But it could never stand alone
This week, I stumbled over the news of a proposed car ban in Berlin. Let me backtrack a bit. Some time ago, I wrote a piece where I claimed that Berlin has decent transit systems. This makes owning cars almost obsolete.
I understand, that it depends on where you live in Berlin. Some of the areas are more reachable than others. There is room for expansion. But the downtown area inside the famous S-Bahn Ring has excellent public transport. There really isn’t a need for a car to get yourself around.
Among friends and colleagues, I have even argued for a car ban inside this zone for good. What I didn’t know was that I am not alone in thinking so. In fact, a citizen’s initiative has managed to push a law bill to the Berlin senate proposing exactly that.
This is an achievement in and of itself. For now, the bill is on hold, though. The Berlin senate issued concerns that such a wide-ranging bill infringes on the constitutional rights of citizens.
The senators cite Article 2 from the German Basic Law.
(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.
This is a valid argument. It should be up to people to decide if they want to drive a car or not. It should be an individual choice to visit your friends by car, bike, or any transport method you choose. An outright ban would therefore infringe on this liberty.
What about my right to a healthy life?
However, there is also subsection 2 of that same article.
(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.
A counterargument would be that individualized motor traffic puts people in harm’s way from the effects of pollution. There is strong documentation for it. In fact, a new study published in The Lancet finds that pollution kills 9 million people a year. There is also extensive research on the harmful health effects that noise pollution in cities causes.
On this basis alone, we can make strong arguments in favor of a ban. When we banned smoking in public places, the courts did not find that it violates the constitution either.
If I live in a city I can not choose whether or not to inhale the toxic air or not. Nor can I choose, that traffic noise disrupts my sleep at night.
Motorized traffic, therefore, infringes on the right to life and physical integrity.
Even if we do not include pedestrians and cyclists that die as a result of accidents in traffic.
I understand the possible constitutional conflict in such a law.
This has to be for the courts to decide. But kudos to the initiators for even pushing the issue that far.
The car ban looks great on paper, but…
Personally, I support the initiative. The petition took place before I moved back to Germany. So I missed it. I’d have signed in an instant.
I am afraid, though, that the issue goes deeper than that.
Let us assume, for a moment that the courts favor the initiative.
Let us also assume, that the senate then decides to pass the legislation.
Both assumptions are nowhere near guaranteed. But for the sake of argument, we leave them here.
Would such a ban bring about the green mobility revolution? After all, this is what some of the proponents argue.