Basel residents vote in favour of car-use and against a people-friendly plan to ease mobility in the Swiss city

Voters in Basel overwhelmingly reject active-travel plan

An initiative to increase cycling use in the bike-friendly city of Basel in Switzerland was yesterday rejected by residents. A referendum to decide whether the city should give more priority to cyclists, pedestrians and buses resulted in a thumping defeat for the "Share Streets" initiative. 73 percent of those who voted rejected a proposal to create more bike lanes, wider footways and more bus lanes. Basel has a cycling modal share of 16 percent, and the main "Strasseninitiative" planned to greatly increase this share over the space of five years. 

An Environmental Protection Act stipulates that motor traffic on Basel’s streets has to be reduced by at least ten percent by 2020, but residents remain attached to their cars. 38 percent of Basel’s 175,000 residents voted in yesterday’s referendum.

The website for the "yes" campaign said: "We have lost a step on the way to a modern, forward-looking transport policy. However, we will continue to pursue this objective and stand up for greater security and justice on Basel’s streets."

The "Share Streets" initiative was brought into being by a coalition of fourteen NGOs and political parties, including the Traffic Club of Switzerland, the World Wildlife Fund, a variety of ecological associations, the Green party, the Young Socialists, a pensioner group, a pedestrian organisation, and Pro Velo, the Basel cycle advocacy organisation. It is normal for such initiatives to be voted upon. The referendum was carried out by the Office of Mobility, part of the city council.

There were two proposals to be decided, a radical and expensive one and a toned-down, cheaper version. Both were rejected by voters. The radical version – to cost £120m – wanted to create better conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users, with restrictions on car use to be phased in within five years, and with bike lanes constructed on the majority of main roads. The toned down version – to cost £3.2m – was a much reduced plan for bike lanes, and to be carried out over seven years. It was rejected by 46 percent of the electorate.

Basel’s Traffic Director Hans-Peter Wessels said: "The result shows that citizens of Basel reject measures that are at the expense of car traffic."

Anita Meier of the green party said: "This result does not mean that the population does not want bicycle or pedestrian measures. But I believe that the people feared the measures would be expensive and would result in the loss of car parking places."

Opponents of the people-friendly proposals included many of Basel’s business leaders, the city’s leading lawyers, as well as the Basel Commercial Association, the Basel Chamber of Commerce, centre and right wing political parties, and motoring organisations. The "no" campaign said that plans to add 50 new bike lanes to the city would "punish motorists." Both plans would have resulted in a reduction in car parking spaces. According to the no campaign this would have resulted in reduced business for retailers, and would have also "endangered the quality of life in residential areas."

The no campaign also said both Share Streets proposals would have required taking space away from motorists on main roads. This "makes no sense" and would have been "unattractive". Basel is already a "safe cycling city", said the no campaign, so there was no need to add more facilities which could only lead to antagonism between motorists and cyclists. "We should work together, not against each other," said the pro-parking, pro-motoring campaign.

The modal share for motoring in Basel is 18 percent, with 37 percent choosing to walk.

The city’s Department of Public Works and Transport promotes Basel as the "most bicycle and pedestrian friendly city in Switzerland."

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