Berlin Environmental Atlas

03.11 Traffic-Related Air Pollution - NO2 and PM10 (Edition 2008)

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Original Situation

In the past, the reduction of emissions from industrial and domestic heating was the main focus of clean air planning. In these segments, sizeable reductions of airborne pollutant emissions could be achieved through extensive rehabilitation programmes and plant closures. Improvements could also be achieved in the area of traffic, but nonetheless, traffic is the largest single source of both current and future air pollutants - not only in Berlin - and is the determining factor for the course of action in clean air planning.

Due to historical development conditions, the spatial residential structure of Berlin and Brandenburg is "traffic-efficient". No other region in Germany has anywhere near such favourable conditions. Especially characteristic of Berlin are the clearly polycentric structures and the intensive utilisation of limited space in the inner city, as well as in the centres on the outskirts if the city, with intensive large and small scale multiple uses resulting in a lower degree of suburbanisation than in other large cities. Only 20% of the population lives in the surrounding area. Certainly this is in part due to the fact that large sections of the urban peripheral area are within the administrative borders of Berlin, as a result of the establishment of the amalgamated municipality of "Greater Berlin" in 1920.

Since 1990, the city and its immediate metropolitan area in Brandenburg have experienced considerable changes in their spatial structure, in terms of the distribution of the population, businesses, and jobs. Moreover, significant locations for shopping and leisure activities have been established, especially in the eastern part of the city and in the surrounding areas. The dynamics of change is continuing, but at a reduced rate.

Since reunification, the city of Berlin has been confronted with a considerable increase in traffic. The number of the motor vehicles registered in Berlin increased by 23% between 1989 and 2002, when a high point of 1,440,000 was achieved. This number has dropped continuously since then, and is now at 1,291,000 motor vehicles (as of 30 June 2008). The volume of traffic on Berlin's road network has not decreased, however, since the number of commuters from the surrounding areas, and the distances covered per vehicle, have increased. The future is expected to bring a further increase in traffic, especially in the pollution intensive segment of freight transport on the roads.

These far-reaching changes have not ended yet. The increase in traffic is caused, among other things, by the continuing expansion of the joint Berlin-Brandenburg residential and commercial area; the intensification of international economic interdependence; and, especially in Berlin, the increasing interdependence with Eastern Europe.

The Contribution of Motor Vehicle Traffic to Air Pollutant Concentrations: Origins and Trends

Berlin's motor vehicle traffic has for some years now been the cause not only of considerable noise immission in significant problem areas (see Map 07.05.1 & 2, Strategic Noise Maps of Road Traffic; 2008 Edition), but also of air pollution, especially since other categories that originally contributed to air pollution have been substantially reduced. Table 1 shows the combined emissions of all of Berlin's sources of major pollutants since 1989.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many industrial enterprises have been rehabilitated or shut down, and the use of coal for fuel for the furnaces to heat Berlin's residences has been replaced with heating oil, natural gas, or district heating (cf. Map 08.02.1 Predominant Types of Heating; 2009 Edition, in preparation). In 1989, domestic heating and industry were significant sources of sulphur dioxide and particulate pollutants, but these have been reduced substantially. Between 2000 and 2005, total emissions of oxides of nitrogen were reduced by almost 30%, and of particulate matter by over 20%.

Table 1 - Dummy
[Approx. 24 KB size.]

Tab. 1: Emissions in Berlin by emission categories, 1989 to 2015 (trend)


[Table is also available as Excel-File (MS-Excel is required).]

Particulate emissions from motor vehicle exhausts also decreased by more than 80%. between 1989 and 2002. This finding agrees substantially with the measurements of diesel soot in so-called "canyon streets" - the major component of motor vehicle exhaust emissions: the measured soot concentration on Frankfurter Allee, in the Berlin neighbourhood of Friedrichshain, at measurement point 174 of the Berlin Air Quality Measurement Network BLUME has dropped by almost 40 % within the past 6 years. However, since particulates from street traffic caused by abrasion and stirred up by the wind have decreased only slightly during this period, road traffic remains the second major source of particulate matter (PM10) in Berlin, after "Other sources". Road traffic accounts for 34 % of particulate emissions in Berlin, while "Other sources" cause 40 %.

By the beginning of the 1990s, road traffic had replaced industrial plants as the main source of nitrogen oxides in Berlin. As of 2005, street traffic produced 53 % of the nitrogen oxides in Berlin, whereas industrial plants accounted for 30 % of total emissions.

Especially high in relative terms is the pollution from motor vehicle traffic in the inner city, where over one million people live in an area of 100 sq. km. Especially here, if current trends for use of and competition for space continue, motor vehicle traffic will increase. If current conditions continue, especially freight transport will encounter increased bottlenecks in the streets.

With the Urban Development Plan for Traffic, the Berlin Senate in a resolution of 8 July 2003 presented an action plan which combines the possible and necessary steps for the further development of the Berlin traffic system for the coming years with a long term strategic orientation. The core of the action plan is a catalogue of measures that were previously analysed in detail and coordinated for effectiveness, acceptability and fundability. With regard to the future development of traffic in Berlin and the surrounding area, the investigations for the Berlin Clean Air Maintenance Plan are based on this long term action concept.

"Health and Safety", one of the key strategic components of the Urban Development Plan for Traffic, includes a number of important strategies to limit the increase of motor vehicle traffic and its associated effects, with the goal of a reduction of air and noise pollution in the primary road network. The implementation of the measures of the Urban Development Plan for Traffic is expected to be completed by 2015.

The standardised Clean Air Maintenance Plan mandated by the EU was adopted by the Berlin Senate in August 2005.Under Europe-wide standards, the Clean Air Maintenance Plan data must include information on:

  • pollution measurements;
  • the causes of high air pollution levels;
  • the frequency and degree of instances in which the limits are exceeded;
  • pollution immission and the proportions of the immission for each causative factor (e.g. industry, commercial activity, home heating, traffic);
  • planned measures, and a schedule for implementation; and
  • a prognosis of the goals to be achieved by such measures.

The present Clean Air Maintenance Plan provides information about the legal framework and the prevailing situation, and describes the causes of air pollution. The measures take into account future developments of the condition of the air through 2010. The focal point is the presentation of a range of potential measures and their evaluation. Based on the effectiveness of these measures, a strategy will be developed for the Berlin Clean Air Maintenance Plan. The Clean Air Maintenance Plan documents that Berlin, like many other large German and European cities, faces a major challenge to meet the new EU limits.

The essential results can be described summarily as follows: the locally generated segment of the pollution, which can only be reduced by Berlin measures, accounts for about half of the particulate pollution; it is caused by the urban background and other local sources. Urban background pollution is caused mostly by road traffic (16 % of the total pollution of PM10). The rest (11 %) consists of approximately equal shares of the emissions form Berlin Residential heating, Industry/ power plants, Construction, and Other sources in the city.

The results of the measurements of recent year and the model calculations carried out for 2005 lead, among other things, to the following conclusions:

  • The multi-year trend of particulate and nitrogen dioxide pollution shows only a very slight decline. The high PM10 values in 2005 and 2006, and the drop in 2007 and 2008 are largely due to the weather.
  • In 2005 and 2006, the 24-hour values for particulates and the annual values for nitrogen oxide were exceeded at all measurement points located close to traffic. The calculations for 2005 show widespread instances of exceeding the limits in the entire primary road network, especially in the inner city.

These investigations indicate that the two most problematic pollutants in Berlin are NO2 and PM10. Because of their physical effect, strict limit values for these substances must be upheld in the European Union and in Germany.

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