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ENVIRONMENT

Why a court says Berlin’s new pop-up bike lanes must be scrapped

Cyclists suffered a setback in a battle over the streets of Berlin on Monday when a court ordered the city to remove eight new bike paths that had been put in place during the corona pandemic.

Why a court says Berlin's new pop-up bike lanes must be scrapped
A cyclist on a pop-up lane in Kreuzberg. Photo: DPA

What's happened?

The Berlin administrative court agreed with an urgent motion filed by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which argued that the bike lanes did not confirm with German traffic law.

In its ruling the court said that the city had failed to provide evidence that the streets on which the lanes were erected were dangerous for cyclists.

It also criticised Berlin’s ruling left-wing government for using the pandemic as a justification for building the lanes, saying that this was “not a traffic relevant consideration”.

SEE ALSO: 10 rules and tips for cycling safely in Germany

The city has appealed against the decision. It is unclear is whether the court will allow the lanes to remain in place until the appeal has been heard by a federal court.

Where are the bike lanes?

The eight lanes which are affected are primarily in Kreuzberg and Charlottenberg.

Dozens of “pop-up” bike lines were created across the city during the coronavirus lockdown. Simply demarcated by yellow paint and bollards, the lanes provided ample space for cyclists on key routes through the city. The speed with which they were erected proved wildly popular with cyclists.

A city worker paints a bike lane in Berlin. Photo: DPA

But opponents claimed at the time that the coalition of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Linke was using the pandemic to push through a traffic agenda that it had been advocating before the covronavirus came to Germany.

Responding to the court ruling, AfD politician Frank Scholtysek said “this is a victory for individual mobility against car hatred. We’re delighted that the court put this left-wing ideology in its place.”

Questions will now be asked over why the Senate did not attempt to establish the risks for cyclists on the specific streets that the lanes were built.

What's the reaction?

So far this year, 14 cyclists have died on the streets of Berlin. Those who prefer two wheels to four have long complained about poor safety on the capital’s roads. Cyclists often take to the streets in “critical mass” demonstrations to protest for better road safety.

Many cyclists had hoped that the lanes would be made permanent after the pandemic is over.

At the same time, critics of the pop-up lanes say they have led to log jam for drivers.

Oliver Friederici of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) told Tagesspiegel newspaper that he saw daily traffic chaos on Kantstraße after a pop-up bike line was built there.

“Cycling increased during the pandemic but car traffic did not decrease,” he said.

The German car association, ADAC said it hoped the dispute would not lead to increased tensions between cyclists and drivers.

“The senate’s defeat should not be used to further deepen the ideological fronts between cyclists and drivers,” it warned.

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ENVIRONMENT

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

Campaigners began a legal challenge against five German regions on Monday to force them to take stronger action on climate change, emboldened by a landmark recent court ruling in favour of environmental protection.

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction
Demonstrators from the Fridays for Future movement protest in Gießen, Hesse, with a sign saying "No wishy-washy, no climate lashing". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The plaintiffs are basing their case on a sensational verdict by Germany’s constitutional court in April which found that Germany’s plans to curb CO2 emissions were insufficient to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In a major win for activists, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government then brought forward its date for carbon neutrality by five years to 2045, and raised its 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

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On Monday, 16 children and young adults began proceedings against the regions of Hesse, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland, with support of environmental NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH).

They are charging that none of the states targeted by the legal action have passed sufficiently strong climate legislation at the local level, according to DUH.

“The federal government can’t succeed on its own,” lead lawyer Remo Klinger said in a press conference, highlighting state competence in the area of transport.

DUH worked closely together with the youth climate movement Fridays For Future to find activists willing to front the challenges, the group said.

Seventeen-year-old plaintiff Alena Hochstadt said the western state of Hesse, known for its Frankfurt banking hub, had always been her home but she feared having “no future here”.

Concern about the risk of “floods, storms and droughts” led her and other campaigners to seek “a legal basis for binding climate protection”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

Hesse’s ministers for climate and the economy said they were “surprised” by the announcement.

“DUH clearly has not yet understood that we in Hesse are well ahead,” Priska Hinz and Tarek Al-Wazir said in a joint statement, drawing attention to an energy future law from 2012, before the Paris climate agreement.

In July, DUH-supported activists took the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg to court on similar grounds.

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