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"If you want to kill someone, do it with a car."
March 12, 2014 7:59 PM   Subscribe


 
Cars R Coffins?
posted by specialk420 at 8:05 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


If you *really* want to literally get away with murder, be sure to also put your victim on a bicycle.

Pretty much a guarantee that there will be no serious investigation and no charges filed

And, yeah. This is one of the stupid things that you have to put up with in American society. That explosion in Manhattan earlier today (though serious) is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of carnage that takes place on American roads every day. Guess which one was covered breathlessly by the media?
posted by schmod at 8:11 PM on March 12 [24 favorites]


Well, there was Ralph Nader's book… and the fact that motor vehicle deaths are still dropping
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:16 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


If Google (or someone else) can successfully build a truly autonomous car at a reasonable cost, it will be one of the greatest life-savers ever made. Worldwide, it would save numbers of lives equivalent to some of our greatest advances in medicine.
posted by modernnomad at 8:19 PM on March 12 [27 favorites]


Great, ok, take away all the cars, and where are we supposed to put our "Don't Tread On Me" bumper stickers? What happens to all the dozens of people involved in the manufacturing process for those "Back Off" Yosemite Sam mudflaps?
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:22 PM on March 12 [8 favorites]


Automobiles? How about commercial trucks? My daughter was one of those 2012 fatalities, killed when a dump truck driver rear-ended her car, sending it off the road where it flipped. That driver had enough meth in his system that he would have failed any drug test required by a prospective employer, but it wasn't 't enough to keep him awake. Witnesses testified that he was swerving all over the interstate for miles. The investigating State Patrol officer noted he appeared to be falling asleep during questioning. However the judge in his manslaughter case decided, in his infinite wisdom, to exclude any mention of meth or the results of his urine test. Am I bitter about that? Yes, yes I am.
posted by spock at 8:24 PM on March 12 [137 favorites]


Well, most of us don't end up in wars every day. Most of us aren't sleeping around in interesting situations enough to be worried about AIDS. Most of us aren't actually going to get hit in terrorist attacks. If you're terrified of dying in a plane crash, most of us can avoid having to use a plane.

But almost everyone cannot live without a car. Even those who live car-free have to beg rides off people sometime. Even those who live car-free have to cross streets where cars are. Cars are deadly dangerous but cannot be avoided in life. We simply have to put up with the loss of life and the risk because there is no other option. You can't live somewhere where cars don't exist unless you join up with the Amish and last I heard they didn't recruit. We're working on the whole driverless car thing, but that's still going to take some time. In the meantime, how can this problem be fixed? I HAVE NO IDEA.

This kind of thing is one of the reasons why it took me so long to drive, because I was petrified of killing people if I fucked up even a little bit. Driving is a very scary thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:26 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


The problem with the autonomous car is that the very first time one has a glitch and kills somebody, it's going to be front page news for weeks with Congressional hearings, breathless reporters, a lawsuit, etc.

Not mentioned will be the thousands on people who didn't die that would have otherwise.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 8:29 PM on March 12 [29 favorites]


What Dr.Enormous said. The biggest obstacles autonomous cars have to overcome are not technical; they are politicians and their statistically-challenged constituents.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:32 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


More Americans killed by cars by 1930 than died in The Great War?

I guess I shouldn't be that surprised, 70% of my immediate family tree died in auto accidents.

See, I couldn't even help writing that out, accidents. That's how well we've been inculcated.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:34 PM on March 12 [9 favorites]


My mom used to be a driving instructor, so I grew up with a healthy respect for cars -- no slacking or daydreaming or a whole bunch of lives are altered forever. Never be distracted because you are not just driving for yourself but for everyone around you.

Worked like a charm to the point I can anticipate when someone in the wrong lane is going cut me off to make an illegal turn. Always was grateful to her for that...but I won't be the funnest driver to be in a car with.

I just wish more people remembered the thing they are driving can be a weapon if they aren't careful -- and that roads and signs were better maintained...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:35 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


If I remember correctly, cars are the biggest public health menace to adults under 45.

Apart from making it unnecessary for people to both interact with and drive cars (especially when impaired), about the only thing that can be done, I think, is to work on treating trauma. It sounds vaguely ridiculous that there could in fact be better treatments for things like blunt-force trauma, but actually I heard a talk a year or so ago that mentioned that modern medicine is actually really bad at, for instance, predicting just from a trauma victim's injuries which victims will stabilize and which will develop fatal multiple organ failure.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:36 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


People seem awfully anxious to restrict the number of cartridges in my guns (despite which fact I've never killed anybody with them), but would it be so damn hard to have horsepower-to-weight ratio restrictions for high-risk drivers such as the young? It's not entirely clear why even the insurance companies aren't pushing it-- it doesn't need to be a gummint regulation if nobody can reasonably afford to give their 16-year-olds a Dodge Viper because it's too hard to insure.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:37 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


By the end of the 1920s, more than 200,000 Americans had been killed by automobiles. Most of these fatalities were pedestrians in cities, and the majority of these were children.

I thought it was particularly interesting how this same scenario was apparently the impetus for the Dutch to develop the bike-centric cities they retain today:
In response a social movement demanding safer cycling conditions for children was formed. Called Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder), it took its name from the headline of an article written by journalist Vic Langenhoff whose own child had been killed in a road accident.
(I think I learned this on MeFi but can't find the original link.)
posted by en forme de poire at 8:40 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


The problem is people in cars. In my life I've seen aggressive driving, tailgating, and general asshattery actions become more and more common. There's something that happens to people behind the wheel that isn't pretty. I don't know why but as a society we are badly damaged when it comes to driver behavior.

I also worry more every time I see a movie that glamorizes bad driving as cool. I worry even more that movies and TV show driving that violates the laws of mass and inertia.

I don't know which is the biggest problem, bad understanding of physics, or general selfishness. But there is a problem, and we are ignoring it.

Thanks for this post.
posted by cccorlew at 8:47 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


I thought it was particularly interesting how this same scenario was apparently the impetus for the Dutch to develop the bike-centric cities they retain today ...
(I think I learned this on MeFi but can't find the original link.)


Perhaps something related from To Kill a Child or the Invention of Jaywalking and the Rise of Car Culture?
posted by filthy light thief at 8:54 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


cccorlew: I don't know which is the biggest problem, bad understanding of physics, or general selfishness. But there is a problem, and we are ignoring it.

This is exactly what you get with "distracted driving." it takes at least 5 seconds to text while driving, enough time to travel the length of a football field with your eyes off the road, if you're driving 55 MPH. Whatever is happening on your phone is more important than the lives of the people around you.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:57 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


Thanks filthy light thief, it was the second of those links.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:59 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


We simply have to put up with the loss of life and the risk because there is no other option.

For right now, in many cases, yes. But if the way our laws and our cities are designed is killing us, we can and should work to change both.

We can change the design of our streets so that they are safer for all users. We can spend funds on new transit infrastructure instead of on widening roads. We can put congestion charges on our highways so they have a safer and freer flow, and use the money to fund transit on them. We can remove huge incentives for driving, such as parking subsidies. We can replace deadly suburban intersections with roundabouts. We can replace deadly urban intersections with ones like this.

We can actually give a damn about punishment for drivers who kill, by changing the laws and their enforcement.

We can make driving tests (and re-tests) stricter and require demonstrated understanding of pedestrian and cyclist movements.

Vision Zero is not easy, but it is not impossible either. But to get there, we cannot accept the status quo as unchangeable.
posted by parudox at 9:03 PM on March 12 [28 favorites]


Like DoctorFedora I am located in Japan at the moment. The nice thing about being here is that unlike in Canada motorists are not pissed off all the time. Road rage is much less frequent.

On the other hand, distracted driving is awful, terrible. People are always staring at cell phones as they drive.

I do a lot of walking (about 2 hours a day) for health and pleasure, and whenever I come to the narrowest t-intersection I stop and take a look around before proceeding.

I may seem like a dork, but when crossing on the light, in a marked crosswalk, I raise my hand as if doing a Hitler salute, just to make sure cars spot me.

It works really well because people respect my outstretched palm and *do* stop.

Not sure how that is going to work back in Canada though, where drivers will curse you.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Cars are deadly dangerous but cannot be avoided in life. We simply have to put up with the loss of life and the risk because there is no other option. - jenfullmoon

AHEM!! I guess you're just not looking hard enough...

I especially like the Cars and Health sections.
posted by honor the agreement at 9:11 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


The oil and gas industry is dangerous for workers. Refineries blow up. Drilling rigs blow up. The last time I looked at a large comprehensive spreadsheet for injuries and fatalities the most dangerous activity by far was driving. And they don't even include all the fatalities in the stats. There was a motor vehicle accident a couple years ago where a non-employee crashed their motorcycle into an employee's car fifteen feet outside of the facility, and the employee was at fault in the accident, and that fatality was not included in the company's safety stats.

One of the most salient entries on the spreadsheet was a bus filled with company employees collided with a truck, the bus driver was at fault, and twenty people on the bus died.

One of the standard philosophy ethics questions is what we do now that folks are likely to look back at us in three hundred years and be appalled. Like we look at slavery or cannibalism or whatnot. I nominate our indifference to motor vehicle casualties. There are people in my family who have died in car accidents. I have had friends die in car accidents. Not all of them were the other people's fault.

The first thing you learn in any industrial safety class is that all accidents are preventable. Don't drink and drive. Don't text and drive. Don't yack on your cell phone and drive. Buckle your seatbelts and look both ways people.
posted by bukvich at 9:14 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I was walking back to my office a few weeks ago and heard a pedestrian getting hit by a car.. The light had just changed, and the pedestrian stepped off the curb and began to cross when she was hit by a driver making a perfectly legal turn at a low speed (apparently the driver's first words to the responders were that she was "going the speed limit").

Unfortunately, the driver was also texting and didn't see the pedestrian. The pedestrian was injured, but she managed to get up and get herself to the other side of the street.

The sound of a person getting hit is awful. I hope I never hear it again.
posted by mogget at 9:21 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


We can actually give a damn about punishment for drivers who kill, by changing the laws and their enforcement.

Specifics?

As much as I want fewer people dead from auto wrecks (putting Department of Defense levels of focus and funding behind ways to systemically reduce wrecks sounds like a good idea to me), I hope there's something more behind the idea of changing laws and enforcement than a lower/no tolerance approach, what with the history of unintended consequences. It would be easy to simply ruin more lives in the wake of a violation or wreck without significantly reducing deaths.
posted by weston at 9:25 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


Financial writer Andrew Tobias has written extensively about the miserable inefficiencies of our auto insurance system. He notes that about half of our insurance premiums wind up in the pockets of lawyers, and they like it that way, as Tobias discovered when he lobbied unsuccessfully for no-fault insurance reforms.

It now occurs to me that the same lawyers may very well make automatic, driverless vehicles impossible in America for the same reason. A drop in accidents means a drop in lawyer pay. Can't have that, now.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:44 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Specifics?

Police need to actually charge motorists, instead of "alcohol was not a suspected factor, so no charges were laid". Then you need punishment for such things as killing a cyclist in a bike lane or a pedestrian in a crosswalk to be more than a $100 fine or so. Too rarely does a negligent driver's license get taken away in North America, for instance, and there's few or no tests to get your driving privileges back after having made a dangerous error. There should be some focus on behavior (not) taken relative to collision avoidance, so that there can be consequences for negligence of driving resulting in harm, rather than a minor "turn not in safety" violation.

Basically - consistently enforced laws that put the primary burden of safely operating 2+ tons of steel onto the person operating said vehicle.
posted by parudox at 9:50 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


Once in a while I stay up late... usually listening to music, and almost always checking MeFi. Inevitably there is a post that catches my attention... this is it.

In 1990 my son, Sean, 20 years old, an accomplished photographer, about to graduate from college and enter into a career that would have been just fantastic, stopped by the house, on his way between his campus and meeting with a friend to take some photos of her nieces at the local park... he was riding a fairly new motorcycle... he was planning to stop and visit with his mother and myself after the photo shoot.

An hour or two later, as I was sitting in the yard, watching the sunset, our local police chief pulled into the driveway, in his own car, not in uniform...

"Sean's been in an accident, you need to go to the hospital....., do you need a ride?"

"how is he?"

"You need to go to the hospital...."

Arriving at the hospital, a 30 minute drive from my house... we waited for about 15 minutes before someone came for us... apologizing for our wait... and asked if anyone had talked to us...

"no"

"I'm so sorry, Sean didn't survived the accident."

We were, eventually, taken back to see him... they took some time to make him presentable...I appreciate that they took that time...

Those images will always be with me...Parents shouldn't have to experience that...

The driver of the car was a young guy, no older than Sean, he and his girlfriend were in our village (where there are a few campgrounds and recreation sites) looking for a place to camp...they were lost, they had been smoking a bit of pot... and he, the driver, stopped at an intersection, didn't see my son coming, and pulled out in front of him....

Sean died at the scene, he laid his bike down and probably went under the SUV.

The driver was ticketed... "failure to yield the right-of-way"... a moving violation...he paid the fine...and his life went on.....

I lost a son.

Yes, sometimes accidents are accidents... they just happen, tragedy is tragedy and placing blame is useless... there is no fault..

But... there are incidents where decisions are made..to drink, to smoke a joint or two, to make choices that endanger others......

And, sometimes, making those choices result in a ticket, a few points on the license, no big deal...

And that, folks, is where the system is broken...
posted by HuronBob at 9:50 PM on March 12 [124 favorites]


putting Department of Defense levels of focus and funding behind ways to systemically reduce wrecks sounds like a good idea to me

The standard liberal solution: more government money.

Here in Sweden there has been and is ongoing a project called "nollvisionen" within the Transportation ministry.

"The Vision Zero is the Swedish approach to road safety thinking. It can be summarised in one sentence: No loss of life is acceptable. The Vision Zero approach has proven highly successful. It is based on the simple fact that we are human and make mistakes. The road system needs to keep us moving. But it must also be designed to protect us at every turn."

"There are other positive effects. Fatalities involving unprotected pedestrians in Sweden have fallen by almost 50% in the last five years. The number of children killed in traffic accidents has also been cut. In 2008 the first traffic death involving a child did not occur until 22 October that year. And yet, the untapped potential remains huge. In Sweden, we could cut the death toll by a further 90% if we could eliminate technical system failures, failure to wear seat belts, speeding and drink driving - from 5 deaths per 100,000 to 0.5. This is what the Vision Zero is about: looking forward and creating strategies to take safety to new levels."

OK now the other side of the coin. The BAC limit in Sweden is 0.02%. It is enforced. The police set up sobriety check points at random - even during rush hour to catch those who are still a bit drunk from the night before - and make everyone blow. The penalties are harsh: blowing 0.02% can give you up to 6 months imprisonment (in a Swedish prison, but still) 0.10% can get you up to two years. The least is that you loose your license for six months and get a big fine and have to submit yourself to the exhaustive and expensive driver training program.

This is bolstered by the fact that there is no right in the Swedish Constitution to refuse these tests. You are obliged under Swedish law to provide incriminating evidence against yourself.

Suspicion of drugs or narcotics? Swedish police do not ask permission to search your car: They impound it and have teams of experts go through it.

How bout those apples my liberal friends? Have a Bud lite on the way home from work and some fascist cop forces you to take a blood test and then throws you in jail for 6 months?

And it gets better. Speed cameras, aggressive traffic policing and all the rest that comes along with the heavy hand of white racist police cop enforcement of traffic laws.

Sorry. The point is that yeah, you can reduce traffic deaths very easily - like you can reduce shootings in the city by stopping and frisking everyone - but it requires infringements of rights and liberties that most Americans will not abide.

And of course the bar and restaurant industry who would be devastated by a strictly enforced limit of 0.02%.

All of which are reasons that this drinker does not drive, does not own a car, and happily rides his far less dangerous to other people bicycle.
posted by three blind mice at 9:55 PM on March 12 [29 favorites]


How bout those apples my liberal friends? Have a Bud lite on the way home from work and some fascist cop forces you to take a blood test and then throws you in jail for 6 months?

It sounds great, as a non-driving pedestrian. It's a shame America is so fucked up it can't happen here. Wish we had a nice frontier on Mars to send all the libertarians and dont-treaders so the rest of us could have a civilisation.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:02 PM on March 12 [44 favorites]


As a new resident of San Francisco - a hilly but eminently bike-able city year around ... I find it crazy that we don't have one street going in each direction dedicated to bikes, walking, kids, dogs - anything other than motorized vehicles. Just one corridor that is sane and human, in every city, please.
posted by specialk420 at 10:07 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]


If everyone had to ride motorcycle for a year, they'd be a far better car driver. (Or dead.)

We simply have to put up with the loss of life and the risk because there is no other option.

Option: proper driver training, licensing, and regular testing. Option: treating driving as serious business. Option: enforcement and consequences. There are many options.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 PM on March 12 [16 favorites]


There was a panel talking autonomous cars on TV(Ontario) this evening. It's difficult for me to see this being a solution to anything. Won't this result in a push for streets everywhere to be designed for the sake of the system, to make it the most efficient? So to control for possible inputs we can have either expressways or ghost-town suburban cul-de-sacs. Can't see how any arsenal of on-vehicle cameras and sensors can negotiate the gap in oncoming traffic to make a left turn while senior citizens are trying to make their way across the eight lane road right where you want to go. Mowing down senior citizens at intersections along the suburban arterials seems to be one of the most frequent pedestrian assaults I hear of. There'd need to be some engineering solution, and it would favour the mode used by those with the greatest investment in power and technology. Furthering the cost and complexity of everything and forcing greater division between those participating in the system and the growing population of have-nots scurrying out of the way. Want real freedom, from insurance companies and finance companies and untrustworthy maintenance people? Put all that thought not into cars driving themselves but into building cities where people don't need cars. Don't need systems and technologies - and not going to kill anyone - using your own two feet.
posted by TimTypeZed at 10:15 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


If everyone had to ride motorcycle for a year, they'd be a far better car driver.

repeated for truth...

After riding for 50 years, I sold my Harley Sportster last summer, it had just become too damn dangerous...and, honestly, I don't think it had anything to do with my age or reduced responses...
posted by HuronBob at 10:18 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Nicholas Angel: Constable, official vocab guidelines state we no longer refer to these incidents as accidents. They're now collisions.
Butterman: Hey, why can't we say "accident," again?
Angel: Because "accident" implies there's nobody to blame.
Hot Fuzz
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:34 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


How bout those apples my liberal friends?

Sorry, I'd love to thoughtfully reply to your observations about an interesting government program in Sweden but I was distracted by a loud axe-grinding noise.
posted by serif at 10:35 PM on March 12 [68 favorites]


I've lived in Japan (where the BAC limit is functionally equivalent to Sweden's — the rule of thumb here is four hours per unit of alcohol before driving) long enough that I really kind of wish that the US had a similar zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving. The government appears to subsidize the daiko industry (wherein a pair of guys will come out and pick you up, and then drive you home in your own car, while the other guy follows in their car, all for less than the price of a normal taxi), which I could absolutely never see working in super-litigious America without substantial waivers being signed ahead of time by someone who, by definition, is basically drunk anyway.

It's really weird to visit the US, though, where from my current perspective, it's completely legal to drink and drive. My wife and I have gotten completely used to the idea that if there's even a chance that driving will be required at some point later in the day, alcohol gets put off until after that point.

(plus in Japan they go all-in on drunk driving punishment, with mandatory license suspension, nearly identical punishments for anyone else in the vehicle, not-quite-as-harsh punishments for anyone who willingly let their friend drive drunk, etc. Any issues caused by any sort of impaired driving, including tiredness, are actually treated pretty seriously, perhaps just because it's very much a pedestrian country in many significant areas, and even where it isn't, the roads are narrow enough that after about two weeks of driving anywhere in Japan, you are intimately familiar with the size and shape of your vehicle.)
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:46 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


would it be so damn hard to have horsepower-to-weight ratio restrictions for high-risk drivers such as the young?

We have laws like this in most states in Australia. In addition to horse power limits, young people (far and away the largest cause accidents, the little douches), have passenger limits based on time curfews (can't have three other people in car after ten pm), and are not allowed to have any blood alcohol level whatsoever. None, for the first three years of their licences.

We are doing okay but it remains far, far too hard to lose your license - it's impossible to lose it forever pretty much and you regularly see people who have finally killed someone with driving convictions as long as your arm. When you look at sentencing for driving offenses, you can do a lot more damage to people in a car than with your fists, a weapon, pretty much anything else for the punishment you get.
posted by smoke at 10:50 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


plus in Japan they go all-in on drunk driving punishment

And this is in a country with a substantial binge drinking sub culture. Really, there is no excuse. Australia has a 0.02 limit as well. I can't believe how drink you can drive in the US. The data on is effects is reallyl clear.
posted by smoke at 10:54 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I live in the Philippines. There really are no road rules here, people don't bother to check if you are there before they hurtle into your lane (you are meant to beep your horn every 10 seconds to let them know you are there) and its basically everyone driving as if there is no one else on the road.

That includes situations like: you are in the left hand lane of a 4 way busy motorway when you realise you need to turn right. Of course, you turn and block those four lanes until such time as you can make your turn. Happens all the time.

And I'm not touching on the jeepneys or buses yet (or EDSA... urgh). So, yeah, to drive here you have to really be super aware at all times. Amazingly in my 2.5 years here I've only seen one accident.
posted by Admira at 11:03 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Australia has a 0.02 limit as well

Australia has 0.05 as its limit.
posted by Admira at 11:05 PM on March 12


Oops! I plead ignorance as I am still on my provisional plates (despite being an old bastard), and thus can't have any alcohol!
posted by smoke at 11:14 PM on March 12


What curiously awful timing. This just in from SxSW.
This too, official.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:23 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


plus in Japan they go all-in on drunk driving punishment

And this is in a country with a substantial binge drinking sub culture. Really, there is no excuse. Australia has a 0.02 limit as well. I can't believe how drink you can drive in the US. The data on is effects is reallyl clear.
posted by smoke at 2:54 PM on March 13 [+] [!]


The Wikipedia article also points out that just a couple of decades ago, the US legal limit used to be a now literally unbelievable .15 (visibly and obviously drunk) instead of the current still-pretty-high .08.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:24 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


but would it be so damn hard to have horsepower-to-weight ratio restrictions for high-risk drivers such as the young?

Yeah, from a technical standpoint it's pretty easy to do, since unlike guns and gun owners, cars and drivers are nearly always registered and licensed.
posted by FJT at 11:43 PM on March 12


If everyone had to ride motorcycle for a year, they'd be a far better car driver.

Truth. Start them on a bicycle in traffic, and I'd argue that their chances of survival in that year on a motorbike would improve substantially.

No kidding, you get so good at reading traffic that it's bound to save your life some day, no matter how you choose to use the road. Hyperbole to live by.

Speaking for myself, I've been bicycle-dancing with traffic for something like eleven years or whatever, having started early in high school, and I can't even begin to tell you how many close calls I've squeaked out of (on bikes, motorbikes, and in cars) as a result of the cues I've learned to tune into during that time. Thinking about it is kind of spooky.
posted by Chutzler at 11:47 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


The point is that yeah, you can reduce traffic deaths very easily - like you can reduce shootings in the city by stopping and frisking everyone - but it requires infringements of rights and liberties that most Americans will not abide.

Honestly, they could just spend a few hours a day ticketing the most egregious morons and save most of those people. Americans are terrible fucking drivers and they take pride in not knowing or following the rules of the road. They think it's their god given right to drive any damn way they feel like.

If we ticketed all the people who pass on the right, use the turn lanes to get around school buses, drive too slow in the fast lane, fail to yield when merging onto the highway and stop in the middle of fucking roundabouts to let people on? We'd cut the accident rate by 90%.
posted by fshgrl at 11:47 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


The government appears to subsidize the daiko industry (wherein a pair of guys will come out and pick you up, and then drive you home in your own car, while the other guy follows in their car, all for less than the price of a normal taxi), which I could absolutely never see working in super-litigious America without substantial waivers being signed ahead of time by someone who, by definition, is basically drunk anyway.

They have that in Alaska. No one uses it.
posted by fshgrl at 11:49 PM on March 12


DoctorFedora, those limits are set state by state and so there are 50+ individual histories of DUI limits. In Wisconsin, by example, 0.15% was set in 1949, but in three tiers which were not themselves prima facie limits -- intoxication in those days was more of a case to be proven by multiple indicators than a scientific datum. In 1973 the limit was 0.10%, so that's four decades ago, and we were probably behind the average in adopting it but not necessarily the last state to do so (our state is considered to have weaker DUI laws generally, and is home to the most notorious American binge-drinking culture). Only in 1977, though, was BAC made a straightforward evidence of intoxication. [pdf]
posted by dhartung at 11:51 PM on March 12


"It would be easy to simply ruin more lives in the wake of a violation or wreck without significantly reducing deaths."

We should of course also apply this logic to all our other laws. Why ruin the life of a murderer, a rapist, or a burglar by sending them to prison and saddling them with an onerous criminal record? Haven't enough people already suffered?
posted by rustcrumb at 12:05 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Yesterday morning break was people complaining about bicycle owners, lunch was finding out that a co-worker hit a lady a few minutes before, and the rest of the day was everyone talking about the times they'd had close calls.

Cars create a natural Nash Equilibrium out of their costs and benefits: once you've started using cars it makes more and more sense to only use cars. It's an addiction, but instead of changing your brain chemistry it changes the landscape around you into something that can only support more cars.
posted by tychotesla at 1:00 AM on March 13 [16 favorites]


Can't see how any arsenal of on-vehicle cameras and sensors can negotiate the gap in oncoming traffic to make a left turn while senior citizens are trying to make their way across the eight lane road right where you want to go. Mowing down senior citizens at intersections along the suburban arterials seems to be one of the most frequent pedestrian assaults I hear of. There'd need to be some engineering solution, and it would favour the mode used by those with the greatest investment in power and technology. Furthering the cost and complexity of everything and forcing greater division between those participating in the system and the growing population of have-nots scurrying out of the way.

This seems to me equivalent to a fear of automatic sliding doors in the mid-twentieth-century. "How can a mere bundle of sensors and mechanisms or circuitry handle the bobbing and weaving of human movement? The pavement in front of supermarkets, subway platforms, and the hallways outside of elevators will be littered with decapitated bodies and severed limbs!"

If a computer and associated sensors can more reliably operate a defibrillator than a human, or can control a Gatling gun on the moving deck of a ship at sea to shoot down incoming missiles without destroying all the other stuff on the deck of the ship—in a weapon system originally introduced in the 1970s, in that case—it seems unlikely to me that handling what you're describing will be an insurmountable problem, if indeed it's not already been solved.

Here's a video from last year of a BMW driverless car weaving around traffic cones at 80kph on a closed course. The Google driverless car program claims, depending upon which report you read, to have already gone several hundreds of thousands of miles, with only one reported accident mentioned that I can see, in which they say a person was driving rather than the computer. In the U.S. at least, a commercial truck driver who makes it to a million miles driven without an accident receives a national safety award; so this makes it sound like the prototypes are already in the same league as the safest human drivers.

If you are right, and it turns out that senior citizens need robot insurance because they're getting mowed down by driverless cars run amuck more frequently than they're already mowed down by human drivers, then they'll never become available for widespread use. But I would personally expect that a fully-developed driverless car, even better a road full of driverless cars that are all communicating and coordinating with each other, (e.g.) could probably deal with an energetic child running out into the road far better than human drivers could, much less senior citizens crossing the street at intersections.
posted by XMLicious at 1:02 AM on March 13 [17 favorites]


This table gives the traffic related incidents by country. The US is sadly down there whatever metric you order by. It seems like a sensible thing to do would be for the US to look at what nations like Sweden or, indeed, the UK, which has a very low relative motor fatality rate do.

People in the UK grump about speed cameras, enforced limits but they do seem to be effective. In addition everyone wears their seatbelt which is always something that boggles my mind when watching films and seeing the main characters not put on their seatbelt.

I try to be aware when I am driving that I handling a machine that can be used, quite easily, to kill people. Unfortunately many other drivers do not act like they are aware of that, being too overconfident in their abilities to adjust for unforseen circumstances.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:06 AM on March 13


It seems like a sensible thing to do would be for the US to look at what nations like Sweden or, indeed, the UK, which has a very low relative motor fatality rate do.

I would wager the biggest difference is more public transportation, and more trips made on foot. In other words, the only way to reduce accidents is to reduce the number of trips by car.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:19 AM on March 13 [12 favorites]


If everyone had to ride motorcycle for a year, they'd be a far better car driver.

They would. But lots of them would still be shitty motorbike riders*. At least on British roads, a significant minority of bike riders go way, way too fast in town centres and on rural roads.

The issues with car fatalities are both that people believe they are better drivers than average and that they have been sold the idea of the car as the home from home, or dynamic place of excitement - not as a hunk of metal they need to be extra careful not to hit someone with. One forgets sometimes in a way bike riders and cyclists tend not to.

*Disclaimer: I have a motorbike and a car licence and ride a bike. You notice this most as a bike rider or pedestrian.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:22 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Can't see how any arsenal of on-vehicle cameras and sensors can negotiate the gap in oncoming traffic to make a left turn while senior citizens are trying to make their way across the eight lane road right where you want to go.

They've pretty much already got that problem solved.
posted by modernnomad at 1:25 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


The problem with the autonomous car is that the very first time one has a glitch and kills somebody, it's going to be front page news for weeks with Congressional hearings, breathless reporters, a lawsuit, etc.

I think the point that people often miss with autonomous cars is that the technology won't happen all at once. In fact, it's been happening for the past several years. Long before we have door-to-door, fully self-driving cars (Level 4) we are going to have plenty of Level 2 and Level 3 functions on the road. We're already starting to see them in cars that you can drive off the lot today:
These include adaptive cruise control, a system that monitors distances to adjacent vehicles in the same lane, adjusting the speed with the flow of traffic; lane assist, which monitors the vehicle's position in the lane, and either warns the driver when the vehicle is leaving its lane, or, less commonly, takes corrective actions; and parking assist, which assists the driver in the task of parallel parking.
And we have cars with autonomous emergency braking that prevent rear-end collisions. As the tech filters down, so will the fatality numbers. Whether or not we actually get legislation passed for Level 4, the bits and pieces that will save lives will slowly seep into what we drive and it will be as unthinkable to not have these features as it is to not have ABS or seat belts.
posted by funkiwan at 1:32 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Automobiles? How about commercial trucks? [...] That driver had enough meth in his system that he would have failed any drug test required by a prospective employer, but it wasn't 't enough to keep him awake.

Commercial trucks will be among the first to be partially and then fully automated. Owners don't want to pay drug-addled good 'ol boys to haul their expensive cargoes between government-mandated rest stops when they could have automated trucks working 24 hours a day with near-zero accident rates. A truck will climb on to the interstate, assume approved cruising speed, and continue that way until it needs fuel or the trip is over. You'll see trains of these trucks drafting each other across the country in perfect unison.
posted by pracowity at 1:41 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


We could automatically suspend driving licensees pending inquiry for everyone involved in any potentially serious collision, meaning injuries appear possible. At least that'd thin the herd that follows too closely.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:48 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Autonomous cars are completely inevitable. Their economics ensure that regardless of whether they improve safety and regardless of public opinion, they are a done deal within 2 decades. They reduce costs in so many ways:
1. salary of drivers
2. gas/electricity efficiency, which will increase with adoption. It will top out at at least double. Autonomous cars can draft safely, and they can coordinate intersections with each other, so there will be efficiency gains in both highway and city driving. Autonomous cars can accelerate and brake at the effcient rates, not the incredibly inefficient instinctive rates that humans use (accept for the small minority of milers)
3. autonomous cars don't need to be able to carry the maximum number of passengers. A taxi company can have multiple sizes of cars. This reduces the capital cost per passenger/mile and increases fuel efficiency.
4. autonomous vehicles can make one way trips and then go recharge. This means they need smaller batteries, reducing capital costs and increasing mileage.
5. the proposed public brouha about autonomous cars having accidents may happen a couple times. But very quickly, the opposite effect will take hold. If you are driving and have an accident with an autonomous car, who's going to believe you weren't at fault? This leads to...
6. Autonomous cars won't get tickets. Think about what that means -- the more autonomous vehicles there are the more drivers will bear the brunt of the income that traffic enforcement represents for city governments.
7. Autonomous car owners will get a huge bonus in time. It won't be long until grocery stores offer pickup service, along with other such time wasters. The cars will drive themselves to get necessary maintenance.
8. Autonomous car owners will start living longer, not just because of safety, but because of reduced stress. Driving is one of the most significant causes of stress. Soon enough, their health insurance will cost significantly less.
9. No one with an autonomous car needs to pay for parking ever if they don't want to. Just have the car drive to where there is free parking, and come to where you are when you need it.
10. Eventually someone will realize that seats can face back in an autonomous cars. Not everyone will like that, but those that do will enjoy an ENORMOUS reduction in risk.
11. Once there are enough autonomous cars, parking will enjoy about a 30-40% increase in cars/square-meter.


These are just some of the obvious things.
posted by lastobelus at 1:51 AM on March 13 [33 favorites]




For some perspective about how quickly the computational needs of autonomous driving can become a complete non-issue, please recall that a Core i7-4770K (which gets about 175 GFLOPS) would have been the fastest supercomputer in the world 20 years ago, by a fairly significant margin.
posted by lastobelus at 2:14 AM on March 13


I wish there was an app for smartphones where if you see someone using their phone while driving, you can take a quick snapshot of their licence plate and it gets reported to the police.

Because I am so fucking sick of seeing people talking on their phones or checking texts or doing ridiculous shit like that while they're driving. Having an app would stop me from throwing things at them.

Unfortunately, I can also see people using the app while they're driving, because people are fucking idiots. *sigh*

Also? Drivers in tiny cars demanding the right of way against buses. Holy shit, that's a bus. What the fuck are you doing?
posted by Katemonkey at 2:29 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I think it's optimistic to assume that computer-driven cars will be safer than human-driven ones. AI has never been good at dealing with raw reality to date, and the prospect of having a thousand cars on the road driven by systems all of which have the same undiscovered little glitch, is not a comfortable one.

But the other thing is, research suggests that when human beings think the road looks safe, they drive more dangerously until the risk is back up to normal levels again. What will the only human driver on a road full of robots do? He knows they all have to get out of his way, and have amazing reflexes. Whohoo! Watch me drive at maximum speed down the very centre of the fucking road, baby, and all the drones scatter! A thousand miles down the freeway and every one of those fuckers is offa my road!!!
posted by Segundus at 2:43 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


No kidding, you get so good at reading traffic that it's bound to save your life some day, no matter how you choose to use the road. Hyperbole to live by.

It's not hard.

1) Look everywhere. If you don't look, you won't see it. If you're in a car, this makes sure all your windows are clear. Yes, this is a pain in the ass, but I think the driving with all your windows covered in snow except for the windshield should be treated as DWI -- you have impaired your vision.

2) Understand inertia. Things don't magically change direction.

3) Watch the front wheels. If they're not straight, the car is turning. Yes, it's possible to turn with the front wheels straight, but there will be other clues, like the squealing noises of the sliding tires. But in general, wheels are straight, car moves straight.

4) Watch the driver's eyes. They will tend to go the way the eyes are looking, unless the eyes aren't looking out. In which case, you don't know what you're doing.

5) When in doubt, bear away. If you don't know what the car is doing, you assume that they are trying to hit you and get out of the way.

6) Just like pilots do -- develop your scan. In a car, this means speedo, warning lights, right, forward, back, left repeat. In a bike, you don't have much in the way of instruments, so more time heads up. Always look around. Jump the scan when needed -- example, look left forward, left back, right, then left and turn left when you're turning left, but get back to it when you're done turning.

You need data to figure out what they're doing. If you're not looking out, you don't have data, and thus, you are blindly guessing where everyone else will be in the next 15 seconds. And that, boys and girls, is how collisions happen.
posted by eriko at 2:53 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


These robot cars are really good: let me show you how I can do something really incredibly stupid and dangerous and it will step in and save us right at the last possible moment...
posted by Segundus at 2:54 AM on March 13


In other words, the only way to reduce accidents is to reduce the number of trips by car.

I do not believe this is true. Note that the US's relatively poor position remains so if you sort by ratio to vehicle ownership, or by miles driven (you have to scroll down if you do so for those, as less countries record those statistics so are erroneously sorted at the top of those tables)
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:58 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Heh heh, that's a good one lastobelus, it hadn't occurred to me that retail stores could send robots out to drag people in to purchase things. That might counteract the reduced stress from not having to drive, if your local Walmart's drone-rickshaw is following you around all the time, watching what you're doing and shouting suggestions for things you could buy at Walmart relevant to your daily activities. Or maybe they'll be baited - at the point when your blood glucose level is calculated to be lowest, a little vehicle will appear wafting the delicious fragrance of a cheeseburger out its door but you can't quite reach the burger unless you step all the way inside: a whole new meaning for the term "opt in".

Political drone-rickshaws will be exempted from anti-spam laws, of course. We'll be able to say to Australia, "That's not compulsory voting, this is compulsory voting!"
posted by XMLicious at 2:58 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


AI has never been good at dealing with raw reality to date, and the prospect of having a thousand cars on the road driven by systems all of which have the same undiscovered little glitch, is not a comfortable one.

Except for the systems that have been flying and landing planes for decades and piloting ships and landing the occasional spacecraft on an extraterrestrial body... and the point of this thread, of course, is that human-driven cars are known to be controlled by systems that have a great many lethal glitches in common.

One of them is that some people already drive in ways that are completely dependent on other human drivers being more cautious and safety-conscious than they are.
posted by XMLicious at 2:58 AM on March 13 [14 favorites]


Drivers in tiny cars demanding the right of way against buses.

The "right of way" isn't something you demand, it is something you *have*. If you have the right of way, everyone else is required to yield to you, period. The whole point of RoW is determining who can do what when they're going to occupy the same spot at the same time. If the car has the RoW, they have it. It's not demanded.

However, the US Coast Guard has a saying about Right of Way. "Be right, but don't be dead right." Yes, you have the right of way, but it's not a magic shield. If the bus isn't yielding, laying your car into the spot is making a bet about the bus and bus driver's ability to avoid you that maybe you should reconsider.

But this isn't demanding the right of way. This is, in fact, the Bus breaking the law. But you must weigh the cost of using your right of way.
posted by eriko at 3:01 AM on March 13 [20 favorites]


Except for the systems that have been flying and landing planes for decades

Which are complicated, expensive, have been built with both redundancy and warning features that automatically disable them if there's something wrong with the hardware, and are backed by highly trained pilots who inspect the craft before every trip to make sure that everything is just so, and can fly and land the craft safely should there be a mid-flight problem.

There's a reason that flying is vastly safer than driving, and it is because everyone involved has become focused on being safe. Airlines don't say "Oh, look, 4XB is late for that maintenance check, I should call the aircraft manufacture's service desk and book an appointment sometime." They say "Oh, look, 4XB is due for a C check in 25 flight hours. I need to route it to the maintenance base before then and get that check done, or I'm going to have to do a stupid amount of paperwork, be fined, and then fly the plane to the maintenance base directly, no pax, no cargo."

They have lists that they consult if things on the plane are inop, and that tells them if they can fly, and if they can, what procedures needs to be followed. Example -- a power generator on the left engine of a twin jet is out. Can it fly in service? Yes, but it can't cross large stretches of water, it has to fly a route that keeps it 60 minutes from the nearest airport it can safely fly in, and it has to keep the APU running the whole flight.

These are called the MEL in US service, the Minimum Equipment List. It's common to fly with a MEL exception to get back to a base with the parts and people to fix it.

Now: Do you think cars will ever have this level of rigor applied?
posted by eriko at 3:10 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


There's a reason that flying is vastly safer than driving

Safer on a per-trip basis. Less safe on a per-mile basis.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 AM on March 13


Except for the systems that have been flying and landing planes for decades

Aside: One of the funnier things in aviation history was the US manufacture's complete lack of understanding about why the UK really, really, really wanted CAT IIIB ILS, which allows a decision height of 0-50 feet and a runway visual range below 500 feet (in some cases, as low at 150 feet*)

See, until SFO became big, really, the US airports just didn't get the kind of fogs that UK airports did. The Brits didn't want CAT III ILS with auto land capability. They actually needed it. When they built CDG, they found that, yeah, you need CAT III there if you want to use the airport every day.

This is hard to do, requires complicated gear on the ground that can detect faults with one second and broadcast the failure bit to tell the pilots there's a problem, and gear in the airplane and trained pilots to fly it. True "pushbutton" auto land, where the plane flies the ILS to the ground, is expensive and pretty much limited to commercial airliners.


* The holy grain is CAT IIIC ILS, no decision height, no RVR.
posted by eriko at 3:20 AM on March 13


Eriko, given that the cars will be able to take themselves to the service station, and given that removing the driver means that the liability will likely shift to the manufacturer, that wouldn't surprise me at all.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:21 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


If everyone had to ride motorcycle for a year, they'd be a far better car driver.

If everyone had to ride motorcycle for a year before they could drive a car, maybe a lot of them would be dead or injured first (putting a lot of teenagers out on motorcycles before they can get their licenses?), or would never get a license and would have to stay out of the work force. You might thin out certain kinds of drivers, but not necessarily create a safer bunch of drivers. For example, the resulting mix of car drivers might be a little more observant but maybe also a little bolder, if not a little more reckless.

Instead of making it harder for dangerous drivers to get permission to drive dangerous vehicles on public roads, make it impossible for dangerous drivers to get permission to drive dangerous vehicles on public roads. Allow only automated vehicles on them.
posted by pracowity at 3:41 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Totally believe in automated cars. Need the whole automated steering principle applied to life in general kthxbye.
posted by telstar at 3:48 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Australia has 0.05 as its limit.

Broadly true, but it's 0.02 for heavy vehicles. Provisional drivers (ie under 3 years of driving experience) have a 0.00 requirement.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:36 AM on March 13


Now: Do you think cars will ever have this level of rigor applied?

Yes, and far higher levels of rigor besides. There are already computer-controlled systems throughout society (a great portion of the systems that manufacture the modern cars and other vehicles we're talking about, for example) that use statistical quality control techniques far beyond checklists (which are kind of crude, actually, at scale) to anticipate and infer the hint of a hint of an issue before it arises and to abort an action or discard a product with flaws fainter than an unaided human could perceive. Within a decade or two the software systems at least, if not the hardware as well, that control driverless cars will most likely have been refined by millions of times as much data and experience in driving than an individual human could acquire during their entire lives and will be able to confirm and cross-check for complex conditional issues that a human could never hope to.

This isn't what's really formally considered to be "Artificial Intelligence", I don't think, from looking at the IEEE article and videos that modernnomad links to - it's just an enormous rules processing engine that continuously collects an immense amount of data, analyzes it, and sets variables to control the vehicle based on all that, as opposed to something that could innovate its own rules when given a goal or could "understand" what it's doing. So it's like a vastly more complicated version of the AED, which for a very specific range of cardiac problems can analyze a bunch of variables and the shape of sine waves from its sensors and, much more quickly and reliably than a paramedic can, execute a bunch of rules programmed into it based on practices formulated by a team of cardiologists from extensive scientific research and data crunching, to decide when to shock and what electrical settings to use. Within that specific, limited problem domain, the device vastly outperforms 99% (or whatever number, but a majority) of humans squinting at an ECG trace and trying to accomplish the same thing and also produces a better outcome than taking the time and expense to track down one of the 1% and bring her in to do the job and hoping she isn't having an off day.

What Google's team and the other teams are demonstrating is that at this point in history, our sensors and portable computing power and software and mathematical tools are sufficiently developed that operating a ground vehicle in an environment already designed and calibrated to facilitate human drivers in a variety of ways, has now become a problem domain that's within the capability of an automated device to thoroughly analyze and deal with. At some point in the future, it won't be generalist software developers and automotive engineers designing the highest-level functionality and architecture of these vehicles and their control systems, it will be some kind of specialist traffic engineer, the equivalent of the cardiologists who design the AEDs.

Travelling in such a vehicle will be like getting chauffeured by a committee of expert zombie traffic engineers who can think at the speed of light and data mine an immense trove of information of other road incidents to determine what to do during every few dozen milliseconds. No, it won't be able to handle absolutely any possible situation that can arise in the course of a trip or car-related task—it won't be able to shovel your driveway after a blizzard so you can get to work, or smooth-talk the cop who pulled you over because you overshot your state inspection date, or negotiate its own trade-in value with a dealership—but within certain boundaries it will perform its tasks better and more reliably than a human.
posted by XMLicious at 4:36 AM on March 13 [16 favorites]


I'd love me some automated cars too... no doubt.

In any case, the thing to keep in mind with feature stories like this is that cars/automobiles have been a critical component of the expansive global economy we live in, transporting critical goods (food, clothing, water, construction material) to the masses, and supporting 7 'b'illion people. As noted earlier, deaths by automobile have been on a decline, and consequentially deaths per mile have gone down substantially.

Just be careful out there and drive safely. Some of the stories told here are sad to read, and we don't need any more accidents like those.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:37 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


So glad I always end up reading these articles before walking to work...

But it's not like I can be on alert any more than I already am. I'd need a freaking owl's field of vision to be able to adequately dodge all threats but alas, I am not Carrie from the Exorcist. Walk lights that don't work, walk lights set to change for four seconds of walk time while the cars are still plowing through with left turns without yielding-- what good does being alert do, when the system is so poorly designed in the first place? Sure, nudge me with your bumper to get me to move faster, that's real safe. Force me to cross the street in traffic because you really want to wait in the driveway in the sidewalk. Where are the lists of advice solely for drivers? How many drivers have ever tried walking where they drive-- or better yet, cops and politicians?
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:54 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


There's something that happens to people behind the wheel that isn't pretty. I don't know why but as a society we are badly damaged when it comes to driver behavior.

Obligatory Louis
posted by flabdablet at 5:05 AM on March 13


I wish there was an app for smartphones where if you see someone using their phone while driving, you can take a quick snapshot of their licence plate and it gets reported to the police.


You think the police will follow up on these pictures? Here's one thing (among many) that I learned when I was hit by a truck (I was on a bicycle) a few months ago. It was a "hit and run." Serious crime, right? Wrong. Since I survived (bruises, broken bones) the police didn't even bother to follow up on the incident. We had witnesses and the plate number.

As far as I know, at this point, the driver hasn't even been contacted, much less ticketed.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:08 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


One of my friends got a D.U.I. and I was appalled to learn that there was a system in place that if you paid enough money you could take a class rather than having your license suspended.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:17 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Until there are major changes in where and how we live, cars are going to be a necessity for a lot of people. And while some of us can afford to drop $50K on an autonomous car there are people out there driving cars that cost not thousands but hundreds of dollars. Until autonomous cars are available used (or very used) we're going to be stuck with a mix of vehicles on the road. The end game looks great but the transition period scares me a little.
posted by tommasz at 5:20 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


As far as I know, at this point, the driver hasn't even been contacted, much less ticketed.

Fun ethical fact: when cop justice thoroughly fails, vigilantism becomes acceptable, and it is now open season for you to contact the driver yourself.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:22 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Or more realistically for your attorney to contact the firm owning the truck.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:29 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


The end game looks great but the transition period scares me a little.

There's nothing to worry about. Rather than a lot of different cars driven unsafely and unpredictably (as per usual today), more and more cars will be driven safely and predictably. That can't make things worse.

And I think there will be affordable automated cars. Selling at least one low-cost automated car model could even be made a requirement of any car company selling cars in the country.
posted by pracowity at 5:31 AM on March 13


We should of course also apply this logic to all our other laws. Why ruin the life of a murderer, a rapist, or a burglar by sending them to prison and saddling them with an onerous criminal record? Haven't enough people already suffered?

As it happens, some people do non-sarcastically wonder if prison (particularly the way we do it in the US) is a great general statutory response to as wide a range of crimes as we use it for, up to and including some kinds of homicide.

If you've ever found prison rape jokes not funny, or have been uneasy about the death penalty, then you might even find on further reflection that you don't automatically believe that any punishment fits any crime, that some well-meaning low-tolerance laws can have controversial results, and that however true it may be that you can't make an omelete without breaking a few eggs, it's remarkably easy to break eggs without getting anything edible out of the process.
posted by weston at 5:48 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


I was always pessimistic about automated cars. The lawsuits and innumeracy of the population and silliness would doom them.

Then I realised: Automated cars mean Baby Boomers will get to keep driving.

That's when I relaxed. Automated cars are inevitable. When the boomers start getting their licences revoked, they'll force through any legislation required for automated cars.
posted by alasdair at 5:55 AM on March 13 [25 favorites]


No car worth "hundreds of dollars" is safe and roadworthy unless you put the equivalent of thousands of dollars of your own work into it, and then it's worth that, minus amortization and wear and tear.

In 1980 a $500 car was a hazard. Now it's got to be Fred Flintstone territory.
posted by spitbull at 5:59 AM on March 13


You think the police will follow up on these pictures?

They follow up pretty quickly with their speed and red-light cameras. I was thinking it'd be more of the same.
posted by Katemonkey at 6:07 AM on March 13


> "In other words, the only way to reduce accidents is to reduce the number of trips by car."

Not necessarily. The road casualty rate in the UK has been dropping steadily for decades, and most of the efforts made to achieve this are not in large part focused on public transportation.

Don't get me wrong, I believe public transportation in the UK is a hugely important part of lower traffic fatalities - more on that in a minute - but it is far, far from the *only* way to reduce accidents.

If you look at a typical UK casualty reduction plan, like the London one from 2001 (pdf), the chapter headings include:

Speed management
Protecting vulnerable road users
Safer routes to schools
Supporting the boroughs
Managing the Transport for London Road Network
The London congestion charging scheme
Safer use of buses
Occupational road risks
Parking and road safety
National standards with implications for London

"Safer use of buses" was the only part of that relating to public transport. But between 2001 and today, road fatalities in the UK were cut almost exactly in half.

Now, that being said, the UK was already starting from a point of fewer road deaths than the U.S. before that reduction effort began, and I would not at all be surprised if safe, reliable public transportation was a big factor in that.

Over the course of my life, I've been in about 4 serious car-related accidents, each of which had the potential to kill me. One resulted in serious injury.

For the past 4 years, I've lived in places where I did not have to own a car. The only place I ever lived in the U.S. where that was true was Boston. Everywhere else, it was nearly impossible to get around without a car. They had extremely limited, ineffective public transportation, and at least one did not even have public transportation that ran at night, at all - this is in a fairly major city (a million people in the metro area). You could go out to see a movie, but you couldn't go home afterwards.

Living in places where a car is not a requirement has improved my life in many, many ways. I spend less money on transportation. The city isn't covered in parking lots. It's inconvenient about once a year, when I need to move something large ... but I've discovered that there are things called "renting" and "taxis" that work just fine.

And (knock wood) I honestly feel safer. I don't get the car-worship in the U.S. I never did.
posted by kyrademon at 6:13 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


There's a lot of fatalism in this thread, but there *is* something that works, and better than enforcement since the police can't be everywhere at once:

Better street design.

Take a look at the videos in this Dutch guy's youtube channel about the infrastructure there. They pull bike lanes out of the street and put them up on curbs, so that motorists have less fear of hitting cyclists. Their intersection design is pure genius -- no sitting in someone's blind spot hoping they don't turn into you when the light changes. They pull out the stop signs in dense neighborhoods and inner city areas so that everyone is forced to slow down and pay attention at every intersection. Their design works in dense cities, in sprawling suburbs, and in rural areas -- there is no excuse for us not to implement these design changes. We should stop passing blame around and start building streets that make it easy for everyone to do the right thing, rather than what we have now that throws everyone in conflict.
posted by antinomia at 6:15 AM on March 13 [22 favorites]


It's useful to keep these numbers in historical perspective. Automobile fatalities were at an all-time low in 2011. On a per capita basis, at around 10-11 fatalities per 100,000 people, they are about one-third what they were at their peak in 1937, and about half what they were as recently as 1988. Cars are much, much safer than they used to be, seatbelt use is up, and drunk driving is down.

Still, there's a lot of room for improvement. Canada's traffic-related death rate is 6.8 per 100,000. The difference is largely a result of better seatbelt use in Canada.
posted by Dasein at 6:28 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


How bout those apples my liberal friends? Have a Bud lite on the way home from work and some fascist cop forces you to take a blood test and then throws you in jail for 6 months?

Fine by me, as long as people are taught about how alcohol affects their own body.

In high school (late 1980s) I got a small card with a grid. One axis was body weight and the other was quantity of drinks; the fields indicated the amount of time for that size human body to metabolize the alcohol.

The rule of thumb was that a 155-pound human could metabolize a drink in an hour. Any more alcohol (or less body mass) than that meant it would accumulate in your body and affect you. I now see that there is more subtlety to this, as alcohol takes up to six hours to dissipate completely. More details are shown in a chart on pages 7-8 of this MADD.ca document.

These days kids are taught about the effects of alcohol on their bodies -- but being kids., they think "it can't happen to me." What if part of the D.A.R.E. curriculum was actually to point out when and how much it would happen to them? No vague scare tactics, but instead real, specific data.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:29 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


The way I see it, the problem is that there are so many places where everyone has to drive. I'd give up my car in a heartbeat if I could, but it's not feasible even if I moved downtown.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:32 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


They pull bike lanes out of the street and put them up on curbs, so that motorists have less fear of hitting cyclists.

This would never happen in the US. Even if you gave them dedicated cycle ways with no pedestrian traffic some jackass would still claim and invoke their right to ride on asphalt for some reason or another.
posted by Talez at 6:42 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I lived in Boston, MA for 5 years and only used a car for the first month before I decided I didn't need it. It's a great model for a pedestrian friendly city.
posted by Renoroc at 6:50 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


They've pretty much already got that problem solved.
In that demonstration the turning Google vehicle does force an oncoming vehicle to stop while it waits for the pedestrians to clear. In the present world that behavior would result in the blocked driver leaning on his horn and flying into a rage. It's amazing technology, and I don't doubt that it can be engineered to be much more reliable than humans. If the oncoming car in that demonstration was also autonomous I guess it would be programmed to wait its turn for maximum system efficiency. No rages. My point is that any widescale adoption of this will make demands on the streetscape that disadvantage pedestrian and cyclists and other non-participants. Already car users demand priority because they put the most money into the game. Complexity and cost are ramped up, creating more division between haves and have-nots. The benefit over several decades might be that once drivers aren't driving themselves and the entire system needs to be mapped and controlled, then using public transportation might be less a jump for people. Although on the panel I watched last night public transportation was described by an automotive journalist as "sitting next to some rubby", so I guess some sort of private bubbles would need to be engineered in to make public transportation attractive to many.
posted by TimTypeZed at 6:58 AM on March 13


You'll see trains of these trucks drafting each other across the country in perfect unison.

Pfft. That'll never happen. They'd need a dedicated road with little metal barriers to hold them in place.
posted by sneebler at 6:58 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


This morning: Got in the minivan with my kids to drive them to school. Both passenger sliding side doors were frozen shut. No ice on the car -- it had just gotten so cold during the night that the door mechanisms wouldn't work. After a moment of trying both doors, my kids went in through front passenger door, climbed in the back and strapped themselves in.

Okay, no problem.

I drove a block and a half and the interior lights went on. The door behind me was still shut, but wasn't closed properly. So I pulled over, closed it, got back in the car and kept going. My daughter kept me up most of the night, I was tired, and it didn't occur to me that while I was closing that door, I should also check the other side door, where my son was sitting.

It's about 2 miles to the expressway. I headed east, drove the two miles and turned to get on the expressway ramp. As I was climbing the ramp, the lights went on in the car and the idiot light on the dash said the other door wasn't closed properly. I hit the flashers, looked over at my son and saw his door was still shut. Told my kids to hold their seat belts, slowed down (from 50mph) and pulled off onto the shoulder. Checked my mirror. The other car seemed far enough away, and I opened the door to run around the car. And then I slammed it shut again because that other car behind me (who was accelerating) had edged so close to the damned curb that he would have taken my fucking door off if it had been open for another couple of seconds. Not to mention, he might have hit my legs as I swung them out of the car. He literally barely missed hitting my mirror. And then he hit the brakes hard and swerved into the slow lane, causing oncoming traffic to veer out of his way. I saw that he had caused a fender bender between a car and a minivan on the expressway. He drove off and left the scene.

The questions and observations started from the backseat. "That car was really close, Daddy." "What was that noise, Daddy?" "Someone had an accident." "It wasn't us." "Are you okay, Daddy?" "Daddy, why aren't we moving?"

Reassured them. "WE'RE FINE! EVERYTHING'S FINE! WHILE DADDY CLOSES THE DOOR, WHY DON'T YOU TRY SINGING 'LET IT GO' IN SPANISH AGAIN!" Got out. Said a few words I can't say around my kids. Opened, closed the other door. Watched the entire time to make sure I wasn't about to get rear-ended by some schmuck who wasn't paying attention. Jumped back in the car. Drove the kids to school.

Hugged them very tightly before sending them in.

I'm a careful, non-aggressive driver. When I drive, I worry about the people around me who aren't. Who are distracted, or unfocused. Wish I didn't have to.
posted by zarq at 7:01 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I have a ten year old BMW which is stupidly expensive to maintain, but I'm loathe to get rid of it for the simple reason that I feel very, very safe. The thing turns on a dime and accelerates really quickly. It has saved my life more than once when someone pulls out in front of me and I have to jerk the wheel and speed up to avoid them.

Just last week, someone turned onto a one-way street the wrong way and was barrelling at me head on. I had to swerve very quickly and almost drove onto the sidewalk. I'm convinced I would be injured or dead if I'd been in, say, a Buick or whatever old people drive nowadays, because even if the person has a perfect reaction time, the car does not.

On the other hand, because it's a BMW, people continually assume I want to race them at stoplights, so it is a bit of an idiot magnet. Seriously dude? You think you're going to beat me off the line in a Chevy Cavalier?
posted by desjardins at 7:04 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


HuronBob, I'm deeply, deeply sorry for your loss. My heartfelt condolences.
posted by zarq at 7:04 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I'm a careful, non-aggressive driver. When I drive, I worry about the people around me who aren't. Who are distracted, or unfocused. Wish I didn't have to.

Yup. A couple of months ago I was stopped at an intersection where the lights were out - hence, it's to be treated like a four-way stop. Was about to proceed when I noticed that a car coming from the right wasn't slowing down. The driver blew through the intersection well in excess of the speed limit, on a day when there was lots of ice on the roads (the lights were out because of downed power lines).

I would much rather that that idiot had been in a car driven by a computer programmed to treat inoperative traffic lights appropriately.
posted by Dasein at 7:09 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


4) Watch the driver's eyes. They will tend to go the way the eyes are looking, unless the eyes aren't looking out. In which case, you don't know what you're doing.

HILARIOUS! As I have mentioned on the blue more than once before, of you spend any time at all as a pedestrian, you will see the classic driver maneuver of turning right into traffic while looking left to make sure no cars are coming. Four years ago, on the heels of seven pedestrian deaths in a month, Toronto police undertook a huge ticketing blitz against jaywalkers. Never mind that five of the seven deaths were pedestrians crossing with the signals at a stoplight killed by inattentive drivers freewheeling through while looking off somewhere else (that is, turning right and looking left). Apparently ticketing drivers who do not care to look where their car will be in one second was not an option.

In Saskatchewan last year, I was walking down a street and nearing a parking lot exit. I was walking eastbound on the east-west street and a driver pulled partway out of the lot, preparing to turn east and looking past me to make sure there were no cars coming. He subcontracted the job of looking to his left to me, I suppose, and when I saw what was there, I rushed forward waving my arms and signalling to him to stop. He shouted some profanities back at me and floored it, missing the blind woman and her seeing-eye dog by only a foot or two. Never once did he notice them as best I could determine, and I am sure if he gave any thought to the incident it was just to recount the story of some asshole pedestrian hassling him for making a legal turn.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:11 AM on March 13 [21 favorites]


tychotesla: Cars create a natural Nash Equilibrium out of their costs and benefits: once you've started using cars it makes more and more sense to only use cars. It's an addiction, but instead of changing your brain chemistry it changes the landscape around you into something that can only support more cars.

Repeated for emphasis. The whole discussion about automated cars is a red herring when we should be questioning the economics of the whole system. In an era when we can reasonably expect that one or both of peak oil and CO2-induced climate change are going to have a direct effect on cities and transportation, continuing to believe that the car is a personal right, or our society's highest expression of Freedom, is counterproductive.

I'm very interested in tychtesla's second point in regard to the safety issue, because it seems pretty clear from what I've read and seen on the road as a driver and cyclist is that as soon as people get into a car they stop seeing other drivers as people, and start seeing just the vehicle. I've narrowly avoided several accidents (except two) on my bike, where the cause was simply that the driver didn't see a person in that space. The fact that we accept so many "accidents" as a necessary condition of operating the automobile-based road system is related to the perception that we're now an invulnerable ego in an armoured shell, and everyone else is an obstacle.

Finally, I'm continually amazed that we accept the barrage of rank propaganda from the auto industry, car culture, car advertizing and the roads system with so little question. Unfortunately, fuels, cars and roads are a big chunk of Western economies, and it doesn't seem like we'll be having this discussion until we've collectively spent our last dollar to buy two cups of gasoline to drive to the store for a bag of chips.
posted by sneebler at 7:24 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


Cars aren't going away. Anyone who thinks they are is dreaming in technicolour. They're also likely a resident of a dense urban area who doesn't need to leave that area very much, and whose perspective on transport is narrowed accordingly.
posted by Dasein at 7:29 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Some folks here seem to be thinking that self-driving cars will not be available to them because they will be too expensive to own. In my analysis this is colored by the current prevailing relationship we have with cars in our culture - we own them. To my thinking self-driving cars could be available 'just-in-time' and/or 'as-needed'. Like Car2Go. Pull out your mobile device and summon one when you have to go somewhere. That is what I am hoping for, anyways.
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 7:43 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


Not crazy about self-driving cars because it will only perpetuate the happy motoring society. Perhaps it will reduce ownership with the car sharing schemes people have mentioned here previously, but I doubt it; and in any case, it's not enough.

We need to grow up as a society and realize that the way we have built cities for the past 60-70 years is harmful and self-destructive in nearly every way--and not sustainable, no matter how many shiny Google cars there are to shuttle us around.

If we start building cities for people first, the rest will come naturally. The fact that so many otherwise intelligent people don't see anything but a "happy motoring" society as an option makes me profoundly sad.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:06 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


entropicamericana: " We need to grow up as a society and realize that the way we have built cities for the past 60-70 years is harmful and self-destructive in nearly every way--and not sustainable, no matter how many shiny Google cars there are to shuttle us around."

Could you be more specific about this? I have my own opinions on the subject, and am curious to hear yours.
posted by zarq at 8:10 AM on March 13


Yeah, there is a tremendous urban bias in these sorts of threads. 46 million Americans (according to the Census) live in rural areas. They need to own cars to be able to participate in society and the economy. I lived in a rural area last summer and commuted 40 miles each way into the city. The nearest public transit option was 10 miles away, so I'd drive to the park n'ride and take the bus the rest of the way in. There was one bus in the morning and one in the evening that served that stop. If I missed the return bus, I'd be completely screwed. So I generally drove the 45 minutes each way.

Now I live in an urban area, only 7 miles from work, and by bus it'd be a 48 minute trip each way. Think about that - it was faster for me to commute by car from a rural town 40 miles away than it is to take a bus 7 miles within the city limits. Why would I take the bus in either circumstance? There are only two reasons: I absolutely have to because I'm too poor to own a car, or I'm well-off enough that I can expend the time required to be altruistic. I'm neither, so I'm one of those evil people who drive to work by themselves every day.
posted by desjardins at 8:16 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


This seems relevant to the above points:

The Invention of Jaywalking and the Rise of Car Culture. Our whole way of life has been biased towards cars for generations, in increasingly subtle ways that almost no one questions.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:18 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Oh - and because someone will ask "why didn't you just move closer to the city last summer" - my situation is complicated to explain, so just imagine a homeowner in the rural area who's underwater in their mortgage.
posted by desjardins at 8:19 AM on March 13


Could you be more specific about this? I have my own opinions on the subject, and am curious to hear yours.

I'm referring to the automobile-driven suburban growth model, mainly. Low density, single-use development. Anything that grants priority to the automobile. We know thanks to induced demand that building more roads or adding more lanes doesn't work.

Prioritizing pedestrian, bicycle, and mass transit over automobiles needs to be a priority. All of these options offer more capacity in the same space. Increased density is better for business, better for society. I'm not talking Hong Kong density or even NYC density necessarily. Some people think four-story buildings with retail on the ground floor and offices/residential above are optimal.

I'm not even against suburban development per se. The streetcar suburbs created in the first half of the 20th century are a much better implementation of suburban development. Look at how modern suburbs force you to drive. Isolating for seniors and children, bad for physical activity (which leads to health and weight issues). I could really go on for days about this. Is there anything specifically you have questions about?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:24 AM on March 13 [16 favorites]


entropicamericana: " Prioritizing pedestrian, bicycle, and mass transit over automobiles needs to be a priority. All of these options offer more capacity in the same space. Increased density is better for business, better for society. I'm not talking Hong Kong density or even NYC density necessarily. Some people think four-story buildings with retail on the ground floor and offices/residential above are optimal. "

I live in one of the five boroughs of NYC, and have close access to three kinds of mass transit: local buses, express buses into Manhattan and subways, and can drive to LIRR. I take either an express bus or LIRR into the city every day. So I'm taking advantage of mass transit. I didn't start driving until I was in my mid 30's, and relied on mass transit or my wife to go everywhere.

I'm all for increasing people's use of mass transit over cars, and in that I agree with you wholeheartedly. But I also know it's going to be very difficult if not impossible to eliminate car use completely, so I was curious to see whether you were advocating a reduction or complete elimination. I think the former is definitely feasible, especially if we are talking about building a city from the ground up. The latter, virtually impossible.
posted by zarq at 8:50 AM on March 13


Yeah, there is a tremendous urban bias in these sorts of threads. 46 million Americans (according to the Census) live in rural areas.

That's 16% of the population.
The Census Bureau definitions (new to the 2000 census), which are based on population density, defines rural areas as all territory outside of Census Bureau-defined urbanized areas and urban clusters. *An urbanized area consists of a central surrounding areas whose population ("urban nucleus") is greater than 50,000. They may or may not contain individual cities with 50,000 or more; rather, they must have a core with a population density generally exceeding 1,000 persons per square mile; and may contain adjoining territory with at least 500 persons per square mile (other towns outside of an urbanized area whose population exceeds 2,500). *Thus, rural areas comprise open country and settlements with fewer than 2,500 residents; areas designated as rural can have population densities as high as 999 per square mile or as low as 1 person per square mile.[5]
It's hardly like "rural" means the 120-acre Kettle family farm. There is no reason for automobile-driven growth to exist out in the boonies, either. It's a waste of land.

They need to own cars to be able to participate in society and the economy.

How did rural areas manage before the invention of the automobile? 2014 is not 1914, there are very few people who live in truly rural areas because they need to, they do it because they want to, and they think the rest of us should pick up the externalities.

I grew up on a ranchette four miles out of town. I had a creek running through our land, pine and oak trees, the whole schmear. It was wonderful, although isolating. There was no way my parents would let ride along the two-lane, 50-MPH road for four miles to go to town to get a Slurpee or see a movie.

In the past decades, I've seen suburban development march out well past where I grew up. I realize that we just cannot sustain this model, as romantic as it sounds. Maybe you could turn around and say, "well, you got to have it, why shouldn't my kids?" I'm not living there now, and wouldn't even if it became an option. It's selfish, short-sighted, and wasteful. We are loving nature to death.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:52 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


1) Look everywhere. If you don't look, you won't see it. If you're in a car, this makes sure all your windows are clear. Yes, this is a pain in the ass, but I think the driving with all your windows covered in snow except for the windshield should be treated as DWI -- you have impaired your vision ... You need data to figure out what they're doing. If you're not looking out, you don't have data, and thus, you are blindly guessing where everyone else will be in the next 15 seconds. And that, boys and girls, is how collisions happen.

Paying attention is important, but it's less to do with looking at your surroundings and more knowing what to do with what you see while you're paying attention, you know? For example, is a car in your immediate vicinity slowing down for no apparent reason? Odds are he's getting ready to blitz your personal space while he makes a corner. Is traffic starting to stack up in the lane next to yours while you've got it good? Get ready for some dick to jump out into your clear lane with no regard for your fragile tissues. And cetera.

4) Watch the driver's eyes. They will tend to go the way the eyes are looking, unless the eyes aren't looking out. In which case, you don't know what you're doing.

Iiiii disagree. Like you mentioned, eriko, cars go where their front wheels are pointing (usually). As has been alluded to, those eyes are usually looking for recognizable shapes, like cars, trucks, buses, etc, and not for people, bicycles, or motorbikes. Even in a car, there's a lot more information to be gleaned from the other car's wheels, like direction, speed, etc. This is invaluable when you're on two wheels and someone's waiting to turn across your lane into a parking lot or something because I can tell you what, eye contact isn't worth a damn when the driver's been looking through you the whole time.
posted by Chutzler at 8:55 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


so I was curious to see whether you were advocating a reduction or complete elimination. I think the former is definitely feasible, especially if we are talking about building a city from the ground up. The latter, virtually impossible.

I am advocating a tremendous reduction. like 70% or more. Cars have their place, like for delivery or for the infirm. Half of all trips are three miles or less, and that's with the current sprawling growth patterns. There's no reason most of those couldn't be bicycled or walked.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:56 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


There are only two reasons: I absolutely have to because I'm too poor to own a car, or I'm well-off enough that I can expend the time required to be altruistic.

This makes it sound like time and money are the only reasons people ever choose public transit, and that's really not the case. When I was a student, taking the train meant I had to get up extra early and take a train that got me to class 45 minutes before it actually began, due to the train schedule. It took longer than driving (at that hour), and it was marginally more expensive, even factoring in insurance and wear and tear. So why take the train? 1) it gave me a set schedule to leave the house, and not procrastinate like I tend to with a car (and then drive extra fast!). 2) It was far more relaxing than driving with other commuters on the road being crazy. 3) I could buy a coffee and a scone and stare out the window or go to sleep. 4) I could do my homework, read email, or just mess around on the internet. 5) I could have my bike with me in Davis, which made getting to my second class that was one mile away from my first far easier. 6) I didn't have to worry about parking at my destination.

I realize that not everyone is going to have these particular benefits from taking public transportation (or has the transit to take; that is a given), but the notion that transit is just for poor people and those with leisure time is simply not true. Or that public transit is for people being altruistic (?). I'm not being altruistic; I am a pretty darn selfish person who likes to not have to truly wake up until actually arriving at work. Not driving means I can be lazy and indulgent. It's awesome that it also means I am using less fuel and producing less pollution. I don't think environmental considerations are solely altruistic, though.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:07 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


If I had three wishes: the destruction of American car culture and American gun culture would be two. (The third, of course, would be infinite personal riches--drinks on me!)
posted by crush-onastick at 9:08 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Half of all trips are three miles or less, and that's with the current sprawling growth patterns. There's no reason most of those couldn't be bicycled or walked.

You must not have children.
posted by Dasein at 9:13 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


How did rural areas manage before the invention of the automobile?

Are you asking seriously? Uh, horses. Do you really want a bunch of horses on the road?

there are very few people who live in truly rural areas because they need to, they do it because they want to, and they think the rest of us should pick up the externalities.

I lived in Montana. You do not know what you're talking about.
posted by desjardins at 9:16 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Half of all trips are three miles or less, and that's with the current sprawling growth patterns. There's no reason most of those couldn't be bicycled or walked.
You must have no children, or aged parents, or ill relatives of any kind, must buy groceries for only one, not have a hobby like painting that requires you carry large canvases (for example), a dog that requires several pounds of food every week. Not to mention live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain. I could go on . . .
posted by jfwlucy at 9:22 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Children can bicycle and walk. Regularly I bike through Chinatown and some of those guys they don't give a fuck they'll have the wife a kid and an infant all hanging on to their e-bike.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:22 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


oneirodynia, you have valid points. When I did take the park and ride bus into town, it was relaxing and I enjoyed not having to deal with traffic. But if I had to work late, or if my connecting bus was delayed, it meant I would not be able to get back to my car until the next morning without a $100 cab ride. So, the rational choice was to drive.

Now, in my urban area, I'd still need to take two buses to get to work, and the distances are short enough and the bus crowded/noisy enough that it'd hardly be relaxing. Plus the winter has been beyond brutal, and I'm not going to stand out in the cold for 20-30 minutes unless I'm absolutely forced to.

Other cities have much better transit setups - heated bus/train stations/shelters, more reliable schedules, more options - but I don't find this to be true in most of the US, just the major cities and a few outliers. I wouldn't own a car in NYC or SF or Chicago proper, but here I don't have a compelling reason not to.
posted by desjardins at 9:23 AM on March 13


How did rural areas manage before the invention of the automobile?

Horses and horse drawn wagons, neither of which are feasible anymore.

2014 is not 1914, there are very few people who live in truly rural areas because they need to, they do it because they want to, and they think the rest of us should pick up the externalities.

45 million people in the US live in rural areas. A significant portion of those people commute into the city, but a large number are involved in "externalities" that make your life possible. The community that grows wheat for your bread has just as much right to transportation as you do.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:23 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Cars aren't going away. Anyone who thinks they are is dreaming in technicolour. They're also likely a resident of a dense urban area who doesn't need to leave that area very much, and whose perspective on transport is narrowed accordingly.


So what are your recommendations for reducing automobile fatalities? Dare I ask?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:23 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I am a pretty darn selfish person who likes to not have to truly wake up until actually arriving at work

Agreed. And sadly, lots of people driving to and from work aren't really awake, either -- I include myself in this category on the rare occasions I drive to work, and therefore try to avoid doing so.

The way I do the time arithmetic is that while taking the bus, train, or bike takes me about 35-40 minutes compared to 15-20 by car, every one of those minutes is spent doing something useful to me (reading, playing video games, crocheting, exercising, sleeping) while the time I spend in the car is spent stressing out about traffic, pinching myself to stay alert, and generally hating life.

Also, most of what I do for a living is listen to people tell me about their horrific auto accidents, so there's also the unavoidable visions-of-killing-people thing whenever I make a mistake driving. Biking and walking just give me visions of my own death, which are preferable.
posted by asperity at 9:23 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


You must not have children.

You're right, I don't. But I have a friend in my not-particularly bike-friendly town with two kids, a European cargo bike, and no car. Also, I have been told that there are children in the cities, as well.

Are you asking seriously? Uh, horses. Do you really want a bunch of horses on the road?

My hyperbole was mainly a response to your hyperbole. But you should know, between horses and cars, there were bicycles. They were a huge deal and bicyclists were the original major force for the "good roads" movement. You're missing my larger points, though.

I lived in Montana. You do not know what you're talking about.

Please, explain.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:24 AM on March 13


there are very few people who live in truly rural areas because they need to, they do it because they want to, and they think the rest of us should pick up the externalities.

I live in Vermont, ditto. There are huge numbers of people who live where they live because that is where they were born and they have no money to uproot and leave their support structure and go someplace else just so they can have a smaller footprint on the planet. This is like the zero population growth people. All you need to do is to convince everyone not to have kids (or to have fewer than two per family). See? Problem solved!

I have a job in town and it's a mile from here and I walk or bike to work. The only public transportation within 20 miles is Amtrak (see other thread) or a small bus that takes people to the VA Hospital and Dartmouth. The Greyhound bus quit stopping in my town. Four-ish months out of the year it's pretty much too cold and too dangerous to walk or bike to work. So I drive. Which is also what I need to do if I need to go someplace out of town.

I respect and appreciate that more people taking more responsibility for their transportation in eco-friendly ways is a social good generally. That said, some of this infrastructure building needs to come first that will make walking/biking a genuine option for people's actual lives as they more-or-less live them not in some idealized internet-people world where you could make everyone do something just by having a good idea.
posted by jessamyn at 9:29 AM on March 13 [17 favorites]


Half of all trips are three miles or less, and that's with the current sprawling growth patterns. There's no reason most of those couldn't be bicycled or walked.

You must have no children, or aged parents, or ill relatives of any kind, must buy groceries for only one, not have a hobby like painting that requires you carry large canvases (for example), a dog that requires several pounds of food every week. Not to mention live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain. I could go on . . .


"Most of those" trips does not necessarily mean all or even most trips for every single individual for every reason. Much of the reason we haven't succeeded to the degree we'd like in slowing the annual death toll is that we persist in reading general traffic planning suggestions as though they're meant to apply to our specific circumstances all the time. That's not how that was phrased -- try not to take it personally.
posted by asperity at 9:33 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


They need to own cars to be able to participate in society and the economy.

I'm a pedestrian and I accept that. I walk because I like walking, but I also walk because paying $7 a day to go four miles is too much money and the transit schedule is not great. I don't think that many people are arguing for no cars whatsoever. I would just like the cars in my area to try to not be jerks. (And maybe for the walk signs to work, and the crosswalks be repainted, and the light cycles adjusted.) But mainly the not being jerks thing.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:37 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


The switchover to autonomous cars in the US would have the same issues as proposed gun control, that from the enacting of legislation there would be a vast reservoir of driver-controlled vehicles still on the road. That's an imbalance; if I can control my vehicle, and you cannot, then I can force your vehicle to behave in certain ways that you cannot prevent. If I'm the only person out on the road with the capability to harm with my vehicle, then I have a power over others that I would wish no person to have over me.


Do you want to be in an automated car in an isolated area where people could run you off the road for their own fun and profit? Do you want to take the chance that local LEOs are going to be both concerned and swift to respond?
posted by Appropriate Username at 9:39 AM on March 13


asperity -- I think the original statement: "There's no reason most of those [miles] couldn't be bicycled or walked," is patently ridiculous. Nice try at derailing though, by suggesting that I'm getting emotional or taking it too personally.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:43 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


entropicamericana - I went to college in Montana and most of my classmates were from small towns. All of them were born there, they didn't choose to grow up rural. Many of them were from Indian reservations. There is zero public transportation, save the Amtrak route that runs along the Canada border, and Greyhound buses. Those are completely useless for daily tasks like commuting, shopping, etc. I didn't actually own a car when I was in college because I could walk or bike most places I needed to go, but I was young and healthy and didn't need to buy groceries or furnishings. I didn't know anyone who lived off campus who didn't have a car. (Reminder: it's often cold and snowy in Montana and bicycling is not a great option.)

Montana does have a small population, but Idaho, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, etc etc are very similar in composition outside the major cities, and all of those rural people add up. You're not seriously saying that 16% of the population doesn't matter and shouldn't have a voice? I mean, come on. You want hyperbole? African Americans are about 12% of the population and I'm sure you would never suggest that we should disregard or downplay their concerns.
posted by desjardins at 9:45 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


jfwlucy, sorry, missed the first part of the statement you quoted. I didn't mean to imply that I thought you were getting overly emotional about it, just that you were applying it to specific personal situations (that may or may not be yours).
posted by asperity at 9:48 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


So what are your recommendations for reducing automobile fatalities? Dare I ask?

What a totally weird response to a comment that asserted cars aren't going away. There are lots of ways to reduce fatalities that don't involve getting rid of cars, including seatbelt laws, better design of intersections, cracking down on distracted driving, tougher enforcement of drunk-driving penalties, reducing high-speed police chases, and working at changing the cultural acceptance of drunk driving that exists in some places, especially rural areas. Also grade-separating bike lanes.
posted by Dasein at 9:49 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Those are all excellent suggestions.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:50 AM on March 13


It's amazing to me that so many people seem to think human life and civilization began with the automobile.

You must have no children, or aged parents, or ill relatives of any kind, must buy groceries for only one, not have a hobby like painting that requires you carry large canvases (for example), a dog that requires several pounds of food every week. Not to mention live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain. I could go on . . .

No children, I do have an aged parent. I already said cars are appropriate for the infirm (albeit not so infirm that they should not be controlling a car). My mom doesn't like driving on anything other than cloudy days. The nearest grocery store is miles away. The nearest service of any kind is miles away. How is this any better? Physical activity keeps people healthy. If mom had biked or walked more when she was younger, she'd probably be in better shape now. I know a guy in his 70s who still does centuries and has calves like oak trees.

I believe grocery delivery services should be part of the solution. Otherwise, shopping weekly or even daily is no big deal for millions of people already living in non-car reliant cities. People ride in intemperate climates all the time, it's no big deal. I'll try and find the figures.

45 million people in the US live in rural areas. A significant portion of those people commute into the city, but a large number are involved in "externalities" that make your life possible. The community that grows wheat for your bread has just as much right to transportation as you do.

Horseshit.

There are over 313,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms). In 2007, only 45% of farmers claimed farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation. The number of farms in the U.S. stands at about 2.2 million.

Now, if you want to advocate a return to family farming, more localized food production, and sustainable practices such as Joel Salatin's, I'll be more sympathetic to your argument. Otherwise, I'd respect you more if you said "I like to play cowboy."

That said, some of this infrastructure building needs to come first that will make walking/biking a genuine option for people's actual lives as they more-or-less live them

I can't tell if you're agreeing with me or not, but that is my point. Also, we need to rethink how we build in the future. Nobody here is advocating moving countryfolk into the cities at gunpoint.

There is zero public transportation, save the Amtrak route that runs along the Canada border, and Greyhound buses. Those are completely useless for daily tasks like commuting, shopping, etc. I didn't actually own a car when I was in college because I could walk or bike most places I needed to go, but I was young and healthy and didn't need to buy groceries or furnishings. I didn't know anyone who lived off campus who didn't have a car. (Reminder: it's often cold and snowy in Montana and bicycling is not a great option.)

I get this. The public transit where I am is a joke. Do you think I am advocating confiscation of cars instead of making efforts to make other transit options more feasible everywhere (part of this includes bike lanes, protected bikeways, etc., but a large part of it has to do with how we build cities/towns).

You're not seriously saying that 16% of the population doesn't matter and shouldn't have a voice?

No, I'm not. But I'm not saying that 16% of the population should have a disproportionate influence on transit policies and the way we develop in the future, either.

Okay, everyone. I'm going to try and bow out now, because I don't want to turn this into me taking on all-comers, so try not to say something so outrageous that I have to respond, 'kay?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:53 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


entropicamericana: " I am advocating a tremendous reduction. like 70% or more. Cars have their place, like for delivery or for the infirm. Half of all trips are three miles or less, and that's with the current sprawling growth patterns. There's no reason most of those couldn't be bicycled or walked."

I was about to say...

jfwlucy: " You must have no children, or aged parents, or ill relatives of any kind, must buy groceries for only one, not have a hobby like painting that requires you carry large canvases (for example), a dog that requires several pounds of food every week. Not to mention live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain. I could go on . . ."

...but jfwlucy did it far more eloquently.

I have two six year olds. The volume of groceries and other stuff we have to bring home every month is pretty high, and that alone necessitates us having a car. Friends who live in Manhattan with kids and no car shop far more frequently and usually have their groceries delivered. Or their nannies do it for them. Which is all well and good if you have money to burn. We don't. It's not always possible to buy food and have it delivered hours later, either.

So the only options sans car would be to shop once every couple of days, and try and walk groceries back and forth (possibly with my kids in tow) or bike it solo if my wife is willing to stay home with them. A whole week's worth of groceries wouldn't fit in a personal shopping cart or on a bicycle. (My family goes through 2 gallons of milk and at least a gallon or two of juice every week. Not to mention meat, fish, paper goods, fruit and other groceries). Not bike-able.

This assumes the weather is good (we've had 14 snow storms in the city so far this year) and the temperatures aren't bitter cold (was zero with the wind chill this am.)

It also assumes I'm healthy enough to carry all that weight, all the time.

In my last apartment, I was not within walking distance of a laundromat. I had to drive four or five giant bags of laundry to a location every couple of weeks, then do it for 2-3 hours. No pick-up and delivery service. Again, with little kids sometimes you're going to have to do laundry immediately. If one of them gets sick on every one of their sheets. Or on their pillows. Or all over their security blanket. You're not always going to have the luxury of being able to wait.

My son used to see a pulmonary specialist in Manhattan. Taking him to the doctor in the dead of winter, when it was freezing cold while he was sick was simply not going to happen by mass transit. Same with my kids' pediatrician, who is now 6 miles from home. I'm not about to get on a bus with two puking, sniffling, hacking-up-a-lung kids and expose dozens of people to whatever godawful bug they may be carrying for no reason.

I could go on and on and on. In a reworked city, where all of those things are actually within walking distance and assistance exists to help you get everything you buy home, then yeah, it might be possible. But it's simply not possible now.
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


You must have no children, or aged parents, or ill relatives of any kind, must buy groceries for only one, not have a hobby like painting that requires you carry large canvases (for example), a dog that requires several pounds of food every week. Not to mention live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain. I could go on . . .

I (not the person you are replying to) have a toddler, buy groceries for the family, have a hobby (skiing) that requires me to carry large skis, and live in the highest altitude town in Canada with snow for 8 months of the year (and it's not uncommon to get snow at least once those other months).

Oh, did I mention we're in a mountain town where going to work and coming home is literally a sisyphean task, where you replace the boulder with a stroller.

And yet I don't own a car, I do rent one once or twice a month, I walk more than most people even in my town, and our stroller often seems more of a wheelbarrow for food and diapers, but we don't complain. It's still less hassle than when we owned a car. It can be done.
posted by furtive at 9:58 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Well, that didn't last long.

Friends who live in Manhattan with kids and no car shop far more frequently and usually have their groceries delivered. Or their nannies do it for them. Which is all well and good if you have money to burn.

The average American family spends $14,000 a year driving multiple cars. That's a lot of grocery deliveries.

I could go on and on and on. In a reworked city, where all of those things are actually within walking distance and assistance exists to help you get everything you buy home, then yeah, it might be possible. But it's simply not possible now.

So do you think we should try to get that point? If so, guess what? We agree! If not, why, when the facts indicate that current growth patterns are unhealthy, bad for the economy, and unsustainable?!
posted by entropicamericana at 9:59 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


In some perverse way our culture gets a thrill out of all the mayhem. Modern cave-men getting in touch with the primal exhilarating rush of violent near-death experiences. That's what I see whenever I'm on a freeway and not in gridlock.
posted by ovvl at 10:01 AM on March 13


I can't tell if you're agreeing with me or not, but that is my point. Also, we need to rethink how we build in the future. Nobody here is advocating moving countryfolk into the cities at gunpoint.

I'm basically agreeing with your general conclusion but disagreeing with your tactics. Better infrastructure will make these systems make more sense to more people over time. Just arguing that people who live are doing it wrong is not a good tactic to help change minds and change society. I've been really heartened by the popularity of Zipcar and the community bikeshares and even dopey things like Uber who are basically attacking the problem by offering people a solution that works for them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:02 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


It's amazing to me that so many people seem to think human life and civilization began with the automobile.

It's also amazing to me that so many human lives began in a civilization with the automobile. It's a heck of a hole to dig out of, albeit one with plenty of opportunity.

Not really a critique, just a comment, entropicamericana... I agree with a lot of what you're saying.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 10:08 AM on March 13


What a totally weird response to a comment that asserted cars aren't going away. There are lots of ways to reduce fatalities that don't involve getting rid of cars, including seatbelt laws, better design of intersections, cracking down on distracted driving, tougher enforcement of drunk-driving penalties, reducing high-speed police chases, and working at changing the cultural acceptance of drunk driving that exists in some places, especially rural areas. Also grade-separating bike lanes.

I basically agree with all of what you say here, but it always fascinates me that general old-fashioned speeding never seems to come up in these discussions, despite the fact that, IIRC, it kills roughly the same number of people in the US as drunk driving (about 10,000 per year). From a cost-benefit perspective, stopping people from driving 80 on I-95 seems like it has to be more valuable than squeaking out another 0.03 from the BAC limit. It's not clear to me that the evidence supports the notion that the 0.08 guy is evil! but the dude going 75 on the congested DC beltway is just in a bit of a hurry.
posted by dsfan at 10:09 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Better infrastructure will make these systems make more sense to more people over time.

I wholeheartedly second this. I know for a fact that one major reason few people walk in my neighborhood is because the roads are dangerous, especially in the winter. The community as a whole thinks of sidewalk use as "recreational" and not as an "essential" part of anyone else in the community's life, because so few people use them. I don't know how to change the cycle.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:10 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I'm worried that people whose visual acuity is apparently so poor they mistake words like "most" for "always, and forever under all circumstances, with no exceptions" are out there driving cars.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:13 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I don't like making this argument about the individual virtues of any one person or household. If we make the right changes to our public infrastructure, more of our trips (as a community, not necessarily on an individual level) can and will be done through means other than use of an individual automobile, for a variety of reasons (convenience, cost, pleasure). As much as I advocate for more and better use of non-individual-auto transport, I try not to do it by shaming others. (I mean, I drive to work on days I sleep horribly late or have some other reason to need a car myself.) However, when people say "oh, it can't ever be done!" I have to speak up, because here I am.

My preferred method for making these changes is advocating for them on a local level, where we can work for changes that will make our daily lives easier. Attend city council or planning commission meetings. Or at least read the minutes online and email your council members if you've got any questions. Like: "why does this new development have so many parking spaces and only one bike rack?" or "hey, cars aren't slowing at all for this crosswalk -- what are the options for making it safer?"
posted by asperity at 10:14 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Attend city council or planning commission meetings. Or at least read the minutes online and email your council members if you've got any questions. Like: "why does this new development have so many parking spaces and only one bike rack?" or "hey, cars aren't slowing at all for this crosswalk -- what are the options for making it safer?"

Amen! Our town was looking to amend minimum parking allotments in apartment/condo buildings, reducing the minimum spots required (a contentious issue in our town) and I was able to get them to double the amount of bicycle racks required based on the logic that even people with cars own bikes. For example our 14 condo building, with 7 cars still has 27 bikes. All I had to do was send an email during the feedback period for proposed amendments and they took my feedback into consideration. The system works!
posted by furtive at 10:23 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Increased density is better for business, better for society.

The problem is the potential of negative behavioral effects of living in unwanted social contact - the behavioral sink effect Calhoun noted. Increased density is certainly better from an environmental-impact outlook, but from a societal-impact way, could be detrimental to its inhabitants. There are reasons some people might want to live in lower density that accord with behavioral health, not just mere preference.
posted by corb at 10:32 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


No question improved transport as well as thoughtful city planning, including "retrofitting" suburbs to the extent possible, alongside greater community engagement would improve things.

Also though, someone's got to do something about those pesky kids.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:33 AM on March 13


MVCs among teens and young adults (i.e., persons aged 15–24 years) are of particular concern because they represent the leading cause of death in this age group (1). Although MVC death rates for this age group generally were lower in MSAs than for the nation, they nonetheless were routinely higher than overall rates within individual MSAs. For all MSAs combined, the MVC death rate among persons aged 15–24 years was 13.0, which is 59% higher than the combined overall rate for MSAs of 8.2. Well-known risk factors (e.g., inexperience, lack of seat belt use, driving with teen passengers, and alcohol-impaired driving) for teens and young adults likely contributed to the higher MVC death rates observed for this age group.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs initially limit teens' independent driving and gradually introduce them to more complex and higher-risk conditions as they gain more experience and move through successive stages (i.e., permit, intermediate/provisional license, and fully unrestricted license) (7). GDL is one evidence-based intervention that can reduce crashes among young drivers, with stronger programs exhibiting greater effect (8). For example, fatal crash rates are lower where GDL programs restrict young drivers from having any passengers than where programs permit one or more passengers (7).

Effective interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving (e.g., sobriety checkpoints and ignition interlock programs for drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving) benefit drivers of all ages, including young drivers who have disproportionately high rates of impaired driving and involvement in alcohol-related fatal MVCs (9,10).


(from above)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:34 AM on March 13


entropicamericana: " The average American family spends $14,000 a year driving multiple cars. That's a lot of grocery deliveries."

True. I am leasing a new car. I'm probably looking at about $9K per year between basic maintenance costs, gasoline/oil and the lease. Of course, the car also saves me a lot of time, too.

entropicamericana: " So do you think we should try to get that point? If so, guess what? We agree!

Well yes. I said as much here. But I can also see how it would be impossible for some populations to shift from cars to walking and bicycles unless a high priority were placed on constructing/offering them other transportation alternatives.
posted by zarq at 10:43 AM on March 13


Increased density is certainly better from an environmental-impact outlook, but from a societal-impact way, could be detrimental to its inhabitants.

Social isolation's detrimental, too. We've got options in between sprawling new-build suburbs and towering arcologies, and are free to choose those options.
posted by asperity at 10:56 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


There are over 313,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms). In 2007, only 45% of farmers claimed farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation. The number of farms in the U.S. stands at about 2.2 million.

You're completely ignoring the communities that form around farming. There are literally thousands of communities that exist essentially to support local farmers. Let's say that your joe the farmer -- where do you sell your crop, where do you buy your groceries, send your kids to school, go to the doctor, get parts to fix your tractor? In town.

Otherwise, I'd respect you more if you said "I like to play cowboy."

Don't be so quick to assume. I'm now a city dweller, but I grew up in a family whose primary source of income was farming and ranching. Eventually it's going to be my responsibility to sell off a farm that's been in my family for three generations. I have no desire to "play cowboy".
posted by nathan_teske at 11:01 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I would be commuting by bike daily given an environment as thoughtfully designed as what's evident in that video of Holland's cycling paths. But between my congenitally subpar navigational abilities and bottlenecked streets, I've been doored 2 of the 3 times I tried in the city, and was very nearly swiped by inattentive drivers the few times I tried in the suburbs (who almost scare me more than the raging city drivers, though, I can't blame them so much either, given years of planning neglect in my area). I am just not brave or skilled enough to risk it under these conditions.

But I bet I'm not the only person who'd jump at the chance to trade an absurdly long and life-draining commute for fresh air and awesome quads, given a setting I could actually negotiate. I 100% support the increasing (and increasingly popular) efforts to devise safe bike paths in my area.

But I can also see how it would be impossible for some populations to shift from cars to walking and bicycles unless a high priority were placed on constructing/offering them other transportation alternatives.

You see how that's circular, though, right? There are people working to prioritize alternatives, and I'm grateful to them for lifting the scales from my eyes.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:10 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


People seem awfully anxious to restrict the number of cartridges in my guns

Christ, what an asshole comment. At least there isn't an organized fringe lobby group whose sole purpose is to oppose every sensible suggestion to make cars less dangerous.
posted by norm at 11:31 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Social isolation's detrimental, too. We've got options in between sprawling new-build suburbs and towering arcologies, and are free to choose those options.

Oh, totally! But I think sometimes in these things there's a rush to "let's all live in towers!" that really ignores some of these factors. There are absolutely reasons for people to want to live in somewhat more rural settings, and sometimes it's even good for them. It took me a while to understand it myself, but space, fresh air, and land are not to be despised.
posted by corb at 11:36 AM on March 13


@zarq

I think you are suffering from a failure of imagination, including your own actions while driving this morning. Perhaps your sudden stop on the expressway entrance ramp caused the other driver to have to swerve and in fact you were the cause of the collision.

I have two six year olds. The volume of groceries and other stuff we have to bring home every month is pretty high, and that alone necessitates us having a car. Friends who live in Manhattan with kids and no car shop far more frequently and usually have their groceries delivered. Or their nannies do it for them. Which is all well and good if you have money to burn. We don't. It's not always possible to buy food and have it delivered hours later, either.

You are only imagining your more wealthy friends. What about your friends' nannies? They work forty plus hours a week, both spouses work, and they still are able to get all of their shopping done on public transit. Not going carless on Long Island is less about necessity and more about being relatively wealthy and having no imagination.
posted by GregorWill at 11:47 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


At least there isn't an organized fringe lobby group whose sole purpose is to oppose every sensible suggestion to make cars less dangerous.

Well, there's AAA, which has not always behaved well on that front (best summary of the problems with AAA I could find was from a competitor, though.)
posted by asperity at 11:49 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Just arguing that people who live are doing it wrong is not a good tactic to help change minds and change society.

I realize I may come off as strident, but it's only because I care too much. My goal here is not shame anybody, it is to push back against the idea that "well, that's how we've always done it in my lifetime, so that's how it should or will always be." There are a lot of misconceptions out there than need to be corrected. There are so many more (and better) possibilities than what we have now.

You're completely ignoring the communities that form around farming. There are literally thousands of communities that exist essentially to support local farmers. Let's say that your joe the farmer -- where do you sell your crop, where do you buy your groceries, send your kids to school, go to the doctor, get parts to fix your tractor? In town.

Exactly, and there's no reason for the town to be a sprawling mess. If you look at nearly any town in the Midwest in Google Satellite View, you can easily pick out the new part from the old part just by the layout of the streets.

let's all live in towers

Nobody here is advocating that. Most of us would like to see towns and cities develop like they did in the first half of the 20th century or earlier.

but space, fresh air, and land are not to be despised.

Agreed, which is why we we should not bulldoze them, build crackerbox houses and strip malls on top of them, and pave everything in between.

At least there isn't an organized fringe lobby group whose sole purpose is to oppose every sensible suggestion to make cars less dangerous.

Well, there's AAA,

And let's not forget the manufacturers and dealers.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:53 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


At least there isn't an organized fringe lobby group whose sole purpose is to oppose every sensible suggestion to make cars less dangerous.

Sure there is. In fact, there are multiple. There's the AAA, which is mostly up-with-cars-down-with-bicycles, and then there's the National Motorists Association, which is sort of an anti-speed-enforcement / anti-red-light-camera thing today from what I can tell, and then of course you have the direct lobbying by the automotive companies themselves, which make the firearms industry's best efforts look like a rounding error.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:07 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


You are only imagining your more wealthy friends. What about your friends' nannies? They work forty plus hours a week, both spouses work, and they still are able to get all of their shopping done on public transit.

The problem with the anti-car lobby is that they want everyone to live as if they're poor. Lugging groceries home on public transport sucks. It's awful. Maybe some small portion of the population is going to do it because they're ideologues, but most people won't if they have a choice. Underlying the stridency of people who insist that cars can be replaced is a worrying tendency to want to deny that choice to others.
posted by Dasein at 12:14 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


GregorWill: " I think you are suffering from a failure of imagination

*nod* Always possible.

... including your own actions while driving this morning. Perhaps your sudden stop on the expressway entrance ramp caused the other driver to have to swerve and in fact you were the cause of the collision."

Perhaps you missed it, but I said in my previous comment about this that I had pulled off onto the shoulder.

I didn't come to a sudden stop and I didn't stop on the entrance ramp. I put on my flashers, decelerated at a gradual pace, and pulled off onto the shoulder. When I stopped I was actually on the shoulder of the entrance lane, past the ramp at that point. I wasn't blocking the lane in any way and my entire car was on the shoulder. I had my kids in the car. Was worried about getting hit.

But it was a tight shoulder and there wasn't much room width-wise. The other driver had lots of room in their lane. For some reason they weren't paying attention to what the car ahead of them was doing and had also drifted up near the shoulder.

You are only imagining your more wealthy friends. What about your friends' nannies? They work forty plus hours a week, both spouses work, and they still are able to get all of their shopping done on public transit.

Most of them drive, actually. And only one of them is married that I'm aware of. But that's neither here nor there. My own kids' nanny didn't drive. But she didn't have a child or have to travel for the things she needed. Her local grocery store was on the corner. Her laundry was in the building, etc.

Not going carless on Long Island is less about necessity and more about being relatively wealthy and having no imagination."

If you're referring to me, I don't live on Long Island. I'm not "relatively wealthy." But that's neither here nor there, either.

I do fail to see why I should deliberately make my family's life a lot more difficult, physically strenuous and inconvenient. Or why I should spend literal hours schlepping groceries and my kids every week via public transportation or by walking when I make the same trips now, faster and more easily. Why should grocery shopping and transport take over two hours when it takes less than one now?
posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


It took me a while to understand it myself, but space, fresh air, and land are not to be despised.

Sure, but we're nowhere near the level of density where those aren't available in the vast majority of the United States. The rankings by metro area and state are most interesting to me, since they show how little of the US has anything even close to as dense as Guttenberg, NJ.

I live in the very densest area in my state. We totally have trees and windows and room for flying kites. The general level of even urban density in the United States is so very low outside a handful of outliers that we would have a long way to go before approaching the levels where people suffer for it. And there will always be places where we can go to get away from it, assuming we don't totally choke them out with the exhaust from all the driving we're doing.

It's not wrong to be concerned about changes in your community making it less pleasant to live in. But all these changes are happening on a pretty local level, with plenty of opportunity for people who are actually affected by those changes to speak up and make our voices heard. Many of us want communities with more amenities close at hand, and I think we can also slow development down when required later. We're just not there yet, for almost all the parts of the US that actually have people living in them.
posted by asperity at 12:25 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]



The problem with the anti-car lobby is that they want everyone to live as if they're poor rich. Lugging groceries home on public transport Having to drive everywhere to do anything and being stuck in traffic sucks. It's awful. Maybe some small portion of the population is going to do it because they're ideologues, but most people won't if they have a choice. Underlying the stridency of people who insist that cars can NOT be replaced is a worrying tendency to want to deny that choice to others.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:28 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Having to drive everywhere to do anything and being stuck in traffic sucks. It's awful.

Good thing I'm not advocating for driving everywhere, then.
posted by Dasein at 12:30 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I live in the very densest area in my state. We totally have trees and windows and room for flying kites. The general level of even urban density in the United States is so very low outside a handful of outliers that we would have a long way to go before approaching the levels where people suffer for it.

Yeah, I think there's definitely a lot of ways we could go that would be totally sustainable - I think my perspective just comes from living in NYC and everything being full of trash and misery. To me, suburbs look like a golden song calling me, because I've lived in shitty apartment buildings and it made me cry big kitty tears.

But suburbs definitely are often planned really weirdly, because they were often planned all at once, and that's a real concern. But I'm not sure everyone moving in closer to the city would fix it - more, that more towns of a healthy-but-not-crazy size would help matters. But how do you even create that? And you'd still need cars, even so, to get from city to city/town.
posted by corb at 12:32 PM on March 13


If you live in Brooklyn or Queens, you live on Long Island. If you are driving a $9k/year car sending your kids to private schools, and you have had a nanny, you are relatively wealthy. Yes I read that you stopped on the shoulder. Of an entrance to an expressway where people are expecting you to be accelerating up to 60+ mph and not stopping because you didn't properly close your doors or make sure that your car was safe before leaving your house.

The problem with the anti-car lobby is that they want everyone to live as if they're poor. Lugging groceries home on public transport sucks. It's awful. Maybe some small portion of the population is going to do it because they're ideologues, but most people won't if they have a choice. Underlying the stridency of people who insist that cars can be replaced is a worrying tendency to want to deny that choice to others.

I do fail to see why I should deliberately make my family's life a lot more difficult, physically strenuous and inconvenient. Or why I should spend literal hours schlepping groceries and my kids every week via public transportation or by walking when I make the same trips now, faster and more easily. Why should grocery shopping and transport take over two hours when it takes less than one now?

The anti-car lobby! And as if those are the only options! As I said, a failure of imagination. I welcome the arrival of the self-driving car.
posted by GregorWill at 12:47 PM on March 13


>"The problem with the anti-car lobby is that they want everyone to live as if they're poor. Lugging groceries home on public transport sucks. It's awful. Maybe some small portion of the population is going to do it because they're ideologues, but most people won't if they have a choice. Underlying the stridency of people who insist that cars can be replaced is a worrying tendency to want to deny that choice to others."

"Live as if they're poor" Wow. Not going to try to unpack that yet, just point out that the standard of living in the U.S. has been dropping for quite a long time, and the proportion of the population that would benefit from widespread and clean and economical public transportation has been and will continue to grow. As that market expands, our choices will expand. And we will all benefit, even you.

Most of us who desire a choice that is not "pay to own and operate a car" have been starved for choices for a very long time, and that is changing. It is a good thing. Maybe some day the pendulum will swing too far the other way and those who own cars will have to become strident advocates too, but not. yet.
posted by Wilbefort at 12:57 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


My kids are not in a private school. Taxes and infrastructure are very different in Queens vs., Long Island. Having a nanny was actually cheaper than keeping two kids in daycare. Not that that was particularly affordable.

But hey, feel free to presume you know me, my finances and my life better than I do. And also that you know better than me what happened during a traffic incident you didn't witness.
posted by zarq at 1:01 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Also, one of those paragraphs you quoted (the anti-car lobby bit) was not said by me.
posted by zarq at 1:05 PM on March 13


The problem with the anti-car lobby is that they want everyone to live as if they're poor.

Gurl. Take it easy. Even car-pooling to the grocery store with your roommates or neighbors takes extraneous cars off the street, and you can do that in a lot of suburbs. Obviously in some places the infrastructure really needs to be developed more before it is a good replacement: I will be the first to agree there, as someone who has often come up against the limits of this infrastructure even in relatively dense American cities, let alone places like Vermont (my home state). On the other hand, taking the bus to the grocery store is something a lot of people do already, and judging from friends' reactions, they do so even in areas where people with cars seem to think it would require some huge level of self-flagellating asceticism. Saying that we should listen to them and how they're making it work isn't "deny[ing] that choice to others." Saying that it's ridiculous that any reasonable middle-class person would use transit to do major errands instead of their own car shuts down a potentially productive thread of conversation, which has to do with how we can improve the infrastructure so that more people would want to.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:22 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


"The problem with the anti-car lobby is that they want everyone to live as if they're poor. Lugging groceries home on public transport sucks. It's awful.

Wow, well, I'm really glad we went from a discussion about an article about the horrifying number of pedestrians that get killed a year to this sterling generalization.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:22 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


The only reason why grocery delivery is expensive today is that it's a luxury item. But even with that being the case, if carting groceries home once a week is a major reason for having a car, you can get Peapod for a heck of a lot less than the TCO of a vehicle. (In my area it would be less than $500/year for weekly deliveries.)

On the macro scale, it's a lot more efficient to have one truck delivering everyone's groceries than to have everyone buy their own car just so they can use it to drive to the store and back. It's why grocery delivery (and milk, and beer...) was much more common in urban areas before WWII. There wasn't the same expectation that you'd carry that much crap around by hand as exists today; if a store wanted to sell heavy/bulky items, they generally offered some way of getting it to your house.

I agree that having your own motorized steel box for personal transportation is convenient. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it's unbelievably energy-intensive, and likely to become increasingly expensive over time as a result, and it's dangerous. And worse yet, it externalizes the worst danger on bystanders or users of alternative forms of transportation, rather than exposing the users themselves. The fact that it's convenient doesn't mean it's not shitty.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:24 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


The amount of money I spend to own a car, maintain it, insure it, fuel it up so I can drive it around to get to where I need to go is depressing. I don't like driving, I don't love cars, but owning one is a necessity, and I'm not denying that it is a necessity for many other people.

I would happily trade my car and all the money I spend on car-related things for an alternative transportation solution. Public transit exists where I am, and there's commuter rail, but it cannot take me to work.

I think the arguing about whether or not people in their current lives with existing infrastructure and abilities and children and whatever else truly have a need for a car is just a great way for everyone to get annoyed. Cars might be the best solution for many right now, but that doesn't mean that tens of thousands of people die every year in auto accident and many more are injured, and I don't think it means that we shouldn't be looking for alternative solutions.
posted by inertia at 1:25 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


I'm seeing a lot of comments along the lines of "well I/someone I know has kids and they do fine with bikes." And as someone pointed out, there will always be some people (ideologues) or not who WILL be fine strapping their kids on the back of their bike, buying some expensive toy to hitch up behind the bike, etc. Hooray for them.

But that doesn't mean that people who either don't want to or who PHYSICALLY cannot are somehow moral midgets because they prefer to drive. There are lots and lots of factors at play and making some simplistic moralizing judgments without insight into individual situations is condescending.
posted by jfwlucy at 1:59 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


There are lots and lots of factors at play and making some simplistic moralizing judgments without insight into individual situations is condescending.

Seems like there's kind of a disconnect between this statement and the rest of your comment.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:10 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Further, biking is not the only alternative to driving, and bikes are a lot less expensive than cars even with "expensive toys" (which I'm taking to mean anything that makes your bike more useful - but because it's a bike and not a car, it must be a "toy," while if it were for your car it would be a "necessity").
posted by en forme de poire at 2:13 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


As a new resident of San Francisco - a hilly but eminently bike-able city year around ... I
find it crazy that we don't have one street going in each direction dedicated to bikes, walking, kids, dogs - anything other than motorized vehicles. Just one corridor that is sane and human, in every city, please.


This is an incredibly interesting idea. It wouldn't work everywhere, but it *would* work to get people around in San Francisco. I'd guess one of two things would happen. Either property values would shoot higher on that street because everyone would want to live on it, or it would become filled with homeless people and crime. Hard to tell which, but I love the idea.
posted by cnc at 2:22 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


No disconnect. I'm saying that a few people are trying to point to individual cases and saying, well THEY ride bikes so everyone ought to be able to do it. I'm saying that individual cases are complex and that making a general statement such as "most of those miles don't have to be done by car" is condescending. I'm NOT making generalizations about those few people -- I'm saying that the way they are phrasing this is akin to the way Republicans point to those few success stories that come out of circumstances of poverty as proof that we need to do nothing to reduce poverty.

I'm well aware of public transport, having used it for most of my life. I'm less sure that a few people on here are aware of how differently-abled, older, parenting, rural, etc. people actually live their lives.

In any case, I think that the answer lies in making public transit much more attractive, safer, cleaner, ubiquitous, etc.,
posted by jfwlucy at 2:25 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


In any case, I think that the answer lies in making public transit much more attractive, safer, cleaner, ubiquitous, etc.

I think you'll find that that's what pretty much everybody thinks as well, instead of this weird notion that what they're saying is some sinister plot to ban cars and make the old, disabled, etc suffer.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:35 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


A few people have been mentioning how older people are in a group of people who should be using cars more instead of less, but that seems strange to me because the more we age the more likely we reach a point where we either can't or shouldn't drive. Our vision gets impaired; our reflexes aren't as sharp; loss of flexibility makes it harder to turn around to look for things.

But a society set up where cars are the only realistic option, because infrastructure decisions often maximize the convenience of cars at the cost of other options, makes it harder for people who should be giving up driving because they're much more likely to get into accidents and harm themselves and others to do so.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:49 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


In Japan, on the outskirts of the cities (which are of course oh-so-dense and easily navigated on foot and transit), you can find pleasant rural lifestyles far more easily than you can in the US. In the US, those spaces have been consumed by endlessly expanding rings of semi-urban suburbia with big arterial roads and big box stores and all the rest.

Once you eliminate the idea that cars must be accommodated everywhere, it is more attractive to live in the city-proper (since you aren't required to pay all the costs, both financial and lifestyle, of squeezing vehicles in) and it becomes less attractive to live further out (since the city isn't bent over backward to cater to your convenient commute to the center). As a result, semi-rural living is just as accessible to the average person, and indeed cheaper, for anyone who desires it.
posted by alexei at 3:42 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Japan has suburbia too. And while it might have slightly better transport than US suburbia (which varies, I've lived in suburbia with bus transit at least in the US) it still is difficult without a car in some places.

Now, the relative % of population living in urban/suburban/rural is different, yes. But its not like some sort of city-or-country dualism there.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:54 PM on March 13


There are many absurd brain turds that marketing has given us, and the idea that we all need (or deserve) cars is one of the most preposterous. They'll pry many people's cars from their cold, dead hands.

Thank you for the post and discussion. I hope consciousness is raised. My life, as a habitual bicyclist, relies on it.

I think it is way too easy to obtain a license and many people who should not have the priviledge of driving do. And the result is deadly. Carnage, as JM of BikePortland says.
posted by valentinepig at 3:55 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I'm NOT making generalizations about those few people

Except how you totally did when you said that they got along by buying "expensive toys." Are those parents all wealthy, frivolous Peter Pans or what?
posted by en forme de poire at 4:00 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I think you'll find that that's what pretty much everybody thinks as well, instead of this weird notion that what they're saying is some sinister plot to ban cars and make the old, disabled, etc suffer.

Oh, that reminds me—Rob Ford is running for reelection this year.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:05 PM on March 13


You must have no children, or aged parents, or ill relatives of any kind, must buy groceries for only one, not have a hobby like painting that requires you carry large canvases (for example), a dog that requires several pounds of food every week. Not to mention live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain. I could go on . . .

Incidentally, if you think people are being condescending to you, maybe it's because you are being pretty snide yourself without really seeming to know what you're talking about. Take this last bit about needing to live in a fairly temperate climate without frequent rain, for instance: this is just made up. I mean, talk to people who live in Minneapolis. Or talk to me: I biked four seasons in suburban New Jersey, and I can tell you I would much rather be biking on snow or ice than driving on it. Rain is also really not a big deal for bikes, as long as you dismount before crossing light rail tracks -- if it were that nuts to bike in the rain, nobody in the Pacific Northwest would bike at all. Of course it's not perfectly ideal, and biking in heavy rain requires some extra attention, but again, both of these are also true for driving.

The extra annoying thing is that I actually completely agree that biking isn't a solution for everyone, or even for every task that every person does. I mean, there are certainly situations where I would definitely rent or borrow a car or take a taxi rather than ride (like hauling a lot of large objects - in fact I bought my bike off Craigslist using a rented truck! Oh no, hypocrisy!!), or pony up a few bucks to have something shipped to me instead, and I recognize that I'm lucky enough to have the health and mobility necessary to bike. Of course it's also not going to work as a solution if you live in rural Maine and the nearest grocery store is a 20 or 30 minute drive. We agree about that. So there's no reason to overstate your case with hyperbolic nonsense like this.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:34 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Lugging groceries home on public transport sucks.

Eh, I guess it kind of does sometimes but only 'cause I save so much money by not having a car that I end up buying too many groceries.
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:25 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Also, just because a given person has life circumstances that make a lot of trips unfeasible by bicycle (no, I'm not gonna take my mom to the doctor in a bakfiets, if I owned one, which I don't) doesn't mean that there aren't still plenty of trips that could be done on bike or foot. Not every trip has to include everybody in the family plus the dog and all the dog's food -- some trips are just a solo run down the street to the library with the family's books for the week.

But maybe I'm feeling kinda sick that day, or I need to tune up my bike, or I can't find the bag that'll carry all my books while I'm walking -- I'm not gonna feel too horrible if I take the car. But just knowing that there's an easy bike route or good sidewalks to get to my library and that I could use them if I wanted to? That's what I want for all of us, for as many trips as we can manage, in as many parts of the world as possible.

The point here is not to tell any individual person that they must make all trips on bicycle, or even any trips. The point is to make conditions better for everyone so that we have as few barriers to choosing safer forms of transportation as possible. Because what we have now is not safe. Not even close, even though we have genuinely come a long way in the last few decades.
posted by asperity at 5:34 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


You know, I hear that there are people who have children and old relatives, even in countries in Europe and Asia where cars aren't the primary/dominant/only form of transportation. I can't even imagine how families with children possibly cope with buying groceries, ever, and prevent themselves from just all starving to death.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:44 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


[You guys are welcome to try and outdo each other with sarcasm here, but the thread might go better if you didn't.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:00 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


The idea that I am part of an "anti-car lobby" makes me incensed. I am not part of an "anti-car lobby." I am pro-choices, pro-life, pro-freedom, not anti-car. For far too long, our only choice has been what car to drive, or you are marginalized and made to take inadequate public transportation or risk your life as a pedestrian/cyclist. I want everyone to be able to walk, to bike, to take a bus, or to drive wherever you want to go. But for far too long our society has been set up to subsidize the use of cars which has impoverished us as a society--made us unhealthy physically, emotionally, and monetarily.

In this battle to make the streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and more efficient for transit users and eventually all users, car lanes and parking occasionally get cut out. This is not because people like me are anti-car, but that the balance has to shift to make things better for all. And people like me are individual citizens, fighting for what they believe in. I am not employed to show up to meetings and demand better facilities, I do it because I care about my city and I care about my neighbors, not because I want to inconvenience them.

Talking about people's supposed "need" to drive is only polarizing because far too many people see their wants as needs and are blind to other options. Yes, some people need to drive. But that number is vastly lower than people suppose, even in our society which prioritizes driving. What happened to children walking to school, or taking the bus? What happened to spouses and neighbors carpooling?

A better world is possible.
posted by GregorWill at 7:17 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


I've never owned a car. Part of my ability to do that comes from "not having a car" as an axiom - so I live places where you can get around without one.

This idea that, "I've chosen to reproduce, so I have a right to a car," baffles me. The fact that you've chosen to do one thing that's very consumptive of resources - creating more first world humans - doesn't automatically amount to a pass to consume even more.

That $10K+ people spend on cars every year would buy an awful lot of car service trips. For most people, IF you can get to work without driving, and you live somewhere which has car services or taxis (and really, having SOME form of non-private transportation is a really low bar to hit) you would save money just calling a car service when you needed it - $10K is about $30 a day.

I understand that jobs these days are hard to get, and houses expensive, and yet people were setting themselves up in places where the only way to get to work was driving cars even when we still had an affluent society. Yes, many of you have been forced into that situation, but overall this is a society where tens of millions of people deliberately decided to use cars as their only form of transportation - where tens of millions by purest choice live in places designed so you cannot walk.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:32 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


A better world is possible.

Yeah, and people want it! You should see the numbers of deep suburbanites that descend upon my slightly more walkable area every weekend, desperate for somewhere to go that's not a mall. My area has - da da da dum - a main street, kind of near a park. A few coffee shops, pubs, restaurants (must say none of them are amazing, tbh) and a bit of retail. But you know - some atmosphere. And crucially for me, a grocery store that's an eight-minute walk from my place.

It's understandable that the weekend visitors take their cars to get here, and to get anywhere near their closest grocery store or restaurant; it is annoying to get on multiple buses that take ages to weave through cul de sacs. (My experience has been that it's roughly true that lower income folks are more likely to take buses in the suburbs, for sure. Because they pay for their needs in time more directly than middle class people do. Anyway.) But even middle class people take issue with the cost of filling a tank, and all signs point to that increasing; just from a getting-by POV (which I think is a reasonable one to take) who wants that?

I think sharing car and delivery services, etc., might feel too invasive for a lot of people used to a certain kind of privacy. That's part of the appeal of driving, that the car's an extension of one's private space. And making those services work pragmatically, given the logistics of negotiating busy schedules, is another challenge. (Though a maybe not insurmountable one for a clever entrepreneur, I don't know.)

But as many have said, it's possible for anyone to participate in consultations - which happen, they're advertised - to facilitate all those wonderful smart growth ideas that would make grocery-getting not a pain for families and seniors. Like making zoning changes, in the direction of mixed use, or the conversion of old strip malls; and increasing multi-occupant dwellings - not just through new development, like big towers, but by e.g. permitting conversion of single-family homes into duplexes or apartments. Current owners could be motivated to do this with one-off incentives; new buyers now have, perhaps, more affordable housing options; the city makes a bit of extra coin in perpetuity off the taxes from these newly divided units, to fund development of more amenities that support health and quality of life. And then there's movement to some minimum level of density that might support scalable transit systems. (Obviously, these are not my ideas, and obviously, I think they're excellent.)

Big infrastructure changes, like introducing whole transit systems, again come down to us, at least when we vote for people who are willing to make those decisions and investments. (Though of course it's always more complicated than that. In my case, the people who want those things generally back other issues of interest to me.) But there are other ways to support these changes, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:25 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


2014 is not 1914, there are very few people who live in truly rural areas because they need to, they do it because they want to, and they think the rest of us should pick up the externalities.

This is so completely backwards. It's people who insist on living in massive sprawling conurbations for convenient access to good pizza and theatre venues that use their overwhelming collective political and economic clout to force all of the resource production in the surrounding land for hundreds or thousands of square miles to be sucked into the city and poured down its voracious maw, and who compel the transformation of the countryside to the point that rivers become cesspools flowing down concrete canyons and who have plumbed the Earth through with countless conveniences including leaky conduits for poisonous flammable petroleum products that occasionally explode and take out entire neighborhoods, who are selfishly forcing everyone else to live with the externalities of their actions.

Not the people who live on public-transit-inaccessible patches of land and drink water drawn from their own wells, (except when those wells have been poisoned as a side effect of some industrial operation extracting resources for the distant thronging masses, of course) whose shit runs down into a septic tank to be enzymatically processed right underneath where they live, who eat vegetables out of their own garden irrigated from their aforementioned own well, and who probably will shortly even be self-sufficient for electricity en masse when solar-panels-plus-storage systems hit the right affordability point. And who often live next to great stinking piles of pig shit or cow shit, which can be smelled for miles on a warm summer's day regardless of whether it's an organic farm or an agroindustrial complex, the prevalence of which are another byproduct of the great tentacular networks that drag resources to the gullets of the cities.

Thanks for forcing all the rest of us to use constantly-clogging low-flush toilets because you can't get your shit together recycling your own grey water or responsibly divvying up the fresh water you steal from neighboring communities, by the way.

Two decades from now when I'm being driven down a dirt cow path by an offroad solar-powered driverless golf cart on the way to the public fishing pond in the next town over I will be laughing my ass off reading on a news site how for the fourth time your supposedly-conscientious public transportation system and all of the bicycle lanes I'm supposedly morally deficient for not having in my own community have gotten flooded with seawater that's leaked out of submerged sewage treatment plants due to the global warming which was primarily caused by you and other urbanites: there's a reason why smog usually shows up over cities. Unless you have the misfortune of living somewhere like the Canadian towns over the border from Detroit and get to enjoy all of the downsides of both urban and rural living at the same time, plus enjoy a TSA border search when you need to go into the city for some reason, probably to deliver some food in response to the plaintive oinks of city-dwellers.

And as far as the term "non-car reliant cities": just because you don't use a car for personal transport does not mean that you live in a "non-car reliant city". The delivery vans and trucks that keep all of your consumables and other materiel flowing depend on the same infrastructure as personal automobiles do, as do all of the repair vehicles for your high-density water and energy and waste disposal infrastructures that are bringing in and distributing stuff from elsewhere or taking shit and dumping it in someone else's back yard, and also all of that road infrastructure is absolutely necessary when some crisis occurs and all of the emergency responders or other specialists from the surrounding inferior communities are summoned posthaste to address the needs of the city.

Even on a day-to-day basis, you don't want the paramedics picking you up on bicycles and taking you to the hospital on bicycles. I am a skilled laborer who has spent a great deal of time on the road, usually travelling long-distance to provide services, usually to people in cities, and on rare occasion I have chosen or been forced by bizarre circumstances to take public transportation to get the final few miles to my destination: believe me, on the whole people are not very accepting at all of the delays or other scheduling risks associated with doing that instead of taking a car. So especially if you're an American (or even European, though European delivery and service vehicles are admittedly wee and travel on wee, often-pedestrian-friendly streets and are often alternative-energy-powered) there's a long, long way to go beyond not personally ever travelling via car (if indeed that's really the case) before you can pronounce your city "non-car reliant" and lord that over rural denizens and the residents of other cities.
posted by XMLicious at 11:59 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


> It's people who insist on living in massive sprawling conurbations for convenient access to good pizza and theatre venues that use their overwhelming collective political and economic clout to force all of the resource production in the surrounding land for hundreds or thousands of square miles to be sucked into the city and poured down its voracious maw,

But citydwellers actually use less personal energy than people who live in rural areas. Yes, a few people live off the grid but most do not.

> The delivery vans and trucks that keep all of your consumables and other materiel flowing depend on the same infrastructure as personal automobiles do

Having one delivery van bring enough bread for hundreds of people is much more efficient that those hundreds of people driving themselves.

> Even on a day-to-day basis, you don't want the paramedics picking you up on bicycles and taking you to the hospital on bicycles.

Sure, but people in rural areas use paramedics just as much if not more, and again, the costs of getting them around are greater.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:07 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Okay, what I didn't make clear about watching the drivers eyes. Once the car is moving in a direction, it's going to tend to want to change to where the driver is looking. A driver looking left but turning right turns much less sharply than a driver looking right and turning right.

A driver looking left but driving straight drifts left.
posted by eriko at 5:47 AM on March 14


But citydwellers actually use less personal energy than people who live in rural areas. Yes, a few people live off the grid but most do not.

Can you provide a citation for this? I could believe that for something like metered personal electricity usage, the per capita rate is lower for a city-dweller than for someone like me on average. But personal energy usage? I would think that even for just something like petroleum use in personal automobiles, much more of the consumption is happening in cities and their environs rather than in rural areas. Just in general the expenditure of energy in cities must be many orders of magnitude greater than in rural areas, even only what can be directly attributed to individuals and the products and services they use and the other energy usage their daily activities accrue. Certainly in absolute terms, and maybe even per capita it seems to me; so I'm skeptical.

Of course the non-personal portion of the energy consumption in a city to establish and maintain its residents in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed, which can't be directly correlated to the activities of particular individuals, is way, way greater than for a rural resident and is a convenient thing to leave out of the analysis when we're talking about externalities.

Especially when the claim is that urbanites are the hapless victims of the negative externalities forced upon them by the casual thoughtlessness of the paysans, not the other way around.

Having one delivery van bring enough bread for hundreds of people is much more efficient that those hundreds of people driving themselves.

Even if that's true—which I am also skeptical about, if you consider the orchards of bread-trees that the bread grows on, and all of the other things that are actually going on in the course of transporting and processing the full range of food that people actually eat from farm to table when you calculate "efficiency"—it still isn't valid to declare your city "non-car reliant" if you can't even eat without all of the infrastructure for automobiles remaining in place and without a bunch of other people to be driving sin-eaters for you as they do the driving to bring your food to you and bring in all of the other stuff the city requires to keep going.

(So btw "all consumables and materiel" that get moved into and around a city by road as I'm using it there includes way, way more than just food.)

I also don't think it's quite so obvious that city dwellers are in a great position to look down their noses at me if they take public transportation several times a week to fetch food for a tiny cupboard in a tiny city apartment that's from well outside the city limits, if not from another continent, compared to me driving to a supermarket and completely filling the trunk of my car with more than a month's worth of food, much of which is locally grown. Or locally raised, before it became food, at stinky local farms. When I'm not buying it straight from farm stands or orchards or getting it from my garden or a neighbor's garden, that is.

(And I don't even get really hard-core about buying local, like other people I know in town and around my region, nor am I one of the people who grows food in a home garden or on public garden plots that are provided near the town's offices, and cans or otherwise preserves most of what they and their family eat, because they have to.)

Much less if it's the Emmett-Brown-type guy down the road who takes my used frying oil to power his truck with biodiesel for said trips to the supermarket.

Or, if it's twenty or thirty years in the future and the supermarket or the supermarket's warehouse is sending me all of the stuff I ordered online, still mostly locally-sourced, in a little driverless solar-powered buggy that isn't even expending the energy to transport a human body†, it's just hauling the food itself to my house a few miles from where it was grown. Or maybe it would be multiple buggies, coming straight from the farms, each on delivery routes to multiple households.

† Transporting a human body that weighs much more than the food at the same time on each trip, as would have to occur if my town suddenly became able to build a public transit system for people to travel to the supermarket and then spent however many decades paying off the bonds for that. As long as we're talking about efficiency.

There's a chiding attitude going on here from some people that suggests to me that my community is somehow holding back all the virtuous big city folks and needs to right now get on with solving these problems related to transportation of all sorts in the same half-assed infrastructure-and-population-density-and-political-power-dependent ways that cities have attempted, which seems to me both the product of an unfounded sense of superiority and probably a dumb idea for my community.

Sure, but people in rural areas use paramedics just as much if not more, and again, the costs of getting them around are greater.

Why do you think that? I would expect that for paramedics to get to my house in a few minutes on mostly-traffic-free roads from the volunteer fire station a few miles away up the hill costs less, and is probably much less dangerous in terms of the risk of traffic accidents which this thread is about, compared to achieving the same response time in a dense urban environment.

Even if it were all the same, though, or if it were more expensive in all rural areas or some rural areas, that would not make the city in question any less car-reliant, just because the ambulances that require the massive road and traffic infrastructure to accomplish their time-critical work are by themselves cheaper than in places outside the city.
posted by XMLicious at 5:50 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


XMLicious: "Can you provide a citation for this? I could believe that for something like metered personal electricity usage, the per capita rate is lower for a city-dweller than for someone like me on average. But personal energy usage? I would think that even for just something like petroleum use in personal automobiles, much more of the consumption is happening in cities and their environs rather than in rural areas."

I can provide a little perspective re: gasoline and car use.

Urban consumption is not as high. At least, not individually. For one thing, we don't have as far to drive to get the things we need. I have put a grand total of 3561 miles on my car since September. I fill up once every 3 weeks or so, which costs between $50 and $70, depending on the price of gas. When we decided to lease, one of my biggest concerns was whether we would go over the 12K mileage cutoff -- which actually looks pretty laughable six months later. Car says we're getting currently 19mpg. Which is pretty low, even for city driving. But we're only driving short distances (anywhere from 2 to 15 miles each trip) on mostly local roads, while usually carrying four passengers so it's not surprising.

The EIA's 2001 study says that city dwellers own fewer cars and use less gasoline (it looks like ~400 gallons each annually) compared to our rural counterparts.

My understanding is that NYC's mean temperatures are probably slightly higher than in rural areas, because urban areas are heat islands. So perhaps I use a little less gas or electric to heat my home. Maybe. I'm sure it goes in other ways. We probably have less water consumption than someone with a garden, but that's an uneven trade-off, especially since our place has an older steam-heat system.
posted by zarq at 6:46 AM on March 14


For one thing, we don't have as far to drive to get the things we need.

Today, on my way to work, I took public transportation, because I live in New York City, and can do so. For those who are curious, I took a bus that will dump me straight in Manhattan. My bus was even in the bus lane, a lane just for other public transportation buses!

You may be interested to know that, given that it was rush hour, we moved at a snail's pace. Even though technically, I believe we only traveled 10 miles, a majority of that was probably through a cloud of smog - less, admittedly, than I grew up seeing, but I'm sure the pollution was still up there.

When you have so many people densely packed together, it is impossible to do away with overcrowding and the dangers of vehicle transit, no matter how many cars you try to ban. The problem is the density.
posted by corb at 7:06 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Worth noting that the MTA express bus fleet in the five boroughs is mostly MCI buses in various models, which hold between 49 and 57 passengers. They are diesel. Express buses are also on the road which can carry up to 90 passengers. Some come in from Long Island, NJ and Rockland / Westchester counties in NY.

Nearly 500 local buses in the MTA's fleet are now hybrid electric.
posted by zarq at 7:23 AM on March 14


corb: "When you have so many people densely packed together, it is impossible to do away with overcrowding and the dangers of vehicle transit, no matter how many cars you try to ban. The problem is the density."

corb, I don't know of anyone advocating for "banning" cars, and it's really frustrating that this is where the conversation tends to go when people try to find solutions for the number of pedestrian deaths.

Density is a problem, yes, but automobile density is the problem to be addressed in context of urban transportation. One idea to address this here in NYC is to put tolls on the currently free East River Bridges. This might cut back on the number of single passenger automobiles coming in from Long Island, and alleviating some of that rush hour congestion your bus faces. Do I think it's a perfect idea? I don't love it, on a personal level, because I have a car here in Brooklyn and pay city taxes, and would love to be able to travel freely through Manhattan in order to leave the city. But I still feel that it's worth consideration and study.

Ideally, yes, I would want to make it less attractive to drive, and more attractive to take public transit. This doesn't mean "banning cars" or being "anti-car", it just means that this is a heavily populated area, with many, many pedestrians, and to me, the fewer cars on our streets, the better.
posted by coupdefoudre at 7:24 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


When I was a kid, I loved riding my bike. My dream was to live somewhere where I could bike to work. I live in D.C. I walk a lot but riding a bike terrifies me. A friend who bikes everywhere said that she pretty much gets hit by a car once a year. The few times I have ridden a bike, I've had drivers lay on their horns behind me or similar. Biking would be faster than walking and more convenient than public transportation or driving but it makes me feel scared and stressed out so I rarely do it. Plus I've read too many stories where drivers collided with bicyclists, caused serious injuries to the cyclist and completely got away with it. And the idea of having a kid, then putting both of us on a bike just sounds totally crazy. I feel like it's bullshit that I live and pay taxes in my city but I'm too scared to ride a bike because drivers seem to consider people on bikes as pains in the ass rather than deserving of the same rights as a person driving a car.

I don't own a car in D.C. and I don't need to. I have never owned a car and would prefer to never own a car. I have groceries delivered or I take the bus or metro to the store, then hop in a cab on my way home. I take Uber or Hailo occasionally. When I volunteer somewhere that's a mile from a metro station, I rent a Car2Go and park in the neighborhood. When my husband and I want to go to the beach or Ikea for the day, we get a ZipCar. I don't have kids but I'm prepared to wrangle or wear them on the bus or Metro. Kids and cars are both expensive and I'd rather have a kid than a car so that's that. The money I save from not having a car give me more opportunities than the I would receive from the convenience of having a car. I feel fortunate to be in that position but it wasn't just luck - I specifically chose a place to start my career where I thought that would be a possibility. So far, it has worked out.

My grandparents lived in a rural area. When my grandfather couldn't drive any more because his vision got too bad, he and my grandmother basically became shut-ins. That sucks and I think something about that should change. There seem to be two options - move grandparents closer to an urban area so they can have access to public transportation or be able to leave their house and walk a few blocks to the store or improve public transportation in rural areas. The former seems to be the easier of the two but both ideas have pros and cons.
posted by kat518 at 7:25 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


coupdefoudre: "One idea to address this here in NYC is to put tolls on the currently free East River Bridges. This might cut back on the number of single passenger automobiles coming in from Long Island, and alleviating some of that rush hour congestion your bus faces."

Fares wouldn't be a deterrent to traffic. I doubt they would alter traffic patterns in any way except to cause delays at bridges that can ill-afford traffic jams.

Here's a breakdown of which groups would be affected by tolls at East River Crossings.

The express buses that go to Queens mostly come into the city through the midtown tunnel, which already has a toll. They mostly leave the city over the fare-free 59th Street (Queensborough) Bridge. Late at night, they may again take the Midtown Tunnel depending on traffic. People who want to avoid the midtown tunnel toll take the 59th Street bridge, which for Long Island Expressway travelers means they have to go to the Van Dam Street exit and trail north until they reach the bridge. Which adds time to their commute, assuming they didn't need to go north from the 34th street exit from the Midtown tunnel.

It's easier (and probably faster) for most people to just stay on the LIE and take the tunnel. But right now, the folks who want to save a few bucks probably don't. Add a toll to the 59th Street Bridge and those people won't bother to head north. They'll stay on the LIE and add to tunnel traffic.
posted by zarq at 7:34 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


It's people who insist on living in massive sprawling conurbations ... who are selfishly forcing everyone else to live with the externalities of their actions.

While I share your dismay at the negative environmental impact of massive sprawling conurbations, I think it's a little unfair to sheet home the blame for their nastiness to the individuals who choose to live within them. The only reason huge conurbations are horrible is because they are huge, and the only reason they are huge is because many many people exist.

I live in a village of ~600 people, 25km from a town of ~13,000, which is itself 300km from the ~4,000,000 people who live in the capital city in my state.

It seems to me that 4,000,000 people are going to do 4,000,000 people's worth of damage to the rest of the world regardless of whether they're all living in hundreds of suburbs in a city 100km across or spread out in 300 towns the size of the one I live near. It also seems to me that the hundreds-of-towns option would have to increase, not decrease, the amount of fuel they use and pollution they make.

We all selfishly force everyone else to live with the externalities of our actions. My own personal credo is to try to do that at rather less than the local average rate, but none of us gets a free pass on that score. And in fact I probably did rather better at it for the forty years I lived in the capital city than I am managing to do right now, simply because I did have even less reason to use my little car.
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


I can provide a little perspective re: gasoline and car use.

Thanks for that, zarq.

The EIA study shows even less difference than I expected; if I'm reading it right, the urban data showed that households drove an average of 21,600 miles in a year and the rural data showed an average of 28,700 miles in a year with just barely better gas mileage.

So the question to me, then, is the per-capita portion of all of the other energy expenditure that occurs in a city larger than that gap? I'm just guessing, but it seems like simply the expenditures involved in mining the materials for, processing them, and constructing and maintaining an earthquake-proof ferroconcrete landscape (er, kinda crossing my fingers for you guys there and hoping that the average city is somewhat earthquake-proof in 2014) would more than make up that gap, when set against the per-capita energy costs for the stick-frame timber construction of most of the buildings in my town. Or like, is just supporting one major airport and the services it provides, even split up in per-capita fashion, enough to cover that gap?

It doesn't matter so much, since we're all quite interconnected in our energy use anyways; I'm just skeptical of any certainty that some economy of scale in a city environment makes up for the massive expenditures involved in constructing and maintaining and supplying the city itself, if only because I've never found comprehensive accounting of total energy use in general when I've gone looking before.
posted by XMLicious at 8:18 AM on March 14


XMLicious: "Can you provide a citation for this? I could believe that for something like metered personal electricity usage, the per capita rate is lower for a city-dweller than for someone like me on average. But personal energy usage? I would think that even for just something like petroleum use in personal automobiles, much more of the consumption is happening in cities and their environs rather than in rural areas."

XMdelicious: cities are vastly more efficient for energy use and environmental impact than suburban or rural modes. The first link on any Google search will tell you as much. For instance:link.

Petroleum use is vastly more in rural areas (on non preview, your EPA link says different). Distances are longer and, as many have pointed out, alternatives to car use (often single passenger car use) are few. Most of the food you're packing in your trunk at the supermarket is, not, in fact, locally grown and relies on the same, but somewhat less efficient versions of the infastructure that gets grapes to new York in December. Single family detached houses cost more to heat. Water, waste treatment, garbage disposal are all more efficient and less costly on a per capita basis than in a rural environment.

All of this has moved the discussion a ways from the starting point and FPP as we stated arguinug about the proposition that cars may be dangerous, but there is no alternative to car use. Where we get derailed, I think, is when we (mis)interpret generalizations about the mean case ("most car trips under 3 miles could be done by an alternative mode") to be absolute statements covering evry case ("every car trip under three miles can be made by an alternative mode"). Describing a anecdotal counter example might disprove the latter claim (that nobody is making), but sheds little light on the former. Conversely, some of the statements that sound an awful lot like absolute statements of (im)possibility ("you obviously don't have kids", carrying the apparent, unstated implication "else you'd realize that cars are a required necessity even for trips under three miles"), are actually disproved by a single counter-example (my brother has three kids, going to three separate schools / day care, the parents go to two separate work places, they shop, they recreate, they use a car once or twice a week, mostly on the weekends).

There's a tremendous amont of consensus emerging on this thread. I doubt many dispute that: cars are incredibly convenient; where implementation of alternatives is poor, they are more than just convenient and represent huge gains in time and safety; there are many use cases where there is no reasonable alternative to motor vehicles. But cars are also incredibly dangerous both to their drivers as well as to non drivers. There has been tremendous progress on making cars safer, but they are still dangerous. They also consume huge amounts of resources in their manufacture, use and all the infrastructure that personal vehicle use demands.

Given that, it always amazes me the arguments that a position like "we should be doing more to improve alternatives and reduce car use" provokes (witness Rob Ford banging on about ending the war on cars). The fewer cars on the road, the safer and more pleasant the roadway is for the remaining drivers, why wouldn't you want that? No, not everyone who lives on acreage needs to move into a Manhattan like dense urban setting. But the more people who do, the fewer green spaces and ag land gets paved over by suburbs.

Big potential gains can be found in the middle ground. My brother's family manages to complete 90% of their trips by foot, bike or transit, while still retaining the use of a car for the other 10. I live on a tree-lined street of detached houses, but since the neighborhood was built in 1910, the density is three or four times that of the standard contemporary suburb, and the grid design makes walking, biking and transit easier. We don't all have to live in towers.
posted by bumpkin at 8:30 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Sorry I missed zarq's link. Unless I am misreading it, the gasoline consumption in the rural case is 50% higher. The difference would be even greater if you split out the car intensive suburbs, which gets counted as "urban"
posted by bumpkin at 8:36 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


And, the statistic is for "households with vehicles". Once you get to count the non vehicle owning housholds, the average gasoline consumption would drop (even if its only 10%).
posted by bumpkin at 8:38 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


bumpkin: "Conversely, some of the statements that sound an awful lot like absolute statements of (im)possibility ("you obviously don't have kids", carrying the apparent, unstated implication "else you'd realize that cars are a required necessity even for trips under three miles"), are actually disproved by a single counter-example (my brother has three kids, going to three separate schools / day care, the parents go to two separate work places, they shop, they recreate, they use a car once or twice a week, mostly on the weekends)."

For us, the problem is actually our commute, and that's actually the biggest reason we use our car. My wife and I both work in the city. Financially-speaking, both of us must work. My kids need to be picked up from their after school program no later than 6pm. We have to be in our offices at 9, but can't drop the kids to school before 7:50. The commute is around 60 minutes. For several reasons, our kids can't take a school bus to or from school. This will probably change next year when they switch schools. And they're too young to travel by mass transit on their own. School is 5 miles from our house. So we drive them there every morning, and pick them up from after school (in another building, 7 miles from our house) every evening. We then drive to the nearest mass transit stop, park and board. Time is very tight. Delays due to weather or other problems mean we're either going to be late for work or late picking them up. A delicate balance.

How else can they get to and from school? Cab? You're still using a car, except you're now relying on someone else's time schedule and spending more money. Plus, they're six and putting them in a car alone with someone we don't know well and trust is simply not going to happen. So one of us would still have to go with them, and then not have mass transit within easy walking distance.

It's easy to glibly say, as someone did upthread, "most car trips under 3 miles could be done by an alternative mode." Some can, sure. But no, not all situations are so easily handwaved away. And noting that is not being "anti-car" nor being "unimaginative." It should be acceptable to look at this stuff rationally without freaking out.
posted by zarq at 8:51 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


@XMLicious

Here's one reference showing cities as less energy consumptive:

Analyzing the per capita emissions from 12 major cities in Europe, Asia, North America and South America, the study’s author, David Dodman of the International Institute for Environment and Development — a London-based sustainable development research group financed by a variety of public and private donors — found that per capita emissions from cities were typically smaller than their nation’s averages.

Here's another:

But cars represent only one-third of the gap in carbon emissions between New Yorkers and their suburbanites. The gap in electricity usage between New York City and its suburbs is also about two tons. The gap in emissions from home heating is almost three tons. All told, we estimate a seven-ton difference in carbon emissions between the residents of Manhattan’s urban aeries and the good burghers of Westchester County. Living surrounded by concrete is actually pretty green. Living surrounded by trees is not.

It's rather well understood that the city dweller uses less energy per capita than the rural dweller. And even in your ideal world, with the solar-powered golf cart delivering goods to your door down a cow path, that cart is going to have to travel much farther and put more wear and tear and break down sooner when delivering to people in the country than people in the city, and therefore cost more and have a higher per capita energy use.


In the city, an equal group of twelve families use 10% of the road, wire, and pipe needed in my old neighborhood. Many neighbors bus or bike to work, or at worst, drive single-digit mileages.


@zarq

Toll booths no longer have to slow traffic
posted by GregorWill at 8:54 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


GregorWill: " Toll booths no longer have to slow traffic"

At nearly all NYC crossings where there are tolls, they do. Deliberately.

All bridge and tunnel crossings in the NYC area that have tolls take EZPass. They're set up so that a bar comes down across the lane to prevent you from passing through until your EZPass transponder is registered and your payment is approved. Top speed limit through EZPass toll lanes in the area is between 5 and 10 miles per hour. Go faster, you'll hit the barrier arm and damage your car.

They do this because most of the time, the brdge is narrower than the road feeding into it, or that it feeds into. So to prevent additional traffic due to volume, car/van/truck speeds are carefully managed. The only exception I can think of is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, but traffic from the Belt Parkway and Route 287 is almost always very heavy.

There are traffic lights and through-traffic at both bases of the 59th Street Bridge. You come off the lower level of the bridge into Manhattan and you're at the corner of 2nd avenue and 60th, which has a stop light. It looks like this from the air. A similar light / street combination exists on the Queens side. You cannot board or exit the bridge doing 50mph. If a toll booth were installed, it would have to include similar measures to those used at other crossings to decelerate traffic.
posted by zarq at 9:13 AM on March 14


Ideally, yes, I would want to make it less attractive to drive, and more attractive to take public transit. This doesn't mean "banning cars" or being "anti-car", it just means that this is a heavily populated area, with many, many pedestrians, and to me, the fewer cars on our streets, the better.

I think you'd get more traction by simply talking about making public transit more attractive, rather than talking about making it less attractive to drive - because for those that do need to do so - families dropping off kids for school does come to mind, school buses do not go everywhere or at all times - it amounts to a tax on their often already struggling existence.
posted by corb at 9:14 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


It's easy to glibly say, as someone did upthread, "most car trips under 3 miles could be done by an alternative mode." Some can, sure. But no, not all situations are so easily handwaved away.

It's not about most of your (or anyone's) trips. It's about most trips being taken by everybody over such short distances. And that's a lot closer to true -- the shortest trips tend to be the simplest ones. For every one person that must make 100% of all short trips taking them beyond their front door by car, there may be another that could swap out maybe another 20% of those trips to go by foot/bus/bike, and another that could do 40%, and another that could do 100%.

The "most" was in reference to < 3 mile trips, but you say your daily trips are longer than that, which is true for many people. A lot of us focus on trying to reduce our reliance on cars for these tiny < 3 mile trips because it's a much, much easier problem to address, and therefore a good place to start trying to make changes. Most automobile-related deaths also occur when we're within a fairly short distance from our homes (though of course this is due to more of our driving being there.)
posted by asperity at 9:16 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Zarq: If a toll booth were installed, it would have to include similar measures to those used at every other crossing to decelerate traffic.

I thought your problem with tolling the East River crossings was that tollbooths would increase traffic jams?

Zarq: I doubt they would alter traffic patterns in any way except to cause delays at bridges that can ill-afford traffic jams.
posted by GregorWill at 9:25 AM on March 14


GregorWill: " I thought your problem with tolling the East River crossings was that tollbooths would increase traffic jams?"

The rest of my comments explain why, yes.
posted by zarq at 9:33 AM on March 14


Why would you have to change the design of the bridges or the approach or the exit at all? Just stick cameras on the bridges and send a $5 bill to every car that goes over. Toll booths are no longer necessary for tolling.
posted by GregorWill at 9:38 AM on March 14


If you're referring to something like Florida's SunPass system, I have no idea if it would be feasible.

The other point I was making was that driver behavior is likely to change if there is a toll imposed at a previously free crossing. It seems to me that drivers would then be less likely to avoid a closer crossing.
posted by zarq at 10:02 AM on March 14


I was referring to the Golden Gate bridge, as I linked in my first post on the subject. Drivers no longer have to stop for a toll nor have to have FastTrack(California's version of Easy-Pass). Photos are taken of the license plate and a bill is sent to the registered owner of the car that is $1 more than paying by FastTrack.

As for driver behavior changing due to tolls, the article you linked said that it wouldn't affect driver behavior much as less than 2% of east river crossings are done by daily Brooklynite drivers driving solo and those that are daily Brooklynite drivers already make about $15,000 more a year more than those who aren't daily river crossers. If traffic becomes a problem at the Midtown tunnel, increase the toll there to re-encourage those who previously used the free crossings to go back and pay the $5 there instead of an increased Midtown fare.

Also saying that, "Fares wouldn't be a deterrent to traffic. I doubt they would alter traffic patterns in any way except to cause delays at bridges that can ill-afford traffic jams" seems like a self-contradicting statement. If installing fares at the East River crossings causes some drivers to switch to the midtown, then installing fares will also cause some drivers to rethink their trip altogether. Getting rid of some of the traffic congestion at the East River crossings will be a good thing for residents of the area, as they will breathe in less traffic pollutants. It will also be a good thing for people who live farther away and want to get into Manhattan, as they will have to spend less time stuck in traffic queuing at the bridge or at the toll booths. Especially with the technology now available that eliminates tollbooths, I see no reason not to institute a fare for the East River crossings.
posted by GregorWill at 10:31 AM on March 14


GregorWill: "I was referring to the Golden Gate bridge, as I linked in my first post on the subject. Drivers no longer have to stop for a toll nor have to have FastTrack(California's version of Easy-Pass). Photos are taken of the license plate and a bill is sent to the registered owner of the car that is $1 more than paying by FastTrack. "

Couple of things... I'm pretty sure EZ Pass has a contract with the State to be their sole provider of toll systems. I don't know if they have what you're describing.

I also don't know if it could conceivably be put into place on both bridge levels considering the Qnsboro bridge's current infrastructure. The lower level in particular has a pretty low ceiling. Space between cars in traffic tends to be very tight.

If such a system is possible, then sure, that's one hurdle. But if not, then you're back at square one. It's worth being aware that there is a big difference in the amount of traffic that builds up at the bases of the GG bridge and the Queensborough and where that traffic can feasibly go when a jam occurs. The Queensborough bridge is not fed by a highway on either side, the way the GG bridge is part of 101. The Queensborough bridge connects two urban areas at the street level. This distinction absolutely matters when you're talking about traffic buildup, volume and outlets.

GregorWill: " If traffic becomes a problem at the Midtown tunnel, increase the toll there to re-encourage those who previously used the free crossings to go back and pay the $5 there instead of an increased Midtown fare."

Better yet, why not simply leave things as they are, and not fuck over Queens and Brooklyn residents?

I'm not particularly interested in nitpicking my comments above. If you'd like to pick my comments apart and not address everything I'm saying as a gestalt, that's your business.
posted by zarq at 11:05 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Or more realistically for your attorney to contact the firm owning the truck.

He did. They denied having a truck in the area. The story continues . . .
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:05 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Justinian, re: Safer on a per-trip basis. Less safe on a per-mile basis.

That's completely untrue. Where did you even get that idea?

...the U.S. average fatal automobile fatality rate of 1.5 per 100 million vehicle-miles for 2000...

...The number of deaths per passenger mile on commercial airlines in the United States between 1995 and 2000 is about 3 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles...

Those numbers are from wikipedia. There are many variables, and depending on which you use you might read auto deaths/passenger-mile as high as 10/billion (the 15/billion above is per vehicle mile) or as low as 7/billion. You might read airline deaths/passenger-mile as low as high as 3/billion or as low as 0.7/billion.

In any case this statement: [flying is] Less safe on a per-mile basis. is unequivocally false. Flying is safer per-mile by about an order of magnitude.
posted by lastobelus at 1:38 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


I think you'd get more traction by simply talking about making public transit more attractive, rather than talking about making it less attractive to drive

The problem is that sometimes making transit better necessarily entails inconveniencing some drivers. Things like taking away car lanes and replacing them with dedicated bus lanes, or installing elevated/subterranean/otherwise grade-separated transit pathways, are going to result in some disruption for people who commute by car. And while I'm sympathetic to people who need to drive due to the particulars of their situation, there are struggling people who rely on transit as well as on driving.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:45 PM on March 14


Bumpkin, that link is an opinion piece by an author promoting his book with the same premise. A red flag for me is that he's comparing New York City and Vermont, which are effectively right next to each other; the extent that agriculture in Vermont causes environmental degradation, or environmental effects of flights into Vermont airports or the Vermont tourism industry or cutting down the woods on Vermont mountainsides to construct ski resorts, surely those things are as much or more a part of the environmental degradation caused by New York City as they are a product of the filthy wicked ruralist lifestyle of Vermont residents, right? Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but IIRC the tourism industry is the most significant sector of Vermont's economy and New Yorkers make up a majority of the tourists.

And... he's actually a writer for that city's own paper. So, uh, no big surprise that he's writing books and articles about how great New York City is for the environment, boldly challenging how New Yorkers think about their own city.

Most humans live in cities and city-dwellers love to talk about and hear others talk about how great their cities are just as much as people living in rural areas will find some way to speak fondly of where they live, so I'm not at all surprised that a Google search turns up tons of paeans to the virtues of cities.

I'm also not surprised that GregorWill managed to turn up two links to NYT blogs also praising the environmental wonderfulness of NYC - though the first one does not actually say that cities in general have lower emissions than their national averages, it lists some that have higher ones, but it makes sure to praise NYC for its low emissions. While evidently not counting the emissions from NYC suburbs as having anything to do with the city. And whaddaya know, reading that blog post you'd think that the emissions from the mining and ore processing and cement production that occurs in rural areas to provide feedstock for the construction of the city has nothing to do with it, either! Or the emissions from coal-burning or petroleum-burning power plants in rural areas, none of which I'm sure have anything to do with any city.

In fact, drilling down into the Brookings Institute report linked at the beginning of GregorWill's first NYT blog link, not only is it not actually trying to calculate the total emissions associated with the existence and operation of each city, it does note something interesting - that reductions in overall American emissions during the past several decades as measured this way have partly resulted from manufacturing operations ceasing domestically and moving overseas, particularly to China. And where are the cities that produce more of the specific types of emissions examined per capita within their borders than the surrounding rural regions, as mentioned in the blog post? China.

The second link is kind of astonishing, because it appears to try to actively misrepresent the paper it describes... which was written by the author of the blog post. It's nice in that it actually acknowledges that suburbs are a part of the city/conurbation, and are distinguished from the "central city" in the paper, which is by a pair of economists and lays out a mathematical model relating decisions to move between cities and a few other factors to the ongoing emissions that occur from homes in different parts of the U.S., with the intent of providing guidance for tax policy, with one conclusion evidently being that environmentalists have gotten it all wrong and there shouldn't be any "environmentally inspired land use restrictions".

The blog post author repeatedly describes the paper as being about the "carbon emissions associated with a new home in different parts of the country" though they "didn’t try to take on the far thornier issues related to commercial or industrial energy use." But as far as I can see after skimming through the whole thing, the paper makes no attempt at all to examine the emissions associated with building a new home via any construction method: if I've got it right, within the mathematical model the new homes just appear instantaneously and they're simply trying to accurately estimate what the ongoing carbon emissions would be, again within narrow categories that they've already got handy data on like gasoline use and metered electricity usage.

So the blog post is entitled "The Lorax Was Wrong" and explains how SCIENCE! shows that Dr. Seuss's character was clueless, but the paper and the mathematical model they used actually has nothing to say either way about the emissions effects or other environment consequences of clear-cutting a forest to put in a new suburban development or to construct a skyscraper—constructing a new skyscraper is a really great thing according to the blog post—because they didn't even try to ask any questions about that.

Or about any commercial or industrial emissions or energy use because, y'know, this is just about expanding a city by building new housing developments and new skyscrapers, nothing to do with commerce or industry.

And even in your ideal world, with the solar-powered golf cart delivering goods to your door down a cow path, that cart is going to have to travel much farther and put more wear and tear and break down sooner when delivering to people in the country than people in the city, and therefore cost more and have a higher per capita energy use.

That's in no way my ideal world, it's just what I think is probably going to happen rather than solutions like public transit or "live within biking distance of your job and every other destination you have to reach regularly" that currently service .0001% or whatever of the land area of the country being successfully extended universally across the U.S., as seems to be the dominant sort of proposal. But look at what you did: to make the energy consumption of the city residents come out on top you had to completely ignore all costs related to a city existing in the first place rather than a cow path, ignore the cost of actually transporting the food from the farm to the city, and come up with a scenario where you're isolating and comparing costs related to that one particular vehicle in the chain of farm-to-table transportation delivering food from wherever its starting point in the city is that the food's already been brought to, versus the same vehicle doing the whole thing and bringing it from the farm where it's been grown to a location that's essentially next door to the farm. Out of sight, out of mind... The food instantaneously appears out of nowhere in the city, just like the homes in the economist's model, without any of those pesky complications of reality.

I think that having to personally monitor my own water well and the septic system where all of my household's black water and grey water waste goes, where it gets enzymatically sanitized and seeps straight back down into the water table and my well directly below it, (in the course of years, according to my meager hydrogeological understanding), is an example of the kind of thing that would make the same number of people distributed in rural communities much better about at least some pollution and water and environmental impact issues. And simply not carrying out the mining and processing for all the steel and concrete and glass and other stuff that is necessary to create all those large buildings and other structures that are required for such a high population density would have to make an immense difference in pollution, environment impacts caused by the population, and energy consumption.

I could be wrong - maybe there's some emergent effect as cities develop that counterbalances all of the enormous energy expenditures and environmental consequences I'm seeing in cities but not seeing in rural communities. But this seems to me like some not-very-closely-examined conventional wisdom that probably isn't supported by science and which takes some serious cherrypicking of facts to even articulate.

If there really were some solid consensus among environmental scientists that if a landscape were covered in small rural communities, it would be way better for the environment of the same region if the population was instead all concentrated in a high-density city, then that's exactly the sort of thing that would have appeared in that Brookings Institute report. But it didn't say that, as far as I saw; it just made some carefully circumspect statements about relatively minor differences that correlated to population density for very particular kinds of emissions in particular studies.

I'm not saying cities should be broken down into rural communities or anything like that, there are lots of reasons to have cities that couldn't be replaced in that configuration: I just think that this evidently widely-held belief that people living in dense conurbations is generally super great for the environment and promotes or invariably results in the most efficient total energy usage over a population is probably not true.
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 PM on March 14


The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas, this is what I think will happen too. Car2go etc. already have a strong foothold in cities like Vancouver -- when the economies of automated cars are added, they will probably really take off.
posted by lastobelus at 2:46 PM on March 14


"As usual, unless a driver can be proved to be speeding or drunk or to have deliberately targeted someone, simply saying 'I didn't see the crossing pedestrian', is enough to get off a charge of 'careless driving' - let alone a more serious charge, like dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

"And because the other person involved is dead, we only have the motorist's word that he wasn't speeding and was paying attention, and not changing channels on the radio, fumbling for his coffee or distracted in some other way.

...

"It is hard to build a safe transportation infrastructure for pedestrians when the courts interpret the laws in a way that makes it clear there is no real deterrent for not driving safely around pedestrians."

posted by parudox at 9:06 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Y'all talking about tolls & bridges, google Vancouver's Port Mann bridge. New, tolled, and driver behaviours are changing (ie. toll avoidance).
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I will take the time to read these comments one by one.

Going into this thread, all I know is that 1) my ex almost died in a car accident, 2) I almost died in the same accident, and 3) a few days ago, my nephew died in a car accident. Before that, I was a toddler in a bad car crash with my mother, and somewhere in between, my father was driving alone and his head literally went through the windshield during a crash. We're lucky to be alive, those who are.

My nephew's funeral is tomorrow. He was 21.

I'm disabled such that I might need to get a car again eventually because even walking can be too much work, and biking is out because my knees are bad, but the prospect is terrifying. Coffins on wheels, as someone said.

And now I will go and actually read the thread.
posted by quiet earth at 12:00 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I suffer visual disability. Cataract surgery has really helped, but my eyes never did work together and my vision was abysmal. What is hilarious is it would have been legal for me to drive. I had an eye doctor state on a form intended for SSI state that I could not operate fast moving machinery, but that it would be safe for me to drive.
EXCUSE me! A car *IS* fast moving machinery!
What kind of idiot writes that sort of thing?
I had no business driving and never did so.
I wish other people would be equally rigorous in assessing their abilities.
People die in auto 'accidents' because of drinking and drugs for sure, but they also die because people who should not be driving are driving,
Mr. Roquette and I have witnessed some terrible driving by older people who need to hang up their keys, and idiots on cell-phones.
Our town has been cutting back busses again. More idiots on the road,
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:14 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Quiet Earth, I'm so sorry for your family's loss.


I just learned from Facebook that an old teacher was hit by a car turning right on red without checking the crosswalk at all. The driver saw and didn't even stop. They'll recover, but what, seriously what, will it take for consequences to actually set in for drivers who care not at all about who or what they hurt?
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:39 PM on March 15


There's an interesting look at the most dangerous intersections in Philadelphia here along with some info on NYC's Vision Zero plan. I haven't heard a lot about Vision Zero, but it certainly tackles more of the design aspects.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:21 AM on March 17


what, will it take for consequences to actually set in for drivers who care not at all about who or what they hurt?

Consequences for them, of which there currently aren't any.

I think that's a direct result of driving being viewed as the norm, while anything else — walking, riding a bicycle, whatever — is an aberration.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:28 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Suspicion of drugs or narcotics? Swedish police do not ask permission to search your car: They impound it and have teams of experts go through it.

How bout those apples my liberal friends? Have a Bud lite on the way home from work and some fascist cop forces you to take a blood test and then throws you in jail for 6 months?


Ha! "Fascist." That's adorable.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:42 PM on March 18


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