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Sustain to gain: October 2011 Archives

Life-style wise, Berlin is an attractive city. New York hipsters flood some parts of the city, young entrepeneurs create a vibrant high-tech community in Mitte, Berlin's center. A secret of its attractivity lies in history: A number of smaller cities merged into Berlin around 100 years ago, creating a poly-centric structure. Berlin thus consists of numerous relatively quite villages that are well-connected by public transit.

That said, political dynamics point into a different direction. This week, coalition negotations of the upcoming Berlin government between the Social-Democrats and the Green Party flow apart. Reason: The construction of another urban freeway segment. The new and old mayor Klaus Wowereit insists on building more freeway, a condition the Green Party could not accept.

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. 

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