Analysis: Car density in large cities continues to rise

Despite efforts to make greater use of local public transport, the number and density of cars in many cities have recently continued to increase. The number of registered cars grew last year in 22 of the 25 large municipalities examined, as industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer found in an analysis of data from the Federal Motor Transport Authority and the Federal Statistical Office. In Berlin and Leipzig, for example, the increase was 1.1 percent each, in Hanover 1.2 percent and in Dortmund and Freiburg 1.7 percent. The increase was strongest in Bochum, at 2.2 percent.

Overall, the urban car density per 1000 inhabitants increased slightly in the course of 2020 from 450 to 451. It was expected that during the Corona crisis, many people would switch to their own car because of concerns about contamination in buses and trains. However, this was offset by estimates according to which individual mobility would decrease significantly overall.

“The trend” away from the car “, which is often claimed, cannot be seen,” says Dudenhöffer, interpreting the results. Car owners now appreciate the possibility of being able to use their own car flexibly – even though they drive shorter total distances each year.

In 2020, however, there were also three cities in which the number of cars fell: Wolfsburg (minus 1.7 percent), Ingolstadt (minus 3.4 percent) and Munich (minus 1.1 percent), where the headquarters of Volkswagen, Audi and BMW sit. The assumption for the opposite trend here: Numerous company cars were withdrawn from use at short notice because many senior executives of the car manufacturers were working from home. “In the course of 2021 you can expect that the loss will be replaced again,” writes the head of the Center Automotive Research (CAR) in Duisburg.

On a nationwide average, the car density increased slightly to 580 cars per 1000 inhabitants by the turn of the year, according to CAR calculations, at the beginning of 2020 the value was 575. There were also continuous increases in previous years – with a parallel decrease in the total distance traveled per car owner. Dudenhöffer deduces from this: “Having your own car on your doorstep seems unbeatable in big cities.”

In the centers in particular, however, the burden of individual traffic and of the delivery traffic fueled by online retail is increasing. Environmentalists as well as some city and traffic planners are therefore calling for more space to be created for cyclists and pedestrians in addition to the expansion of local public transport – or at least more incentives for car sharing.

Dudenhöffer admitted: “The bike has a special role to play. (…) A policy against the car makes little sense. But a pure car policy does not work either.” It is about “as well as”: “The question that remains is how you can reconcile both with the limited space available.” Infrastructure areas should also be allowed to be enlarged in width, instead of just compacting residential areas vertically.


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