Cities are built on networks of streets that move us through urban space, while also providing spaces for us to shop, hang out and observe. In today’s world however, the history and nature of the street is closely tied to the automobile.
While automobiles have allowed us to quickly travel long distances and easily transport heavy materials, there have still been negative effects resulting from their use. Cities around the world must accommodate pollution and smog caused from fossil fuel use in automobiles. As well, cars produce high amounts of noise which reduce the quality of life for people living near high-traffic roads and highways. Cities mitigate these negative effects with speed limits and other forms of control.
With this in mind, I wanted to see how the Berlin was organized based on its speed limits. I drew the following map of Berlin’s street network:
Unlike many North American cities that I’m more used to, Berlin has an irregular, quasi-radial street network with a half-completed ring road – all of which are remnants of Berlin’s tumultuous history.
For example, many larger avenues were based on the 17th century region’s urban structure, where Berlin was a small walled city surrounded by a constellation of small villages. As the city grew beyond its walls, these well-used roads were solidified as thoroughfares. During the Cold War and in the divided city, West Berlin invested in building heavy automobile infrastructure, including wide highways, tunnels, bridges and overpasses to build a ‘car-friendly’ city, with the hopes that the ring would be completed after reunification. In today’s Berlin, we see more and more suburban developments growing, requiring slow roads or even private local roads and the rise of semi-gated communities.
These histories are reflected in the speeds of the roads that one sees in the map. Large mid-speed avenues grow out from the old city center in all directions. Former West Berlin’s spine is demarcated in dark grey – a fast set of autobahns that slice through the city. On the fringes are wide blocks with extremely slow-speed roads reflected in a light grey – evidence of the suburban nature of these spaces.
In today’s Berlin, I found it somehow striking to see the concessions needed for certain roads. The map of Berlin seems like a constant struggle between speed and quiet living. Many neighbourhoods throughout the city are strongly hierarchical in their street structure: moving from fast arterial streets step-wise to slow residential streets (many featuring traffic calming mechanisms like speed bumps and cobblestones). Furthermore, the highways trace through areas that are strongly industrial or otherwise follow already-present rights of ways (ex. train lines, canals, etc.). The complex decisions associated with trying to accommodate cars in order to build a car-friendly city are ever-present, and become more interesting the deeper I dig.
As I continue to learn about this city that I call home now, I am drawn to the roads and the thoroughfares – maybe because of my close connection to them when I lived in Toronto.
(see a high quality map here: PDF, 9.8MB)
Edit – added a creative commons licence to the maps, as well as my name!