Dallas freeway interchange, congested German bus stop. Sources: http://prestonhollow.advocatemag.com, dailymail.co.uk.

This is an adaptation of sections of my final fellowship paper found here.

Ralph Buehler, John Pucher and others have done an amazing amount of research comparing German and US transportation systems in the last several years that I’ll try to summarize in the next several posts. And hopefully I’ll get all my footnotes correct.

Germany and the US have much  in common in terms of transportation, and therefore Germany offers many lessons in general for a more sustainable balance to transportation. Both countries are democracies, both have strong automobile manufacturing sectors (and automobile industry lobbying sectors), they are among the wealthiest countries with some of the largest roadway systems in the world. Germany has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world after the U.S., and the trend of car ownership has grown similarly since the 1960s.

Despite the image of the US being the land of suburban sprawl, German cities have also been decentralizing. Indeed, because of bombing and destruction of World War 2, much of the urban development in Germany is new, similar to urban development in the US.

As any American visitor to Germany can see, however, German transportation systems are very different, characterized by much less driving and more transit use, biking and walking. For example, even in rural areas around Stuttgart, which suffers from the worst congestion of any German city because of its high share of private vehicles, transit ridership is higher than in downtown Arlington, Virginia, which is seen as a model for American transit-oriented suburban development.  Here are some other facts:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions from transportation per capita in Germany are about 30% of the amount in the US (2005).
  • German households spend less on transportation costs than American households (14% vs. 19% in 2003), even though fuel is notoriously less expensive in the US.
  • Traffic fatalities in Germany are less than half per 100,000 residents as in the U.S. (6.5 vs. 14.7 from 2002-2005).
  • Transit agency operating budgets are hardly subsidized in Germany compared with the US (26% of operating budgets in Germany vs. 62% of budgets in the US in 2006).
  • Government subsidies for transportation in general are less in Germany per capita than in the US ($460 vs. $625 in 2006).

While these figures are somewhat dated, and reductions in driving are occurring in both countries at the moment, they highlight the fact that transportation in Germany is cleaner, safer, and less expensive than in the US. Travel behavior is the primary determinant and is influenced by both transportation policies and urban development patterns.

These facts come from:

Ralph Buehler, Wolfgang Jung, Andrea Hamre and Paul Stoddard (2013): Planning for Sustainable Transport in Germany and the USA: A Comparison of the Washington, DC and Stuttgart Regions, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, Demand for Public Transport in Germany and the USA: An Analysis of Rider Characteristics. Transport Reviews, Vol. 32, No. 5, 541–567, September 2012