The heart of Leipzig, the city centre, was literally about to seize up. Clogged up by car traffic, in the 1990s things were almost at a standstill. Customers were staying away from the inner city, and shops had to close. However, with their 'low-traffic city centre' master plan, urban and traffic planners have succeeded in making the city centre attractive again. Today the city is pulsating with life – inviting visitors to take a stroll and go on a shopping spree.
Many cities that grow rapidly sprawl around the periphery, and lose touch with their own centre once that centre is no longer able to cope with the pressures created by the increase in traffic volume. Following German reunification, this was the fate that also threatened Leipzig, the largest city in the Free State of Saxony.
Leipzig is one of the fastest-growing cities in Germany. The inner city became increasingly unattractive due to the continuous rise in car traffic – caused not only by the many cars passing through, but also by those looking for parking spaces, of which there were too few. Leipzig's traditional city centre is only about 900 x 700 metres in size, and is confined by the Promenadenring. The narrow streets were soon no longer up to the continuous increase in traffic volume.
To reduce pressure on the centre, in 1993 the city council adopted the 'master plan for a low-traffic city centre', which was updated in 2008. The plan is based on recognition of the fact that the available space is no longer sufficient for all modes of transport. Thanks to the reduction in the number of cars, today there is space in the city centre for little extras – like benches that invite passers-by to sit down for a while.
Many municipalities wish to help mitigate greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollution through measures to support the mobility revolution. Leipzig is one of them.
The master plan for the ‘low-traffic city centre' no longer grants the right of way to individual motorised transport automatically. Instead it now gives preference to pedestrians and cyclists. This is also designed to make the city centre a more attractive place to live and spend time. Noise and atmospheric pollution will be reduced, and safety increased. The main beneficiaries will be children and persons with disabilities. Tight spaces and dense traffic had been adversely affecting the quality of life.
The gradual reduction of moving and static car traffic is also designed to benefit the local retail trade, which must compete with outlets and shopping centres located out of town, and the trend towards online shopping. The 'master plan for a low-traffic city centre' will thus systematically boost Leipzig's economic strength and value creation. The city centre will once again come to be seen and valued as a place to promenade. This will also make it more attractive to tourists.
The Office of Traffic Planning first of all studied the connectivity of the city centre, and improved public transport links. Pedestrian zones were created and rules for cyclists were introduced. Fresh plans were drawn up to ensure the accessibility of the city centre for essential motor traffic. Access routes were identified and fitted with retractable bollards. The police, emergency services and refuse collection services still had to be able to drive into the city centre without hindrance. Solutions were found for taxis, handicraft businesses and residents, particularly those with parking spaces on private land. Time limits now apply to delivery vehicles. In the traffic-calmed zone a maximum speed limit of 20 km per hour is in force.
The ‘master plan for a low-traffic city centre' has successfully averted the inner city decay that was threatening to occur in the 1990s.
Today's visitors to Leipzig city centre appreciate it as a place to spend quality time. Retailers in particular are profiting from the relaxed shopping atmosphere.
The master plan has been continuously adapted to needs. In the process, a culture of constructive and creative participation has emerged. Administrators, councillors, the city centre community, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, craftspersons, the taxi industry, the police force, the working group on bike traffic and other interest groups are continuing to seek joint solutions to practical issues and aspirations.
The 'master plan for a low-traffic city centre' has also helped make citizen mobility more sustainable. Today, 81 per cent of citizens already use environmentally sound means of transport to get to the centre – and the figure is rising. The city centre has also become a more desirable place to live. New shops and service providers have moved in.
The master plan for a 'low-traffic city centre' has done well and is proving to be successful. At the same time, Leipzig's continued rapid growth has entailed additional challenges. Today it seems to make sense to better link the areas adjacent to the city centre with Leipzig's traffic flows, and to extend the city centre, which so far has been bounded by the Promenadenring . This could enable urban planners to harness the potential that would meet the needs of a dynamic major city.
Stadt Leipzig, Der Oberbürgermeister
Verkehrs- und Tiefbauamt
Abteilung Generelle Planung
Prager Straße 118-136, Haus C