Mobility behaviour in Germany is changing - now policies must follow

Germany was one of the more successful European countries in keeping the number of victims of the coronavirus low, but that was achieved by a set of strict lockdown measures that had an impact on ‘normal’ life. As Germany eases its restrictions, it’s clear that attitudes among Germans have changed more quickly than local policies – especially when compared with other European cities like Brussels, Paris or London – and persuading the government and city authorities to redesign local mobility patterns and make successful ad-hoc measures permanent must be a short-term priority.

During lockdown, car traffic fell by in Germany's three biggest cities by more than a third. People saw the benefits, mainly in terms of less congestion, less noise and better air quality. Moreover, during the lockdown cycling decreased less than overall mobility and 26% of German city dwellers said in a new survey commissioned by T&E that they plan to cycle more after the lockdown.

Despite the boost for cycling, Berlin has been the only city to take serious action to promote cycle infrastructure. Its scheme to take up car space to create a pop-up cycle lane along the iconic Kurfürstendamm, and in other streets, received a lot of publicity. Many new bike lanes had been planned for, but the Covid crisis meant they happened more quickly than otherwise.

Unfortunately, like in most other cities around the world, public transport suffered, in some places by a fall in passenger numbers of around 90%.

There has obviously been an increase in home working. A study has shown that only a third of Germans thought digitalisation was important before the coronavirus pandemic but more than half think it important now. How much difference this will make in the longer term remains to be seen, given many jobs simply cannot be done from home, but with 75% of German employees now saying they would like to work more from home in future, there is clearly potential for home working lessening the number of people travelling at rush-hour.

Despite the fact that car traffic levels are climbing back up (currently around 80% of where they were pre-coronavirus), the recovery package from the German government is pointing in the right direction. It includes support for electric vehicles (including EV infrastructure), buses and trains, and energy-efficient houses.

But the people appear to be ahead of the politicians in their wish to keep many of the benefits of the lockdown period. T&E’s opinion survey shows two in three German city dwellers (64%) want protection against air pollution – even it requires giving more public space to walking, cycling and public transport. And there is evidence of a surge in people buying bicycles, while there have been a number of initiatives in recent weeks demanding pop-up cycle lanes like the ones that emerged in Berlin during the spring. T&E’s German member Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), for example, crowd-sourced proposals for new bike lanes and formally submitted more than 2,600 of them to 134 German cities. Even Auto Motor Sport, one of Germany’s oldest and most read car magazines, now agrees a redesign of cities - like it is happening in Paris - is necessary. That is why mayors and the government should seize this major opportunity to redesign mobility policies.