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Climate and environmental data are crucial to accelerating cities’ transition to sustainable and inclusive mobility. Evidence on air quality and traffic support decision-making processes and action implementation, driving climate protection initiatives that also contribute to healthy air. In ICLEI member Berlin, the non-profit organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) uses data on air quality, noise level and urban traffic to help the city achieve its carbon-free transport goals by 2050.  

Funded by the ICLEI Action Fund, the two-year project Pop-up Republic: New Mobility Berlin collects data to examine and confirm the validity and relevance of three measures set out by the Berlin Senate but not yet realised: safe cycling infrastructure, expansion of parking space management and reduction of speed limits to 30 km/h. The goal is to demonstrate that such measures are necessary tools for the City of Berlin to promote a change in mobility behaviour and encourage cycling, walking and public or shared vehicles as the main means of transportation, all goals outlined in the Mobility Act introduced in 2018.

Through a combination of existing and newly collected data on pollutant concentrations and traffic volumes, DUH investigates ten “test bed” areas in five districts of the German capital, to explore the current “baseline” context of the city as a starting point for the project. Findings are released in the form of examination reports, which create new fact-based arguments for local decision-makers interested in implementing more effective measures. At the end of the project, DUH will make available a digital handbook with the final analysis of the ten areas examined in Berlin. 

According to DUH’s project manager Hanna Rein, the studies support the acceptance and implementation of measures such as the bike lanes throughout the city: “At the beginning of our project, there were doubts about both the legality of pop-up bike lanes and their actual benefits for traffic turnaround. Through our legal opinion published earlier in 2021, our analysis shows that pop-up bike lanes have a positive effect on the climate and air pollution, supporting the Senate and the District in preserving the implemented bike lane in Kantstrasse.”  

For the research conducted in the project’s test beds, DUH collected and compared data on traffic volume, composition and nitrogen oxide before and after the introduction of the measures. In cases where no public data was available, supplementary data were obtained through interviews with different stakeholders, such as authorities, universities, experts, and initiatives. 

The mobility transition has direct impacts on all citizens, as it supports the city’s climate goals while neutralising some of the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events and water shortages. In addition, local residents benefit from lower air and noise pollution, and larger and safer walking areas. Aimed at accelerating such transition, the “Pop-up Republic Berlin” is invested in guaranteeing that these benefits reach the local population. 

Air quality data

Besides providing citizens with safe cycling infrastructure, less motorised traffic, and more pedestrian spaces, the “Pop-up Republic Berlin” tackles one of the largest environmental health threats, air pollution. DUH measures and compares the average NO2 load in the air for specific periods using official data from measurement stations set up by the Berlin Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection (SenUVK), scientific air quality measurements of universities and research institutes, and its own nitrogen dioxide measurements through the standardised method of diffusion tubes.

So far, DUH has published two examination reports: the first on traffic calming at Friedrichstraße and the second on a pop-up bike lane on Kantstraße. In both cases, the studies showed a significant reduction in emissions and human exposure to harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) due to the decrease in car traffic. In Kantstraße, DUH studied the longest pop-up cycle lane in Germany (3.6 kilometres) from October 2020 to November 2021, using traffic data from the Strava Metro mobility platform and air quality data from four NO2 measuring stations set up on the street. The study shows that the pop-up bike lane experienced a 232% increase in the daily bicycle traffic (from 1,500 to more than 5,100 bicycles) while the amount of motor vehicle traffic on the route decreased by 22%. This resulted in an estimated reduction of around 10 µg/m³ of NO2 emitted by diesel exhaust gas.

“DUH’s study has technically demonstrated the benefits that this type of urban infrastructure brings to air quality and sustainable mobility. This work shows the importance of monitoring environmental quality on a local level to transparently communicate results to citizens and inform policymakers to make better decisions,” said Alis-Daniela Torres, Senior Officer for Sustainable Resources, Climate and Resilience at ICLEI Europe.

Before the end of the project in November 2022, DUH will go further to publish analysis reports on many other Berlin sites: the bike lane at Tempelhofer Damm; the pop-up bike lane at Kottbusser Straße/Kottbusser Damm; the pop-up bike lane at Frankfurter Allee; traffic calming measures at Bergmannstraße; and parking management initiatives in the Moabit neighbourhood. 

ICLEI Action Fund

The Pop-Up Republic Berlin is funded by the ICLEI Action Fund, which is a granting scheme implemented by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability with support from Google.org to encourage environmental and climate projects using data from private and public sources. Launched in May 2020, the programme granted 2.5 million EUR to six non-profit and academic organisations in Europe. 

On 12 May 2022, ICLEI and Google.org launched a new call for applications to grant €7 million to data-driven projects implemented by NGOs, academic institutions and non-profit research in Barcelona, Berlin, Glasgow, Helsinki, Malmö, Rome, Rotterdam and Stockholm. The call is open for projects focused on environmental and climate action, with an emphasis on mobility, buildings, solar energy, air quality management, and climate resilience. The Fund welcomes proposals that contribute to cities’ just transition and climate goals. The deadline to submit a proposal is 24 July 2022.  

To know more about the ICLEI Action Fund and the funded projects, visit the action fund website

The post How data is helping Berlin move in a carbon-free direction first appeared on Innovators magazine.