Bike-Happy Danish Liberals and Car-Happy German Social Democrats

The new Danish government’s enthusiasm for bikes (“I will rather invest in cycle tracks than freeways”) is especially ironic from the current German perspective. After the recent state elections in Berlin the negotiations for a red-green coalition broke down because the Social Democrats insist on expanding the urban freeway. Researcher Felix Creutzig nicely sums up the drawbacks:

So is there a rational of additional freeway capacity? In the traditional paradigm, freeways and other roads increase mobility, and by this, contribute to economic growth. This paradigm seems obsolete in scientific research:

  • The economic growth framework still exists if only because of lack of alternatives. But the Sen-Stiglitz-Fitoussi report starts to offer a viable alternative.
  • The additional economic growth effect works only for mostly incomplete transport networks, but not anymore for saturated networks (see e.g. Hurlin, 2006).
  • Road-way capacity induces additional demand, without alleviating congestion (e.g., Noland, 2001).
  • Even for US-cities, a “No-more-freeway” scenario seems to outperform additional urban freeway construction in terms of cost-effectiveness (Zhang and Xu, 2011).
  • Urban motorized transport causes huge social externalities beyond congestion, such as air pollution, noise pollution, inequitable access, accidents, climate change, and increase oil dependence (see e.g., Creutzig and He, 2009).

The Berlin freeway would in addition require the deconstruction of a number of building and take away space from urban gardening (“Kleingärten”). Nonethess, if the freeway would address a significant bottleneck, there could a rational behind the construction. But the most recent study on this issue concludes, that in contrary, the freeway would induce constant congestion in the urban village where it ends, as crossings cannot be adapted to the incoming flow of vehicles.

It also bears noting that Berlin’s public transport has deteriorated substantially over the last ten years while Berlin was being governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and the Leftist Party. So while the Danish capital (and the rest of the country) are going to become even more eco-friendly and healthy thanks to Denmark’s Liberals, Germany’s capital is going to get more congested and polluted thanks to Germany’s Social Democrats.

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