What can drivers learn from the Braess paradox

The cities should finally learn to use their power for the mobility transition


Is it really a political suicide mission to abolish parking spaces and use the space gained for micromobility? Should urban politics always shy away from the supposed power of the car? No, writes Sebastian Hofer in his latest free ride-Column. Cities should use their own power to implement new mobility concepts and involve the population. Fortunately, he's seeing real progress in many places.

A column by Sebastian Hofer

"The mobility turnaround is a project to expand freedom," said Dr. Anjes Tjarks said to me. It is not a project where you have to talk all the time about the fact that bike lanes have stolen someone's parking space. "You have to say: This cycle path enables you to move much faster and to ride much better on a wide, safe cycle path."

Incidentally, that was the answer to my question about what options cities actually have to finally cope with the sad and discouraged traffic turnaround in the most positive sense radical to tackle. And Anjes Tjarks is after all the newly sworn in Hamburg Senator for Transport, who heads the newly created authority for transport and mobility. In the course of the coalition negotiations, it was split off from the economic authorities in May.


Here you can watch episode 27 of the Freifahrt podcast with Dr. Anjes Tjarks, Senator for Transport from Hamburg, which was published in July 2020.

What at first glance might seem like the hollow phrase of a politician is possibly an expression of a fundamental change in political thinking: Germany's second largest city no longer sees the mobility transition as just a polarized struggle for distribution, but as an opportunity - and is even adjusting to it institutionally . That is beneficial in view of the debate that we have had so far.

We argue through referendums about the fair treatment of cyclists: inside, protest against the holy grail called SUV and fight with sawed-off tailpipes for the right to be loud, as if this were a humanistic achievement. I am now waiting almost mischievously for the outcry of all advisors: inside, DJs and DJanes, shift workers, doctors and night owls, who now see the opportunity to draw attention to their right to dispose of the waste glass after 8 p.m.

So in the search for individual freedom - see my very first column - and maximum quality of life, we have really lost our way. It's time to redirect, because the old routes we were on no longer lead us to our destination.

Most of us who live in urban areas live in the so-called car-friendly city. It is based on a concept that goes back, among other things, to the work of the same name by the architect Hans Bernhard Reichow in 1959 - which, to put it simply, subordinates all urban planning measures to the unimpeded flow of traffic in the car. In the post-war period, when car sales were booming, it was definitely a logical evolution in traffic planning.

It is only astonishing that the competing faction of urban planners realized as early as the 1960s that this paradigm could lead to automobile chaos. As a result, they soon said goodbye to this radical model, in which only the car played a role. Nevertheless, the number of lanes and car ownership increased in the following years. “Sow roads and you will harvest even more traffic. “This connection has also been known as the Braess Paradox since 1968.

The counter-concept to all this is the so-called city of short distances, a model from the 1980s, which should enable urban quality of life through walking access to all important facilities for family and professional life. The agenda of Anne Hildalgo, the mayor of Paris, which was either admired or hated internationally, is now based on the further development of this idea by Professor Carlos Moreno. With the concept of the 15-minute city, neighborhoods and quarters are to be upgraded so that everything important can be reached on foot or by bike. In 15 minutes.

An important pillar, financed with 300 million euros, is the announced 650 kilometers of cycle paths, of which more than half have already been implemented in the first six weeks. The remarkable thing about Anne Hidalgo's policy is that she has just been re-elected with a plan that provides for 60,000 of the 83,500 parking spaces along the Parisian streets to be exchanged for cycle paths. If a survey had been carried out in Germany before the election as to whether such proposals would amount to political suicide, at least two thirds of the political consultations would definitely have answered with a resolute “Yes!”. Now, however, the evidence is in the history books that a supposedly unpopular political agenda with a backbone can have your back.

Something like that will later be called a historical moment.

Isn't it amazing what catalytic effect the Corona crisis has on global transport policy? While some suspect a large-scale plot by the Rothschilds, the Chinese or Bill Gates behind Corona, mayors such as Anne Hidalgo, Marco Granelli, Philippe Close and Sadiq Khan take the opportunity and act radically farsighted. They either draw out their long-drawn-out plans or wisely seize the opportunity to develop them. In Milan, for example, a transformation is being fueled, at the end of which politics and administration could understand and promote mobility in a completely different way.

As further evidence of this change, it should be mentioned above all that the Next Generation EU Recovery Plan, which is worth over two trillion euros, includes, for example, an Urban Mobility Fund, which provides 20 billion euros for bicycle infrastructure, but also e-mobility and other measures. Kevin Mayne, the head of the European lobbying association Cycling Industries Europe, has fought with his organization to take account of cyclists and explains in episode 22 of my podcast why these investments and the associated political statement are a huge breakthrough: “It is the first time that we were noticed in a fight on par with the car lobby. "


Here you can listen to episode 22 of the Free Ride Podcast with Kevin Mayne, CEO of Cycling Industries International, which was released in May 2020.

Critics will say that all of this is only politically opportune and not revolutionary. Just take a look at Amsterdam or Copenhagen. All of this has been a reality there, which has been cast in concrete for decades. That's true. But so far it has only been there. And now something else is happening: all over the world, cities like Vancouver, Berlin, Munich, New York, Budapest, Auckland, Paris, Milan, Brussels, Mexico City, Bogota, Oakland or Vilnius are seizing the opportunity to transform themselves by turning plans into infrastructure which can no longer so easily be talked to death in a debate.

If you look at the mobility landscape from high above, it is noticeable that for years mobility service providers have appeared from all sorts of corners - be it technologically or user-centered motivated - usually sprinting with a lot of capital in their pockets and then at some point run against an inexorable wall. This can appear in the form of the Passenger Transport Act or on the basis of non-issued special use permits for public spaces, in the form of the StVO or the BAFA premium for electromobility or the staff of public transport companies, authorities and ministries. You could say that cities have so far used their design options to prevent change instead of designing it in a targeted manner.

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If you look to Spain, both Madrid and Barcelona are taking an unusual way of claiming their domiciliary rights, although it was certainly well meant to regulate shared micromobility in such a controversial manner.In Barcelona, ​​for example, e-scooters are completely banned and ten licenses are also banned for bike sharing and 21 licenses for e-moped sharing, combined with an upper limit of 6,958 mopeds or 9,975 bicycles. The effect is that the fleet per provider shrinks to an order of magnitude which, according to them, cannot be operated profitably.

In fact, such a reduction of areas and fleets by twenty even leads to a reduced quality of offer for users, explains Philipp Haas, TIER's Vice President of Expansion in episode 20. Amazingly, Barcelona has taken an example from Madrid, where similar regulations already exist didn't work. Because both TIER and twelve other providers have now withdrawn from Madrid.


Here you can listen to episode 20 of the Freifahrt podcast with Philipp Haas, VP Expansion of TIER Mobility, which was released in May 2020.

London, on the other hand, is following the path of pilot projects after the metropolis has long resisted e-scooters. Now that individual mobility on two wheels is experiencing an upswing and is an optimal addition to public transport, which some people avoid because of Corona, the city wants to answer specific questions as part of a twelve-month trial period. For example, the influence of e-scooters on road safety, advantages and disadvantages of compulsory driving, or the still not yet fully clarified question of whether they actually have a positive influence on a more sustainable modal split, i.e. the distribution of all modes of transport such as cars, public transport, Bike, and so on.

The next step in the mobility transition is now for us to tear down the walls that prevent innovation. The financial and transport policy cornerstone is being laid in many places and is waiting to be built on. Practically all of the people I have spoken to so far have criticized the fact that in the past there was too little willingness to work together, that people thought in silos in order to maintain an outdated monoculture. That too has to change. And already in some places. Both the new Hamburg Senator for Transport Anjes Tjarks and his most important employee, the Hochbahn boss Henrik Falk from episode 14, want to turn the tide and speak of uncompromising cooperation. On the Hochbahn side, this is to be done with the recently published Mobility-as-a-Service platform called hvv switch, which, in the good old aggregator manner, is to bundle all mobility services from all providers in Hamburg.


Here you can listen to episode 14 of the Freifahrt podcast with Henrik Falk, CEO of Hamburger Hochbahn, which was released in March 2020.

At the city-wide level, the Hamburg-Takt represents a turning point as a paradigm shift in the design of offers, which not only promises all Hamburgers a means of transport within five minutes anywhere in the city, but also new mobility in the form of sharing services and, for example, MOIA , the ride-hailing and pooling service from Volkswagen. If you consider that Trafficcombine the hundreds of years old version of Mobility-as-a-Service and the sharing economy, the logical step for cities or municipal utilities seems to be one Mobilityto found a network. Which brings us back to the central role cities play in shaping the mobility transition. Because we are talking about services of general interest for one of the most important basic needs of humanity. Hamburg is an absolute pioneer here.

At the same time, it worries me when cities rely too much on their own design standards - and don't work with partners who have more know-how. If you compare the hvv switch app just mentioned with the Jelbi app from the Berlin transport company or the moovel app from Daimler or the WHIM app from the start-up MaaS.global from Finland, then it becomes clear why public companies don't have any Are software companies. With good reason, the BVG commissioned the Lithuanian software company Trafi to build both the backend and the frontend. Hamburg is doing most of this in-house and is grappling with the integration of a relevant number of mobility service providers. The app is initially only duo-modal, because at the start it only allows you to buy HVV tickets and call a MOIA.

However, software is the key to success. Not only in the form of the one-app-to-rule-them-all, but also and maybe even above all in the form of data-based traffic analysis and traffic planning. Because nowadays traffic models, bus and train cycles and line routes are developed on the basis of historical and obsolete survey or sensor data, all sorts of providers already offer the possibility of using dashboards to monitor and analyze real-time traffic flows in the city. An indispensable source of information to understand multimodal mobility and to be able to control it in a user-friendly manner in the future. Unfortunately, hardly any European city has used such dashboards so far.

Another change is taking place parallel to the change in transport policy - and the two can actually be combined extremely well. It's about the participation of those for whom we do all of this: the citizens and users. In the world's largest hackathon #WirvsVirus a few weeks ago it was impressively demonstrated what can happen if 43,000 people want to get involved. “There are quite a lot of people out there who may not be primarily shouting New Work. But they scream New Politics ”, explain two of the organizers Adriana Groh and Anna Hupperth during re: publica and point out why this hackathon was a blueprint for new digital participation opportunities and why the civilian population is not tired of politics.

With reference to the mobility transition, Isabell Eberlein, bicycle activist and honorary board member at Changing Cities eV - i.e. the movement that emerged from the Radentscheid Berlin, in episode 21 using the example of the Fix My Berlin project, explains how important it is and how successful it can be can if politics and administration shake hands. Because this tool enables citizens to accompany the transformation from Berlin to a bicycle city in the form of comprehensible maps and participatory elements. By the way, they have only recently asked over 21,000 people in the largest survey on street design how Berlin's cycle paths should look in the future. The results are impressive and give hope that districts such as Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in Berlin and in particular Felix Weisbrich, the head of the Roads and Green Space Office, and the driver behind the Corona-Bikelanes will take them to heart.

Because Berlin is way ahead of other cities in Germany: On the one hand, elements of the Mobility Act of 2018, for example the expansion of the (protected) bicycle infrastructure, are being promoted there. On the other hand, the Senate's plans to reallocate car parking spaces for e-scooters and cargo bikes are being implemented.


Here you can listen to episode 21 of the Freifahrt podcast with Isabell Eberlein, honorary director of Changing Cities e.V., which was released in May 2020.

In a survey, the consulting firm Nunatak found that 64 percent of citizens are not satisfied with the measures implemented by politicians to date for the mobility transition. If they were mayor themselves, 63 percent would continue to improve public transport. 56 percent would build better bike paths, followed by 18 percent who would convert parking spaces into green spaces. Given these numbers, can one still speak of disagreeable, suicidal transport policy decisions if one pursues a policy like Anne Hidalgo, for example?

The most effective influence of politics and administration could therefore be to not only revolve around who something is stolen from, but what we could all gain. Anjes Tjarks' enthusiasm could be a role model, paired with an open ear for pilot projects and. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

Cover picture: Getty Images