenzwerte-luftreinhalteplaene-aufruf. Let alone the diesel scandal, that up to now no transport minister has tackled with much grace.
This must change. We need policies that give clear direction to transport ministers. This is why we want to influence party election manifestos in the 2021 federal election. There is no guarantee for success or implementation, however the process of influencing is in itself empowering and if successful could provide clear direction for coalition talks between parties.
Same old is not an option – we have to act
And act we will. The meeting in January mapped and networked our local experiences with councils and civic society. Furthermore, we agreed to form a campaigning coalition to influence the 2021 election manifestos. We began by defining our common goals and translate those into our demands. The mutual understanding was: if we don’t connect local demands to national demands, no-one else would. We are the grassroots movement, jump starting Germany’s transport transition from the bottom up, influencing political parties in the process.
And onwards! In the coming months, Changing Cities together with the local campaigns will be busy strengthening the connection between our organisations. To kick off a true transport transition, we deem it important to work together in close collaboration. There is much to do. And it is vital work. Let’s do it together.
Contact the authors
Katja Leyendecker (Changing Cities): email@example.com
Denis Petri (Changing Cities): firstname.lastname@example.org