The subway crush transformed New York into what it is today
December 21, 2018 12:42 PM   Subscribe

It’s Time to Fall in Love With Stuffy, Crowded Subways: Why Elon Musk is wrong about the future of transportation. "Ubers, self-driving cars, and hyperloops titillate the imagination by promising a speedy, comfortable, and isolated vision of transportation — but all these promises are illusory. If we’re ever going to make cities work, we need to accept, and come to love, a fundamental truth: Packed urban transit is good urban transit."

By the incomparable Aaron Gordon (previously).
posted by showbiz_liz (78 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
On point. The SUV in a tunnel stunt that Musk showed last week is not transit. It's a luxury toy, built by a man rich enough to pay for the fantasy the rest of us could never afford. It would have to run at sub 1 second headway to compete with subways, and that elevator at the end doesn't look like it can load one car per second.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:55 PM on December 21, 2018 [20 favorites]


Counterpoint: I don't like crowds.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2018 [17 favorites]


In Boston we've achieved the nirvana of packing people in as tightly as possible without blending them first and pouring their gore through a funnel in the top of the train cars. It doesn't feel like a win though. Like, maybe if trains came a bit more frequently you'd have fewer people not being able to enter the car, and having to wait 10 minutes for the next train, hoping they can squeeze onto that one. The MBTA leadership literally are wondering why ridership is down, but as a rider, I can see that as many people are riding the trains as can fit on it. Ridership's down due to the laws of physics. That and probably most bosses don't give a shit why you're late, just that you showed up late again...

The subway doesn't have to be a miserable experience. Properly funded, trains can be reliable and frequent enough that you can plan to use them to get to work on time. And yeah, there will be other people near you on the train, but no, you won't have to twist your body just so to be the last one to squish into a sweaty hellbox. Medium density x medium frequency x medium speed beats going to extremes in any of those dimensions, and that's what public transit can be, and is in some places in the world. I don't think it's a winning sales pitch that we have to love "stuffy, crowded subways". It's also not true. We don't have to, we just choose to suck at public transit.
posted by Humanzee at 1:08 PM on December 21, 2018 [58 favorites]


From the article:

If we’re ever going to make cities work, we need to accept, and come to love, a fundamental truth: Packed urban transit is good urban transit.

I would like to somehow time-travel with the author back to my commute this morning, during which I and about 50 other people shared a car with a 51st other passenger - a man who had probably not bathed since 1982, and who was lying full-length across one of the benches and sleeping. Most of the other people in the car were crowded up at the furthest end away from him as they could.

Then I would like to ask the author if he cares to define that experience as "good urban transit".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:09 PM on December 21, 2018 [19 favorites]


As a disabled person who rides the NY subway, fuck this guy with a chainsaw.

He thinks it’s awesome that I would be honored to stand from the Port Authority to Fulton Street on the A or C, and that I should embrace the agonizing pain. To which I want to see him with a cane and a bad knee and how much he enjoys it.
posted by mephron at 1:14 PM on December 21, 2018 [43 favorites]


When I took subways in Paris and Barcelona my mind was absolutely blown that they came every 2-3 minutes, all the time, and weren’t hyper-crowded. That kind of reliability had not occurred to me as possible.
posted by little onion at 1:15 PM on December 21, 2018 [77 favorites]


I still have fond memories of riding the intercity train specifically because it wasn't crowded. This makes economic sense but will be a hard sell as a public preference.
posted by Selena777 at 1:19 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well-funded urban transport is good urban transport.

I'll take reliable, extensive, well-maintained, frequent, efficient, and capacious over "crowded", thanks.
posted by kyrademon at 1:21 PM on December 21, 2018 [33 favorites]


I don't really like this article, but I like what the author is trying to do. After all, we do experience a really fundamental tragedy of the commons in America's densest, largest cities. I think he's trying to encourage the many to reclaim the commons from the few, sort of - or at least accept what that looks like. In an era of 'personal luxury' it's nice to have a reminder about collective benefits.

But I think he gets things wrong. In NYC, surface streets are choked by private cars; that limits transit options (the average bus speed is walking pace) and forces a lot of people on to the subway, which has experienced a few decades of systematic disinvestment. If we make the system more efficient - by limiting private automobiles, thus freeing up street space for a functional bus network that can take the load off the subways - then we'll have a more efficient, less crowded subway. And that's good.
posted by entropone at 1:24 PM on December 21, 2018 [11 favorites]


Well-funded, well-designed transit would only be shoulder-to-shoulder packed during peak commute times that happen to also match a surge of activity, like a concert or sportsball game. The miserable experiences we have now come from legislatures that treat public transit as "something we gotta make available for those miserable sods who are too lazy to get a job that will let them buy their own car."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:27 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


I think this article conflates two problems - that the American social narrative is "get into private space ASAP, any contact with the vulgar herd is too much contact" and that American public transit in urban areas, especially in NYC, is underfunded and so crowded that it's causing system failure.

It's obviously true that Elon Musk's mentality is loathsome, unsustainable and normalized, but it will be a lot easier to discredit with frequent, clean public transit than with crumbling and dirty trains.
posted by Frowner at 1:34 PM on December 21, 2018 [19 favorites]


I recently met someone who lives in one of the densest, most transit-friendly neighborhoods in New York but bought a car in anticipation of having a kid, as if it was self-evident that anyone with a kid needs a car. Minutes later, she lamented the city’s incorrigible gridlock. She exemplified the tension of so many new urbanites: They want the perks of high-density living without the inconveniences that come with it. It’s an untenable arrangement on which private companies seek to capitalize.

fuckin hate these people so much, if you're going to live in the city then live in the city and check the bullshit at the door. i was trying to get a cab the other night on a pretty major thoroughfare of what used to be a sea of yellow cabs and now it was just uber, lyft, uber, lyft cars passing by for 15 straight minutes. insanity. never mind feeling like you "need" a car in the city, these people don't even want to hail a cab themselves, they'd rather get surge-charged to get a private car to magically appear god forbid they have to stand outside for 2 minutes longer than they'd prefer. it's absolutely wild.

these are the same assholes that vote against a cross-town bus route in my neighborhood because it's "too noisy". drive these people out of the city with torches and pitchforks.
posted by windbox at 1:37 PM on December 21, 2018 [33 favorites]


a 51st other passenger - a man who had probably not bathed since 1982, and who was lying full-length across one of the benches and sleeping.

My fave story is the guy huffing from a white can labelled "TOLUNE" in large black sans-serif letters like it was a movie prop, but the odour confirmed that it was indeed not a prop but an actual can of toluene.

But yeah, crowding isn't some sort of inherent good, funding is. The MTA did so well for so long by being well-funded. The TTC has somehow managed to work miracles for decades on less tax funding than any other NA system but it's still the whipping boy of conservative politicians. God knows Toronto needs it now more than ever.

Musk's final tunnel i would be hilarious if so many people didn't take him so seriously. Like somehow LA is going to be riddled with hundreds of underground tunnels that teslas will pop in and out of like it's super fucking mario world.
posted by GuyZero at 1:59 PM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


> I think this article conflates two problems - that the American social narrative is "get into private space ASAP, any contact with the vulgar herd is too much contact" and that American public transit in urban areas, especially in NYC, is underfunded and so crowded that it's causing system failure.

This is exactly what I stormed in here to say. The pervasive idea that people should feel entitled to not interact with any other humans except by their own choice is fucking poisonous. I have personally observed that I have become a better human by riding the subway, because every stereotype I thought I didn't hold is proven wrong so often that I am just less anxious about any imaginable interaction. However, I cannot defend the puddles of standing water in the concourse or the slowly-fading smear of human feces on the far wall of the stairwell that I descend every morning.
posted by desuetude at 2:12 PM on December 21, 2018 [22 favorites]


The pervasive idea that people should feel entitled to not interact with any other humans except by their own choice is fucking poisonous.

You actually do interact with all sorts of other human beings while driving a car and it's a million times worse than interacting with them on a subway.
posted by GuyZero at 2:18 PM on December 21, 2018 [26 favorites]


"every stereotype I thought I didn't hold is proven wrong"

Time for a NYC subway anecdote... My significant other and I were in NYC for a couple of months one summer (and made it to a metafilter meetup!) and we entered a subway car one weekend, looking for something sort of touristy to do. The only other dude on the subway was this scary looking dude with a teardrop tattoo (just one, so there is that). After a couple of minutes of chatting about what we are going to do with the day the 'scary dude' interrupts us... And I felt terror. He then suggests two or three things we might want to do that are within the parameters that we were discussing. Super-super friendly about the whole thing, seemingly unaware of his tear-drop tattoo and his terrifying overall presence.

So yeah, he gave some good advice, we had a good day, and I was certainly taught a valuable lesson about judging people based on a stereotype (just because a dude may or may not have killed someone in prison doesn't mean he won't make a great tour-guide).
posted by el io at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2018 [41 favorites]


The miserable experiences we have now come from legislatures that treat public transit as "something we gotta make available for those miserable sods who are too lazy to get a job that will let them buy their own car."

I'd just like to see certain people I know to take crowded public transit once, or maybe twice, or perhaps even once a month, weekly even. Because it seems to me that there is an entire class of people who NEVER take a bus or a train anywhere, yet are happy to encourage their use, mainly I suspect because it makes it easier for them to take their internal combustion vehicle wherever they need or want to ... living the dream.
posted by philip-random at 2:28 PM on December 21, 2018


Silly Elon: Cars don't belong on the O-Bahn.
posted by MarchHare at 2:42 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Like somehow LA is going to be riddled with hundreds of underground tunnels that teslas will pop in and out of like it's super fucking mario world.

Especially since LA has a lot of subway expansion projects underway and I'm sure the city would welcome any funding Musk wanted to give. But of course thats not the kind of solution he likes (because its not all about him).
posted by thefoxgod at 2:51 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


You actually do interact with all sorts of other human beings while driving a car and it's a million times worse than interacting with them on a subway.

Our roadways have many of the same problems as our public transit. The infrastructure is insufficient and poorly maintained—hence multiple hours of traffic every day going in and out of every major city (I once calculated that roughly one human lifetime's worth of person-hours are wasted in Boston traffic each workday) and bridges that are on the verge of collapse. It's a combination of overpopulation and dysfunctional government, and it affects private and public transit alike.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:57 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's such a clear set up for an anti-capitalist hard green screed I might be disappointed if nobody delivers.
posted by Selena777 at 3:12 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


if your goal is anprim, boom, I got served. you got me.
posted by GuyZero at 3:16 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


> It’s Time to Fall in Love With Stuffy, Crowded Subways

Stockholm Syndrome is adorable sometimes.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:51 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


No conversation about shared transportation is complete without a mention of the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel.
posted by bendy at 3:55 PM on December 21, 2018 [14 favorites]


This article isn't saying "shitty subways are ok," it's saying "replacing shitty subways with self-driving cars or hyperloops, rather than improving the subways, is a bad idea."
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:56 PM on December 21, 2018 [20 favorites]


that the American social narrative is "get into private space ASAP, any contact with the vulgar herd is too much contact"

Wait is this really true everywhere that isn’t New York?
posted by schadenfrau at 4:02 PM on December 21, 2018


I'd just like to see certain people I know to take crowded public transit once, or maybe twice, or perhaps even once a month, weekly even. Because it seems to me that there is an entire class of people who NEVER take a bus or a train anywhere, yet are happy to encourage their use, mainly I suspect because it makes it easier for them to take their internal combustion vehicle wherever they need or want to ... living the dream.

I saw Matt Gonzalez (Former SF Supervisor, candidate for mayor of SF, and vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader) on the bus a couple times. I voted for him as hard as I could.
posted by bendy at 4:04 PM on December 21, 2018 [12 favorites]


And, again with this bullshit. "When asked at that same event why public transportation seems to work just fine in other countries, like Japan, [Musk] replied, 'What, where they cram people in the subway? That doesn’t sound great.'" It is much more of a problem when it is something like drug policy, the military, immigration, wages, etc. but this is just the minor version of let me quote somebody with big name recognition and let their bullshit statement stand unchallenged because fine I don't want to point out that they are at best misinformed and at worst lying.
posted by Gotanda at 4:08 PM on December 21, 2018 [11 favorites]


[In a discussion about mass transit improvements, repeatedly saying that killing 6/7 of humanity is the best solution is a MASSIVE derail, so cut it out.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:13 PM on December 21, 2018 [26 favorites]


Yeah, I spend a lot of time in LA traffic but also spend 4-6 weeks in Japan a year, and the choice between the two is clear -- Japanese subways win by a huge margin. Seoul also has a wonderful subway system.

(NYC subway is more of a difficult choice, however --- although I admit I have spent much less time in NYC than Tokyo)

It's worth noting that Tokyo is roughly as dense as LA, and much less dense than NYC. [I often see people say that it only works in very dense places --- and sure you probably can't make a workable subway in rural Montana, but most American cities are quite doable]
posted by thefoxgod at 4:14 PM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


Came for public transport missed connections, was disappointed.
posted by snofoam at 4:27 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


When I took subways in Paris and Barcelona my mind was absolutely blown that they came every 2-3 minutes, all the time, and weren’t hyper-crowded. That kind of reliability had not occurred to me as possible.

In London, if I see that it's 2-3 mins until the next Victoria Line train, I get pissed off about the delay.
posted by knapah at 4:30 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


I commute by train and subway in NYC an hour each way, and I am a big supporter of public transpo. NYC is such a huge beast, tho, and so much of the car/subway issue and common hoardes vs luxury few mirrors the problems and tensions related to gentrification and lack of affordable housing...to me, it seems equally important (and a riskier, harder sell) to make/expand public transit in mid sized and large cities to be equal to or better than what New York has. That’s why the amazon HQ thing bugs me so much. A company like that could have really grown a city that actually had the room for it. If reliable subways weren’t such an anomaly in most of the country, maybe NYC’s wouldn’t be so crowded?
posted by Kemma80 at 4:38 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


I'm a regular transit user in Toronto, and we've taken it a lot in other places, including Europe and Japan. It's challenging but I'll still take a Tokyo subway at rush hour over a North American commuting traffic jam any day.

The article reminded me that NYC has Andy Byford; he was great here when he ran the TTC (IMHO)... so at least it's in pretty good hands. I hope NYC transit gets the funding it deserves.

Public transit in North America will become less skeevy when it's accepted and funded as the dominant form of urban travel. As it seems to be in most of Europe's big cities. Betting the farm on self-driving vehicles and not spending dollar one on making cities better for people... is not the answer.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:40 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel

Isn't that the title of an Arlo Guthrie song?
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:52 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Isn't that the title of an Arlo Guthrie song?

Dunno. All I get when I google it is that same article.
posted by bendy at 4:59 PM on December 21, 2018


knapah: In London, if I see that it's 2-3 mins until the next Victoria Line train, I get pissed off about the delay.

Huh, that’s interesting. I’m so use to Portland’s transit where depending on where you’re at the bus is a 10 minute wait, a 15 minute wait, or maybe a 30 minute wait, whereas our MAX light rail is a bit faster (maybe every 5-10 minutes during rush hour?) I thought it was interesting that you said this because I was watching a funny video from this Englishman of a “game” where he said to his friend “take 5 steps!” because his friend happened to be looking out the open doorway of a train. So he takes his 5 steps out and the train doors close and it departs without him. His friend starts laughing as the train pulls away and all I could think was “well isn’t he gonna have to wait a while for the next one?” But I guess if this is the case where they come every 2-3 minutes it’s not that big of a deal.

Portland has no subway system, but our light rail lines are pretty decent, if at times annoying. I know there are a lot of people with qualms about them, but for the most part it doesn’t appear that they’ve experienced mass transit anywhere else.

Only issue is that they have a really hard time in the winter if we get a bit of snow. In the summer they have a hard time as well, when it’s really hot (which is about 90-95F here, whereas I’m use to much higher temperatures in Phoenix, who also have a light rail line but I haven’t heard of it having issues in the summertime where it can reach 110F.)
posted by gucci mane at 5:05 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


> When I took subways in Paris and Barcelona my mind was absolutely blown that they came every 2-3 minutes, all the time, and weren’t hyper-crowded. That kind of reliability had not occurred to me as possible.

That was my experience when I visited Hong Kong. Comparing the subway there to Toronto's system isn't really fair to Toronto because of HK's density, but there still has to be a way for us to get closer to that than what we have.

Andy Byford likes a challenge, I'll give him that. His accomplishments in Toronto basically amounted to a bit of window dressing on top of keeping the system from collapsing entirely (which is not nothing), but it wasn't really his fault because he worked for this guy and because transit planning here is a decades-long clusterfuck, in part because one really good way to get elected to municipal government in this city is to make unrealistic promises that usually cannot be fulfilled and actually make public transit service worse if they are.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:13 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


But I guess if this is the case where they come every 2-3 minutes it’s not that big of a deal.

I'm cheating a little as the Victoria Line is particularly good, with trains at peak times coming roughly every minute, which is fantastic. Other London underground lines are less frequent, but waits of over 5 minutes on most of them are pretty rare in my experience. There are also overground lines with lengthier gaps between trains, like 15-20 mins.
posted by knapah at 5:20 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


never mind feeling like you "need" a car in the city, these people don't even want to hail a cab themselves, they'd rather get surge-charged to get a private car to magically appear god forbid they have to stand outside for 2 minutes longer than they'd prefer.

Pool and Line are significantly cheaper than getting an entire yellow cab for yourself
posted by airmail at 5:20 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's sort of a vicious cycle for most cities. Transit sucks so people buy cars and then because they're not using transit, they don't vote for funding so transit ends up sucking even worse. Rinse and repeat.

I have good intentions about taking the bus to work but since I already own a car and the bus takes at least twice the time that driving does and costs about the same, I end up driving nine times out of ten. A seven mile commute shouldn't take almost an hour on the bus but it does and I just don't want to take that much time out of my day when driving takes about 25 minutes.
posted by octothorpe at 5:34 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


I ride my bike when the weather's nice, which is great apart from the whole "continually risk getting killed" part.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:45 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


I’ve always seen the ultimate promise of self-driving cars to be orthogonal to urban transportation solutions. Mass transit already works well there, provided adequate funding, proper planning, etc.

Instead, I envision self-driving cars as an entry point to reclaiming the bazillion miles of existing automobile infrastructure connecting urban centers, for what would ultimately become mass transit conduits as well.

Who sees the future of transportation as individuals moving around in private vehicles? As automation scales out, that simply becomes increasingly inefficient.
posted by Brak at 5:46 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


My mom and myself have been daily/near-daily bus commuters for decades. I started riding the city bus starting in high school (private school, no school bus). My dad has not ridden the bus since the 70s, despite working in a part of town extremely well-served by transit and an employer that provides free bus passes. My mom and I tease him about it because it is 100% due to him being a prima donna who is just far too good and important to ride a vehicle along with the hoi polloi. Like, if I didn't see it myself, I would not believe there were such people in the world.

I have to say, my transit experience has improved vastly with the advent of GPS transponders and tracking apps. Our bus system has high ridership but during peak times an utterly unpredictable schedule. They're expanding the bus rapid transit system (we already have pretty extensive BRT, but it's not enough) which I hope will help because you could be out on the curb at the same time two days in a row and one day you wait 3 minutes and the next 20 minutes and then there are some days where it's like a Hellmouth has opened up somewhere downtown and swallowed up every single bus. At least with tracking apps I can stay in my warm office on the 20 minute days.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:22 PM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


I was born in NYC, and left for LA after about 25 years of near-daily rides on public transport. The subways were always terrible, and the pervasive undercurrent of threat that one felt riding them (particularly in the late 70s/early 80s) didn't magically produce some sort of warm-and-fuzzy feeling of community. It was just a grinding, survival-mode ordeal, nothing more. These days, the sense of threat has largely evaporated, but the rest of the dirty, crowded, stifling and unreliable reality certainly hasn't, so the author of this piece trying to romanticize it as somehow better for the "collective good" is fucking infuriating to me.

Full disclosure: I currently fit the precise profile that Aaron Gordon is railing against; I live in LA, drive an electric car, never take public transport and only have to deal with other people in my personal space when I feel like it, and let me just say that after decades of doing battle with NYC subways, it is _the greatest thing ever_. Having said that, it is also true that NYC car traffic is now basically completely untenable, due in no small part to the Ubers and Lyfts of this world, so the circumstance I have here simply wouldn't be possible the same way in NY at the moment. I don't have some elitist stance against taking public transport - I would, if I had no other choice, but it's just not as practical in a city like LA, due to the geography. When I'm in NYC, which is a few times a year, it's still the subways most of the time for me, so I've never been disconnected from how badly they've deteriorated over the years. Tunnels and hyperloops may or may not be the answer elsewhere, but NYC's system is shit, and needs a complete overhaul. Trying to frame this fact with some cheery, we're-all-in-this-together bullshit is just insulting.

As Humanzee said above, I don't think it's a winning sales pitch that we have to love "stuffy, crowded subways". It's also not true. We don't have to, we just choose to suck at public transit.

posted by vectorbeam at 7:23 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


This article isn't saying "shitty subways are ok," it's saying "replacing shitty subways with self-driving cars or hyperloops, rather than improving the subways, is a bad idea."

This was my takeaway too, and I’m glad that you posted it, but also agree with commenters here that the framing in the article is bad. Yes, a lot of the antipathy towards public transit is driven by a pathologically extreme desire to never share a space with other human beings, but also a truly public transportation system should operate in a way that accommodates all of the people in the place it services, including accommodations for the disabilities they might have. I’m an able-bodied person subject to all of the blinders you might expect of someone who hasn’t had to deal with public transit infrastructure while dealing with disability and it’s still obvious to me that the way things are now even in cities with “good” public transit are absolutely hostile to commuters with disabilities. I think an inclusive rhetoric would better phrase this in terms of how we could invest in public transportation to make it friendly for everyone, and how deferring that investment to private concerns would inevitably result in a system hostile to all but the able-bodied (witness the difficulty in getting a wheelchair-accessible Uber ride). Starting from a position of “you need to deal with more human contact than you’re used to” downplays those critical concerns, IMO.
posted by invitapriore at 7:27 PM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


Ctrl-F “harassment”: 0 results.

Scroll down to picture: white hipster dude.

*sigh*
posted by corb at 7:57 PM on December 21, 2018 [14 favorites]


Imagine if.....NYC was funded the way DC is. Virginia wants just a line to Dulles? So they only fund that expansion, but because the system is the way it is, that Silver Line goes all the way to Maryland.

Not that the Silver Line to Dulles will ever be done, 2 cases of bad concrete and now bad railway ties. Oh and the Dulles Toll Road tolls go up January 1.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:13 PM on December 21, 2018


Because it seems to me that there is an entire class of people who NEVER take a bus or a train anywhere, yet are happy to encourage their use, mainly I suspect because it makes it easier for them to take their internal combustion vehicle wherever they need or want to ... living the dream.

I'm quite happy with people who support public transportation for their own benefit, thanks. It makes zero difference to me whether those who will actually speak in favor of it do so for the prospect of less auto congestion or because they actually use it.

In a city like Miami, the former is about the only thing that will stick with most people since most people who live here don't have reasonable access to transit and won't for decades even with massive capital funding, but traffic has been awful enough for long enough that people are finally coming to the realization that building enough roads to accommodate everyone is simply not possible.
posted by wierdo at 5:48 AM on December 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


The urban car thing just kills me.

I went a restaurant this week with a friend who drove. We had to spend 15 minutes driving around the block three times to find a parking spot resulting in a trip that was about the same length of time as if I had walked. Then he could only have one drink because he was driving. Parking cost almost $10.

Oh but it was so much more convenient.
posted by srboisvert at 6:51 AM on December 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


The urban car thing just kills me.

With Uber/Lyft it's finally possible to live in my city without a car but I don't know very many people who do. Wracking my brain, I can think of maybe four or five people that I know who don't own cars even though they live in the middle of the city. There's very little retail in the city itself so shopping means heading out to the fringes where there's little to no transit coverage and if you work outside of the city but live in it, it's really hard to get to work via bus because the the whole system is designed to help suburbanites get into the city not let city-dwellers get out.

A lot of city folk I know only have one car per couple instead of the normal two or three so that's better I guess. My wife doesn't drive (although she know how) and that fact never fails to cause disbelieve when she tells people.
posted by octothorpe at 8:13 AM on December 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Here in the south, those of us who have ever had access to transit (I grew up in Cincinnati) fantasize about transit that is merely bad. Overcrowded? Ok. Gross? Whatev. Harassment? Have you ever had a man at a gas station hustle you for money, and then, since your car was attached to the pump, move in for a hug? Transit doesn’t have a monopoly on any of the horrors of social exposure. At least you can get where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time.

But transit down here? Three buses, an hour wait between each, to go a 15-minute drive, from the city center to the university, one of the densest commutes in the whole city.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:14 AM on December 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


"one car per couple instead of the normal two or three"

Okay, I'm going to be the clueless "View of the world from 9th Ave" New Yorker in the thread: how does a couple in a city have three cars? Two everyday cars for their commutes and...a mini-van for their fourth and fifth kids? A truck for their country homes?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:23 AM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Most houses around here have some sort of garage or at least a pad in the back to park in and there's space out front for two cars on the street. We actually have a 2000 square foot industrial warehouse that came with our rowhouse but that's obviously not typical.
posted by octothorpe at 12:44 PM on December 22, 2018


The people who live action the street from us have, like, untold cars. Granted they have adult sons that live with them, but everyone has their own car. We're in the city but not, like, IN THE CITY. It's residential, we have yards and garages.

We have one car, and honestly it's a pain. We're kind of taking a moral stand ish but having two cars would solve several problems since we're in a residential unhip neighborhood not well served by transit unless you're going to work downtown during normal business hours. Most of these problems are a byproduct of having a school-aged child and full time jobs outside the home. At the beginning of the school year this year I vowed if start going to PTA meetings but haven't yet because holy shit the logistics. My kid attends a magnet school that's about 5 miles from where we live and a couple miles from where I work. PTA is Tuesday nights at 7. Kid has music lessons near but not at his school on Tuesdays at 6. Kid also needs to eat dinner, do his homework, and be in bed around 8. I could leave my husband to take care of all that but then how do I get to/from the school for the meeting? There's no bus or even combination of buses that goes from there to my house. Honestly the only answer is Lyft. Or two cars.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'm going to be the clueless "View of the world from 9th Ave" New Yorker in the thread: how does a couple in a city have three cars?

It's couples not in the city, in the suburbs. Any kid, once they get to an age where they want to do things, can't do those things without a car. There could also be a pickup truck or an RV; those things suck at long commutes, but long commuter cars suck at doing pickup truck things like towing a boat or hauling large and heavy things. I actually tried hauling dirt (in bags, for gardening) in my aunt's sedan, once; it wasn't even that much dirt; it still chunked up her suspension.

-----

bought a car in anticipation of having a kid, as if it was self-evident that anyone with a kid needs a car.

Clueless suburbanite view: a) I can't imagine taking a diaper bag and a stroller on the subway. -- Actually, I can't imagine taking a diaper bag UNLESS you also take a stroller to carry it. b) nobody actually wants babies on the subway, we just accept it as a necessity.

i.e. Once you have a small baby, for a lot of people, that means you simultaneously need to carry a lot more supplies and be able to leave very quickly if necessary. I know lots of city people do that without a car, but I don't know how.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:46 PM on December 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


It really wasn’t hard at all. I think maybe you have beliefs about how much stuff is absolutely necessary to carry when you have a baby with you that could be trimmed down a lot if you were doing it without a car. A couple of diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes fit in a pretty small bag.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:00 PM on December 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


After moving to and living in a city for the first time in 2001, I'll never not live in a city. Last year I went six months in a row without driving my car or even riding my motorcycle. I have three grocery stores, a liquor store, a pharmacy and tons of restaurants and bars within walking distance of my house. I'm a block away from two major bus lines that will take me downtown or across the river.

Now I have a job that's less than ten miles from my house in a suburb but the hour or so a day I spend commuting by car makes me so annoyed. If I could make the trip by transit in less than an hour each way I'd be very tempted to just do that. The suburbs not having the necessary transit to travel that last 2-5 miles to the office is a huge issue for commuters to and from gigantic companies that choose not to have offices in a city.
posted by bendy at 5:36 PM on December 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Ctrl-F “harassment”: 0 results.

A guy standing in the aisle on a crowded bus in San Francisco kept rubbing his dick on my shoulder. If I had been braver I would have yelled at him.
posted by bendy at 5:39 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


The kid and hobby equipment make sense, thanks.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:05 PM on December 22, 2018


DC has an extra million people over Barcelona, is a younger city by about a millennia, yet has seven (?) fewer lines and at least twice the waits. Plus no service after midnight!

IN THE FUCKING CAPITAL.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:26 PM on December 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


In London, if I see that it's 2-3 mins until the next Victoria Line train, I get pissed off about the delay.

Related, seeing some idiot hold the closing doors open for his mates to pile on, which very quickly screws up the whole system, when the next train is CLEARLY MARKED AS ONE MINUTE AWAY is a super specific Victoria line anger. Gah.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:37 PM on December 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Wow, lot of people in this thread who seem to think that funding and frequency fix crowding. Best subway system I've ridden anywhere in the world is Hong Kong. Trains every two minutes, cheap, clean, ridiculously efficient. And way more crowded than any other system I've ever used. Seriously. London in rush hour affords you all manner of personal space that the MTR in Hong Kong at even reasonably busy times just doesn't. They employ pushers to do exactly that - literally push and shove the heaving mass of people to cram a few more onto each train. Check it out.

And I would take the MTR over any other subway system in a heartbeat, despite hating crowds (and people in general). Because it's a good, well maintained, effective and efficient system. Which means that people will use it. Which makes it crowded.

It's not just that crowded public transit is good public transit (though it is, because that is efficiency) it's also that good public transit necessarily becomes crowded public transit.
posted by Dysk at 4:23 AM on December 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


I agree that transit needs to improve a lot and pretty much all American cities could do with greater investment in it. I also think it's true that people's attitudes about convenience could use a serious adjustment.

I am known among friends and coworkers as "the person who needs a ride". That's because I believe in carpooling and always try to carpool. But basically no one is willing to suspend their own convenience, so "carpooling" ends up being "one person gives Emmy Rae a ride to/from". The one friend who takes my offer to carpool to mean ONE of us will drive and not "please give me a ride" used to live in NYC.

So there is this weird split, where people are willing to spend extra time driving to haul me around, but not willing to not have access their own transportation, even though they all have uber/lyft on their phone and could get somewhere if necessary.

To take Minneapolis/St Paul public transit as a primary option, though, you have to be willing to spend tons of extra time waiting around. The bus that connects me to light rail comes every 30 minutes. The walk from my home to the light rail is also 30 minutes. The bus is so unreliable that I rarely take it, I just walk.

Basically what makes me willing to take transit and others in my circle unwilling is that I am comfortable being on someone else's timeline. I can read for 20 minutes waiting for a bus, and I can stay at a party an hour later than I would truly prefer and I just kinda make it work. Perhaps I built up a tolerance as a youngest child attending my sisters' extracurriculars my whole life.

But obviously if you're trying to get to work on time, that really changes your ability to just wait around on the mystery bus. If you can't just give up and start walking, it's a whole 'nother story.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's a winning sales pitch that we have to love "stuffy, crowded subways"

Seriously. The winning sales pitch is right there in the article: that without transit, major cities' congestion would skyrocket, bringing the highways to a standstill for extensive time periods every day. Even people who dislike transit often recognize this. They'll even vote for transit funding measures to get other people off the roads. (I just spent too long trying to find an ad appealing to Denver suburbanites along these lines that a friend of mine was telling me about.)

But this guy is going with a pro-discomfort ("it's good for society") message? "Transit: the best way to get to your next root canal!" I mean, I appreciate what he's trying to do, I think. But even as a super-sympathetic audience, it's too easy for me to take this article the wrong way. "Transit: it's supposed to be uncomfortable." "Overcrowded transit: it's better than no transit!"
posted by salvia at 11:57 AM on December 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


I learned how to drive late and lived with a highly social and carless relative, and can say that in some circles the person who needs a ride may be seen as a burden. Some people may retain a vehicle for not just their own convenience, but the convenience of others.
posted by Selena777 at 2:23 PM on December 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Selena777 makes an excellent point about burdening other people. I'm in a wheelchair and I live 12 blocks from work. When I ride the bus, they have to make all the people sitting on the front seat move, fold up the seat, and the driver has to come fasten my chair to the floor with straps. Then I ride just ten blocks and the driver has to unfasten me and fold the seat back down.

This is a very crowded main route and it is very irritating to the driver and other riders, plus it delays the bus all down the line. Rather than have resentful drivers and riders be inconvenienced twice a day, I'd rather just drive, short as it is.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:43 PM on December 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wow, lot of people in this thread who seem to think that funding and frequency fix crowding.

Yeah, good transit is crowded transit. But I think that how you describe Hong Kong, and what's going on in NYC - these are two separate situations. The NYC subway system's problem isn't that it's a victim of its own success - its problem is that it's been resource starved for a long time and is really falling behind in maintenance. As a result, minor problems ripple outward into delays and slow speeds. On-time rates are plummeting, which means overall lower carrying capacity (which means more crowding).
posted by entropone at 7:57 AM on December 24, 2018


Sure, but fixing all that will not, in the long term, lead to a subway that isn't crowded. Thinking that it will is only going to lead you to be disappointed.
posted by Dysk at 8:29 AM on December 24, 2018


Sure, but fixing all that will not, in the long term, lead to a subway that isn't crowded. Thinking that it will is only going to lead you to be disappointed.

I wonder if you're quite visualizing American public transport, though. For example, there's a bus that I take regularly that goes from South Minneapolis (where I live, a low income part of town) through downtown to North Minneapolis (the poorest part of the city, where the largest number of Black Minneapolitans live). It's one route even though it should be two because the city doesn't care about poor people - getting through downtown in rush hour is slow and difficult, so it's always running late, sometimes fifteen or twenty minutes late, on the second half of its route.

Going to and from South, it's a fairly busy bus, but there are nearly always seats even during rush hour - I've very rarely had to stand. To and from North? It's terribly, terribly cramped! No seats, and people absolutely packing the aisles. It's just unfair. The thing that would make sense is to run it as two routes, with the South route at its current frequency and the North route running at least 30% more often. I only rarely ride from South to North, and I think this is pretty typical - most people are going to and from downtown. But they'll never do that, because they don't care what kind of bus service Black citizens get, and they care only very, very slightly what kind of service the multiracial neighborhoods of mid-South get.

My point being that it's quite reasonable to run buses and trains that are somewhat busy at busy times - the bus isn't your personal bus - but because our public services are so very, very underfunded and ill-distributed here, there's far more crowding than necessary.
posted by Frowner at 2:19 PM on December 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I'm in love with "crowded and stuffy" public transport, but I'm certainly on good terms with "at capacity but well ventilated" ...
posted by nickzoic at 3:00 AM on December 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


That is a good point. The MTR is impeccably air conditioned, which is no small part of making it not just tolerable, but pleasant.
posted by Dysk at 6:04 AM on December 25, 2018




One thing I wonder, in a neutral spirit, is how crowded public transit as an ideal interacts with multi-mode transit, and I guess I’m being coy there because really I’m thinking about the combination of public transit and cycling. The two don’t seem compatible unless you’re assuming that this ideal public transit end-state results in a system that makes using it and then walking to be sufficiently quick and easy that you never need to bring your bike with you.
posted by invitapriore at 9:06 PM on December 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


It works fine with multi-mode transport, and it works fine with cycling. It doesn't really work with bringing your bike on the subway, though. Lots of bike parking at subway stations, so no problem to have a bike for one leg of your journey, just not both before and after the subway ride (unless you want to use two bikes, which I have known people do, or combine the ideal crowded subway with an ideal city-bike rental system).
posted by Dysk at 11:52 PM on December 28, 2018


The difficulty in both maximizing utilization and allowing bikes on the trains/buses themselves was what I meant, but the combination with a bike rental system that you mention is a great point, that seems like a system that could serve most people's needs for fast-enough transit times without needing to be so extensive that it eliminates the need for bikes entirely. It's been my experience in Oakland that bike share docks are almost entirely located in the more affluent areas of the city, but I guess that's in the same class of problem as the dearth of public transit itself, so something that can be advocated for in tandem with the demand for better public transit in general. I do still kind of suspect that there's a design solution that would enable people to bring their bikes with them easily without reducing the system's capacity, but I'm not a transit engineer.
posted by invitapriore at 6:37 PM on December 29, 2018


In a sense, a solution for carrying the bike on the train is almost the easy bit. Being able to safely navigate properly crowded platforms and stations (where "properly crowded" means you roughly get as much space as your footprint when viewed from above) is probably more difficult.
posted by Dysk at 9:47 PM on December 29, 2018


Cities On The Move (direct .m3u8 link), a documentary about public transit in Singapore and Hong Kong, by Singapore's ChannelNewsAsia. An interesting claim that it makes relative to The Card Cheat and Dysk's comments above is that Hong Kong's MTR is one of the few public transit systems in the world that operates at a net profit.

(Though note that, in addition to the geometry of those cities being unusual, they're just in general exceptional because they were the trading hubs of Britain's colonial empire rather than the places that were plundered for resources and captive merchantile markets. They also consequently have particularly low GDP-to-tax ratios and hence are absurdly proffered by conservatives as a supposed reason why the U.S. doesn't need to have a GDP-to-tax ratio in line with other industrialized nations.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:53 AM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


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