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Let’s not demonize driving, just stop subsidizing it (cityobservatory.org)
311 points by chrismealy on Feb 17, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 515 comments



As much as the idea is nice I think it's just a political non-starter. Making this about "personal responsibility" is a pretty see-through cover. This is a stick and a stick wielded by "liberal elites who live in cities" against rural drivers and mega-commuters won't work in this environment.

People will move to cities and use roads less if cities are affordable. If we can lower rent in the city, automobile usage will go down on its own. This is where the fight should be pointed I believe.


Part of "lowering the rent" in the city involves preventing people from paying for cars whether they use them or not.

That "free parking" in the street is not free, it comes at a real cost in real estate value and road maintenance. Likewise policies that require a certain amount of parking per unit or square foot also makes people pay for cars whether they use them or not.

Making buses or trains share the road with cars instead of giving them dedicated lanes with signal pre-emption, also makes non-drivers pay for cars.


As a contrarian defender of driving in these threads, even I hate street parking.

Street parking serves no one well. Finding a spot near where you're going is unlikely, searching for one brings traffic to a crawl, and getting into one creates significant and dangerous disruption to the roadway, particularly for the bike lane.

People who rely on street parking are incentivized to oppose density in the places they park. Mandatory minimum parking requirements result in wasted space, or facilitates car ownership for people who don't care about/benefit from it at the expense of those who do.

Street parking for cars should be eliminated in favor of loading zones and motorcycle/scooter/bicycle parking, which packs much more densely. (Bias towards electric ones if you care to). At the same time, garages (with street-facing storefronts) should be only the list of things you can build by-right.

Drivers should booking garage spaces with dynamic, demand-based pricing from their phones before departing, and should know exactly where they're going to park before setting out.


> Drivers should booking garage spaces with dynamic, demand-based pricing from their phones before departing, and should know exactly where they're going to park before setting out.

I used to believe this, but the one thing that drives me nuts about San Francisco is that all the garages close at night. If I want to park a car overnight (e.g. visiting a friend), the only option in my neighborhood is to park in a street parking spot.


With less on-street parking (and with a denser city), you could make more money staffing your garage overnight


> As a contrarian defender of driving in these threads

I don't think anyone sane is suggesting that we should all stop driving from one day to the next, so there's no need to 'defend' driving. It's more about making driving one option among many, and eliminating some of the subsidies.


Of course, no one is suggesting an overnight ban. I do see an alarming level of support for engineering a steadily increasing scarcity of parking, high tolls, and a deliberately under-provisioned road network in order to degrade the experience of driving until it sucks just a little worse than transit/cycling.

I think we should address the reasons people live far from their destinations, rather than the mechanisms which let them lead reasonable lives while doing so. "It's too easy" isn't the reason. "The alternatives are too hard" is the reason.


Why should we deliberately under-provision transit, and subsidize driving, to degrade the experience of transit until it sucks a little worse than driving?

People live far from their destinations, because there are so many darn parking spots in the way.


Does the space used for parking even register compared to height limits and other NIMBY policies? My routes take me through quite a bit more empty vertical space (single family homes, and apartments of maybe 4 stories max) than horizontal parking space. Most parking is underground or in ~4 story garages a block or two off the main pedestrian corridors, whose entrances are 1-2 storefronts wide.

It'd take a staggering amount of low-rise to compensate for just one 40-story high-rise killed over the neighbors' concerns about shadow.

We shouldn't underprovision public transit, we should make it better than driving is today.


I can't remember the link, but there was an article that took satellite photos and showed how much land was taken up by parking lots. It was something close to a third or a half, using places like downtown houston as an example. Also many roads sacrifice 2 lanes to street parking. A townhouse I lived in pretty much sacrificed %80 of one floor for the 2 car garage.

I agree the NIMBY policies are pretty horrible. 8 story apartments should of been a by right development type ages ago. European cities who take up the parking lane with huge sidewalks are very nice, all of this space for outdoor seating.


If they were using Houston then the study was either an internal study for the city, or someone cherry picking their study area to make sure they got the results they needed.

Houston is either the worst place in the world to live, or the best depending on who you talk to. They have almost no zoning laws at all, which has resulted in endless sprawl. The place is literally where you go to study the effects of unbounded urban and suburban growth of a city.


I read a study about Houston recently that actually had another perspective on that. There's not "zoning" laws per se - you can build whatever you want - but there are minimum lot sizes and parking requirements that effectively limit the density of the city to the point where cost effective public transit is impossible. It's not really all that free. I think this was it. [ http://austinzoning.typepad.com/austincontrarian/files/ssrni... ]


Or a really nice good ole boy network where to build some stuff you need to be able to call in some favors.


The example wasn't just houston, it was other cities too with zoning.


"In L.A., 60 percent of our land area is devoted to streets and parking lots"

-http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/03/los-angeles-seeks-ped...

Or, when your city is hit by a parking bomb:

http://theoverheadwire.blogspot.ie/2010/02/parking-bombs.htm...


Is LA a fair example?


> Does the space used for parking even register compared to height limits and other NIMBY policies?

you're thinking of dense urban centers, like midtown Manhattan. Think more about what horizontally sprawling cities look like. or suburbs, for that matter. in the suburb I grew up in there was a 3 to 1 ratio of parking lot to buildings in all of the major shopping centers and housing complexes.

in addition to that building was basically restricted only to areas that were suitable to construct huge parking lots on. i.e. it had to be very flat, and have easy access to the large highways nearby.

the way we build our cities has been utterly warped and distorted by cars being much too cheap.


And in those dense urban centers where not much space is used for parking, there is still an extraordinarily large amount of money spent on parking. Underground parking garages like you will frequently find in dense urban centers often cost close to $100k per parking space.


> It'd take a staggering amount of low-rise to compensate for just one 40-story high-rise killed over the neighbors' concerns about shadow.

It isn't either or.

Imagine how much parking would be needed for everyone in a 40-story high-rise to put their car there.

And using multi-level parking garages is often prohibitively expensive because the upper levels have to be built to support the weight of the cars.


Generally, the load requirements for parking garages are smaller than the loading for space where humans can crowd.

Cars just aren't that heavy compared to people.


A typical car park is about 2.5m wide and 6m long, so 15 sq m. A typical car weighs about 1.5 tonnes, so the load on the floor of a car park is 100 kg per sq m.

I think it would be hard to exceed that with people, without breaking the fire code.


Design loading for human occupancies come in in the range of 100psf, which is something like 500kg/m2. That's roughly one 200lb adult per 2sf.

You can pack a _lot_ of humans into a small space.

Cars are about half that, because they don't pack well.

Of course, libraries are even worse, sometimes you're looking at 300+ psf design loads there.


Last I checked, my car weighed more than me, and all my posessions, combined.


Is it also a lot bigger than you?


> Imagine how much parking would be needed for everyone in a 40-story high-rise to put their car there.

About as much as many 40-story high-rises already have underground.


I've never seen a 40-story high-rise that had enough underground parking for more than a small fraction of its occupants. They build them in places that have transit links and set the cost of parking spaces at a high enough level that most don't bother.


> About as much as many 40-story high-rises already have underground.

It isn't about where you put it, it's about how much it costs.


Hugely so— much of the density of Japan's cities today, and many traditional cities worldwide, comes from small single-family homes and apartment buildings. They just don't have parking lots and huge roads between them.

High-rises aren't necessarily very dense, especially if they're surrounded by a lot of open land— for example, NYC's high-rise housing projects are often less dense than the low-rise apartment buildings they replaced.


Agreed. Glad that Scott Weiner got elected to state senate, as he is a force for building dense housing around transit stations - exactly the combination we need. Now if only Bay Area politics around housing development didn't move at a snails pace...

As for that statistic about the use of parking lots, I think that also included road space and other forms of car storage; I do think parking lots are good candidates for construction, as doing so doesn't displace anyone, and I would also like to narrow lots of streets in San Francisco (SOMA is basically a giant freeway grid), but I also agree that densification of neighborhoods is potentially more impactful.


The other hand is what happens when parking lots get developed...

Portsmouth, NH has made their downtown completely unvisitable by allowing three or four lots on the edge of the old downtown to be developed into mostly unoccupied luxury condos and hotels. The one municipal parking garage is constantly filled, and on-street parking has gotten cutthroat.


Portsmouth is a community of 20ķ and from a cursory look on Google maps relatively small area wise. .

If parking downtown is that in demand, has the city investigated things such a bus circulator, demand-based pricing to fund parking improvements, improving bike amenities and connections or negotiating public parking agreements with private lot owners? There's a lot of potential solutions here, but paving over business districts doesn't make sense.


It sounds like there's a lot of demand for parking and some land mistakenly allocated to condos and hotels, as evidenced by the low occupancy you cite! This could be a great opportunity for the enterprising business to put parking in place of that housing and charge market rate for it!


Or, if people won't pay market rate for land to store their car, maybe there actually isn't a shortage, and that land is already being put to better use by people who _are_ willing to pay.


This, of course, assumes that people are perfectly rational actors when it comes to things like paying for parking. I would submit that years of free or extremely cheap parking have made us not.


>I do think parking lots are good candidates for construction, as doing so doesn't displace anyone

I have strong anecdotal evidence against that. In Richmond, VA, nearly the entire neighborhood of Monroe Ward was leveled to provide parking for skyscrapers downtown.


I think he's saying the opposite - it makes sense to build on sites that are currently parking lots.


> Why should we deliberately under-provision transit

No one is suggesting that. Make transit great. I'll pay more in tax if need be.

I just don't want to be told that I have a choice between shitty transit or a deliberately shitty driving experience.

Honestly, the only reason why this is an argument is because people know that taking the bus sucks. I took the bus to work one day to see how it was (this was when I was debating takign my car, right after I started). It was slow, hot, uncomfortable, cramped, a guy fell asleep on me, and I felt sick by the end (motion sickness). So the only option is make driving shittier.


I'm not sure the data support the claim, at least in the US, that we under provision transit. We slight subsidizing driving, but not by much, and I agree that that should stop. Here's the numbers. http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=12133


The data in there is incredibly misleading. They're comparing total highway miles driven to total transit miles, even though transit is disproportionately skewed towards dense urban areas where everything is more expensive (and I suspect that highway miles are skewed the opposite direction).

Plus it completely ignores any non-highway driving subsidies, like tax revenue going to local roads and public parking areas, government regulations that mandate parking minimums, etc.

AND it ignores how valuable the land is that roads exist on, that could potentially be used for something else. Now obviously we do have to set aside some land for transportation purposes, but with cars, you have to set aside a lot MORE land, so you have to factor in that subsidy as well. E.g. if the city could, by switching to denser transportation modes, lease out a bunch of land to private companies and earn a million dollars a year, then that's a million dollar a year subsidy.


>We slight subsidizing driving, but not by much

Must also factor in the untold billions used by the military to ensure cheap oil.


That's sort of fair, but only if the "stop subsidizing cars" money comes from reducing what we spend on the military, not some attempt to rebalance things by imposing a regressive tax on driving without doing anything to make driving-alternatives more viable.


I don't know about your city, but availability of transit generally seems to be well over demand where I live.


> I think we should address the reasons people live far from their destinations

That's the point: It's artificially cheap to do so, because driving is heavily subsidized in the US. What you interpret as the deliberate sabotage of the time/money cost to driving is, in fact, an attempt to make driving reflect more of its true cost. As things stand, those costs -- in terms of poorer physical and mental health, environmental degradation, maintenance, material, space, etc -- are socialized, borne disproportionately by people who would, in fact, benefit from more density and fewer cars.

In places where people have to pay even a fraction of the true costs of rural/suburban living, they overwhelmingly vote with their feet.


> It's artificially cheap to do so, because driving is heavily subsidized in the US.

That's part of it. But it's also just cheaper to live outside of cities. If you live in a place where land is plentiful, you can have a big house, a garage and a big box store a few miles away. You can get to places on interstate highways (which are not going away because of their economic necessity). This is, for many people, an appealing way to live and a way that requires a car. Where I live it wasn't until mandatory parking in the city that people started to drift back downtown to live.


Unless the interstate highway goes right to your door, you're still using roads overwhelmingly funded by urbanites. And the gas in your car? Subsidized at all levels. Hell, we even bailed out a terrible automobile company with federal funds, subsidizing the losses on the manufacture of a generation of shitty cars!

But it goes beyond just subsidizing roads and fuel and SUVs. The federal and state governments subsidize rural and suburban power networks, water distribution, waste disposal, schools, police, firefighters, doctors, telecommunications... a whole host of things that drive down living costs in rural and suburban areas.

Yes, it's cheap to live outside of cities (in the US). Nobody's debating that. Nobody's saying it's not an appealing lifestyle for lots of people. We're saying that the reason it's cheap is because it's subsidized. It's basic economics. There are precious few places in the world where "it's just cheaper to live outside of cities" without strenuous government intervention.


The federal and state governments subsidize rural and suburban power networks, water distribution, waste disposal, schools, police, firefighters, doctors, telecommunications... a whole host of things that drive down living costs in rural and suburban areas.

Power generation, water distribution, waste disposal and the like are typically done outside of urban centers because the denizens would cry NIMBY about the effects.

Those supply networks exist to service the urban centers, it would be wasteful to not use them for the suburbs that they necessarily have to pass.


Perhaps the "car culture" is subsidized. But it's short sited to say urban living is not. Zoning laws raise the price of urban property because they push "undesirable" things out of the city (agriculture, industry, etc.). In countries where local governments do not have the power to enact strong zoning, residential, commercial and industrial will coexist. In countries where its cheaper to live in cities, that's often because of the industrial presence. That creates jobs, but also undesirable living conditions. Wealthy people will live outside of the city (this was especially true in Africa, at least in my experience). We've reversed that in the US.

Additionally, cities pull in food, power, water and other things from rural and suburban areas that exist to support cities.

I do not support commuter culture, but this is a far more complicated issue that car subsidies. There's a huge interconnected web of incentives at play. Any disassembly needs to be done carefully.


It's artificially cheap to live in cities because their daytime populations are not all competing for beds close to downtown. If residents of downtown condos had to pay the true cost of sharing minuscule housing stock with an entire city's worth of labor force, we'd have a lot fewer middle class people living in cities than we already do.

I'm sensing an implicit assumption that cutting out driving would result in building more density. But suburban commuters don't write land use policy for urban cores - their existing residents do, and they don't want it, because of noise, shadow, undesireables, etc. They already don't need to drive. Turning the screws on suburban commuters won't change urban NIMBYs minds on what they want their neighborhoods to look like.


> degrade the experience of driving until it sucks just a little worse than transit/cycling

And so because transit and cycling both suck in unavoidable ways compared to driving, these anti-car advocates end up creating a world that's worse overall just so that people who drive cars can't have some comfort. This kind of conspicuous self-flagellation is not how to advance as a society.


How do they suck in unavoidable ways? Try spending time in a city with actually good transit like Hong Kong, Tokyo, or many places in Europe; and try checking out a place like Copenhagen with world class bicycle infrastructure. They make American car-based cities feel like the Stone Age.


To be fair, bicycling is simply not a valid option in many American cities. Think of Minneapolis for example: it's simply not safe to ride a bike in -40 temperatures. Of course, this does raise the question of why a city exists in a place that cold.

Western European cities have the enviable advantage of decent weather year-round, just like the US west coast. The central US does not have this; it's more like Moscow: bitterly cold in the winter. And the east coast has a lot of extreme weather too.

Now this doesn't excuse not having good public transit like Tokyo either; it's certainly possible to build that in places like Minneapolis and DC, but they don't (or they simply can't, because the US culturally is unable to).


Yet Minneapolis is one of the US' best bicycling cities, and one can bike all winter if dressed sensibly. Likewise, truly-cold Edmonton is building out an extensive bike lane network: http://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/council-approves-...

Cycling is most popular in Northern Europe, which has far worse weather than southern Europe.


I'll admit I haven't actually been to Northern Europe, but if you're talking about places like Copenhagen, my understanding is that the climate there isn't that much different from, say, Seattle. It's not warm like Italy of course, but it's not a tundra like Minnesota. The southern Scandinavian cities of Malmo and Oslo are not like the northern reaches of their respective countries, which truly are cold.

And as a cyclist myself, I seriously question how you can claim it to be feasible to bike all winter, in -40 temperatures no less, no matter how you're dressed. I get serious wind-chill problems on my face, head, and hands as soon as the temperature drops below freezing, and that's with a skull-cap covering my ears and some cycling gloves. I do have heavy winter gear I can wear when the weather's cold, but there's no way in hell I can shift the gears on my bike with heavy ski gloves on, and ski pants would probably cause me to wreck. Furthermore, I'm still young enough to not have circulation problems; try telling some 70-year-old to go cycling in -40 temperatures with wind blowing.


Copenhagen is definitely colder than Seattle, with lows below freezing all through the winter.

It's definitely harder to ride a bike in cold winter weather— but the same is true of walking and driving. One mostly needs cleared roads/paths (as drivers and pedestrians do) and warm, windproof gear (as a pedestrian and skier does). The right bike for city cycling year-round isn't a road bike designed for warm weather high-speed recreation, either.

I wear normal clothes and just add a nice wool 'Buff' scarf for face/neck coverage and good gloves for cycling around NYC in winter weather. I also use snow tires for safety, just because the city doesn't do a great job clearing snow from all the bike lanes, and the bike lane network isn't yet extensive enough that I can avoid mixing with car traffic.

And when it's really cold— even Minnesota closes schools and businesses, anyways: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/01/06/school-closure-crit...

So— cycling in cold weather is perfectly possible, and, in any case, most people don't live in places where it regularly gets cold enough for cycling to be truly difficult.


Cycling in 25F temperatures is one thing; cycling in -40(F or C) temperatures is another thing entirely. I completely object to the idea that cycling in -40 is feasible for the vast majority of the population. -40 isn't that abnormal in places like Minnesota or Edmonton.


I both drive and cycle and must admit, cycling is a nasty experience in various ways. compared to driving. It's physically an ordeal due to exertion and bad weather, whereas driving is more comfortable, and quicker. Gotta say driving wins hands down, for me.


Electric bikes are becoming popular. They are fast and need almost no exertion.


9/10ths of the issues riding in the city are not solved with motors.


Alright, so we should continue to support engineering for socializing loss due to pollution, disenfranchizing the poor or cyclists or others and subsidize it?

That's the entire point of the linked article, less demonization, more letting those who take pay the just price for what they take.


As long as people who don't take transit don't have to subsidize it, you have a deal.


Transit improves thing for all road users, even the ones who never use it.

Roads have to be in better condition to take the buses and coaches. Increased transit usage reduces numbers of vehicles on the roads, decreasing congestion and improving travel times. Pollution is decreased.

If you like driving you should heavily push for more public transit, and persuade everyone to use it, while you continue to drive your car.



>Transit improves thing for all road users, even the ones who never use it.

There is zero transit where I (and many other people) live. The nearest bus is over a hundred miles away. Street cars? Been on a couple in my life. As far as I can tell, tax dollars ear-marked for transit go into a black hole.

I don't mind contributing to "the greater good" or "global society", but don't expect me to both subsidize transit and pay a premium for my only mode of transportation. Local problems need local solutions, but there's so much NIMBYism.


If life sucks for every generation just a little bit more, people eventually move away from the area. This solves the problem of parking and driving, because no one is there anymore anyways.

Or if this happens on a national scale a civil war erupts.


So uh, you're just gonna bury your head in the sand on all the problems associated with the utter dependence on the car?


I'm not sure where you got that impression.

You propose to degrade people's lives by eroding their access to something they depend on.

I propose to erode the reasons people depend on it, so that demand falls naturally and an eventual lack of access will not hurt.

Are you going to bury your head in the sand on the problems of crowded housing markets?


Until you provide proper transit and stop expanding roads and parking (which surely will degrade driving experience) and make new neighborhoods walkable (see above) demand for driving will not fall even if it becomes more expensive. Only the poor will be hurt.

There are many roads overbuilt for the kind of traffic they face. Cutting them down to size is an excellent idea. Providing light and heavy rail is also great. Buses have limitations and still require expensive infrastructure for high level of service.


Your attitude seems to be that it's up to others to somehow 'fix' modes of transportation until the somehow compete with driving in terms of convenience, because your convenience is apparently much more important than considerations like the planet. And I guess if other modes can't compete well, apparently then driving must be inherently better, right?

The main reason other modes of transportation suck is bad development patterns, centered all around driving. Unless you fix that, other modes won't be able to effectively compete. So discouraging driving is part of the multi-approach strategy to slowly change mode share and development patterns.

Your attitude is reinforcing the broken status quo.


>centered all around driving

Are they centered around driving?

First, the development pattern of suburbia was centered around white resistance to racial desegregation [0]. Suburbia wasn't "about" the car, it was about opting out of certain societal changes and rejecting the premise that humans could or should figure out how to live in close proximity in units larger than the nuclear family.

Now that that's fallen out of fashion among many, we're still stuck with it because:

a) Wealthy urban residents have gotten used to things being uncrowded, wish to protect their property values, light, and air, and see preventing dense development in the neighborhoods as critical to doing so.

b) Poor urban residents and their liberal allies across the income spectrum wish to keep rents affordable for the people left behind in cities during white flight, so they pursue policies to keep these people in their homes (rent control, requiring a percentage of units to be below-market-rate and allocated by lottery to those below an income threshold, blocking luxury construction on the belief that it will keep neighborhoods from gentrifying, etc) with the side-effect of slowing down middle-class reurbanization. (If you're a professional but not oligarchical white dude with particularly leftist friends, expect to be called out as a gentrifier if you move to any dense neighborhood you can afford).

The car is just the mechanism that lets us cope with low density. You might think that if the coping mechanism is gone, we'll be forced to find a real solution, but the people who rely on driving are, far as I can tell, a different cohort from the people who control the planning commissions that block construction in major cities.

>Your attitude seems to be that it's up to others to somehow 'fix' modes of transportation until the somehow compete with driving in terms of convenience, because your convenience is apparently much more important than considerations like the planet.

Yeah, basically. We need to fix driving too - public policy kicks towards smaller, more fuel efficient, hybrid, and now fully electric vehicles are critical. Getting people to step down to the minimal motor vehicles that work for them is also great - for example, California got me out of my 28mpg car and onto a 150mpg motorcycle for most trips through the composition of the BART parking lots.

It's always a balance. If we valued the planet above our own lives without limit, the only rational action would be suicide. We would certainly not be having this discussion with manufactured computers sipping generated electricity. It's good that people are pushing the balance further towards the planet's favor, but there are always going to be tradeoffs we're not willing to make.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_flight


Nobody suggested that. They suggest that if they depend on it, they should be paying fair price for it.


> particularly for the bike lane.

If the bike lane is not between the parking space and the sidewalk there's something wrong with your roads.


I actually generally prefer bike lanes that put me more closer to the moving cars, despite said cars running over my bike twice so far.

Drivers mostly know to watch for cyclists, though they're pretty bad at it. Pedestrians know to check for cars when entering the street, and cyclists benefit from that caution. But that bike lane with non-driving space to its right? People will blithely step into it, hop out of their cars into it, or stand in it, assuming it's a safe, non-vehicle space.

Maybe it's just because it's so unusual where I live, or because it's in a pedestrian-heavy area, but I do not like it at all, and feel safer sharing the road. (My experience with these (as a cyclist) is mostly along the Drag in Austin, TX: https://goo.gl/maps/TPi9Yyj6SFn )


If you do it like that you have to be very careful how you design your intersections. Cyclists are even harder to see when they're hidden behind a row of cars.

Like this for example http://www.protectedintersection.com/


I take that over risking getting car doored, or cut off by an uber. Let the careful thinking happen at the design phase - or even better, let's have dedicated bicycle boulevards (they don't have to be wide to accommodate staggering amounts of bike traffic)


Here, I live in a small midwestern city. More accurately I live on the outskirts of a small midwestern city and commute 40 minutes into downtown for work.

Owning a car here is mandatory. Public transportation sucks and the contents/attractions of my city are scattered. For example, from where I live my favorite trail, which I'd love to walk this Saturday, is 23 miles north. The Ikea, which I also need to go to, is 23 miles south. There is no public transportation to get me to those places. Even if I lived in the city there is no public transportation to get me to those places. How do I live a life where I don't throw my whole paycheck into rent AND have the freedom to go out and do stuff around the city? (Note: these seem like pretty reasonable expectations to me) I live where the rent is low and own a car. You need to make an alternate lifestyle for me cheaper, not my current one more expensive.

Likewise, I already have to pay for parking for my job. You're going to restrict supply and make me pay even more? Come on man... We need to talk about solutions which are viable and not waste time trying to punish the rural/suburban middle-class and poor into a lifestyle which isn't even feasible for them.


That's the problem. How does a small Midwestern city take 40 minutes to drive halfway across, except for utterly horrible planning and land use? Why is a single city 40 miles wide?

It got this way through 60 years of low density sprawl. Sprawling further and asking people to drive longer and longer distances is not a viable solution - socially, environmentally or fiscally.

We need to remove the barriers and even encourage mid-scale density on all levels of government. We need to be thinking of creative transit, design and tech solutions to retrofit our cities for something besides single passenger cars because our cities are choking on them.


In forty minutes you can cross Berlin. It boggles my mind that people want to live in places where you have to ride a car for twenty minutes just to get groceries.


You'd be surprised. I bet my socks that half of the people who make these arguments simply haven't lived in a world where they can exist without a car. They just can't imagine how it is possible because they are so embedded in a reality where cars are vital to life and it's hard to imagine outside of it.


not every one can afford or want to live in central London or NYC


This is a good example of the mindset that the parent poster opposes. Why do you take it for granted that, unless you live in a mind-bogglingly dense and expensive city, a car is the only way to get around? There are plenty of examples of small towns with adequate density to get by with using a car infrequently, at most--there are even some in North America, although it's depressingly rare. Why can't we demand better from our local governments?


Having a car (I don't btw) allows you a lot off flexibility both in terms of work and in your social life.


Not in New York it don't.


NYC and places like it eg London at our outliers most smaller towns and cities don't have good public transport that runs 24/7


Rents in Berlin, even after a decade of increases that everyone is concerned about, are roughly equivalent to rents in Buffalo, not Manhattan.

It's very odd to think that high rents is some inherent fact of city life.


Why is that though? I just googled it and this article seems to think it's a result of bad economic times. Here's the last paragraph

>It goes more or less without saying, then, that with an economy stuck in such a unique rut for so long, the housing prices remained similarly uniquely low as well. There was little incentive to build and invest in a city that wasn’t growing economically. Which is precisely what has helped make it so attractive to many, and such fertile ground for investors now that the economy is finally beginning to recover.

https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/the-history-behind-berlins-...

The problem in my city is that in the city there is no middle, there's expensive apartments/townhouses and there's section 8. What I'm most interested in is how do we get mid-priced living introduced into urban areas?


I am very interested in this problem as well and have been doing some digging. The surface level answer from some real estate people in NY is that the ROI from condos is just better than any mid-priced living.

1. I don't know if that's actually true 2. Even if it is, it might be possible to change architectural and design constraints to achieve desired unit economics 3. If it's straight up not possible to build mid-priced units with the same return, then existing condo prices don't sufficiently take into account externalities and we should use local legislation to bump their costs up and take them into account.


Rents are heavily regulated in Germany's largest cities. They would be high but for the government's involvement.


Doesn't price fixing just result in new rentals being impossible to find, because demand at the fixed price exceeds supply?


If your population is growing, sure.


The key thing is to consider transportation costs in addition to housing costs. When you do this the balance shifts, and walkable neighbourhoods with high housing prices suddenly become a lot more affordable.

They studied this in Metro Vancouver and found that the "expensive" downtown core was actually more affordable than the outer suburbs where you had to use a car for all transportation needs.


Or like Annapolis, MD. Or New Rochelle, NY. You can get a lovely house in those cities within walking distance of downtown for less than what houses cost in the mega-sprawl Bay Area suburbs.


You can have a house in Annapolis that is a 3 mile round trip walk from the nearest grocery store. I invite you to do that walk with asthma in -5C weather with a strong wind while carrying a weeks worth of groceries.


You can, but you don't have to. The zoning codes are such that you can choose to live a less car dependent lifestyle even if you're not able to afford a place like Central London or NYC. But insane zoning laws take away that option in many parts of the country.

I grew up in Vienna, VA, where you needed a car even if you lived around the Metro station, because the town decided to surround it with low-density residential instead of high-density mixed residential/retail: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Vienna%2FFairfax-GMU+Stati.... In contrast, I lived in a relatively affordable New York suburb,[1] where the Metro North station was surrounded by a mix of retail and residential: https://www.google.com/maps/place/New+Rochelle,+NY/@40.90929.... My wife and I had a car, and a baby, and we used the car only once a month because even the Costco was right next to a nearby Metro North stop.

People used to post-WWII suburbs really fail to realize how much government policy distorts peoples' choices. My house in Annapolis (which is at the edge of rural Anne Arundel county) is in a neighborhood where you can walk to a park, a bar, and two quickie marts. The subdivision was built about the same time as Vienna (in the car era), but back then the county had much smaller minimum lot sizes, less than a third the current minimum lot size in the county. The streets are barely wide enough for one car to drive through. That's how people choose to live when you don't force development into a sprawling wasteland model.

[1] It wasn't substantially more expensive than Vienna, despite being within a 30 minute train ride of Midtown Manhattan.


Even if you can technically walk to something, a person can have a disability such that it is impossible for them to do that. Encouraging them to ditch their car is stupid without giving them an alternative. A grocery delivery service really isn't an alternative because they suck: do you want squished and spoiled vegetables and broken eggs? It's basically only good for dry and pre-packaged frozen foods. So now instead of driving once a week to go to the store and eat healthy foods, we microwave the TV dinners that the Amazon drone flys to us every day. Hooray?


Who is saying we force disabled people to give up their cars? We are talking about getting rid of stupid zoning laws that preclude everyone else from choosing less car-dependent cities.


You can live in a 2000-5000 inhabitants town and not need a car.


I live in a town of 3000 in Iowa, and I need a car. Sure, I can walk to work (and often do in the summer) because it's only a mile away, but we get some pretty nasty winters here and I'm certainly not going to walk when it's -10f and there's two feet of snow with ice on the roads and sidewalks.

On top of that, we still need to drive to another town 17 miles away to get groceries every couple of weeks. We need to drive to another town if we want to eat somewhere that isn't Subway or Pizza Hut. We need to drive to another town if we want to see a movie. We need to drive to another town if we want to see family.

Despite living in a very small town, I still need a car and won't be giving mine up any time soon.

Edit: (All of those things suck, but I still love where I live. Moving to a city isn't something I'm interested in.)


The GP says you can, not that municipalities are inherently designed that way.

I'm thinking of rural towns and hamlets outside of larger cities in Germany and other European countries that have their own bakeries, grocers, local schools etc with housing congregated nearby. The centralization also provides easier public transit to cities, towns and employment centers nearby. Many people still live in relatively large houses with gardens and yards.

A lot of this is a historical development pattern from the intersection of transportation routes. In fact, much of rural American used to develop the same way - many pre-interstate rural towns are likely to have a semblance of downtown at a crossroads or former rail depot, even if it's vestigal or abandoned today.

Even this centralized low-density development is more accessible to the carless, preserves more agricultural and natural space, makes it cheaper and more efficient for municipalities to provide services than 50 different isolated subdivisions spread in a 25 sq mi area.


so that's a flipping village and most villages / hamlets wont have any local jobs


In exchange for this car ride, you can have a bedroom that's larger than an entire New York City apartment. You can have a garden, grow your own food, grow your own flowers - heck, if there aren't too many NIMBY ordinances you can have your own chickens. You can have an apiary. You can get a grill, install a picnic table and dine outside. You can have kids - and let your kids outside in the back yard to run around like maniacs as Nature intended, climb trees, play Frisbee or baseball right there in the yard, play with the dog... or they can ride their bikes around on the quiet side streets.

I favor medium-density inner Brooklyn myself, but I grew up in the suburbs, with a few dozen acres of woods behind the houses, and I'm glad I did. Suburbs are demonstrably awesome too.


This is a really bad exchange though. You cannot walk in your neighbourhood and your kids get run down by traffic.

Back yard? That does not exist in the US. You get a tiny garden which is not enough.

In Europe we have the various sport fields you can reach on foot or via light rail, not even going into a car. Therefore your kids do not have to drive at age 12.

You can reach work via train, I know people who ride in excess of 200 km daily.

Heck, schools and universities are reachable via such transit.

We have big parks in the cities.

I am not talking cities the density of Hong Kong either. NY is not quite walkable either, it lacks walkability due to grid street design with no accommodations for crossing them easily and safely.


I'm not sure what you are saying. Are you saying there are no backyards in American or that the suburban neighborhoods are not safe to walk?

Parks in big cities are completely different from large yards. Parks are nice, but large yards mean you can have gardens, grow food, or have lots of friends and family visit.


Large back yards that you can play ball or throw a frisbee in are only for the upper middle class and semi-rural areas. The more typical cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood has houses that are almost as wide as the lot they sit on and back yards that are only about 20' deep with no privacy from the neighbors. You basically have to choose between having the grill and picnic table, or the garden and swing set. And you can only let your young kids play in the street if you live at the end of a cul-de-sac. I'd much rather put my kids in a neighborhood where there will be more than two or three other families with kids in close walking distance, and a neighborhood park for them to play in.


I strongly disagree. You describe one kind of neighborhood.

You are only correct if "semi-rural" to you means "suburban".

Granted that new neighborhoods seem to be built with less care for yards, but growing up in suburban Texas in a subdivision from the '60s, we all had decent yards to play in, with room for trees, gardens, and sometimes even large swimming pools.

I live in an urban area now, and love it. But people need to open their minds and stop crapping on other peoples' lifestyles.

People saying "I just can't /imagine/ living 30 minutes from the citycenter" are as close minded as those who can't /imagine/ living in a walkable area with shops and food nearby.


Every single one of your items about Europe applies to New York.


You should go to Berlin, the UK or many other european cities.

You see kids playing around in city parks pretty safely, and people who want the suburbs live in villages on commuter rail about 30+ minutes away. They actually have apartments in the city core that are 2000sqft and can have 3 large bedrooms with a big living room and hallway with plenty of sunlight. The interior of the apartment buildings create a court yard with a little playground and you often see kids there, playing together. They are very pleasant, and all of these people don't need to have a car.


> You can have kids - and let your kids outside in the back yard to run around

Interestingly, many studies suggest that urban children are significantly more free range than suburban these days. (does not isolate for race/social class)


You can have a bedroom that's larger than an entire NYC apartment and an ample garden in the walkable inner neighborhoods of small midwestern cities, too.

My parents live in an inner streetcar suburb of Milwaukee, have plenty of living and gardening space, and are a shorter walk to a movie theater than I am in Brooklyn.


And in all the places I lived in Canada, you'll have zoning laws that disallow grocery stores in housing developments. Even crazier: zoning laws that disallow bars in housing developments which means that you must drink and drive if you want to go to the bar and drink.

Here in Japan, 25 km gets me to the middle of the nearest big city (of about 700K people) from where I live. I have to go through 4 towns on the way. I live in a town of about 20K people and I can walk to 3 different grocery stores and any number of drinking establishments. North America seems so incredibly inconvenient to me these days.


> which means that you must drink and drive if you want to go to the bar and drink

Taxis? Transit?


That idea never even occured to me. In most of europe, there are small supermarkets everywhere. For all but the smallest villages, there is a supermarket within walking distance.


Here, "walking distance" goes about to the end of the subdivision. Which is nothing but houses. The closest tiny convenience store is something like 2 miles further. The closest proper grocery store is almost twice that.


Not everyone lives in a city (or even town).

For example my parents live in a mini-subdivision of a dozen or so houses about 5 miles outside the nearest city limits. The walmart is on the way out of the other side of town.


I don't think the majority of all American car miles stem from the "not everyones".

Poor city planning that makes cars all but essential is the problem, not the dozen houses way out in the sticks. In Germany even towns with a population of like 30k have at least basic necessities within cycling distance, and Germany is way worse than, say, the Netherlands. I'm pretty sure that the majority of the population lives in towns that are larger than that.


The state of Texas is twice as big as Germany.


Or, you know, people like to live in houses with a yard, where there might be wild animals living around or a forest somewhere within an hour's drive, and prefer that over cramped hovels.


Ironically if everyone lives in low density sprawl for nature, it destroys the same habitat where those wild animals once lived, or where that forest was, and it makes actual nature harder to access for anyone who can't afford or travel to the latest round of exurbia.

Whereas if our cities were denser, there'd be more open space left, that is easier to access, by potentially more people. Density != cramped hovel. And density doesn't mean everyone lives in a highrise. There's points between single family homes on quarter acres and 60 story skyscrapers.

Edit: I highly encourage you to checkout some examples of cities that saw most of their growth pre-auto:

Here's my personal favorite - Leipzig Germany, metro population around 1 million: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Leipzig,+Germany/

A wide range of uses, densities, housing prices and modes of transportation (dedicated bike infrastructure, transit, and yes even cars). But the compact development area can leave so much more room for green space, nature preserves, public parks, agriculture, watershed protection. There's even many buildings that have yards - it's just everyone doesn't get their own acre.


Leipzig was heavily bombed in the war so I guess that helped with rebuilding the infrastructure to make room for alternative transportation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Leipzig_in_World_Wa...


I can't say a lot about Leipzig but many german cities were rebuild far more car-centric then they were before. Public transportation, small streets and biking seemed outdated back then. A lot of medieval building were destroyed after 1945 to make room for cars. There's a good german (not subtitled) documentation about this topic [1].

The Nazis had the same attitude before. Cities had to be car-centric, that's why they moved on with the Autobahn and created Volkswagen. The obligation to use bike lanes (Radwegebenutzungspflicht) was issued under the Nazi regime. It was part of the fascist mindset that cities are made of concrete (instead of children playing in parks).

[1] http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Reportage-Dokumentation/Unsere...


Leipzig was rebuilt with essentially the same layout as before the war. If anything, additional space was used for larger roads.

Here is a video comparing a tram ride through Leipzig in 1992 with one in 1931:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX4wGWzWqBk


The way forward for the midwest is clear, then.


Leipzig is a small city, especially metro area wise compared to the US's large cities.

As far as density, people per square kilometer.

10,831 NYC

5,344 Boston

4,447 Chicago

3,198 LA

1,985 Detroit

1,900 Leipzig

1,414 Houston


I'm on mobile so unfortunately I have no easy way to provide comparisons. But living in a rust belt city and being familiar with the difference in development patterns, I suspect those numbers are an artifact of the extent of city limits. I'd be happy to look later.

Ie Leipzigs boundary for that number includes the city and undeveloped/agricultural/rural areas in the surrounding metro, where Detroit's number is the developed city limits, excluding the suburbs, exurbs and agricultural places in the metro.

I don't mean to get too bogged down in this point too much. I wanted to point out there are plenty of lessons we can learn from pre-auto cities to make our future more livable.


Yes, I provided you the numbers for city's proper in all cases.

No, Leipzig's boundary for that number does not include their larger Urban Area. Looking at the metropolitan area population of those cities Leipzig is 843,619 while Detroit, the rust belt city you mention, is over 4 million according to OECD.

http://www.oecd.org/gov/regional-policy/all.pdf


https://www.google.com/maps/place/Leipzig,+Germany/@51.32782...

If you compare the official city limits with the satellite view you will see the developed area containing most of the population is much smaller than the city limits, and you might understand what I am getting at. I think the appropriate measure here would be the weighted density, closer to representing the average density a person there would be surrounded by.


Then why is it easy to live without a car in Leipzig, but (as I learned somewhere else in this thread), impossible in Houston? Density is about the same.


Because even in mid-low density European towns and cities the diversity of land use is greater. Shops, pubs, and parks are permitted to be near housing, as opposed to the US which makes it illegal to have a shop near your house in much of the country.


Try visiting A nordic city for vacation. You will realize dense city and forests can literally be within walking distance - not one hour drive away.


If you live in Berlin, or most other large cities in Europe, there is wildlife and forest within 1 hours drive.


> I live where the rent is low and own a car. You need to make an alternate lifestyle for me cheaper, not my current one more expensive.

You're current cheap lifestyle is subsidized, it's not about punishing you, it's about having you pay your fair share. It doesn't have to mean that your cost for parking at your work has to go up, but it may mean that you have to pay for the other places you park and for the roads you drive on.


>it's not about punishing you

Actually it is, here from the article.

>We agree with most of the policies advocates like Piatowski want, including the “sticks” like parking and congestion fees—but not the way they’re being described.

They're saying that the punishment is fine, just the messaging is wrong. If actual politicians on the left start trying this what do you think Republicans are going to say? "City liberals think the way you live is wrong and are trying to tax you into living like they do." Would the republicans saying that even be wrong? I don't think so, their messaging works because it's true, the messaging in this article won't because it's a lie. Hence why I call this a non-starter. Liberals can do better.


> "City liberals think the way you live is wrong and are trying to tax you into living like they do." Would the republicans saying that even be wrong?

It would a lie to use those words describe the view point argued for in this article. If you are claiming that the article is a lie, written only to encourage a change in messaging rather than a change in perspective, you are violating the core principles of discussion of on HN which is "charity".

> After all, very few people think that a zero car world is one that makes a lot of sense. Low-car makes much more sense that non-car as a policy talking point. How do we get people to make these choices. There’s an analogy here to alcohol. We tried prohibition in the twenties. It was moral absolutism, zero tolerance. Alcohol in any amount was evil. That didn’t work.

I personally think that the article makes a very strong point about not viewing cars as evil and not seeking to achieve a non-car world.

> The second point is that small changes matter. Even slight reductions in car use and car ownership will pay big dividends. Traffic congestion is subject to non-linear effects: small reductions in traffic volumes produce big reductions in traffic congestion.

One of the points of the article is that by appropriately pricing cars usage by removing subsidies we can remove market distortion. By causing a minor reduction in car use we can make car use BETTER for those who really need / want it and are willing to pay its real cost.


>It would a lie to use those words describe the view point argued for in this article.

How so? The way they live their lives is in the suburbs with long commutes. This article lists several reasons car use is bad and why we should reduce it. Hence "City liberals think the way you live is wrong"

>One of the points of the article is that by appropriately pricing cars usage by removing subsidies we can remove market distortion.

Hence "and are trying to tax you into living like they do"

The statement isn't a lie. You are raising the costs of car usage to get people to use cars less. You're doing this because you think less car usage is better. Regardless of whether that belief is right or wrong, for much of the country it isn't going to fly. That's my main point. You and I probably agree on the problem here, our difference is on the solution.

>written only to encourage a change in messaging

See the first paragraph:

>But numbers don’t mean much without a framework to explain them, and so today we want to quickly talk about one of those rhetorical frameworks: specifically, how we talk about driving.

This article is all about messaging, it doesn't really discuss the hard policy options they'd like, it just links to them. In that case, I think their rhetorical framework is weak. "Personal Responsibility" works when the right uses it because it almost always accompanies a change that makes their voters' lives easier (in at least the short-term), see tax breaks. Using "Personal Responsibility" here won't work because it will increase the costs for these same people. That's why I wrote that "City liberals" sentence up there. If this article is the authors rhetorical framework, that sentence is going to be the first thing he runs into. Will "Personal Responsibility" hold up? I don't think so.


'If you are claiming that the article is a lie, written only to encourage a change in messaging rather than a change in perspective, you are violating the core principles of discussion of on HN which is "charity"'

^^ Huh? So if the parent is fully convinced that "the article is a lie, written only to encourage a change in messaging rather than a change in perspective" it is against HN principals of discussion for him to say so?


http://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/charity.html

Dismissing an argument or article with a "They don't really mean that" does not tend to lead to very productive discussions, especially when there is no attempt made to asses the argument at face value.


Except the rest of us are the ones paying to make your current lifestyle cheap.


> Part of "lowering the rent" in the city involves preventing people from paying for cars whether they use them or not.

You have to be smart about things though. It's very easy to get into a mindset of "cars are bad, reduce cars any way possible" vs. people who have no viable alternative to a car who those policies hurt, and then you get into a fight that nobody wins.

For example, tolls make basically no sense ever. Once you've paid for the road you might as well get as much use out of it as you can. Even congestion pricing is wrong because congestion should never happen if things are designed well, i.e. reasonable mass transit and low enough rents that people can live near work. If you've failed at those things the solution is to fix them, not penalize drivers to make driving as expensive as the failed alternative.

But minimum parking requirements are a scourge. If the expense of having parking is justifiable then businesses and landlords will build it themselves, because parking is hyper-local -- you drive 100 blocks to get somewhere but a parking space six blocks away is useless. And minimum parking requirements prevent the density required to avoid needing a car, so the more parking you mandate the more you need. It's actively counterproductive.

If anything street parking in high density areas should be converted into travel lanes, which both increases carrying capacity and reduces demand for cars there because it allows private parking to be appropriately priced by the free market.

On the other hand, free street parking in lower density areas makes perfect sense, because you neither need the extra carrying capacity nor do you need market forces to price parking there because spaces aren't scarce there.


> Even congestion pricing is wrong because congestion should never happen if things are designed well, i.e. reasonable mass transit and low enough rents that people can live near work.

I disagree. There's a gap in the experience between driving and other transportation modes such that even if there existed excellent transportation alternatives, driving by car would still be the most desirable and congestion would occur if all transit modes were priced the same.

Being in a comfy car where you can blare your own music is a much better experience than being in a crowded bus.

Congestion happens because roads are near free and roads are a limited resource. The only solution to this problem is to price roads, surface more of the real costs to the end user, and make roads more expensive.

As a society we should be ok with this because roads are very expensive. We should be be incentivizing more efficient and cheaper transportation modes. This will save us money in the long term if roads are relatively more expensive and we don't have to build so many of them.


> There's a gap in the experience between driving and other transportation modes such that even if there existed excellent transportation alternatives, driving by car would still be the most desirable and congestion would occur if all transit modes were priced the same.

They aren't priced the same. The capital and insurance costs for a bus are lower per passenger, they use less fuel per passenger, pretty much every part of their cost is lower per passenger. What creates the problem is that if you need a car because mass transit can't take you where you have to go then you buy one. And once the capital and insurance costs are sunk, driving that car is now cheaper than taking the bus. So the problem is that people in cities have to buy cars to begin with.

Self-driving livery service is going to turn this on its head, because if you take the cost of the driver out of the cost of a taxi, that service becomes preferable to personal car ownership for 90% of people. But it will still be more expensive than self-driving bus service to anywhere the buses actually go once you don't own a personal car, so the result is fewer required parking spaces because livery cars don't need to park and more people taking mass transit where they can.

> Being in a comfy car where you can blare your own music is a much better experience than being in a crowded bus.

What's even better is living close enough to walk. Even living a 5 minute drive away instead of 50 would eliminate 90% of the cars on the road at once because each is only going 10% as far. Create enough reasonably-priced housing near where people work that they can actually afford to live there and the traffic problem disappears.

> Congestion happens because roads are near free and roads are a limited resource. The only solution to this problem is to price roads, surface more of the real costs to the end user, and make roads more expensive.

Congestion happens for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that people live too far from where they work, the only solution to which is more housing. Or because they have to buy cars because local mass transit is lame or unavailable, in which case congestion pricing doesn't even help because demand for cars is inelastic.

Even if you trivialize the situation into a pure price comparison between cars and mass transit, making cars more expensive is still worse than making mass transit less expensive (or especially free, because you lose the fare collection infrastructure cost). Tolls are more regressive because you're taking money disproportionately from the poor, and subsidizing transit of any kind mostly or entirely pays for itself by increasing activity in the local economy, whereas transportation fees do the opposite and destroy most of or even more than the government revenue they generate.

This is even more true of tolls than e.g. gas tax because on top of that you need a toll collection infrastructure and bureaucracy which itself burns a non-trivial fraction of the money in overhead.


You'll get no argument from me that walking is a better experience than anything else. The important question here is why isn't there cheap housing near where people work? NIMBYs? Well yes a bit, but a big part of the reason as well is that it's easier and cheaper for developers to build cheap low density housing on the edges. This is because road users don't pay the true cost of their transportation and so living far away appears cheap to them. If more of the real costs of transportation were surfaced, then housing at the margins would not be as appealing, and there would be a greater incentive to develop denser urban housing.

This sprawl inducement is also what makes it harder to build good efficient public transit. Investment in car oriented infrastructure degrades transit effectiveness and intrenches a city and its residents in a car oriented mode.


The result we need is for the cost of urban housing to be less than the cost of suburban housing + the cost of driving.

You're proposing to add to the cost of driving until that side of the equation exceeds the cost of urban housing. But if you don't address density restrictions or minimum parking requirements or urban property taxes, that is not going to end well.

Today it costs $3000/month for an apartment in the city vs. $1500/month for the same apartment in the suburbs and $400/month worth of driving cost. If you add $1100/month worth of driving fees to even it out but still have all the restrictions on creating new urban housing, next month the same apartment in the city will be $4000/month and 95% of the same people will still live in the suburbs. And employers will start to move out of the city because they can't afford to pay employees what it costs to work there anymore.

Whereas if you eliminate the impediments to creating new urban housing (or subsidize it if necessary), the price of the apartment in the city falls to $1700/month and we have the result we need without having a regressive tax on driving.


The important thing here is to recognize the political reasons for why restrictions on density and creating new urban housing exist. So long as urban sprawl is an easy possibility and the status quo solution for expensive housing is to implore young people to simply move further away, there will be little to no political pressure or incentive for politicians to upzone urban areas.

Essentially new development in greenfield or brownfield areas shields established urban residential areas from needing to be redeveloped.


> For example, tolls make basically no sense ever. Once you've paid for the road you might as well get as much use out of it as you can.

What about maintenance costs? Those are dependent partly on the level of use a road experiences.


Yeah but a toll doesn't accurately reflect the amount of damage done to a road. A light econobox will do just about no damage to a road whereas a huge F350 with a curb weight of over 3 tons is going to do a great deal more damage even though it might only weigh twice as much. Adding to this, a large truck is going to make passenger vehicles look like a rounding error. Tolls could be made to reflect the estimated additional wear and tear on the road but effectively this would mean that passenger cars just pay a toll for the initial construction costs of the road and large vehicles pay the same plus an additional charge to cover all of the wear to a road.

http://facweb.knowlton.ohio-state.edu/pviton/courses2/crp776...


That PDF is one of the worse documents of any kind that I have seen. Given that you're just giving general info about road wear, you could probably have simply stated that road wear is typically proportional to the fourth power of axle load. A cursory internet search pulled up the following document which seems to give a good overview of the topic:

https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/tswstudy/TSWwp3.pdf


> What about maintenance costs? Those are dependent partly on the level of use a road experiences.

Maintenance costs are dominated by weather.

Typically this argument is the last refuge of someone who wants tolls because they hate cars (or are a company that collects tolls), because it's technically true but practically ridiculous. It has the same basis as claiming we should charge tolls to pedestrians for the damage they do to the sidewalk with their boots.

In some hypothetical world where the transaction costs and privacy costs and other overhead didn't exist it's technically true that you might want to charge someone the 3/8ths of a cent worth of additional maintenance they cause, but in practice those costs do exist and you end up paying a dollar to collect a penny.


> That "free parking" in the street is not free

In many places it's often paid parking, and even then the "citizen tax bill" of maintaining those side-plots of low-speed road is probably negligible compared to the broader road/highway system or compared to operating public-transport.

I'm all in favor of more public transport and better cities, but singling out parking spaces as the fat to trim makes no sense to me.


Then you probably haven't noticed how every time replacing parking lanes with bike or bus lanes come up, many drivers scream bloody murder, even though a lane of travel is clearly more useful for surface land in a dense urban area. And there are quite a few cities where due to public ownership and regulations, car parking takes up a significant percent of land in the city.


And not only that, but just consider the use of land. Do you think that a parking lot that charges like $40/day for its 40ish spots, or a mid sized or large tower with tens to hundreds of people paying rent, and businesses at the ground/lower levels pumping the economy make more money? To recoup the loss in investment would take a staggeringly high cost of parking.


That building will only make money if people or businesses want to be there, which is pretty questionable since the entire idea behind this building is "Let's make it effectively impossible to access via the most common form of transportation."

On top of that, you hurt all the surrounding businesses because people can no longer easily get to them.

But I guess if nobody's there, at least you don't have to worry about traffic problems, so mission kind-of-accomplished?


You can't just replace that entire low with buildings though. Those homes and buisineses still need some parking.

No need to make that parking mandatory, but anyone building that stuff will want to include some parking. How much can be left to them. Maybe it makes sense to do underground parking, maybe that is too expensive.


> Maybe it makes sense to do underground parking, maybe that is too expensive.

Interesting semi-tangent: so I recently moved from the states to Munich, and I live in a little apartment complex in a low-ish density neighborhood (Solln) that has 10 units. Somehow, this place has underground parking, which was initially shocking to me, because I don't think I've ever seen such a small apartment complex in the states with that; usually you'd only seen underground parking in far larger complexes in the middle of a downtown-type area.

And my complex isn't unique, tons of small buildings here seem to have underground parking. So maybe it's not that expensive when it's a common thing to do.


I imagine soil has a lot to do with it as well. Munich probably has a somewhat stable soil given how close it is to the mountains.

Might also just be a side effect of Munich being one of the highest quality-of-living cities in the world, with some pretty high-end auto manufacturing as well.


> If we can lower rent in the city, automobile usage will go down on its own. This is where the fight should be pointed I believe.

This needs to be repeated, at least 1,000 more times, because it is the real issue we're facing and everyone is ignoring.

You can't expect people to live lifestyles like they're in big cities, when we don't let any of these people live in big cities.

Until that happens, these "punish driver" attempts are nothing more than punishing poor/middle class people simply for being poor/middle class. They already can't afford to live in cities. Taxing them again just makes them even less able to afford cities.


Many poor people already can't afford to drive. In my city, over a third of households are carless and for most of them i can guarantee it's not by choice. Public transit is weak outside the core, the urban poor are by default locked out of suburban opportunities and job centers.

I imagine the situation is probably just as bad for the carless rural poor.

Car culture also locks out opportunity for other segments of the population - the young, the very old, the disabled.


The problem is that homeowners see their house as an investment, and therefore expect it to accrue value at a predictable rate, and so they'll fight tooth and nail against housing availability in the city.

We basically need to bring the hammer down at the state and federal level on urban NIMBYs, because it'll never happen if left up to city councils.


The reason rent in the cities is so high is that people are already renting/buying the available places to rent, so there is a scarcity. It isn't like all these places are standing vacant, waiting for government to force down pricing so people can move in. People have already moved in. The city is fully occupied. All you'd accomplish by forcing property owners to lower their rents, via amoral means I might add, is getting the people who already live there a better deal on their rent. You haven't really solved anything at all, pertaining to the content of this thread, have you?


There are plenty of ways to lower costs... If you remove density restrictions and bad zoning laws, some developer will eventually buy up enough low density housing and build much higher density appartments (or local stores), especially if subsidized.


Thing is, density restrictions help neighborhoods survive extreme growth. Connection to your neighbors, and retention of the qualities that attracted you to the city in the first place are vital for a city to retain their population.

Regulation certainly needs to be updated, but favoring density is not always a good thing.


"Connection to your neighbors"? When low-density housing means that houses cost several million dollars apiece, that means you're trying to preserve the "uniqueness" of the city center for a bunch of millionaires. I fail to see why I should care about them.


Low density housing doesn't mean million dollar pricing in a lot of cities. When a neighborhood of single-family homes is torn down to make duplexes and condos, the connection between neighbors is certainly broken. The neighborhood can also lose the appeal that drew residents in the first place.


They will build high... as long as the price and rent remain high. It the price and rent stop raising and go down, they stop building high. Especially considering that building high is more costly, prices have to stay very high to justify building high. Building high / high density does not really lower market prices, that would kill the reason for building high.


> We basically need to bring the hammer down

That's a surefire way to galvanize your opposition.

If you make the cities a nice place to live people will move there. If you turn the screws on them to try to control them they will go to war with you and you will lose.


What the GP means by "bring the hammer down" is basically "make places for people to live." People will very obviously not move to a place where there is no place to live.


Small towns used to be walkable, too. It's not like everyone lived in big cities before the automobile was invented.


Sure, and maybe promoting walkability in small towns is the right path.

This doesn't solve the problem that the low- and mid-level staff of downtown offices in major metros benefits immensely from the ability to drive to work (or to within a few transit stops of work) and would suffer immensely if that option were taken away.


Most small American towns may have small population, but enormous land mass. There's a video somewhere about how old towns had to be small in area in part because people didn't have things like cars to get around, so although population was low density kept up. Those are the kind of towns we should be encouraging these days.

As for driving to work, I do think that transit into work would be a perfectly good (and personally preferable) alternative; Id rather sparse communities have decent car infrastructure and storage at transit connections to dense cities, which don't have as much space to build car storage and road capacity and suffer from far greater utilization since they catch the traffic from all suburbs instead of a subsection of them. It's just a more scalable design.


That's only true for a handful of cities.

Most american cities and towns remain very affordable. These cities have tons of vacant lots close to the downtown office areas and are degraded by all the car infrastructure that serves the wealthier suburbanites. In those places, a lot of people of low means actually live very centrally. There's room to contract there and provide ample living space for households of all incomes.

It is really a failure of the imagination. Most Americans cannot imagine a luxurious or aspirational life without a car. It has nothing to do with not having the means for it.

And, fwiw, it really does require somewhat of an imaginative leap.

When someone says that cars have bad consequences and there should be less driving, most objections are really reflexive. People imagine their current way of life, but without a car. A few examples:

- How will I take my kids to school? You won't, they'll walk, because you live close to school, and since there are fewer cars, it will be safe for them to do so.

- You expect me to lug all my costco bags on foot? No, you still can drive there, but you'll drive out as a special occasion once a week anyway. Or you pick up groceries in small batches from the grocery next to your office.

- You want me to wait for the bus that only comes once an hour? No, you'll live closer to your office and walk or bike there. Or you'll take a streetcar that stops one block from your house every 10 minutes.

- You want me to give up my huge front yard? Yes, but you won't need it, because you won't live next to a noisy and dangerous road. Instead, you'll have a small courtyard and it will look sick, with a lemon tree and a koi pond. And with all the money you save on gas, you can buy a little cabin out in the country and enjoy real nature there a few weekends a year.

The imaginative leap requires you to imagine, basically, town life, and most Americans no longer can because they have never experienced it. Some americans in some city neighborhoods or tourist traps enjoy it. It's usually expensive, but only because supply is constrained, not because it's innately costly. People who have lived abroad may have experienced it. Often they return to the US, and are offended by the sheer ugliness of it all. Many college students experience it, it's kind of nice huh, small college towns. Well, to americans that's not "the real world", just a holding pen for young people to squander their youth. But why couldn't it be "the real world"?

Make town living aspirational again, and half the battle is won. But that will only happen if people can imagine it. And that won't happen as long as people imagine `their` life `without` a car. They should imagine `somebody else's` life `with` a car.

And again, the rents in the coastal cities are an exception. Most cities and towns do not have any significant pressure on land prices. Town life is right there in front of us, for the cost of used tire lot and a White Castle, and people cannot see it. Because they'll object that there won't be any room for the drive-thru lane.


This is an excellent point.

>People imagine their current way of life, but without a car

We imagine it because that's what's being proposed: public policy changes to discourage driving, without the attendant changes to remove our desire to drive.

San Francisco homeowners can easily get behind a proposal to make their streets safer, quieter, and prettier by removing all those South/East Bay outsiders and their cars.

They won't get behind a proposal to make their streets louder, in shadow, and full of undesirables by building high- or even mid-rise housing to let the commuters move in.

The movement to shut down driving has legs. The movement to densify doesn't. That's what scares me.

College towns are a great model. One interesting feature of many college towns is the preponderance of scooters and small motorcycles. I suspect these will be crucial (even if only as a transitional step) in densifying. Amazon Prime and the panoply of food delivery apps are also quite popular among students, helping to eliminate the shopping/errands use case for cars.


>Most Americans cannot imagine a luxurious or aspirational life without a car. It has nothing to do with not having the means for it.

The thing is, even in the densest cities in the world it's not like people are completely without cars. They just manage to get by with one car per family rather than one car per driving age member of the household.

It has the additional advantage of letting their teenaged kids get around and do shit on their own without having their parents play chauffeur all day.

Between car sharing services, bike shares, and on-demand ride-hailing it's easier than ever to get around without a car and fill in the gaps that a transit system leaves. The only thing that actually gets hard is being able to drive out to go camping or manage the extemporaneous pick-up of free-shit on CraigsList. Even that would be doable if car rental companies were more focused on long term rentals for road-trippers rather than just people who need commuter econoboxes to leave their hotels.


> The thing is, even in the densest cities in the world it's not like people are completely without cars. They just manage to get by with one car per family rather than one car per driving age member of the household.

60% of households in Paris do not have any car.

In its suburbs, and in other major but smaller cities in France, again 30% to 40% of households do not have any car.

That's a fair share of people who are completely without cars.


I live in Tokyo and I don't own a car. I take a 20 minutes train ride to commute to work and I do the groceries in the shops around my train station. I use online shopping as well and I receive my purchase the next day or two days after. To move around my neighbourhood I use a bicycle (if I was older I would have an electric one).

The weekend I want to go out of the city, I just go to the rent a car next to my house and I rent a hybrid car during 48 hours for about $150. If the place I want to go is really far, I take the bullet train and I rent a cheaper car there.

It's perfectly ok to live without car, it's just that the cities need to be designed in a different way.


You don't even have to leave the US to see cities like NY, where fewer than half of all households have a car, even including the spacious areas in Queens and Staten Island. Have you visited any of these dense cities?


> And with all the money you save on gas, you can buy a little cabin out in the country and enjoy real nature there a few weekends a year.

1. At peak, I only spend $1800/year on gas. Even if that doubled or tripled, that's not enough to buy a cabin in the country - not by a long shot.

2. If I had a cabin in the woods, how would I get to/from it without a vehicle?

3. I don't want to enjoy "real nature" a few weekends a year. I want to enjoy it every day when I get home from work.

Owning and driving a vehicle is about freedom. Freedom to go where I want, when I want, with whom I want. Freedom always makes an exchange for risk (cost, crashing, health, etc) but I wouldn't exchange my freedom for any of those. If you would, that's fine, but don't tread on me.


> You want me to give up my huge front yard? Yes, but you won't need it, because you won't live next to a noisy and dangerous road. Instead, you'll have a small courtyard and it will look sick, with a lemon tree and a koi pond. And with all the money you save on gas, you can buy a little cabin out in the country and enjoy real nature there a few weekends a year.

What gives you the right to tell others what they need, what they should own, where and how they should live? I don't want a small, sick courtyard with a lemon tree and a koi pond. I want a yard where I can go outside and throw a ball around or play with my dog. I don't want to buy and maintain a cabin in the woods. Who are you to tell me that I can't or shouldn't have that?


You didn't have a problem imposing your modelling of cities and road networks on others, did you?


What a bizarre comment. I have done no such thing. You, however, have deigned to tell others, "You don't need that. Here's what you should have, and it is what you will prefer."


They won't remain affordable if you essentially ban commuting.


This is needs to be shouted from the rooftops.


I basically just parroted Nathan Lewis, who has a great blog series on the topic: http://newworldeconomics.com/category/traditional-city-post-....

It's virtually the same message from Andres Duany. His talk from 30 years ago is still so eerily precise and comprehensive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMvwHDFVpCE. When I feel presumptuous, I email this to people (deaf ears, mostly). Leon Krier bangs the same drum, and adds a more sophisticated, architectural perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFiYL8AvvnY.


Thanks, I'll take a look at all of those!


High rent in the cities seems more like an example of basic economics than a problem worthy of attention. It's a simple supply vs. demand situation. The only way you're going to reduce rent in the city is to build more city for people to live in, i.e. increase supply. I guess you could use the big guns of government to force property owners to lower their rents, but that is immoral, in my opinion.


It's not immoral, just counterproductive. Rent controls never make things better, just worse.


I disagree. If I buy an expensive piece of rental property in a city center as an investment, then the government comes in and forces me to lower my rent through some strong-arm, artificial means, they are stealing from me by keeping me from reaping the full, market-supported rewards of my investment, and theft is immoral.


You are not entitled to a return on investment. When you make an investment, you expose yourself to risks, including regulatory risks. Nothing immoral about it and certainly no theft.

In case you think we are talking hypotheticals here, what you are describing is exactly how rent control works.


> People will move to cities

Why tf would you want this? As an European, what I loved about US was that people don't like being all crammed up in small, old and disgusting cities, and they are OK with long commutes as the price for their "house with lawn"...

Population dispersal should be encouraged! It dramatically increases quality of life, and if you take a look at google maps you'll see that the Earth is full of unused space.

Yeah, energy and climate change and all that are serious problems... but let's solve so that having solved them we can enjoy un-crammed living...

Ideal world imho would one where cities and towns simply don't exist: it's individual homes or small-group-homes sprinkled around the planet, with "leisure centers" and "shopping centers" and "health centers" sprinkled uniformly between them, and large chunks of forest here + agricultural land here in-between them. It may sound extremely inefficient, but we have the technolgy to make it work now, so let's do it. Find something else to optimize, like making agriculture vertical instead, and let people live in the wide open spaces they enjoy! Why TF do we insist creating and optimizing these Urban Hells and then complain that anxiety and depression are eating us alive?!


I think you're romanticizing rural life. Statements like "it dramatically increases quality of life" or "Urban Hells [increase] anxiety and depression" are not backed up by any studies that I'm aware of, and make a lot of unreasonable assumptions.

Cities are not part of some grand conspiracy. They're an emergent phenomenon. They exist because they're more efficient at delivering all sorts of value to individual citizens. They aren't just more efficient at concentrating physical resources (a fact you casually wave off, but that's nevertheless very important), they are also more efficient at concentrating social resources.

Opportunities increase proportional to the number of connections in a human network, roughly following Metcalfe's Law. So, by moving to a dense urban area, an individual increases their slate of choices and potential for social/economic mobility. And, crucially, each new citizen increases the per capita value of the network to all current citizens. So individuals have powerful incentives to move to cities, and cities have powerful incentives to attract new citizens.

This is the primary reason for the continued urbanization of the globe, but there are others. I take it that you're probably not gay, disabled, poor, politically subversive, or otherwise significantly different from the average rural person. If you were, you'd have a unique appreciation for how lonely and hostile your ideal world would be to people who don't fit the norm, and how much easier it is for people to find a welcoming community in a city than in a village.

I was born in a tiny farming town and live in a rural village on an island these days, but I am extremely thankful that I spent 20 years of my life in a major city, with all the opportunities and diversity that entails. Yes, cities have their downsides, but I much prefer a world in which we have a choice of living densities, instead of your "utopia" of suburban monotony.


My opinion is that dense cities unfairly favor extroverts and minglers/hustlers.

People who like deep thought or long deep conversations with few people under not much time pressure (if you've already commuted 20min to talk to someone for 1h, you're gonna listed to them for that 1h most, likely not go adhd on them after first 15min...) Also, "social homogeneity" (all people in a spatial region having the same cultural background) is really underrated - it really helps you focus when you have deep intellectual/technical work to do when you don't have to always be on alert for "what makes everyone different" or "what joke/metaphor could happen to offend anyone different enough from you"... Interaction with "special people" who actually want to be recognized as such robs you of waaaay too much brainpower that could be invested in other things.

Or mabey I just miss what I never had and I know I'll not have at least in the next 10 years :) ...in my brief interactions with "suburban monotony" in developed countries (rest of the world is a different story) I've really perceived it as heaven/utopia for people loving more personal space, depth, uninterrupted focus and "free attention".


>My opinion is that dense cities unfairly favor extroverts and minglers/hustlers.

City-dwelling introvert here. It's exactly the opposite. Sprawl isolates introverts because introverts have a harder time expending the effort it takes to maintain social connections.

I was lonely and miserable when I lived in an exurb. The accidental contact you get in a dense area makes it much easier to be an introvert who still has people interested in his life. It also makes it easy to go and make appearances at social gatherings and leave once you've had your fill because getting home is easy. Even more importantly, getting home drunk is easy.

>Also, "social homogeneity" (all people in a spatial region having the same cultural background) is really underrated - it really helps you focus when you have deep intellectual/technical work to do when you don't have to always be on alert for "what makes everyone different" or "what joke/metaphor could happen to offend anyone different enough from you"...

Ok. This isn't introversion, this is just social ineptitude. I'm an immigrant to this country and have never had enough of a problem with this despite not having the inculcated tribal knowledge that locals have. It has certainly never impacted my ability to focus. For one thing, if you're concentrating why are you paying attention to people around you at all?

> I've really perceived it as heaven/utopia for people loving more personal space, depth, uninterrupted focus and "free attention".

Do you think people who live in cities don't have their own offices or rooms or something? We live in apartments, not bunk hostels dude.


> People who like deep thought or long deep conversations with few people under not much time pressure (if you've already commuted 20min to talk to someone for 1h, you're gonna listed to them for that 1h most, likely not go adhd on them after first 15min...)

The range of people you can get to within 20min in a dispersed population is tiny. The idea of making it harder to talk to interesting people so that you value it more when you do seems clearly fallacious - while it's true that familiarity breeds contempt, surely if you value having interesting conversations you'd want to make them cheaper and more frequent.

> "social homogeneity" (all people in a spatial region having the same cultural background) is really underrated - it really helps you focus when you have deep intellectual/technical work to do when you don't have to always be on alert for "what makes everyone different" or "what joke/metaphor could happen to offend anyone different enough from you"... Interaction with "special people" who actually want to be recognized as such robs you of waaaay too much brainpower that could be invested in other things.

I do think there's a cultural issue of letting tolerance shade into special treatment. But I think forcing everyone to conform is worse - most people have some unusal aspects, and having to constantly hide those is far more oppressive and much more of a barrier to doing deep work.


Dense cities are great for introverts and people who like "deep conversations". It all depends on the company you choose to keep and not where you are. With cities, you have more access to the people that you want to interact with and more opportunities for making new connections.

My experience is the opposite of what you describe. Suburban areas tend to be far more hurried and stressed (partly because they have to drive everywhere all the time). Moreover, there's a lack of "third places"-- social places to interact with people that aren't home or work.


Nobody's trying to take suburbia away from you. By all means, move there. Enjoy it! The article is merely asking you to pay the full price that such living entails. That seems fair to me.

> People who like deep thought or long deep conversations with few people under not much time pressure [...]

I've spent half my life in little villages and suburbia and, in my experience, conversations here are much shallower than corresponding discussions in cities. We have more time to talk, sure, but that rarely translates to deeper discussions. In cities, on the other hand, I tended to encounter people with a higher diversity and density of life experience, which led to much deeper conversation than I've ever experienced in a rural community.

> Also, "social homogeneity" (all people in a spatial region having the same cultural background) is really underrated

There's a small tradeoff, I guess. But I live in a place where >90% of the population shares the same ethnic and religious background, and I don't see how that contributes to productivity in any meaningful way. Diversity of experience leads to far fewer shared assumptions and higher quality of work, I've found.

I've encountered too much software here that assumes everybody only has two names, women only want to be with men and vice versa, all names can be expressed using X alphabet, each user has full use of their hands/eyes/ears/voice/legs, children are genetically related to their guardian, babies are only born in hospitals, etc. When this software collides with reality, it breaks. It might have been written faster (I doubt it), but it's less fit for purpose.

Honestly, if you find it difficult to consider the feelings of others, it sounds like you want the freedom to be antisocial without paying the costs. You won't find that anywhere, rural or urban. You'll simply find a different set of norms. Considering the social ramifications of your actions is simply the price of living in any society, large or small.

> Interaction with "special people" who actually want to be recognized as such robs you of waaaay too much brainpower that could be invested in other things.

Have you ever thought about it from the other perspective? Perhaps they merely want to be treated like you are regularly treated. Has it occurred to you that your desire to be apathetic to the needs of other humans is, itself, a request to be a "special person", robbing many of us of brainpower, etc?

> Or mabey I just miss what I never had

Probably.

>> and I know I'll not have at least in the next 10 years

Why not? Answer that and I bet you'll go a long way toward answering your question about why humans have been increasingly favoring cities over the last few thousand years.


> Population dispersal should be encouraged! It dramatically increases quality of life

Citation needed. My quality of life went way up when I moved to a big city: simply having many more people around means there can be a lot more things that cater for niche interests. Humans are social creatures and like having like-minded people around, and for those of us who are weird in various ways, a group of like-minded people is easier to find in a city. At the same time most people have multiple interests and want to be able to move in multiple circles - in a dispersed world I might be able to live in a programmer commune or an anime-fan commune or a goth/industrial music commune or a kink commune or a theatre commune, but I'd be unlikely to find all of them in the same place. (And that's a pretty closely-aligned set of interests as people go, I'm pretty boring). And if your solution is traveling to places of interest, remember that commuting is a huge drain on quality of life, and one that people often underestimate when choosing where to live.

> Ideal world imho would one where cities and towns simply don't exist: it's individual homes or small-group-homes sprinkled around the planet, with "leisure centers" and "shopping centers" and "health centers" sprinkled uniformly between them, and large chunks of forest here + agricultural land here in-between them.

Sounds pretty boring. What would anyone do in the evenings? Where would you go to work on something? Just working in one of a few office blocks clustered together and devoted to related industries, with a couple of restaurants and some bars/clubs, is a huge win - all those random meanings and social opportunities with people who are doing something similar, but not exactly the same, to what you do. But to sustain a cluster like that probably takes a city (I mean maybe you could build a programmer-startup-oriented small town, but I wouldn't want to live in it 24/7).


> Humans are social creatures and like having like-minded people around, and for those of us who are weird in various ways, a group of like-minded people is easier to find in a city.

Out of curiosity, how did you go about finding a group in a city presumably distant from where you grew up?


Different ways for different people. For one thing, I moved here for graduate school so I had a ready supply of fairly like-minded people of roughly similar intelligence and social views to hang out with.

Even besides that, as a poor graduate student I was living in a group house when I first got here. Essentially that's a mansion where people rent the bedrooms and share the common spaces (living room, kitchen, etc.) It has its downsides--mostly about keeping things clean and stocking essentials like toilet paper and soap--but it's a great way to meet people both through your roommates and your roommate's friends.

And aside from that there are lots of communitarian hobbies you can get involved in. I joined an "urban forestry" group that plants and maintains trees around parks on the weekends. People join board-gaming groups, community gardens, hiking/outdoors groups, meditation centers, reading/book clubs, or similar things. Meetup.com is a good way to find groups that are open to new members. There are also 'community gardens' where you can rent a plot and plant vegetables and it tends to be a good way to meet other gardeners.

There are also lots of social sports leagues in cities. The abundance of public parks and sports complexes makes this easy. So you'll usually find flag football leagues, kickball, cricket, etc. For the really indolent there are even leagues for bar-games like bowling or darts or skee-ball. Volunteering is another good option. I briefly volunteered at a high school to do mock-job interviews for kids where I met some folks. I also got involved in a South Asian Young Professionals group, which I then promptly left because it was a status obsessed meat-market, but if that's your thing. . .

You can also join classes. Crossfit, for example, develops a culty mentality because the gyms tend to form a community. I joined a martial arts school and made friends with some of the people there. If athletics isn't for you, there are amateur cooking classes, acting, improv, poetry, pottery, painting/art, etc. Density creates viable markets for all sorts of niche services and organizations that can't really survive in a sprawly environment.


Friends of friends. Ex-colleagues (easier to make friends with if your workplace is somewhere conducive to going for drinks after). Meetup and other Internet things. Going to a gig/theatre/... and starting conversations. Once you have one or two friends it becomes much easier to make more, because you go to social gatherings where you can talk to people and find more people you have something in common with and stay in touch with those, and when you do that in the big city most of the time they also live in the same city.


This is something I don't get about the HN crowd. I grew up in India, where overpopulation is a huge problem. However, if you look below the surface, it is not overpopulation; it is uneven distribution. There are only a few cities, and they are way too cramped with people. The decrease in quality of life is real. And most Indians do not own cars, they rely on public transit. If there were more smaller towns and good connectivity, people could live a lot more comfortably.

One big issue with decentralization is that industries tend to congregate. However, there is no solid reason why modern offices need to be all located in the same downtown. Decentralization reduces density and discourages rent-seeking behavior by existing residents.

I might be biased but I like suburbs. I think (without any data to support) they approach the optimal density for most people. Of course, some people find them bland and boring. Urban density is more efficient, no doubt, but I don't get the hate for people enjoying large backyards and the peace and quiet suburbs afford.


>There are only a few cities, and they are way too cramped with people. The decrease in quality of life is real. And most Indians

That really just means there aren't enough cities, not that everyone should cram into the ones there.

The public infrastructure in India is also abysmal and inadequate to the numbers of people who live there. Tokyo is denser than Bangalore but is much more vibrant and livable (over 6k people per km compared to over 4k people per km) because of good planning, good regulations, and good transit.


> there is no solid reason why modern offices need to be all located in the same downtown

My experience is that working in downtown is more productive - and, fundamentally, much more fun - than working in an office park or at home in the middle of nowhere. You can learn a lot from bouncing off people who work in similar-but-not-quite-the-same fields, and just having good lunch options is a huge win.


Yeah, in my morning life I've developed a disgust with the modern office park and its wide open fields of asphalt. There's never anywhere to walk to to buy lunch, and they die after 6pm.


I gather you grew up in a European city. I can assure that that sprawling asphalt hellscape suburbs aren't exactly great either.

However, I grew up in sprawling suburban asphalt hellscape, and now live in the core of an old European city. I still love it.


That's all fine and dandy as long as you don't have a butt-in-chair job. I live in a city because I don't want to spend 20% of my waking life stuck in traffic. Once we figured all the post-scarcity stuff out, we might live like the Solarians, but for now it's just not practical.


> I live in a city because I don't want to spend 20% of my waking life stuck in traffic.

That's an effect of too many businesses being concentrated in city centre, too. Disperse jobs as well as people, and life will be better.


Businesses are concentrated in city centers because that's where the people (i.e. potential employees) are. Even better, there is a robust market for both employees and employers, meaning people are not stuck in an area where only one company exists and everyone living in a 20 miles radius is not either a coworker or someone working a service industry job that gets half of its revenue from people working at your one available office employer. I don't think it would do much for ones quality of life to have to move every time one changes jobs.


You presented an extreme vision. I was talking about spreading businesses around in suburbs, just like malls.


Sprawling cities welcome you with their better quality of life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles See also: Atlanta, Houston.


I don't know enough of those cities to understand whether you meant to be sarcastic. Please, add some context.


\s


I have a "butt-in-chair" job, but it's more like "butt in any chair, anywhere one Earth, as long as I can get to a few in-person meetings every week"... yeah, I need to get my privileges checked, I know.


Which european city did you grow up in? Some are better than others...


I've asked this before on similar articles, but I just can't wrap my head around why suburbs are intrinsically cheaper than cities. My gut still thinks that density should be cheaper

One reasonable argument I've seen is that once you factor in car+gas, the difference narrows. There's also an element of the suburban "ponzi" scheme.


> One reasonable argument I've seen is that once you factor in car+gas, the difference narrows. There's also an element of the suburban "ponzi" scheme.

There are very few cities in the US in which owning a car is optional. Only one (New York City) has an outright majority of people who don't own a car. The next two, D.C and Boston, are the only others that have more than a third of households without a car[0].

The reason is that most cities just don't have the infrastructure necessary to facilitate car non-ownership. It's not that everyone wants to own a car; it's that you have to own a car anyway, at least some of the time, and once you already own a car, the impetus to live in higher-density, more expensive areas drops dramatically.

[0] You can inflate those numbers a bit by counting Jersey City and Newark as separate cities from the New York City metro area, but no matter how you slice and dice it, it doesn't change the numbers much.


Tokyo is the only city I've ever lived in where I didn't have to own a car, so I didn't. Everywhere else I've lived, I have had to own a car to get to work. Even in New York, I had to own a car to get to work. I hate everything about driving—other drivers, cops, accidents, detours, traffic, etc. I would never own a car if I could get away with it. Unfortunately, I've only been able to do that for about three years of my life.


I can't think of a single European city that I've personally been to in which car ownership was required. There were some in which it could be viewed as helpful, but the vast majority are car optional, especially in the NW of the continent.

I'm happy to be proven wrong, but in all honesty, I moved 4 cities in as many years, all in different countries, and all of different sizes.


> Even in New York, I had to own a car to get to work.

I'm assuming you lived in the outer boroughs? In Manhattan, it's painful to own a car unless you're really wealthy.


I've lived in Sydney and even though I had a car, I did not actually need it. I think I drove it less than once a month, and usually just to get out of the place.

I've visited NY a few times and if you can live along the subway corridors then you don't need a car.

Right now I'm in Europe, and own no car. But realistically the roads here and the driving is far more intimidating than in Australia.


Suburban infrastructure is massively subsidized by taxes paid by cities. There was a good article linked from HN last year.

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/6/14/the-growth-pon...


> I've asked this before on similar articles, but I just can't wrap my head around why suburbs are intrinsically cheaper than cities.

You can't understand it because you have it backward.

If land is cheap you have urban areas.

If land is expensive you have dense cities (since a small apartment is all you can afford).

Once you realize that cause and effect are the reverse of what you think, it will make more sense.

When land prices go up, lots get rapidly subdivided with more houses, and then apartments (as prices go up higher).

When land prices go down, buildings get torn down, and the (now vacant) adjacent yards get added to existing homes.


You basically described SimCity, but it's not so simple in real world: 1) you can't build high-rise buildings anywhere and must follow zone planing (especially relevant in old Europe cities, where old town located in the core of the city and is strictly preserved). 2) People, especially older, get attached to their homes and don't sell it as soon as land price increases; some homes stay in the same family for generations. 3) Increase of land price doesn't necessarily leads to high-rise apartment buildings, but sometimes to luxury homes with big gardens if it's a beautiful area located in close proximity to the city.


Suburbs aren't intrinsically cheaper than cities. In places where suburban living isn't massively subsidized by urban taxes, it's far cheaper to live in a city. Just look at the urbanization rates in countries with poor/ineffective central governments. Poor people wouldn't be migrating to cities en masse unless they had a damn good economic reason for doing so.


Tangential but I don't get why I'm an elite and you're not. It's just name calling to make people hate "the others". It has been very effective.


I'm blue in a state that is as red as it comes and you're right, it is name calling and it is effective. At the same time if I gave this article to the people in my life what are they supposed to think? The article shows a crucial lack of understanding of their life. It's "liberal elite" because it's so incredibly out of touch with a large swath of America. There are other ways to fix this car problem, see the rent lowering argument.


I don't think he thinks that you are an elite, he thinks that there is a portion of the population, leaning towards rural and right wing, that believes in a liberal elite.


How much are rural drivers subsidized compared to their city counterparts? Yes they have more road for fewer people, but a lot of the road is of much lower quality and it will suffer from less driving related deterioration.



The argument isn't so much about rural driving, but suburban driving.

Rural roads are probably fine. The often mentioned 'ponzi scheme' doesn't happen out there.


Making this about "personal responsibility" is a pretty see-through cover.

Especially when there's no similar talk about how we subsidize mass transit.

If we can lower rent in the city, automobile usage will go down on its own.

This will lead to the day when the author complains about how the mortgage interest tax deduction is unfair because people in the city who rent don't get it and needs to be eliminated.


>This will lead to the day when the author complains about how the mortgage interest tax deduction is unfair because people in the city who rent don't get it and needs to be eliminated.

Um. .. yes. Not necessarily because 'unfair' but because it confers no real societal benefit. If you want to lower people's taxes, just lower their fucking taxes. Quit trying to skew market forces to make sure only certain types of people get favorable tax treatment.

There are tax credits and deductions that make sense because they promote socially beneficial behavior like getting an education or raising kids. But nobody cares whether your rent or own.


Your assertions are definitely debatable.

There are at least two social benefits to home ownership.

First is wealth accumulation. According to GAAP, land does not depreciate. It can go up or down in value due to market forces but it does not depreciate. When people have real, tangible wealth, they are less likely to be dependent upon the social safety net as they go through life. That benefits society. Homes can also be used as an instrument of generational wealth transfer.

Second, owners tend to take better care of properties than tenants. A community where most or all of the inhabitants own their residences is more desirable than one where everyone rents.

If you have no objection to child and educational tax credits, you don't have an issue with skewing market forces. You just want to be the one to decide who gets the benefit of that skewing.


>First is wealth accumulation. According to GAAP, land does not depreciate. It can go up or down in value due to market forces but it does not depreciate. When people have real, tangible wealth, they are less likely to be dependent upon the social safety net as they go through life. That benefits society. Homes can also be used as an instrument of generational wealth transfer.

First of all, there is a slight of hand here. I said housing and you just said land. Housing does depreciate. Especially shitty, pre-fab housing.

Secondly, land that isn't used for farming is not a productive asset. There is no societal benefit to encouraging people to sink their savings/investment into non-productive assets. If that savings wasn't being poured into housing, it would have been put into an index fund or other asset class that does more than generate paper-profits via speculation. Home-ownership only functions as an investment vehicle in a political environment that prioritizes raising real-estate costs. Functionally all this does is transfers wealth from people who earn incomes to people who own assets.

>Second, owners tend to take better care of properties than tenants. A community where most or all of the inhabitants own their residences is more desirable than one where everyone rents.

Not really. Once you control for length of residence it's mostly a wash. Long-term tenants aren't any worse than owners. In some cases they can be better because they're not the ones footing the bill for essential repair work. It comes out of their rent and is handled by a property manager who is legally liable for maintaining the property.

>You just want to be the one to decide who gets the benefit of that skewing.

This is literally the role of government. When governed well, society gets the benefit of that skewing by accounting for the externalities that aren't accounted for by the market forces. When governed badly you make problems worse.


> This is a stick and a stick wielded by "liberal elites who live in cities" against rural drivers and mega-commuters won't work in this environment.

I'm getting pretty sick of the self absorbed us vs them mentality. Take a step back and put on a wider lens. If this were some liberal elite who hates you and your life style then why the hell would they want you to come live with them? If you're living in a rural setting and you're not commuting to the city daily, this isn't about you.

> People will move to cities and use roads less if cities are affordable.

You're completely failing to understand and generalizing everyone with that sentiment. There are a multitude of factors that people consider when they choose where they live. Everything from schools, family, friends, to things like personal preference and social anxiety.

Name calling and failure to understand the problem are lazy short cuts and not simple practical solutions.


well, implementation details matter. the premise of the article is to remove the "subsidies" (there language, I would have called them externalities that car owners benefit from) and move towards true-cost pricing for things related to automobiles.

ok, that's a workable premise to start from. the true costs imposed by driving in urban environments are almost certainly much much much higher than those in rural environments. urban areas is where issues like air pollution, traffic congestion, bottlenecks on bridges and tunnels, scarcity of parking, and the need to share limited road space with pedestrians and cyclists are really big issues. in rural areas these are just not really major causes of concern.

so my reading on it is that true-cost pricing of cars ought to make urban car use much more expensive, but only make rural car use a little more expensive. I think that's highly desirable, actually.


One way I've seen the infrastructure problem handled is to have all city residents who own cars to be required to purchase unlimited use pass for all city bridges and tunnels.


I would add to that all of the following:

* annual fee for road maintenance

* annual fee for traffic enforcement

* no free parking anywhere except your own driveway. every street parking spot should be metered.

* excise taxes on gasoline to control air pollution and C02 emissions


Agree++

>People will move to cities and use roads less if cities are affordable. If we can lower rent in the city, automobile usage will go down on its own. This is where the fight should be pointed I believe.

This. So much.

Affordable housing and reasonable transit that makes the entire city and neighboring suburbs accessible will reduce car usage.

I work in Toronto and commute from a nearby suburb. Rent and real estate costs in the city are ridiculous, but I'm planning on making the move anyway.

I would love to live car-free, but the reality is a failure of transit. Transit sucks:

1) Transit in suburbia sucks. A lot of routes are every 30 or 60 minutes.

2) Transit between the suburbs and the city sucks. The systems are not aligned well and when you have layers of busses and trains that only come every 30-60 minutes, it just adds a lot of unnecessary waiting time to your commute. This causes a lot of people to drive and park at the GO station so they can take a train into the city.

3) Transit in Toronto is great if you happen to live and work on a Subway line. If not, good luck - you'll likely add 20-60 minutes to your transit commute. A car makes the rest of the city easily accessible.

So dealing with 2-3 different transit systems makes a commute unreasonable. If you're commuting from a nearby suburb, it can take 2+ hours to get to work.

My partner works in another suburb, and to transit there would take about 2.5-3 hours each direction. It's just not practical.

We've reached a compromise: We have a single car, and we car-pool to a reasonable spot and I take the train into the city. I'm lucky in that my place of work is near a subway stop, so my entire commute in this way is about 75-90 minutes each-way. I often work on the train on my way to work.

I'm planning on moving to the city, but we will never be able to be car-free with the state of transit the way it is. My partner will have to drive from Toronto to her work. Without traffic, probably 25 minutes. With traffic, closer to an hour. But that beats the 2.5-3 hours (each way) that it would take to commute via transit.


Toronto seems to be a city that never got around to planning a transportation system for it's massive growth. Every time I visit I'm surprised by how much further the skyscrapers creep down the QEW towards Hamilton. Even the suburban hubs like Mississauga have bigger downtowns than many North American cities.

But the transit system seems to be built for a Toronto half the size. In between the hubs of density are miles of big box plazas, McMansions and 10 lane roads with neverending traffic jams. Downtown exploded while the subways and Gardiner choked. In the race to develop it seems no one was looking at the big picture of how all this growth was going to interact.

I've heard of the regional transport plan, The Big Move - curious to see how this affects the GTA in the next decade. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Move


The problem in cities isn't people living in the city driving cars; they already don't, ownership per family is already less than 50% in e.g. NYC.

The problem are antisocial people who want the big garden in the suburb and drive their car into the city for their commute by day, pushing the massive costs for their lifestyle on the people actually living in the city.


> antisocial people who want the big garden in the suburb

This is pretty ignorant. Not wanting to live in cramped apartments does not make someone an anti-social. There are plenty of shut-ins living in cities.


I think the parent meant anti-social as in causing a nuisance, rather than not sociable.


> Driving is a choice, and provided that drivers pay all the costs associated with making that choice, there’s little reason to object to that.

I mean, kind of. I'm not sure where the author lives, but in Houston, I don't have much of a choice. I already pay tolls and taxes, gas prices and my car note. I live as close to work as is affordable, and still have to drive. There's no bus route from my apartment and I'm not about to ride my bike on I-10. I ask this next question in seriousness, because I'd love to change my habits without moving to a more expensive city with good public transportation: what are my options here? I'd rather not be "disinsentivized" from doing something I have no choice but to do.


A good question, but in other situations, we don't object to middle-class people being required to pay the full cost of things they pretty much must buy. Food and water are mandatory to live, and in the 21st century US, electricity, phone, and Internet are all but mandatory to live a normal life. Yet nobody objects to ordinary citizens having to pay water or power or phone bills, rather than the bulk of the cost being subsidized from tax revenues.


We do subsidize those things to an extent though. Farmers get a lot of subsidies and the infrastructure (roads, rail) to deliver the food is part subsidized. Water, electricy and internet infrastructure are often built by government or with government funds (and that's not a bad thing). Are there any private dams?


> Yet nobody objects to ordinary citizens having to pay water or power or phone bills, rather than the bulk of the cost being subsidized from tax revenues.

All of those things are also subsidized, to some extent. Water is the classic example, but the government subsidizes both fossil-fuel and clean energy, as well as the companies proving phone/cable/internet. The difference here is that you're paying your taxes on your vehicle and the gas, the latter of which is essentially a use tax on driving.


Certain kinds of food are insanely subsidized. As are utilities. We carve out many things that nobody pays a full cost for.


Roads are required for the 'last mile' delivery of food and other goods to shops. There is a clear benefit to the smooth running of society if government subsidises roads.


By your definition of subsidy, everything is subsidized.

Why don't we stop subsidizing education too?


I live about 10 or so miles from work. I live in a hot state. If I rode a bike or walked to work, I would stink and everyone near me would forget about the planet while experiencing their olfactory assault. I'd probably get out of meetings, but I wouldn't make any friends.


Very likely, the major reason you live so far from work is that it's illegal to build densely, and it's illegal to build houses, stores, and offices within reasonable walking distance of each other. Of course, most people don't realize that - they just look for houses near their work and don't find any, or the handful they do find are super-expensive, so they live far away and commute. But the underlying reason why these houses are super-expensive or nonexistent is that it's illegal to build more of them.


My town is very spread out, I don't even work in the city. Companies commonly rent office space in the suburbs. Also, I consider 10 miles to be a very short commute and a huge perk. They've been trying to revitalize our downtown area for decades with moderate success.

If you don't live in a hot state, you don't won't know what that's like. It's funny though, shortly after rush hour, our area has packs of people riding bicycles for recreation. I'm pretty sure most of them shower before dinner.


"Also, I consider 10 miles to be a very short commute "

There's no arguing on opinions, but this shows the sheer distortion of perspective you get living in the US as opposed to most of the world.

10 miles is a ridiculously long commute if your job doesn't necessitate massive amounts of space (airport worker, etc.)

How much of that 10 miles is just asphalt? Parking, roads, garages, gas stations, slip roads, onramps, offramps, shoulders? How much of it is actual good stuff?

For what it's worth I used to live in hot places and I rode to work all the time. I changed at work when I didn't have a shower, and showered at work when I did. A few times it was over 110 F. Fortunately, my employer was supportive.


It's the usual stuff: gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, office parks.

When you had to drop your kids off to school, did you just throw them on the handlebars? What happened when you switched jobs? Did you restrict your prospective employers to a 2 mile radius, or did you just buy a new house and have two mortgages until your old house sold?

What you are saying is fine, but it only works for a select group of people (read: single). Trying to force everyone to do the same thing through punitive taxes is short sighted. There are much better ways to reduce the carbon footprint of vehicles than the just tax people who need them to get to work every day.


This could also be phrased as "parking lots for gas stations, parking lots for grocery stores, parking lots for restaurants, parking lots for office parks". Most of those businesses, in the US, are a huge lot with one building in the middle of a sea of asphalt.

Children can walk, or can indeed ride on bikes with parents (I see this now and then where I live, and much more in more cycle-friendly places). They can ride their own bikes, even, in places where drivers aren't allowed to run over cyclists and walkers with something near impunity (which sadly is most of the world). The idea that children have to be ferried around in a car has the billions of people who raise families without a car as a counterexample.

I restrict prospective employers to those within about a 5-10 mile radius of my home, or a 20 minute walk or cycle from rail, but I also am a more competent cyclist than most. At one point my employer was 12 miles away, but that was fine because there was a surprisingly good bike route (shockingly, in LA of all places). I rode down the beach from Santa Monica to El Segundo - the only thing that really made that distance worthwhile. This does contradict what I said about ten mile commutes, I realize, but then most people think ten miles is an absurd distance to cycle.

I was also fortunate enough to be at an employer affected by California's Parking Cashout law, meaning I got the cost of the parking I wasn't using in my paycheck. Not wasting my life on 405 was another big incentive.


>Children can walk, or can indeed ride on bikes with parents

So children should walk to school on the highway or a busy road in LA? I don't think that's a very good solution. I think you are trying too hard to justify your idea rather than considering a better solution other than "everyone ride bikes."

LA is a very unique city. Look, if you want to wrap your life around riding your bike to work, more power to you, just don't try force your lifestyle on the entirety of the US population through punitive taxation. Also, if you don't like parking lots, don't live in a huge city. There is plenty of land in the US to live other than a big city.

I would love to buy some acreage in the middle of nowhere and remote work all day. That would solve a bunch of problems.


"So children should walk to school on the highway or a busy road in LA?"

This is a straw man argument. The whole point is that children SHOULDN'T do that, because it's horribly dangerous. However, that is exactly what any child in places with terrible infrastructure, who aren't driven or bussed, must do right now. Your argument is in favour of continuing this.

"Look, if you want to wrap your life around riding your bike to work, more power to you"

I did. It's why I don't live in the US anymore. However, most people don't have that option.

"Also, if you don't like parking lots, don't live in a huge city"

I'm not sure we agree on what a "city" is. Good ones don't have huge parking lots.

Anyway, I think it's pretty clear we've reached an impasse. Regardless, know that your car-dependent lifestyle is subsidized.


>The whole point is that children SHOULDN'T do that, because it's horribly dangerous. However, that is exactly what any child in places with terrible infrastructure, who aren't driven or bussed, must do right now. Your argument is in favour of continuing this.

So here's where I think we're differing. You are looking at the end result: no or very few cars, no need for massive infrastructure, redesigned cities for this new post automobile reality, much safer walking and riding, etc. I think that's a wonderful vision, but getting from here to there quickly without something amazing happening (like ultra cheap, ultra range, ultra subsidized electrics paired with massive economic growth to offset the lost jobs of the industry and all dependent companies, etc) would be too painful for the economy.

Some of that vision will happen naturally, but like anything that useful, road vehicles won't go away completely.


Herein lies the tragedy, this dream exists in many places in the world! But even though we're in the wealthiest country on the planet, investing in our cities has become a seemingly unattainable dream. The problems are far more political than they are technological, but the nature of American politics and society has drained us of vision and hope.


> Look, if you want to wrap your life around riding your bike to work, more power to you, just don't try force your lifestyle on the entirety of the US population through punitive taxation.

No one is talking about "punitive taxation," we are talking about eliminating subsides for driving.

This is not a stick, it's a reduction of your free monthly carrot delivery.

It's as if the government were giving massive subsidies to Angular developers. After 50 years of this the small community of React developers says "hey, um, can we eliminate those Angular subsidies someday?" and the response is "oh my god--stop this horrible social engineering! Don't try to force your lifestyle on the entirety of the US population through punitive taxation!"


Not to mention the Angular developers are killing thousands of React developers every year, forcing React developers to pay for their infrastructure, and polluting the ecosystem to the point where everyone's health is imperiled.

I mean, c'mon, I might enjoy flying a helicopter to work every day but I don't force every new apartment to have a helipad, or demand that we only have one home per acre because otherwise air traffic might get too congested. Nor do I complain when I can't park my helicopter for free at the store.


Sorry, it was another thread where someone was talking about taxation.

>FastTrak is a nightmare. The answer is gasoline/carbon taxes, since you are "consuming against the environment" on a per gallon basis, not a per mile/per toll road basis

Either way, if you are talking about removing subsidies that directly affect individuals, it might as well be a stick because it's a net negative. You should consider of something that is less directly harmful to people. Subsidizing electric cars is a much better idea because it injects capital into the market and saves people money on something they need to work.


What they're calling a subsidy is just a lack of extra taxation. We don't literally receive money from the government for driving.


If the government spent tens of billions of dollars annually to construct housing, and allowed people to live in it for free, I would describe that as a "housing subsidy" even if no one living in those buildings was actually receiving money from the government. Likewise, when the government spends general tax money on infrastructure that can only be used by drivers, I consider that a subsidy for drivers.


Surely you realize that drivers are not the only people who benefit from driving infrastructure. This seems about as fair as calling the post office a subsidy to the paper industry.


I'm not sure I understand your argument. Yes, subsidies have many beneficiaries; some are direct and some are indirect. You imply that it's ridiculous to call a policy a subsidy to its indirect beneficiaries--even if the paper industry indirectly benefits from the existence of the post office, it's silly to call the post office a subsidy to the paper industry.

I completely agree. And...

Drivers are the direct beneficiaries of driving infrastructure. Yes, driving infrastructure benefits other people too, e.g. through cheaper shipping, but the sole mechanism by which those benefits are realized is by making driving cheaper. Drivers are the direct beneficiaries, anyone else who benefits does so indirectly.

It's entirely reasonable to support subsidizing driving because you think it will have economic benefits in the form of, e.g., faster shipping (and I think some level of this has been absolutely necessary historically). But it's entirely unreasonable to claim that because your preferred subsidy has benefits, it shouldn't really be called a subsidy.


>I consider that a subsidy for drivers.

And people who order from amazon!


If you think 10 miles is ridiculous, imagine for a second that many Americans frequently commute 1/3rd the width of your country.


I used to be one of them. It was horrible.


Or people don't like living on top of one another.

Give me a nice half-acre and a self-driving car to get me where I need to go.


The fact is not everyone can live on a half acre. The tax revenue isn't dense enough to support the infrastructure people expect (ignoring the awful environmental and land use effects that would have).

The US is seeing fiscal and infrastructure problems across the country from municipalities who spread themselves too thin the past 60 years. They don't have the funds to maintain, much less improve, their infrastructure. We need to make it easier to build denser and start thinking about how to develop more sustainably going forward.


Exactly! People don't take into account how expensive it is to maintain long roads, electrical lines, water pipes, and much more to remote places; higher cost of maintenance on said infrastructure; and how most of that area doesn't produce any revenue to fund itself. Like it or not, you're receiving enormous subsidies to live that way, and if you had to pay the true costs of your lifestyle, you might reconsider how idyllic it really is.


Buying my first house gave me a high similar to some pain killers. Well, not literally, but it was so awesome having more space, more privacy, generally better neighbors and the ability to play music as loud as I want. I can also customize the interior any way I see fit. The thought of moving back into an apartment or condo is very depressing indeed.

In the end, people will keep trying to sell others on their own preferences, which is very much a nurture thing. If you grew up in the city, you're going to prefer the city. If you didn't, you probably won't enjoy living in the middle of downtown without a car. In fact, that prospect is extremely depressing and I'd honestly rather be dead myself than not have a car.


> If you grew up in the city, you're going to prefer the city. If you didn't, you probably won't enjoy living in the middle of downtown without a car.

I agree with you on everything except this one. Going by this thread, the trend seems to be opposite - a lot of HNers who grew up in "boring" suburbs and enjoy the city life, and a few (like me) who grew up in cities and now prefer more open spaces.


Great, fine, you can have that if you want it. But no one's trying to make that illegal. On the flip side, dense housing and tight residential-commercial zoning is illegal in most places.


No one is proposing forbidding your nice half-acre, just allowing the rest of us to live on top of one another if we so choose.


More likely next to one another.

Also, it would be nice if those half-acre folks were forced to pay the true cost of their decadence. Right now there's a tendency that denser areas get extra-punished with taxes, even though services are theoretically cheaper to provide.


I think "living on top of one another" is a fair, if crude, description of life in multi-family apartment buildings. It's my current situation and I wouldn't trade it for a house, but it does have downsides.

"Decadence", on the other hand, really seems like name-calling. Let's not do that.

As for the tax situation, that seems interesting. Could you provide more detail? I'm in Brazil, here there's the rural area, that's taxed much more lightly but has less services, and everything in the urban area gets taxed the same percentage of assumed property value, regardless of density. How's it like where you live, and what would you propose to change?


The idiom "on top of one another" means very crowded or close. Not actually on top of one another, although in this case it could be meant literally.


I commuted by bike 8 miles in Texas for a while to an office that didn't have a shower

Its not too big of a deal, i just packed a change of clothes, wiped off using baby wipes, and took a sponge bath in the bathroom sink .

Also I didn't get that sweaty in the morning cause it was still somewhat cool, going home is another story though :)


I commute daily 5-10mi each way in a climate that has hot and humid summers. You could probably make a bike commute work if you really wanted to. Humans are ingenious creatures. I bet you could find a way. Maybe it's not important to you or it's too much trouble but those are very different things than not possible.

Whenever I'm asked why I do something, I find that I often spontaneously make up a reason for why I do that thing, even when the real reason is because that's just they way it's always been done.


Good reason to have a shower at the office.


What if your workplace built over one or two parking spots and replaced them with a shower and a row of lockers?


I live 11 miles from work. I live in a hot state. I bike to work. I take a shower when I get there. It's not a problem.

I know not every office has a shower, but many do. And requiring the others to have one would be a pretty small thing.


It's a chicken and egg problem. People drive because they have to. And because they have to drive, they support policies that favor driving at the expense of other modes, even in major urban areas where that makes no sense.

The problem is not in how most people make their individual transportation choices; people are generally pretty rational and predictable there, with good policy you can alter behavior. The problem is that our policies and regulations generally favor cars, and there's so much cultural momentum there that it's very hard to change.


Whe you make driving essential walking and cycling become a luxiury.


Yes, exactly. Which is probably part of why Americans are so overweight, on average. It's a lot easier to get people to exercise if they just do it as part of their normal daily errands; relatively few people have the self-discipline to go to the gym consistently all their lives.


Weight is lost in the kitchen rather than the gym. It takes nearly an hour on a bike to burn off one big mac, so it's very easy to overeat so much that you can't make up for it.


Diet is more important, but exercise is still very useful, and not solely for weight loss, it improves general health too.


Carpool? Drive a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle? I grew up in Houston so I know it is one of the tougher places to survive without a car, but this is part of the author's point. If it's too expensive for the common man to use cars then city organizers or your employer might be forced to take steps to make it possible not to drive.


I wonder if a building over a given size (e.g, 8 apartments) couldn't include one or two "pooled" cars as part of the provided services.

Cars will be parked inside the building when not in use, people living in the building will get an app to book car usage and to open it, landlord will take care of car maintenance, collective insurance, etc. The app could also assist in sharing the "renting" cost if, for example, I take it to drive to my office but I also make a little detour to drop a fellow tenant to his or her workplace (and maybe take them back, too).

Sort like the corporate car pool offered by alphabet but restricted to tenants.

Would this work out economically? How low should the hourly/rate be to make this convenient for the landlord and the tenants?


I like the idea of carpooling and would be happy to if / when I find someone who works near me. We moved recently and I don't know the neighbors well enough yet to ask.

I drive a fairly fuel efficient car. Only fill up every week and a half. That's pretty good I think in my situation.

I'd be happy if Houston made it easier not to drive! Maybe I'll try to find activists working toward that end.


I'm curious about your situation. There's almost no place you can work in Houston where there isn't a $1000 or less 2br rental within a couple of miles. This is just from checking zillow.


You may be correct.If we felt that renting was the best option for us we would rent. But it's not necessarily the best option when you are trying to start a family. Also in our situation we are currently paying less on a house note than we were when we rented.


I would guess the issue is more about how much living space you want than the desire to rent or buy. Buying is almost never more expensive than renting the equivalent dwelling, so if I can find $1000/mo rentals in an area, I can almost certainly find condos that could be bought for an equivalent monthly cost. Unless you plan to move about frequently, but then that would also argue for renting.

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