Munich’s infatuation with creative traffic calming techniques reached its peak in the 1980s. Radical measures to restrict the movement of automobiles never quite took hold here – in part perhaps do to the public’s love of driving (you’ve probably heard the term “fahrvergnügen”). But I believe, based on my observations, it was primarily due to the adoption of a larger-scale, yet less intrusive, strategy to simply establish a lower speed limit that is more suitable for neighborhoods.
In the 70s and 80s, there was a backlash against the intrusion of motor vehicle traffic in many cities across Europe. Munich was no exception. One clear sign is the missing link that still remains in the “Innenring” (the highway that encircles the “Altstadt” or historic center), which I guess means it is not technically a ring.
In the 1980s, Munich initiated numerous efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of motor vehicles on the City’s quality of life. During this time, the “Verkehrsberuhigter Bereich” (traffic calmed area) was officially approved in West Germany as an option to make the quietest residential streets operate at 7 km/hr. Commonly (although not legally, as I was reminded on multiple occasions) referred to as “Spielstrasse”, this is Germany’s version of the Dutch woonerf – a shared space street where cars and pedestrians are given “equal rights” to use the entire roadway. It is stated in law that drivers must not endanger pedestrians, and pedestrians must not hinder vehicular traffic.
In the 80s, the entire country seemed ready to follow the Dutch-path towards strict restrictions on motor vehicles in neighborhoods. In 1986, the Federal Ministry for Planning and Engineering published a progressive report, titled “Changes in City Traffic”, that argued for slower speeds on city streets. The publication highlighted the “shift” to non-auto modes in Odense, Den Haag and Copenhagen (sounds familiar, huh) and embraced traffic calming as the model for the “streets of the future”, even suggesting cross-sections that accommodate all users. One page heading reads, “When space is limited, the logical solution: shared space. With more traffic: narrow roadways with dashed bike lanes.” The problem was that this publication was ahead of its time. In fact, it is probably too progressive for many German cities today.
As the 1980s came to an end, a new tool, Tempo 30 Zone, became available thanks to federal law. The new regulation allowed cities to introduce 30 kilometers per hour speed limits “throughout” residential areas. By 1988, Munich began converting entire neighborhoods to 30-kilometer zones. Now, it is expected that all through-traffic will be carried on major streets. This strategy allowed the City to simply treat the entry points where residential streets intersect with major streets.
Originally, Munich built cobblestone entries, curb extensions and raised intersections to alert drivers that they were entering a residential street. Today, most streets are simply identified by a sign placed just as drivers leave the main route. This works because most residential streets are typically quite narrow to begin with and, for the most part, drivers are now conditioned to slower speeds in neighborhoods.
Today, Munich’s residential streets generally offer a safe and comfortable environment for residents of all ages to move around without their cars. However, actual “traffic calmed” streets are only randomly sprinkled across town. The “Spielstrasse” is a tool that is still used on occasion (primarily in newly developed communities), but there is no strategy for integrating them more fully into the citywide street system. It remains to be seen if anticipated population growth and inevitable increase in residential densities will create a renewed enthusiasm for maximizing the public space benefits of more streets in Munich so they can increasingly serve more than just a traffic function.