German city will remove thousands of parking spaces to discourage motorists

Hanover plans to use freed-up space on its streets to extend cafes and terraces and plant more trees
Hanover plans to use freed-up space on its streets to extend cafes and terraces and plant more trees - Thomas Demarczyk

Hanover has set out far-reaching plans to banish cars from its inner city, which it hopes to turn into a place to “party and stroll about”.

In one of the most ambitious traffic overhauls yet proposed in Europe, the north German city will remove almost all its 4,000 street-side parking spots as it seeks to discourage people from driving into the inner city.

Those who do will have to obey a speed limit of 20kph (12mph) on one-way streets that direct them towards one of 11 multi-storey car parks.

“Car-free means for us not one car too many,” said Belit Onay, the city mayor, who added that the plans would turn the centre of Hanover into a “resilient retail hub”.

The Green party mayor added: “The time for experiments is over. Now we are getting on with the job of transforming our city. With these measures, we are making our city more sustainable and more climate-friendly.”

Hanover plans to use freed-up space on its streets to extend cafes and terraces and plant more trees, a project it says will breathe new life into a commercial district that has been hollowed out by the battle to compete with online shopping.

Buses, taxis and residents who own their own parking spaces will still be able to access central streets, several of which will be turned into bike lanes.

‘Taking an axe to future viability’

But the plan was immediately savaged by the city’s conservative opposition, with Felix Semper, a local councillor for the centre-Right Christian Democrats, claiming the Greens were “taking an axe to the future viability of the inner city” .

He added: “In the future, people will have to go further, which may lead to lower revenues. In the long run, this will result in more empty shops in the city centre.”

The city of half a million inhabitants has been a target for planners with a radical vision of the future before.

After close to 90 per cent of the historic centre was flattened by Allied bombing during the Second World War, Hanover replaced its tight medieval alleys with wide, car-friendly boulevards.

In its bid to reshape the city for what was seen as the future of mobility, the city’s planning office controversially demolished ornate 19th-century palaces.

The latest move comes at a time when the Germany’s Greens have been haemorrhaging popularity at a local level, partly because of plans to force cars out of inner cities.

In city elections in Berlin and Bremen earlier this year, the eco party suffered disappointing results after pledging to turn central streets into pedestrian zones and push up the cost of parking.

In Berlin, conservatives took over the keys to city hall for the first time in two decades after running a pro-car campaign.

But with traffic clogging up many major urban centres, polling shows that around half of the German public favour banning cars from inner cities.

Germany’s Greens point to Paris as an example to follow. Starting next year, the French capital will ban all through traffic in its central neighbourhoods, saying it will cut traffic by half.

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