Three Steps Forward

Where now for the Bremen Bündnis für die Verkehrswende?

Last month’s packed Car Parking conference certainly generated significant media interest, with speaker Uta Bauer interviewed by the Weser Kurier, and Radio Bremen’s Buten un Binnen doing a major feature on the issue. (from 9min 34sec). You can read a full report of the conference here (google translated from German).

But in brief, the event opened with a fiery speech from Heiner Monheim (Institut für Raumentwicklung und Kommunikation), branding Germany “Traffic Jam Land”, and calling for regional and national government to hand back city space from the car to create liveable areas.

You can view Heiner Monheim’s powerpoint here.

Uta Bauer from the German Institute for Urbanism described parking management as the supreme discipline of the traffic revolution in her presentation.

You can view Uta Bauer’s powerpoint here.

Jutta Deffner, who works at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt am Main, outlined the scenarios needed to meet global climate change goals, and lucidly described the changes in mobility culture that are needed to achieve them.

You can view Jutta Deffner’s powerpoint here.

Dominic Santner, from the Chamber of Employees, presented recent research produced by that organisation on Bremen’s commuting traffic.

You can view Dominik Santner’s powerpoint here.

The presentations were completed by Bremen’s Head of Traffic, Gunnar Polzin. His speech focussed primarily on the city’s Transport Development Plan, though when questioned as to why many of the progressive measures contained in it have not yet been implemented, he pleaded lack of staff.

You can view Gunnar Polzin’s powerpoint here.

The day was rounded off with a panel discussion involving representatives of the four Bündnis für die Verkehrswende organisations, alongside 3 of the speakers.

Clearly the day was an attempt at reaching out to the Bremen administration via the presence of Gunnar Polzin. There is a strong feeling amongst the four environmental organisations that climate change is not being taken seriously by the administration. Already, Bremen’s 2020 goal of a 40% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 is lost. Added to this, the recent federal scandal surrounding the faking of diesel car emissions has still not been resolved, amidst growing evidence that toxic air is linked to a wide range of health problems.

But Gunnar Polzin spelled out his position pretty clearly. Whilst agreeing that Bremen had to reduce car use, it had to be done with the blessing of all those organisations that are strongly opposed to the required measures, most notably Bremen’s Chamber of Commerce. This approach had resulted, after all, in the Transport Development Plan. Moreover, he explained, Germany’s mobility culture was different to that of other countries. Car parking charging in the city needed to take into account competitiveness with out-of-town mega-stores. 

Such exceptionalism is understandable. Bremen is surrounded by shopping malls like Ochtum Park and Dodenhof that are under the jurisdiction of Lower Saxony.  However, Amsterdam’s successful car parking management has already been well documented. Out of town stores like IKEA also exist there, and its offer of free car parking doesn’t seem to have troubled the city’s wider parking management strategy. Of course, an update of the hopelessly archaic and car-centric national traffic regulations StVO will help, but there is still much that can be done in Bremen, as the recent study by Agora makes clear.

Indeed Gunnar Polzin made the point in his presentation, when he highlighted the Transport Development Plan’s (VEP) section on car parking. 

But there is a problem. When podiums discussion chair Beatrix Wupperman asked why measures G2 (reducing car parking space) and G3 (proper control of illegal parking) have not been implemented (from 16m 05sec in the above Podiumsdiskussion video), Gunnar Polzin’s answer was “a lack of staff”. 

Yet the staff issue has already been addressed in other areas of transport policy. Feasibility work on the first Premium Cycle Route, and indeed the production of the VEP itself, has been done using external expertise. And unlike the Premium Route, managed car parking generates revenue streams that will in time pay for themselves. If the next stage is feasibility work, external expertise could easily offer a way forward. 

Despite the VEP rhetoric about reducing car parking space, the opposite appears to be happening. Ironically, on the same day as the conference, a round table in Schwachhausen agreed, as part of a “compromise” for the troubled Parkallee Cycle Street, to increase car parking there from 50 to 70 legal spaces.

This leaves Bremen’s Bündnis für die Verkehrswende with a lot of work still to do. Two points stand out from the conference. During the podium discussion, Uta Bauer pleaded for the Bündnis to address the practical details of a city-wide car parking management. This surely means calling for resources to be allocated to measures G2 and G3, but also identifying concrete proposals that can see them successfully realised. Second, one audience contributor from the Bremische Kinder- und Jugendstiftung called on the Bündnis to broaden its membership, and include organisations that have a stake in the creation of a liveable Bremen. After all, the social benefits of a liveable city are arguably greater than the mobility benefits.

Both suggestions make sense. But given the administration’s reluctance to finance even a feasibility study, greater democratic pressure of the sort employed by Volksentscheid Fahrrad in Berlin will be needed. As state elections approach in May 2019, a successful gathering of signatures for a transport revolution in Bremen by Platz Da! must surely be the next priority. 

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