spirit of america /Shutterstock.com

spirit of america /Shutterstock.com


This story synopsis is a part of a brilliant series published in The Atlantic about the future of transportation. This in-depth reporting about how America developed its current transportation system and how it may be improved or changed in the future covers everything from telecommuting to why we hate our commutes, from transportation’s historic underpinnings to a future without cars. It is a fascinating series of articles.

How did we end up with such a car-dependent system here in the USA? Here are nine reasons that explain why the US is so much more car-dependent than Europe. It is a story of unintended consequences. This is a synopsis of the article. For the full story click here.

1. Mass motorization. Mass motorization occurred earlier in the United States than in Europe. Mass production lowered prices and personal income was higher than in Europe.

2. Road standards. The USA built better roads that helped spread automobiles. European standards were not standardized

3. Vehicle taxes. The USA has far lower vehicle taxes than Europe, making car ownership more affordable.

4. Interstate system. In Europe drivers pay more than enough to finance roads and bridges. The Interstate system has penetrated American cities. In Europe, the high-speed roads link cities rather than push through them.

5. Government subsidies. The USA subsidized road building. America’s highway systems are not paid for through vehicle and gasoline taxes; they are subsidized by other revenue sources such as property taxes and income taxes. In European countries, meanwhile, drivers typically pay more in taxes and fees than governments spend on roadways.

6. Technological focus. The USA has used technological changes, like catalytic converters and cleaner fuel, to fight environmental effects of automobile and truck transportation. In Europe efforts were made to limit the use of automobiles with car-free zones, restricted parking and other policies.

7. Public transit. Public transportation in the USA has deteriorated since WWII with fewer government subsidies. Meanwhile, in Europe, government planners at both country and local levels focused on mass transit. While trolleys disappeared in the USA, they proliferated in Europe.

8. Walking and cycling. Everything from the legal system to the budgeting system has worked against integration of walking and bicycling into the transportation network. Only recently, many USA cities have begun to mark off bike lanes and improve crosswalks for pedestrian traffic.

9. Zoning laws. For example, in Germany a residential zone can include doctors’ offices, cafes, corner stores, or apartment buildings. By contrast, single family residential zones in the United States typically forbid those uses. This kind of zoning forces residents to travel farther distances in order to get many basic services and to shop.