For any given year, residents of European cities live in denser conditions, ride transit more, and drive less than residents of North American and Australian cities. This has led some Australian researchers to conclude that European policies of subsidizing transit and high-density housing while penalizing autos and low-density housing have made European cities less "auto dependent." Their research and data are published in a massive book titled International Sourcebook of Automobile Dependence in Cities, 19601990.
Their case is undermined, however, when looking at the trends in the cities they examine. In European cities, as elsewhere:
In fact, many of these trends are taking place faster in Europe than in North America or Australia. You can examine the data for yourself in an Excel file titled citydata.xls. This file includes the following data for the years 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1990 for 35 different urban areas from all over the world:
For 1990 only, the following data are also included:
Using these data you can calculate changes in population densities, per capita auto driving, transit ridership, and many other useful indicators.
Among other things, the data show that many European urban areas have lost population over the past few decades. Collectively, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfort, Hamburg, London, Stockholm, and Vienna lost more than 2 million residents. Where did all the people go? Data for Stockholm cover both the urban area and the larger county of Stockholm. They show that the urban area lost 133,000 residents from 1960 to 1990, but the county gained 370,000 residents. Clearly, many Europeans are moving out of the big cities into low-density areas that are outside of the areas that the Australian researchers count as urbanized.
The last four columns of the spreadsheet show the total or average data for North American, Australian, European, and Asian cities. Between 1960 and 1990, European urbanites more than tripled the the number of kilometers they drove, while they barely increased the number of trips they took by transit. Indeed, auto driving grew faster in Europe than in either Australia or North America.
A comparison of transit, auto, and walking/cycling's share of travel in Europe suggests that the increase in auto driving was mostly at the expense of walking and cycling. Transit lost share by a small amount, but the biggest loss in share was for walking and cycling. However, transit's share declined significantly in Brussels, Hamburg, and London. Data are not available for some cities in the earlier years, which may distort the averages.
The 1990 data show that per capita gross regional incomes are slightly higher in Europe than in the United States. However, personal income in Europe is lower than in the U.S. because European countries take a higher share of income in taxes. Moreover, the cost of auto ownership in Europe is twice as high as in the United States, mainly due to high taxes on autos and fuel. Differences in income and costs account for Europe's lower amount of per capita driving. But at current rates of growth, Europe will catch up with the U.S. soon.
Europe offers smart-growth advocates little comfort. Subsidies for transit and punitive measures on auto driving will not stop people from driving. Subsidies for dense housing and restrictions on low-density housing will not stop people from moving to suburban or exurban areas. All such measures will do is place an enormous burden on people with no compensating social benefits.