Friday, January 7, 2011

Making Transportation Sustainable: Insights from Germany

Ralph Buehler, John Pucher, and Uwe Kunert
Prepared for the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program
April 2009

Worsening traffic congestion and increasing reliance on foreign oil affect America’s economic competitiveness. Excessive driving contributes to high energy consumption, carbon emissions, and pollution. The costs of maintaining the current structure are untenable. The existing gas tax cannot finance the massive investments needed to fix our deteriorating transportation system.
Increasing transportation sustainability in the United States requires policies that foster changes in travel behavior. Germany’s case may provide a helpful example. Although car use has grown in both countries, Germany has been far more successful than the United States in creating a more balanced transportation system.
Sustainability, for the purposes of this report, means encouraging shorter trips by modes of transportation that require less energy and generate less harmful environmental impacts. Moreover, a more sustainable transportation system should foster commerce, reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, increase safety, provide equal access to destinations for all groups of society, and enhance the quality of life.
America’s challenge

This report examines the key differences and determinants of travel behavior in Germany and the United States. Americans travel by car twice as much per year as Germans and use transit only a sixth as much. Differences in car reliance between the United States and Germany are not solely due to income or residential density. Germans in the highest income quartile make a lower share of their trips by car than Americans in the lowest income quartile. And Germans living in low density areas travel by car about as much as Americans living at population densities five times higher.
The result is a transportation system in the United States that is less sustainable than in Germany. The per capita carbon footprint of passenger transportation in the United States is about three times larger than in Germany. Although gas prices in the United States are half those in Germany, Americans spend five percent more of their budgets on transportation than Germans. In government outlays as well (federal, state and local), Germany spends less per capita on transportation than the United States.
German policies

German governments at all levels have influenced travel behavior through a series of policies enacted over decades. Pricing, restrictions, and mandated technological improvements help mitigate the harmful impacts of car use. Integration of public transportation at the metropolitan and national levels provide a viable alternative to the car. Targeted regional land planning policies encourage compact, mixed-use development, and thus keep trip distances short and feasible for walking or cycling. These policies were coordinated to ensure their mutually reinforcing impact.

Inside a tram (Strassenbahn) in Augsburg, Germany, photo by James-In-Transit
Tram in the historical core of Augsburg, Germany, photo by James-In-Transit
Some readings about Germany:

Norman Foster promotes the urban sustainability of Duisburg by regeneration masterplan

karlsruhe: a ride on the "tram-trains"

Bike Parking: a Key Part of the Bicycle Planning Amenities

No comments:

Post a Comment