Berlin Greens Know the Price of Everything and Value of Nothing

While trying to hunt down some numbers on the costs of the three new U5 stations, I found media discourse in Berlin about the U-Bahn expansion plan that was, in effect, greenwashing austerity. This is related to the general hostility of German urbanists and much of the Green Party (including the Berlin branch) to infrastructure at any scale larger than that of a bike lane. But the specific mechanism they use – trying to estimate the carbon budget – is a generally interesting case of knowing the costs more certainly than the benefits, which leads to austerity. The underlying issue is that mode shift is hard to estimate accurately at the level of the single piece of infrastructure, and therefore benefit-cost analyses that downplay ridership as a benefit and only look at mode shift lead to underbuilding of public transport infrastructure.

The current program in Berlin

In the last generation, Berlin has barely expanded its rapid transit network. The priority in the 1990s was to restore sections that had been cut by the Berlin Wall, such as the Ringbahn, which was finally restored with circular service in 2006. U-Bahn expansion, not including restoration of pre-Wall services, included two extensions of U8, one north to Wittenau that had begun in the 1980s and a one-stop southward extension of U8 to Hermannstrasse, which project had begun in the 1920s but been halted during the Depression. Since then, the only fully new extension have been a one-stop extension of U2 to Pankow, and the six-stop extension of U5 west from Alexanderplatz to Hauptbahnhof.

However, plans for much more expansive construction continue. Berlin was one of the world’s largest and richest cities before the war, and had big plans for further growth, which were not realized due to the war and division; in that sense, I believe it is globally only second to New York in the size of its historic unrealized expansion program. The city will never regain its relative wealth or size, not in a world of multiple hypercities, but it is growing, and as a result, it’s dusting off some of these plans.

U8 is the north-south line from Wittenau to the southern leg of the Ring – the intersection station, Hermannstrasse, is unlabeled.

Most of the lines depicted in red on the map are not at all on the city’s list of projects to be built by the 2030s. Unfortunately, the most important line measured by projected cost per rider, the two-stop extension of U8 north (due east) to Märkisches Viertel, is constantly deprioritized. The likeliest lines to be built per current politicking are the extensions of U7 in both directions, southeast ti the airport (beyond the edge of the map) and west from Spandau to Staaken, and the one-stop extension of U3 southwest to Mexikoplatz to connect with the S-Bahn. An extension to the former grounds of Tegel is also considered, most likely a U6 branch depicted as a lower-priority dashed yellow line on the map rather than the U5 extension the map depicts in red.

The carbon critique

Two days after the U5 extension opened two years ago, a report dropped that accused the proposed program of climate catastrophe. The argument: the embedded concrete emissions of subway construction are high, and the payback time on those from mode shift is more than 100 years.

The numbers in the study are, as follows: each kilometer of construction emits 98,800 tons of CO2, which is 0.5% of city emissions (that is, 5.38 t/person, cf. the German average of about 9.15 in 2021). It’s expected that through mode shift, each subway kilometer saves 714 t-CO2 in annual emissions through mode shift, which is assumed to be 20% of ridership, for a payback time of 139 years.

And this argument is, frankly, garbage. The scale of the difference in emissions between cities with and without extensive subway systems is too large for this to be possibly true. The U-Bahn is 155 km long; if the 714 t/km number holds, then in a no U-Bahn counterfactual, Berlin’s annual greenhouse gas emissions grow by 0.56%, which is just ridiculous. We know what cities with no or minimal rapid transit systems look like, and they’re not 0.56% worse than comparanda with extensive rapid transit – compare any American city to New York, for one. Or look again at the comparison of Berlin to the German average: Berlin has 327 cars per 1,000 people, whereas Germany-wide it’s 580 and that’s with extensive rapid transit systems in most major cities bringing down the average from the subway-free counterfactual of the US or even Poland.

The actual long-term effect of additional public transport ridership on mode shift and demotorization has to be much more than 20%, then. It may well be more than 100%: the population density that the transit city supports also increases the walking commute modal split as some people move near work, and even drivers drive shorter distances due to the higher density. This, again, is not hard to see at the level of sanity checks: Europeans drive considerably less than Americans not just per capita but also per car, and in the United States, people in New York State drive somewhat shorter distance per car than Americans elsewhere (I can’t find city data).

The measurement problem

It’s easy to measure the embedded concrete of infrastructure construction: there are standardized itemized numbers for each element and those can be added up. It’s much harder to measure the carbon savings from the existence of a better urban rail system. Ridership can be estimated fairly accurately, but long-term mode shift can’t. This is where rules of thumb like 20% can look truthy, even if they fail any sanity check.

But it’s not correct to take any difficult to estimate number and set it to zero. In fact, there are visible mode shift effects from a large mass transit system. The difficulty is with attributing specific shifts to specific capital investments. Much of the effect of mode shift comes from the ability of an urban rail system to contribute to the rise of a strong city center, which can be high-rise (as in New York), mid-rise (as in Munich or Paris), or a mix (as in Berlin). Once the city center anchored by the system exists, jobs are less likely to suburbanize to auto-oriented office parks, and people are likelier to work in city center and take the train. Social events will likewise tend to pick central locations to be convenient for everyone, and denser neighborhoods make it easier to walk or bike to such events, and this way, car-free travel is possible even for non-work trips.

This, again, can be readily verified by looking at car ownership rates, modal splits (for example, here is Berlin’s), transit-oriented development, and so on, but it’s difficult to causally attribute it to a specific piece of infrastructure. Nonetheless, ignoring this effect is irresponsible: it means the carbon benefit-cost analysis, and perhaps the economic case as well, knows the cost of everything and the value of little, which makes investment look worse than it is.

I suspect that this is what’s behind the low willingness to invest in urban rail here. The benefit-cost analyses can leave too much value on the table, contributing to public transport austerity. When writing the Sweden report, I was stricken by how the benefit-cost analyses for both Citybanan and Nya Tunnelbanan were negative, when the ridership projections were good relative to costs. Actual ridership growth on the Stockholm commuter trains from before the opening of Citybanan to 2019 was enough to bring cot per new daily trip down to about $29,000 in 2021 PPP dollars, and Nya Tunnelbanan’s daily ridership projection of 170,000 means around $23,000/rider. The original construction of the T-bana cost $2,700/rider in 2021 dollars, in a Sweden that was only about 40% as rich as it is today, and has a retrospective benefit-cost ratio of between 6 and 8.5, depending on whether broader agglomeration benefit are included – and these benefits are economic (for example, time savings, or economic productivity from agglomeration) scale linearly with income.

At least Sweden did agree to build both lines, recognizing the benefit-cost analysis missed some benefits. Berlin instead remains in austerity mode. The lines under discussion right now are projected between 13,160€ and 27,200€ per weekday trip (and Märkisches Viertel is, again, the cheapest). The higher end, represented by the U6 branch to Tegel, is close to the frontier of what a country as rich as Germany should build; M18 in Paris is projected to be more than this, but area public transport advocates dislike it and treat it as a giveaway to rich suburbs. And yet, the U6 branch looks unlikely to be built right now. When the cost per rider of what is left is this low, what this means is that the city needs to build more infrastructure, or else it’s leaving value on the table.


  1. R. W. Rynerson

    The Markisches VIertel residents were considered to be alienated when I visited it in 1971. Sympathy for them was expressed in the second paragraph of a famous radical manifesto:

    The trees were bigger when National Geographic mentioned it in the 1980’s. The U-Bahn extension to Mexikoplatz makes sense because I once lived in the neighborhood, but the extension to the Markisch Quarter would have social returns beyond a conventional cost-benefit analysis. It is overdue.

  2. Alex Cat3

    I think US transportation advocates reluctance to face their cost explosion comes partially from a reaction against this sort of thinking. In the case of the US the costs have blown so far out of proportion that they often do exceed the benefits, but US transit advocates are so used to the American type of libertarian (someone who believes that taxes are immoral and that having state capacity is communism) pulling out something like this to say that transit is inherently wasteful and the money should be redirected to roads that they end up dismissing all criticism.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Obviously as construction has started on HS2 you may as well continue with at least what’s being built now. However there’s still quite a lot of transport people in the UK who are pro HS2 and won’t accept it’s expensive and over-engineered.

      It’s basically “it’s a train so therefore I love it”

  3. Matthew Hutton

    I’m sorry to say this but large chunks of the environmental movement are complete fantasists.

    While I appreciate there is scepticism here about long distance high speed rail and especially overnight high speed rail. Long journeys by high speed rail are still clearly vastly more plausible than persuading people in Northern Europe to give up going on holiday to the Mediterranean altogether.

    • Borners

      Its not about winning, its about sending a message about your superior morality. Giving up on air travel is easier than working day and night to build the necessary de-carbonisation infrastructure.

      Greenery stands in succession of utopian-idealist movements in European history, New Religious orders for the Medieval Latin Church, Radical Protestants in the Early Modern, Socialism/Syndicalists/Anarchists in the Industrial era. You can be softcore Hegelian or dirtbag Overton window about their place in making the world better, but their failures are often catastrophic too.

      • Alon Levy

        To be very clear, the Greens here are good about other things – EU integration, Ukraine (no Putinist factions, like SPD or CDU or FDP), immigration, carbon taxes, school integration, renewable energy. They’re just pretty NIMBY in Berlin, while SPD wants to build another motorway segment through city center.

        • Herbert

          The greens reduced Germany’s most reliable zero carbon electricity form from 30% of demand to 10% and want to reduce it further to zero. That alone almost erases all the good they might do on other topics…

          • Alon Levy

            The Greens were not in power in the 2010s. Right now Habeck is lying about a pretty small nuclear contribution (and for some reason the party still thinks he is better than Baerbock).

          • Herbert

            The greens made the initial Atomausstieg and it was fear of the greens winning the Baden Württemberg state elections that made Merkel (and Söder) double down on it…

          • Borners

            Nuclear is a totemic issue for Greens in general, its mixed in with their suspicions against big business, war etc. Baerbock/Habeck should have had Zelensky beg the membership for “till after the war is over”, its their’s generation’s Fischer-Bosnia moment.

          • Oreg

            Merkel did not double down on the Atomausstieg. (Soeder had nothing to do with it.) On the contrary, her right-of-center government first reversed the decade-old fade-out process by extending the life of still running reactors by 8–14 years. Half a year later, after Fukushima, the same government reverted their own policy again in a second Atomausstieg. This one still had the plants running a few years longer than the original. The law was botched, leading to massive compensation payments to the industry.

    • Alon Levy

      I will say, the Greens here support high-speed rail, just at lower priority than things like the Deutschlandtakt – they’re still kinda wrong, but it’s nothing like EELV’s proposal to slow down the TGVs to 200 km/h or whatever people in Britain who haven’t gotten the memo that Keith is actually good are doing.

      • Diego

        Yeah, EELV is especially useless. They could be out there demanding better TER timetables and better TER-TGV integration but they’re too hung up in opposing TGVs as nefarious megaprojects. And they’ve completely bought into SNCF’s market segmentation paradigm so they can’t imagine TGVs as complementing other rail projects.

  4. Eric2

    Maybe the Greens’ argument is that the carbon costs of construction come now, while the benefits of mode shift and densification are spread gradually over the course of the next century, but in a few decades we’ll be decarbonized anyway so those impacts have little climate benefit.

    • Alon Levy

      If you buy the line about the 139 year payback time, sure. But if you don’t use the GIGO 20% figure, the payback time drops to more like 30 years and then it’s part of German decarbonization to build a bigger Berlin.

    • Tiercelet

      Decarbonizing without replacing any of the existing high-carbon infrastructure is a pretty neat trick. D’you reckon they’re just planning we have a mass die-off or something?

      • Eric2

        If you produce an abundance of electric power from renewables/nuclear, and use that as your supply for electricity and heating and electric transport, and use electrolysis to create hydrogen for steel production – then you’ve eliminated the vast majority of emissions while replacing only a tiny fraction of infrastructure.

        • Tiercelet

          Okay, setting aside that you need considerable upfront carbon investment to replace all the existing power generation infrastructure with renewables/nuclear; and considerable upfront carbon investment to replace building heating/cooling systems with electric-based ones; and considerable upfront carbon investment to upgrade power transmission infrastructure to get all this renewable electricity to the buildings in sufficient quantity to run the electric boilers and heat-pumps; and considerable upfront carbon investment to build industrial-scale hydrolysis plants and convert your steel industry to use them…

          …rapid transit *is* the electric transport that would replace the existing carbon-based transport. If you don’t build that, you’re going to have to replace Germany’s 48 million internal-combustion cars with electric ones, and that is *also not upfront carbon-neutral.* Sure we can quibble that technically, 60% of the world’s annual car manufacturing output isn’t “infrastructure” because look, it moves around! But it’s definitely not carbon-neutral.

          If the German Greens are pointing to a hypothesized carbon-neutral future and saying “We shouldn’t build anything today, because building things emits carbon, and by tomorrow all the same stuff we have today won’t emit carbon any more,” they are deluded.

          • adirondacker12800

            Existing doesn’t last forever. Eventually it needs to be replaced. The old stuff that is approaching replacement tends to be the stuff that is the most carbon intensive.

          • Herbert

            So why are perfectly serviceable nuclear power plants being torn down?

          • adirondacker12800

            Nuclear plants cost too much to run? Solar and wind are getting so cheap that amortizing the loan to buy them is cheaper than running a nuclear plant.

          • Spencer Dean

            It doesn’t cost that much. Feed-in Tariffs that priviledge renewables above other sources plus the absence of any meaningful carbon/methane levy are the principal factors at work.

          • Phake Nick

            1. It is not necessary to directly replace high carbon emission infrastructure. By prioritizing low carbon infrastructure during expansion, the carbon emission for expanded part of city will be low, and help reduce the overall average emission of the city.
            2. Renewable alone cannot provide stable power supply. If you don’t want any fossil fuel plants for carbon emission reason then nuclear plants are necessary to operate together with renewables.

          • Eric2

            Nothing is technically carbon-neutral. For example when I sit here typing I’m exhaling CO2. The goal should not be perfect carbon neutrality, but rather to dramatically decrease emissions and perhaps offset the remainder with sequestering or forest planting. Electric cars, built with renewable/nuclear power steel in renewable/nuclear powered factories, are pretty low emission to produce and are perfectly compatible with that goal.

          • Herbert

            Nuclear power plants deliver energy at any time one chooses.

            How much energy do wind and solar deliver when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

            Why have electricity prices *not* gone down as solar and wind penetration increased?

          • Alon Levy

            Adi, the operating costs of nuclear plants are about zero. The high costs of nuclear power are all upfront. So, okay, don’t build new plants – Olkiluoto 3 is really expensive and so will the Czech plant be. But don’t shut down existing plants and don’t lie to the general public about how it’s Just Not Possible to extend the life of the existing German plants because of technical reasons that the plant owners then came out of the woodwork to say are not real. At some point, Habeck needs to take responsibility for lying about this rather than follow the typical norm (of Spahn, Scholz, etc.) of keeping his seat and blaming other people for why his party’s nosediving in the polls.

          • Tiercelet

            > Electric cars, built with renewable/nuclear power steel in renewable/nuclear powered factories, are pretty low emission to produce and are perfectly compatible with that goal.

            You’d need an additional 85 TW-h of power generation, at Tesla efficiencies (~4.5 miles/kW-h), to allow Germans to drive as much as they collectively did in 2018. That requires growing the total German power output by 17% from 2021 levels, or about 11 more years of adding wind capacity at the huge rate it was added from the 2013-2021 period.

            Even if we already had renewable/nuclear-power steel going to renewable/nuclear-power factories today, that’s a lot of extra infrastructure required to make this work. That’s without even considering the nonzero carbon costs of expanding and maintaining roads, or the increased efficiencies from denser transit-oriented building, or the opportunity cost of using German power-generation capacity for automobiles, when it could be used to assist other countries’ green transitions (either through exporting renewable electricity–Germany is Europe’s #2 exporter–or by building the same generation capacity elsewhere).

            All I am saying here is that those things aren’t free, and analysis that assumes they are is not sound.

          • adirondacker12800

            Adi, the operating costs of nuclear plants are about zero.
            Natural gas is cheaper, in North America. In some scenarios wind and/or solar is cheaper than cheap North American natural gas.

            Unless you have some really cheap hydro laying around doing nothing during high demand periods.

            There are other nuclear plants that I don’t pay extra to use, so I don’t keep track of them.
            And umpteen screeching advocates of this that and other thing that have examined the numbers umpteen different ways. They cost too much.

          • Phake Nick

            @Eric2 , “offset the remainder with sequestering or forest planting.” is exactly what carbon neutral mean. It’s “neutral” or “net zero”, not “absolute zero”.

          • Eric2

            “That requires growing the total German power output by 17% from 2021 levels,”

            Oh no! 17 percent! If wind/solar is profitable at foreseeable prices, and if there is more room to put panels/turbines, (both of which I think are true), the addition of that 17% will happen automatically without any need for additional public intervention. Of course you need base load too, but nuclear and maybe batteries can supply that.

          • adirondacker12800

            Years ago the National Renewable Energy Lab used their really big, fast, computers to model the East Coast of the U.S. There is enough wind but it would need a lot of transmission. Throw in some solar and the transmission needs go way down. Add some batteries, which keep getting cheaper and cheaper, you might not need much transmission. You don’t need nuclear and storage facilities that have to be secure for eons.

            Capacity of Hinkley C that costs less to build and less to run.

            Singapore is proposing an HVDC link to Australia. Because it would be cheap.

            …it’s not 2010 anymore

          • Phake Nick

            @adirondacker12800 Transcontential level of link can help load balancing but if a cold front hitting area that extend thousand of miles then then demand will still be elevated across the entirei region with supply suppressed due to weather.

          • adirondacker12800

            The NREL used decades of detailed weather information. We won’t need ginormous amounts of transmission. It’s not 2010 anymore, the U.K.-Morocco scheme and the Singapore-Australia scheme include batteries. The renewables and their support keep getting cheaper and cheaper.

          • Herbert

            Nuclear power plants are doing better when gas is expensive and worse when it’s cheap.

            For wind and solar it’s the other way round. Ask yourselves why.

            Also: how did Ontario, Sweden, France and others decarbonize? How much did they have to invest? How much has Germany invested since 2000? What are electricity prices like in each of those places? Why is that?

          • Oreg

            I second Adirondacker. Mainstream renewables are cheaper than existing nuclear plants. This does not even include the cost of demolishing those plants at the end of their life span, let alone the unsolved problem of waste disposal.

            Geographic load-balancing of renewables is well understood and feasible with modern grids. They just need to be built. What renewables cannot address is demand fluctuations, but nor can nuclear, which is too slow for anything but base load.

            Whether shutting down operational nuclear plants in the middle of an energy crisis is the right thing to do is a different question. After some agonizing even the Greens have agreed to keeping 2/3 of them running in Germany.

          • Alon Levy

            After some agonizing even the Greens have agreed to keeping 2/3 of them running in Germany.

            After lying that it was not technically possible, requiring the industry and civil service to step in and call Habeck on this. Then the final compromise is to keep the plants in operation only a few months later than the end of 2022. At this point the coalition’s enfant terrible finance minister is musing about legalizing fracking.

          • Oreg

            The Greens claimed that new fuel would take too long to acquire, which turned out to be wrong. Their other arguments were less wrong but also weak. The real reason they oppose an extension is probably that it might reopen one of their founding causes yet again. They’ve already won that fight twice with strong long-term arguments (too expensive, not sustainable, …), but the country is now facing a short-term problem.

            Yeah, as usual, Lindner is playing to the gallery instead of solving the actual problem. In principle, one could discuss fracking as an alternative to Russian gas and imported LNG, but it takes way too long to develop to solve today’s shortages.

  5. Diego

    Unfortunately opposition to metro extensions is only part of a wider belief that stagnation is good. They won’t count densification as a bonus outcome of transit if they don’t believe in housing or job growth.

    But there’s no such thing as perfect stagnation, because even in a city with no population growth, jobs will tend to suburbanise if there’s no continuous investment in transit. People’s expectations just keep growing and as they get richer it gets more tempting to buy a car. As an example, I can point to Rio: the bus commutes there are for the most part unbearable by any first-world standard, 2h each way is quite common. If the city gets richer there’s no way it will retain its current transit mode share without considerable investment.

    Anyway, this is hardly just a Berlin Greens thing. In Lyon too they oppose metro extensions because “megraprojects are climate denial”. They also oppose the base tunnel to Turin on the same grounds. In my hometown of Brussels it’s a belief that metros are a conspiracy to further cars’ domination of surface streets (but somehow S-Bahns are fine).

    Btw, I’m curious if it’s also a thing in other cities for Greens to like all forms of local transit (buses, trams, S-Bahn) except the metro?

    • Eric2

      “If [Rio] gets richer there’s no way it will retain its current transit mode share without considerable investment.”

      I imagine Rio’s roads are already full of traffic, and if Rio gets richer they will be equally full of the same amount of traffic with everyone else taking transit. So transit modeshare will stay about the same.

      (Of course, newly rich Rio will not tolerate this level of congestion so there will indeed be considerable investment – let’s just hope it’s transit not freeway investment.)

      “Btw, I’m curious if it’s also a thing in other cities for Greens to like all forms of local transit (buses, trams, S-Bahn) except the metro?”

      For the record, building a new tram also involves pouring a lot of concrete (less than a metro – but maybe it’s proportional to the ratio of costs and therefore roughly proportional to level of benefits) so pure climate degrowthism would oppose trams too.

      • Diego

        The point is, the jobs could suburbanise in Rio, even without new infrastructure. I believe the belt road still has spare capacity. Job sprawl into the favoured quarter is also possible.

    • Alon Levy

      The Greens here do believe in housing growth, just not a lot of it. They were okay with the growth plan agreed with SPD, for around 20,000 new dwellings a year (but not Tempelhofer Feld redevelopment), until Die Linke nuked it on NIMBYer-than-thou grounds.

      • Diego

        Ok, that’s interesting, I guess I was misled by their strong opposition to redeveloping that airport.

        • Phake Nick

          @Eric2 , “offset the remainder with sequestering or forest planting.” is exactly what carbon neutral mean. It’s “neutral” or “net zero”, not “absolute zero”.

      • Diego

        It’s a smaller city, which means metros are less viable, but on the other hand Rennes and even Brescia have built successful metros so it really depends on the specifics of the project.

        And also Alon has mentioned on twitter (citing you) that Nuremberg construction costs are really low, so it looks like the pro-metro case is strong there?

        • Herbert

          The thing is that there’s not really much of a place left to put a subway in Nuremberg unless you tear up the tram network. And nobody wants that.

          Also I think the train length in Alon’s thread is wrong. A DT3 is 38360 mm (German Wikipedia) or 37.72 m (English Wikipedia) long. The longest possible train is two DT3 coupled together, so ~75 m. Not the 90m claimed in the thread…

          • Herbert

            By the by, this article claims that U-Bahn construction in total has cost 1.4 billion € (not sure whether inflation adjusted at all) for 33 km / 43 stations. That’s ~42 million € per km or ~32.5 million € per station. If you wish to do “worst case” inflation adjustment, the base year should be 1967 as that’s when construction and planning began. I don’t have a good German inflation calculator, do you?

          • Diego

            Those cost numbers are really good! And I see no problem tearing up the tram network if you’re replacing it with an automated metro that’s cheaper to operate.

          • Alon Levy

            The trains are 75 m, but the platforms are 90 m for future expansion per (and there is also 45 m of additional length, i.e. 50% overage where Rotes Rathaus here is 15% and a bunch of Parisian and Roman stations are 5%).

          • Herbert

            The automated metro is not cheaper to operate, because tunnels cost more to maintain than drivers do. For a quick sanity check, compare ticket prices in Nuremberg with those in Dresden or Leipzig – cities of similar numbers of inhabitants but without subways.

            There’s another issue: the need to transfer has increased compared to the peak extent of the tram network. By the way, you’d have to roughly double the size of the subway to replace existing trams. All the while in a situation where there are admittedly places in Nuremberg and beyond which desperately need urban rail and don’t yet have it.

            That’s why even the CSU now favors tram extension…

          • Herbert

            Another interesting tidbit in the article is this: 15 million euro are spent each year for what appears to be regular maintenance and upkeep (i.e. Excluding major work). That for a network that was – at the time the article was written in 2014 – 36 km long (so roughly 416.66€/m in maintenance and upkeep per year). Unfortunately there’s no figure given for the maintenance and upkeep of the tram network, but I’d bet good money it’s less…

          • Sascha Claus

            And I see no problem tearing up the tram network if you’re replacing it with an automated metro that’s cheaper to operate.

            If you have a dense tramway network with all-covering stop spacing, you need a lot of tunnels and tunnel stations to to replace it. Or you end up replacing a lot of tramway lines with a few subway trunks and a lot of feeder buses, and then the subway has to save quite alot of travel time to make the transfer worthwhile.
            And you might still end up with a feeding and/or supplemental bus network that needs the capacity of a tram.

          • Diego

            I didn’t mean replacing the entire tram network with a metro, that’s of course too expensive. Replace the highest demand lines with a metro. Pay particular attention to high density corridors where the street network sucks for surface transportation and where the metro is especially high value as a consequence.

            See what I wrote here about Brussels metro line 3, an especially good tram->metro replacement project. And otherwise the Brussels tram network is also expanding, replacing buses, and that’s also good.

    • Brendan D

      certainly reminds me of the Vancouver Greens, who were instinctively suspicious of the Broadway Subway but managed to read enough polls suggesting it was just about the most popular idea in the city that they restrained themselves

      • Diego

        I’m pleasantly suprised polls can be positive even before it’s built. Infrastructure usually gets way more popular once it’s operational and successfully moving lots of people. Metro opponents oppose new extensions but they don’t dare suggest shutting down existing lines.

        I guess public sentiment before construction depends on the prevailing political narratives. In Paris metros are seen as a development engine and as essential public infrastructure, with new lines bringing much needed relief to congested lines or better transport options to neighbourhoods that aren’t on the network yet. I have yet to see mainstream Green opposition to them. In Brussels however that positive narrative has to compete with a negative “the metro is a money sink” narrative so projects are more controversial even though we also have underserved neighbourhoods and congested lines.

        It helps when you can build infra quickly without giving too much time for NIMBYs to fearmonger about the project and demand ever more “community benefits”.

        • Alon Levy

          The Broadway subway is the most important rapid transit line to build in North America, so yeah, its polling is positive. It’s positive enough that it’s happening over local NIMBY objections – the townies figure that it’s going to lead to TOD and that’s going to populate Kitsilano with people who are not idle landlords profiting off of students and academics. They’re still only building half of it because the costs exploded (and are still also the lowest in North America).

        • Brendan D

          Regularly polls with 80-90% support for extending the millenium line down broadway. Presumably *because* it’s a logical extension of an operational system that’s moving lots of people (I believe among the closest to 2019 of any system in the US and Canada). The only opposition is a handful of aging West Side fabulists

          But as Alon observes costs *have* exploded and it’s not great.

  6. Luke

    “Berlin was one of the world’s largest and richest cities before the war, and had big plans for further growth, which were not realized due to the war and division; in that sense, I believe it is globally only second to New York in the size of its historic unrealized expansion program.”

    Seoul had significant plans for a 3rd major expansion beyond that which was constructed during the 90’s from the 2nd plan, but the ’97 financial crisis killed it. Some lines have been built in one form or another (Line 9, Ui/Sillim LRT) or are planned to be (Sinbundang Line extension, Dongbuk LRT, Gangbukhoengdan Line), but it’s quite a shame to see what was lost:

  7. adirondacker12800

    people in New York State drive somewhat shorter distance per car than Americans elsewhere

    If you don’t drive to work, your annual driving distance, to work, is 0. That makes your annual distance much lower.

    There is probably density effect going on the New York City suburbs too. The drive to the supermarket or drug store or mall or… is shorter.

    New Yorkers use less energy in general. If you live in multifamily housing there’s less heat loss/gain.. …and if you are paying New York electricity rates you are very frugal with the air conditioning.

  8. Robert Fizek

    Thank you for your observations.
    Is the Berlin decision on this major expansion construction project a permanent one?
    Or is it really intended to interrupt the carbon (climate) ‘costs’ until the energy infrastructure behind the very high carbon ‘costs’ involved can be much lowered with a much higher proportion of renewable energy -and less climate costly material/construction processes?
    At this point in the “crisis”, with only about a decade to radically cut our carbon outputs, NOT building what isn’t absolutely needed is a most effective and wise climate choice.
    Until the entire industrial economy is run on much more reliable renewable energy, even the best ‘Green’ construction math doesn’t work yet. We simply can’t build our way out of the problem.
    The situation is rather like the old test for being allowed release from the insane asylum:
    The subject is placed in a room that contains mops & buckets and a sink with the tap running water into a sink that is not draining adequately and therefore the water flows onto the floor… If the subject goes to clean up the water with mops & buckets, they remain at the asylum.

    • Matthew Hutton

      I mean if we are to solve climate change in Europe we still have to let people go on holiday to the Mediterranean. So either we do overnight high speed sleeper trains, or we use biofuels for planes, or we use artificial fossil fuels created out of the air for planes.

      Same with local transport, we can build cycle lanes and rapid transport for the cities and suburbs. But rural areas will still need cars for sure, and if we want to get the suburbs to give them up the alternative needs to be good.

      There’s no magic wand solutions.

      I’m sure we will do some carbon capture too. That doesn’t sound impossibly expensive especially if you use off peak wind and solar.

      • Diego

        Yes, the issue is that you won’t get most people to switch to a green way of life if the alternative isn’t high quality. Even when we can point to a big external villain like Putin, people have a hard time accepting high fuel prices and the need to travel less by car. Give them an option that’s faster and more convenient and reliable than sitting in traffic and you’ll get lots of takers.

        Ironically, misguided austerity isn’t the only way you can do green policy that fails to convince people, there’s also the squishy politicians who think we need to do lots of compromises with committed drivers on urban transport policy. When we build cycle lanes, we have to be serious about them. Sharrows or painted lanes with no protection won’t do anything for mode shift. Gotta provide high quality infrastructure by taking away lots of space from drivers.

        • Alon Levy

          Even when we can point to a big external villain like Putin, people have a hard time accepting high fuel prices and the need to travel less by car.

          People have a fairly easy time accepting that; the CEO of BASF doesn’t, but it turns out that German industry can adjust to using less gas without any reductions in production. The way to tell that a Putinist CEO lies is that his lips are moving.

          • Diego

            There are cost of living strikes over here. I’m not sympathetic to their demands to subsidise fuel but we also lack leadership on alternatives.

          • Diego

            It’s the usual union strikes, with trains and supermarkets heavily disrupted on one specific date. But to be fair fuel subsidies are only a demand of part of the movement, mostly they want the government to do something. They might be happy with wage increases.

          • Herbert

            In 2000 about 84% of primary energy came from fossil fuels. Today it is about 83%

            Food prices are rising because a major supplier (Ukraine) is threatened. But also because fertilizer is virtually all made via the Haber Bosch process which needs hydrogen which is currently derived from fossil fuels.

            If “green hydrogen” exists, where is it now?

        • Henry Miller

          The vast majority of travel that people do are things they consider critical and so they won’t stop it so long as it is possible. If you go to work by car you will continue to drive to work, higher fuel prices just mean you do less of something else. If you drive to get your food (groceries or restaurants) you will continue to eat and thus continue to drive. Maybe you can get someone to not go on vacation, but this is a minority of trips (and even then people feel the need to “get out of the house” and so will justify the trip for themselves but not anyone else)

          If you want people to drive less you have to make driving impossible, or you have to make some other alternative compelling. Most attempts to make driving impossible will just get you voted out of office, so my advice is focus on making alternatives better: mass transit, bikes, and walking.

          • Diego

            “The vast majority of travel that people do are things they consider critical and so they won’t stop it so long as it is possible”

            That’s not really true, carpooling exists. I’m honestly really sad that there has been no carpooling campaign promoted by the government.

          • Eric2

            I think the most effective form of carpooling is called “transit”. Certainly in European countries where transit is really good relative to the US. It’s more convenient to take the bus/train running every 2 to 30 minutes (depending on location) than to rely on a specific carpool with a specific person at a specific time.

          • Henry Miller


            Carpool is fine where it works, but the limitations means it is always a poor answer. In almost all cases someone is going out of their way and thus spending extra time to pick someone else up. Even ignoring that annoying factor, car pool works best in the 1950s factory job model where everyone needs to start and end at the same time (if the guy who puts the left front tire on the car isn’t there everyone else can’t work). In the modern world a very large number of people do not work such fixed shifts. It is very common to office workers to start early some days for meetings, work late, or take half days – all of which are incompatible with a carpool.

            Transit is really where we need to focus efforts. Car pools at best can only get a tiny fraction of people just because of the inherent limitations. frequent all day transit can serve a much larger group of people, and the better the network the more it can serve.

        • xh

          “the issue is that you won’t get most people to switch to a green way of life if the alternative isn’t high quality.”

          Well, an alternative strategy is making car travelling increasingly miserable. Free street parking elimination, bike lanes, bus lanes or tramways, congestion pricing, higher tolls, city speed limits reduction, speed cameras, road diets, urban highway removal…

          • Diego

            bike lanes, bus lanes or tramways

            This *is* providing a high quality alternative! I approve of making drivers’ lives harder but you gotta provide something positive in exchange otherwise there’s just not enough political support for it in the long term.

            Also, I do enjoy fast and efficient green transport 🙂

  9. Martin Pagel

    I do think the embedded carbon is important: Does it make sense for Seattle to spend $3 million ton of carbon to build a mostly parallel downtown tunnel or should they rather upgrade signalling to accommodate more trains?
    I believe newer technologies may help. For short extensions urban gondolas may be useful. For longer distances TSB has used their Transrapid experience to build an urban automated maglev train. As maglev trains run silently, they don’t need any noise abatement along the guideway making for a much simpler smaller guideway and allow for prefabrication. Simple/nice elevated guideways may reduce the need for tunneling. Tunneling takes a ton of concrete and therefore has high carbon footprint – the less you have to do the better.
    I understand both Berlin and Munich are looking at these technologies.

    • Alon Levy

      In neither Berlin nor Munich is maglev treated as a serious alternative. The alternative is slow trams here and trains that don’t go to city center in Munich.

      • Martin Pagel

        Correct, none of the lines under consideration in Munich are going downtown, they all are extensions to existing U-Bahn lines. Do you think what’s contemplated in the article will rather be implemented as a tram or U-Bahn or not at all? TSB claims that their maglev lines cost about the same as a tram line and takes less ROW leaving such for bike lanes etc. Tram line construction may have higher carbon impact than an elevated train as existing roads often need to be redone to accommodate tracks.

        • Alon Levy

          Everyone claims their els are cheap. They never are. They’re just els.

          The lines that are under consideration in Berlin are U-Bahn or nothing – the trams are serving a different travel market, so U8 to Märkisches Viertel doesn’t have a tram alternative. Anything that can plausibly be a tram is already planned to be a tram.

  10. Mark

    Germany leaving vast economic benefits on the table because of a poorly-justified ideological commitment to austerity? Surely not; that doesn’t sound like Germany at all!

  11. Pingback: Push and Pull Factors and Measuring Modal Shift | Pedestrian Observations
  12. Pingback: Berlin’s U-Bahn Expansion Plan | Pedestrian Observations

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