Until the accident on September 2019, Invalidenstraße in Berlin-Mitte was a fairly safe street. And then, on 6 September 2019, a man drove his SUV into a group of people standing on the sidewalk killing four of them including a four-year-old boy and his grandmother. On 24 October, two years later, the trial of a 44-year-old driver will go on trial at the Berlin Regional Court.
The accident that moved Berlin
Not only for me but also for many Berliners, this accident changed the perspective on SUVs, on road safety, on public space and on fair the use of public space. The circumstances of the accident have not been clarified as the driver claims to have had an epileptic seizure. But two years after the incident, a much bigger question is how should the city move forward with the use and division of public space in Berlin including streets.
Streets as relics of the Industrial City
Streets as we know them today are one of the most potent vestiges of the industrial era in our urban maps. They were built to supply industry with labor and resources. Parking spaces created the conditions for efficient logistics in this economic and social model both for people and machines. In this system, the male full-time employee commuted to work in the morning and returned to his family in the evening. While everything else changed, roads remained the same. In cities, consumption patterns, mobility requirements, the economic base all of them have shifted away from the old model and only a few cities are still based on those paradigms of the age of industrialization. Across the world, cities are transforming their infrastructures to be fit to compete for out new knowledge-based society and entrepreneurship. But a consistent and effective change, requires an understanding what spaces and what spatial characteristics will be needed in the future.
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Invalidenstrasse is one of the major arteries of Berlin but for various historical reasons it is, at certain points, a very narrow thoroughfare. In some places, like where the accident occurred, the street is a meagre 11.30 meters across. In some sections, the tram line to the main railway station shares the space with motorized individual traffic. Pedestrians use the sidewalk while, for a very long time, no special solutions were provided for cyclists.
The accident moved the city to act and a few changes were introduce in the immediate aftermath. And then nothing for a long time. In late 2019, a 30 km/h speed limit was ordered in the street and the citiy promised a transformation of the entire neighborhood into a model project with fewer cars and safer routes to school. The prohject was cancelled after a few months. A local initiative discussed a sustainable and permanent solution with the senate, the BVG (public transportation provider), the police and the organization Changing Cities. But a solution has still not been found. Many players, many opinions, no strategy.
During 2021, bollards were installed and the public parking lane for cars was removed. This has significantly changed the situation, at least for cyclists. There is now a 2.35 meter wide cycle lane on both sides of the road. While the bollard could not have been prevented the accident, the separation of transit does offer some protection to cyclists. However, an adequate use of the road space would certainly look different if the available eleven meters of road had been completely redesigned in line with a strategy of integrated mobility.
Now the city is moving forth with a publicly-financed study to for integrate mobility solutions. The project, which was initiated privately, is intended to make a contribution to the Berlin’s mobility situation putting topics such as drive-through bans, car-free streets/neighborhoods, commercial traffic, hopes and wishes of the residents, and tourists on the agenda.
The discussion, which has now been going on for 2 years, should not only lead to a lasting solution but should also serve as a blueprint for similar changes in other parts of the city . After all, we are not only talking about 600 meters of 3 kilometers of Invalidenstraße but about 600 meters of 5400 kilometers of street space in Berlin.