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I don't know if it really proves anything and it might be OT from your point, but, the confounding variable is that in the US - especially outside of the major urban areas - everything is just very far away in terms of miles. Lacking a car, you can expect life to be very difficult. there are still plenty of places in the US where the range of a tesla might be a borderline problem week-to-week. (though probably not as often as people think and if you plan well)

My casual observation is that smaller countries just have a lot more good options when it comes to transit because the total distances are much smaller.




I think it is well known the car and petrol companies were heavy lobbyists in developing the transit architecture in the US (including zoning and so on) after the second world war. To exaggerate a bit, the entire country was designed to facilitate automobile sales.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_the_car_on_societ...

In the continental europe most of the urban centers predate the automobile hundreds if not thousands of years, thus the existing infrastructure does not use the private automobile as one of the key design constraints.

Not so in the US, where huge areas were populated and zoned specifically with the support of the automobile as one of the key constraints.

Once the infrastructure has been built using one design constraint, it's really expensive and difficult to unravel it.


This was the one thing that really surprised me when I first visited the US in the 90s. We'd stop at a store or restaurant somewhere and the nearest neighbouring stores on either side would be 200m away, with their own huge parking lot and no pedestrian route between them. We were driving from Chicago to LA and so when we'd stop I'd want to stretch my legs, but the barriers in the way made a walk like that rally difficult. I couldn't understand why anyone would design a place like that. It was engineered around cars, not people.


Yes, and it all looks the same. We call it "Generica" :)


As an aside: this is one of the running themes in "Little Golden America", a book that chronicles a coast-to-coast American road trip underdtaken by two Soviet humorists in the 30's. The title in Russian is "Single-Story America", in reference to the flatness and uniformity of the country between the few major cities. Really fascinating account, and much of it still rings true to this day.

(My review, if anyone is interested: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2114423486)


the webs we weave :o


The OP was talking about China. China is bigger than the continental US. I think the persistent myth about the US's size being some unique problem doesn't explain much.

What's more, if you think of the EU as a comparison for the US, with the individual counties as analogues for US states, it seems to explain even less. Belgium and Massachusetts are the same size but over has much better transit options than the other.


In 2015, Belgium had a Population density of 363people/Km^2. Massachusetts in 2015 had 336 people/KM^2. So, pretty close. The difference is that Belgium has a much more uniform population distribution vs Massachusetts.

Secondarily, Belgium can define it's own national policy, while MA must compromise with the rest of the country, including CA, WY, MT, and NY, all of which have very different economic and practical concerns.

The US's size is not a unique problem, but, it is a problem, and the governmental structure we have chosen does pose some unique problems.


Obviously the US has some structural issues, otherwise it wouldn't have these persistent failures. All I'm doing is pushing back against the simplistic "but the US is so big compared to all those tiny countries".

If you want to talk about density or uniform distribution... Why is Australian public transit so much better than American public transit?

America's governmental structure isn't unique either. There are other countries with the same kind of federalism.

And similar rebuttals can be made for virtually all other explanations.

I guess what I'm really getting at is that in the real world there are no easy solutions or explanations to problems despite the penchant in places like HN and Reddit to try to reduce explanations to a single paragraph. America's problems are likely due to a complex interaction between federalism, its geographic size, its traditional wariness of cities, its first mover advantage turning into obsolete infrastructure, and many other factors besides. But it is hard to know that the relative importance of any of those things actually is.

If you say Belgium can make its own policy, you are almost certainly making an off the cuff comment. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of Europe-wide rules and regulations on transit that limit what Belgium can do. Belgium has to work across borders just like Massachusetts does. From Directive 95/19 on safety certification to Directive 2005/47 on the working conditions of workers on services that happen to cross a border. Since 2007 every European railway undertaking is able to off er rail freight services on every line in every EU country.

It is a mistake to paint a picture where Belgium has unlimited unilateral decision making powers.


> Why is Australian public transit so much better than American public transit?

I would guess it's because Australia is, like, 99% uninhabited and uninhabitable or borderline uninhabitable[1], which probably means they can focus resources almost exclusively on the few densely populated areas. Additionally Australia's urban population seems to be significantly higher than America's (~89% vs ~80% according to 5 seconds of Googling I just did) so there's probably greater political will for investing in urban areas, and that political will probably also isn't resisted/sabotaged by an electoral system that grants hugely disproportionate representation to non-urban areas that have little to gain from realistic/economically sensible investments in public transportation.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/8ehplw/australian_...


so USA has poorer public transport than Europe because the latter has much more uniform population distribution; USA also has poorer public transport than Australia because the latter has much more skewed population distribution.

american exceptionalism at its finest. :)


Public transit matters where people live. Australia, quite clearly, can more easily focus on good transportation in the small percentage of its land mass where people live.

My state, about the same land area as France has a population density of 39/sq-km, right at the median value for the states. France has density of 122/sq-km. Population density is lower here, where people actually live, than in many locations in Europe or Australia. This may, in part, explain public transportation issues in the USA.


If you want to hold America to the same standard as Australia, try finding public transportation between Sydney and Adelaide, Alice Springs, or Darwin. (There isn't any.) In the US you at least can take Amtrak to cross those kinds of distances (even if it's cheaper and faster by orders of magnitude to just take a plane instead). It's fine to point out that America's public transportation is severely lacking (which it very obviously is), but being dismissive and reductive of the pertinent facts and realities isn't a good look, and it isn't helpful to public discourse.


It's the Goldilocks syndrome. Population density has to be juuuust right to result in American transit. It couldn't possibly be due to any other factors.........


Frankly, political lobbying is strangling your country. Are there any other developed democracies that allow the level of political capture through lobbying and political donations as the US? That alongside gerrymandering and the politicisation of the judiciary and whole legal process. Not how I'd set up a democracy. The USA was far ahead of it's time for over a hundred years in many aspects of it's system of politics and governance, but right now it seems like it's really fallen far behind.


Boston and Munich are about the same size; yet the public transportation system in Munich is significantly better (speed, coverage, comfort of stations and trains, accessibility) than that in Boston. That does not have to be. Instead they spent a couple of billions on the big dig.


In fairness, while the Big Dig was a total crapfest while in progress, the end result made a tremendous positive difference to the walk- and bike-ability of that area. It's still not perfect (four+ lanes of angry commuters), but it's not like they could just get rid of I-93.

Totally agreed on the dollars for transit part, though. Still way too much emphasis on making cars' lives easier in Boston at the expense of everyone else.


"cars' lives"

Every car at the moment contains a person. Objectifying people so it is easier to hate on them is not nice. People should realize by now that it is not just privileged rich assholes that drive cars. A well working personalized point-to-point transport system (cars plus roads) can save the person working 70 hours a week at two low paying jobs much precious time.


If you can afford to park in central Boston every day, you are almost certainly not that poor. A monthly parking pass is like $400-500. That's like a quarter of the pre-tax income from a full-time minimum wage job just to park at one of your jobs.


Cars just aren't a good use of space in the context of a city. A person in a car has multiplied their volume by 10 or 20. Sure, sometimes it's needed, for hauling some cargo, but I really think there are better things we could do with all the space required to support everyone owning a car (and, btw, I have one myself, so I'm not innocent) so that they can sit in traffic twice daily and a few times on weekends.


>That does not have to be. Instead they spent a couple of billions on the big dig.

So basically if MA wasn't up to it's neck in corruption it would be able to get more done with its dollars.

I assure you. Everyone in MA who pays attention knows this just like everyone knows water is wet. The problem is that nobody in MA pays attention.


> Belgium can define it's own national policy, while MA must compromise with the rest of the country

Belgium must compromise with the rest of the EU on many topics.


Not to mention that Belgium's governance is composed of several governments that are semi-hostile to each other and must compromise with the rest of the country as well.


Sheer landmass is less critical for transit than population density. The US has a population density of 33 people per square kilometer; China is nearly five times more dense at 144 people per square kilometer. [1] This sparse population distribution is one of the causes of many of the difficult-to-solve infrastructure problems in the US, such as poor broadband rollout, poor transit, etc.

For what it's worth the United States is actually larger in landmass size than China: 9.834 million square km in the US vs. 9.597 million square km in China. But China has over quadruple the population.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependen...


> The US has a population density of 33 people per square kilometer;

Yes, and they are evenly spread out across the country, right?

What you conveniently leave out, and which turns all these kinds of arguments based on a "total area / total population" numbers into absurd exercises in futility in showing anything useful, is that you have some few mega regions:

http://osnetdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2050_Map_Me...

Even a country like Germany has extremely uneven population, never mind countries like China or Russia. There is nothing special in the situation the US finds itself in at all - especially not since the enormous population shifts of the 20th century from rural areas to cities.

When I lived in the US (for a decade), the area I lived in was the SF Bay Area, several places. This is far more densely populated than area in Germany where I grew up (former East Germany). And yet, I could not do anything or get anywhere without a car. It has next to nothing to do with population density - in the US you are forced to drive for distances where you would walk, use a bike or public transit in areas with less pop. density in other countries.

Even during my brief first visit to the US end of the last millennium, which was a three month tour of the continental US (NY to Alaska, to Arizona, CA to FL) the "must... use... car!!!" bug got to me too. Towards the end I caught myself getting into the car and driving <200 feet to drop some waste into a wastebasket (from the car window of course) on a shopping mall parking lot... it seemed the natural thing to do, I had to deliberately catch myself and consciously think about what the hell I was doing to recognize the absurdity. After only two months in the country.


> Yes, and they are evenly spread out across the country, right?

Not evenly — but the population in the US is in fact much more geographically dispersed than in most of Europe, India, and East Asia. These measurements are not what you claim ("total area / total population"); here is a map of population density per square kilometer over the globe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_density#/media/File...

It's true that there are a few areas in the US that have high density. But from a federal funding standpoint, the US unfortunately has to contend with the fact that its population is widely dispersed over a large area compared to most other highly developed nations.


The image you link to does not support your assertion: The US looks "speckled" because there is a lot of empty space, which does not have to be connected. So the others that are all-red have it actually worse. Asia has a lot more people too, so yes, that leads to higher density - but that's hardly an advantage to have to deal with over a billion people instead of a few hundred millions. They still are just as distributed - plus there are a lot fewer gaps of nothing in between! It is easier to cross over nothingness than to path a way through non-stop population, as any effort that tries to build new infrastructure through populated areas that ends up mired with legal and ownership issues and protests demonstrates.

It also does not explain the car addiction at all, because it would make much more sense to connect wide-spread centers using trains, for example.

Also, most transport is local - and as far as it is not combining it into larger "packages" (train, ship, large trucks) would be more efficient.

I'm also a bit amazed at your response. Your initial comment, the one I replied to, is only about comparing total area and total population. I find it at least a little bit disingenuous how you dug deep to come up with a new version of the argument.

I find the effort in many comments to point out how the US is "special" and "different" from all the rest of the world very weird. I would not find it as weird if it looked like a detached analysis, but it seems to be mostly emotional. Why? So strange. What's the big deal, what do you lose, if you come to the conclusion that it's of course true that all problems are local and none are completely the same, the variability and the base problems are not actually different? What's the big deal? Isn't it enough to look for "exceptionalism" in the achievements and possibilities, why does it have to also be true for such mundane stuff at any cost (e.g. suffering quality of arguments)?


Not defending the OP (or continuing their line of thought), but here's an exclusivity argument for why it's difficult to build public transport infrastructure in the US.

The US is special because its cities were either built to be pedestrian-hostile, or were made so during the Depression years when the transport companies went bust.

Now, in addition to the mindset shift, I think you'd need to rebuild entire cities/metroplexes to make the public transport work.

Case in point: the South Bay Area, where I live now. Sure, you can add trains (at a huge cost). But once you get off the train station, where do you go? The sidewalks are those narrow strips separating the roadway from the parking lots adjacent to stores, they are no joy to walk on, and it will take you forever.

Where in Europe you have:

[store][sidewalk][roadway, 2 lanes][sidewalk][store]

Here, you have:

[business][parking lot][impenetrable hedge][sidewalk][roadway, 3 lanes][uncrossable median][roadway, 3 lanes][sidewalk][impenetrable hedge][parking lot][business]

Then, due to the zoning regulations you don't have stores and cafes right next to place where people live - you have huge blocks with nothing in them but houses, houses, houses.

Ditto for business districts.

It's not enough to have public transport, one needs to rethink entire cities from ground up to make them walkable, bikeable - and accessible by public transport - even if it exists.

Another case in point: Seattle. Lacking a good train system, they made the buses work with dedicated bus lanes, which make the buses fast - faster than traffic.

This works because the city has not been developed in the sad way I described above.

As for the suburban wasteland, which makes up huge chunks of the US population-wise, you can throw all your trains and buses at it, and it will be but a drop in the bucket.

Disclaimer: lived half my life in the US, half my life in urban Ukraine. Big fan of public transport, but drive most of the time - and when I don't, I bike, outrunning public transportation in most cases on distances up to 6 miles or so.

EDIT: see the urban sprawl point below[1]:

[1]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16918434


I would argue there is a huge difference in OPs argument and that brought up by most people to claim the US is "special" and what you just wrote.

> The US is special because its cities were either built to be pedestrian-hostile, or were made so during the Depression years when the transport companies went bust.

The original argument is based on "nature", things outside of human control. Your argument is 100% under human control, a self-made problem. What perplexes me is that the "nature" (inevitability) argument always comes first, but when prodded (like I did here) there is the attempt to shift it it elsewhere. I don't like that style, as I said, this seems to be mostly emotions-driven and I don't quite get why there is this attempt at any cost to paint the US situation as "special". Everyone and everything is "special" if you dig deep enough. The point is, are the difficulties any worse than elsewhere in magnitude and complexity? I don't think so. You only argued about the US, but the point of "being special" here has the meaning of "it's more difficult", and I don't think that is justified at all.


I agree, the "nature" argumnets are bollocks (the US is big! That's why we don't have local transit in urban centers - yeah right), and I never understood why people make them (ditto for healthcare - "we can't have it because we are big!").

As for your question:

>are the difficulties any worse than elsewhere in magnitude and complexity?

I firmly think that this is the case - a century of bad urban planning is hard to undo. You don't have that in Europe (cities are old, the layout makes public transport viable and necessary), you don't have in 2nd world countries (a lot of growth happened under central planning that bet big on public transport because it couldn't provide enough cars for its citizens).

Huge cities in the US are different from cities in Europe. Even when a European city has suburbs, taking a train to the city center makes sense because you can get around the city center without a car. That is not the case in Houston or Dallas, for example. You wouldn't want to walk there.

Yes, these problems are man-made - but they are entrenched and systemic to a scale that I'm unaware of.

I guess what I am saying here: we need to understand the scope of the problem. It's not that it's more difficult to make trains running in Dallas than it is in Paris.

It's that we need to rebuild Dallas from ground up for that train to make sense there due to the way it grew in the past 70 years.

TL;DR: screw-ups are hard to undo.


Where in Seattle do the buses have their own lane? I can only think of the tunnel downtown and a bit of road south of it through the southern industrial area (but I think that has given way to link). It isn’t much when you consider where metro and soundtransit go.


> The US looks "speckled" because there is a lot of empty space, which does not have to be connected. So the others that are all-red have it actually worse. Asia has a lot more people too, so yes, that leads to higher density - but that's hardly an advantage to have to deal with over a billion people instead of a few hundred millions.

There is plenty of research around public transit indicating the opposite: higher density increases transit viability, because public transit requires high demand per kilometer in order to be financially viable. For example, to quote this [1] highly cited paper:

"There are well documented empirical thresholds of density below which transit is unpractical for users and financially unsustainable for operators."

Or even just the opening line of the introduction:

"The counterpoint to the correlation between low-density sprawl and automobile dependence is that between high density and more transit use."

Connecting through "nothingness" is not an advantage: it costs actual money to build transit even through "nothingness" — labor and materials are not free, and even what you term "nothingness" is typically owned by someone and land rights still need to be acquired — and no one wants to go there. It would be cheaper to build transit between Popular Point A and Popular Point B if the vast "nothingness" between them was removed altogether — aka, high density.

> They still are just as distributed

You're taking the "sparse population distribution" argument pretty far out of context. The point is that they're sparse, not the total landmass size.

> I find the effort in many comments to point out how the US is "special" and "different" from all the rest of the world very weird. I would not find it as weird if it looked like a detached analysis, but it seems to be mostly emotional. Why? So strange. What's the big deal, what do you lose, if you come to the conclusion that it's of course true that all problems are local and none are completely the same, the variability and the base problems are not actually different? What's the big deal? Isn't it enough to look for "exceptionalism" in the achievements and possibilities, why does it have to also be true for such mundane stuff at any cost (e.g. suffering quality of arguments)?

Thanks, but I think my posts in here have been pretty data-focused and detached.

1: http://courses.washington.edu/gmforum/Readings/Bertaud_Trans...


Already in your first paragraph you chose to twist everything around. It is NOT more dense overall, there just are more dense areas. I refer to my previous comments, since nothing new was brought up.

> You're taking the "sparse population distribution" argument pretty far out of context.

May I suggest a mirror?

> Thanks, but I think my posts in here have been pretty data-focused and detached.

Not at all, unless you think that going out of your way to find any "data" at all and then pretending that it shows what you say it does (which it doesn't do - at all!) is "data-focused and detached".

There is nothing in the US situation that makes it any more difficult than for the rest of the world. No, the US does not have "special" problems that make transportation more difficult than elsewhere, apart from self-inflicted wounds (another commenter mentioned car-oriented city designs). Of course everybody and everything is "special" if you look deep enough, but this was about "special" (as in more) difficulty compared to other places.

Also you keep moving your target. I still take your ridiculous very first comment as setting the tone - after all, it is what you yourself first brought up: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16918557

In response to being called out on that argument you came up with ever more elaborate attempts to disguise what you said and pretend you had a different argument. Own up to having made a very bad "argument" and stop this nonsense. We have a "paper trail" of what you said, stop pretending it ever made sense.


I think abakker's point is that the US is much less densely populated compared to China and the EU. The US has much of its population distributed far distances from urban areas, which makes electric vehicles a less desirable option.


Sweden's population density is less than the US but they have better transit.

The US's urbanization rate is 82% which is higher than Canada, Norway, Spain, France, Greece, Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, and 150 other countries.

The US doesn't have much of its population distributed outside of urban areas compared to most countries. The US actually has few people outside of urban areas compared to most countries.


Except that rural votes are magnified by the Senate distortion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Popular_Vote_Intersta... is one step towards sanity.


Wow, talk about hacking democracy (in the good sense). Interesting idea. Some surprising places on the "considering" map: Kansas, Arizona, and especially Alaska would seem to be discarding some political power if they adopt this scheme. I wonder what the impetus is?


I agree that the political structure is likely a problem but that's not the argument I was responding to.


One issue here, though, is that US urbanisation is _weird_. A lot of that 'urbanisation' is vast suburbs of detached houses; it's not very dense at all.


It is exactly the same in other countries.

Unless you have some data to prove otherwise?


New detached houses have become quite rare here in Ireland, except as rural one-offs; most new suburban houses would be semi-detached (duplex in US terminology, I think; duplex means something else here, just to confuse the issue) or terraced (townhouse in US terminology, I think?), interspersed with mid-rise (~6 story) apartment blocks. They'd also be much smaller; average size of a new home here is ~100sqm, vs 250sqm in the US. Same goes for the UK, only moreso (average size of a home is a bit smaller there).

All of this obviously leads to much higher density. Planning rules effectively ban detached houses in many suburbs, as a minimum density is enforced. The higher density you have, the more effective public transport systems are.

Suburban apartment blocks also seem to be somewhat rarer in the US.


"China is bigger than the continental US. I think the persistent myth about the US's size being some unique problem doesn't explain much."

Sure, China is huge. But the vast majority of it's population is concentrated on or near the east coast. Most of China's western interior is sparsely populated, even compared to the US.

Even including the interior, the overall population density of China (137/km2) is much higher than that of the USA (35/km2).


Granted I've never lived in Belgium but MA has a corrupt gravy train of a government. We're literally too efficient with our money to afford nice things. I find it hard to believe that dollar for dollar Belgian taxes do not come back around to benefit the Belgian taxpayers more than MA taxes come back around to benefit the MA taxpayers.


Belgium needs good public transport because the population are really bad drivers.


Yes, it's difficult if not impossible to live in most places in the US without a car, the only real exception I can think of is NYC.

However, it has nothing to do with the size of the country, it's in the way towns and cities are laid out.

For one thing, discrete residential and commercial zones separated by vast distances and linked by highway are the norm. This makes it impractical to walk or bike to work or shopping. In suburbia, there is no such thing as a corner deli...


So national policy is essentially catering to the minority that live in rural areas? That seems backwards.


That minority controls a non-trivial portion of the nation's political power -- just look at the 2016 presidential election for evidence. I'm 100% for clean energy and reducing/eliminating fossil fuel use, but I also recognize the reality that electric vehicles just don't yet have the capability -- and more importantly, infrastructure -- to replace gas- and diesel-powered cars/buses/trucks. Telling rural Americans to piss off is just as bad as asking urban Americans to deal with the smog IMO.


It would be a good start if we replaced ICEs wherever possible, i.e. in cities. The majority of the people lives in cities, almost all car trips are well below fifty miles. If EVs work 100% of the time for 20% of the population that would already be a huge win for the environment and their sales could fund the R&D necessary to make them viable for the rest.


It's not about real rural areas, it's sprawl largely. It's been the dominant and TOP-DOWN planned development pattern for a whole generation, and it's totally tragic. Not only from energy perspective but nearly all other variables. There's almost nothing arguably redeemable about sprawl.

https://www.strongtowns.org/ is about the best org discussing these issues and isn't coming from a left- or right-wing perspective but a sane, critical-thinking, research-based perspective.


> and TOP-DOWN planned development pattern for a whole generation,

I'd almost think it is bottom-up not top-down. Top down would imply some central planning, allowance for more space, livable communities, more trees, more parks and trails, mixed zoning etc. I grew up in a Soviet Union and towns and cities were designed top-down. Nice wide streets, electric trolley buses in the city that ran regularly. For all the ills and terrible things it was actually not as a bad as far as the general layout was concerned.

In US it is bottom-up because every developer buys land then tries to maximize their profit by shoving as many houses and cul-de-sacs as they can. Or as many office buildings etc. Every town wants to maximize its property taxes so they have their own interests at work. People who bought the property also now have different incentives so you have zoning and NIMBY. Ideally all these self-interests would somehow magically align to produce something great. But it often doesn't.


Not all central planning mean same end result. US gov did embrace suburban sprawl.

Bottom-up planning example would be post-USSR where people converted community gardens into suburbs on their own. Without any central planning or viable infrastructure.


> US gov did embrace suburban sprawl.

Yeah but they didn't directly design cities the way a top-down developer would do. They are some planned communities in US. I live next to one, and it is a different feel to it definitely. But it is not a common thing at all.

At the federal level there are tax incentives and credits and subsidies and those affect everything but it is still very much a local "maximize my profit" kind of deal. Uncle Sam doesn't care if there are enough play grounds or parks for given area and population density.

I think that you are trying to say that the incentives (say cheap mortgages) and subsidies for oil and car manufacturers resulted in suburban sprawl? But that's more of a nasty side-effect than a direct policy or law. In other words we got the bad part of top-down influence without the good part of it.

> Bottom-up planning example would be post-USSR where people converted community gardens into suburbs on their own.

I jokingly say that overnight they become more capitalist and laissez faire than most countries in the West.


> Yeah but they didn't directly design cities the way a top-down developer would do. They are some planned communities in US. I live next to one, and it is a different feel to it definitely. But it is not a common thing at all.

Top-down developer can design it any way he wants. Top-down just means it's planned and not anarchistic like in ex-USSR.

Even policy of not enforcing parks, playground or allowing lesser population density is top-down development. Policy of building highways to accommodate sprawl is top-down as well.

Meanwhile bottom-up in ex-USSR style means ex-community gardens converted into suburbs without central water/sewage, no proper road network etc. While some developers put in over-the-top density highrises in questionable locations. Again, without proper infrastructure to support them. In both cases, it's incentives from people or developers without any support and sometimes even acknowledgement from the government.

> I jokingly say that overnight they become more capitalist and laissez faire than most countries in the West.

I'd say that with 100% straight face. We're definitely much more capitalist than western europe and definitely competing with US on many fronts.


You say the planned community has a certain feel, you are swimming in an ocean of zoning.


They got special exceptions from the county to do their own thing and not have obey the existing ones. So it is more like an island.


Sorry, I meant that zoning is very much a form of top down planning. It's just pervasive.

There can be even more structure, but when a town or city simply blocks medium density residential structures, that's pretty top down.


Post WWII, our (USA) policy has been to loot urban areas to subsidize sprawl.


There's BOTH factors, but the master-plans and zoning that require sprawl by forcing major separation between residential, commercial, industry etc. — all that was top down. And by top-down, I mean at the local city planning level, not the federal level per se… except the federal policy helped finance the sprawl…

Also, these big developers are sorta top-down too. They are big powerful entities setting things up for the people who actually use the developments instead of iterative development.

There's a ton of ridiculous patterns built into development that relate to the way it is financed etc. and that along with zoning etc. creates insane sprawl.

https://www.strongtowns.org/ does a remarkable job at addressing all these issues, not taking a dogmatic top-down or bottom-up or whatever view.


The majority live in Sub-urban/rural areas. Even urban, non-city center areas are not easily servable by buses. See Houston (or anywhere in Texas).


I didn't say it was a good idea...but yeah, most of America by area is totally dependent on cars for access, because more of America is private property, spread far apart. Not a great use of public transit. In many places, the roads themselves are the only real public property.


So we should just abandon our rural areas? That seems backwards.


It's already happening for loads of other, often good reasons. It's called urbanization. You can try to resist the future but you cannot stop it. You might just as well embrace it. How exactly does that seem backwards?


The situation is already problematic for agriculture. Further decreasing population density in rural settings just makes that worse (e.g. instead of going to the grocery store 10 miles away that happily supports a population of 5,000 people, you instead get to drive 2 hours to Costco in the nearest city to get enough groceries to make the trip worthwhile)


Just don't forget that even those urbanites still need resources that come from rural areas, like food. Yes, the service/information economy is clearly the future. But being able to domestically supply essentials to the service/information sectors is overall a good thing from several perspectives, including environmental health.


When China is the dominant economic superpower I doubt they will care much about abandoning the rural United States.


How about inside the major urban areas though? The vast majority of people live in cities, which also means they will mostly drive inside the city itself, which means relatively short distances. There's no reason why that demographic couldn't switch to electric cars, or why the government isn't helping them go for more eco friendly alternatives.


Yes which is why efficient public transport start with city planning. American cities are not built for public transport. They are built for cars.

You need to redesign American cities. The most obvious thing to change is zoning laws. Residential areas, offices and stores need to be more mixed.

Another issue is that many problems exist simply because it is too easy to drive. With easy driving you end up with donut cities where anything of importance is located in a ring around the outskirts of the city. That kills the ability to utilize public transport effectively.

If you discouraged driving more activity would be forced into neighborhoods and into the downtown area, which would make public transport functional. It is much easier to feed people with public transport into a downtown area than into a ring on the outskirts.


The US is this way because we've zoned and developed it this way, not because of the geography. If zoning changed to allow higher building density in cities, especially major cities, you'd see much less sprawl, and better support of walking, biking, and transit.

In the US, we are forced to drive because we force ourselves to drive.


The nordics have canada level pop density and are still doing better.




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