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July 8, 2010 5:08 AM   Subscribe

What are the things that will help create more Nimble Cities? (This post is heavy with slate-related links.) Slate asks readers to help make transportation in and between cities more efficient, safe, and pleasant. "While we're certainly not opposed to your most forward-looking proposals: Let's fire up Chicago's once sprawling pneumatic tube network; let's not let those zeppelin masts go to waste!--what we're most interested in are things in the here and now, things that are already making (or will soon be making) a difference in your city." Should cities install moving sidewalks? How about eliminating parking spaces or bicycle highways?

Maybe it's free Wi-Fi on interurban buses; maybe it's cycle superhighways; maybe it's a subway display that tells users which cars are most crowded or Seoul's active OLEV (Online Electric Vehicle) project, in which vehicles draw electric power from strips embedded in the road.
posted by Fizz (81 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Moving fucking sidewalks? What, so we can get EVEN FATTER?? Christ.
posted by spicynuts at 5:21 AM on July 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


Here's an idea. Ban cars in city limits.
posted by spicynuts at 5:22 AM on July 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


And Wall-E becoming truth in 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 = FAT!
posted by Fizz at 5:23 AM on July 8, 2010


spicynuts: "Here's an idea. Ban cars in city limits."

I hate to break it to you but lots of people like cars and like driving them and won't go anywhere where they can't. I don't know about your city but banning cars from the shopping districts in my city would kill them in a year. It was tried and failed miserably.
posted by octothorpe at 5:29 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Since it opened I've found the DublinBikes scheme has made quickly getting around hugely easier, it's as if the whole city has been condensed making everywhere reachable in ten minutes. For those of who cycle a lot it gives a nice alternative to lugging your bike around, and I've seen a big increase in the number of people cycling who wouldn't have previously. I found the same thing with the Vélib' program in Paris. So for me public shared bike schemes go a long way to solving the problem of intracity transport.
posted by nfg at 5:33 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate to break it to you but lots of people like cars and like driving them and won't go anywhere where they can't.

And that's why God created suburbs.

I don't think we should ban cars within city limits, but ban private car ownership. The streets should be for buses, taxis, carsharing programs like zipcar, pedestrians and bikes. Removal of on-street parking alone would make the roads remarkably more useful to everyone and increasing the number of buses and routes would also be easier with fewer cars on the road.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:37 AM on July 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Here's an idea. Ban cars in city limits."

This would work, but unfortunately the way that most North American cities have been designed makes this some what infeasible.
posted by Fizz at 5:37 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then here's another idea. Scrap zoning altogether or make some amount of mixed zoning a requirement so that businesses and the places people live can be nearer to each other or even overlap.
posted by symbollocks at 5:45 AM on July 8, 2010 [17 favorites]


Then here's another idea. Scrap zoning altogether or make some amount of mixed zoning a requirement so that businesses and the places people live can be nearer to each other or even overlap.

Seconded.
posted by Fizz at 5:46 AM on July 8, 2010


Cycle lanes, passenger trains, light rail, busses. These are well-tried and tested solutions that are entirely capable of rendering a private car unnecessary in pretty much all circumstances. The problem with transport in the US (he opined having only visited the country a couple of times, admittedly) isn't a shortage of technologies or ways to implement them, or a lack gimmicks (wifi, etc etc). It's poor city planning, road setup and public attitudes creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates a reliance on cars. Even that could be mitigated by moving to saner car technology (i.e. electrics), but that I think the chances of that being pioneered in the US are low.

And moving sidewalks? My god, what a mindboggling boondoggle, dog.
posted by Drexen at 5:48 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]




I don't think we should ban cars within city limits, but ban private car ownership


Yes, this is what I meant. Ban privately owned cars and give the streets to bikes, buses, cabs, streetcars, hovercraft, flying carpets, whatever municipally owned and operated mass transit can be operated.
posted by spicynuts at 5:52 AM on July 8, 2010


Wow, how about instead of reducing freedoms and banning things, instead we try encouraging positive behavior?

More HOV lanes.
Make public transit free for everyone (or at least those under 18).
Make transit passes tax deductible.
Increase the taxes (gasp!) on gasoline.
Reduce parking in congested areas.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:54 AM on July 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Moving fucking sidewalks? What, so we can get EVEN FATTER?? Christ.

If you read the article, they seem mostly interested in what they call middle distance transport - about a mile.

In other words, a more efficient/convenient way of making short bus journeys.

I live in a city where it's 1.2 miles from the bus terminus to the rail station - so if you arrive in the city by train often you'll have to wait for one bus to the bus station, then a second bus to your destination - and with each bus running on a different schedule and some not very often, you can end up with a lot of waiting. Can you walk 1.2 miles? I certainly can, but it takes time - especially with luggage or shopping.

I can see how a high speed moving sidewalk would be good in that situation.

Needless to say, though, any such technology would be in competition with shuttle buses, underground rail, and so on. I don't know what the costs of moving sidewalks would be like.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:55 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]



I hate to break it to you but lots of people like cars and like driving them


So? Lots of people like to smoke. We banned that pretty successfully here in NYC.
posted by spicynuts at 5:56 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Moving fucking sidewalks? What, so we can get EVEN FATTER?? Christ.

> Here's an idea. Ban cars in city limits.


People should be encouraged to bring their axes to the fabulous new nimble cities and grind them continuously!
posted by aught at 5:57 AM on July 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Install a system that bills you each time your car passes certain points, maybe at each intersection. If you drive around the block five times searching for that perfect parking spot, you ought to pay for it five times (maybe more each time) because you're putting five vehicles on that street in a short timespan. If you take your car out five times a day when you could have done that stuff in two trips, you ought to pay for it in traffic fees. Now put some of that money into the pockets of the people who live on the streets you use (actual residents of the streets, not the absent landlords), because you're otherwise lowering the quality of their lives on your way to the shopping center, and put some into public transport for that route (and reflect that extra income in reduced public transport fees on that route). Micropayment calculations are not complicated for the gigantic electronic brains humming deep beneath city hall.

So: carrots for living in the city and not using cars, with especially nice carrots for people who live on busy streets, and sticks for unnecessary driving, with especially large sticks for idiots who will not get out of their cars no matter what, but no actual banning of cars necessary. Just keep sliding the fees up until traffic reaches low enough levels.
posted by pracowity at 5:57 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Needless to say, though, any such technology would be in competition with shuttle buses, underground rail, and so on. I don't know what the costs of moving sidewalks would be like.

Ok, have you seen how often the escalators in any given city are out of service? I wager a bet..you're going to be walking those 1.2 miles on a broken moving sidewalk anyway.
posted by spicynuts at 5:58 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I live in a city where it's 1.2 miles from the bus terminus to the rail station

If there are a great many such transfers, combine the bus terminus and the rail station.
posted by pracowity at 6:05 AM on July 8, 2010



-Tolls on interstate highways in urban areas (ezpass stuff makes this less painful)
-Reduce parking lot requirements for new developments
-Mandate that all major road construction (including major fixes of old roads) add bike lanes.
-Mandate all non-highway new roads get sidewalks.
-Increased gas taxes
-Bike paths/highways along major commuting axis
-Municipal secure and covered bike storage in downtown areas for a small fee.
-Increased car registration fees.

Use the revenues from tolls and gas taxes to help fund mass transit.
posted by ghharr at 6:09 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anything that gets pneumatic tubes and zeppelins moving again, I'm generally for. LET'S DO THIS, PEOPLE.
posted by grubi at 6:12 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Then here's another idea. Scrap zoning altogether or make some amount of mixed zoning a requirement so that businesses and the places people live can be nearer to each other or even overlap.

Am I missing something? Don't most cities already do this? Pretty much every street-level business near me has apartments in the upper floors. The exception seems to be the Financial District (San Francisco), which seems to consist of office towers with sandwich shops and drycleaners at street level. But residential areas are within a few blocks.
posted by rtha at 6:15 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This would work, but unfortunately the way that most North American cities have been designed makes this some what infeasible.

Absolutely, most of these measures can't easily be retrofitted to low density cities. Countries like The Netherlands that have outstanding bike paths and public transit have been planned that way for the past 100 years or so. Every form of transport has a range of population densities and average trip distances for which it will work.

If the average population density is too low, it won't make economic sense to put in a bus network.
posted by atrazine at 6:21 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


rtha - in my experience businesses with apartments over them are the exception rather than the rule in most of the US outside of the biggest cities. Especially in newer developments.
posted by ghharr at 6:22 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Make public transportation in cities clean, efficient, plentiful and cheap. Encourage private shuttles to office buildings and shopping centers. There's no need to further penalize the use of cars, especially in a city like San Francisco. If the buses ran more often, if it were at all likely to get a seat, if they were cleaner and less crime-ridden, you'd see a huge increase in ridership.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:31 AM on July 8, 2010


About zoning: the state ought to consider where each proposed business should be located. You're going to employ X people making an average of Y dollars. Where are your employees going to live and how are they going to pay for it? How are your customers going to get to your business? How are materials going to come in and products go out? Or, to put it another way, where are you going to put your business so that your future employees and customers and suppliers and distributors can get there at minimal cost and effort, and with minimal damage to the (natural and human) environment? If your employees are likely to be coming in from X and Y every day, maybe you need to build there, and maybe it needs to be on a bus or train line.
posted by pracowity at 6:32 AM on July 8, 2010


Am I missing something? Don't most cities already do this? Pretty much every street-level business near me has apartments in the upper floors. The exception seems to be the Financial District (San Francisco), which seems to consist of office towers with sandwich shops and drycleaners at street level. But residential areas are within a few blocks.

The problem is that a lot of cities, and most suburbs, actually prohibit this kind of density for new construction; often parking spaces are required; etc. It's actually not legal to build the kind of dense, reduced-car environments that make certain older, coastal cities so desirable to some of us.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:38 AM on July 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


The problem is that a lot of cities, and most suburbs, actually prohibit this kind of density for new construction; often parking spaces are required; etc.

Man, that's dumb. SF does something similar for new housing construction - mandates X number of car spaces per unit - but also (often? always? unsure about this) mandates or encourages retail and other business space on the ground/lower-lever floors of new residential buildings. I'm realizing that my cities-are-like-this experience is limited pretty solely to older, densely populated coastal cities (and Chicago). Suburbs, yeah, I knew about that, and that tendency is incredibly unappealing to me.
posted by rtha at 6:45 AM on July 8, 2010


bike lanes, bike lanes, bike lanes, bike lanes.
posted by LN at 6:47 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm in the process of getting my MCP focusing on transportation.

I keep going to the Slate Nimble Cities thing and then hiding my eyes, and then reading it again, and then hiding my eyes.

Oh god. It's so exhausting. Imagine you're a doctor and Slate has a feature that asks for novel ideas on how to cure cancer.

Transportation planning is a real field that has real principles and real rules and real people go to school for it and work in it and are experts in it! Yes, laypeople can have fantastic ideas, and often do, but oh my god. Moving sidewalks. Individual people-moving pods. I lost it when someone wanted more lanes on the highway and I had to create an account and write about induced demand. And then decided not to read it anymore.
posted by millipede at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


This idea is boring versus pneumatic tubes and zeppelins, but I have always thought encouraging more shared taxi / van / shuttle service would be really helpful in reducing car traffic.

For example, I live in Brooklyn, on the edge of Flatbush, just far enough away from Manhattan that its a bit annoying to rely on mass transit. I do, its not impossible, but the fact of the matter is lots of neighbors have cars, and parking sucks. But, there are these amazing legal - and semi-legal - vans (dollar vans) that rip through the main thoroughfare, and if you want a ride, you flag it down. And usually, when you get in, there are about six other people riding with you. There is also a very crappy bus line that runs, super slowly up Flatbush Avenue, about as fast as a slow bike rider and stops every two seconds, and sometimes nary a bus shows for 20 minutes.

But, the "dollar vans" are always there. Its not a perfect system - the drivers are insane and a lot of them are unliscensed, as I don't really know the system all I can do is ride it up and down one avenue - but, with some encouragement, it seems so promising as mass transit system: its totally cheap (last guy took 1.50 from me), comfortable, fast (don't have to wait 15 minutes at each stop for loading and unloading), and almost always available (you don't have to call ahead or know the schedule).

I know that in many other places shared van / taxis are used with regularity (dollar vans are Carribean run and used in BK, mostly), and I think with some adjustment for US cultural norms and expectations, this could be tremendously helpful.
posted by RajahKing at 6:56 AM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


its totally cheap (last guy took 1.50 from me), comfortable, fast (don't have to wait 15 minutes at each stop for loading and unloading), and almost always available (you don't have to call ahead or know the schedule).

And dangerous. And uninsured. If it were run as a legal business, it would cost a bit more, don't you think?

But it's an interesting model. Could you run a real (legal) service like that? Random vans that race down the street and don't stop unless you flag them down?

I'd like to see a phone system that you could use to send a bat signal indicating (with GPS) where you are and (with a touchscreen map on your iPad-like gizmo) where you are going. Send your message to one place. Wait for offers to come in. ([city bus, 20 minutes to pickup, 40 minutes to delivery + 5-minute walk, X dollars], [taxi, 5 minutes to pickup, 20 minutes to delivery, Y dollars], etc.) Select the offer you like best and wait.
posted by pracowity at 7:24 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I lost it when someone wanted more lanes on the highway and I had to create an account and write about induced demand. And then decided not to read it anymore.

There might not be room to build addition horizontal lanes, which is why I think we need additional vertical lanes to handle the obviously-high demand.
posted by Mike1024 at 7:31 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could you run a real (legal) service like that? Random vans that race down the street and don't stop unless you flag them down?

I've seen a service very similar to this. They are called Taxis.
posted by mbatch at 7:44 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll skip creating a Slate account and just put my vote in here for ziplines.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:45 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've seen a service very similar to this. They are called Taxis.

Except Taxis generally aren't made to take groups that aren't all going to the same place, and they take you to a specific destination. My response would be:

So it's basically an unlicensed, uninsured, unofficial bus line.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:50 AM on July 8, 2010


I'd like to see the creation of Ninja Cities; they sneak into your town in the dead of night and all of a sudden you've got great coffee and bookstores, and you never even saw them arrive or leave, THERE COULD BE A NINJA CITY RIGHT NEXT TO YOU RIGHT NOW AND YOU WOULDN'T EVEN KNOW IT MAN.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:56 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd support some moving sidewalk plan that totally removed motor vehicles along the route.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:05 AM on July 8, 2010


So it's basically an unlicensed, uninsured, unofficial bus line.

Having seen these in Egypt, where they are both legal and ubiquitous, I'd say the mini-bus line is the better analogy. They seem to work reasonably well and are certainly a lot cheaper than taxis, and faster than buses (with a much greater variety of routes).
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:12 AM on July 8, 2010



And dangerous. And uninsured. If it were run as a legal business, it would cost a bit more, don't you think?

But it's an interesting model. Could you run a real (legal) service like that? Random vans that race down the street and don't stop unless you flag them down?


Sorry if it wasn't clear from my original post - most of them are legal, liscensed, and insured. The problem is that there are many other vans that do it illegally.
posted by RajahKing at 8:13 AM on July 8, 2010



There might not be room to build addition horizontal lanes, which is why I think we need additional vertical lanes to handle the obviously-high demand.


Hi. Except it's not about room. It's about induced demand. More lanes = more people driving. Adding lanes to a congested highway is like, if you're obese, buying a bigger belt instead of going on a diet.
posted by millipede at 8:14 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm awful at finding articles I've read before, but there was a story - might have been on NPR - concerning a city in Connecticut with a parking problem. They tried to reduce the number of parking spots available to encourage public transit use, people complained They then increased the amount to a higher level than before the decrease, and the parking problem got worse. Available parking begets more cars begets more parking, and it's a downward spiral from there.

I feel like Boston is a great model for building "nimble cities", since the core of it was built well before anyone considered driving massive numbers of cars through it. Granted, it's not perfect - the MBTA has some serious problems and the buses tend to suck - but it's generally recognized around here that only the seriously deranged attempt to drive downtown. Narrow, twisting streets, a confusing layout, and expensive off-street parking (with very limited on-street parking) really force people to find alternate means of transportation. I think if they added a congestion charge ala London to the downtown area, they could pay off some of the MBTA's massive debt and revamp the bus lines.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:20 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two words:

Seg. Way.
posted by Mister_A at 8:24 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I vote for:

* Clean, free (or very cheap), frequent and well-policed public transportation - buses, light rail, minibuses. Should run very early and very late (eg, at least until the bars close). All such transportation should be GPS-equipped so that you can find the nearest one to you via smartphone.

* Where possible, bus stops should actually have benches, a roof, emergency phone, and a dynamic display of when the next bus will be arriving.

* Where not free, transit systems should accept mutiple forms of payment - transfers, cash, debit cards, transit multipasses, etc. And for cash, make change!

* Dedicated bike 'freeways' between towns is doubleplusgood. I remember some years ago in the vicinity of Stuttgart Germany - there were bike/hike paths between many of the small towns, and they were well used. And speaking of bike/hike rhyming - stop it with the rails-trails conversions! More trains instead!

* Bike lanes in existing cities can be problematic. Even in a bicycle-friendly town like Davis, California , I'm routinely worried about getting doored in parallel parking streets, and having a small car hidden by a big car back out over me in diagonal parking areas. No-parking streets help, but not appropriate for most areas of a city.

Ok, have to go to work now (on bike).
posted by foonly at 9:01 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


NextBus type tracking for transit, more bike lanes for the 8-80 crowd, encourage human life instead of spaces that empty out after 5pm.

I'm sitting here at my desk on a work call watching the NextBus count down to the next 3 buses that run by my apartment. No more (besides the normal MUNI complaints) annoyance at sitting waiting for the bus. I know if I get on the bus it takes me 25 minutes door to door pretty consistently (and I can read my book). If I take my bike, its a few minutes quicker.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:06 AM on July 8, 2010


"Two words:

Seg. Way."


I think you mean "seeg."
posted by Eideteker at 9:08 AM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


* Where not free, transit systems should accept mutiple forms of payment - transfers, cash, debit cards, transit multipasses, etc. And for cash, make change!

Have to disagree with you on this one (at least for buses). The benefits are outweighed by the added time cost of forcing the driver to process payments. London buses have massive incentives to use travel cards rather than cash (cash trips cost almost double). As a result, people get onto buses much faster, so the overall trip time is shorter. It's great.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:11 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


(dollar vans are Carribean run and used in BK, mostly)

Also certain streets in Queens. There are a lot of dollar vans in Queens, mostly on Jamaica Av. They're essential for people reliant on mass transport who need to go a little distance for a subway (like me!)
posted by Michael Pemulis at 9:13 AM on July 8, 2010


Does Melbourne (Australia) qualify? They seems to be cutting down on roads even as the population explodes. Burke St is pedestrian+tram only, and Swanston (arguably the busiest one) will be pedestrian+tram only in the future (?). Many roads in the city are one lane, or even one way only. I like how pedestrians are given lots of priority when crossing streets, and the general ease of public transport, where one ticket allows basically unlimited travel on the network of buses, trams, and trains, even though they are operated by different companies. Not that it doesn't have its faults, but what system is perfect...

Then again this is a city where a car spot costs $65,000 and the first tax bracket is 30% so...

I think cars are an awful invention. It's only because energy is so cheap that we don't realise how inefficient they are. I'll provide a funny (and inaccurate + unfair analogy) - A car weighs 20 times as much as the person it's carrying.

(imagine a cup that weighed 1 kilogram that could only hold 50 grams of drink)

And you basically "lose" all the energy you put into moving yourself forward whenever you stop at a stop sign or traffic light. Multiple times in a journey.

(imagine that this 1 kilogram cup spilled all its contents several times in its journey from the kitchen to your lips and needed refilling each time)

The weight - contents ratio of trams / trains is better, and they don't start/stop quite as many times and so they're much better from an efficiency standpoint. I still have my dreams of a network of "sky-walkalators" in the inner city linked by a good network of trains / trams / buses funded by local land rates (live in an area with more public transport = pay more = don't like it, move somewhere with less and use a car)
posted by xdvesper at 9:20 AM on July 8, 2010


Melbourne would be a good example if the public transport wasn't so damn expensive. For the same price as a tram to work I can drive and pay the parking fees.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 9:42 AM on July 8, 2010


All a city really needs is to make bike and bus capacity massive so bikes and buses become as plentiful as running water. Make every other street a bus-only or bicycle-only street, so that it's always smarter (faster, cheaper, and safer) to take the bus or ride your bike. The biggest fee drivers would pay would be having to crawl along in their cars in automotive traffic jams while bicyclists and buses blew past them at intersecting streets.
posted by pracowity at 9:43 AM on July 8, 2010


By the way, my favorite mode of transportation is hobby horse. Vibrating hobby horse.
posted by pracowity at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


elevated bicycle-only roadways

The 2 main problems with cities is that roads were designed for cars and sidewalks were designed for pedestrians, and bike lanes are afterthought add-ons that severely limit the number of bikes that can safely use the same transportation. Here in Las Vegas, down on the Las Vegas strip, they made these elevated crossing bridges, because pedestrian traffic at the intersections was horrendous for traffic, with tourists jaywalking and causing accidents pretty much on a daily basis. Now, all pedestrian traffic is completely isolated from these intersections and you can walk from one end of the strip nearly to the other without ever having to wait for the light or crosswalk signal. If they were to do something similar for bike traffic, I'd ride my bike everywhere here. It would make it actually worth my time to ride my bike rather than drive if I had full right of way and didn't have to worry about being smooshed by the asshole in his Hummer who has a hate for anything that threatens his manly anti-ecological views (hence his driving a Hummer, and running bicyclists off the road).

Also, you could pave them with that weird spongy playground safety matting stuff they've been putting in. It's kind of springy so cyclists can't go all tour-de-france speeding on them, and if you do have a spill, you bounce instead of splatting and skidding all over the place.
posted by daq at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2010


* Where not free, transit systems should accept mutiple forms of payment - transfers, cash, debit cards, transit multipasses, etc. And for cash, make change!

Have to disagree with you on this one (at least for buses). The benefits are outweighed by the added time cost of forcing the driver to process payments. London buses have massive incentives to use travel cards rather than cash (cash trips cost almost double). As a result, people get onto buses much faster, so the overall trip time is shorter. It's great.

- posted by Infinite Jest at 9:11 AM on July 8 [+] [!]


Aah, good point. Well then, transit pass machines (that give change and accept debit/credit cards) in as many places as possible. And where there are many transit systems in close proximity (eg, the San Francisco Bay Area), have them all accept the same pass.

And, have sufficient capacity and racking to carry your bike on the bus/light rail.

And secure bike lockers at major stations/transfer points.

And monorails to our VTOL parking.
posted by foonly at 10:21 AM on July 8, 2010


Vibrating hobby horse.

This vibrating hobby horse, it... uh... oh, never mind.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:25 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, we had this almost all figured out before the car came along: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_streetcar_scandal?wasRedirected=true
posted by Skwirl at 10:32 AM on July 8, 2010


Why the car hate? My life became about a lot more interesting when I got a car and I live in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. I want to drive the world... I find bikes and most forms public transport soulcrushingly dull.
posted by eeeeeez at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


because cars are directly and indirectly responsible for nearly all of the biggest energy and population growth management problems we face today. and under the law, driving isn't even a right.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jeepneys for all!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:22 AM on July 8, 2010


Why the car hate?

Car hate on metafilter, like virulent antipathy to religion, comes almost entirely from Americans. This is a natural dialectical reaction because cars and God are worshiped by mainstream American culture. I'm Dutch, I ride my bike virtually everywhere, and I don't really have any strong feelings one way or the other about cars. This is because in my country my "side" has already won.
posted by atrazine at 11:24 AM on July 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why the car hate? My life became about a lot more interesting when I got a car and I live in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. I want to drive the world... I find bikes and most forms public transport soulcrushingly dull.

My life became about a lot more interesting when I stopped driving my car much. I hate driving; I find being stuck in rush hour traffic jams to be the most soulcrushingly frustrating maddening thing imaginable. I love riding my bike, I find it far more interesting than when I'm stuck inside my pollution-spewing metal death-box, and public transportation is awesome because I can do almost anything I want instead of having to be alert to the road and all the other metal death-boxes on it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:33 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's one aspect of the urban-suburban transportation paradigm.

By having "one-stop-shopping" in enormous stores, retailers like Wal-Mart design their physical stores to handle an enormous scale of variety and quantity. Of course, this brings an enormous scale of variety and quantity of shoppers. Then they have to have enormous parking lots to handle the quantity of shoppers. The streets have to be designed to handle the quantity of vehicles in the

Naturally, part of the big-box retail business model is controlling distribution costs. What Wal-Mart and others have done is really just to plaster a storefront onto a distribution nexus.

This isn't bad in and of itself. But what they have done is to transfer their distribution costs onto consumers. Small mom-and-pop markets a block or two away from your house will almost always have higher costs per unit than Wal-Mart. It's not always about volume.

The next time you think about getting in your car to go buy groceries or sporting goods, consider the fact that the cost of going to WalMart may not be as big a savings as you think. Gasoline is obviously a factor, but time, and the cost of your insurance risk as well. Factor in that it would do you some good to take a five minute walk down the block to the market, and there's a tangible benefit right there.

The problem, as some have posted here, is that conventional planning models have made this impossible. Since WWII, planners have drawn colored blobs on maps, and labelled them "industrial", "commercial", and "residential" (leaving the actual design of those spaces to the developers, btw). But this oversimplified two dimensional model excludes the corner market and small commercial from the fabric of the local neighborhood. Ever wonder why modern suburbs are often sterile, but older neighborhoods seem to be so much more alive?

Also, the connectivity between the blobs has been limited to "arterial" and "collector" streets, with no fine grain connectivity between areas. This forces traffic onto the collectors, and suddenly you have a ton of traffic. It's one of the reasons Americans are becoming obese. Kids can't walk over to their friend's house, who might live a quarter mile away in another development. Mom has to take them in the car, drive up the residential streets, onto the collector, down the way, onto another collector, and then down again into residential scale. It's expensive, wasteful, time-consuming, and reduces our caloric output.

New Urbanists seek to address issues like this. Designing developments, or at a planning level, requiring developments, to incorporate neighborhood markets at walkable scales is a good step towards making our living environments better, more vital, and healthier.
posted by Xoebe at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


Melbourne would be a good example if the public transport wasn't so damn expensive. For the same price as a tram to work I can drive and pay the parking fees.

Well, that and pay for buying and maintaining a car. The average total cost of car ownership in Australia is something like 150 to 250 dollars a week.
posted by pracowity at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about a bus system in which customers register their commutes, and some (not-yet-invented) computer program optimizes bus routes and charges each customer a monthly fee for his or her ride to work? This wouldn't do much for urban folks who already have bus access of course, but it could help get the legions of middle-class folks who live in one suburb and commute to another to stop solo commuting.
posted by miyabo at 1:43 PM on July 8, 2010


Melbourne would be a good example if the public transport wasn't so damn expensive. For the same price as a tram to work I can drive and pay the parking fees.
Well, that and pay for buying and maintaining a car. The average total cost of car ownership in Australia is something like 150 to 250 dollars a week.

Well, that PDF gives prices based on buying a brand new car - which is known to be very expensive. Taking the first line as an example, half the weekly cost is on things like depreciation and loan interest. I think most people don't have expensive new cars, and hence they're paying a lot less. I know I am paying much, much less than that.

The PDF's first line estimates a running cost of $0.11 per km for fuel, tyres, and maintenance. Assume, for a second, that I can't get rid of my car all together - but I'm considering taking the bus for the 5 km trip from my home to my workplace. I have to pay the fixed costs of vehicle ownership irrespective of how much I drive it - so if I avoid driving a 10 km round trip, I only save $1.10.

The bus from my house to my workplace costs about $5 for a return ticket. In other words, taking the bus would cost me $3.90 more.

The only way you'd save money taking the bus is if you got rid of your car all together. Or if parking cost about $4.

Personally I cycle to work - cost: $0
posted by Mike1024 at 1:48 PM on July 8, 2010


There might not be room to build addition horizontal lanes, which is why I think we need additional vertical lanes to handle the obviously-high demand.
Hi. Except it's not about room. It's about induced demand. More lanes = more people driving. Adding lanes to a congested highway is like, if you're obese, buying a bigger belt instead of going on a diet.

So you think it would be better if the additional vertical lanes were restricted to fuel-efficient vehicles like motorbikes, and high occupancy vehicles like cars with two occupants one of whom is a lion?
posted by Mike1024 at 1:58 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only way you'd save money taking the bus is if you got rid of your car all together. Or if parking cost about $4.

Well, I was talking about getting rid of the car, not parking it at home and riding the bus.

But also, now that you mention it, parking needs to cost something significant or there's no reason not to drive in and park your car downtown all day.
posted by pracowity at 2:31 PM on July 8, 2010


The anti-car crowd has a lot in common with the anti-drug crowd. The car gets pictured as a social menace, an ecological disaster, and a destroyer of moral fibre in those who use it. The evidence for those claims is tenuous and highly subjective, but they do resonate on some level, and this tension sustains an powerful reverberation that culminates in something close to reefer madness hysterics ("metal death box"? wow). For me, I just enjoy it.
posted by eeeeeez at 3:00 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


If your city isn't incredibly hilly, the easiest solution is eliminating street parking in favor of tax stands, bus stops, and rental bikes, which rock btw. You might also ban private cars inside the city while granting an exception for small electric vehicles.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:03 PM on July 8, 2010


I just came from the "Death of Suburbia" thread, but there does seem to be a hysteria about car use. Many places, jobs, cities, and population densities work well with car use. Yes, we should make better bike lanes, work on mass transit where it's feasible, and promote walking, but that's not the same as, "ban all cars within city limits" which would be awful. Sometimes I like to pick up dry cleaning. Sometimes I take a nap in my car during lunch break. Sometimes I go to dinner with friends. Sometimes I don't live in the center of town (I know, what was I thinking?). I would love everyone to get to use the transportation means most suitable to their surroundings.

Anyway, not every city is made for this anti-car hysteria. You might live in one of those cities, but that doesn't mean I do.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:12 PM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem is getting people to think in a collective way vs. an individual way. People are generally not willing to make sacrifices unless they perceive some short-term gain. There is no short-term gain in giving up a car for anyone I know. For my husband, it would mean having to quit his job and potentially be unemployed for months. As for me, I'm unemployed already, but I'm underwater on the loan and would have to pay several thousand dollars to get rid of the car. One sister could theoretically take transit to work, but it'd take her at least an hour and a half each way, time that she could be spending with her kids. Plus, she'd be riding alone through the worst area of town. Another sister is in basically the same situation; she'd have a 2 hour commute. They can't easily move OR change jobs because the housing and employment market both suck. Driving is a part of their husbands' jobs, so they'd need at least one car anyway. I could go on and on. I don't know one person here who could give up a car without a serious impact on their quality of life.

Not owning a car is both a luxury and a curse here. If you're rich or work downtown, great, you can live downtown and walk everywhere. If you're poor and/or work in the suburbs, oh well, it's 2 hours on the bus for you. It takes a series of incremental changes and a respect for the fact that it's unrealistic to expect everyone to bike or take the bus to work. We need car owners on the side of mass transit even if they're not going to use it, because (through taxes) they will also be paying for it. Pointing fingers and shaming people without respect to their situation is a non-starter.
posted by desjardins at 3:23 PM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


P.S. I do not live in the suburbs.
posted by desjardins at 3:24 PM on July 8, 2010


This and this. You may like your cars, but they don't like you.
posted by greytape at 3:36 PM on July 8, 2010


No more pollution, no more car exhaust -- or ocean dumpage! From now on, we will travel in tubes!
posted by Copronymus at 3:41 PM on July 8, 2010


I live in Tokyo and I haven't driven regularly (like I did in the U.S.) for over 5 years. Sometimes I miss driving and the freedom of doing your own thing, but for the most part I don't think about it. I gain the freedom of reading and writing and doing whatever on my train commute, something you can't do in a car. Anyway, both cars and public transport have their pros and cons, and I don't want to start a list here.

Here the Japanese government doesn't want you to have a car. This is tricky for Honda and Nissan, who do want people to have a car. So they've set up a weird system in which the govt will place high taxes on older cars. If you buy a new car, you don't have to pay any taxes or fees on it (or at least it's very little), but if you buy an older car, say 5 or 10 years old, you can expect to pay through the nose, every year, with the amount increasing every year.

Once a Japanese friend wanted to sell her car, and asked me if I was interested. The car was a bit small, but very sporty (a Mazda Miata, I believe) and only about 60,000 km--that's km, not miles. To a Japanese person, that's really high, erm, kilometerage, and she only wanted about a thousand dollars U.S. for it. I was floored. Hell yeah, I'll take it, I thought, but when I investigated and found out the tax I'd have to pay, the insurance--even mere weekend insurance--inspection fees, parking fees--which in Tokyo are easily $200-$500 a month and up--I decided I couldn't get it. The price of the car itself was nothing, but the taxes every year were double that. But that's fine, it's the train and the bike for me.
posted by zardoz at 6:29 PM on July 8, 2010


My work shift is from 6 to 3. I live about three miles from the nearest bus line - which runs about on the half-hour. I'd have to take that to a transfer station, then wait an indefinite period of time to catch a bus that gets me CLOSE to where I work - and then hoof it an extra half-mile. Call it about an hour and a half at best, walking about 3.5 miles in the dark. Admittedly, after a few months of walking 7 miles a day I'd be in better shape...

But my morning drive takes about 20 minutes. As desjardins says - there has to be a gain, and there isn't. The negatives severely outweigh any potential savings. If I drive to the bus line, I might as well keep going to work.

If I were working downtown, it'd require a second transfer to get on the train system - which isn't terrible but they've been cutting back on the frequency of the trains because the ridership isn't there. Which means what few trains there are tend to be quite crowded. Which discourages ridership... so you're stuck in a negative feedback loop.

In a high-density area, mass transit works. But the density has to be above a certain level - otherwise the costs of running the system outpace any gain you'd get from reduction in cars and such, and you won't get enough bodies to pay for the system. And someone ALWAYS has to pay for the system.

As far as WalMart goes - you get a lot of people into an area, you've got to provide them with a lot of goods. Small, singular mom&pop places don't have the capacity. There isn't any market within five minutes walk where I live, or drive for that matter. It's about 10 minutes to the nearest grocery store, and 20 minutes to WalMart.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It'd be nice if there were, but short of Niven's stepping disks, we're not going to see one.
posted by JB71 at 8:53 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's an idea. Ban cars in city limits.
How about banning the combustion engine within city limits? That might actually be do-able. If all the cars were electric, the city would smell nicer and be a lot less noisy. And I think within city limits is where electric cars work best. Win win.

Why the car hate? Seriously, eeeeeez, they are a menace, an ecological disaster, and a destroyer of those who use them, and also those who are simply around them. And the evidence for those claims is not at all tenuous or subjective. But don't feel bad simply because you haven't noticed how many teenagers in the US die each year. Or that 30 or 40 thousand people die in automobile related injuries every year.

What atrazine and Tomorrowful and greytape said. America's "love affair" with the car is an abusive relationship. We need an intervention.
posted by fartknocker at 10:07 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


It takes a series of incremental changes and a respect for the fact that it's unrealistic to expect everyone to bike or take the bus to work. [...] Pointing fingers and shaming people without respect to their situation is a non-starter.

Social pressure can work, depending on who you're trying to change. Older people generally don't change. They made their choices a long time ago and they will mostly live with those choices until they die. If they moved out to the suburbs to start a family, they will generally die there, still depending on two or three cars to do anything, still driving out to the big-box stores for deals on cheese, still putting Roundup on the lawn, etc.

The best plan is to stop it in the young. When you buy your home or choose your apartment, you have to decide whether you are going to be locked in to car ownership or not. When you decide that you are not going to be forced to drive everywhere and not forced to pay for two or three cars, but that you are going to live where you can walk to shops and buses and trains, your life has more options.

If enough younger people start out that way, year by year they will push through systemic changes ("Why are there no buses out this way?" and "Why can't my children ride their bikes to school safely?" and "No, we want a park here, not a parking lot." etc.) that will benefit those creaky, cranky older people whether they want to be benefited or not. Which is cool, because old people (and that means you, eventually) should not be forced to become that tiny old woman or man peeking above the dashboard and crawling along at 20 mph behind the wheel of the oversized sedan in front of you.
posted by pracowity at 11:43 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


If enough younger people start out that way, year by year they will push through systemic changes

I question the realism of this concept -- people make choices based upon feasibility. At the beginning of their career, particularly during a recession, people are going to choose the first job that they can find and the cheapest housing that they can find. Even in major cities (especially in major cities -- and doubly-so in older cities) these are not going to be close together.

Inexpensive housing also isn't the only consideration -- there's also safety. I work for a social service agency in an impoverished (and violent / crime-ridden) community. I live a twenty minute drive from work. I could live closer, but I choose not to do so for reasons of safety. I similarly choose to drive rather than use public transit because my commute would double and, frankly, decrease substantially in safety. An attempt to restrict car usage in cities could drive away (ha!) large numbers of people from working in the communities that need them.

Cleaner and more reliable mass transit, combined with more isolated bike lanes, could solve some problems, but these will never replace the automobile. It's appealing to claim that we should all abandon driving to "big box" stores and shop at the corner bodega, but I'd rather not overpay for a tiny selection of rotten fruit. In very real terms, regardless of the incremental gasoline cost, customers are going to go to the place with the best variety and the lowest prices -- even if that requires driving. More importantly, by being able to drive their they can stock up and make fewer trips, reducing the impact.
posted by nayrb5 at 5:44 AM on July 9, 2010


It's appealing to claim that we should all abandon driving to "big box" stores and shop at the corner bodega, but I'd rather not overpay for a tiny selection of rotten fruit.

Related to this point is my previous FPP, You have to be rich to be poor.

A major confounding factor in Milwaukee - the most racially segregated metro area in the US - is the perception that mass transit is for (black/latino) poor people. This is one of the reasons that every light rail effort has failed; some suburban residents did not want to pay taxes for something that would enable "strangers" to come to their communities.
posted by desjardins at 8:47 AM on July 9, 2010


The Economist had an interesting column recently on Asian urbanization:
As for the superblocks that exemplify China’s urbanisation, a dozen new ones are built every day. Yet their conceptual design is flawed, however many low-energy light bulbs they boast. They get built after the city government lays out a system of arterial roads. State utility companies put down power, water and sewage mains. Developers bid for the rights to build blocks with specified numbers of housing units, schools, offices, shops, green space and so on. The developer throws up the block and plugs it into the centralised utilities grid. Presto, people move in.

Yet such hyper-development has unwelcome consequences. Not least, as Harrison Fraker, an architect at the University of California at Berkeley, argues, superblocks in effect become gated communities of privilege.

... Gated blocks with a single entrance force not just residents to abandon cycling or walking for the motor car whenever they need to go anywhere. Outsiders, too, face a vast, fenced obstacle in the way of where they want to go. Congestion, pollution and traffic accidents rise. Time to build a fourth ring road.

Mr Fraker and his team devised a different approach for Tianjin in north China [part one, part two], by thinking of the development as a whole system in which high-density neighbourhoods would generate nearly all their energy and water needs. First, "greenways" were marked out that gave pedestrians and cyclists a way to get to the nearest mass-transit station without being run down or choked. Meanwhile, good use of sunlight, shading and ventilation would cut heating and cooling loads. Photovoltaic panels and windmills would provide four-fifths of electricity needs....
posted by russilwvong at 10:41 AM on July 12, 2010


Also: an interesting discussion of why public transit works better in Vancouver than in Seattle: Zach Shaner, Clark Williams-Derry.
posted by russilwvong at 10:59 AM on July 12, 2010


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