Frankfurt’s mobility department head Stefan Majer and his designated successor Wolfgang Siefert on the traffic turnaround
The traffic man in the Römer has become the mobility department; instead of a social democrat, his predecessor has the say again: Stefan Majer, a green man. Not only: Majer will retire in 2023 and is already working in Wolfgang Siefert as his successor. In an interview with Dennis Pfeiffer-Goldmann, both explain how the work with the head of the department and the shadow department works, how the transport policy in Frankfurt is changing and why the traffic turnaround is so difficult to implement.
Mr. Majer, how does it feel to be head of the transport department again?
STEFAN MAJER: Good! I was very happy to lead the traffic department from 2011 to 2016 because it is a topic that affects everyone in this city and is very close to the citizens.
Mr. Siefert, what is the feeling of being in charge of implementation?
WOLFGANG SIEFERT: It’s like turning your hobby into a job. For more than ten years as a city councilor, I did a large part of my free time – to the chagrin of my private environment – transport policy. Now I can move more on a new level than before.
Here the mobility department and the mobility department sit in waiting. Who is in charge of the nun?
SIEFERT: The mobility department.
MAJER: As in any good team, we develop the content and what we are going to advance together. Then there is my signature underneath, my final responsibility. It fits that we can now design the transition well.
How do you organize your joint work in practice? Do you talk to each other all the time or do you know how the other person thinks?
SIEFERT: Yes. (laughs)
MAJER: We think and think similarly. We noticed that between 2011 and 2016.
SIEFERT: Stefan Majer and I have known each other for years, trust each other and can assess each other well. We also negotiated the coalition agreement together on the road side. We are both team workers and not so hierarchically connected.
What will change in transport policy under green leadership?
MAJER: We will once again give new emphasis to the turnaround in traffic. After many air pollution control measures with the side effect of averting diesel driving bans were urgent in the previous election period, climate protection and climate adaptation are now the focus of mobility policy. It will also be different in terms of style. More citizens: internal participation and not every small decision made by me personally.
Does that mean saying goodbye to the internal combustion engine and the individual car?
MAJER: To understand the traffic turnaround as just “per bike” would be completely too short-sighted. People have changed, have different mobility needs and expect politicians to adapt the infrastructure accordingly. This is no longer possible with the city that is only suitable for cars, but also cyclists and walkers whenever they come to their rights.
How important is the bicycle in this regard and how do you intend to support it?
SIEFERT: The goal is that there is a cycle path on every main road and that all secondary roads are safe for cycle traffic.
MAJER: I will focus on a topic that I also have my own story about: security. When you drive through the city, you see the ghost bikes everywhere as memories of a cyclist who died in traffic. Here we are not talking about “ideology”, but about the fact that we want to arrive alive.
SIEFERT: Every measure for bicycle traffic is also a measure for pedestrian traffic at the same time. By separating the modes of transport, everyone has their place and they can also get through much better with a wheelchair or stroller.
They sell that as a side benefit. Pedestrians are dying heavily from the increase in bicycle traffic because all too often cyclists rattle along the footpaths.
MAJER: There is no excuse at all for rowdy cyclists. The sidewalk is for walkers, and exclusively. But that also means. There are cyclists who do not ride the sidewalk for fun, but because they are afraid of the road.
How much push back, when, and then do the drivers adjust?
SIEFERT: It’s not about taking someone’s car away. Many people drive into town by car out of habit or because it seems cheaper or more convenient for them. This can be changed in various ways, but when and when other forms of mobility are also more attractive.
But it does become more uncomfortable for drivers if, for example, they remove parking spaces?
SIEFERT: In the inner city area, many parking spaces in the street space cause huge traffic to search for parking spaces. If you only park in the numerous parking garages, we can create a lot of quality of stay in the many alleys and streets. This will also be good for retailers and restaurants.
Some drivers are thinking about a clean electric car, but there are no charging stations – even in city car parks. What are you going to do there?
MAJER: We looked for my predecessor’s plans and concepts when we took over the department and found nothing. One of the big tasks is to get the infrastructure on track as quickly as possible.
SIEFERT: Frankfurt is lagging behind when it comes to expanding the charging infrastructure compared to other cities. Without a targeted approach by all those involved, the mobility transition WILL be difficult.
One more time to keep the air clean. With the worst air when & the local residents endure at Alder Breath. How close do you see the construction of the Riederwald tunnel?
MAJER: I have criticized the Riederwald tunnel since 1993 and have spoken a lot against it. But this project was decided by the CDU, SPD and FDP. There is no turning back. I am not one of those who die, die, fight the lost battles of the past all over again. When something is decided, it is decided.
In order for the traffic turnaround to work, large numbers of people have to change trains. How do YOU want to push ahead with the expansion of local transport?
MAJER: We now have to get some projects ready for construction, in particular the West Regional Tangent, the North Main S-Bahn, the many advantages in the Frankfurt rail hub. Some projects that are a little further back, when & now will be driven forward, for example the tram expansion in the region.
SIEFERT: We will continue planning the ring tram. In the end, this was not approached with the vehemence that would have been promoted under a green department head. We will also advance the U 4 gap closure in Bockenheim.
Will the tunnel boring machine for the U 4 run by the end of the 2026 electoral term?
MAJER: In view of the planning processes as they exist and cannot be influenced by us, a start of the tunnel boring machine in this electoral period would be extremely ambitious. These long, standardized planning processes for such large projects are a nationwide problem. This can no longer be conveyed to the citizens either. All reports are now given in the order. We must not lose any time now and we have to be quick in the political votes.
Corona is subsiding, passengers are coming back, the trams are full again – and now even more passengers are to use local transport for the turnaround in traffic. When do you offer the necessary capacity?
SIEFERT: During Corona it became clear that public transport is safe, and people obviously trust public transport again, which is good. The quickest way to create more capacity is to upgrade the existing infrastructure so that it can be used more effectively. VGF WILL digitize train protection – that alone WILL increase capacity on the underground lines by at least ten percent.
But for this you will also need more vehicles.
SIEFERT: Of course. There are 23 intermediate subway cars and 45 trams ordered, 22 of which are 40 meters long. If we have even more needs, we need to talk about new vehicles. But a vehicle order will be done in three or four years, while some new lines have been talked about for 40 years. If we need more capacity quickly, the establishment of additional express bus routes will also be an issue for a transitional period.
The tram concept has been politically decided. By when will you implement it?
SIEFERT: There is still one or the other task to be solved: In order for the tram concept to be fully implemented, the stop at the main train station must first be converted and expanded. Major renovations are also necessary in Schloßstraße and at the industrial courtyard, and with them lengthy approval procedures.
MAJER: Something is still missing: nice plans have been made under my predecessor, but the financing is not secured in front or behind. This review explains to me. We have to do that now.
In your previous term of office, YOU put an expansion project on hold with the U 5 extension to Frankfurter Berg. Is something like that threatened again?
MAJER: Contradiction! The then coalition war in a very difficult budget situation and could not tackle all projects at the same time. This made it necessary to put a project in priority. That was the extension to Frankfurter Berg – instead of crushing the regional bypass West. But it wasn’t because we doubt the transport benefits.
SIEFERT: The project is now part of the coalition agreement and is also in progress – just like the other projects.
Now the city currently has financial problems again. What is being postponed this time?
MAJER: The budgetary situation will be a problem for all policy areas. We cannot override the requirements that the Hessian municipal code specifies for a household. This WILL mean that we cannot implement everything as quickly as we would like.
Does the coalition have to free up the money for the transport turnaround or is the transport turnaround not affordable?
MAJER: You don’t think that the new coalition has discovered the crucial gold veins in the combing? The answer to this must be found by the magistrate as a whole by setting priorities.
Also, when do the goals for the traffic turnaround and climate protection have to be stretched?
SIEFERT: The coalition agreement says that climate protection is a priority. The mobility transition is certainly one of the basic prerequisites for us to be able to cope with the climate crisis. The magistrate WILL talk internally about when and for which priorities there is money.
If climate protection is a coalition priority and the tram concept is considered to be very effective in promoting clean mobility, shouldn’t that be implemented as a priority?
SIEFERT: We will have to weigh up which investments we can use to achieve which benefits.