POLITICO reports on the rising conservative backlash against cycling and cyclists
In a noteworthy development across Europe, the battle over city car restrictions has escalating into a culture war, with politicians positioning themselves as champions of working-class drivers. Berlin’s newly elected conservative city government has taken a particularly aggressive stance, reversing numerous bike-friendly measures implemented by its predecessor. This includes suspending bike infrastructure projects that impede existing car lanes or parking spaces, and shelving plans to expand the city’s cycling network. The decision to allow cars back on the iconic Friedrichstraße boulevard, reversing its pedestrianization, was motivated by complaints from local businesses regarding declining revenue.
The pandemic-inspired temporary cycling infrastructure and traffic restrictions that were initially well-received have lost favor as life returns to normal. Developments in Berlin serve as a concerning precedent for other bike-friendly cities experiencing a perhaps artificially inflated backlash from disgruntled car drivers.
Berlin’s new mobility chief, Manja Schreiner, argued that its measures reflected the concerns of many Berliners, while critics view them as an unnecessary and damaging rollback of cycling infrastructure. Similar anti-bike and pro-car sentiments are growing in other regions, including the UK, where the Conservative Party has framed the country as ‘a nation of drivers’ and suggested new policies or rollbacks in response to expanded low-emission zones and other policies.
Conspiracy theories and resistance to the “15-minute city” concept, which promotes local living and alternative transportation methods, have also contributed to the backlash. In Brussels, a plan to reduce car traffic has sparked protests and led to the cancellation of some initiatives. Right-wing parties are capitalizing on these emotional issues but offer no alternative vision for cities, while proponents argue that cycling infrastructure and green spaces enhance urban environments.
The opposition to bike-friendly policies in Berlin and other cities reflects the challenge of balancing the interests of different road users and finding solutions that accommodate everyone.