German city bans cars and removes traffic lights in centre

Motorists will have to obey a 12mph speed limit
Motorists will have to obey a 12mph speed limit when driving in the inner city - iStock

The German city of Hanover has set out far-reaching plans to banish cars from its inner-city, which it hopes to turn into a place to “party and stroll about”.

In one of the most ambitious traffic overhauls yet proposed in Europe, the north German city will remove almost all of its 4,000 street-side parking spots as it seeks to discourage people from driving into its inner city.

Those who do drive into the inner city will have to obey a speed limit of 12mph on one-way streets that forcefully direct them towards one of eleven multi-storey car parks.

“Car free means for us - not one car too many,” said Belit Onay, the city mayor, on Monday, claiming the plans would turn the city centre into a “resilient retail hub”.

“The time for experiments is over. Now we are getting on with the job of transforming our city,” said Mr Onay of the Green party.

“With these measures we are making our city more sustainable and more climate friendly.”

The city plans to use the freed-up space on its streets to extend cafes and terraces and plant more trees, a project it said will breathe new life into a commercial district that has been hollowed out by the battle to compete with online shopping.

Buses and taxis and residents who own their own parking spaces will still be able to access central streets, several of which will be turned into bike lanes.

The plan was immediately discredited by the city’s Conservative opposition, who claimed that it would make it harder for people to access the centre.

‘Taking an axe to inner city’

Felix Semper, a local councillor for the centre-right Christian Democrats, said the Green party is “taking an axe to the future viability of the inner city”.

“In the future, people will have to go further, which may lead to lower revenues. In the long run, this will result in more empty shop fronts in the city centre,” Mr Semper predicted.

After close to 90 per cent of the city’s historic centre was flattened by allied bombing during the Second World War, Hanover replaced its tight mediaeval alleys with wide, car-friendly boulevards.

In its fervour to reshape the city for what was seen as the future of mobility, the city’s planning office controversially demolished ornate 19th palaces.

The move comes at a time when Germany’s Greens have been haemorrhaging popularity at the local level in part because of plans to force cars out of inner cities.

‘Scored disappointing results’

In city elections in Berlin and Bremen earlier this year the eco party scored disappointing results after pledging to turn central streets into pedestrian zones and push up the cost of parking.

In Berlin, Conservatives took over the key to the City Hall for the first time in two decades after running an avowedly pro-car campaign.

But with traffic clogging up many major urban centres, polling shows that about half of the German public favour banning cars from inner cities.

Germany’s Greens point to Paris as an example to follow.

Starting next year, the French capital will ban all through-traffic in its central neighbourhoods, which the city said will cut traffic by half.