The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life
April 12, 2016 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Considering the constant fatalities, rampant pollution, and exorbitant costs of ownership, there is no better word to characterize the car’s dominance than insane. "The car is the star. That’s been true for well over a century—unrivaled staying power for an industrial-age, pistons-and-brute-force machine in an era so dominated by silicon and software. Cars conquered the daily culture of American life back when top hats and child labor were in vogue, and well ahead of such other innovations as radio, plastic, refrigerators, the electrical grid, and women’s suffrage. A big part of why they’ve stuck around is that they are the epitome of convenience."

"But convenience, along with American history, culture, rituals, and man-machine affection, hide the true cost and nature of cars. And what is that nature? Simply this: In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane."
posted by narancia (342 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
As my father told me on the car ride home, after I had purchased my very first car: "You don't own the car, the car owns you."
posted by Fizz at 6:57 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


But, but, but the freedom of the road!

(Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose the universal con of telling us what we want.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:01 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Guessing this is written by somebody who doesn't live in the middle of a vast prairie where getting around by foot or horse would require weeks of hard, punishing travel.

Also, horses had quite an environmental cost in terms of manure and urine-filled streets (and also animal cruelty because people took bad care of them) that made a combustion engine vehicle seem like a pretty good tradeoff at the time.

"Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines."

I refer you again to the vast prairies with scattered towns where lots of us live. Public transit is definitely hampered by stupid reasons of hostility to taxes + racism, but even if that weren't true, there would still be many people living in places where only a personal vehicle could go.

I would be thrilled if cars became safer and non- or less-polluting, of course. It's not that I don't care about car fatalities, it's that I can't get to work or the store or to my kid's school without using a car. Like many many other Americans.

The over-the-top WAKE UP SHEEPLE tone of this piece pushes almost into parody. We are aware of the issues, Mr. Humes! Your suggestions for change are welcome, your not-very-well-concealed tone of "People who drive: bad and stupid!" not so much.
posted by emjaybee at 7:03 AM on April 12, 2016 [106 favorites]


But what is presented as the alternative? I acknowledge everything said, but in our current situation, what is to be done about it? Most people in the U.S. live in places where public transportation is inadequate and live too far from their jobs to walk or bike.

Self-driving electric cars solve many of these problems, but not all.
posted by MythMaker at 7:05 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't love my car, but American life in many places has completely adapted to them and trying to go against that grain is nearly impossible. The framing glosses over their convenience like its a minor footnote, but I think the convenience it offers is a big deal. In suburbs cars offer a degree of freedom, and for poor families, cars offer economic opportunity.
posted by lownote at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I didn't stop owning a car in adulthood until September 2014. But then I had an ideal situation for a married, double-income, no kids, no debt, able-bodied person. Not everyone is so lucky.

(I don't miss car ownership except on days when the weather is absolute crap and I have to be somewhere fairly promptly.)
posted by Kitteh at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


What are the failings of cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: More than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine.

This is kind of a bullshit point to make, because any energy you extract from a thermal process is going to be subject to Carnot limits. Electric cars are subject to the same "argument" with slightly higher efficiency if they get their electricity from a combustion process (coal, natural gas, etc.), nuclear, thermal solar, geothermal, etc.

That being said, electric cars are more efficient for other reasons (power on demand, regenerative braking). But even if you replace all the vehicles on the road with electric cars, and wave a magic wand to make everything self-driving, it's still a ridiculous, inefficient system. At its core, what's ridiculous is the idea of a personal automobile for every person, discarding the economies of scale that come with mass transit, paving roads and tremendous parking lots all over creation, designing for the supremacy of the single-occupancy, powered vehicle.
posted by indubitable at 7:09 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


slaves of the Harkonnens would take issue with the idea of losing their heart plugs
posted by idiopath at 7:10 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


But what is presented as the alternative?

Oh, nothing really. Just hate ourselves a little more each day for our wasteful, extravagant lifestyles.

Or maybe Edward Humes is planing a follow-up to Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash (Amazon link), focusing on the idiocy and waste of cars, and then getting into what we can do to end our dependencies. Oh what is that? Yes, yes he is: Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation (Amazon again).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


[Oddly coincidental: I just listened to J Dilla's "Trucks," which is a tribute of sorts to Gary Numan's "Cars"]
posted by filthy light thief at 7:15 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Comparing the efficiency of various transport methods: What Price Speed? [Revisited]
posted by indubitable at 7:16 AM on April 12, 2016


I'm torn about this article. On the one hand, waking people up to the insanity of car culture is a valuable goal and there are some people (probably not people reading The Atlantic or on Metafilter*) who haven't gotten the memo yet. My parents are both car people and always have been, and they genuinely don't understand why I'd rather walk/take public transit and are pretty blind to the fact that driving is immensely unsafe. On the other hand, I've only been able to shed myself of a car-centric lifestyle because of privilege. I'm educated enough to leave my hometown and move somewhere with public transit. I've got a good enough job to afford to live in an apartment that's accessible. I'm not expecting to have to take in any family members or friends who've fallen on hard times, so I can pay to live closer with less space without fear. Casting the place of cars in American life as "convenience" is both true and misses that point that without the convenience, lots of people's lives would be functionally unlivable.

*RIP Faze
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:16 AM on April 12, 2016 [19 favorites]


Pretty major "yes, but" pile-on starting up here.

We can deny it as much as we want and make excuses until the end of time. Cars still suck, and they're still wrecking the world.

Obviously, they're useful and convenient, otherwise they wouldn't have taken over the world. But a big part of the reason they're so useful and convenient is that the entire infrastructure of the modern world has been built to accommodate them. Within a system designed for them, it isn't surprising that they function well. Within the larger system of the natural world, not so much.

Maybe we should stay home more, and not expect so much out of life.

Carry on, pile-on.

Izzy, shut this off. I'm done.
posted by crazylegs at 7:17 AM on April 12, 2016 [33 favorites]


I love my Honda and will drive it until the wheels fall off but I remember the pain of being young and poor and trying to keep a crappy car patched together so that I could stay employed. One broken timing belt at the wrong time could fuck your life when you don't have the money to fix it and can't get to work any other way. It's not like you can take a bus to a construction job.
posted by octothorpe at 7:17 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: Maybe we should stay home more, and not expect so much out of life.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:18 AM on April 12, 2016 [53 favorites]


*calls mom, asks if i can move into basement*
posted by pyramid termite at 7:19 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Throughout Europe you can pretty much get anywhere easily without a car. The U.S. invested in the wrong infrastructure.
posted by xammerboy at 7:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [44 favorites]


Maybe we should stay home more, and not expect so much out of life.

Except part of the reason for the pile-on is that what people are "expecting out of life" is getting to work and the doctor and the grocery store. They can't do without that, and we can't all move into the major cities where there isn't enough transit accessible affordable housing as it is.

I'm an optimist, I think electric cars may well stop the damage cars do to the planet, and self-driving cars may well stop the damage they do to us, but the infrastructure is there and people are relying on it for the necessities of living. It's not something where they can simply stay home more.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:23 AM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]


But what is presented as the alternative?

Like most things, it seems like 90% policy and 10% individual action - change the rules for new developments to make them more bus-friendly, put more money into public transit where it can take even some of the driving away, research what kinds of trips could easily be made by bus or train and put more capacity there, put more money into light rail, etc.

Let's imagine, for example, a collector bus that runs every [X] minutes through a subdivision and takes you to the train station/central bus station/etc - not convenient for everyone, but it would work for some people and take some of the load off the car system. Or just put more money into suburban bus transit. Blah long bus rides between suburbs aren't very fun, but if they are cheaper than owning a car, you would get takers.

I don't own a car. I've constructed my life so that I don't have to. (And I couldn't anyway - $12,000 a year for the average car owner? I would have to live in my car with that kind of chunk coming out of my take-home pay.) People like me (live in a metro area with okay public transit, no kids, no significant disability, no other reason that only a car will do) can do that, and maybe many of us should.

People who can take action on a problem without totally upending their lives should do so. People who can't, shouldn't. Do you have a disability that makes it hard to stand and wait for the bus? Do you have three young children and need the car for daycare and buying a gazillion tons of groceries? Do you live ten miles from the nearest bus stop? Is the only job in your field fifteen miles across a suburban wasteland from the place where you can afford to live? Do you need to drive your frail old dad to his doctors' appointments? Do you have some confluence of issues that make taking public transit or biking into a giant horrible mess? Then sure, drive your car. "Work on this problem if you can, and don't if you can't" seems like one of those things that it is very hard to bring into public discourse.
posted by Frowner at 7:24 AM on April 12, 2016 [50 favorites]


I refer you again to the vast prairies with scattered towns where lots of us live. Public transit is definitely hampered by stupid reasons of hostility to taxes + racism, but even if that weren't true, there would still be many people living in places where only a personal vehicle could go.

This isn't completely true. About a decade back, I heard from the County Manager from Kern County, who talked about the troubles of providing services to ranch widows, old ladies who didn't drive because their husbands had, but now their husbands were dead and they were stuck on rural properties.

That's where on-demand public transit comes in - call up a central dispatch and they send someone out to pick you up and help you do your errands. This is a service that currently gets federal funding (not 100%, but between 50% and 80%, depending on the type of expense).


The U.S. invested in the wrong infrastructure.

The US is focused off-loading costs to the individual. If people realized how much they could save by spending a chunk of what they pay for the personal car on public transit, things might change. But oh no, not more taxes!

Reframe the cost of owning and maintaining a car or two as a tax paid to car companies and things might shift, but car companies (and tire companies, makers of all sorts of car parts and accessories) would band together to change the discussion again, to ensure we're buying into personal car ownership.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [25 favorites]


Why "should" people be able to live in the middle of the prairie if this is a lifestyle that the planet is unable to sustain?

The quote says "A big part of why they’ve stuck around is that they are the epitome of convenience."

But what is convenience except a mirror reflecting the environment we live in?

Where I live a car is far from a convenience. It is, in fact, a huge inconvenience. I live in a highly dense city core, where a single car lot will set you back $60,000 - more than most cars cost - and the city taxes commercial car parks $1000-$2000 per year to discourage their existence, because they are a nuisance - car parking attracts traffic, which causes congestion. Most of the roads in the core are single lane only, because more lanes attract more traffic, causing congestion. Typical parking charges are about $20 per hour, so I would pay $40 in parking to drive in for a one hour lunch appointment. Forget about street parking, which are extremely restrictive, with many lots restricted to 15 or 30 minute parking durations and will automatically signal for a traffic cop to come over via Wi-Fi if you exceed that time limit. Walking is far more convenient than using a car. It's an entire lifestyle change: instead of doing once a week grocery shopping which fills up the car, higher density means the supermarket is never more than a 10 minute walk away in any direction (north south east west) and you can daily buy fresh food for your meals, though you are restricted to buying 2-3kg at a time since you are walking.
posted by xdvesper at 7:27 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


Let's imagine, for example, a collector bus that runs every [X] minutes through a subdivision and takes you to the train station/central bus station/etc - not convenient for everyone, but it would work for some people and take some of the load off the car system. Or just put more money into suburban bus transit. Blah long bus rides between suburbs aren't very fun, but if they are cheaper than owning a car, you would get takers.

Hah. Like most suburban communities would ever allow public buses to run through their neighborhoods.
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [13 favorites]


cars offer economic opportunity

Public transit, widely used throughout Europe, does the same for less cost to the public. One thing we don't do with cars is think of them as a fleet. Instead, they're mythologized as the most significant marker of personal freedom. We could learn to think about cars as a fleet of appliances belonging to a city. I've often wondered if we could pass a law that all cars must be white and say "Maytag" on the trunk lid. I live in a community where a common commuter vehicle is the black diesel 4x4, because that's just the most efficient way to get to work . (The other alternatives are SUV or luxury sedan, but it's getting hard to see over the top of all those trucks.)

Or like FLF says above: "The US is focused off-loading costs to the individual. If people realized how much they could save by spending a chunk of what they pay for the personal car on public transit, things might change. But oh no, not more taxes!"
posted by sneebler at 7:32 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Guessing this is written by somebody who doesn't live in the middle of a vast prairie where getting around by foot or horse would require weeks of hard, punishing travel.

If we'd had to pay the real cost of driving, many of these towns wouldn't exist and those that did would be structured very differently.
posted by congen at 7:32 AM on April 12, 2016 [37 favorites]


Maybe we should stay home more, and not expect so much out of life.

"So much out of life," in this sense, meaning "that it might continue, because we have been able to obtain food and employment."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:33 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't know if this is a "yeah, but" or a...reyeahbuttal(?), but a pretty large number of people live in reasonably densely-populated areas: according to the US Census, more than 71% of Americans live in "urbanized areas" with populations of of 50k or more. That's the kind of population that should be able to sustain decent public transportation, if funded and managed even halfway decently.

So perhaps this article isn't applicable to all Americans, but certainly for most of them. And there's definitely a classist and racist element to why public transportation gets screwed over that deserves a lot of scrutiny.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:33 AM on April 12, 2016 [30 favorites]


Planes, trains, busses, etc all pollute. As Emerson noted in an essay, whatever we develop, make, use, gives us some gains but also gives us negative things...compensation, he called it. No matter what we do to improve, there will be negative consequences. Look at models elsehwhere and fix things: bikes in some cities nearly replace cars, but you can not do that in a nation with rural and suburban living places.
posted by Postroad at 7:34 AM on April 12, 2016


Maybe we should stay home more, and not expect so much out of life.

Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, as long as "stay home more" is understood to mean "stay home from work more, since there is literally no longer any way to reach a place of employment", and "not expect so much out of life" is understood to mean "not expect to be able to feed, clothe, or shelter ourselves, since there is no longer any way to be employed". Maybe you don't live in the US, or maybe you just live in one of the few big cities where things are within walking/public transport distance of each other, but in most of the country the things you need for basic survival are many, many miles apart.

As an example, my partner and I moved recently to be closer to her job, for the purpose of saving commuting money. Wouldn't it be great to live so close that she could just walk or bike to work and we could do away with driving all together? Sure, but in reality there are no places to live that are within walking or biking distance. She takes a car or she doesn't have that job. And she's not likely to make anywhere near as much working at any other job in this area. Not to mention that even if she did live within biking distance of her work, she would then not be anywhere near within biking distance to a place that offers food, or or physical or mental health care, or frankly anything else at all.

The car is not a convenience. It is a necessity. You can be all "Well the US should have built everything differently and everybody should have different lifestyles and also maybe not require things to survive" to which the only response is sure, I guess, but that's not even a real argument. We also wouldn't need the cars if we could fly, and frankly "Let's all just learn to fly!" isn't any more ridiculous an argument. In order for cars to be anything approaching a convenience in the US, almost everything outside of the few biggest cities would have to be uprooted and moved into an arrangement that makes life without a car feasible. If you don't have a suggestion for who would pay for that and how, you can't really suggest it as a plan.
posted by IAmUnaware at 7:35 AM on April 12, 2016 [33 favorites]


I think electric cars may well stop the damage cars do to the planet

If I remember my reading correctly, the resource use/waste production of the average car is (very roughly) due to 1/3 manufacturing, 1/3 use, and 1/3 disposal. In other words, a car that ran on absolutely nothing and produced absolutely nothing while being used would use approximately 2/3 the resources and create approximately 2/3 the waste of a standard gasoline car.

In addition, electric cars will have no impact on the road system, traffic jams, road kills, etc.
posted by crazylegs at 7:35 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


Why "should" people be able to live in the middle of the prairie if this is a lifestyle that the planet is unable to sustain?

Someone's gotta grow the fucking food, you know.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:35 AM on April 12, 2016 [80 favorites]


Like most suburban communities would ever allow public buses to run through their neighborhoods.

We're having this exact fight in Calgary, which in spite of what I said above about the diesel 4x4s is also quite dedicated to public transit because we've historically had lots of money to spend. Now there's a big controversy because the city wants to build a transit corridor to the wealthy suburbs in the south west because it's under-served by transit, and people are worried that among other things, "better transit will increase crime in our communities".
posted by sneebler at 7:38 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


First we build our society around the idea that every single human being owns a car that they can drive constantly, then we live in that society long enough that we think the cars are an adaptation to the society we built for them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:38 AM on April 12, 2016 [39 favorites]


Someone's gotta grow the fucking food, you know.

The other 90% of the population, meanwhile...
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Aren't the people responsible for growing food in the US are somewhere under 1% of the total population?
posted by indubitable at 7:40 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Maybe we should stay home more, and not expect so much out of life.

God that's a depressing sentiment.

Throughout Europe you can pretty much get anywhere easily without a car. The U.S. invested in the wrong infrastructure.

Europe was much further developed and cities had existed for hundreds to thousands of years before the automobile. In contrast, America was relatively undeveloped at that time, plus there was much more room to spread out, it was just a more conducive environment for sprawl. All the big American urban areas with "decent" transit predate the dominance of the auto.

The world isn't going to change as much from 1,000,000 people disavowing automobiles and walking/biking everywhere as from 1,000,000,000 people deciding to buy a reasonable 4-cylinder hatchback instead of a V8 SUV. Making the decision to walk to the corner store instead of drive. Or deciding to drive to the restaurant 2 miles away instead of the one 10 mi away, etc, etc. Start with the easier sacrifices instead of jumping immediately to "fuck cars, everyone should walk errwhere."

You don't win friends with salad.
posted by dudemanlives at 7:40 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


There's actually a lot of suburban public transit - both around here (MPLS) and in the Chicago metro area, at least, and I surmise elsewhere. It's just less frequent than city buses, and doesn't run down every major street. I have a relative in the Chicago suburbs who can't drive and who takes the bus all the time.

Middle class people don't know about it, for the most part, because they own cars. Working class people take it, and more would take it if it were better and more convenient.

Again, at least around here, there's lots of purpose-built suburban bus service between about 6am and 8am and again between 4pm and 6pm. That serves white collar workers. You're kind of fucked if you have a swing shift job, though. But again, run it more often and later, and you'd get lots of takers.

~~~~

Why "should" people be able to live in the middle of the prairie if this is a lifestyle that the planet is unable to sustain?

It seems like this is a huge question for North America generally. We've just recently had threads about the lack of services in rural Native communities, the lack of jobs leading to alcohol abuse in rural white communities and now this thread. Scattered rural communities seem like they are not super sustainable.

But what to do about that? I personally am not up for saying "hello, we are relocating you today, pack the cat", because that's what colonialists and Stalinists do.

I suspect that the problems of rural life could be addressed in two ways: policies that, over a couple of generations, tend to consolidate people (that is, make it easier for folks to leave, because a lot of people would like to) and providing good even if expensive services to the people who want to stay. I bet that it wouldn't actually be super expensive (taken as a chunk of the budget rather than on a per capita basis) to serve a small rural population. I suspect that with all the savings and improvements that would be possible (under socialism! or whatever) in more densely settled areas, we could provide stuff for less densely settled areas without having to worry about moving people.

It seems like the issue isn't "how can we get rid of cars tomorrow everywhere", it's "how can we reduce the number of totally car-dependent people, knowing that many people sometimes need a car and some people always need a car".
posted by Frowner at 7:40 AM on April 12, 2016 [22 favorites]


I often find public transportation in large cities to be scary as hell.
posted by JanetLand at 7:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos:
"but the infrastructure is there"
Honest to god I don't think this will continue to be true. The road system we built has a massive maintenance cost associated with it and it isn't being paid. I don't know how things are out by you, but the roads here in Toledo are crumbling and sometimes collapsing.

Perhaps a good first step... my wife likes to point out the exposed brick underneath our pot-hole filled streets. She points out how the brick doesn't crack and crumble from temperature changes like our cheaply-made asphalt ones do. Brick roads are a rougher ride, but they require less maintenance.

There's a neighborhood in Toledo called Birckhead where all the roads are the original brick. There are little piles of bricks all along the road so that if someone sees a brick out of place or broken they can just tap a new one back in. The road is rough, but it isn't a thoroughfare. What if cities began going back to brick roads for neighborhoods and only paving the main roads where buses would go?
posted by charred husk at 7:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


"Work on this problem if you can, and don't if you can't" seems like one of those things that it is very hard to bring into public discourse.

This reminds me of arguments about vegetarianism. They often devolve into, "well I can't be vegetarian for X,Y,Z reasons" or "the Inuit can't be vegetarian" or "people who live in food deserts can't be vegetarian". That affects everyone else and their choices... how?

Perfect is the enemy of the good, etc. I understand it's rough reading such a snooty article as this one that appears to be talking down to people who have no choice. But some people do have a choice, but don't think about the consequences.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:44 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


one things some of you could do is live more in cities. and in the centres of cities. i work with a bunch of americans and most of them things it's seven kinds of awesome to choose to live in the middle of nowhere and then drive around all day. these are people who claim to be "green" and "environmentally aware".
posted by andrewcooke at 7:46 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


As someone who lives in subruria (once rural America outside a small town, now in an area our county has designated as a bedroom community), the pathways to better options are difficult.

We have no bus lines that come out this way. There is a van that serves senior citizens that is funded by a public-private partnership. We - being an old fruit town - have a railroad going through town (a 3-4 mile walk for me to the now repurposed depot, on narrow, twisting old road or through woods, skirting that one guy with the gun). There is a locally owned train company (based on the otherside of the mountain, but with access rights between the small cities to our east and west), that has floated the idea of 4-6 daily trips between two small cities and the 3 towns and a little city of various sizes between them, an idea that appealed to both old-timers in the areas and new arrivals. The counties and cities have NO interest in supporting this effort for both funding and vision reasons, and the idea fizzles before anything active happens every time.

The college town/small city to my east has a city transit service, a university transit service, and Amtrack and Greyhound stations. The small Valley city on the end has similar services. The struggling city in between (which is far more affordable a place to live, but is a factory town whose factories have largely left) has a long-distance bus station, and various connector services that are struggling. It is actually easier to live in one of these places between the two big cities and get a ride to the Appalachian trail (which bifurcates the area) than it is to either of the cities on either end. (That's not easy, either, just easier. It's also frequently pricey if you haven't done a huge amount of research).

The US has challenges that vary from European ones that emerge from the fact that America is a very large country, geographically speaking, with widely variable densities of population (both over time and over the landmass).

It doesn't help that we have an elected body that has been strongly influenced by corporate interests for more than a century.
posted by julen at 7:47 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Guessing this is written by somebody who doesn't live in the middle of a vast prairie where getting around by foot or horse would require weeks of hard, punishing travel

Folks who live on working farms and ranches are poor candidates for a car free lifestyle, but they are a pretty small fraction of the American population. Rural communities, though, are also victims of sprawl. People living outside of town on lots of over an acre takes agricultural land out of production and starves the four blocks of downtown of foot traffic. Many rural communities could easily be as walkable as big cities (they're really small, after all), the challenge is one of political will, not design or engineering.
posted by Octaviuz at 7:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


What about public transportation in these large cities scares you?

I used the St. Louis light rail and bus system to get around town for 4 years and never had a problem - and that was without the aid of a smart phone! About 95% of my travel in Columbus is by city bus. Yes, once I am not on the main "student" line, I am generally the only white person. That is OK and shouldn't be a cause for alarm! Sometimes figuring out the bus schedule and routes and such is intimidating, but google maps has bus and metro routes and schedules really nicely integrated into their directions, at least for every city I've tried to get around in in the US. If you have the time to build buses into your schedule, I think it's a lot nicer and less stressful than driving and finding a parking spot and paying for parking.

Don't be afraid!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:49 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Having given my pro-car speech now, I will say: I live less than 2 miles from my office. I would happily bike there on days I wasn't taking my kid to school and the weather cooperated. Unfortunately, there is a massive, incredibly dangerous highway/exit ramp between me and it that makes that a very bad idea.

That's a solvable problem that would cut down on my driving and probably that of other people. I am pro-solutions like that.

one things some of you could do is live more in cities. and in the centres of cities. I have done this. I made half of what I do now and paid about the same for a tiny, dark, crappy apartment as I now pay for a nice house with a yard. It was miserable and depressing and I don't ever miss it, even for a second.
posted by emjaybee at 7:49 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


I often find public transportation in large cities to be scary as hell.

It's able to be so because the people who make policy don't have to use it. That's an excellent argument for banning private ownership of cars you've stumbled upon!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:49 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


You don't win friends with salad.

Despite my mostly-vegetarian eating habits, I like this phrase very much. Origin?

posted by RolandOfEld at 7:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I often find public transportation in large cities to be scary as hell.

And yet, one way to make it less scary is to get more people using it. When the only people who use a bus route are the desperate, broken and miserable (because everyone else either owns a car or takes the commuter express) then yes, that bus route will be pretty godawful. Although one does not want to discount the effect of racist perceptions on scariness.

And of course, a lot of the reason that public transit is scary is because people are immiserated. God, those phone conversations you overhear on the bus where someone desperately needs the rent money that someone else owes them, and they're trying to make sure the other person is around with the money when they get there. Or the fights about childcare, or the drunk people, or the people with various disabilities who don't have the services that they need. Or just people who are miserable and angry because the world is so cruel to them who are fighting with each other over bullshit because they are in pain.

On the other hand, you can ride the commuter express and get treated to racist people running their mouths! I've learned that if I have to pick, I'd rather take the human misery. Mostly I bike when I can.

But! By contrast, the train is great - and yet everyone rides the train. I don't know exactly what it is, but somehow there's just rarely significant awfulness on the train (here in MPLS) the way there is on certain bus routes. And it's not that the train serves only rich people. I think it's because the crowd is more diverse and the train is faster and more comfortable. Even a crowded train around here usually isn't the same in feeling as a jam-packed bus, again maybe because of the speed.
posted by Frowner at 7:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [15 favorites]


If we'd had to pay the real cost of driving, many of these towns wouldn't exist and those that did would be structured very differently.

The reason small towns don't pay the real cost of driving is because these towns historically provided the ability for this country to eat. We either pay for decent roads to areas with lots of land to farm or we starve.

The essential problem is that people two hundred years ago when they were busy building the nation didn't have 20-20 vision on the diametrically opposite odds of climate change and personal rural transportation in 2016.
posted by Talez at 7:51 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


I often find public transportation in large cities to be scary as hell.
posted by JanetLand


You're much more likely to die or be hurt in your car, however.
posted by agregoli at 7:52 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


But some people do have a choice, but don't think about the consequences.

I think this comes up a lot in AskMe where people ask "how can I live my life the greenest and cleanest and best for the environment" and the answer "sell your car and move from your detached house to an apartment in an city with public transporation and only eat locally-sourced food" is never really taken seriously.

Part of the reason it's not taken seriously is because our collective impulse to live clean and green and environmentally-friendly stops right at the "convenient for me to do so" line and part of it is that you can't reasonably expect people to completely abandon their way of life for your preferred way that they should live unless someone is putting a literal or figurative gun to their head because, for better or worse, this is America.
posted by griphus at 7:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


> That's the kind of population that should be able to sustain decent public transportation, if funded and managed even halfway decently.

I live in a big, dense city and I freakin' *hate* driving, but you know what I hate even more? Wasting hours upon hours upon hours of my life stuck on my city's lousy (but relatively good, I guess, compared to a lot of places) public transit system, which is only going to get worse for the foreseeable future because nobody wants to pay to maintain it, much less expand it in a useful way. I know this mindset is greedy and harmful and wasteful and expensive, but if your utopian ideal depends on people making a conscious choice to negatively impact their present quality of life (and seriously, I really can't understate how unpleasant taking the TTC usually is), then it's just not a realistic plan, human nature being what it is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Pedestrians just need to be loved.

"Pedestrians comprise the larger part of humanity. More than that: its better part. Pedestrians created the world. It was they who built cities,erected multi-story buildings, laid sewage systems and water pipes, paved the streets, and illuminated them with electric lights. It was they who spread culture all over the world, invented the printing process, concocted gun powder, cast bridges across rivers, deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics, introduced the safety razor, destroyed the slave trade, and determined that one hundred and fourteen tasty, nutritious dishes can be made from the soy bean. And then, when everything was ready, when our native planet had assumed a relatively well-appointed mien, the motorists appeared.

"It must be noted that the automobile was also invented by pedestrians. But somehow, motorists immediately forgot about that. They began to run over the clever, meek pedestrians. The streets, created by pedestrians,were taken over by motorists. Roads grew twice as wide, while sidewalks narrowed down to the width of a cigar band. Pedestrians began flattening themselves against the walls of buildings in alarm.

"Pedestrians lead martyrs’ lives in the big city, where a sort of transportational ghetto has been created for them. They are allowed to cross the street only at crosswalks — in other words, only at the precise place where street traffic is heaviest, and where the thread by which the pedestrian’s life usually hangs is easiest to break."

--The Little Golden Calf, Ilf & Petrov, 1931
posted by belarius at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2016 [23 favorites]


Self-driving electric cars solve many of these problems, but not all.

Self-driving cars aren't going to solve our disastrous zoning laws.
posted by mhoye at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


one things some of you could do is live more in cities. and in the centres of cities. i work with a bunch of americans and most of them things it's seven kinds of awesome to choose to live in the middle of nowhere and then drive around all day.

Cities are too expensive for most people.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2016 [13 favorites]


And of course, a lot of the reason that public transit is scary is because people are immiserated. God, those phone conversations you overhear on the bus where someone desperately needs the rent money that someone else owes them, and they're trying to make sure the other person is around with the money when they get there. Or the fights about childcare, or the drunk people, or the people with various disabilities who don't have the services that they need. Or just people who are miserable and angry because the world is so cruel to them who are fighting with each other over bullshit because they are in pain.

I used to have a choice between two bus lines to get home, two blocks apart. One of them was like you're describing, one of them was the polar opposite, and the difference was basically that one of them eventually ran to a richer whiter suburb and the other didn't. As in so many things, concentrated poverty and misery isn't a real solution.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:58 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nothing quite brings out the Can't-Do spirit that has become America's mantra over the past few decades like transportation, where vast swathes of otherwise rational and reasonable people all simultaneously stick their head in the (tar) sand(s).
posted by entropicamericana at 7:58 AM on April 12, 2016 [20 favorites]


$12,000 a year for the average car owner?

Hm. I drive a humble but practical Honda Civic; if you spread its cost over the lifetime of the car (I drove the last one for 15 years with minimal large repairs) and add fuel, maintenance and insurance costs, comes to maybe a tenth of that.
posted by aught at 7:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't drive. As in, can't drive. Driving freaks me out and I never got around to getting my license. I keep thinking I should get over it and get my license just so I have it, but weighing the time/money cost of lessons and practice and therapy to stop being freaked out by cars against the benefits of being able to drive, it's never quite worth it. It's not like I'd go out and buy a car since the cost of ownership is so high and public transit is generally more convenient.

Being car-free in a city with good public transportation isn't so bad. We have lots of trains and buses, and service is continually improving. My car-free friends with licenses are members of car-sharing co-ops with vehicles positioned all over the place and convenient apps for locating and booking them. We're getting bike-sharing soon too--that's more my speed!

It's definitely possible thrive without a car if supported by your city, and if you set up your life in a way that aligns with this choice. Probably the way to get people to quit their car habit is to make the alternatives so attractive that it's a no-brainer to use them.
posted by mantecol at 8:00 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


The automotive industry is also a cornerstone of the industrial economy, and has huge political and media leverage. And it's not just auto manufacturing. There's a very interesting book by AQ Mowbray about how state spending on employment and road construction & maintenance is influenced by the road-building lobby in the US. In that frame, changes to car ownership and road infrastructure spending would impose a huge penalty to rural communities who rely on seasonal roadwork employment for income.
posted by sneebler at 8:00 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons my city is expensive is that it's built like a suburb, full of houses with carports and not denser buildings, and millennials can't afford family-sized homes.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:01 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


If it is within a three or four mile radius; and it will work with a 30L backpack; no way, absolutely no way; am I fooling with being in a vehicle. Quicker, easier, more convenient to ride a bike.

Best hobby/sport ever; and a pair of Kevlar Schwalbe tires are worth the investment.

Bonus: If I want to have a drink(s); probably not going to harm anybody else too bad if I run into them. A person's faults should be their own.
posted by buzzman at 8:02 AM on April 12, 2016


Long distance walking is a great way to open your eyes to the fact that a lot of our landscapes are designed around cars. In some places there is no safe walking route.

What you see more of is environment designed around machines rather than people. I'm talking large roads/pavements with no cover, lots of space between buildings, cheap glass/steel/concrete constructions, strip malls, huge parking lots etc.

Personally I dislike this because in the end people are far more important than machines.

But as others point out this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
posted by Erberus at 8:05 AM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]


Nothing quite brings out the Can't-Do spirit that has become America's mantra over the past few decades like transportation, where vast swathes of otherwise rational and reasonable people all simultaneously stick their head in the (tar) sand(s).

It certainly isn't possible that those rational and reasonable people have assessed the necessary steps toward a 100% overhaul of a transit system covering 3.8 million square miles, the complete razing and reconstruction and rezoning of enormous swaths of said land mass, a philosophical sea change of its hundreds of millions of occupants, and concluded that such a thing, in the current political and social environment, is vanishingly unlikely.

No, we just lack gumption.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:07 AM on April 12, 2016 [17 favorites]


A professional writer, who very likely works from a home office and sends in his finished pieces electronically, says the rest of us are bad and stupid for driving our cars to work.

By all means, work toward a better solution, but in the mean time cars are an unfortunate necessity for many.
posted by rocket88 at 8:07 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Rural populations were %17.7 of the U.S. population as of the 2010 census, with steady negative growth as a portion of the U.S. population. "But what about the prairie?" is a bit of a derail when the conversation is primarily about the costs of car infrastructure in shaping urban and suburban population centers.

And then, there's racism as a fuel behind American car culture and resistance to change. Car commuting was and is a way to get away from immigrants and black people.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:07 AM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I think it's really impossible to position this as a "just try harder!" thing except for a small percentage of people at the margins. These aren't personal decisions, they're policy decisions, not just with regards to public transit but with regards to urban planning and how we deal with density and sprawl.

It's true that in a lot of places you need a car to get around. And this is an awful situation for tweens and teens, for elderly and disabled people, for people who can't afford a car, for families that can only afford one car for two adults, for people with bad credit or low incomes who have to take out horrible predatory loans because not having a car isn't an option. The time and money it would take to solve some of our urban planning problems is really intimidating! But I can't help but think that people would try a little bit, if they took the problems of car ownership seriously rather than accepting it as a terrible but inescapable aspect of modern life.
posted by Jeanne at 8:08 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Hm. I drive a humble but practical Honda Civic; if you spread its cost over the lifetime of the car (I drove the last one for 15 years with minimal large repairs) and add fuel, maintenance and insurance costs, comes to maybe a tenth of that.

The $12,000 a year was the average given in the article. I did have a car for a few years - it cost me ~$7000 upfront (this was about ten years ago), and then $170/month to insure (because I live in a redlined neighborhood, even though I personally have never had an accident) and probably about $1000 a year in repairs and maintenance, and then gas. So after buying the thing, it was probably about $4000 a year. But that would go way up if I'd had a car payment. I don't even know what the average monthly car payment is - $300? $400? - but either way, another $3500 or $4500 per year would have brought it to about 1/2 my take-home pay at the time.
posted by Frowner at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]



It certainly isn't possible that those rational and reasonable people have assessed the necessary steps toward a 100% overhaul of a transit system covering 3.8 million square miles, the complete razing and reconstruction and rezoning of enormous swaths of said land mass, a philosophical sea change of its hundreds of millions of occupants, and concluded that such a thing, in the current political and social environment, is vanishingly unlikely. No, we just lack gumption.


No, I get it, you're right. After all, we didn't make this mess, it just happened, and after all it's totally sustainable. The infrastructure isn't already falling down around us and we should totally double down on what rational people can see is a poor investment because it is obviously working so well for us.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2016 [17 favorites]


When I lived in Atlanta, my best friend--who was from DC area--would get actively irritated taking the MARTA home from the airport because all the white people would cluster around her, their fellow white lady, than sit anywhere near black people. When I would take the MARTA, I would notice the same thing. People are all for public transportation as long as it doesn't go anywhere near their homes and their neighbourhoods. This is why I am pleased the Beltline in Atlanta is actually happening; I heard too many gross conversations amongst white middle to upper class white people about the possibility of people who were not like them being able to come into their neighbourhoods when the idea was first approached.
posted by Kitteh at 8:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I often find public transportation in large cities to be scary as hell.

I can understand why. Waiting for the bus yesterday, a kid wandered around with a knife yelling rap lyrics.

Once on the bus, a guy got on, threatened two old guys who were in his way, then proceeded to have a "come at me bro" conversation with an entire busload of people for 5 minutes. It was one of those accordion busses full of people so it's possible the driver wasn't even aware.

Every woman I know has a story about a creep on the bus who sat beside her or was hitting on someone around her while she couldn't. get. away. Getting off the bus leads to the possibility that the person follows you and you're in a lesser crowded area.

Each of these things are perhaps indicative of broader social issues at play that need to be solved, but today when deciding how to get around, they're issues that people can and should be worried about.

My wife and I walk or bike nearly everywhere - we will drive to Costco, and to hike because no transit gets to the wilderness conveniently. Carshare worked for a while but unfortunately the local firm doesn't have the capital to service the demand in our neighborhood, and the only option seems to be a hukly SUV I don't want to drive, so we got a car a few months ago. I hate owning it but I love hiking.

Bonus: If I want to have a drink(s); probably not going to harm anybody else too bad if I run into them.

Have you been hit by a full grown man on a bicycle? It broke two of my ribs. Drinking and operating any vehicle is an avoidable risk for pedestrians.
posted by scrittore at 8:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Again, at least around here, there's lots of purpose-built suburban bus service between about 6am and 8am and again between 4pm and 6pm. That serves white collar workers. You're kind of fucked if you have a swing shift job, though. But again, run it more often and later, and you'd get lots of takers.

Suburban bus support is pretty similar here. The worst part of it is that the buses stop at least a mile from where people actually live and there are no sidewalks so paradoxically you need a car to be able to use the buses. When I lived out twenty miles from the city, the fight for parking spaces at the park-and-ride lot was crazy. You had to get there before 7 am to even hope to get a space.
posted by octothorpe at 8:11 AM on April 12, 2016


Rural populations were %17.7 of the U.S. population as of the 2010 census, with steady negative growth as a portion of the U.S. population. "But what about the prairie?" is a bit of a derail when the conversation is primarily about the costs of car infrastructure in shaping urban and suburban population centers.

There's this problem where for you to sell a house, some other sucker has to buy it. There is literally no getting away from suburban areas at this point bar some benevolent trillionaire coming in and building skyscrapers en masse and giving everyone a free apartment in the city. The inertia is stupidly strong because trillions are wrapped up in the status quo.
posted by Talez at 8:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Long distance walking is a great way to open your eyes to the fact that a lot of our landscapes are designed around cars. In some places there is no safe walking route.

We recently moved from a neighborhood with excellent walking infrastructure to one with good transit accessibility, but that's much worse for walking. Unfortunately this coincided with my doctor telling me to get more exercise, so I've been trying to run a few mornings a week. The few times I've tried to get off the treadmill and outside, it's been a hit or miss game of trying to find sidewalks that don't run out or randomly that's incredibly frustrating. I had forgotten how bad some places are and this isn't even that bad by national standards. My wife and I actually take the train to a place we can walk to work from for commuting, but that's like 75% so we can see dogs.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I currently live in suburban sprawl. I don't hate suburbanites, I hate suburbia. You grumpy people who say need your cars, I believe you. But this is a public policy issue, it took us 100 years to get to where we are today, we're not going to fix it by bulldozing your house and forcing you into a tiny high-rise apartment tomorrow.
The reason why articles like this are necessary is that people like us need to understand the situation and push policies that will promote more and more affordable housing in places built around people, and constrain development in places more suitable for trees and corn. It's going to take a long time and lot of people, and it can only happen if we recognize that a problem exists.
posted by Octaviuz at 8:13 AM on April 12, 2016 [19 favorites]


The relentless inability of people to see the built environment as a set of deliberate decisions, and instead treat bridges and highways like rivers and mountains*, perpetually amazes me.

* we dammed the rivers and tunneled the mountains. But a parkway overpass can't be raised.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:14 AM on April 12, 2016 [24 favorites]


But a big part of the reason they're so useful and convenient is that the entire infrastructure of the modern world has been built to accommodate them.

Oh my god yes. I'm out in the suburbs right now staying with my sister while I wait for some bones to fuse together. On Sunday, because there was some issue with power in the house, I decided to go to a movie.

Ten minute walk, followed by twenty minutes of waiting for a bus, then transfer to another bus, to get dropped off in the middle of about 8 acres of parking lot with stores ranged around the outside, and the movie theatre wayyyyyyyyyyyyy off to the other end. Utterly impossible for anyone with mobility issues, especially in Canadian winters, pretty damn difficult for anyone without a car.

(And, to add insult to injury, the bus depot there has two major lanes from the parking lot running right through it with no marked crossings anywhere to be found.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:14 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


In any given year, 60 percent of American adults never set foot on an airplane, and the vast majority who do fly take only one round trip a year.

This is a somewhat misleading statistic, isn't it? Business travelers make many trips a year (hence "frequent fliers"), so the average number of trips per person is a lot higher than the median.

Since we are talking about carbon effect here, what we care about is the average, not median or percentiles.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:16 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh and drunk biking is quite possibly illegal where you live. Where I used to defend DUI cases, we liked to tell people that you could get a DUI for sledding while drunk, because the law was written broadly enough that it was very possible.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:16 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh boy cars.

My great-grandfather was the first person in his community to own an automobile. That car changed the course of my grandfather's life--he was a joyriding teen, ran over and killed a small child and had to drop out of school to pay damages. It was the 1910's, things were different then, but that particular derail resulted in a lifetime of bitterness and anger.

In 1927 the family drove a 7-passenger Studebaker from Pittsburgh to California. Much of the journey involved unpaved roads. This adventure too became a defining point for them; I heard astonishing stories from everyone involved until the youngest passenger, my mother, died.

Cars continued to be hugely important to this Pennsylvania clan. It represented cheap entertainment and both sides of my family derived endless joy exploring the weird back roads and highways of the Keystone State and beyond.

I grew up going to antique car shows with my father, who owned and restored a massive 1947 Packard.

My own first car, a 1967 Cadillac Eldorado with a few teeth missing from the flywheel, provided me with some of the most thrilling moments of my young life, especially when I had to turn the engine over by hand using an enormous wrench in front of others--usually embarrassed dates. The gas mileage was ridiculous but I was inordinately proud of the Whale and spent many, many happy hours ferrying friends around and often just hanging out in its spacious interior.

These days, I have a lovely little standard shift and it is one of my greatest joys to grab a camera and head off into the Finger Lakes or the Adirondacks, enjoying every mile. I'm arthritic and hiking and skiing are no longer options, but the car gives me legs. I don't drive much but when I do it is pleasurable beyond words.

All this said, I do recognize that most of the driving taking place these days involves neither pleasure nor adventure, and to replace that will require infrastructure on a very massive scale (or better models for multi-use vehicles than what is currently available). In rural areas such as what surrounds me I cannot see anything replacing an individual car. It's too easy to simply dismiss cars as unnecessary; as someone who's made more than one emergency trip at an odd hour I can't see giving mine up anytime soon.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:16 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why can't we have teleport booths instead?
posted by cstross at 8:17 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


No, I get it, you're right. After all, we didn't make this mess, it just happened

OK I get it, built environments are built. But did you build them? Did I? Were either of us consulted? People treat built environments as facts of nature because most people alive today in the US were not at any point in their or their parents' lives involved in their construction or planning. This is a shame! But it happened and is done. We must deal with the world as it is, and in the current state of things most people feel little ownership or control over their built environments.

Nobody said anything about doubling down on this infrastructure. People are trying to be realistic in their assessments of rate-of-change and scale-of-change, only to be finger wagged by a lot of folks who a) don't even fucking live here and b) are likely as not doing nothing about the issue beyond making enough money and having enough health to live carless in a dense urban center.

As someone who lives carless in a dense urban center, I'm well aware of how fortunate, precarious, and rare my situation is. I'd like to make it less of all three for as many people as possible. But I will likely not in my lifetime see it become none of the above, for almost everyone, across the board.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:17 AM on April 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


Other than a house, a car is the most expensive purchase a person will make. So expensive that most everyone has to borrow money for one, and it depreciates over time. It costs tens of thousands of dollars and then becomes worthless. Houses (and, really, their land) become more expensive over time when properly maintained. Expensive furniture retains its resale value over decades. A computer depreciates quickly but costs 1% to 5% of the cost of a new car.

The car has turned us into business people who have to worry about marginal costs of operation and depreciation for the privilege of having a salaried job but without the equity gained over time. And this is for a machine that is used for maybe 2 hours out of the day. It would be nice if I could rent it out to an Uber driver while it would otherwise sitting in the parking lot for 8-10 hours a day. Cars, over time, seem designed to destroy the wealth of middle class people.

And lest you think I am just looking at this from the outside, I used to spend $200/month on gasoline just to get to work in a car that a love driving when I don't have to deal with traffic.

We can say that cars are a necessity, and for most people they are, but they're a necessity because we designed our country so that they would be a necessity for most people.
posted by deanc at 8:18 AM on April 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


Given the number of automotive fatalities that have occurred through time, I've recently given up my car and have returned to a form of transportation which has a lot fewer fatalities on record: rocket powered skates.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:18 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


In the city where I live, people pay a PREMIUM to live in areas where they can walk or bus to everything, any time. It's the ultimate bougie status symbol. I can't afford to live in those areas. I do live in the city, my commute is very short (10-15 minutes on city streets, but having to take the sprog to daycare adds a wrinkle), but the buses in my neighborhood are very You Can't Get There From Here to the places I need to go in order to remain employed. Hence: we could afford to buy a house here along with all the other plebs who can't afford to live in flat, easily bikeable areas with awesome bus service.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:20 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yup. Biking and/or walking to work are, the way the US is currently set up, the epitome of privilege.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:22 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


kyrademon in the used car subprime lending thread:

> "America was built on the principle: Don't have a car? Fuck YOU!"

Technically, that's only in the Declaration of Independence, not the actual Constitution.
posted by sneebler at 8:22 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


I do recognize that most of the driving taking place these days involves neither pleasure nor adventure

Correct. So waxing nostalgic about the magic of cars is about as easy to relate to as someone who talks about biking to the grocery store. The vast majority of someone's experience with cars will be driving for 30-45 minutes each way to work in varying amounts of rush hour congestion.
posted by deanc at 8:23 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Indeed, I feel very privileged every time I nearly get clipped by a SUV or rolled coal on by Ford F-250.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:24 AM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


And I as well, whenever a bicyclist runs a stop sign or a traffic light and almost plows into me. If you're looking for a world free from assholes, you may as well tilt at windmills.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


(can we not do the bikes v cars thing here?)
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


I think the privilege marker of driving vs biking is hugely, hugely regional. I live in DC, where the urban core is pretty much gentrified and the walkers/bikers are mostly pretty privileged. Where I grew up, the walkers/bikers are mostly people whose licenses have been lost, people unable to get licenses (undocumented immigrants mostly), and people too broke to afford cars. The two places are as different as can be on that issue.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [18 favorites]


But what is presented as the alternative? I acknowledge everything said, but in our current situation, what is to be done about it? Most people in the U.S. live in places where public transportation is inadequate and live too far from their jobs to walk or bike.

Self-driving electric cars solve many of these problems, but not all.


Increased urban density, public transit, multi-use streets, and not externalizing the costs of single-person auto use. Just because something isn't built, doesn't mean it can't be built.

Electric cars definitely don't solve all the problems - that electricity has to come from somewhere, and it probably comes from burning fossil fuels.
posted by entropone at 8:29 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


What about public transportation in these large cities scares you?

I don't know if this is what JanetLand was referring to, but having experienced public transit in cities and college towns, my anecdotal experience has been that there's much higher rates of aggressive drunks/drug users and mentally ill people on public transit in cities. They very often seem to target small women for harassment, never quite stepping over the line to where the driver would kick them off (if the driver even notices). The college town transit systems would also have mentally ill riders, but most of them seemed to be friendly but different, compared to the outright unstable menace I've experienced in cities. Our society's failure to support and treat the mentally ill is shameful and obviously not something transit systems can or should fix (other than by providing transit), but I can see the experience being scary.
posted by Candleman at 8:30 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Cars, over time, seem designed to destroy the wealth of middle class people.

That is a fascinating statement. I'm not disagreeing, just have never seen it framed that way before.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:31 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]




I strongly disagree with the statement that walking and biking to work are a sign of privilege. It invisibilizes an already fairly invisible population.

Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that across the nation and in major cities across the sprawling, car-dependent Sun Belt, the largest share of people who bike are in lower-income brackets.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:35 AM on April 12, 2016 [17 favorites]


You can have my gun when you pry... oh... wait... sorry.
posted by Splunge at 8:36 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


look i think at this point "Europe is TEH BEST America is EVIL BLOB MONSTER STUPID" is settled law and I don't even disagree, but Europe did have a roughly 2000 year head start so maybe we could just take that into account once in awhile.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:37 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Throughout Europe you can pretty much get anywhere easily without a car.

From one urban area to another? Mostly, yes. Very far across one urban area? Usually, though it may require a time investment that's not realistic if you have children. From one village to another? Maybe, most days of the week, but probably only twice a day and they got rid of the direct link because "nobody" (not an entire busload of people every time) used it, so you have to go to the nearest town and then to the other village which may take a couple of hours. IF you are able-bodied and fit/tolerant enough to make it on foot or bike 15 miles in all sorts of weather, you can go the direct route. All of this assumes that your school, work, or personal business allows for the time to do it (or that you can get several days' worth of groceries back on your bike or back so you don't have to do it every day). This is a situation a friend of mine had to try to figure out for his mother and aunt (one in each village) in semi-rural France, when the aunt stopped being able to drive.

There are many people in Europe who couldn't live where they live without a car. They would have to move to a city. Maybe that's the solution to this: everyone has to live in the city. But not everyone in Europe lives in a city right now, not everyone in Europe lives with the sort of effortless first-class transport options we imagine when we think of the Tube or the Metro, and in many parts of Europe it is still dangerous sometimes to the point of unusability to use public transportation even inside the city if you are not a white male 14-50 years old.

"Pretty much anywhere easily" is a myth. There are significant challenges, even if the services offered are still better than in the US. And the costs to routinely go any significant distance, especially if you're having to add on taxi or similar to solve a last-mile problem, can become comparable to (even European) car ownership costs.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:38 AM on April 12, 2016 [17 favorites]


Sure, but it's not like Canada and the USA are teenagers. They're countries run by (nominal...) adults who could, if we chose, learn lessons from e.g. Paris above. That we choose not to learn from the better example (see also: Scandinavia in general) is a scathing indictment.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:39 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


But it happened and is done. We must deal with the world as it is, and in the current state of things most people feel little ownership or control over their built environments.

This is a really good point.

My wife and I are just starting to enter the time where we're first-time home buyers vs. renters. Nothing being built today is indicative of our capacity to spend or our preferences - we can't afford new builds anywhere central and we are in the top 5% income-wise.

The reason? We are negative net worth individuals. We have some RRSPs to borrow against, and are saving for a down-payment, but we have student debt and will take a long time to put together the 20% required to avoid paying a mortgage insurance penalty in our jurisdiction. In the core of my city, that means a $100-$120k plus down-payment. There are a number of places in Canada that number is astronomically higher.

Our decisions will be a product of the stock available in 2016/2017, all of which was built before we were even part of the housing stock "demand." Unless you're spurring a new build on a lot in suburbia, you are not forcing suburban sprawl, but are a responsive actor to those who have funded housing growth for the last 20 years.

I am all for density in cities and affordable housing and we need better policies to drive these, but in the meantime those of us entering the housing market don't have a whole lot of ability to put our money to use. If someone in Ottawa wants to build a eco-efficient townhouse in Centretown/Glebe with a small yard, two bedrooms, and a space for a small workshop for under $500k, I am really excited to give you my money.

Instead, we will probably inherit an older house in Overbrook or Westboro (not quite suburbia) that's not eco-efficient, too big, and that will require us to get off foot commuting and onto something that puts carbon in the air for at least the winter months...and we're the ones doing really well for our age. Most buy in Gatineau, Kanata, Barrhaven or beyond because the bank will only give them so much mortgage.
posted by scrittore at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Actually, in terms of biking and privilege, it's not that biking is a privilege, it's that poor cyclists are invisible. I remember but cannot find an essay about someone who wanted to take pictures of urban cyclists for a project and how she ignored all the non-white, non-rich ones.

In my neighborhood, I see tons and tons of low income bike commuters. It's not uncommon at all.

On another note, biking and privilege are ambiguously related in another way. For instance, privilege enables a lot of stuff about my life - I have a union secretary job that pays okay and has great insurance, and while my house is extremely run down and in a poor neighborhood, I have a mortgage, and I am also accorded various courtesies and permissions because I am white and speak in a middle class manner. However, I am still a secretary and still live in a run-down house in a poor neighborhood. This is not because I am attempting to conceal my trust fund, either. I bike and walk both because I really hate, hate, hate being on the hook for a car and because I can't afford a car. Many of my friends are in similar circumstances - we have stable pink collar or upper-blue-collar jobs (bar-tending at a fancy bar, for instance) and if we don't buy cars, we have enough money for houses and other stuff.
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [17 favorites]


The car started as a convenience, but the efficiency gains it provided meant the car became a requirement to participate in the American economy. Yeah, you can get by without a car in the urban environment, but it's near impossible to have a job and not own a car in suburban/rural America.

It's a bit like how computers were first a great convenience, but now you need to be computer literate in most jobs these days. Capitalism expects you to be as productive as other workers, who do use the conveniences. Except cars don't get the exponential efficiency gains that computers get.

The biggest problem isn't so much cars as cheap oil. We have a convenient short term energy source, and the market doesn't incentivize conserving it or planning to live without it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:44 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I live in a small midwestern city. There are definitely situations where it makes my life a lot easier to drive -- like across town to a client meeting or a doctor's appointment -- and I do drive to those places. But considering that I live less than two to three miles from most places I go on a daily basis -- office, grocery store, gym, etc... it's really quite easy to walk or take the free shuttle or hitch a ride partway with the hubby, or combine the three.

And people around here seriously can't understand that. A lot of my friends and colleagues just don't even comprehend why someone would choose not to drive. Even for a distance that's two or three blocks away. Whenever people find out that I'm about to walk home or hop on the shuttle their immediate response is like, oh, what's wrong, are you okay, do you need a ride. I have drunk people offering me rides in the opposite direction from where they're going just because they're so appalled that I would have to walk.

A lot of drivers around here think that the only reason someone would walk places is because they've lost their license due to too many DUIs. So walking tends to be infused with this aura of shame, and drivers tend to be pretty rude and nasty to anyone on foot.

So like... there are definitely many places in America where it's pretty impossible to get anywhere or do anything without a car. I'm not disputing that. But there are also a lot of places where the reason you drive is because you can, not because you have to. That is something we actually can change simply through changing attitudes, so I think it's reasonable to start there.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 8:46 AM on April 12, 2016 [15 favorites]


Sure, but it's not like Canada and the USA are teenagers. They're countries run by (nominal...) adults who could, if we chose, learn lessons from e.g. Paris above. That we choose not to learn from the better example (see also: Scandinavia in general) is a scathing indictment.

We have things to learn from Europe, yes. But as Lyn Never points out just above you, quite a lot of Europe also has things to learn from Europe. And some things that work in Europe likely will not ever work here, simply by fact of geography.

Mostly, what has me all furious is the sentiment in threads like these along the lines of "well you should have been smarter about mass transit in 1805/1880/1948." Yeah maybe, well let me grab my TARDIS and just fix that then. WE KNOW. Our grandparents and great grandparents done fucked it up. But while you can type "just rebuild all your shit" in five quick glib words, it's not actually a simple or reasonable solution!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:47 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


The hipster urban cyclist trope is really brandished too often, but those aren't half the cyclists I see. I see a lot of poor folks who can't afford a car on bikes in my neighbourhood. Granted, if I cross Princess towards Queen's University, then I do see a lot of well-off students on bikes, but yeah, a lot of people forget that a bike is more affordable for poorer people. It's not just your hipsters on fixies.
posted by Kitteh at 8:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


> "America was built on the principle: Don't have a car? Fuck YOU!"

And as usual in MeFi threads, putting a hyperbolic sentiment into the straw mouth of someone you disagree with or disapprove of does little to advance your position, and everything to alienate those you're (presumably) trying to have a discussion with.
posted by aught at 8:48 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


one things some of you could do is live more in cities. and in the centres of cities.

I will refer to you a previous MF conversation, where several of our users implied or flat out said that those of us who do not earn sufficient incomes to afford to live in cities do not deserve to live there. Someone in that thread said I don’t deserve to live on the East Coast (where I am from) if I can’t afford the real estate.

The studio apartments in the neighborhood of the place where I work cost $600,000, The 1 bedrooms cost one million dollars. The rents are more than my entire salary, even if I stopped putting money in my 401K. The idea that moving to the center of a city is an “easy” solution is belied by every thread where we talk about the absolute insanity of housing prices currently being ratcheted up in the majority of American cities.

Oh, and I ride public transport every day, and I love it. It’s just that I have to drive for 35 minutes first to get to the train station nearest to where I currently live.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:49 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


> As someone who lives in subruria (once rural America outside a small town, now in an area our county has designated as a bedroom community), the pathways to better options are difficult.

My feelings about this aren't going to be very popular with the folks who want to live in suburbia, but I think that the aggressive real-estate/developer push to create new suburbs constantly is a terrible, wasteful scam that's damaging US society. The impossibility of efficient public transportation is just one of the problems it creates.
posted by desuetude at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


in the current state of things most people feel little ownership or control over their built environments.

Citizens in a democracy. There are plenty of people in the U.S. for whom the struggle to survive leaves them no time or capacity to ponder transit policy, and they are excused. Everyone else needs to work on pulling their own weight, even if they don't feel like it, or stop pretending that they're free. (If you want to be that radical about it, I won't argue with you.) It is a very very difficult problem--I myself have always be able to live in an urban center that allows me to avoid car ownership, but most people don't have that option and you can't just pack people up and resettle them. However, every day we make a deliberate choice to continue sustaining the system by pouring endless resources into it (that cheaper house in the suburbs is cheaper because you don't internalize your infrastructure costs), and that system is killing us, and the only planet we've got.
posted by praemunire at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


In places where it's feasible, we should use a gas tax to pay people to bike or take public transit.
posted by gurple at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


But while you can type "just rebuild all your shit" in five quick glib words, it's not actually a simple or reasonable solution!

It was proven in the 30s that massive building of infrastructure is both simple and reasonable. The difficulty now is that Republicans are not the latter.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:51 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I thought Canadian public transit was supposed to be better than American systems? Or at least, in the major cities?
posted by Apocryphon at 8:54 AM on April 12, 2016



It was proven in the 30s that massive building of infrastructure is both simple and reasonable. The difficulty now is that Republicans are not the latter.


Exactly. And since we are long overdue for infrastructure investment, we need to take a hard, honest look about what would be a wise use of that money when we finally decide to invest in our future. Some people in Iowa are being honest.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:55 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


An incremental gain I'd like to see is that even in small, car-dependent Midwestern cities like mine, it would be possible for MANY families (not all, but many) to go from two-car households to one-car households with just a few public policy adjustments. With two adults who work at discrete buildings in town (would not work for city-to-city commuters, who are common here, or for people who drive on the job like salesmen), some incremental improvements in bus service combined with zipcars (or, even better, self-driving short-term rental cars) would enable many families to drop the kids at school, drop adult #1 at work, and have adult #2 park the car at their work. Or have one adult take the bus, or bike, or walk. Or increase carpooling. Or whatever.

My husband and I have been SOOOOOOO close so many times to becoming a one-car family (and that's with children who have to be ferried by car places that are far away), but since we don't have ZipCar or anything like it locally, and cabs require a one-hour-in-advance reservation, we have not yet been able to avoid a situation where one of us needs to drive out of town for work and the other has to have a car to pick up the kids (or deal with a kidmergency). Better buses and on-demand car sharing would make it possible for us to be a car/bike family instead of a car/car family, and I can think of a lot of our friends who could get by with one car if they had access to flex cars of some sort.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:56 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


It was proven in the 30s that massive building of infrastructure is both simple and reasonable.

Physically simple. But a) it wasn't actually politically simple at the time, or socially, and b) building isn't the same as rebuilding. What needs to happen now will require the mass resettlement of populations and the destruction of existing things to which humans, being attachment creatures, have become attached.

Not saying it's impossible. I'm just saying that it's a massive, complex, and sensitive project that will take decades and likely have some unsettling similarities to things that we mostly associate with totalitarian dictatorships. (As Roosevelt was often called.) I still think it should happen. But it will be a HUGE upheaval with tremendous pushback, and claiming it won't is about as realistic as "we'll be greeted as liberators."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:57 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


The essential problem is that people two hundred years ago when they were busy building the nation didn't have 20-20 vision on the diametrically opposite odds of climate change and personal rural transportation in 2016.

Here in Ontario we have plenty of small old rural towns, often just one intersection big, and unless they are lucky enough to capture some tourist trade, they are usually just full of boarded up storefronts, because there isn't enough parking. Instead, the country has become a diffuse mass of big-box stores with scattered bigger towns attracting most of the centralized commerce. Where once people lived on top of shops, or on a compact grid of streets full of modest houses, people are now more isolated, living on huge lots, often in massive, poorly built homes they struggle to heat in the winter. The ever-expanding GTA, meanwhile, continues to gobble up more and more good farmland, replacing it with tracts of even more massive and poorly built homes. Huge highways are continually built and rebuilt, and the vestigial passenger rail system continues to wither.

I guess my point is that one hundred, let alone two hundred years ago, people weren't building like we do now, and if rural southwestern and central Ontario continued to develop like it did during the latter part of the 19th and into the early 20th century, things would probably be better. We would have more farmland preserved, and the old town centres would be served by light rail or streetcars, each stop being a little neighbourhood hub, like it was back then. The suburbs of the GTA that sprung up could be spread across the same area but would be compact towns in themselves, rather than a grey conurbination of cloverleafs and parking lots that reflects planners' contempt for the human scale.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


Jesus Christ, nobody is advocating marching everyone into the city at gunpoint. How about we just stop building sprawl? Now. No more. Done. And start retrofitting sprawl for a sustainable future.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:00 AM on April 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


In places where it's feasible, we should use a gas tax to pay people to bike or take public transit.

Hell, speaking as someone in a small town in the middle of nowhere who drives to work and shopping and whatnot, I think a hefty gas tax should be used to rebuild the infrastructure for public transportation. And now, while gas prices are at a low, would be the perfect time to add that tax.

For all that I think some of the car culture critics in this thread are arguing in silly ways that seem deliberately counter-productive to having an intelligent discussion, I would happily use my car as rarely as possible if I had the option. (The bus system in our town, for example, is shameful - it would take me three transfers and 1.5 hours to get to my job 7 miles away - and about to get cut even farther, according to an article I read a couple days ago.)
posted by aught at 9:00 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought Canadian public transit was supposed to be better than American systems? Or at least, in the major cities?

YUp, when I'm at home it's good. Out in the hinterlands of Brampton, it's fantastically difficult to live without a car.

expletive deleted, I'm fucking sick to death of the GTA's relentless gobbling of some of the best farmland in the country. There is literally no political will to stop it unless the province steps in and flat-out bans any further development that isn't vertical.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:01 AM on April 12, 2016


On the upside, I work with urban planners and engineers, and the demand for pocket parks connected to trails, walkable spaces, and even light rail projects is definitely on an upward swing in the proposals we provide. We all have cars but the commutes in many places are a real beatdown, and people do appreciate things like going to a concert or sporting event without having to deal with parking. Also people have moved here from other places that do have public transportation; they're not afraid of it and would use it. The poorer folks already do use it, as much as they can. When I ride buses and trains in suburbs, they aren't empty, and often they're crowded. There's just not enough routes at enough times/places to allow most of us to give up our cars.

My grandaddy was a railroad man on the K-T (Kansas-Texas) line; my mom and her brothers would ride from Denison to Dallas on one of his trains for a day of shopping or fun, in the 50s. We do have some tradition of rail and transport here that we can revive. We won't be as interconnected as downtown London, but we can definitely make a dent.
posted by emjaybee at 9:04 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's my own "yeah but" anecdata...

I moved from a small town where public transportation was barely more than an afterthought, to a city which has a pretty amazing bus system. I did that deliberately, and one of my goals when moving was to get rid of my car and just use public transportation. I did that for four and a half years, before giving up in frustration and getting a car. There were too many things I needed to be able to do that I couldn't do without a car:

- buying more than a backpack's worth of groceries at a time
- going to Home Depot to get some large thing that was too heavy to lug from the store to the bus stop and from the bus stop to the house - assuming I could have even gotten it on the bus at all
- buses don't go out to the woods where I'd go camping
- taking a bus to the coast for a day would take so long I'd have to immediately start home again
- try going on a first date and explaining that you took the bus there because you don't have a car (this one is for people outside NYC)
...there's more, but you get the idea. And this is in a city that's relatively dense and has a great public-transportation system.

And renting a car for a day or two even once a month amounts to just about a car payment, and at least I get to keep the car and use it all month if I need to.

It's all well and good to say "America built a country based on the car", but now there's Americans who have to live in it every day and don't have a viable alternative.

As usual, I find most "wake up sheeple" type articles to be simplistic and lacking in real answers to real issues.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:10 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


And renting a car for a day or two even once a month amounts to just about a car payment, and at least I get to keep the car and use it all month if I need to.

This is why services like Vrtucar have been godsend for me and my husband. The amount we use it (which is mostly for Costco trips every three months and vet visits) is minor but nice to have when we do need a car. We get to have use of a car without having the actual accruing costs of owning one. I know big cities in the US and Canada have car share programs; I wish midsize to smaller cities did too.
posted by Kitteh at 9:15 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


My grandaddy was a railroad man on the K-T (Kansas-Texas) line; my mom and her brothers would ride from Denison to Dallas on one of his trains for a day of shopping or fun, in the 50s.

My grandfather was related a (crazy to me) story of how, after World War II, he went through a training program at an institution outside DC. His family lived in Spencer, North Carolina, and he would spend the weekends at home, get on an overnight train Sunday night, sleep on the train, wake up, and get on the street car out to Silver Spring for Monday classes. He'd do the reverse on Fridays. These days, he couldn't take that street car, because it doesn't exist anymore, the train stops in Salisbury now(not that far but he'd need to catch a ride), and a ticket to and from DC would run him about $100/week at the absolute cheapest rate, but it's incredible that in the recent past he was able to get that far as a regular traveler with only public transit. Blew my mind.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:16 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


It feels like we're on a dystopian trend toward cars being massively expensive tools that working and lower-middle-class people, and older people and others with mobility struggles, basically need to buy to survive, and wealthier and upwardly mobile people criticize as (literally) dirty, dangerous, selfish, etc.

The desirable jobs and housing, especially for younger people with small families and no mobility issues, are in the urban cores with good transit and usable sidewalks. Everyone else is stuck in the suburbs, rural areas or dangerous and disconnected city neighborhoods with a longer and longer commute.

Probably in a car they can't really afford that causes them endless stress every time it makes a weird and potentially expensive noise. Uber, Lyft, etc. will probably only exacerbate this trend, creating more millennial rich and middle-class people who see cars as something you pay someone else to drive to the places you can't take the train or bus because the stupid racist boomers won't pay for it in their taxes.
posted by smelendez at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


people are worried that among other things, "better transit will increase crime in our communities".

When did Calgary become a part of the American South? That argument is so infuriating to hear. That's the attitude that allowed public transit to wither away down here. Don't let it happen up there, true North strong and free!

I would LOVE there to be reliable bus service here, but there will never be, for no other reason than rich white people are assholes. It really is that simple. They don't need it, they pull the strings, the end. I live in a mostly black mostly poor city, and the rich white people in the suburbs, who fled the city decades ago, are still calling the shots. We got bikeshare just recently, but there are no bike lanes. And this ain't Kansas - we have serious hills here. Biking is HARD. We have buses whose schedules are entirely hypothetical. Oh, and there's Uber, which would run me +$40 round trip to work and back.

So, cars. We're stuck with cars. And I have an inkling of how self-driving cars could go horribly wrong -- imagine a silent stream of empty self-driving cars, endlessly circling the block, because the drop-off lot is juuuuust a little too far away and everyone has selected "pick me up at the door" instead of "pick me up at the lot". Traffic could get WORSE. I mean, if there's a way to fuck shit up with an innovative automobile, Americans are guaranteed to be on THAT cutting edge, right? Ugh. Wish I could still walk to work. It was so nice.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Aren't the people responsible for growing food in the US are somewhere under 1% of the total population?"

That'd still be in the millions. And, anyways, some of them might want to send their kids to a school or a doctor, or may need a fire department nearby or a place to get spare parts for their farm equipment. Not to mention they might want to buy some new clothes occasionally or go see a movie or have a drink at a bar after work.

There may be relatively few people working to grow our food, but they can't exist in a vacuum. They require significant infrastructure right where they live and work.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Canadian public transit is a mixed bag. I'm currently sitting at my desk in Mississauga, and I spend three hours a day and over $250/mo for the privilege. If I drove a car it would take me 20 minutes.

I live between the two biggest streetcar lines in Toronto by ridership, which I think means they are the two biggest lines in North America. They run on smaller, older roads in the more central part of the city. They both carry more commuters than those streets would even be capable of accommodating with cars under ideal circumstances. Even so, proposals that would effectively limit or ban cars from using one of those streets during rush hour remain politically impossible, and I constantly hear complaints about how the streetcars on those streets are bad for traffic. So those routes remain slow and crammed to absolute capacity during commuting hours.

Out here in the suburbs, the major routes are moderately busy during rush hour, but the users are the most depressed, crushed looking bunch, because you generally don't use the bus unless you have literally no other option. The stop that I get off at is on a major road (8 lanes wide here), and is the closest stop for probably hundreds of businesses. It's only a few hundred feet from the front doors of the building my work is in, but in between is the parking lot for a green coffee bean importer. They have a chain-link fence up to keep bus commuters from cutting through their parking lot, that people seem to continually demolish and is continually rebuilt. I just climb over it, when it's there. I had the owner of the company confront me once, from the safety of his vanity-license-plated car. He told me I was trespassing. I told him it cut more than half a mile off my walk from the bus stop. He told me his parking lot was private property. I shrugged and walked away and he didn't pursue it further. Most of that half-mile I would have to walk otherwise is just to get around the vast seas of parking surrounding every business. I hate this place.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:28 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I strongly disagree with the statement that walking and biking to work are a sign of privilege. It invisibilizes an already fairly invisible population.

I completely agree. Something like walking and biking to work can be a sign of privilege - or a sign of a lack thereof. Insisting that it's one and not the other creates a reality where the only people who matter are those with privilege, rather than describing the reality that many people actually face.

More transit, more opportunities to bike and walk in cities (which includes more, diverse jobs in dense areas) benefits everybody. Equity IS a challenge - planners know that transit-oriented design targeted at providing resources for low-income residents can stimulate gentrification. But that challenge is neither insurmountable, nor a fundamental critique.
posted by entropone at 9:30 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've had some uncomfortable moments on public transit with crazy aggressive beggars but ultimately nothing happened. On the other hand I have been hit by cars while cycling, I have been rear-ended in a car twice and I was the car immediately behind a head on highway collision where the car in front of me dissipated impact by going airborne about 6 feet. There was even a baby in the back seat (who was fine). I've known four people who died in car accidents. Almost everyone I know has been in an accident severe enough to require medical attention (Your odds of this as a driver were about 1 in 3000 every year when I last ran the numbers - I believe the odds have actually gotten worse)

The threat from cars is so normalized we don't even notice it anymore. The annual death toll is 10X 9/11. The injury toll is another 100X that. Rural driving is by far the most dangerous form of driving with numbers significant multiples worse than urban or semi-urban areas.

One of the very first things we teach children is to fear the automobiles and to stay out of the designated pedestrian murder zones that we call roads. I know parents who are anti-spank who include an exception for teaching road safety.

Even just 100 years ago this would have seemed to be madness. Automobile drivers were even held responsible for scaring horses! We have reified automobile primacy and immunity so effectively that people cannot conceive of it being otherwise.
posted by srboisvert at 9:30 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think another big point that hasn't really been touched on in this thread is teleworking.

Both me and my wife could do about 80-90% of our jobs remotely. All of the stuff like making phone calls, emailing, working solo on a computer. Even a lot of meetings could be handled via teleconference.

My wife is allowed to work from home one day per week, and she had to choose a day. So she chose Wednesday. They wouldn't allow anyone to telework on Monday or Friday because of suspicion about people possibly turning those days into part of their weekend.

I'm not allowed to telework at all. It's really bizarre, because we are the US branch of a German company, and we use Skype for Business to communicate with our German branch all the time. But for some reason that same method cannot be applied to allow locals to telework. The company is currently planning to build a large addition onto our building to create more office space for bodies to sit at desks. If we simply allowed teleworking, we probably could just do some desk sharing and not have to add on to the building at all.

Think about how much traffic, pollution, road wear, vehicle wear, and other things could be greatly reduced with widespread adoption of teleworking.

And the crazy thing is, we have the technology to do it NOW. No new roads need be built. No transit lines need to be brought into neighborhoods. Most employers provide your computer, so they could provide a laptop instead of a desktop. All we need to do is USE the technology we have in a more widespread fashion.

But it seems that it's so often not allowed because someone in management is afraid an employee might get away with something if they aren't watched.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:32 AM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]



Probably in a car they can't really afford that causes them endless stress every time it makes a weird and potentially expensive noise. Uber, Lyft, etc. will probably only exacerbate this trend, creating more millennial rich and middle-class people who see cars as something you pay someone else to drive to the places you can't take the train or bus because the stupid racist boomers won't pay for it in their taxes.


Yeah, this is the future that I fear, too. Basically, everything gets nicer and nicer and more like a liberal utopia from 1975 for the rich, and just a miserable mess for everyone else. Oh, there will be GLBTQ rich people in the utopia, sure, and everyone will be nice about it; and there will be some people of color, and some immigrants, and there will probably be various Nice Public Amenities. But it won't matter to us, of course, since we'll live in the plebelands.

Basically what's happened is that rich people have realized that there were certain elements of hippie and artistic lifestyles that were actually quite nice. So, as with everything else, they've decided they'll just enclose it because they can.
posted by Frowner at 9:38 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


No new roads need be built. No transit lines need to be brought into neighborhoods.

Oh, and before possible misunderstanding, please note that I meant these phrases to precede "... to allow teleworking".
posted by Fleebnork at 9:38 AM on April 12, 2016


The best book I've read on this subject (albeit tackling it from a rather different angle) is Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:40 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


But it won't matter to us, of course, since we'll live in the plebelands.

But think of the food security benefits: in exchange for running all the infrastructure for the rich to cavort in, we can eat as many of them as we want!
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


But think of the food security benefits: in exchange for running all the infrastructure for the rich to cavort in, we can eat as many of them as we want!

And it's all paleo!
posted by Frowner at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Rebuilding America for something other than car culture is, as others have pointed out, a matter of public policy and not individual choice. For instance, we all know that it's green and good for the environment to live in a city, walk, bike, and take public transit. But take a look at the numerous gentrification threads on here to see what happens when people do just that. "Meanie gentrifiers!" is the cry as young people flock to the cities. And it's true that long-time residents who are poor, often people of color, get displaced. Be careful what you wish for?

The problem is that there isn't enough housing in "green" cities for everyone who wants to live there. We can't cram them all into apodments - there's going to have to be more good-quality housing built, no matter how loud the NIMBYs howl. Likewise, I think a lot could be done to green the suburbs - like it or not, there are people who want to live in detached housing, and it's not because they are selfish and evil and need to "expect less from life" (wtf? I hope that was sarcastic). My own suburban city has a free shuttle that runs through my neighborhood to the local BART station. Free, I tell ya! It only runs during commute hours, but it is FREE, has WiFi, runs every 15 minutes, and is paid for by local businesses. I think it's a step in the right direction.

And, speaking of public transit - it can be really scary. Not because of the black and brown people factor, but because of the "Whatcha Reading?" factor. I don't get that now that I'm middle-aged, but back when I was younger, egads. And this was before the era of the iPod/smartphone and earbuds. People who say "psshh, public transit isn't scary!" need to put themselves in young women's shoes for a bit. I think eliminating the "Whatcha Reading?" factor (however that might happen) would help the cause of public transit a lot.

Not to mention the harassment that young women get when they walk or bike! Something that men who urge biking and walking must think about. Biking, walking, public transit must take into account those who are not able-bodied and male.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:51 AM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


Right, more public transit totally solves this!

All we need is an efficient, high-speed train! But then I have to stop every time someone else wants to get off, I have to go to the train station to get on, and I have to follow the route the train does.

So what we need is a train where the cars can detach from the moving train so it doesn't have to stop when a passenger reaches their destination. If we could get those individual cars to detach and then get driven over the road to pick people up at their houses, we've solved another problem. Then, if we give it tires instead of steal wheels (it needs this to be able to pick people up at their door any way), then it can take whatever route you want!

Or instead, we could just have a bunch of networked, self-driving cars that can come pick you up and then gets on the highway. Since they're networked (and let's just assume the security issues have been solved), they can drive at REALLY high speeds and follow REALLY closely behind the other cars.

So what you end up with looks like a high-speed train where the cars detach automatically to pick up and drop off passengers.

As far as walking/biking to work go. Yeah, it's totally great, I love to do it when I can but we have winter here in Minnesota so I'm kind of annoyed by people who keep telling me to walk/bike to work through a half foot of snow and/or air cold to cause frostbite in minutes.
posted by VTX at 9:52 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


All we need is an efficient, high-speed train! But then I have to stop every time someone else wants to get off, I have to go to the train station to get on, and I have to follow the route the train does.

Here's the thing; those last two are only problems because our current understanding of "train stations" and "train routes" is that they are far away from one's home and do not go many places. This is because our current mass transit in much of the US is absolutely abysmal. It's not because that's what mass transit must be. Ideally if cities are overhauling their transit systems or creating new ones, they're doing it *well* and not just reproducing the current problems. (Yeah, I know, fat chance.)

A mass transit system built to address the problem of car dependence would have sufficient lines and stations to minimize the distance of housing from train stops. It would address the major destination patterns and go where people need it to go. It's not a problem to follow the train's route when that route goes where you need to be.

And yes, a well-designed transit system would also be coupled with adaptations for the climate, such as warm shelters and covered pathways.


The first issue is just a fundamental misunderstanding of how trains work and I'm not sure how you got there. It's not a bus, you don't pull a cord at every corner and let one or two people off. It goes to a series of fixed stops at which large numbers generally disembark. I've been on the MPLS light rail and it works like every other train, so...confused.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:07 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


As far as walking/biking to work go. Yeah, it's totally great, I love to do it when I can but we have winter here in Minnesota so I'm kind of annoyed by people who keep telling me to walk/bike to work through a half foot of snow and/or air cold to cause frostbite in minutes.

If I were a terrible human, I would point out that I bike or walk year-round and indeed have biked and walked year-round since 2008 right here in Minnesota. (It's about 4.5 miles round trip the short way, though. But I do know someone with a ten mile round trip who does it all year.)

I mean, it's possible....but it's really a commitment. I think a certain amount of infrastructure changes could bump up the year-round bike/walk count (it really makes a difference when you have a bike path that is cleared right away, for instance - that's what makes my winter work commute fairly safe even on snow days) but it's certainly not a major policy solution.

I really only started because the bus I needed to take at the time was always, always late. Getting home took two short rides, but the second bus was always, always late - anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, and especially in winter. So one day I just got so pissed off that I decided I was going to walk home from the second bus stop, which itself was almost as far as walking directly home from work instead of busing around, and then I decided that I relished the control of the route more than I liked not walking. If I'd had better bus transit, I probably wouldn't have started in the first place.
posted by Frowner at 10:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


All we need is an efficient, high-speed train!

I would be happy if we could look back to what worked and didn't work in Streetcar Suburbs, and see what could work today.
posted by eckeric at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I live in Minnesota right now, too. Two years ago, when there was a polar vortex and a few days of temps forecasted at -35 Farenheit (and news warnings that exposed skin in those conditions would freeze in like under a minute or something awful), I got a memo from my employer saying that the offices would definitely be OPEN, employees should come to work, and for safety, here are a bunch of tips for safe winter commuting. The tips for safe winter commuting were all based around what to do with your car (drive it safely, keep a winter emergency kit in it, etc etc) - which was really stupid. Plus it angered me, because I did not want to die while standing at a bus stop.

The point of all of this is not to tell people that you are a bad person because you're using a car, or that the important things in your life don't matter because you have to take less convenient public transportation, blah blah blah. It's to say that we can build cities where more efficient choices are also more convenient. And when we build them, many people benefit - even people who, right now, must use their cars because of the conditions of your life.

We want to build you cities where, sure, I guess you can use your cars if you want (though it would be nice to not externalize the costs of auto use onto the people who have to breathe the air, the vulnerable people who are more likely to get injured in the inevitable collisions, etc) - but if you don't want to, or don't have to, you don't NEED to.

It blows my mind that some people get all "you're taking away my freedoms" about this.
posted by entropone at 10:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


There were too many things I needed to be able to do that I couldn't do without a car:

- buying more than a backpack's worth of groceries at a time

Folding grocery carts are great for this.

- going to Home Depot to get some large thing that was too heavy to lug from the store to the bus stop and from the bus stop to the house - assuming I could have even gotten it on the bus at all

There are services (not in all areas, obviously) like Dolly where you can get curbside to curbside delivery of items too big for public transit

- buses don't go out to the woods where I'd go camping

I don't know much about camping equipment, but a bike with a trailer could pull most camping things

taking a bus to the coast for a day would take so long I'd have to immediately start home again

That one is difficult, but I would probably try to car share

- try going on a first date and explaining that you took the bus there because you don't have a car (this one is for people outside NYC)

Um, if your date judges you for using public transport, I don't know what to say about that. Lame.

Look, there are no perfect solutions, but there ARE workarounds for many, many people.
posted by agregoli at 10:25 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


I bused during a lot of the polar vortex, too. It was just too cold. And it really made me even more angry at our city's transit planning, because we have terrible bus shelters. Like, literally, the bus shelter where I would wait for my evening bus has a design which leaves it substantially open at the back - so if it was snowing outside, it was snowing inside! And this was a big shelter at a major bus commute point.

When I was younger, we still had more bus shelters and they actually sheltered you, but they've been torn down or redesigned because OMG homeless people might sit in them out of the rain, and that would be the worst. We're not willing to house people, but we sure as shit don't want to see them being homeless in public either. So no one gets real bus shelters and we can all just freeze - after all, if we were worthwhile humans, we would own cars.
posted by Frowner at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [15 favorites]


eckeric:
"I would be happy if we could look back to what worked and didn't work in Streetcar Suburbs, and see what could work today."
The other thing becoming exposed by our crumbling roads are the trolley tracks all over town, even to some surprisingly far away places. Forget the buses!
posted by charred husk at 10:27 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would be happy if we could look back to what worked and didn't work in Streetcar Suburbs, and see what could work today.

If you plan your density around high-volume transit, it really works. The problem for most cities is we're retrofitting the transit solutions on top of existing planning (i.e., the exact opposite) - therefore, if people are already spread out, you need a lot of routes just to service them at all, let alone to service them well. Trains and busses start to run at a deficit right around the time you are able to get a free seat next to you on them, and unfortunately for so many that point is a mile or more from their home.

The problem is most cities have planning departments and transportation/transit departments, all of whom are kinda in cahoots but not really, and all of whom were not in cahoots enough from the 60's to the 00's when most of the housing stock was built wherever was cheapest. Housing drove roads, and now as a result of not listening to people like Jane Jacobs, we're trying to put the thing we should've planned for first - last.

If you had 1,000 sq km of pristine land to start new, you'd put in the transit network, then plan on top of it, then put roads in where you needed them in that order. The solutions that work for building new do not work for retrofitting old, unfortunately, and yet people keep trying.
posted by scrittore at 10:29 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know! What if everyone biked when they could [if they could], and adopted such workarounds as made sense for them, and drove the rest of the time? I mean, for some people there is a lightbulb moment of "wow, with this new backpack I really can buy a week's worth of groceries at once!" and that's great, but then for some people no backpack is going to solve their biking problems and that's okay.

Also, holy crap must one be a dedicated bike camper to bike camp. I have done it, and it's all right, but when you're going uphill into the wind lugging all that stuff - well, that's not fun and games. I have rarely been so physically miserable when I wasn't seriously ill.
posted by Frowner at 10:30 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


because OMG homeless people might sit in them out of the rain, and that would be the worst.

This strikes me as part and parcel of the issue with buses discussed above. In so many, many, many ways, the reason we cannot have nice public spaces comes down to "because we would have to treat people better and we're not willing to do that."

Setting aside the logistical and economic problems of overhauling the entire nation (so simple!) there will still need to be a philosophical sea change about what constitutes a person and a society and how we should act within those definitions.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


The article covered a lot, but I feel like it left out the importance of design. There was a period in my life where I had the time to go to meetings (largely during the day) and attempt to advocate for safer, less auto-centric designs in my city. The whole thing felt futile as city transportation engineers would point at the standards and say they couldn't, say, make the traffic lanes anymore narrow or lower the speed limit, etc.

The default framing of government policy/laws is that moving cars quickly is a public good above all else. Or that safety means designs that allow cars to move faster because they are traveling at a speed not intended by the design of existing infrastructure and therefore unsafe. It's all very antiquated to me.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


One thing to keep in mind is that some people just don't do well in urban cities. The noise. The speed of life. The amount of people. Etc. Etc. I currently live in a big urban city with not great, but acceptable public transit options and all that good stuff, but it hurts my mental state being here. When I travel back to my mid-size hometown or just go out to a small country town it's like I'm breathing again for the first time in months. So even if all the jobs and all the new infrastructure and all that in the future is geared towards cities, a lot of people wouldn't want to (and probably shouldn't for their mental health) live there.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:36 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I bused during a lot of the polar vortex, too. It was just too cold. And it really made me even more angry at our city's transit planning, because we have terrible bus shelters. Like, literally, the bus shelter where I would wait for my evening bus has a design which leaves it substantially open at the back - so if it was snowing outside, it was snowing inside! And this was a big shelter at a major bus commute point.

At least you had a bus shelter. Mine - well, okay, there was a bus shelter there, but it was open facing the street and it was just filled - like COMPLETELY - with plowed snow.

Gotta clear a path for the cars. Cars are people too.

The default framing of government policy/laws is that moving cars quickly is a public good above all else. Or that safety means designs that allow cars to move faster because they are traveling at a speed not intended by the design of existing infrastructure and therefore unsafe. It's all very antiquated to me.


Relevant: Streets aren't hoses - they are gardens.
posted by entropone at 10:44 AM on April 12, 2016


Good, then we can talk about the MPLS light rail!

I used to work in Downtown Minneapolis and I live in Bloomington (just to the south). I'm lucky in that one of the express routes for the city buses pick me up across the street from my house and drops me off about a half block from my office building. Door to door takes about 45 minutes.

My other option would be to drive over the Mall of America's park and ride to get on the train. The train ride itself is only 40 minutes but that doesn't include the 20 minutes it takes for me to drive and park at the station. A LOT fewer people can walk to the train stations than can walk to the bus stops. And before anyone brings it up, no, I'm not going to ride the bus to the train station. If I have to transfer, I'm not using public transportation.

The point I'm trying to make is that if you were to design a train that overcomes the problems with trains as a mode of transportation, what you would end up with would basically be automated, networked, automobiles.

I know that some people walk or bike to work year 'round even up here in the north. But I'm sure those folks would know better than most that it's simply not an option for some and an intolerably miserable experience for many, if not most, others.

It's like people saying, "You should get more exercise," without realizing that they're really saying, "You should run a marathon."

And just because I think it's an interesting observation in the context of the thread, let me add that I'm a HARDCORE car guy. I LOVE cars. I like to look at them, I like to read about them, and I love to drive them.

In part, I think that I would like to see a lot changing in our relationship with the automobile so that it's easier to enjoy the cars that I REALLY like. I mean, the Toyota Venza (think Carmy Station Wagon) is nice in an "appliance" sort of way but I'd much rather be driving a little sports car. I want fleets of automated cars that can move mass numbers of people around with a stunning degree of efficiency, safety, and speed for all of the driving that people HAVE to do so that, in the rare case when I actually put my hands on a real steering wheel to drive for fun, the roads are more clear, I'm not fatigued from driving everywhere all the time, and my future, theoretical sports car is efficient and rare enough that it doesn't have any environmental impact and probably a suite of safety features that will save me from hurting someone else or maybe manual driving only happens as a hobby, on closed courses (think fun to drive but stopping short of an actual race track).

I'm also a home-based employee who thinks it's absurd that so many people still go to a physical office when they neither want or need to.

I really don't see stuff like this as an attack on car culture and I wish people on both sides would stop treating it as such. The thing that get's my back up is the idea of just writing off cars like the issues with them are unsolvable. I mean, 100% autonomous driving solves a lot of the issues and we're seeing that technology evolve right now. Other advances continue to eliminate or mitigate the other issues. Getting rid of cars entirely is no more a solution than everyone continuing to buy huge, inefficient SUVs that they don't need.
posted by VTX at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


- buying more than a backpack's worth of groceries at a time
Folding grocery carts are great for this.


So now I've got a large backpack AND a grocery cart to wangle on and off the bus. The other passengers love me for slowing everyone else down and taking up, at a minimum, two seats.

- going to Home Depot to get some large thing that was too heavy to lug from the store to the bus stop and from the bus stop to the house - assuming I could have even gotten it on the bus at all
There are services (not in all areas, obviously) like Dolly where you can get curbside to curbside delivery of items too big for public transit


"Not in all areas", indeed. 'Nuff said.

- buses don't go out to the woods where I'd go camping
I don't know much about camping equipment, but a bike with a trailer could pull most camping things


Some people can manage that in some places, but many many people can't. Should they be denied the ability to go camping? And if I drive, say, 5 or 6 hours (which I often do), the time it would take to get there and back on a bike equals, oh, let's say the entire weekend.

taking a bus to the coast for a day would take so long I'd have to immediately start home again
That one is difficult, but I would probably try to car share


Also not a viable alternative for most people.

- try going on a first date and explaining that you took the bus there because you don't have a car (this one is for people outside NYC)
Um, if your date judges you for using public transport, I don't know what to say about that. Lame.


Been on a date outside a major metro area recently? Good luck with that. And your "Lame" response is just as judgemental and poorly-considered.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


The overlooked thing about the train, though, is that just as in larger cities a lot of people use it for within-city transportation. Just yesterday I took the train to the gym (!) - I wanted to walk to work instead of biking because walking helps with my stupid hip pain deal, but I also wanted to go to the gym, and I didn't want to take the express bus o'racists that is the other option. So I took the green line to downtown (whoosh!) and the blue line to the gym (also whoosh!) and it was immensely speedy and simple, almost like magic.

That is, the train isn't just for bringing people into the city from the suburbs - it also moves far more people at once around the city itself than the bus can.

I do think that there's a certain degree of compromise that car users are going to have to make eventually, though. Public transit can be improved, sure - more buses, more trains, more routes - but there's going to have to be parking and/or walking involved, and it just won't be as fast as a car unless you have a very particular route. (It's faster to get to the gym from downtown by train than by car, for instance.) I'm not saying that everyone has to slog a mile through the sleet just to get to the bus stop, but the benefits of public amenities don't lie in their ability to mimic private ones precisely.
posted by Frowner at 10:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


So now I've got a large backpack AND a grocery cart to wangle on and off the bus. The other passengers love me for slowing everyone else down and taking up, at a minimum, two seats.

Huh? This is extremely common on public transit. Maybe your area is bizarrely different than Chicago, but I wouldn't bat an eye at a backpack and grocery cart.

"Not in all areas", indeed. 'Nuff said.

I'm not telling you that you have these solutions NOW. I'm saying that they are starting to exist, and demand for them is obviously there, like in your situation.

Some people can manage that in some places, but many many people can't. Should they be denied the ability to go camping? And if I drive, say, 5 or 6 hours (which I often do), the time it would take to get there and back on a bike equals, oh, let's say the entire weekend.

Hey, you sound kind of fighty about this and I'm not trying to act like you can "just" do anything. I wouldn't "deny you the ability to go camping." But it's silly to act like a car is the only way people get this done. I have a friend who routinely bikes her camping equipment into the wilderness alone.

Also not a viable alternative for most people.

(on car share to the beach) - I acknowledged this.

Been on a date outside a major metro area recently? Good luck with that. And your "Lame" response is just as judgemental and poorly-considered.
posted by Greg_Ace a


Huh, again? So you think that people judging you for not having a car is less judgmental than me thinking those people are assholes? Hmmm.
posted by agregoli at 11:09 AM on April 12, 2016


Why can't we have teleport booths instead?

People keep mistaking the suicide booths for teleporters. The cleanup costs alone are astronomical.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


So here are some questions that I would want to ask people who are almost able to bike places but not quite:

1. Is there a level of savings that would make the inconvenience worth it for some particular journeys?

2. Is there a physical mitigation that would make the trip possible? (By a quirk of bus design, for instance, many buses around here have a little ledge up front, and people always stash their groceries there when it's free. Could buses be designed to have some slots for people's shopping?)

3. Tell me more about your social experience on public transit - how often do you have a bad interaction? What do you think enables that bad interaction? Is it characteristic of a particular route, time of day, etc? (I mean, one bad interaction every six months is a serious problem if it's bad enough that you dread it every day even when it doesn't happen.)

4. Where do you wish you could go that public transit can't take you?

It seems like the easiest way to work on increasing public transit ridership is to target people who are close to being able to use public transit, and see if there are commonalities of need that could be addressed to get those people, as it were, on the bus.
posted by Frowner at 11:19 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


My other option would be to drive over the Mall of America's park and ride to get on the train. The train ride itself is only 40 minutes but that doesn't include the 20 minutes it takes for me to drive and park at the station. A LOT fewer people can walk to the train stations than can walk to the bus stops.

No see, you're missing my point, which isn't that YOU should use YOUR existing transit more. My point is that ALL of the transit needs to be redone, to be BETTER than it is. More stations, more lines, rail stops and bus stops closer to both residences and popular destination hubs.

If I have to transfer, I'm not using public transportation.

Well, okay. This actually IS an example of an unreasonable expectation for mass transit. The vast majority of transit users have adapted just fine to the occasional transfer, which again, is mostly only a hassle because current underfunded and undermanaged transit systems can't get their schedules to line up properly.

If there's no level of seamless transfer that would make you take mass transit then no, you just basically don't want transit. And that's fine--enough of everyone else will take it, and you can putter about in your carpod while enjoying the drastically reduced traffic.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


I read it as, "Judging other people negatively because they used the bus to take you on a date is lame so why would you want to date the person who does that?"

If don't want to date people that would judge you negatively for taking a date on the bus, then the people that will judge you harshly for it are people you don't want to date any way and it's a non-issue.

Even if you don't buy into all that, it's a problem with the other person's perception and not a problem with buses or public transit. A reality of it? Sure, but the solution is to change people's perceptions, not to stop using public transit.
posted by VTX at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2016


Can we avoid the "why I can't/why you can" bullshit? Nobody looks good from it.
posted by charred husk at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


So: cars! They are a problem. But also a solution! That causes more problems. What have we covered?

1. The U.S.: big! Not much transit outside cities! You need a car.
2. Unless you live in a city.
3. But maybe that city has shitty transportation and you have special needs.
4. So even in a city you might need a car. Sometimes.
5. Cars pollute! And hit bikes! And take up resources/space that trains/bikes/pedestrians could use!
6. But we can maybe help that with non-fossil-fuel cars.
7. And also more telecommuting.
8. And maybe penalties for driving/more taxes on driving?
9. And also lots more rail/buses/trolleys/bike lanes/etc.

Did I capture it all?
posted by emjaybee at 11:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


The way we think about moving through the world needs to shift. Right now our thinking is "I have three kids, how can I possibly get them to daycare and then get to work and go shopping, etc etc so I must have my car." Ultimately the internal conversation should be "Hmmm, I don't have a car and these are my options for transport, is it smart to have that third child?" But we are generations (if ever) away from that kind of thinking.

And I am someone who relied heavily on a car for a loooong time. My commute used to be 45 minutes each way in a car. Now I travel by train into NYC and then use the subways. But I have to get in my car and drive 15 minutes to the train station. There is a bus stop walking distance to my house, but the buses don't start early enough for me to be able to get it to my train in nearly enough time.

As skanky as some of the NYC subways can be, I was just marveling to a friend over the weekend that, as a public transport system, it's pretty amazing in its design and ability to move millions of people around every day. You can go from the tip of Brooklyn to the tip of the Bronx for under $3. It'll take you a couple hours, but hey. And I see something unnerving every day on the subway. Fights, mostly. But this is a problem of our inability to treat mental illness and homelessness. Who would blame a homeless person for spending their entire day riding the air conditioned cars of the subway in the heat or in the dead of winter when the cars are significantly warmer than the platforms.
posted by archimago at 11:22 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


But it's silly to act like a car is the only way people get this done. I have a friend who routinely bikes her camping equipment into the wilderness alone.

Good for your friend. Again, that's by no means a workable option for most people in many situations. I'm getting "fighty" because I see simplistic answers being given for complex issues.

I'm not saying cars are the only way, period. I'm saying cars are currently the only way for many people, and blithely offering suggestions like "use a bike instead" isn't very helpful. Something needs to be done, I agree, but the options you offered aren't going to work right now except for a small subset of people in a small subset of situations. The truth is that it's going to take a phenomenally massive change in US infrastructure and culture, and it's not going to be simple or easy.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:24 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


And as someone else pointed out, it's not something that's going to happen because a few people are able to find personal alternatives.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2016


Ultimately the internal conversation should be "Hmmm, I don't have a car and these are my options for transport, is it smart to have that third child?" But we are generations (if ever) away from that kind of thinking.

I don't even know what you are getting at here; nobody who needs a car is smart enough/deserving enough to reproduce? Childless people don't need cars? I am baffled.
posted by emjaybee at 11:29 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Honestly, living as I do in a city where many people begin as Car Folk and gradually shed that status, the philosophical sea change might not even actually take that long once it gets underway. I've been carless for the past 8 years, and it has become so ingrained in the way I move about the world that even when I do have a car, I'm not entirely sure how to use it. Things that would require a car, like camping or hauling a bunch of shit, these are just things I don't do in my life. I built my life to be another way. Left to my own devices I might drive one time per year.

My partner, on the other hand, has only been carless for a couple of years. He spent the first year in a pretty much constant rage about not being able to go A to B, door to door, 24/7/365. He spent the second year mostly being mad that the buses we use are inconsistent and stop early. He spent our recent car-based vacation lamenting the need to drive all over christendom.

So that's a pretty thorough mental changeover, but it took a solid 2 years of steady unpleasantness. I don't know how we convince literally all of the US to suck it up and make their own lives shitty for 2ish years...but hey, open to ideas.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:31 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Your partner was me when I moved to Canada. I had never not owned a car in my entire adult life whereas my partner never owned a car as an adult, period. I was the one who caused us to buy a car when I moved up there. He was never fond of it despite acknowledging its usefulness. When we were able to sell it for good upon moving to Kingston, he heaved a sigh of relief.
posted by Kitteh at 11:41 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


"I would be happy if we could look back to what worked and didn't work in Streetcar Suburbs, and see what could work today."

Oh, hey, I'm totally working on a project about that right now! Well, it started as cataloging the architecture of the streetcar suburb, but it's evolved into examining the development and decline of the streetcar neighborhood in question (currently quite blighted) and thinking about what sorts of things would need to happen for it to be an economically vibrant neighborhood again. (I have not yet written up much of the research I've been doing yet but you can see a couple of things there.) It still is an amazingly dense area compared to the rest of the city residential neighborhoods, even though average household size has fallen, and it's still relatively reasonable to live in it without a car -- there are pretty good bus lines to downtown (and they've been putting in newer, better shelters with solar power!), there are food markets that you can walk to, etc. They've added bike lanes and made some of the main arteries more pedestrian-safe, improved drainage, etc.

Anyway one of the things I've been kind-of thinking about is whether houses north of the 1960 sprawl line in my city (urban dense residential south of the line; suburban sprawl-type residential north of it) should pay a property tax premium for a two-car garage. Not something screw-twistingly unaffordable, but since we don't pay a city sticker tax on cars, maybe something that slightly shifts the costs to the city of multiple-car families on to the families that own those multiple cars? And put those revenues towards transit and sidewalks and so on. Just pondering creative ways to shift the needle not to "OWN NO CARS YOU BAD CAR PEOPLE" but "economically incentivize owning one less car if you're a multi-car family and let's fund some infrastructure that makes that a reasonable possibility for more families."

"So here are some questions that I would want to ask people who are almost able to bike places but not quite:"

For us, the biggest issue BY FAR is the schedule of the buses. They're far too infrequent and they're relatively unpredictably spaced. GPS on the buses that would tell our phones where they are and when they're coming would help. (Our kids' school buses can do this ... I get an automatic text when the GPS detects they're running late by 10 minutes or more.) But yeah, the biggest complaint I hear here about buses is the schedule. The routes are a bit thin on the ground, but we could use them for at least SOME things if they came more predictably and more frequently. (The schedule issue is particularly tough with kids in tow.) The buses are clean and modern and safe during the daytime (I hear they can be a bit weird at night); there's the occasional mentally ill person being loudly mentally ill, but that's life in the city and they're mostly not menacing. (And frankly this town is small enough that people recognize a lot of them, like "dancing guy" is pretty famous and nobody's really bothered by his dancing and shouting because everyone knows who he is.)

But really -- out here in Real America of Corn, many more households are multi-car households than in cities (where there are far more singles and couples, and fewer families). No, you cannot take away our cars, we could not live here where your corn comes from, it is not realistic, and you need our corn. However, it's TOTALLY reasonable to say, "So how can we turn some of these two-car households into one-car households, or these three- or four-car households into two- or three-car households?" A lot of families NEED one car because we live in corn country, but they NEED two or three cars because of shitty infrastructure decisions. I know a lot of families who would really prefer NOT to be maintaining that beater car the teenagers use when everyone has to be driving at once. (I also know a lot of families who have shifted to putting that off later and later, and that shows up in state statistics on when teenagers get their licenses -- almost two years later than when I was a teenager.)

So what small, incremental adjustments could we make to infrastructure and public transit that would make it possible for a family with multiple cars to get rid of just ONE of those cars, probably at a significant savings for the family? In the suburbs of big cities, too, a lot of "bedroom communities" could, with relatively small improvements, help many families get by with one fewer car. (Maybe employers who move 2,000 employees out to big suburban campuses that aren't served by transit should have to pay some kind of tax for the increased road burden? And definitely parking lots should be paying runoff taxes around here.) The network effects and knock-on effects of these small, incremental improvements aimed at making it possible for families to live with one fewer car would probably make it more possible for more families to live with NO cars, and create a virtuous cycle where better infrastructure and transit makes it easier and more convenient to decide to be car free, and easier for people who can't (elderly, disabled, children) or prefer not to drive to get around. And that's be great! But let's aim at that marginal last car first. Not to get rid of all cars, but to get rid of the least useful cars, that nobody really WANTS to own but feel like they have to keep around for a small set of use cases. Can we attack that very small set of use cases and make some progress on the margins? I bet we can.

"- going to Home Depot to get some large thing" ... "There are services (not in all areas, obviously) like Dolly"

Around here, big-box home improvement stores will rent you a pickup for 2 or 3 hours for $20. Since we're a dense little city surrounded by epic quantities of farmland, there are a lot of people who own econobox commuter cars but who periodically want to haul shit out to their farm or hunting property, or who grew up on farms and do a lot of home improvement themselves. But who don't need or want to pay for or try to park a large car 99% of the time. We're often like, "$250 of supplies for this project and we can either make four trips, get our truck-friend to take us, or add $20 to the cost to rent the store truck." It's not unreasonable.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:44 AM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


I used to live in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of town. And then my car died. I already rode my bike a lot, and I thought I would be ok, but it was unexpectedly shitty. Part of this was that the only walking/ bike route into town flooded out for a month, and the city sent a bus once an hour to transport us out via the freeway. The bus didn't have a bike rack, and it pretty much dumped us all by the side of the road. It also didn't run at all on Sunday, and it only ran 9-5 on Saturday. At that point, my life became totally untenable, but even before then, it was really hard. It took two hours on the bus to get to a grocery store. The bike ride was less time, but I couldn't fit very much into the milk crate on the back of my bike, and once I hit a bump and all my groceries went flying, which was so awful. Things that were so easy when I had a car all of a sudden became really hard.

So basically, I get a little pissed off when people talk about how easy it is to go without a car, because I tried it, and it was not easy. It was survivable, but it wasn't the way I wanted to live my life.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:47 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


Some of the justifications for car ownership get increasingly absurd. Like, how many people really go camping frequently enough, or buy big furniture often enough that renting is not practical? I once worked with someone who rationalized buying a giant SUV over a small commuter because she and her husband wanted his parents to be comfortable in the back seats when they visited for three days each year.

Anyway, I get it. It's not really one thing. Once you have a car, the use cases keep expanding, and every additional expense looks pretty marginal once you've already sunk the monthly payment and insurance. That's part of the problem of car culture, though. Once I own a car, I can justify living in a transit-poor environment, and once I live there, giving up the car becomes an impossibility. Owning the car lets me make choices that further cement the necessity of the car. And in a society where many people start owning cars before they've left the family home, the idea of giving it up is strange and alien.

I do sometimes fantasize about car ownership, particularly when I'm waiting for an intercity bus -- not a mode of travel that makes me feel like I've achieved success. But living where I do ("privileged" to rent a somewhat shabby apartment on the subway line), it just doesn't make sense to own, financially or otherwise. I will make do with transit, biking and the occasional rental for a long time to come.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Is there a name a la "Godwin's Law" for when someone in an internet discussion inevitably brings up how people who reproduce are just the worst?
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Greg_Ace, I didn't casually rebut anything you said like a trump card and I'm offended you think I'm being glib with my answers. I don't know why this has to be an argument at all. I didn't ask you to give up your car, so chill.
posted by agregoli at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Americans, love your car as yourself, because it is you, and through it you have transformed the world.
posted by telstar at 12:05 PM on April 12, 2016


Hey, you sound kind of fighty about this and I'm not trying to act like you can "just" do anything. I wouldn't "deny you the ability to go camping."

Their original point included that renting a car a couple times a month was about on-par for costs as just owning one. I too own a car in part because I go camping on a regular basis. The point of camping for most people isn't to sleep outside, it's to go someplace scenic and away from a lot of people. For most people, that's a substantially further distance that what can be biked.

Once you have the sunk cost of owning a car, that boosts your likelihood of using it, even when you don't have to. I specifically bought my house to be within walking distance to groceries, but when it's pouring rain and there's something I want, it's easy to talk myself into just driving rather than waiting for the weather to get better.

Is there a level of savings that would make the inconvenience worth it for some particular journeys? ... Tell me more about your social experience on public transit - how often do you have a bad interaction?

The bus for me is cheap enough that it's effectively free once I factor in not putting miles on my car, it's the cost in time (with flaky schedules, what is a 8-10 minute drive turns into a 30-50 minute bus experience, including a random wait with no bus shelter) that's the big thing I use to decide whether I want to be environmentally friendly or not. My route is scheduled to run every 15 minutes, yet somehow I often end up standing for 20 minutes at the stop.

I'd guess that after 4PM, around one time out of three there's some kind of threatening/harassing experience that I see on my route into the city. I'm male and big and scary looking so it's rarely aimed at me, but it makes for an uncomfortable ride.

if there are commonalities of need that could be addressed to get those people, as it were, on the bus.

I suspect for many people it's the amount of time it takes. It's a huge problem for the people that do rely on public transit too, just the middle and upper class can afford to pay to get around it.

I similarly like the idea of taking trains for intercity travel, but the route I most commonly need to take is routinely two to four hours late on what's scheduled to be a five hour trip.
posted by Candleman at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Like, how many people really go camping frequently enough, or buy big furniture often enough that renting is not practical?

Actually, I don't own a car - and yet I do stuff where it's really a pain in the ass not to have a car far more frequently than you'd think, and again, it's a pain in the ass. (Things were better before my best friend went carless (!), because I'd buy her lunch and she'd run errands with me.)

Twice a year or so, I rent a car for the day and drive all around the metro like a fury, buying cat litter and laundry soap and potting soil and anything heavy. I have to take the train to the airport to pick up the car, and take the train back from dropping off the car. This is generally a rather blah day, because I have to drive to a gazillion far-flung places and then back home, unload the car, drive out again, unload, etc.

Intermittently, I persuade another friend to take me to the hardware store or on any remote errands. We borrow our neighbors' truck when we have to take house repair stuff to the dump. I bus home with a heavy/bulky load of stuff from Target every so often; my housemate takes a 2.5 hour round trip to get stuff at Home Depot.

Fairly often, I wish I had or could do something that would require a car. I've got a bunch of stuff to drop off at St. Vincent de Paul right now, for instance, and I need to ask a friend to borrow her car, but I hate to bug her because she's busy. I could really use some bulky Target stuff, but - same thing. There's some far-flung errands that I'm putting off.

Again, it's not that my life is terrible, but I would say that I have totally legitimate realistic needs for a car a couple of times a month, and in that one respect, my life would be easier if I had a car. I don't use a car that often because of the difficulty and/or expense of obtaining one, but that just means that the errands build up and stuff doesn't get done.

And I sure would like to be able to take advantage of sales on canned goods - I just can't haul that much home on my bike.
posted by Frowner at 12:08 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I like skiing. Surprisingly enough, I do not own a pair of skis-- it makes much more sense for me to rent them when I need them, even though it is a perfectly reasonable thing for me to ask, "how am I supposed to get to the bottom of the mountain without skis???"

Cars have their uses. But we can certainly have a future where a family will have less than one car per driving-age person and cars are driven on an as-needed basis rather than a daily part of our lives. Instead we have all normalized on the idea that each of us should get into debt on average every 7 years to make a large capital purchase of a depreciating asset which does not even make money for us during its lifespan.
posted by deanc at 12:09 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


And I sure would like to be able to take advantage of sales on canned goods - I just can't haul that much home on my bike.

Are cabs an option? I've been using cabs to haul shit back and forth from places since forever and now that Uber dropped prices the cost of my wife and I taking public transportation to/from the grocery store is maybe $1-2 off from taking a cab.
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on April 12, 2016


I'm not stanning for cars or anything, but the "convenience" is often more like "hey, wow, I can carry home both laundry detergent and a couple of winter squash plus my regular shopping since I have a car!"
posted by Frowner at 12:11 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe one answer is community owned car shares for drivers still in high school.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:16 PM on April 12, 2016


I'm not stanning for cars or anything, but the "convenience" is often more like "hey, wow, I can carry home both laundry detergent and a couple of winter squash plus my regular shopping since I have a car!"

I do this by not having a car and taking a cab when I'm doing more than a reasonable carry of groceries. (Living on my own, that's not super often). Public transit or hoof it to the store, cab back if needed.

(Not applicable in areas without cab service)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:17 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I doubt that most analysts think the solution to these problems is on an individual level. Sure, drive less, try to figure out other modes of transportation when possible -- but of course, for most of us at time X and place Y, there's not too much freedom to adjust that stuff without really massive inconveniences. So the solutions have to be on the societal, policy, and infrastructure level, and therefore will probably take decades to unravel this mess that Eisenhower, Moses, Levitt, and the rest got us into in the 40s and 50s. But even so, the societal solutions are fairly easily discerned, just as they are for this healthcare mess we're slowly working our way out of, and just as they are for our many other frankensteinian institutions that graft together capitalism and public goods in an unholy mix. Western Europe hasn't solved these problems, but in most cases they are a good deal closer to the solution. We know how to solve the city already: more and better public transit. And we know the truly rural can't be solved, but that's ok, because not many people live there, so they aren't doing much aggregate harm. The hard stuff is in the middle: the suburbs and exurbs. But if we do look to Europe, the solution is relatively clear. Exurbs in France or even England look totally different from those in America: tight bundles of housing, large farms in between, and buses and trains running between the nodes at regular intervals. So all we have to do is change our residential topology to something better suited to exurban public transit, and we'll be much better off.

Ha. Alternatively, we can hope for autonomous electric car-sharing to save our bacon before the seas inundate our coastal cities. That's probably the most likely positive scenario.
posted by chortly at 12:18 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


I suspect for many people it's the amount of time it takes.

I wonder about this a lot because I work in an area where traffic is annoying and parking is really expensive, so a lot of people drive part of the way and then walk 20 minutes, a situation that ends up taking more time than busing straight in. One of my friends does this and his reasoning is always different so I suspect it's just that busing is not a habit. You have to plan for it, and if you're not used to it, you might not want to do that planning in the morning before work.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:18 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


the "convenience" is often more like "hey, wow, I can carry home both laundry detergent and a couple of winter squash plus my regular shopping since I have a car!"

My big lifestyle change has been doing a little bit of shopping a few times a week rather than making large grocery runs once a week. This is a bit easier for me because there is a major grocery store right next to my office.

But as others have said, the transition for a lot of people will involve rethinking their routine. Buying two week's worth of groceries and bringing them home IS impossible without a car. But instead of asking, "how am I going to do this without a car??" the answer is about how to change our daily routines and habits.

I've also had the convenience of living places where rental cars were very nearby.
posted by deanc at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2016


Are cabs an option?

The dumb thing about cabs is that I am so beautifully situated - the grocery store and Target are about a mile away, and I really hate to get drivers off the stand for such a tiny ride. It's absolutely super when you just want to bike over there for something really quick, I admit.

Again, it's not the quantity of groceries, it's the weight - a big container of laundry detergent, a couple of spaghetti squash and some other stuff gets really heavy. It's not impossible - I stand before you in freshly washed clothes, after all! - it's just that taking things home in a car is a treat.
posted by Frowner at 12:23 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


However, it's TOTALLY reasonable to say, "So how can we turn some of these two-car households into one-car households, or these three- or four-car households into two- or three-car households?"

posted by Eyebrows McGee


This is a really great point. It is possible to bring down the number of miles driven per family if at least one of the adults can take advantage of decent infrastructure to get to work, etc.

Also, your project looks fantastic.
posted by eckeric at 12:24 PM on April 12, 2016


For those of you who are within bicycle range of a grocery store but have trouble carrying more than a backpack-ful, a cargo tricycle is one option. They're not cheap, but they are extremely useful.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Otherwise I'd say just walk with a folding laundry cart. We use one for groceries and it is great.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2016


Oh man, I would LOVE a cargo bike but I can't afford one. I keep an alert on Kijiji though, just in case.
posted by Kitteh at 12:31 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I suspect for many people it's the amount of time it takes.

That's pretty much me. It takes 25 minutes to drive to work and about an hour to take two buses or the subway and a bus. It's worth saving the extra five hours a week to drive myself.
posted by octothorpe at 12:31 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I suspect for many people it's the amount of time it takes.

I wonder about this a lot because I work in an area where traffic is annoying and parking is really expensive, so a lot of people drive part of the way and then walk 20 minutes, a situation that ends up taking more time than busing straight in. One of my friends does this and his reasoning is always different so I suspect it's just that busing is not a habit. You have to plan for it, and if you're not used to it, you might not want to do that planning in the morning before work.

It's not just that, though; it's the way schedules and delays and other snafus add up in unpredictable, unplannable ways. For example: the trip to my mother's house in the suburbs via mass transit *should* take about an hour, just based on routes. However, because the train lines are not always scheduled to allow transfers, it sometimes randomly takes 3 hours. Which sucks A LOT, but not as much as when something on one of the lines goes wrong. Which recently made a 30 mile trip into an EIGHT HOUR ordeal. It literally took me an entire work day to get home from a town 30 miles away. And lest you think this was some fluke, it was in fact the fourth such delay in 2 weeks.

You can't expect people to rely on a system that will regularly fail them spectacularly. Any push toward more mass transit has to come with VAST improvements to that transit.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


And definitely parking lots should be paying runoff taxes around here.

These are called stormwater utility fees/impact management fees, and you can vote for your city to impose them to generate revenue. Businesses are often reluctant but they can be very appealing especially to clean up concrete-heavy, charmless areas. It can also encourage businesses to plant trees and green strips.
posted by emjaybee at 12:35 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


agregoli, it did indeed look to me like you were offering answers, whether or not you were being intentionally "glib", that were in fact simplistic and not really workable for most people in most cases.

I've seen people offering ingenuous solutions to various issues in many threads, and mostly I stay out of them. But once in a while I try to point out that "it's not as simple as all that" - remember, I was carless for over four years so I'm not speaking theoretically - and I get more simplistic suggestions in return. If it works for you and some segment of the population, great. But that doesn't mean such answers are a scaleable solution for the vast majority (of people owning cars, in this case).
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:36 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'll also add that I'm lucky enough to work from home (for now, at least). But if I had to commute, car owner or not, I wouldn't hesitate to take the bus (or do the park & ride thing, if I lived far enough out). Commuting by car might be marginally quicker (that's debatable), but dealing with rush-hour traffic is much easier as a passenger than as a driver, and is definitely better in terms of resource use and pollution created.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:45 PM on April 12, 2016


It took us 100 years to develop our cities around car culture. It will take another 100 years to come to a "post-car" society (which doesn't necessarily mean that cars will ever be eventually extinct). But the next steps to getting there are almost certainly being discussed in a city council or statehouse near you. So I get a bit frustrated that these discussions become, "what about me?"
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you can't afford a cargo bike, a rack and trunk/panniers work really well for me. Also, Amazon Prime.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Speaking from a European city which wasn't built around cars and has lots of features which make non-car travel very feasible, we... haven't figured it out either.

And we should have done! We have all these advantages. We have streets that weren't built for cars then and aren't great for cars now. We have a bus service that is really good - great coverage across the city and suburbs, reliable, frequent, not at all scary or stigmatised as transport for poor people, and the buses even all have GPS and a really handy app so you know when the next bus you need is getting to your stop. We have designated bus lanes (well, bus/taxi/bike) on lots of busier roads. We have a council spending money on active travel at a level most other cities don't. We have lots of people commuting via bus, train, bike or foot - of the 500-ish people in my office, something like 20% commute by car, and generally nobody thinks the other 80% of us are weirdos.

And yet there are not only cars EVERYWHERE, even so - it is hideously congested and polluted - but any efforts to move infrastructure away from cars, even slightly, gets protests and pushback and weirdly vitriolic persecution complexes about how the council is declaring war on cars! Bus lanes? War on cars. 'Play streets' schemes (barring traffic from a very few residential streets for a couple of hours so children can play out)? War on cars. Cycle lanes? Definitely war on cars. Any fraction of an inch of effort to move some journeys from cars to other modes of transport is seen by a lot of drivers as outright persecution.

So it's more than just, well, the infrastructure isn't here so cars it'll have to be, what can you do? Cars are addictive, no matter what they're doing to us, and we are - collectively, sometimes globally - hooked.
posted by Catseye at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


I currently live in Los Angeles without a car after both owning a car and being car light (aka living with someone who owned a car). I would never lecture people on how they should live like me, but I do still get the occasional puzzled person amazed/concerned that a person such as myself would do things like take the bus, ride a bike for transportation or, say, walk home alone.

Things that make it really easy:
1. I live in a fairly dense walkable neighborhood. (Also sadly, it is rapidly gentrifying.)
2. Bus lines intersect my neighborhood in multiple directions, a smartphone gives me the info I need to decide what/when for buses. And when to just call a lyft because it's late and the bus won't be there for another 45 minutes.
3. Neighborhood markets and a farmer's market fill most of my grocery needs and I never need to buy more than I can carry. (I will be sad if/when gentrification drives out the cheap little markets.)
4. I come from a family of cyclists, I've always been comfortable riding a bike.
5. There are a shitload of zipcars near work and usually the times I briefly need a car are work-related.
6. The less I drive, the less I want to drive and the more draining I find it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Guns kill a similar number of people in the US to cars and are a lot less useful yet we seem to be going backwards in terms of getting rid of them, so I am not too optimistic about big reductions in the number of cars for the foreseeable future.
posted by TedW at 1:16 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I realize this premise has already been stated, but i just spent nearly a week on a rural island that has a decent sized population(it's big enough to have an airport, etc), but maybe 3 beat up taxis and one bus (as far i could tell one actual bus shaped vehicle, not just one route) that only runs sometimes.

And as someone who grew up in the city, i can never read anything like this without laughing my ass off and also feeling like it comes from some extreme place of privilege and sneer. For mass transit type solutions to make sense, you need masses of people to ride them. For cycling to make sense, you need to be able bodied, have suitable climate conditions, and potentially road changes that make no economic sense.

The solution is going to look something like "incentivize everyone buying electric cars massively"(while allowing people to keep gas cars for longer trips), or shared community vehicles therein, or some combination... But "lol cars r gross ban them" just doesn't work a lot of places.

I often find myself wishing i could make people who write stuff like that live somewhere like where i was talking about for a year without a car, and while being disallowed from riding in a car that wasn't some kind of vanshare/etc. Then have them try and come up with no-cars-allowed solutions.

Even trying to wing it without the first rule in place is really really hard. Especially if you need to, you know, have a job. You might be sort of lucky if you're young and can walk to town in an hour or something, but even that can be dangerous(with no good obvious solution) and not always possible.

This is a hard problem, and articles like this always stink of both smug contempt and engineers disease. It always ready like an even grosser version of people talking about SV startup type solutions to food deserts in the "ghetto".
posted by emptythought at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Guessing this is written by somebody who doesn't live in the middle of a vast prairie where getting around by foot or horse would require weeks of hard, punishing travel.

81% of Americans live in urban areas. There is pretty much no reason to own a car in an actual city, and the only reason why we see levels of car ownership in American cities where we do is because we have gone on a multi-decade experiment to completely reconstruct (or construct!) cities around cars, rather than around people.

I have no beef with rural dwellers who drive. In fact, it's pretty necessary. I do have a beef with Phoenix, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Las Vegas...
posted by Automocar at 1:24 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Another thing i missed, which i see has come up a few times in the thread, is how much longer everything takes in rural places without a car. An hour + bike ride can be a 15 minute drive. A 30 minute walk can be a five minute drive. This stuff stacks up, and both me and my friend i was staying with(who doesn't drive) noticed how much extra time was left over that previously would have just been sucked up by the process of getting around.

This is super doable if you're young and single and work part time and don't have many responsibilities... but what if you're a single parent working two crappy rotating schedule part time jobs?

81% of Americans live in urban areas. There is pretty much no reason to own a car in an actual city, and the only reason why we see levels of car ownership in American cities where we do is because we have gone on a multi-decade experiment to completely reconstruct (or construct!) cities around cars, rather than around people.

I agree with the second part. I mostly take issue with the fact that this discourse and writing about it very very often goes in a way of thinking those people are also "overdoing it" or don't really need it or whatever. And it really does pretty much always at least Strongly Imply that.
posted by emptythought at 1:26 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]




Also, Amazon Prime.
Works great now that I've moved downtown. It did not work great in my old, much cheaper building on the outskirts of town, because UPS designated us a high-risk area and wouldn't leave a package unless someone signed for it, and I was always at work when the UPS guy came. When I had a car, I could pick it up from the UPS warehouse, but the UPS place is not easily accessible by bike, foot or public transit. Cabs are great in theory, but cab service is pretty bad where I live.

I get that this is pretty hard to wrap your heads around, but I'm not stupid, and like I said, I found being carless to be a lot less easy than I expected it to be.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:34 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


People are nasty about this stuff. I'll never comment about cars and transport again on mefi. What is the fight about? Don't get it.
posted by agregoli at 1:35 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do wonder, though, if that 81% of people who live in "urban areas" is kind of misleading - I lived just outside Raleigh city limits as a teenager, but even within the city limits there are huge swaths that are just the highway connecting you to one strip mall after another, and no houses or apartments within reasonable walking distance of groceries (never mind sidewalks, or bike lanes.) Even when I lived close to downtown Raleigh, there wasn't any bus that would've gotten me to my job ~5 miles away. Urban areas isn't just Manhattan or Park Slope - it's cities that were built for cars, too.
posted by Jeanne at 1:36 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


What is the fight about? Don't get it.

These discussions are always maddenly enraging, in large part because people - in this case, you among them - often come in blithely assuming that it would be not just a great idea but a morally upright and necessary idea for people to make their lives suck more so that we aren't dependent on cars. And then proceed to tell us how everything we want is just asking too much out of life.
posted by corb at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


Urban areas isn't just Manhattan or Park Slope - it's cities that were built for cars, too.

That's my point--I was responding to someone who was seemingly making the argument that the rural/urban divide is a lot more even in America than it actually is--when in reality, the vast majority of Americans don't live in a rural area where a private automobile was a fantastic leveller in the 1920s.
posted by Automocar at 1:41 PM on April 12, 2016


But "lol cars r gross ban them" just doesn't work a lot of places.

That seems like a somewhat unfair paraphrase of the original article.
posted by Catseye at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


A 1904 edition of the U.S. farm magazine, Breeders Gazette, called automobile drivers “a reckless, bloodthirsty, villainous lot of purse-proud crazy trespassers"

North American Review (1906)
"More Autos have killed Americans then were killed in the Spanish-American war!"
posted by clavdivs at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2016


And honestly? I don't care if people want to drive everywhere. I do care that we're subsidizing it. Let's design the price of a gallon of gas to ensure it captures the social cost and see how many people want to continue to live in Phoenix when gas is $12 a gallon.
posted by Automocar at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


I once worked with someone who rationalized buying a giant SUV over a small commuter because she and her husband wanted his parents to be comfortable in the back seats when they visited for three days each year.

I used to sell cars for a living and I can tell you that the number of people who make decisions about which car to buy based on reason and logic is depressingly small. People might decide to buy A car based on real need but which car they buy is often totally irrational. Among other things, one of the reasons that I left the car business is that I'd have to listen to and encourage people tell themselves whatever they needed to tell themselves to buy the car.

When someone tells me, "I want something small and fun to drive because it usually going to be just me driving to work and running errands and I need the mileage." I have no problem enthusiastically supporting that decision. But most of the time it's people rationalizing a car that they just don't need. As much as I'd like to point out that they're being stupid and should buy something else, I had to support whatever line of reasoning would best lead to that customer buying a car.
posted by VTX at 1:45 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


81% of Americans live in urban areas. There is pretty much no reason to own a car in an actual city

Even leaving aside the accuracy of your first number, let's hit just a few of the reasons why it makes definite sense to own a car in a city.

1) I have a large German shepherd. How do you propose I take him around with me? How do you propose I take him to the vet? Public transit generally disallows non-service animals, in part because it's a horribly bad idea to take even the most even tempered of animals into a small enclosed area with forty strangers.

2) How much do you value your time? My grocery consumption, biweekly, amounts to about fifteen-twenty heavy bags. That can be one two hour shopping trip, plus fifteen minute drive, or it can be a one hour shopping trip, plus fifteen minute bicycle trip, multiplied by as many bags as I can carry at one time. Let's say 3. So we go from 2.5 hours of time consumption, to 12.5 hours of time consumption, just so my family can eat. And that's with a grocery store that's less than 2 miles away.

3) How much do you value your money? That same grocery consumption often costs less money because I'm buying in bulk for my family. But if you look at the price of the smaller items, buying the same quantity in smaller packages costs twice as much.

4) How much do you value your safety? I used to live in a city without private transportation. I got sexually harassed almost every single day. Now I have private transportation and it is vanishingly rare than anyone will encounter me to harass me. It takes place only when I have to walk long distances from where I park the car.
posted by corb at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


blithely assuming that it would be not just a great idea but a morally upright and necessary idea for people to make their lives suck more so that we aren't dependent on cars

The flip side of this is the refusal to take any steps to reduce car usage if it requires you sacrifice anything like money, time, or space, as though it's a human right to be able to continue to live where you do, drive as far and as frequently as you see fit, and not have to pay any more for this privilege.

I mean, my dad thinks that since people want to have their own personal cars, that we will continue to have them, just because, but that's a leap of logic only a little bit shorter than that of the underpants gnomes.
posted by the road and the damned at 1:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


These discussions are always maddenly enraging, in large part because people - in this case, you among them - often come in blithely assuming that it would be not just a great idea but a morally upright and necessary idea for people to make their lives suck more so that we aren't dependent on cars. And then proceed to tell us how everything we want is just asking too much out of life.
posted by corb


I didn't do that. Maybe don't assume the worst in what people are saying and it wouldn't be a fight? I didn't say a single thing about morals OR that anything was necessary. Did I say ANYTHING about "asking too much in life? Am I in crazy town? Did people actually read what I wrote? This is absolutely bizarre.

I didn't do anything you said, or intend any of that, and I don't deserve the nastiness. Your quarrel is not with me.
posted by agregoli at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I live right smack in the center of a city (perhaps not an "actual city"?) and it would take 2 bus transfers (that's three separate buses) to get from my house to my mom's house (where my son goes twice a week while I work--the other three days I think it'd be just one transfer, plus a hike up one hell of a hill). I don't drive because I omfg love my car soooo much, I drive because it is the difference between getting up at 4 AM and spending 2+ hours just getting to work and getting up at 7 and spending 45 minutes doing same. It is definitely privilege that I don't have to do that, and it's privilege I'll happily cash in to not spend 4 hours of my day commuting.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:55 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


my dad thinks that since people want to have their own personal cars, that we will continue to have them, just because, but that's a leap of logic only a little bit shorter than that of the underpants gnomes.

I believe that is just called 'economics.'
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:55 PM on April 12, 2016


I think people just get upset when carless people keep saying "how easy it is!" to be without a car or "you're selfish!" for owning a car when none of them knows the other person's situation and many people have stated many many reasons for having a car, even in urban areas. Similarly, there are likely reasonable things people with cars can do to reduce the impact that a lot of us probably aren't doing. But it's not all or nothing. We need to see the other person's viewpoint a bit better in this thread.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:58 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Another thing i missed, which i see has come up a few times in the thread, is how much longer everything takes in rural places without a car.

I am sure it does. This discussion has nothing to do with rural places, which are in facts places that only a small minority of the US population lives in. This is a case of, "if it's not about you, it's not about you."
posted by deanc at 1:59 PM on April 12, 2016


Also, FWIW, the FA makes no mention of urban or rural driving, just driving, period. So "this discussion" which is really only loosely based on that article is about whatever we as a community wish to talk about, which includes rural America.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:04 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


How do otherwise reasonable people ignore the harm cars are doing to our landscape, our health, and our planet in face of irrefutable evidence? Especially if you have children? I mean, I'm childless, so you'd think I'd be driving a 1967 Cadillac El Dorado convertible with whaleskin hub caps and all leather cow interior and big brown baby seal eyes for headlights and sucking down quarter pounder cheese burgers from McDonald's in the old-fashioned non-biodegradable styrofoam containers. But whatever.

I mean, do you really think this or this is sustainable? Honestly?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


[Guys nobody is coming for your personal car. I think agregoli has got your point, please do not pile on any further. If you cannot discuss the topic of community planning and automobile use without feeling personally attacked for your lifestyle choices, maybe FIAMO.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 2:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem with how we design streets is that the traffic engineering manual is based on a somewhat rural town and those standards are applied everywhere, including suburbs and cities.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2016


I think things will slowly scale down on their own due to economics and technology. I currently use a combo of taxis, Uber, ride sharing with friends, car rentals, streetcars, buses, and bikes. I have not had a car in 8 years. Even when I lived in the boonies, my truck was so unreliable I had to have a ton of backup options at hand. Cars are expensive. There's money to be made in providing alternative transportation. Just you wait.
posted by domo at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2016


Look, I get all the arguments about why people need cars. The primary issue here is a failure of imagination.

Car defenders are guilty of this when they point to the ways in which the modern suburban American lives and can't see a way to live that way without a car. Well of course not! That very way of life is impossible without 90% of people having constant access to their own personal automobile.

Car detractors are guilty of this when they want to ban cars, or whatever, which is completely unrealistic.

America specifically has gone on a multi-decade experiment to redesign our entire way of life around the private automobile, so of course we can't change that overnight, any more than I could start storing my perishable goods in a root cellar, or raising pigs in my apartment. But I think average Americans need to stop being so defensive about this issue and start looking at it from the other side. Us crazy car haters hate car dependency. We don't hate you.

We simply can't afford to keep living like this. It is bankrupting us culturally, socially, environmentally, and economically. And until we start having a serious conversation about the fact that (for example) the external costs of driving would put a gallon of gas at over $10, we're never going to get anywhere.
posted by Automocar at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2016 [18 favorites]


I drive because it is the difference between getting up at 4 AM and spending 2+ hours just getting to work and getting up at 7 and spending 45 minutes doing same.

You drive because your city was designed such that it is only convenient to live in if you have a car.

One of my more unfortunate professional predicaments was that I worked for laboratories that were designed in the 1950s where it was assumed that gas was cheap and congestion was minimal. They were built without any thought of design for nearby transit access, even though some transit access via commuter rail existed at the time. I had to drive to work or use their too-time-consuming Jerry-rigged transit solutions because it was a place designed for cars and for an environment and conditions that were only temporary and unsustainable.

Now I can say that I needed a car to get to work, but the reason I needed a car was because my jobs were designed to require cars. And the reason it was unpleasant was because no one planned for the future or realized that car travel was long term unsustainable.

maybe just have less children, which is honestly the suggestion that really got my angermobile going.

These things feed into themselves. We design our lives so that we need cars. Then we declare, "I need a car because of [thing I did only because I had a car in the first place]!"
posted by deanc at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


How do otherwise reasonable people ignore the harm cars are doing to our landscape, our health, and our planet in face of irrefutable evidence?

In all seriousness, because we're not really being given a lot of reasonable options to discuss.

If people wanted to say "Hey, cars are creating a lot of pollution, that sucks, how can we stop that?" I would be totally on board with talking about it. My first suggestion would be "let's look at having more efficient cars." I think electric cars are a great first step towards that. My own car has reduced emissions. I am ready, willing, and able, for that conversation.

But so often it seems like this is a religious debate rather than a debate about practicalities - like people don't like the lifestyle that cars enable, rather than the externalities of the cars themselves. They don't like the ability for isolation, they don't like the distance it enables, they don't like that it lets people opt out of what they feel are important public spaces. Honestly, this particular subject in many ways seems like a proxy war for individualism vs collectivism.

We simply can't afford to keep living like this. It is bankrupting us culturally, socially, environmentally, and economically.

This is what I mean. How, precisely, does the automobile bankrupt "us" culturally and socially? Environmentally, there's a good case for. Economically - perhaps, I can at least see it from here. But the first two just seem like culture war stuff - where people don't like suburban culture and want to make it go away.
posted by corb at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2016 [13 favorites]


My point in raising that statistic about urban vs rural population was that low volume rural transportation and utility are not really at an issue or up for change.

Neither is your car, or my car, or even my nephew's car. But the streets in planning today will outlive us, my neighbors need sidewalks, groceries, and a bus system. All of that might be up for a vote next year in some form or another.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


These things feed into themselves. We design our lives so that we need cars. Then we declare, "I need a car because of [thing I did only because I had a car in the first place]!"

You know how this will play out, because that's how it's playing out already - the poors will do without, while elites will have kids. The poors will ride whatever is left of the public transit system while the elites pat themselves on the back for their steam-powered retro trolley system or whatever they have. "You're only having kids because the American system enables you to have kids" is not a good thing to say, and the idea that the underclass shouldn't reproduce ends up being rather exterminationist.

I mean, obviously, people have kids because they are able to do so. Having a kid isn't like buying a boat or taking a gap year in Italy; it's a fairly fundamental, viscerally important thing for many people. (I don't have or want kids!)
posted by Frowner at 2:20 PM on April 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


Corb, it feels like you didn't really read the thread and instead you're reacting to your general feelings on debates about cars rather than the specific conversation in this thread, since there is lots and lots of discussions of specific, incremental reforms in this thread, the conversation you say you are "ready, willing, and able" to have. You could engage with those parts of the thread and just ignore the extremists, instead of diverting the thread to arguing with them and thereby putting more focus on that part of the discussion, turning it into the conversation you dislike.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:20 PM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


like people don't like the lifestyle that cars enable, rather than the externalities of the cars themselves.

The lifestyle is the externality. The deaths are the externality. The traffic is the externality. The terrible town planning is an externality. The fact that it makes it harder and less convenient to bike and walk is an externality.

A car is a tool. The problem is that we have made it so that it is more difficult and inconvenient to use anything OTHER than that tool. If you're only allowed to use a very expensive hammer, you can only build things using nails.
posted by deanc at 2:22 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


think people just get upset when carless people keep saying "how easy it is!" to be without a car

It's not easy. But there are choices being made, and when the environment is basically collapsing I think it's worth taking a hard look at how much we value our own convenience and comfort over the externalities that those require.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:24 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


You could engage with those parts of the thread and just ignore the extremists, instead of diverting the thread to arguing with them and thereby putting more focus on that part of the discussion, turning it into the conversation you dislike.

You make a fair point. It's hard when that stuff is just sitting there being smug, without being countered, but it's true that the more it gets countered, the more it circles. I don't really know what to do about that.

Talking about mitigation factors: one thing that I've seen done out West and not out East, which I actually really like, is tree barriers around highways rather than just the concrete barriers that you generally see. The trees help to cut both the noise and the pollution. I'm sure it's not perfect, but it's definitely helpful. I don't know how much it would cost to tree-line highways, but it's probably worth looking into.

In terms of public transit, one thing I think might be nice - though I have no idea how it would implement, exactly - would be something like "Transit bubbles". You have a small, self contained unit that sits outside your apartment building or house. You program in the route you need to go on. When the "transit bubble mover" comes, it just picks you up and passes you off in the route you need to go. You could make them of tinted glass, as well, so that people can't necessarily see you inside your bubble - and would eliminate a lot of harassment.
posted by corb at 2:30 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


But there are choices being made, and when the environment is basically collapsing I think it's worth taking a hard look at how much we value our own convenience and comfort over the externalities that those require.

But that gets back into thinking other people are selfish for making a different decision. I don't think that's your intent, but people don't like it when others act morally superior to them based on (often incorrect) assumptions about their lives.
posted by downtohisturtles at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Two things that have changed since the design of most of our transport system was designed that any fix will have to account for are job mobility/the decrease in stable jobs and two income households.

Having access to a car greatly increases the areas one can look for a job in - some states still do not allow tenants to easily break leases, so even if you do live close enough to work to walk/bike, if you need a new job and can't get out of your lease for 10 months or whatever, having a car at least allows you to consider options that are further away. This is an area where non-transportation specific laws might need to be changed to help with the problem.

But also, for many couples two incomes are now the necessity and housing comes down to a compromise that allows both partners a reasonable commute.
posted by Candleman at 2:36 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's not easy. But there are choices being made, and when the environment is basically collapsing I think it's worth taking a hard look at how much we value our own convenience and comfort over the externalities that those require.
Look: I think we need a vastly less car-dependent society. But nobody lives in my old neighborhood because they value "convenience" or "comfort." It isn't convenient. It isn't all that comfortable. It's safe. It's in a decent school district. It's affordable. It's the best choice for a lot of people who don't have a lot of great choices. Close to 100% of kids there qualify for free or reduced lunch at school, and most people live in trailers in the trailer court. We're not talking about people who are choosing McMansions in the exurbs. In a lot of places, car-dependent housing is the only housing available to people who are working poor, not just people who are middle class.

Where I live now is convenient and comfortable. I walk to work. I live across the street from a grocery store. But I also pay almost twice as much for almost half as much space. I couldn't live where I do if I had a kid. I could make the choice to move because of all sorts of advantages that other people don't have.

This stuff is not just about individuals and their bad personal choices. It is about policy. It's about housing policy and transit policy and a whole lot of decisions that don't get made at the level of the individual. Focusing on individuals seems to me to really be missing the point.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:41 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


You understand that policy is in part driven by demand, right?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2016


No, I think that's actually kind of a simplistic way of thinking about how policy works, to be honest.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


Focusing on individuals seems to me to really be missing the point

The ones in this thread focusing on individuals seem to be the ones who are defensive about car ownership and less interested in the wider consequences.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:51 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


People with 5 cars and a jet ski: BAD
People with 1 car, 2 jobs and few options: NOT BAD
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:57 PM on April 12, 2016


This is kind of a bullshit point to make, because any energy you extract from a thermal process is going to be subject to Carnot limits. Electric cars are subject to the same "argument" with slightly higher efficiency if they get their electricity from a combustion process (coal, natural gas, etc.), nuclear, thermal solar, geothermal, etc.
You may want to check your math before you throw around terms like "bullshit." Electrical power plants are more than twice as efficient as gas cars at extracting energy from fuel. And the newer combined cycle natural gas plants are even more efficient. Those tiny little engines are so extremely wasteful that it's disgusting in comparison. Hooking up a 90% efficient battery vehicle not only moves the pollution away from where it does most damage, it also greatly reduces the overall amount of pollution.

There's this pernicious and bullshit myth about electric cars just being tailpipes connected at a distance. Sad to see it trotted out so much, and sad that it hasn't been refuted in this long thread.

Electric cars don't solve the safety and congestion issues of cars, but they greatly reduce pollution. And it's important to think of these things as actual quantities, not binary "yes" or "no".
If I remember my reading correctly, the resource use/waste production of the average car is (very roughly) due to 1/3 manufacturing, 1/3 use, and 1/3 disposal. In other words, a car that ran on absolutely nothing and produced absolutely nothing while being used would use approximately 2/3 the resources and create approximately 2/3 the waste of a standard gasoline car.
That doesn't sound right at all, but without knowing what you're reading it's hard to refute. The Union of Concerned Scientists says battery EVs are about 50% of a gas car in the full lifecycle. And that's right now, with our fairly dirty grid electricity running them.

In 15-30 years when wind and solar and storage give us cheaper electricity than any fossil fuel, those manufacturing and mining costs will start shifting towards emitting less right along with the grid emitting less.

So, that helps with one of the externalities of cars.

I'd still like to emphasize that my desire to live in a community where i don't have to drive every single day doesn't mean that anybody else has to stop driving. If you (generally speaking to the members of my local California town that are environmentally conscious but prioritize car-lifestyle over the existence of any other lifestyle) are willing to pay for what you're costing others, great! Even if you're not, I'm not going to be taking away your car, you live your own life, but damnit stop getting in the way of mine. Please stop trying to block density that's not even that close to your house, or blocking public transit expansion, or blocking fair taxes on gasoline that pay for the costs that your use imposes on society.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:58 PM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


To be honest, I think it is simplistic to say individuals have no responsibility for the policies that are in place.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2016


Look: I think we need a vastly less car-dependent society. But nobody lives in my old neighborhood because they value "convenience" or "comfort." It isn't convenient.

So maybe I wasn't talking about them? Not everyone has to make, or has the opportunity to make the same choices. But let's not pretend that when, for example, people zoom around the neighborhood honking horns and waving flags every time their team scores a goal, that they've been forced into it by circumstance.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:12 PM on April 12, 2016


Two things that have changed since the design of most of our transport system was designed that any fix will have to account for are job mobility/the decrease in stable jobs and two income households.


This ties back into my earlier post. If my wife and I were allowed to telework when it wasn't strictly necessary to be physically present at work, we could own one car instead of two.

As it stands now, her job is in one direction, mine is in another, and my son's preschool (no bus) is in a third.

If both of us could telework, one or the other of us could take my son to school and pick him up, while eliminating one whole car from the world, not contributing to pollution, traffic, vehicle accidents, etc.
posted by Fleebnork at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2016


After living my life from the age of 16 to 45 absolutely dependent on driving my own car (my parents bought me one for passing Drivers Ed), I have had weirdly good fortune with public transit in both Los Angeles and the much smaller San Luis Obispo metro areas. First, during a time when EVERYTHING in my life was falling apart (career, marriage, finances and health), my car was among them, but I was lucky to have a residence which was within walking distance of two major bus routes and 'rickety car diving range' of a Park-and-Ride lot for the Red Line subway, and I learned quickly how to love the LA MTA. After getting a nice severance payment from my 10-year job and qualifying for Disability, I invested in a functional 10-year-old car that took me to a new Home 180 miles up the coast and midway between SLO and Pismo Beach... "freeway close" to the entire Central Coast (5-25 miles becoming 10-35 minutes) but walking distance to nothin' and miles from the nearest official bus stop. So, of course, my father back in L.A. had a health crisis that resulted in enough weekly trips 180-miles-each-way to kill my old car. Attempts to get 'the cheapest possible functional car' ended up costing me much more than originally planned, so I became dependent on the kindness of neighbors (including one with a pickup truck) and Enterprise Rent-a-Car's "pick-up" service, then I discovered the local bus system's Runabout Service, which my Semi-Disability qualified me for... make reservations at-least-24-hours in advance and they take you door-to-door both ways, perfect for my frequent doctors' appointments and, when they loosened up the limits on number of bags and boxes allowed, perfect for my shopping, even going to Costco (which is great because the neighbor with the truck has moved away). Because of my odd location, more often than not, I am the only passenger (I've made friends with most of the drivers - but even in L.A. I got into friendly chats with bus drivers); half of their vehicles are nice minivans, but the other half are 'small buses' with seating for 12 and wheelchair lifts - when I get one of these I feel guilty that I am burning so much fuel going to get groceries, but I tell myself I'm taking far fewer trips than I did with 'my own car'. The pre-reservation requirement has made my lifestyle noticeably less spontaneous, but I still have two neighbors with cars, I use Amazon Prime for buying 'really big bulkies' and Uber has recently come to my area, and can cover me for any short-of-ambulance-required emergency, which I haven't needed yet. So, in another of several ways of my current lifestyle, I have found myself almost freakishly fortunate. So, anecdotally, I have no dog in this dogfight, except if the state/local funding for the Runabout (which costs ME 2 times the 'regular bus fare') is ever cut... which I'm assuming it will be in my lifetime, because nothing good lasts forever.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Collective action and tragedy-of-the-commons discussions are almost always most effective when directed at institutional rather than individual solutions. Yes, the commons would be fractionally better off if person X or Y stopped grazing their sheep there, but in the short term, that's how person X feeds themselves, and abruptly stopping grazing would be a major difficulty. And yes, one can get into nuanced discussions of the alternatives to individual commons-grazing, and how some people manage it, and how their situations are and are not like person X. But mostly that discussion is at best a waste of time, and at worst turns people against each other and pisses everyone off.

Much better is just to focus on the things we agree on: the commons needs protecting, and the best way to do that is through public institutions. (That is, unless you're an economist, in which case the best way is through elaborate trading markets that require even more governmental intervention to function.) Unfortunately, this makes the conversation less interesting, since the anti-car/no-car and the anti-car/stuck-with-car factions are mostly on the same side on the institutional level. But at least we can argue about what's the the best sort of legislation to pass to move things in the right direction, or even return to the ever-fun arguments about what's practicable right now versus overly idealistic. But in any case, such conversations tend to avoid the pitfalls of debating personal virtue to which public goods arguments are so wont. Don't fall into the (meta)trajedy-of-the-commons -- stick to public policies rather than individual cases, even if the individual is so very very wrong.
posted by chortly at 3:59 PM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is what I mean. How, precisely, does the automobile bankrupt "us" culturally and socially? Environmentally, there's a good case for. Economically - perhaps, I can at least see it from here. But the first two just seem like culture war stuff - where people don't like suburban culture and want to make it go away.

Here you go.
posted by Automocar at 4:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Please stop trying to block density that's not even that close to your house, or blocking public transit expansion, or blocking fair taxes on gasoline that pay for the costs that your use imposes on society.

It is worth noting that these all do actually have real costs for people as well. I understand that for you and many others, they seem like such obvious goods that people's resistance to them is strange and inexplicable, but all of these have real and serious drawbacks.

Increased density has many drawbacks. It's loss of "peace and quiet", increased stress, increased use of public facilities, increased crowds, increased crime. It generally lowers the value of your home, if you've already bought your home, as well as just making it less of a nice place to live. If I had bought a home, I would absolutely fight increased density at every chance I got.

Public transit expansion - that one is harder. Increased frequency of services has few drawbacks. But bringing public transit through neighborhoods that didn't have it previously does push strangers through neighborhoods, as well as making it harder to keep an eye on the area. In many cases, it's well justified - but in most suburban areas, the area itself is better served by a "park and ride" rather than direct transit.

'Fair' taxes on gasoline - that's a tricky one. We as a formerly puritanical society are often comfortable with imposing "sin taxes" - extra taxes for things that we think are vaguely wrong or evil. Higher gasoline taxes for pollution don't make sense if you're only regulating that and not other things that cause pollution. Nobody is asking public transit utilities to pay additional taxes for the costs of bringing additional crime spaces to neighborhoods.
posted by corb at 4:13 PM on April 12, 2016


It generally lowers the value of your home, if you've already bought your home, as well as just making it less of a nice place to live.

Absolutely. Which is why homes are so cheap in NYC, San Francisco, Vancouver...
posted by entropicamericana at 4:20 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Nobody is asking public transit utilities to pay additional taxes for the costs of bringing additional crime spaces to neighborhoods.

You never go full NIMBY.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:24 PM on April 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Please stop trying to block density that's not even that close to your house, or blocking public transit expansion, or blocking fair taxes on gasoline that pay for the costs that your use imposes on society.

...

Increased density has many drawbacks. It's loss of "peace and quiet", increased stress, increased use of public facilities, increased crowds, increased crime. It generally lowers the value of your home, if you've already bought your home, as well as just making it less of a nice place to live. If I had bought a home, I would absolutely fight increased density at every chance I got.
Please note my bolding. I don't really feel like you're posting here from an honest place. It seems like you're just stirring up stuff without listening to the people you're responding to.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:27 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


bringing additional crime spaces to neighborhoods.

Corb, what do you mean by this?
posted by rustcrumb at 4:30 PM on April 12, 2016


feckless fecal fear mongering: "expletive deleted, I'm fucking sick to death of the GTA's relentless gobbling of some of the best farmland in the country. There is literally no political will to stop it unless the province steps in and flat-out bans any further development that isn't vertical."

Decades ago the BC provincial NDP managed to pass a Agricultural Land Reserve law that while not without flaws managed to keep a significant portion of hte good agricultural land out of the hands of housing developers. It's great even though successive governments have been chipping away at it ever since.

clavdivs: "North American Review (1906)
"More Autos have killed Americans then were killed in the Spanish-American war!"
"

The USA only lost 345 men to combat in the Spanish American War. I'd bet over the same time period as the auto one (say 1899-1905) between kicks, throws and being crushed by wagons more people were killed by horses ignoring other draft animals.
posted by Mitheral at 4:31 PM on April 12, 2016


bringing public transit through neighborhoods that didn't have it previously does push strangers through neighborhoods

It's nice that strangers aren't able to drive...

The statement only makes sense if strangers = poor people. And you've hit upon one of the basic functions automobile primacy serves in the US, which is to make life difficult for poor people, keeping them out of certain areas, thus effectively solving the problems of poverty (out of sight, out of mind).
posted by alexei at 4:59 PM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


"It is worth noting that these all do actually have real costs for people as well. I understand that for you and many others, they seem like such obvious goods that people's resistance to them is strange and inexplicable, but all of these have real and serious drawbacks."

Hey, corb, the more available dense housing and public transit is to pull population more towards the population centers where they can have shorter commutes and easier access to amenities (as there is a huge and under-served market for in virtually all urban areas), the quieter, less-dense, and less-people-bothered your preferred exurban areas will be. Policies that increase density are good not just for density-lovers but for people who love living far away from their neighbors. Because you will not have 80 billion city-dwellers sprawling into your quiet town because there are no housing units available in the city. I feel like you really, really only see one side of this issue, which is that you have particular habits and preferences that you feel are under attack when others don't share them. But it will be easier for your to exercise those habits and preferences to live a quiet, undisturbed life with far-away neighbors when there is less sprawl and your town is not being eaten by urbanites who would prefer to make different trade-offs but can only afford car-centric sprawl. Imagine the benefits to you if there were half as many cars in your neighborhood bothering your dog and fouling your air and raising your property taxes because of the road maintenance needed! People who are forced into your town by economic circumstances that artificially subsidize car-driven sprawl -- making your town more crowded, with more "crime vectors" (I take it that means "people"), with more people driving more miles and creating more gridlock -- would go back into more dense, transit-oriented corridors, leaving you with a quieter, less-populated, more pleasant town.

Nobody is coming to gather up your cars and dogs and yards. But car-oriented development is radically overserved, bad for a LOT of people who don't want or can't use cars, and many of its costs are hidden either by being non-economic (long commutes, dangerous for children, runoff) or by being massively tax-subsidized (gas, roads, development in general that costs too much in tax dollars to maintain). And transit-oriented development is radically UNDERserved because we've allowed transit in the US to fall into such terrible decay and emphasized car-oriented development at the expense of transit-oriented development that many people would prefer and can currently not access because of government regulation that continues to favor car-oriented developoment.

So just think how much better your life is going to be when MY city has better bus service and people who don't actually want to live a pastoral lifestyle in your suburb move back into the neglected neighborhoods in my city where they're closer to work and school and daycare and don't have to maintain cars and aren't driving cars in and out of your now-much-more-exclusive neighborhood at all hours. It'll be a win-win for everyone!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:01 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


People who are forced into your town by economic circumstances that artificially subsidize car-driven sprawl -- making your town more crowded, with more "crime vectors" (I take it that means "people"), with more people driving more miles and creating more gridlock -- would go back into more dense, transit-oriented corridors, leaving you with a quieter, less-populated, more pleasant town.

You might be right about focus - it's hard when you finally find something that seems peaceful and nice and all of a sudden it looks like it's under attack. But I think one of the real problems is that especially in the bigger cities, it's not as easy as "urbanites like density, nonurbanites like sprawl, and never the twain shall meet." Because most of the bigger cities are made up of neighborhoods, so you have, you know, Tract A of single-family homes, several blocks from Tract B of apartment buildings or commercial zoning or what have you. You have the city, and then you have the "Greater X Area" that seems to be around the cities. Ideally I would like cities to provide both transit for people who don't want to have cars in the high density areas, and car accessibility for those who do in the lower density areas, but I haven't really seen any way that has been well implemented - or even any plans to make it well implemented. I have no idea how you could make it like that, because the very point of residential zoning is that you ultimately have to travel elsewhere to get your stuff.

So what happens in these cities that can't really rework their infrastructure from scratch, and have limited lanes on limited roads? If you put in a bike lane, or a bus lane, you're really negatively impacting cars and creating much heavier traffic. At the same time, without a bus lane and with a lot of car traffic, buses will be even later and more crowded and awful. Subways are kind of ideal, but they create a giant unpoliced area where a lot of assault happens, (which is primarily what I was thinking of with crime spaces), and you can't exactly go digging new subways everywhere in places where development has already been happening.

So I guess the real question is - are there any transit improvements that are being asked for that wouldn't be a negative for the people who want to live more car-centric existences? Or so that they could be more unobtrusive? To strengthen existing "Transit corridors" without branching out from those corridors in negative ways?
posted by corb at 5:29 PM on April 12, 2016


Subways are kind of ideal, but they create a giant unpoliced area where a lot of assault happens, (which is primarily what I was thinking of with crime spaces),

I honestly don't know, or how to search for this...but is this true vs. regular urban area?
posted by agregoli at 5:38 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


" If you put in a bike lane, or a bus lane, you're really negatively impacting cars and creating much heavier traffic. "

Studies say that's not what happens. I know intuitively it seems true, but it's not what happens. A huge portion of driving that people do is optional -- not mandatory -- and they make fewer trips when there is less road. Conversely, if you add more car road, you get more gridlock and more traffic, because people fill the road with cars until they perceive it to be full, no matter how large the road is. Reducing traffic lanes, even without any compensating increase in bike lanes/pedestrian access/transit, frequently has the counterintuitive effect of shortening car travel times because people make fewer unnecessary trips. As someone who lives in a city that lacks the ability to expand its roads or overhaul its grid, which is 150 years old, and which certainly doesn't have the capacity for subways (or even dedicated bus lanes!), my city has been actively reducing traffic lanes on our busiest arterial roads and it actually has reduced travel time for most car trips -- both in statistical measures and in terms of my day-to-day experience of driving those routes. Like I go through an intersection every day that was reduced from two lanes of traffic each direction, with dedicated left and right turn lanes, that was reduced to one lane each direction with a left turn lane only. (So from 6 lanes on each side of the intersection to 3.) YOU SIT THERE SO MUCH LESS LONG, and traffic -- contrary to dire predictions -- has not just been displaced to nearby roads. There's been some displacement to the (underutilized) interstate highway, and a definite increase in pedestrian foot traffic in the immediate area of the intersection. But reducing the lanes has reduced congestion, reduced travel time, and increased business for the stores and restaurants on the intersection, without an offsetting increase in traffic in nearby neighborhoods.

I feel like a lot of your problems with the urbanist ideas presented here and in other threads come from not being very familiar with the actual data underlying how housing and cars and transit and taxes and so on all interact.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 PM on April 12, 2016 [18 favorites]


This is a well-known effect on interstate highways too, btw, and has been well-understood since the 1960s: Adding interstate lanes does not reduce congestion. Cars simply come to fill the road to the same level of congestion as before, or even make the congestion worse (because of unavoidable choke points entering and exiting the highway). You cannot reduce congestion by building more roads but -- luckily! -- removing roads/lanes doesn't increase congestion and often reduces it.

I mean sometimes you can spot-reduce congestion with smarter road design, and bad road design can increase it, but simply increasing or reducing the amount of road does not affect traffic congestion.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Which is how we wasted five years and $1 billion to relieve congestion on the 405 by adding lanes, and nothing has changed.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:02 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Speaking of the rural/urban devide, it's interesting to note that the current #1 manufacturer of autonomous vehicles in America today is John Deere.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:11 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be fair, Moline IS known worldwide as a hotbed of technological innovation.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


push strangers through neighborhoods

I would like to follow chortly's excellent recommendation for this conversation, but the above is certainly a self-control test that I'm momentarily going to just barely fail.

I'm particularly curious to see objections to "strangers" -- i.e., people going about their business -- being in a certain neighborhood, in a public space (like passing through on public transport) defended from the individual-rights perspective alluded to above. Would you be happier if the hypothetical public transit through your town stopped at sundown?
posted by busted_crayons at 6:16 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


I guess the question is why the four bus routes that pass through my neighborhood (not counting the college systems) are scarier than the walkways, the through-streets, or the designation of some streets as part of the highway system, any of which bring a steady population of strangers just passing through?

Since November I've been riding the bus. And yes, I get lavaballers, Mr. Angry on a bad day, and old people living rough who don't smell very good. But most of my fellow passengers are workers downtown. I see the same crowd going in and going out.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:30 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the experience of public transit is very different for women than for men. Which is not an argument in favour of cars, just something that we need to remember in these conversations.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Higher gasoline taxes for pollution don't make sense if you're only regulating that and not other things that cause pollution.

That is a ridiculous position to take. By that logic, it's impossible to regulate anything. Gasoline taxes are simple to implement: it's called the 'polluter pays' model, and we neither have to regulate everything else before getting to gasoline taxes nor do we then have to ignore that there are other avenues of pollution as well.

We can, in fact, do more than one thing. And this thing? Makes sense. If you cost society, you need to pay your fair share of that cost. This needs to go hand-in-hand with much more intelligent public transit service both intra- and inter-city.

Making things better for everyone (less pollution + better public transit + less traffic congestion) costs money. It makes sense that the people contributing to the problem pay to ameliorate it. We are facing something of an impending climate crisis, to say nothing of fossil fuels running out in general. Something needs to be done, it needs to be effective, and it needs to be paid for.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:45 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


The main argument that I hear against improving transit is that there isn't enough demand. There's lots of demand during rush hour for buses that go between outlying neighborhoods and the major workplaces, but there's not demand during other times. It would be a waste of resources to improve bus service outside of the high-demand times and routes. I find this really frustrating, because the system is set up basically to work really well for people who take it to get to work downtown, and it's set up to work really badly for everyone else. So of course not a lot of people take the bus at other times, because the system sucks if you're trying to get to the mall or the grocery store or your friend's house or whatever. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that local politicians then use to justify not improving the system in ways that would ultimately increase demand.
I think the experience of public transit is very different for women than for men.
That's interesting. I think that's probably true, but I'm a woman who has mostly had fine experiences on transit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:46 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of the more compelling arguments for higher gas taxes is that road infrastructure and services are subsidized by income and property taxes. This hides the real costs and benefits of car usage.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:55 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


I could see arguments for raising gas taxes, but not at the expense of current income/property tax revenue going towards roads. If we want to do it in addition to those and start fixing roads/bridges/etc. great, but not in place of the income/property taxes. That seems like shifting more of the burden onto the poor like any other sales tax.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:04 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Adding interstate lanes does not reduce congestion.
I refer, of course, to my prior art.

and bad road design can increase it,
Madness. Madness and stupidity.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:32 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, as a woman, I do not want my comfort/safety being used as an argument for fewer transit options or more car-centric planning. That restricts my choices of movement and concern for my safety is a thing that has been used to police me since my family first let me out of their sight.

This obviously does not mean I think all women must ride the bus in spite of discomfort. Individuals are free to choose not to ride transit for whatever reason. I am merely asking that we have options.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [16 favorites]


I have no dog in this dogfight, except if the state/local funding for the Runabout (which costs ME 2 times the 'regular bus fare') is ever cut... which I'm assuming it will be in my lifetime, because nothing good lasts forever.

It will get cut because we are wiling to accept poor public amenities in exchange for a few having easier access to expensive private luxury amenities.

We cannot have good public transit because it forces additional costs on those who want to purchase multiple large expensive autos. But NOT ONLY does this reduce access to transit, it imposes huge costs on those living paycheck to paycheck because they are forced to purchase a car they can't afford instead of using transit-- and, as we saw in the subprime car lending thread, this leads to usurious economic exploitation of the lower middle classes just because of a policy insistence of the well off to have minimal transit infrastructure and sprawl.

So, yes, people can talk about how great our policy and infrastructure decisions are for them and the multiple cars they have, but it comes at a cost of destroying the economic lives of those on the margins, and it won't be too much longer before we start taking away public amenities from the disabled that allow them to travel.
posted by deanc at 8:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, as a woman, I do not want my comfort/safety being used as an argument for fewer transit options or more car-centric planning.

Seconded.

I've had some scary experiences on public transit. (I still feel safer on public transit than alone in a taxi or Uber, because I'm around people.) I would rather live in a world where none of that stuff happened. But I have churned all of those experiences up into a cost-benefit calculator and I have kept on riding the bus. I am a woman but I share in all the reasons not to drive that have been mentioned in this thread -- environmental, financial, and so on. And as much as I understand and support anybody who's done that same calculation and just doesn't feel safe on public transit, I'd hate anyone to get the message that somehow it's more supportive of women in general to accept the status quo of car culture.
posted by Jeanne at 8:15 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


One of the things that drives me crazy is transit isn't free to the end user most places. I'm well located to use the half way reasonable transit in my town. But I use it less than I could because even when a transit trip wouldn't add an hour to my trip the incremental cost of transit is greater than my car (which I have to have anyways for reasons). Yet fares only bring in 10% of the transit budget (while costing money to collect fares); practically a rounding error.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 PM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Increased density has many drawbacks. It's loss of "peace and quiet", increased stress, increased use of public facilities, increased crowds, increased crime. It generally lowers the value of your home
...
bringing public transit through neighborhoods that didn't have it previously does push strangers through neighborhoods, as well as making it harder to keep an eye on the area.
Fortunately there are plenty of places available. For example, there is a city that was designed and built in its heyday on the primacy of the automobile with an eye against density and transit-oriented development. Plenty of highways, too.

So you would think, logically, that it would have limited crime and rising property values, right?

Of course, the city I am referring to is Detroit.
posted by deanc at 9:15 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


Buses and other public transit aren't inherently scary and dangerous. Maybe they are at the time and place you're in right now, but, you know, flying was once a super-glamorous way to travel. Things can change!

And I'm saying this as a woman who gets the bus to/from work several times a week, because we are lucky to have a decent bus system here. Many of the bus commuters drive and own cars, even.

(Which is another point I feel is relevant: most city- and national-level planning on reducing car impact focuses on reducing the proportion of journeys made by car, not the number of cars or car owners. So maybe you take your car when you go camping, but better infrastructure would encourage you to get the train to work, or whatever. It doesn't have to be about "well I can't give my car away, therefore there's no point talking about alternatives to driving.")
posted by Catseye at 9:25 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


(About groceries - I live in a city with real public transit, where a lot of people do not own cars or prefer not to use them regularly because gas costs ~$5/gal, and the way people deal with grocery shopping is cheap hand-carts, which make it possible for one adult to tote five to ten heavy bags, and recruitment of other household members.)
posted by gingerest at 10:59 PM on April 12, 2016


I have a cheap hand cart. But from my old apartment, it took about ten minutes to drive to the grocery store and over an hour each way to take the bus, even in the best-case scenario where the transfers aligned. And walking with a cheap handcart was a non-starter, because part of the route didn't have sidewalks and was difficult enough without a cart.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:08 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


But I think one of the real problems is that especially in the bigger cities, it's not as easy as "urbanites like density, nonurbanites like sprawl, and never the twain shall meet." Because most of the bigger cities are made up of neighborhoods, so you have, you know, Tract A of single-family homes, several blocks from Tract B of apartment buildings or commercial zoning or what have you. You have the city, and then you have the "Greater X Area" that seems to be around the cities. Ideally I would like cities to provide both transit for people who don't want to have cars in the high density areas, and car accessibility for those who do in the lower density areas, but I haven't really seen any way that has been well implemented - or even any plans to make it well implemented. I have no idea how you could make it like that, because the very point of residential zoning is that you ultimately have to travel elsewhere to get your stuff.

Dense cities are the best place to be without a car, as is well addressed already. Transit starts being more useful, more places are in walking distance, etc. But we don't have enough of these areas to meet the demand, in part because of this idea that lower-density car centric residential areas need to preserved inside major cities. If you can't build density inside a major city with already existing dense areas, where exactly are you supposed to build it?

"residential only" zoning is also an issue. A corner store you can walk to for basic needs can make a huge difference in how much you might need a car.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:45 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Which is another point I feel is relevant: most city- and national-level planning on reducing car impact focuses on reducing the proportion of journeys made by car, not the number of cars or car owners. So maybe you take your car when you go camping, but better infrastructure would encourage you to get the train to work, or whatever. It doesn't have to be about "well I can't give my car away, therefore there's no point talking about alternatives to driving.")

I agree, and would love to be in a situation where I was deciding whether or not to continue owning a vehicle just for things like camping and visiting family, or to go carless and rent for those needs. But right now I have to be able to drive for work, as well as a number of other real-life things that aren't easily or at all handled by transit, so owning a vehicle becomes mandatory rather than a choice, and there are fewer options for reducing that use than there should be.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:06 AM on April 13, 2016


Yet fares only bring in 10% of the transit budget (while costing money to collect fares); practically a rounding error.

I always set the "Free Public Transportation" policy in my Cities: Skylines towns, and they never seem to have bugetary problems. ;)

But, seriously, this does baffle me. De-privatise the damned subways. The idea that public transit can be even remotely self-sufficient without massive government funding is absurd. Imagine how much better the service could be if nobody had to stand in line to make payments at the fare box and how much money transit systems would save by not having to spend any money on fare enforcement.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:53 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


The $2.50 Fares make up about 25% of the revenue for our transit system but there's no way that they could get funding from the state if they dropped the fares. It's a blue city in a state that deep red outside of the urban areas and the republican legislature isn't going to give Pittsburgh money for free bus rides to poor people.
posted by octothorpe at 5:20 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


But right now I have to be able to drive for work, as well as a number of other real-life things that aren't easily or at all handled by transit, so owning a vehicle becomes mandatory rather than a choice, and there are fewer options for reducing that use than there should be.

That's what I mean, though: it's a shame that MeFi discussions on this always boil down to "but we NEED cars, stop talking about how bad cars are!", when the kind of broader-level policy stuff on this is not only a lot more nuanced than this, but is also addressing a real problem we can't afford to ignore.

I mean, we know that car culture is hurting us, in lots of different ways. We know it isn't sustainable in its current form, and some of those necessary changes can come by making cars less damaging to the environment (electric cars wooo!), or safer (self-driving cars?), but some of it is going to have to come down to reducing the amount of travel done in cars. And this is a huge, complicated area that goes way, way beyond individual choice about car ownership. We can't rebuild car-centric cities from the ground up, but there are so many things we can do within those cities - and are doing, in lots of places! - and so many varied and complex factors on culture and expectation affecting this outside direct transport issues (i.e., that discussion upthread here on how not driving would diminish you as a romantic prospect).

So there are really interesting discussions on local and national levels of all kinds of governments about the kind of changes that can be made, realistically. Like, "everyone get rid of their cars" is not a reasonable thing to expect, but is "everyone drives a bit less" more realistic? And if so, how do we measure that? How do we encourage that and make it achievable? What is the average health improvement of the population if we reduce car usage or emissions by X%, or if we increase walking or cycling by Y%, and is that worth investing Z amount of money in the necessary infrastructure? What kind of transport should we subsidise, and how? How do you find out what people want, and challenge perceptions about what people believe is necessary? What kind of thing works to increase non-car transport in Random Car-Centric Suburb? What kind of behaviours do people have that don't necessarily line up with what they'd want in an ideal world? (So lots of parents here will say that they'd prefer it if their kids could walk or cycle to school, but as things stand they don't feel that's safe because of the traffic, so they drive kids to school instead, and round and round the circle goes.)

So it's just kind of disheartening to see the response to an article like this end up coming down to "well I can't manage 100% of the time without my car, so there's no point talking about any of this."
posted by Catseye at 6:15 AM on April 13, 2016 [15 favorites]


I think that part of the problem here is the article, which is a little fuzzy on the details and also seems to suggest that the problem is car ownership, not just car use. Cutting down on car use seems like a much more reasonable goal to me. And I think there could be reductions in car ownership, but they would probably come from many families deciding they could get by with one car, rather than needing a car for every adult driver.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:24 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's what I mean, though: it's a shame that MeFi discussions on this always boil down to "but we NEED cars, stop talking about how bad cars are!", when the kind of broader-level policy stuff on this is not only a lot more nuanced than this, but is also addressing a real problem we can't afford to ignore.


Your comment has made me realize how disengaged people are in the US from their own country. It's like everyone has a sense of learned helplessness or learned hyper-individuality, even when it severely impacts 1) human lives, including their own and their families; 2) equity for people who need cars to survive in a car-designed infrastructure; 3) the continuation of Earth as a viable habitat for humans. But that stuff's not enough for people to take collective action in the United States. Electric cars aren't going to do anything so solve these issues, despite what the brochures say (and would brochures ever lie to you?).

If the most fundamental issues affecting individuals, families, communities, and the human race as a whole, can't get people off their seats, then we have an even more serious problem than car culture that needs to be tackled first.
posted by gehenna_lion at 6:27 AM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


I have mentioned my issues with harassment on public transit, and I want to add - I don't want investment in public transit to be shortchanged out of a misguided sense of protecting women, either! I want more and better public transit. I just want it to be pleasant. Buses and trains don't have to be gritty and unpleasant. I mentioned the free shuttle to BART that goes through my neighborhood. Riding that bus is a pleasure. There's also a shuttle from the downtown Walnut Creek BART to the downtown shopping and dining district - it's free, too, and is designed after an old-time trolley. It's not perfect, and my city still is very car-reliant, but it's a good start on free and comfortable public transit, and people use those buses.

"Suck it up and expect less from life" is, let's face it, a non-starter. "Make public transit more convenient and pleasant to ride" is achievable. I think something like ZipCar is another great option for people who don't want to own their own car, but want to go camping, or make a giant Costco run, or visit Grandma in her small town with no way to get there except by car. It would be easier for more people to do without their own car if they could access one when they needed it.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:13 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


How in the hell are you getting "...stop talking about how bad cars are!" from this thread?

This is metafilter, no one is saying that cars are GOOD. I think we ALL agree that cars have problems.

The point of friction seems to be between the group that thinks as many people as possible to should totally get rid of their cars altogether and/or that people who have cars now could totally do without them if only they tried hard enough. Then we have everyone else taking a more nuanced approach.

Frankly, the people who think that cars are evil and need to be destroyed as soon as possible sound a lot like the conservatives who tell people that they wouldn't poor if only they pulled on their bootstraps harder.

Look, cars aren't going away for a long time. There are too many things that having a car handy makes easy that we're not getting rid of them without a major advance in technology. Even then, I think that future tech is going improve cars rather than replace them.

This is like being pro-choice is for abortions. Nobody wants abortions to happen, we all agree that fewer abortions is good. The difference is the pro-choice folks want it to be because there is less need for abortions.

You can't just make cars illegal. Simply bolstering mass transit isn't going to work even in pretty dense areas. There are too many people that needs their cars too much of the time. What we CAN do is upgrade mass transit enough so that the households like mine, that have two cars but could almost be totally fine with one or households that have one car but can almost get by without it are enabled to do so.

It's not just that but we're getting REALLY close to autonomous driving. There are cars being sold right this second that can drive themselves without human intervention in limited circumstances. Those circumstances are going to expand every year until the car does 100% of the driving. Once that happens, then cars become part of the solution. If Uber is still in business, they're going to buy a fleet of autonomous cars so that, when you call an Uber for a ride, you'll be the only human in it. Make it a subscription based service that costs less than the operating/purchasing costs of a Honda Fit and watch me race to sell our second car before the used car market gets flooded.

Talk about decreasing the number of cars on the road all you want but if your solution involves getting rid of cars without a better alternative it's going to fall on deaf ears.
posted by VTX at 7:13 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's like everyone has a sense of learned helplessness or learned hyper-individuality

Learned helplessness is part of the goal. The essence of conservatism is to create a risky environment where people are in fear of losing their livelihood. This incentivizes people to behave conservatively.

What is repeated over and over again when we raise issues about transit policy is fear. Fear that people on public transit will bring crime to their neighborhoods. Fear that increased density will destroy them economically and destroy the neighborhood. Fear that walk ability will allow strangers to walk down a street that they don't live on. And this fear exists because the system we have constructed: one where we mortgage ourselves to our limits AND then go tens of thousands of dollars in debt for our cars AND have jobs where we can be fired on a whim all combine to ensure that any perturbation of the system raises the possibility of having it all come crashing down.

But this isn't a flaw in the system. It was purposely set up that way to ensure a certain level of docility in their own lives and a fight or flight response towards any possible changes. Economic conservatism is here to promote social conservatism. One hand washes the other.
posted by deanc at 7:13 AM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


Then we have everyone else taking a more nuanced approach.

My experience with this thread is that the people advocating for more transit oriented and less car dependent patterns of development ARE the ones with the nuanced approached, and it is the objectors to this who are responding with "I CAN NEVER GET RID OF MY 3 CARS PER HOUSEHOLD LIFE AND TOWNHOMES ARE THE GATEWAY TO A MURDER-PRONE COMMUNIST DYSTOPIA."

Where's the nuanced approach? The nuanced approach is always the people who keep calling for more transit.

If anything we need MORE people saying that cars are evil and they should be banned everywhere just to keep things balanced against the people who will refuse any additional transit or non-car infrastructure whatsoever.
posted by deanc at 7:21 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


How in the hell are you getting "...stop talking about how bad cars are!" from this thread?
...
You can't just make cars illegal.


Did you actually read the rest of my comment? Because I feel like we have a lot more in common than not. I'm not trying to outlaw your car, I promise.
posted by Catseye at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lots and lots of people defending the choices they made given the options available to them.

Here's a contrast:

Tonight in Somerville, MA, there is a public meeting about the financially troubled Green Line Extension project north of Boston. The mayor is asking for the public to pack the site (the Armory on Highland) to keep the pressure up for the project being completed.

If you live near BOS and want to change the situation, here's your chance.

Also, Kevin Honan, a representative on Beacon Hill, just submitted a bill in MA requiring towns to select 8% of their housing area for rezoning from single-family to multifamily. Non-complying towns will see their zoning code overruled by Beacon Hill and the up zoning done for them. Towns are expected to select plots that are centrally located.

So write your rep and ask him to support this bill.
posted by ocschwar at 7:57 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's not just that but we're getting REALLY close to autonomous driving. There are cars being sold right this second that can drive themselves without human intervention in limited circumstances. Those circumstances are going to expand every year until the car does 100% of the driving. Once that happens, then cars become part of the solution. If Uber is still in business, they're going to buy a fleet of autonomous cars so that, when you call an Uber for a ride, you'll be the only human in it. Make it a subscription based service that costs less than the operating/purchasing costs of a Honda Fit and watch me race to sell our second car before the used car market gets flooded.

Uber is also an exploitative company that has shown a gross disregard for the lives and well-being of its drivers and passengers. Are you really sure it's a smart idea to entrust them with self-driving you to your destinations? I can only imagine how they'd cover up any accidents and stalk and attack journalists who criticize them, pay off politicians, go on a PR blitz about freedom, choice, and our inalienable right to cheap comfort, so on and so forth, which is what they're doing now, and it has clearly worked. Then Americans will accept self-driving accidents and deaths as normal. And nothing of value will be gained, except by car and technology companies. So it goes.

Why do you trust a company like this so much? I think that's one small part of the issue here, the fact that we blindly trust these utterly awful companies who wield disproportionate legal, political, and social power over our society.
posted by gehenna_lion at 8:05 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


For areas like Long Island, where almost everyone has a car but there is also considerable rail infrastructure, having something similar to the Emery-Go-Round to get people to and from the train station would offset a lot of vehicular traffic in the morning. Tons of people drive to the train station and leave their cars parked there all day. Offsetting those cars with free (or very cheap) shuttle bus service would go a long way towards reducing emissions in those areas, as well as reducing drunk driving since lots of commuters have a beer or two on the way home.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:08 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm excited for self-driving cars for the potential saving of lives. Can't come soon enough.

I am not excited for the inevitable and inescapable advertising that will be foisted upon us while riding in a Google car.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:31 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


But also, for many couples two incomes are now the necessity and housing comes down to a compromise that allows both partners a reasonable commute.

So much this. I've never actually been employed in the same city as my husband. Outside of when my dad was in grad school, my parents have always worked a minimum of 45 miles apart from each other. Neither of my siblings are employed within a 45-60 minute drive (during rush hour) of their spouses. One sibling works an odd schedule, so she and her spouse can get away with just one car. If the rest of our employers let us work from home (very feasible for a few of us), or even just allowed shifted schedules so we aren't sitting in rush hour traffic, that would probably allow the other 3 couples to go down to just one car without being too much of a stretch. If that one car was self-driving, it wouldn't even be a question.

I've also had a couple friends who switched from regular public transportation users to car commuters when their employer changed their office location from a more dense urban area to an outlying suburb.

Obviously my personal experience is a very small sample size, but I imagine encouraging employers to make choices that either place them within range of convenient public transit or be even just a little more flexible with their workers would allow some of those borderline two car families to get down to one.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:20 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you live near BOS and want to change the situation, here's your chance.

Thanks for sharing that. Many of us live in places where we do have chances to make small changes for the better on a regular basis. I spent forty-five minutes last night at a city planning commission meeting, where I requested and received a promise from a developer to include bicycle parking along with the automobile parking that's required by city ordinance. One of these days I'll get around to pushing for a city ordinance requiring bicycle parking so no individual is stuck requesting it for every single project -- but until then, I show up.

Nobody's taking away anybody's cars by asking that we have options for other methods of transportation. And we can't rip up all the acres of asphalt and concrete we've already paved our world with in one go (nor do we really want to!) But we can make it easier and more convenient for people to choose non-automobile transportation for some of their trips. Over the long term, doing that will save lives, keep kids from developing asthma, improve our health, and give us a minuscule chance at slowing down climate change.
posted by asperity at 9:53 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


vibratory manner of working: ""residential only" zoning is also an issue. A corner store you can walk to for basic needs can make a huge difference in how much you might need a car."

Around here you need to have some density mixed in with the single family homes or corner stores don't make it. There are half a dozen places where corner stores used to be in the middle of single family home developments and they've all been replaced by healthcare centres. The corner stores that survive are all either on main drags or they are near at least some density in the form of townhouses or apartment blocks or both.
posted by Mitheral at 10:06 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also worth noting for all the "suburbia kills society and culture" people in here, that in a lot of expensive metro areas the suburbs, even the formerly sort of expensive ones are now the cheapest places to live. Sometimes they even have OK transit(i'm looking at you, east side connecting to seattle).

"Fuck suburbs" is becoming synonymous with "fuck poor people having a place to live here". And the solution is not as simple as "build more low/income capped housing" because often you literally cannot build it fast enough and even when you put up strong incentives developers just game it and build huge complexes with the absolute minimum number of low/restricted income units on the first floor or something.

You also have to think about other externalities. Suburbs often have cheap grocery stores, whereas in town now it's all whole foods and "premium" markets by the big chains. The krogers and fred meyers are gone, replaced by QFCs, etc. You drive out to the 'burbs and realize shit costs like even half as much sometimes, or they even carry the more basic versions of certain things. The relatively large grocery store near my house like ONLY sells $10 LED lightbulbs now, for instance.

"Everyone shouldn't live far out" is not as simple as "you're acting like it's an innate right to stay there" and other things that have been fielded. If you're going to try and get people to move closer in so you can really wrap everyone in mass transit, then there's a lot of other stuff you have to do other than provide lots of buses and cheap rent.

The "people should be willing to move" thing is actually one of the show ponies in these sort of discussions that really strikes me as disingenuous. Sometimes even living a little bit awkwardly out of town is WAY cheaper once you factor in all the general-life costs, and fixing this is part of fixing that. It seriously costs a shitload of money to live in the middle of town compared to out there even if my rent was free. Even if i just want to get some damn teriyaki because i'm too tired to cook.*

*and a lot of this stuff IS fixable once you get enough people in one place. Because then someone can make bank selling $3 burritos or $4 plates of food. but holy shit is the in between period painful for people without disposable income.
posted by emptythought at 10:10 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'll certainly cop to personal interest in all this beyond saving the world. I've got a perfectly nice bicycle with full fenders, racks, baskets, panniers, bungee cords and nets, lights, and generally everything else I need for any weather and for any errands short of a heavier Costco run. My local amenities are close enough and my streets are safe enough and I am ornery enough that I'm comfortable biking pretty much anywhere I want to, even in the suburbs. And it really grinds my gears when I get to my destination and there's nowhere for me to lock my bike, while there are many thousands of square feet devoted to free car parking. It's such an easy thing to fix. So I fix it where I can.
posted by asperity at 10:12 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


A huge portion of driving that people do is optional -- not mandatory -- and they make fewer trips when there is less road.

I think this is one of the things that always gets my back up - I don't think you're trying to, but this in part is one of the crux problems as well - the idea that it is not just possible but desirable to separate car travel between optional and mandatory, with a focus on ending the former. I'm not disagreeing with what happens, but more "whether it's a distinctive moral good to change it."

Like, I admittedly am probably a core outlier - I'm agoraphobic, and definitely view things through that lens, so without my dog present it is literally difficult as fuck for me to walk four crowded blocks in a major city and makes me a human firehose of hate for the full day afterwards, which is also impossible to explain to most people. "Can you physically walk it?" Yeah, sure I can. "Are you going to die if you walk it?" Also no. But it's just going to make my life miserable, with a possible side effect of panic attacks and freezing, as well as miserable for anyone else that encounters me for the whole day, if I have to encounter crowds in an outdoor setting. When I moved out of NYC, I found myself becoming a much more pleasant human overall.

So I'm really sensitive to what driving is optional vs mandatory. Could I physically walk several blocks to stores when I'm just going to pick up a bag of catfood? Yes. That's the kind of stuff that usually gets coded as optional. But I drive door to door, and my life is markedly improved by doing so.

You're probably right that even I with my issues make fewer trips when there's less road. But I don't view that as a good thing. When there's less road or road ability, it doesn't mean I cheerfully hop on a bicycle - it means I'm a shut-in. And while I know I'm probably at the extreme edge of that, I feel that there are probably people in the middle, who just don't take as many trips and their lives are poorer for it. So I feel like there's an unconsidered cost for that kind of disincentivizing road use, in quality of life for people who want to be using the road frequently.
posted by corb at 10:15 AM on April 13, 2016


This visceral "you'll take my car keys from my cold dead hands" attitude is largely predicated on the idea of public infrastructure investment as zero-sum. People who see a mode of transit they don't use being supported at the expense of investment in the mode of transit they do use are right to be concerned, and on a very short time horizon, it's true that dollars spent on rail/bus projects probably take away from the dollars spent on roads. However, the returns on investment from those dollars can be vastly different, especially when we've divested so much from public transit over the last couple of decades, and when they consider that every person who takes the bus/train is one less car that they have to deal with on their roads, I think it's pretty clear that there are win-win opportunities.

Add to this the induced demand effect of more lanes creating more drivers, and I see this problem as much like our energy prolbem, where diversity is the key, and where we need to continue to invest in the "older" solutions to the problem even as we try to wean ourselves off of them.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm excited for self-driving cars for the potential saving of lives. Can't come soon enough.

I am not excited for the inevitable and inescapable advertising that will be foisted upon us while riding in a Google car.
Increased safety and the potential to direct your attention away from the road are the only two potential benefits, as I see it.

However I fear that they will make congestion on roads much worse, rather than better. Even with perfect synchronized driving, laminar flow of traffic from self-driving is only going to slightly increase the road throughput. And when demand for that road throughput goes over the maximum, we're back to wait times either entering the arteries or on the arteries. Where we currently have congestion on freeways, adding an extra 20% of potential throughput (hello 405) is not going to bring supply above the demand. Greater flow/sqft. might be possible if people are put in tiny boxes a quarter the size of current cars that all drive at 70 MPH bumper to bumper, but the actual logistics of getting that sort of transit to mesh with our current roads and freeways is daunting to say the least.

Secondly, if there's a fleet where people only rent time in a vehicle as is often proposed, there will be an increase in the amount of vehicle miles travelled as the fleet moves around to pick people up. When people own their cars, the car isn't on the road coming to get them, empty.

Thirdly, now that people's attention is freed up, and they can do something else while commuting like facebooking or reading, they will think less of longer commutes and longer rides in general. This will also increase the number of vehicle miles travelled.

So in summary I think that for the congestion problem, self-driving cars will make everything worse. They will increase demand for vehicle-miles greatly while only slightly increasing the supply (through better laminar flow, if there are self-driving car lanes).

Cars simply do not scale well. Increasing lane counts brings diminished returns. Getting the capacity that we need for a metro area requires filling up far too much land with lanes of cars, far more than anybody is willing to plan for and sacrifice. And as you increase supply, demand also increases, leading to a cycle where failure is inevitable.

In contrast, trains scale excellently. The amount of transit that's possible per square foot is incredible. And you get the benefits of self-driving cars: increased safety and commuters get their time back. It's the way to build a functioning city where people are free to go where they want easily and quickly. And as opposed to buses, they don't need to stop for other traffic.

And as everybody here advocating for non-car options seems to be saying, it's not an either/or. They complement each other well. Suburbia should exist, but right now there's far more demand for denser housing than is available, and it's extremely short-sighted to prevent people from living where they want.

I think we all agree that we want people to be able to freely move around and interact and do things. That's awesome, and we should focus our technology and infrastructure efforts on making this more possible, by whatever means. It makes us happier people and it makes us more productive and interesting.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:18 AM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


For the record, I am ok with paraplegic agoraphobics with severe social anxiety driving as much as they need and having enough space for their 150lb therapy dog so that they can function in society.

However, there seems to be little regard given to those for whom sitting in traffic is a psychological burden with very real costs to physical and mental health, so say nothing about time spent away from family while sitting in said traffic. Why are their needs pretty much at best ignored or at worst met with hostility when policymakers try to address their needs?

Drivers have had 70 years of policy making catering solely to them. Everyone else deserves a piece of the pie, and it shouldn't have to be dragged out from the hands of auto-based interest groups. It should be assumed.
posted by deanc at 10:42 AM on April 13, 2016 [12 favorites]


Everyone else deserves a piece of the pie, and it shouldn't have to be dragged out from the hands of auto-based interest groups. It should be assumed.

Of course, there is another perspective, which is that power is never granted, it must be taken. If bicyclists and transit users want their interests to be represented, then they must take power, not by seeking an accommodation from auto and anti-transit development interest groups but rather by squeezing them out of power until they are so afraid of losing everything that they will accept compromises in order to maintain whatever they have left.

Because as I said above in relation to "learned helplessness," fear works. There may well be no changes until we can convince recalcitrant interest groups that their lifestyle will be at even greater risk of they do not buckle.

So maybe the strategy of transit/bicycle interest groups is wrong: instead of trying to show how much better it makes the lives of neighbors and the community and trying to sell it as a benefit to everyone, maybe the strategy is to basically organize with developers and construction interest groups as well as deep-pocketed alt-transport advocates (eg, Bloomberg), to take power in local communities and the issue becomes not WHETHER to give more resources to transit and bicycles, but HOW MUCH will be granted back to cars as a compromise and WHICH neighborhoods will be granted an exception to the rule that will allow private property owners to create higher density residential or commercial development on what they own.

Auto interests and metro-area low-density homeowners generally act from the standpoint of assuming that they will never have to give anything up and can decide on their own if bicyclists and transit users will be granted the privilege of better access, if our "reasonable" ideas convince them.

I notice that discussion opposing upcoming and development around transit hubs is NEVER a reasoned explanation of how "everyone will benefit" if the projects are stymied. It's always about how local people (and politicians) will suffer and insisting that their demands be met. This may involve doing on the state level what can't be done on the local level. Transit and bike infrastructure advocacy has been too much carrot and not enough stick.
posted by deanc at 11:12 AM on April 13, 2016


This is metafilter... /sparta! (or, this mefi /wire ;)

-How Cheap Can Electric Vehicles Get?
-American Cities Are Nowhere Near Ready for Self-Driving Cars
-Urban policy: the great bottleneck of everything - "What if externalities are not the exception but the norm in markets, thanks to spatial proximity?"
posted by kliuless at 11:23 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


"But this isn't a flaw in the system. It was purposely set up that way to ensure a certain level of docility in their own lives and a fight or flight response towards any possible changes. Economic conservatism is here to promote social conservatism. One hand washes the other."

I doubt this was purposely setup by some particular group of villain conservatives. Sometimes unpredictable outcomes happen, it's not all part of some evil plan.
posted by shala at 11:30 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I doubt this was purposely setup by some particular group of villain conservatives. Sometimes unpredictable outcomes happen, it's not all part of some evil plan.

Counterpoint: Literally every freak-out over mass transit. I can't think of an instance off the top of my head where the lack of transit and/or walkability wasn't punitive. In many instances, like that of Atlanta's MARTA system the article describes, they even put a name on it. There is less than zero chance that "Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta" is a genteel description of improving the lives of recent immigrants from Africa.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:43 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


there seems to be little regard given to those for whom sitting in traffic

There's going to be some overlap between auto-based interest groups and the people stuck in traffic. People forced out of high density areas due to the cost of living, jobs, etc, become those low-density home-owners/renters that work towards maintaining what they think results in easier car use, or at least become less interested in advocating for bikes and mass transit. It's a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum: you'd probably have a lot more drivers happily give up driving if other options were easier* for them to use or gain access to, but until they're easier to use, they won't advocate for them. Unfortunately, a lot of the changes that would make it easier won't happen over night and may actually make things more difficult in the short term.

*Easier doesn't even have to be perfect, mostly just fairly reliable without eating up too much extra time. I gave up my car when I lived in Seattle and commuted to the Eastside. The bus probably added about 30 to 45 minutes to my day, maybe closer to an hour if we factor in the extra time spent at work because I'd leave earlier than necessary due to the just-often-enough random delays that could cause me to be late. Not ideal, but I also then didn't have to deal with driving in that horrendous traffic, so a net benefit even before looking at the cost savings.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:50 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think I'd have much luck trying to inspire fear. I'm not very scary. Persistence helps a lot, though, and willingness to try for the cheap and easy victories first builds goodwill and support. I also get a lot of mileage out of congratulating the hell out of city officials when they've pulled off something great. Like our awesome bike/ped bridges, which were not nearly as cheap as slapping up a few bike racks. Or our road diet (4-lane to 3-lane conversion), which was cheap (paint's not that expensive) but has improved an unpleasant street crossing, and did face some opposition from people who a) didn't even live nearby or have to cross that street and b) were wrong anyway, because it definitely hasn't slowed traffic flow.

I know my local victories aren't other people's local victories. But it's worth trying to make your own, and every small example of human-oriented infrastructure that makes everyone's lives better is an example that can change minds. Maybe one of these days the city council will take me up on my offer to play tour guide for them on our local bus routes, or bike with them around the city. They can't adequately represent our interests if they don't have any experience with them.
posted by asperity at 11:55 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: Literally every freak-out over mass transit. I can't think of an instance off the top of my head where the lack of transit and/or walkability wasn't punitive.

Not sure how that's a counterpoint. I'm familiar with Atlanta and MARTA. Gwinnett held a referendum on MARTA expansion, IIRC, and Gwinnett residents voted NO. That's the exact opposite of some secret evil plan by a handful of evil conservatives.
posted by shala at 12:36 PM on April 13, 2016


From that Wired article (thanks for linking):
Live in Philly and work in Baltimore? Easy. Your commute time might be the same as it is now, but you’ll cover far more ground with less stress, while working, dozing, or reading.
Yeah, lets think one step further to where more people start doing the commute because its now easier. How many more people doing this does it take to turn your 150MPH commute into a 15MPH commute? If there's too much traffic will congestion billing or something like it be used to select who gets to get there fast? If usage goes up, then so will the number of roads.

Each of us has two separate interests that are not necessarily aligned: 1) getting where we need to go effectively, 2) making sure that the money we pay to the shared resource is used effectively to build a working system. Roads are a huge expense. When the system is set up such that our immediate need is at odds with effective use of the transit network, we're all less happy. We need to ensure that before we add additional routes to the transit network that we don't accidentally make everything worse for us and for everybody else at the same time.
posted by Llama-Lime at 12:40 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


So maybe the strategy of transit/bicycle interest groups is wrong: instead of trying to show how much better it makes the lives of neighbors and the community and trying to sell it as a benefit to everyone, maybe the strategy is to basically organize with developers and construction interest groups as well as deep-pocketed alt-transport advocates (eg, Bloomberg)
For what it's worth, in my community, dense urban development is considered something that conservative, pro-business rich people support. Lefties oppose tall apartment buildings because, they say, those buildings are out of step with the historical character of our community, because they are a boon to evil developers, and because they siphon money from the "neighborhoods" where "families" live (read: owner-occupied single-family homes) to downtown, where "tech-savvy millennials" live (read: young people without kids in rentals, who get cast as terrible rich interlopers not, you know, normal people who have a right to live here too). The people who are most opposed to dense development call themselves environmentalists, campaign for Bernie Sanders, and say they support bikes and mass transit. Since taking over city council in the last election, they haven't actually done anything to improve mass transit, but they're all for it rhetorically. And I guess that I think that these politics are pretty toxic, and if bike and pedestrian advocates ally with developers and gazillionaires, we maybe reinforce that toxic dynamic. I believe that car culture is bad for everyone, bike and pedestrian-friendly culture is good for everyone, and I am not a bad person for wanting to live in a place where I can walk to work. But that's not how this all plays out where I live, and it's pretty discouraging.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:55 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Yeah, lets think one step further to where more people start doing the commute because its now easier. How many more people doing this does it take to turn your 150MPH commute into a 15MPH commute? If there's too much traffic will congestion billing or something like it be used to select who gets to get there fast? If usage goes up, then so will the number of roads."

I've been noodling on this idea, especially as lower-income housing shifts towards the exurbs and low-wage workers have a LONG commute into the city to work. I don't know exactly how you'd implement it to avoid employees being penalized, but I've been thinking there should maybe be an incremental tax penalty on workplaces where more than 20% of employees have a commute of longer than 45 minutes. (Or, more likely, you raise corporate taxes, and provide tax breaks to employers whose employees mostly have a commute shorter than 45 minutes.) That tax would go to a transit fund that would aim at shortening those commutes and making them more affordable for people who have to live very far out. Employers would have a lot of options -- they could raise wages so that more people could afford to live closer to work, provide relocation bonuses, agitate for better schools in inner-ring suburbs and the city so that more employees would be willing to live there, advocate for transit, advocate for more urban housing, etc. Maybe you could say "You can avoid the tax if you provide employees more than 45 minutes out with monthly bus/train cards," so at least the economic costs of those long commutes would be mitigated for lower-income employees. Or they could, of course, simply pay the tax.

Commutes are becoming such a health issue for average people (rich and poor) and they're definitely becoming a major economic issue for the poor. So I think sooner or later we're going to have to try to get a grip on commute times and find a way to incentivize shorter commutes. We've reached the limit on what's possible for individuals to do to control their own commutes, and it doesn't work very well. So I think we need both government programs taking aim at commute times and distances (zoning, transit, affordable housing, etc.), and something to incentivize employers to locate where their employees are and to pay those employees appropriate wages to the cost-of-living of the metro region. (And that something will be a tax, and that tax will pay for the government side of the program.)

Of course what you WOULDN'T want is employers saying "Sorry, can't interview you, you live 50 miles away and we need someone 49 or closer to stay under our transit cap." And I'm not sure how you avoid that. And it defeats a lot of the purpose of the idea if you just raise pay for all the managers so they can live close, and the cafeteria workers still have two-hour commutes.

But I don't know, I think it could be worth a mid-sized city with miserably bad commutes (that disincentivize employees and corproations from locating there) trying some kind of tax break and seeing what happens and how you'd need to play with the margins of the program to try to avoid those negative effects.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:00 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I doubt this was purposely setup by some particular group of villain conservatives. Sometimes unpredictable outcomes happen, it's not all part of some evil plan.

Counterpoint: Literally every freak-out over mass transit.


See also (with perhaps some equivocation over "conservative"): Robert Moses.

The infrastructure we have didn't spring out of the topsoil on its own accord, it was planned by people who knew damn well what they were doing when they planned it.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:01 PM on April 13, 2016


I imagine encouraging employers to make choices that either place them within range of convenient public transit or be even just a little more flexible with their workers would allow some of those borderline two car families to get down to one.

This is exactly how we went from being a one-car family that drove someplace every day of the week to being a one-car family that doesn't use a car three to four days a week. We changed jobs, and now my partner teleworks 5 days a week and I do so for 2.

Teleworking also cuts down on the transit trade-offs you make with small kids. In the beforetime, one of the reasons I drove to San Francisco daily? Was because it was easier to get home if/when my child's preschool called all, "Kiddo has a fever and is throwing up. Come get her." It took me 30 minutes door-to-door that way. Had I relied on BART and then a bus from the BART station, then found some way to bring the vomiting child home, I'd be looking at 75 minutes, easily, and everyone considerably more frazzled at the terminus of my journey. But what about cost, you say? Why couldn't I have taken public transit and then cabbed it during genuine emergencies? Trade-off #2: Taking my car allowed me more control over my time, every time. I traveled during off-peak hours and that was less time I spent commuting, so more time I spent on something else I'd rather be doing.

For me, what makes a car "convenient" is tied directly to the question, "Does it allow me a greater degree of control over how I choose to spend my time?" When public transit can provide a compelling "Yes" to this question, perhaps more people will embrace it.
posted by sobell at 1:09 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


"You're probably right that even I with my issues make fewer trips when there's less road. But I don't view that as a good thing. When there's less road or road ability, it doesn't mean I cheerfully hop on a bicycle - it means I'm a shut-in. "

corb, what you're not understanding here is that it's not about you making fewer trips. It's about the population of your area in the aggregate making fewer trips, which means that people like you, for whom driving is necessary or desirable, have easier access to their lives because they are not spending all their time sitting in gridlock with people who want to NOT be driving. Reducing road use by providing alternative forms of transit for those who want to use it benefits you. Policy discussions about large populations in the aggregate are literally not about you; they're about serving underserved populations (in this case, transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians) so that public resources are better-distributed to a more optimal distribution. The current distribution is non-optimal in ways that negatively impact you because many people who would prefer not to drive are forced to drive. Making it possible for those people to move to their preferred transit method also frees up more car-related resources for people like you, who prefer not to. (And, in this case, since all other forms of transit are much more dense, A LOT of car space gets freed up by even just a little transit, and even if car space is dramatically reduced you will still probably see a benefit to your use.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:11 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


The current distribution is non-optimal in ways that negatively impact you because many people who would prefer not to drive are forced to drive. Making it possible for those people to move to their preferred transit method also frees up more car-related resources for people like you, who prefer not to

I see, thank you, that is a helpful framing. A lot of this has sounded like "making it harder for people who would prefer to drive such that they don't want to drive anymore" rather than "making it easier for people who would prefer to not drive such that they aren't on the roads anymore", if that makes sense.
posted by corb at 1:21 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Does it allow me a greater degree of control over how I choose to spend my time?" When public transit can provide a compelling "Yes" to this question, perhaps more people will embrace it.

Public transit can never provide a yes to that question that is more compelling than just getting in your car. A greater degree of selflessness is needed (if for no other reason than climate change), as well as recognizing that having a car is hamstringing in other ways--tied to gas, insurance, repairs/maintenance.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:23 PM on April 13, 2016


The infrastructure we have didn't spring out of the topsoil on its own accord, it was planned by people who knew damn well what they were doing when they planned it.

Yes, when Abraham Levitt and his sons built Levittown in 1948, it was precisely because they wanted the whole country to be miserable by 2016. It was their evil genius plan all along.
posted by shala at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Teleworking also cuts down on the transit trade-offs you make with small kids. In the beforetime, one of the reasons I drove to San Francisco daily? Was because it was easier to get home if/when my child's preschool called all, "Kiddo has a fever and is throwing up. Come get her."
My employer has a program where if you carpool or take the bus, they'll cover the cost of a cab if you have a childcare emergency. (I think there are some other situations in which they'll cover a cab, but I can't remember what they are.) That's one way to deal with this.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Lefties oppose tall apartment buildings because, they say, those buildings are out of step with the historical character of our community, because they are a boon to evil developers, and because they siphon money from the "neighborhoods" where "families" live (read: owner-occupied single-family homes) to downtown, where "tech-savvy millennials" live (read: young people without kids in rentals, who get cast as terrible rich interlopers not, you know, normal people who have a right to live here too). The people who are most opposed to dense development call themselves environmentalists, campaign for Bernie Sanders, and say they support bikes and mass transit.
This is true where I live too, and it's extremely infuriating. They can't see beyond their own lives, and anybody who is not them does not count for anything. I have had several in depth conversations where I can not convince a person that I don't want to live in a detached house with a yard. They simply can not comprehend. They may accept the idea that density can be more environmentally friendly in the abstract, but when it's in their own town they get really upset, and start inventing developer based conspiracy theories. And heaven help you if you were ever a real estate agent, then you may as well be Karl Rove, you've become evil incarnate instead of a neighbor. (Not that I'm a fan of real estate, but the vitriol is astounding). It's especially frustrating because the old single-family homes pay pretty much no property tax in California and they're freeloading off of everyone else, starving the schools and infrastructure, despite being extremely wealthy since their old home that they haven't touched since the 60s is worth $1M+.

It's always, why do you have to build mixed use on that commercially zoned property a mere five blocks from me? Put it over in that other neighborhood! (seemingly unaware that somebody else owns that other property).

There's also a drive to add ridiculous amounts of parking for any development, dooming the neighborhood to yet more traffic and less walking. I'm beginning to think there should be a minimum and a maximum voting age. (kidding, I think)

Lefties can be just as bad at righties when it comes to their "back yard" even if that back yard isn't actually anywhere near their back yard. For many, the environment is not as important as keeping things exactly as they are once that person moved in (ignoring all the change they caused when they started developing and moving into the neighborhood, of course). Sorry for posting such frustration, but any help on attitudes to start changing minds would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:29 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Public transit can never provide a yes to that question that is more compelling than just getting in your car.
I'm not entirely sure I agree. I think that for many of us, public transit that was properly built would be more compelling than driving for most days. Parking and traffic are hassles that all of us weight differently from the hassles of public transit. I think mass transit should be a choice that's made because its actually better, not merely for personal sacrifice to the greater good.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:34 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't own a car, I'm unlikely ever to. I take public transit. And no way, ever, is public transit going to provide a more compelling answer to "does this give me more control over my time?" than a car does. Yes, there are other factors that go into the calculus, and if that's how the question is being framed then public transit has no chance at all.

All I see is me me me me me me me... not driving, at least within cities, is about taking a moment to give two farts about the people around you, and the people who will be living on this planet long after you're gone.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Does it allow me a greater degree of control over how I choose to spend my time?" When public transit can provide a compelling "Yes" to this question, perhaps more people will embrace it.

> Public transit can never provide a yes to that question that is more compelling than just getting in your car.

In cities with subway systems, it is a much, much faster to travel underground to get across town versus driving.
posted by desuetude at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Faster != control of time. I was answering the exact question exactly as written.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:47 PM on April 13, 2016


"A lot of this has sounded like "making it harder for people who would prefer to drive such that they don't want to drive anymore""

It is likely that part of the mix of strategies to change the distribution of housing and transit to something more optimal, and that serves more people's needs/desires, will involve making cars costlier, because right now they're massively tax subsidized and their costs are hidden. So it is likely that there will be some "penalties" as those subsidies are removed.

However we're at the point with gridlock, pollution, and road infrastructure that the costs of car ownership (assuming it continues more or less like it does today) is likely to rise fairly rapidly anyway; just maintaining the post-WWII residential car-build neighborhoods in a city of any size is economically unfeasible with current property tax distributions, because those roads cost too much relative to the tax the houses bring in.

So in my city, for example, we're at a point of, "Maybe we want to get permission for the state to levy a local penny-a-gallon gas tax, or maybe we want to start requiring cars to buy $150 yearly stickers," because our roads are literally falling apart and the maintenance backlog is over 8 years on main roads and something like 15 years on side roads. They're starting to skip NECESSARY repairs and this winter just stopped plowing because they ran out of road money (they were lucky it was an El Nino year and the snow wasn't bad). What if instead of that, they raised our property taxes by $100 a year on every garage stall, and invested that in 30% road maintenance and 70% urban infill housing and transit? Either way we are going to have to start paying more for car infrastructure maintenance; the question is whether we're going to put some of that money towards creating alternatives to cars for people who want them and thereby reducing the road maintenance needs over time, or whether we're just going to keep paying the escalating road maintenance costs and related costs of sprawl and mandatory cars. (And they're currently pretty mandatory here; it would be difficult to live car-free here as our infrastructure currently stands.)

Obviously those costs will vary a great deal by location and specific circumstances. I do think owning a car will become more expensive as policies shift towards mixed transit. But I think the costs of car ownership are going to rise in any case, because of the massive tax increases that are going to be required in one form or another to maintain the infrastructure. Anyway, it's not going to be ALL benefits to you, the car-preferrer, and I don't want to be blowing smoke about that. It is very likely your cost of personal car ownership will rise in some form. But overall the easing of pressure on automotive infrastructure should make it easier for car people to do their car things with less stress and crowding, and it's very likely the cost of personal car ownership is going to rise anyway as the invisible subsidies disappear and taxes catch up with maintenance needs.

And honestly I don't think that's problematic -- if people have a wide array of choices available, asking them to pay more in taxes for choices that cost more in taxes to maintain isn't terrible or unfair, and it doesn't prevent people from making those choices. It just maybe changes the cost/benefit calculations of a few people who are on the margin between choice A and choice B. (And, again, I'm not advocating for screw-twisting oppressive costs, especially not living in a city where car ownership is basically mandatory. But small costs that can move the needle a little bit and help fund the development of alternatives? Yeah baby!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:52 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Faster != control of time. I was answering the exact question exactly as written.

Your time can be controlled by traffic lights and other drivers causing gridlock, or you can be zipping along to your destination knowing almost exactly to the minute what time you'll arrive.
posted by desuetude at 1:55 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


In cities with subway systems, it is a much, much faster to travel underground to get across town versus driving.

That depends. In NYC, it is certainly faster to take the subway to midtown than to drive, provided you live near a subway station. To get from Gowanus to Bushwick, however, is way faster in a car because of the system layout. There is no one mode of transport that can solve all public transit needs, which is why multiple travel modes need to be in place - subway / rail, buses and on-demand transit like taxis, Uber, etc.

As far as control of your time, it really comes down to how critical the control is for a given situation. With kids, especially young kids, I imagine that control is paramount since their welfare is (hopefully) your top priority. So that informs the choice of transport. All of the parents I know in NYC, the most public-transit-tastic city in the US, have cars for that exact reason. How often they use those cars is another question.

I will say that, with the exception of getting to and from the airport, we almost always take the subway, and occasionally the bus, except when time is short or we need to go from Gowanus to Bushwick. Public transit is awesome and I wish more cities had the infrastructure that NYC, and to a lesser extent the NE corridor, has.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:56 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Does it allow me a greater degree of control over how I choose to spend my time?" When public transit can provide a compelling "Yes" to this question, perhaps more people will embrace it.

It provides a pretty compelling "yes" to those of us who can't drive, and whose alternative is therefore going to be some loooooooong walks or bike rides or depending on other people for lifts.

(I know this isn't quite what you had in mind, I just feel duty-bound to point out that not everyone has driving as an option in the first place, because that seems to be getting forgotten a bit in the discussion over non-driving and car-free lifestyles as a privileged choice.)
posted by Catseye at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


Public transit can never provide a yes to that question that is more compelling than just getting in your car. A greater degree of selflessness is needed (if for no other reason than climate change), as well as recognizing that having a car is hamstringing in other ways--tied to gas, insurance, repairs/maintenance.

This is categorically untrue when you have public transit that is really good at getting from certain places to certain places. Most subways or separated grade trains/separated bus lanes can answer yes here.

It's faster for me to take the light rail to seatac airport than it is to drive. It's also faster for me to take that system anywhere else it goes(which right now, means north to south and certain places only sadly). But If you can completely disconnect it from traffic and road conditions, you can win on this one a huge percentage of the time for a lot of people.

The flip side is this sort of separated grade solution is the most expensive and time consuming to construct, but...

My employer has a program where if you carpool or take the bus, they'll cover the cost of a cab if you have a childcare emergency. (I think there are some other situations in which they'll cover a cab, but I can't remember what they are.) That's one way to deal with this.

This is fairly common in my city if your employer provides a bus pass. It's hit or miss if they're one of the places that sell you a cheap pass though.

This is a kick ass solution that probably barely costs companies anything though, and we should get tax breaks/etc going to encourage this.
posted by emptythought at 2:12 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


We have a really serious parking shortage, so my workplace does all sorts of things to try to convince people not to drive to work alone. It's pure self-interest, because they've run out of space to build more parking lots.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:30 PM on April 13, 2016


And no way, ever, is public transit going to provide a more compelling answer to "does this give me more control over my time?" than a car does.

I seldom feel less in control of my time than when I'm driving a car. During that time, I am required to spend every moment actively paying attention to my surroundings, and I don't get much personal benefit out of that time. (I don't like podcasts or radio enough to make that a sufficient trade-off -- I know a lot of long-distance commuters who say those make it OK for them. Mileage varies.) When I'm biking, I'm also required to pay attention to my surroundings, but at least I'm getting a bit of exercise out of it, and because I take different routes than I do when driving, I'm seldom at the mercy of traffic delays.

Public transit, though, that lets me lounge about with a book or a crochet project or a video game or whatever I feel like doing with my time, with no safety risk and little concern about time once I've boarded. It can take a few minutes longer to get to work (usually; traffic delays are the equalizer here and some days it's worse in a car and it's always more stressful) but those minutes are spent doing things I actually want to do, and would be the things I would want to do at home anyway.

The only part of that that makes me feel not-in-control is knowing that if I want to maximize my lounging-about-with-portable-hobbies time, I've got to catch a specific bus that only runs every half hour. But it's generally on time and we've finally got a real-time-GPS-data transit app that works pretty well for making sure I don't spend extra time waiting. I've also got a much better track record for being on time at work when I'm on the bus than when I'm on a bike or in a car, because I can't convince myself I'll make up the time by going faster. (This never works for me, and yet I talk myself into it with alarming regularity.)

There are lots of different things one want might to control with choice of transportation. Departure time and route are only a couple of them, and they're not even the most important for every person on every day. Sometimes the thing I want to control most is increasing the amount of time I spend playing Fire Emblem: Awakening, and there's nothing better than public transit for that.
posted by asperity at 2:39 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Your time can be controlled by traffic lights and other drivers causing gridlock, or you can be zipping along to your destination knowing almost exactly to the minute what time you'll arrive.

I take public transit every day. I can count on one hand the number of times I have driven a car. There's less control on public transit, and importantly for many commuters, there's much less comfort. Control factors in there, also. You cannot control the person next to you eating an onion sandwich, you cannot control the screaming child, you cannot control whether or not you get a seat.

In a car, you control all those things. In a car, you can say fuck it and turn onto a side street and take an alternate route. Not available with buses or subways.

What I am gleaning from this thread is that there's actually no level of public transit that will make the vast majority of drivers even think about taking public transit, let alone funding it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:55 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


My employer has a program where if you carpool or take the bus, they'll cover the cost of a cab if you have a childcare emergency. (I think there are some other situations in which they'll cover a cab, but I can't remember what they are.) That's one way to deal with this.

This is a great perk, and one I wish more employers would embrace. There's a related conversation here on what the net benefit to employers would be if they provided public transit-friendly perks to employees, or whether cities should roll out a requirement for a commuter benefits program a la the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Under that program, my old SF employer provided commuter checks, which you could use to subsidize the cost of your public transit. Since I did commute exclusively via public transit prior to parenthood, I appreciated the extra $50 a month toward the cause. Even after I had the kid, we still used the benefit to pay for BART tickets so that one of us drove, the other relied on public transit.
posted by sobell at 2:57 PM on April 13, 2016


In a car, you control all those things. In a car, you can say fuck it and turn onto a side street and take an alternate route.

I think you might be idealizing car-driving a bit. Or else you've only driven newer-model cars with hermetically-sealed climate control systems. Alternate routes often don't save you any time at all, there are just as many people with loud car speakers as leaky headphones forcing you to listen to their musical selection, and if you're sitting at a stoplight next to somebody smoking a cigarette, you can't just pick up your car and move a couple of lanes away. Not only are there still screaming children around, their caregivers are trying to drive while soothing them, endangering everyone nearby.

It's also possible that my bus is the best bus. My fellow passengers are distantly pleasant and I enjoy the extremely limited social interaction I have with them when we want it. The only exception is people who smoke right before getting onto a bus or train or elevator, for whom I hope there is a special place in hell.
posted by asperity at 3:07 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


What I am gleaning from this thread is that there's actually no level of public transit that will make the vast majority of drivers even think about taking public transit, let alone funding it.

While I share your frustration, I have been trying to remind myself that peoples' imaginations aren't all that great. It is very hard to imagine your life as it would feel if you oriented it completely differently within an entirely hypothetical reality.

By arguing against car use and for mass transit, we're often asking people to consider relinquishing control, when the system they'd be relinquishing control to either doesn't exist or does exist and SUCKS, and it's very hard to imagine how a better one would be.

For example: my mother supports mass transit in theory but she will not ever take a train into the city. No sir, not in rain or snow or baseball traffic that takes 2 hours. Not even if she merely needs to head downtown, which is a 35 minute trip with no transfers.* She says this is because she wants to leave when she wants to leave, and she wants to come home when she wants to come home. In no way will she be at the mercy of "trying to catch the 8:45."

But right now our train system, as I described above, is terrible. Not only are there endless unpredictable delays, there is also generally only one train per hour at best (or per 2 hours on weekends). Her refusal is based on a desire for control over her time but ALSO on a very real and unnecessarily large time penalty. In a system where there was a train every 15 minutes, I doubt she'd be so firm in her refusal. But hell, I can barely imagine such a thing and I'm a frequent user of the system.

In other words, you can ask people to hand over control, and they will do it, if they can truly believe that it will end well for them. But if you can't show them that, well, who can really blame them for rejecting the demand?


*Unless of course a branch falls on a track somewhere and it takes 8 hours, yes.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:34 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


relinquishing control to either doesn't exist or does exist and SUCKS

Again, possibly just my experience, but I knew more people with flexible scheduling options in Seattle than I do in SE Michigan. So you are asking people to relinquish a lot more control outside of urban areas, because the existing structure SUCKS, on top of a lot of people not having a lot of control over other things that could ease that sacrifice.
posted by ghost phoneme at 4:28 PM on April 13, 2016


In Kalifornia, the Kar is King.
posted by telstar at 6:09 PM on April 13, 2016


I suspect for many people it's the amount of time it takes.


I couldn't drive cars before I moved to LA and I still try to keep the driving to maybe twice a week, three if I'm unlucky. My 10 mile commute is 20-45 minutes each way driving; by bus, it's 3 to 4 hours roundtrip. LA infrastructure could do a lot to make that equation easier: better side bus lines, safer bus stops, bus stops that are not actually the beach, actual traffic lights for all crosswalks at freeway exits and entrances (!), islands for roads wider than six lanes, better lights in freeway underpasses, having sidewalks on at least one side of all blocks of major roads (!!), having a driver's license and car not be requirements for applying to most jobs...but the new metro line extensions are a great step towards making public transit a much, much better "sometimes" option for a lot of people here, and the arterial bus lines are often fantastic. LA already isn't just a city for cars. There are a lot of people in LA who commute via public transit despite the issues, and everyone deserves safer, faster, and better access to public transit services...even if sometimes they still need to drive.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:01 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, in the Netherlands...
posted by entropicamericana at 6:39 AM on April 14, 2016


Why do you trust a company like this so much?

I don't. I trust the companies that they will buy the self-driving cars from because before Uber can deploy a fleet of autonomous taxis, self-driving cars have to be the norm. For that to happen, we'll have to develop a legal framework around how to handle accidents between self-driving cars. Right now, all the systems being sold in cars right now for the driver to be engaged with the car. The "traffic assist" system in the new Audi A4 will drive for you in traffic up to 40mph but you need to keep your hands on the wheel or it turns off. That way, if something goes wrong 1. The driver is there as a backup to the somewhat untested system and 2. If there is a collision, the driver is still pretty clearly legally in control of the car so if someone is hurt, they can sue the driver, not Audi.

Before it's legal to let 3,000lbs hunk of metal go flying around the world at 70mph, we'll have to develop a regulatory framework.

As far Uber covering things up. The thing you have to remember with self-driving cars is that they are safer in nearly every way shape and form than a human driver. That fleet of self-driving cars will have a MUCH better safety record than any group of human drivers.

I don't trust Uber but I do trust the realities of the technology to ensure safety. Not only that but Uber won't be the only company with a fleet of self-driving Taxis, I was just using them as an example since they're such a well known company. If you don't like Uber, there will be another company that you DO trust. They'll compete, they'll differentiate. Maybe it won't even be a taxi service but groups of people coming together to buy a fleet of cars for their own use. Like, you get together with 50 people and you all chip in to buy, say, 15 cars that can be called up for their use whenever and where ever they are.

None of that is relevant to the idea of a fleet of self-driving cars enabling people to not have to own one (or at least, as many) themselves.

Plus I suppose you can still have a fleet of self-driving buses for public transit. So maybe I take a self-driving bus to work and I use a taxi service for everything else.
posted by VTX at 7:07 AM on April 14, 2016


Transit: the Gender Difference (because someone mentioned this, and it's a good point.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:35 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


“Someday I’d like to screw around on the web and live in the middle of nowhere and have a fast internet connection. If I made a hundred grand a year that would be like heaven.”

That is the dream, isn't it?
that attitude (source) is exactly what i was referring to above. this weird fetishisation of the "middle of nowhere". which ends up meaning houses in woods in the north east of the usa. the ineffable lure of poison ivy and lymes disease.

with a car. or two. or three.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:01 AM on May 4, 2016


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