The story of residential streets in Munich

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.

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About Denver Igarta

This blog was established to document my search for streets that my 5-year old can play near without my constant supervision. Where kids can live active lives and learn independence. My quest began when I was selected as an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, for info: gmfus.org/cdp/fellowships. I am a multi-modal transportation planner for the City of Portland (OR), America's sustainable transportation capital. SHORT BIO/PROJECT DESCRIPTION Denver Igarta (October-November 2011), Urban Planner, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation Project: Livable Streets Where People Live: Fostering People-Friendly Streets by De-emphasizing Automobile Traffic in Residential Areas Cities: Munich, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Malmö Denver Igarta is an urban planner with the Transportation Bureau of the City of Portland. He works on a broad range of transportation policy, street design initiatives and pedestrian, bicycle and freight planning efforts. He recently served as one of the principal authors of Portland's new bicycle plan. He is currently staffing two “active transportation” projects: a rails-with-trails project along the Banfield Freeway and a local street system plan for one of the state's most diverse neighborhoods. He performed his graduate studies at the University of Dortmund, Germany and the University of the Philippines and holds a Master of Science in Regional Development Planning. Portland is struggling to reverse generations of auto-oriented development patterns and make neighborhood streets more “livable” (people-friendly) by restoring their multimodal and placemaking functions. Mr. Igarta's research will evaluate how cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have enacted policies to restore the multiple functions of public streets through traffic management, green infrastructure and giving priority to sustainable travel modes. He will meet with local practitioners, policymakers and civic leaders involved in transportation planning, traffic safety and neighborhood livability projects, street design, and implementation of multi-modal traffic policies. The ultimate aim of the study is to compile a set of best practices and policies implemented in European cities that have broadened the role of residential streets beyond automobile mobility. Additional focus will be given to understanding how acceptable policy tradeoffs are determined within city agencies and the level of public support for measures that restrict car movements, such as reduced speed zones, bicycle streets, shared spaces, residents-only streets and residential parking restrictions.
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2 Responses to The story of residential streets in Munich

  1. Roger Geller says:

    It’s interesting that Munich and other European cities lashed back against automobile intrusion into their cities in the 70s and 80s. My guess is that it is because before then, cars had had a somewhat minimal presence in these cities, which had not been built around the car and were perhaps well served by streetcar (?) and bicycle (?).

    The intrusion of automobiles into American cities happened much earlier (1930s? 1940s? 1950s?), but in many cities it was an intrusion nonetheless. I wonder why there was no similar backlash in American cities, the cores of many of which had also been developed as essentially car-free spaces. What is it in the American character and culture that did not rebel against the automobile? Or, was it that the negative effects of the autos were more apparent by the 1970s (obesity, pollution, high oil prices are all noted negative impacts realized by the 1970s) while in the 1950s cars were exciting, modern and by then served the burgeoning suburbs?

  2. Peter Koonce says:

    The lack of a backlash is associated with the flight from the old neighborhoods associated with race riots to a significant degree and the accommodation of the automobile. If the car can get me everywhere I want to go and it’s physically easier and more comfortable, isn’t that progress? If there’s no congestion, the car always is fastest. You can have it all!

    Once you’ve purchases a home in the suburbs and work is 20 miles away, the car is the only option. You become an auto advocate. The marketing from Big Auto helps.

    The most important element is that we’re all selfish, and once you have something (a suburban home that you need your car to access), you’ll work to keep it. This is especially true if your peers are all doing the same thing.

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