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We Should Be Building Cities for People, Not Cars (2016) (devonzuegel.com)
380 points by mrzool on June 28, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 335 comments



It seems this discussion comes up fairly often, and the solution is almost always some variation of "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit". On the surface that kind of makes sense, using a large stick to strongly encourage change, but I think at its core it misses a huge portion of the problem, which is that bad public transit is 10x worse than just sitting in a bit of traffic, or dropping a few bucks on an Uber/Lyft.

For example I live in a very public transit friendly city, but the buses are un-ridable most of the time due to the rampant homeless issue(and all that comes with a large homeless population) while the light rail is usually better about being a semi-safe, semi-clean environment, that just happens to be so overloaded between between 7am-9am, and 3pm-6pm, that there is almost any price I'd pay to avoid it.

The sad part is that no matter how excessive the taxes or how limited the parking the ones to suffer first, and worst, will be the low-income families and workers. The homeless will continue to do whatever they can get away with, and those of us with higher incomes will grumble a bit and pay the taxes. The only solution I've seen that has a chance to change this is to come down hard on poor public transit behavior, perhaps by putting actual people on the buses with the specific job of cracking down on the drunk/high/piss soaked/etc types, in an effort to improve the quality of the service to the point that the middle-upper income groups uses it again.


>> It seems this discussion comes up fairly often, and the solution is almost always some variation of "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit".

It's more like the other way around: the idea is to make public transport cheap and efficient enough that it's a reasonable alternative to driving everywhere.

>> For example I live in a very public transit friendly city, but the buses are un-ridable most of the time due to the rampant homeless issue(and all that comes with a large homeless population) while the light rail is usually better about being a semi-safe, semi-clean environment, that just happens to be so overloaded between between 7am-9am, and 3pm-6pm, that there is almost any price I'd pay to avoid it.

I live in a small town on the South coast of England, which just happens to have one of the largest populations of homeless people, nationally. It also has very good public transport, namely, buses, that are always full. I've never seen a homeless person using a bus as crashing space, or causing trouble of any sort. I can't say I ever particularly noticed homeless people on a bus. If homeless people on buses are a problem where you live, that has nothing to do with public transport in general.

Anyway, I think everyone gets the public transport they deserve. If everyone wants to go around by car, then we won't have good public transport- because why would we?


> It's more like the other way around: the idea is to make public transport cheap and efficient enough that it's a reasonable alternative to driving everywhere.

That would be nice, but that's not the general opinion of urbanists in the US. They (generalizing) really do believe as the parent describes, to "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit", and they truly believe this will magically fix public transit across the nation.

It's the urbanist version of "the beatings will continue until morale improves".

They'll often lie about it, saying "we don't hate them, we just want them to pay their fair share", or "to remove subsidies". But mostly, they just really hate cars. Especially electric ones (since they largely solve most of the problems of cars, while still being cars). Just browse the top 20 posts of /r/urbanplanning on any given day to see this in action


So, by your definition I’m an urbanist.

I don’t hate electric cars more than gas cars, what I will say is that electric cars don’t solve a lot of the externalities that actually bother me on a day to day basis (that said of course I would prefer all vehicles switch off of gasoline),

My big issues are that cars take more space than other forms of transport, cars endanger me more frequently when I’m trying to do my thing & we expend insane resources on supporting car centric lifestyles that we needn’t expend.

Basically I’m tired of subsidizing other peoples car centric life styles at the expense of my own.


> since they largely solve most of the problems of cars, while still being cars

They solve air pollution and some of noise pollution. But they don't magically cause people to carpool.

And even if they did, net passenger density for buses is higher, rail substantially higher again. An NYC subway R160 carriage can, in the space of about 4-5 car lengths, carry about 250 people, meaning those trains move a thousand or more people in the distance from a T-intersection to the back of a cul-de-sac.

Cars are expensive. It's just that you don't pay for it at the car.


  They solve air pollution
They displace air pollution to wherever the generation plant is, except for rare areas served by 100% nuclear/hydroelectric/solar/geothermal.


Note however that it is easier to limit and monitor air pollution generated by relatively few generation plants, than by hundreds of thousands of individual cars.


While the only 100% hydroelectric regions I know of are the pacific northwest USA and eastern Canada, I live in an area with 60% hydroelectric and nuclear. 30% is natural gas. The last 10% is a split between coal and renewables. So a battery electric vehicle is 65% near zero emissions, and 95% is less polluting than oil. (Without considering the inherent efficiency of battery powered motors vs. internal combustion engines. Or the environmental footprint of manufacturing "green" machines, building concrete containment domes for nuclear plants, nuclear waste disposal, or methane leaks).

Even pure displacement of air pollution to smokestacks is a huge plus in places like midtown Manhattan where the most respiratory health harms due to particulates, NOx, ozone, etc. are taking place. Less kids getting asthma, people getting heart attacks/strokes, premature births, etc.


Displacement results in better health outcomes, which is the whole point.


This is a false dichotomy. Certainly it is true that reducing air pollution is better than not, and certainly effective public transit reduces total air pollution both by being more efficient, and because power sources are never 100% fossil fuel powered.


It's probably because you have the NHS and socialized medicine, which would probably house the mentally ill homeless in some sort of mental hospital? I'm guessing the OP post lives in SF or maybe LA, where the mental hospitals were dismantled because of scandals in the 70s or 80s.

There are 2 kinds of homeless, normal people down on their luck, and people who need psychiatric or addiction care. The normal people go use the bathroom in an alleyway or a bush somewhere, the ones off their rocker piss themselves while sleeping on the train. There are far more 'normal' homeless vs. mental homeless, and it's the mental homeless that cause the problems.


>> It's probably because you have the NHS and socialized medicine, which would probably house the mentally ill homeless in some sort of mental hospital?

Unfortunately not. Mental illness is rampant among the homeless population. And, to be honest, even the most "normal" people will develop mental illness once forced to live on the streets for long enough.

Generally regarding the NHS and mental health, the subject is very controversial. Resources are continuously slashed and the care available is not adequate, in many parts of the country.


>> If homeless people on buses are a problem where you live, that has nothing to do with public transport in general.

When you hear of people being aggressive, high, inconsiderate, or here in Portland two people had their throats slit on the light rail recently near my house, it makes the public not feel comfortable using the public transportation. Since it's called public transportation and these things effect the public and the transportation, it actually has a lot to do with the public transportation.


It has nothing to do with public transportation. Wrong level of abstraction. It has to do with the fact the US is turning into a inequality dystopia.


This is exactly right. It's the price people pay for living in a place that doesn't care about its people.


People can get their throats slit in public, anywhere which is public. There is nothing to suggest that the Portland light rail is any more dangerous than walking the streets, and to be honest, as someone who uses the MAX almost exclusively, the implication is somewhat offensive.


Public transport in Portland, is not "public transport in general". It's public transport in Portland.


  If homeless people on buses are a problem where you live, that has nothing to do with public transport in general
It has everything to do with public transportation policy.

Example: VTA (Santa Clara County). They started allowing "homeless" to just hang out on a given long route bus all day, recirculating directions, so they could claim higher ridership. Of course, the real-world effect is that those people who would have used buses for legitimate transportation were displaced, and a death spiral of constantly falling legitimate ridership continues.

VTA's explanations (paraphrased):

2005-2008: "oh, so many more people are employed, they can afford to drive" (or, more realistic, they need prompt, reliable transportation).

2009-2012: "oh, so many people are out if work, they don't need buses to get to work"

2013+: GO TO 2005


>> It has everything to do with public transportation policy.

Local transportation policy, maybe, but that is not "public transport in general", i.e. the concept of public transport in the abstract, as opposed to its implementation in specific situations.

To put it bluntly, Santa Clara County is not the world.


I agree 100%. Where I live they "restructured" the bus routes, which was a different word for "we're trying to save money". The result was that we went from 4 buses every hour, to 2 during the day and from 2 to 1 in the evening. I used to take the bus when I had to go to the city, but the waiting times have more than doubled and I'll just take the car instead. It's more expensive, but there is always parking and it's significantly faster now. I vastly prefer to take the bus, so I don't have to worry much if I grab a beer or 2, but I'm not waiting hours to catch the bus.


I think the USA has (a) much more homeless people and (b) much less buses than random places in the UK. (I remember reading a stat from ~5 or 10 years ago that San Francisco had more homeless people than England).


San Francisco probably does have more homeless than England, but that is a likely a case of lieing with statistics. Which is to say there are external factors that make homeless likely to migrate to San Francisco meaning you will find other places "near" San Francisco with much less homeless.


Yes, I'm sure the social welfare system in San Francisco is better than England.


It is better than the options elsewhere in the US. Note that temperatures above freezing all winter is already a significant improvement. There are very cold states that have a great social welfare system, but weather makes them undesirable.


> It's more like the other way around: the idea is to make public transport cheap and efficient enough that it's a reasonable alternative to driving everywhere.

In Austin, they took the perspective "if we won't build it, they won't come". After the unwanted growth happened, it sure feels like the sentiment is "if we don't build it, they won't drive." There are fundamental problems with the driving infrastructure and instead of addressing it, they patch over it with toll roads, some planned or are only a quarter mile long, to allow "those who care (can afford)" through. They ignore major issues, like if one of the major bridges needs work or goes out, the city will be devastated.

When the limited public transport options do come up, they've seemed to be forward looking projects which is fine except they don't do anything about all of the other problems.

> I live in a small town on the South coast of England, which just happens to have one of the largest populations of homeless people, nationally. It also has very good public transport, namely, buses, that are always full. I've never seen a homeless person using a bus as crashing space, or causing trouble of any sort.

My guess is that if this isn't due to better services for the homeless, then the main factor is probably the local climate.


> The homeless will continue to do whatever they can get away with, and those of us with higher incomes will grumble a bit and pay the taxes. The only solution I've seen that has a chance to change this is to come down hard on poor public transit behavior, perhaps by putting actual people on the buses with the specific job of cracking down on the drunk/high/piss soaked/etc types, in an effort to improve the quality of the service to the point that the middle-upper income groups uses it again.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Or should I say, the city for the abandoned human beings.

If you aren't taking public transit because you don't like the homeless people on the buses, how about you help them become less homeless or have a place to stay, rather than just shooing them away?


This seems disingenuous at best. Why are you commenting on HN when you could be out helping these homeless anyway? Is your time, happiness, etc, really worth more than their lives?

https://blog.jaibot.com/the-copenhagen-interpretation-of-eth...


That's not what GP is saying. GP says that public transit is transit with your neighbors. If your neighbors are smelly junkies, then something is wrong with your community. Shoving people into cars to avoid the homeless is orthogonal to solving crowding issues.

This issue only comes up in SF because of the large wealth disparity between the upper-middle class and everyone below them. Here, the upper-middle pays for the option to remove themselves from public services.


Oh please the issue comes up in a bunch of other places other than SF. LA, Chicago, DC, Portland, all have the same issues. I am not rich nor am I poor but I avoid public transit for the reason mentioned above. I don’t know that it will ever get better seeing as how the country is falling apart with an ever widening income gap.


I take the dc metro all the time and it doesn’t have any of those problems.

The single tracking and random fires have been the issues here.


Most of them are addicts who don't want help. You could give them a job and a free house and they'd end up right back where they are now.


America continues to collect the wonderful, wonderful dividends of Ronald Reagan's decision to cut the funding for mental health to the bone.


Mental health funding was higher as Reagan left office than it was when he took office, both as CA Governor and as US President.

What changed was case law, as the court rulings made it much more difficult to keep mental patients in treatment against their will.


That and the war on drugs...


I'm no fonder of the war on drugs than anyone else. It promotes violent crime and places an enormous burden on the state.

But how does it cause there to be more homeless addicts?


In several ways.

- It is very likely that drugs are more addictive when you are uncertain about obtaining your next fix. http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comic/rat-park/

- The criminalization of drug addicts turns them into an excluded class. They find it harder to get jobs or even to stay out of jail. If they start young -- and many will, once the problem becomes generational -- they are prevented from developing certain life skills and successfully develop their personality into adulthood.

- If drugs are criminalized, people will be afraid to ask for help.

- The war on drugs guarantees an unregulated black market for drugs. This means there will be no quality controls. Drugs are laced with all sorts of things that can be much worse than the pure version of the substance.

- Being arrested for something that harms nobody instills a distrust on society that, many times, never goes away. Imagine being sent to prison for years for smoking cannabis. Your life ruined. It doesn't take a lot of empathy to see how one would never trust society and its institutions again.

- The solution for addiction is, many times, other drugs. For example methadone for opiate addicts, and Ibogaine -- which appears to be a miracle cure for many addictions, but that is Schedule I in the US (and by consequence in many other countries). The war on drugs is based on pseudo-science and fear.

These are not just a bunch of hypothesis. They have been empirically confirmed by a nation-wide, multi-decade trial in Portugal.

Policy-makers that ignore all of this are not driven by the desire to help people. They have other incentives and/or irrational biases.


This attitude is the reason this problem isn't getting solved.


Fatalism is a big part of the problem. But what he says is also largely true, particularly when it comes to long-term homeless. So another big part of the problem is people denying that truth.

We do need to provide "free homes" but we also need to coerce acceptance of assistance.


What do you recommend then?

The homeless population in Seattle (where I live currently) vastly decrease my quality of life despite the vast sums of money our government spends on them. I would happily contribute a lot more to taxes if it actually solved the problem but I have yet to see anyone give a good solution.


On another note, cracking down on drunks using public transit will encourage them to get behind the wheel, which is almost certainly a worse outcome for everyone.


What do I look like, mother Theresa? It's not my job to solve the city's homelessness problem. Do you mean to say that politicians/public officials/etc should be dealing with the problem?


No, I'm saying citizens should solve the problem. And I know it's not your job. It's nobody's job. That's why nothing has been done.

I mean, the stupidest thing about this is this isn't that hard a problem to solve. Homeless people are just regular people with a problem and no resources to fix it. You provide them resources and help and they are no longer homeless and no longer a nuisance. Instead, people see them like pests, as if rats invaded the buses and need to be exterminated.

Typically the government would be the best way to provide funding and access to the resources and help, but they suck at execution, and they always get screwed in funding. If citizens would see that funding for helping homeless people would improve their commute & community, they might invest more, which would both solve their immediate problem, as well as the homeless' problems. A citizen led organization could do this with a combination of private funding and grants (as many today are), but first they have to convince selfish privileged assholes to reach out and help. Good luck there, as it seems privileged people just don't want to help, even though it would actually be helping themselves.


Like me, many people I know started out believing what you wrote. But now that I'm a bit older, most that I know who have actually worked to alleviate homelessness would agree that a large portion of the visible homeless have severe mental health or addiction issues. That is not to say the they are undeserving of compassion, rather they are deserving and in need.

But to say that simply providing resources will fix the problem is naive. It's hard, and heartbreaking. I believe there are solutions that we can and will work toward, but they're not simple.


I'm somewhat aware of the scope of the issues. Mental health and addiction are often overwhelming when you don't have someone to help you with them, and so a case worker can definitely help. But one of the big reasons common solutions don't work is they're not comprehensive solutions.

For example, if someone is mentally ill, maybe they just need medication. But still don't have any income and perhaps no housing. What happens if they get mugged, or lose their meds, or forget to take them? Now they're unstable again. They need housing, and some small bit of income, food, security, and assistance. These are all resources, and providing them _all_ gives someone a much better shot at getting better and staying that way.

But it's also a misnomer that most homeless are addicts or crazy. One out of every 30 children in America were homeless in 2013, a disproportionate number being LGBTQ. 12 percent of homeless are veterans. In 2009 there were >535K homeless families. In fact, mental illness and addiction are the third and fourth most common reasons for homelessness.

Homelessness disproportionately affects children, destroying their education and keeping them in a cycle of poverty. If we focused more on providing them an education as well as food and shelter, this would have a big impact on outcomes of future homeless. Is providing these things simple? No, but the decision by the population to commit to actually providing them, is simple. The work will get done if we decide to.

We went to the moon on a whim. Surely we can feed and educate some kids.


Have spent 5+ years working professionally on homelessness, this is something I can agree with.

We all want to "fix" the problem of homeless people misusing public transportation, but at least 10-20% of the homeless people I have worked with wouldn't even agree that a problem exists.

I want to add resources to "fix" the problem, but first you have to get all parties to agree that their is a problem to fix. There is a ton of grey area, and we don't talk about Hobo's anymore like we did in the 60's. But many people choose homelessness.


Surely the solution then isn’t more housing for them, but more mental health services for them? Treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one might not hurt either. From my time in America I was amazed to see how little option there is for people who are mentally ill, and not rich. The “solution” embraced seems to be the streets, or jails.

Of course that leads to massive social decay.


>Surely the solution then isn’t more housing for them, but more mental health services for them?

Agree with your other points, but both is the correct answer. It'd be wasteful to treat someone's mental health and leave them in a situation that deteriorates their mental health.


It seems a bit bizarre to imply that individual citizens have the responsibility or even capability of meaningfully solving major public welfare or health issues. Surely no one would imply the same for, say, crime or disease epidemics.


Oversimplification too. In LA, a large number of homeless people have mental illness, are we supposed to just provide them with resources as average citizens? I would argue that’s something that can only be solved with proper funding and professional care.


But they do have that responsibility. They're supposed to wash their hands. That's the #1 way to stop the spread of viruses and bacteria. We also require they put their garbage into garbage cans and out to the street every week, so that the streets aren't literally covered in contaminated waste, like they were a century ago.

We also require they call the police when a crime is occurring. And the fire department when a fire occurs. And the city's department of works when a water main breaks. We also require they follow minimum driving standards and laws, take a test to certify they can drive, and make sure their vehicle passes a regular safety inspection.

"Public safety" in America is funny sometimes. In the rest of the developed world, produce and eggs don't usually come pre-washed, and you can even buy unpasteurized cheese and milk. But we Americans take so little responsibility for our own welfare that we literally force our society to protect us in every possible corner case, because taking the time to protect ourselves is too much to ask.

Except when it comes to necessities, like guns. Then we'd much rather be dead than safe.

Another fun example of how it's a citizen's responsibility to help: ending unjust laws that unfairly target people with no ability to defend themselves. Like the homeless. In many cities in America, it is illegal for a citizen to give a sandwich to a homeless person. They also are banned from many public spaces, and pushed out of the few places that they can actually have a space to rest or sleep, like highway underpasses and abandoned train tracks. They can't form a coalition and petition the city on their behalf; they don't have the resources. But we do.

We also have the resources to vote to install more shelters, more food banks, more outreach programs, more clean needle exchanges, more job programs, or hell, even just a place someone can have a shit and a shower. We have the resources to vote for programs to help hire homeless people, and to vote to expand low income housing. We have the resources to vote to distribute blankets and food during the winter, and expand safe spaces for more vulnerable homeless like women, children, LGBTQ youth, and so on. There's a lot of things we could do as citizens that wouldn't require you to actually do anything other than check off a box on a ballot, and maybe fork over an extra $1.50 in local taxes.

That's the least a citizen could do, but I don't see that being done either.


"In many cities in America, it is illegal for a citizen to give a sandwich to a homeless person."

Which cities? This is the first I've ever heard of this.



[flagged]


Personal attacks aren't allowed here, regardless of how wrong or annoying another comment is. We ban accounts that do that, so please don't. If you'd (re-)read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and only post civil, substantive comments, we'd appreciate it. The idea on HN is to have a slightly higher quality level than "internet special".


It is actually many people's full time job to 'solve the problem'. Homeless services in SF alone get funding in terms of billions of dollars, which pay many full time jobs. On top non-profits which get private donations.


What concrete steps are you taking to solve this that others could emulate?


> It's nobody's job

It's the job of the people we elect to govern our society.


There was an anecdote from a woman in Vancouver about how she would never again use public transit. She described being groped a dozen times in private places, and being followed off the bus by men on 3 occasions or more. I dont see how anyone could blame young women who go through that for refusing to use transit.

Just as a man riding on the same transit system, I totally believe that level of frequency and wouldn't expect anyone to be willing to put up with it. There were other anecdotes about drunks vomiting, fist fights on buses, racist slurs, and more.

I love the idea of transit, but it has some serious personal space, privacy, and safety problems that make personal transportation much more appealing.


My girlfriend experiences the same thing which is why she refuses to take public transportation without me. It is a huge problem that nobody here has claimed a solution for nor really talked about (not too surprising since HN is composed of 94.6% males according to [0]). Just google search "public transportation women" or use this link [1] to read into it more. It is one of the reasons we plan to move to suburbia once we get married/start having kids.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=591309

[1]: https://www.google.com/search?q=public+transportation+women&...


Not doubting your experience at all, but my SO feels more comfortable on public transit than on an Uber/Lyft, where she feels like she has no control over what the driver chooses to do.

She also avoids the last hour of transit.


She also tries to avoid taking Uber/Lyft but not too the extreme of public transportation.

We also got a car recently and this was one of the big reasons.


As a women who uses transit as part of her daily commute, it comes down to time of day and route. As well as being aware of your surroundings and understanding when there is a one-off situation occurring.

Skytrain - yes, you sometimes have the one off homeless guy, who jumped the compass gates, on the train who makes it awkward for all riders. 98% of the time during the normal commute it's peaceful. Last few trains of the day, you should anticipate the drunks on board. At least they are not on the road driving

Bus - when it's crammed, it's crammed and awkward for everyone. At least Translink now has a means to track rider data to understand the routes that require more frequent services to mitigate the crammed bus situation.

Considering Uber and Lyft have had blocks thrown in their way for approvals in Vancouver, we do not have the alternative means other cities do. Transit and bike lanes is slowly improving, but still has a ways to go.


Oh god the skytrain is miles better than the situation with BART & Muni in SF.


> bad public transit is 10x worse than just sitting in a bit of traffic, or dropping a few bucks on an Uber/Lyft.

How can this be true? Public transit allows your attention to wander and typically is much, much faster than traffic. Adding uber/lyft will get two of the worst attributes: traffic and high cost, although you’ll be able to do something else simultaneously.

Furthermore, it’s not clear how parking fees affect low income families: for my commute (between east bay and SF), public transit is an order of magnitude less expensive than driving, especially if you consider parking.

Finally, it’s not clear what homeless people have to do with this. The cost of affordable transit is interacting with your neighbors. If you don’t like your neighbors, please don’t screw them over by investing in car-oriented transit.


Maybe you can travel in peace on public transportation but my 5 foot 3 inch 110 pound girlfriend cannot. She gets constantly harassed by guys when I'm not around and some (especially the homeless) get violent about it. And to make matters worse, when you are on a bus, there isn't really anywhere you can go to get away from some creepy guy. Your stuck having to deal with that person until you get to your destination.

It's so bad she refuses to use public transportation here in seattle without me due to how unsafe she feels.


Trains are faster than traffic.

Buses and trams are slower as they're still in traffic, and now have to stop every 500 m to pick up or drop off passengers.

I'll usually take an uber if I actually need to get somewhere on time and it's not near a train station.


Exclusive bus lanes with special traffic light queue-jumping makes this a more even comparison and costs a lot less than rail.


As the GP said, there are people who are drunk, high, smelling of bodily fluids, etc. There are people who are rude, loud, etc. If this were stopped, then it might be better than being in a car.


>> As the GP said, there are people who are drunk, high, smelling of bodily fluids, etc. There are people who are rude, loud, etc.

Excuse me, but- where does that happen?

I mention in another comment that I live in a town in England, where I've never had any problems with homeless people in public transport. I also work in London, travel by rail across Europe and often use public transport in three different European countries, France, Italy and Greece. I have never noticed the kind of problem you and the GP flag up.

I'm getting the feeling that it's a problem local to a very specific part of the world and by no means a global issue that has to do with the nature of public transport, in general.


It's a problem in Melbourne. Although not as bad as America from what I've read here.

Trains are mostly fine, but I won't take a bus or a tram if I can avoid it. If I can get somewhere by train or bus, and the train would be 10 minutes slower, I'll take the train.

The other day on the tram I had to deal with drunk ex-con listening to his bluetooth speaker and verbally abusing a poor Asian lady to the point she had to get off the tram. I was disgusted, but I wanted my teeth to remain in my mouth, so I couldn't do anything.

I've had to deal with plenty of abusive arseholes on the bus too. And even just people being noisy, like South Americans treating the bus like it's a nightclub (which I personally don't mind) or just drunk people yelling at each other because they've forgotten their inside voice.

Then some people treat public transport like it's a landfill. Especially on a Friday or Saturday night, public transport will be filled with beer bottles.

The drivers don't care. They sit in a little perspex box so that they can't get assaulted by the passengers and just drive the bus or the tram around.


Just as another data point, I currently live in Sydney (used to live in Melbourne), and I haven't noticed any of these problems here. Trains are much more pleasant to ride compared to Melbourne. Ferry is the best option though. Sundays get you unlimited transport for $2.60, it's great. Perhaps it's because of the sunshine?


> Trains are much more pleasant to ride compared to Melbourne.

Sydneysider here. I didn't realise the trains were bad in Melbourne. I travel to Melbourne regularly but rely on cabs when my legs won't suffice i.e. to/from the domestic airport. The MEL CBD is very walkable thanks to being a grid.

Do you think trains are more affordable in Melbourne, thus a good option for the homeless? I can't figure out what the difference might be, but I imagine the Opal card system here might be a barrier to people with little money.

> Ferry is the best option though.

Being able to enjoy a beer/wine/cider on the ferry is great. That you can tap your credit card to pay the fare is cool too.

> Perhaps it's because of the sunshine?

I always thought Melbournians were more artsy (for lack of a better word) because of the cooler weather. Just as in Europe the colder climates encourage quieter pursuits (philosophers, poets and thinkers) while the Mediterranean caters to hedonistic pleasures.


GP here.

I don't think that trains are bad in Melbourne, although I haven't been to Sydney to compare, it's the buses and trams that have the anti-social behaviour. Having cops at all the train stations at night definitely helps keep the trains in a better state.

Affordability doesn't factor in at all here. The people who cause trouble on public transport don't pay for public transport. I'm not sure what it's like in Sydney, but most train stations don't have gates and the driver doesn't do anything if you don't tap on on the bus.

Ironic that you say that warmer weather caters to hedonistic pleasures when all the clubs in Sydney close at 3, meanwhile Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world that still has 24 hour clubs.


> most train stations don't have gates

Minor stations lack gates, popular stations have them. We still get people avoiding fares, homeless people sleeping on seats, people who leave a lot of rubbish etc. But Sydney's modern Waratah trains would be the best I've tried compared to trains in Japan and France...well the Shinkansen is pretty cool but it's not your average commuter train.

> all the clubs in Sydney close at 3

Depends on where you are. The CBD has lockout-laws but a lot of the nightlife migrated to areas like Newtown where pubs and bars can close at 5am. I've noticed Melbourne is very CBD centric, whereas Sydney is similar to LA in that there are many satellite cities/communities that are the cultural hubs. I'd say some of the most boring areas in Sydney are the tourist traps, i.e. CBD/Circular Quay.


When Melbourne made all trams free in the city centre, trams became unbearable to ride. It used to be just one tram line that was always filled up, now it's every single tram as soon as you get to the free zone.

The transport system was better before Myki in my opinion. More affordable, weekly passes, and paper tickets. In contrast, Sydney's transport used to be a mess with every operator requiring a different ticket, so no transfers from train to bus or ferry. Now with Opal, everything is much simpler, and the best part is going to the airport is really cheap now, if you let your Opal card go negative :)


I use public transport a lot (trains mostly, but the occasional bus) here in Scotland and I can't remember the last time I had anything unpleasant happen on public transport. And I've got a decent new car which I do use a fair amount but I'm perfectly happy taking the train or bus as well.


I think it's really something local to big US cities (or even smaller ones).

A friend who lived in Athens, Greece once told me how his sisters, who live in New York, came to visit him. He said that they were afraid to go on the tube, because they thought it wouldn't be safe. He said that they were used in the NY tube that they didn't think was safe.

I've had a few similar experiences myself (e.g. people being afraid of side streets in my cheery seaside town, where the biggest danger is someone from a hen or stag do getting sick on your new shoes). That's even more striking considering I don't actually meet that many US citizens. The few I do seem to always be looking over their shoulder.

I guess, the flip side of it is that people in Europe don't realise how safe our little region of the world is. We kind of take it for granted that just walking down a street in London or Paris, or other big European capitals doesn't automatically put your life and property in danger. For people living in places with high rates of violent crime, like the US, South Africa, Brazil or Mexico and so on, it's all very different.

I get that, in that sort of context, public transport is seen as unsafe- because anything "public" is seen as unsafe, and probably for good reasons. But that's not because public transport is inherently unsafe; it's public spaces that are unsafe in specific parts of the world. It's hard to decouple the two in peoples' minds though :/


San Francisco, for one.


Seattle too.

Even if they people on the bus are okay, they are still uncomfortable.


LA, Chicago, Portland, SF, any major metro area.


So what I'm getting from this thread is that it isn't a problem with public transport, it's a problem with the US.


It is a huge problem in the US. I've lived in SF, Seattle, LA, and Houston.


Happens in Portland also


It already is better than a car. It has a higher throughput and lower cost. If you value luxury, pay more for private transit. This isn’t contrary to a city that invests in public transit. SF is practically undrivable during the week rush hour because people prioritize comfort over economy. So the only knob a city has is to increase expense of driving, or to make public transit more comfortable. I don’t see any humanitarian route to the latter, so I am emphatically for the former.


High throughput and low cost are not the only metrics that commuters care about, clearly, or else they'd be riding public transit. If you offer to PAY ME a dollar to ride on BART next to a smelly, loud homeless person for an hour, versus me PAYING $10 in gas to drive to work, I'll pick the latter without hesitation.


Well, that’s the rational consumer side of you. What about the side of you that’s a member of a community—how do you start caring about externalities?


Theoretically that's what our elected officials should be dealing with. I've tried to intervene with loud or aggressive passengers before and I'll end up being the only person in 40 people on a BART car to do so, and after a couple experiences where I saw that nobody was going to back me up, I decided I should not risk my life over such things. I'd rather drive my car to work and make sure I get home to my children.


I agree, if elected officials want to reduce traffic, they would put barrier separated bike lanes and keep the trains clean and safe.

But the bay area local governments are self-sabotaging parody where it's difficult for anything like that to get done.


> If this were stopped

Sorry, but that's called society and it will never be able to compete with the bubble you've built for yourself.

If more people were willing too embrace society instead of hiding from it then there's a better chance of improving it.


It really depends on the public transit system. For me, driving to work takes about 8 minutes. Biking to work takes about 12 minutes. Walking to work takes about 35 minutes. Taking the bus to work takes about 45 minutes (which includes one transfer).


> How can this be true?

It's hot, noisy, uncomfortable, nausea inducing, and I have to put up with people falling asleep on me or homeless people harassing me.

The light rail (in Seattle) is fine, but the coverage isn't good enough.


It seems this discussion comes up fairly often, and the solution is almost always some variation of "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient...

Driving is subsidised in about a zillion different ways in the US; it's already hideously, ruinously expensive, we just don't realize it. You wouldn't have to artificially raise the price of driving to make it less appealing, you'd only have to make the actual costs more transparent.


Roads are indeed often financed from the general government budget in addition to fuel, registration, tire tax. But many voters like having more roads. In effect the majority is subsidizing its own desires.

It's a self-reinforcing status quo of people who accept government spending on roads, traffic congestion, crash casualties, total cost of ownership of a car in the thousands of USD per year, physical inactivity, and air pollution. And they expect free parking and cheap gasoline.


There is still the time loss. Private vehicles usually save time and have maximum schedule flexibility. Bicycles a scooters could help with the last mile, if they can be managed well.

Of course everyone has different thresholds. But I'd guess most people work hard to earn enough for their own time saving luxuries, even if the external costs will hurt their children later in life.


This seems to me like one of those issues that has way too many variables to make a reasonable guess at how things will really compare in the counterfactual situation.

If you've got a city that really is dense enough to be pedestrian-friendly, I think it's likely to be the case that the time situation is shifted considerably. Not only will it take less time to walk and bike places, but you probably find that the kinds of places you might want to walk or bike to end up being located closer to where you live and work. At the same time, driving becomes less convenient due to congestion.

Whereas, in car-centric cities, it often ends up being the case that businesses float out to the periphery of town.

My own pet theory, which seems to hold in every place I've lived or visited, but hasn't been backed up by any any rigorous data gathering, is that, no matter where you live, everything you might need to get to (e.g., the supermarket) ends up being 10-20 minutes away using the dominant mode of transportation in that city, regardless of what that mode is.


Sounds similar to Smeed's prediction:

> Smeed also predicted that the average speed of traffic in central London would always be nine miles per hour, because that is the minimum speed that people tolerate. He predicted that any intervention intended to speed traffic would only lead to more people driving at this "tolerable" speed unless there were any other disincentives against doing so.


I’d love to see a study on this.

Anecdata: there are 3 grocery stores within a 5 minute walk from me. But I live there because of that.


Many people underestimate the total costs of commuting. They want a cheaper and/or bigger residence. They think they're a superior driver and/or they'll buy a bigger car for safety. They would never take a salary cut even if it came with a greatly shortened commute. Car operation cost deltas are not included when considering a job or residence.


Which just feels crazy to me.

My commute is a 7 minute walk. I go home and eat lunch with my family several days a week. I would have a very hard time giving that up, and I couldn't even imagine going back to spending 10% of my waking hours stuck in traffic. Life is too short for that.


In addition, if you are doing shopping which involves any significant volume of goods or groceries, carrying it on public transit is a real problem. The tendency is to buy small amounts frequently at higher prices.

If there are two or more in a small car, it's also usually less expensive.

If the parking problem were forthrightly addressed, this, along with the increasing use of efficient Uber/Lyft/taxi, would greatly reduce traffic and associated pollution. Most of those cars are orbiting, looking for a parking spot. The half life of a parking spot is about 20 seconds.


When we were living in Asia for a few years, one thing we really liked was that larger supermarkets had free delivery service once you reached a minimum total at the checkout. We'd take a taxi to a mall, take care of any small shop purchases, perhaps have dinner at a restaurant, then finish with a tour of the supermarket in the basement.

We'd fill a shopping cart with all the heavy items we needed for one or more weeks, sorting a few fragile or temperature-sensitive items. We would fill one or two bags to carry home with us immediately by taxi. The rest went back to the cart and got a delivery ticket attached at a service counter. Within an hour or so of us getting home, friendly supermarket staff would be delivering the remainder to our condo doorstep.

Meanwhile, we had walkable, outdoor markets where we could grab produce or even some short-order carryout stirfry. So, we'd often grab just a few items at a time, lived with a much smaller refrigerator than we do in the US, and only did the supermarket run for heavy bottled/canned goods or the odd import item that helped with culture shock or homesickness.


Not really.

1. You can always get wheeled carts to carry your groceries. I take transit everyday and see a lot of senior citizens doing their groceries this way. If those frail 80 year olds who need sometimes a minute to get off the bus because they are so slow are happily doing it, it shouldn't be a problem for most other people.

2. In a walkable city, your shopping habits and life change. I live in the walkable (not downtown) part of my city. Usually I get off the train back from work, walk 5 min to the grocery store, buy 2-3 days of groceries easily carried in resuable bag and walk 10 min back to my home. This has been an excellent change over my past life because I am always able to cook with fresh ingredients and barely have to freeze anything or eat processed foods.


The argument about buying “small amounts at higher prices” is really interesting to me.

I recently downsized places for a much more walkable environment. Keeping less stuff in my house is a feature. One I was worried was going to cost me.

But my budget has largely not changed. Any increase in costs associated with bulk buying are at least offset by lowered transport costs. It’s really hard to exactly account though.

My instinct is that it is much more efficient for stores to warehouse things & me do JIT buying. I’d love to see research on it.


I've moved to lean cooking (as in lean manufacturing, not healthy food).

I don't really keep any food in the house, except for herbs and spices, and condiments. I don't keep anything perishable or frozen.

Every day or so, I'll go to Aldi and get my vegetables for one or two meals.

My food wastage these days is about zero.

Conveniently I live practically next door to an Aldi so I don't pay a lot for my food, I'm down to $7 day or so as I've moved to a vegetable based diet.


The number and variety of excuses car drivers will make to continue with their selfish activity is really impressive. I guess it comes form the ability to ignore the 50,000 deaths a year due to cars, the horrible companies they help fund, the many more deaths due to pollution, the destruction of cities and suburbs due to roads etc... To even consider driving you have to be a completely selfish scumbag. I can't see any other way about of thinking about it.


> some variation of "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient

We could stop by not subsidizing it in the U.S.

Corn, Oil Exploration, Oil Reserves, federal highway funding, and many state highways and local roads, and vehicle police are subsidized by income tax payers instead of tolls, fuel taxes, or vehicle registrations.


What's interesting is that I don't think any of the problems you describe with mass transit are inherit to or really even related to mass transit. I think they are just our cultural problems, spilling over into public spaces, such as mass transit.

For example, in Japan there are many less homeless people on the buses and trains. No surprise there though, as there are very few homeless people in Japan. Even in Tokyo there only about 0.1 per 100k, compared with 795 per 100k in San Francisco.

If someone is in a car, that does naturally insulate them from the homeless people, though it certainly does nothing to alleviate the root problem of there being a lot of homeless people.

If our homeless epidemic is so bad that it is ruining our public parks, transit, and sidewalks, one would hope fixing it would become a political priority. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much political will in the US these days to take on big, difficult issues. :/

Also, just curious, where did you see the strategy of cracking down on public transit behavior that was effective?


I think at its core it misses a huge portion of the problem, which is that bad public transit is 10x worse than just sitting in a bit of traffic

It's chicken and egg. Public transit needs ridership to get better. It won't get ridership until it's better.

The large stick of presenting more of the previously hidden costs of driving, is partly banking on public transit getting better as more people are nudged towards it.


> It's chicken and egg. Public transit needs ridership to get better. It won't get ridership until it's better.

This is why I'm really happy to see in my area two towns are putting in a rapid transit bus system between all the major hubs (two malls, a downtown, regional transport, and two universities) and the universities are getting all students, faculty, and staff plus families passes. These passes will also cover regional transit (mostly useful to get to the airport).

There is enough incentive in all of this for a massive influx of people to use public transit and make it a way of life (the universities signed 10 year contracts) such that I hope the way of life will have sticking power if they don't renew the contracts.


>"make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit".

Two observations.

1) We need to think outside of the box.

2) We need to redefine what public transportation means. I would classify Uber/Lyft and dockless bikes/escooters as public transportation, at least from a city planning perspective.


Urban planning is the most important factor. Density of buildings and people is essential to how desirable a mass transit system is to potential riders and how economically viable it is.


> solution is almost always some variation of "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit"

Most of the article talks about walking, and making cities more walkable. This isn’t about public transport.

The housing problems and transport problems in many cities are both symptoms of the same urban planning decisions; in a nutshell it’s about zoning regulations.


I don’t see what homelessness has to do with transit viability aside from them making you uncomfortable. When everyone rides the bus or train, the share of people behaving badly goes down fast. The reason areas with poor transit have their busses overloaded with vagrants is because every public good gets overloaded with vagrants if not enough people are using it.

>I've seen that has a chance to change this is to come down hard on poor public transit behavior, perhaps by putting actual people on the buses with the specific job of cracking down on the drunk/high/piss soaked/etc types, in an effort to improve the quality of the service to the point that the middle-upper income groups uses it again.

Or you could, I don’t know, treat them like human beings, get them counseling, and reintegrate them into society?


"make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit"

Zurich did just that in 1973 after a public referendum killed a projected metro.

The city figured out long and hard what makes public transport attractive and determined that it's not necessarily the time that you spend to get from A to B, but more importantly the expectation of time needed.

Consequently trams (streetcars) were provided independent tracks wherever possible and trams and buses were granted priority at all signals.

Additionally the attractiveness of roads for private vehicles was reduced and parking was restricted. In 1996 the "historical compromise" was reached to restict the number of parking spaces on the level of 1990 [1].

Another important factor was the creation of the S-Bahn (regional rail transport system, comparable with Paris' RER). Combined with that an integrated ticketing and fare system for the entire canton was introduced. Except taxis you can use any mode of transport within your tickets validity.

I think calling it a roaring success and extremely visionary is not an exaggeration.

Now if the city would only become more bike friendly it would just be about perfect in all respects of public transportation.

With a more leftwing government chances are that there's finally more movement in that direction.

Sure, that model is not easily transferable to other cities and it took decades to grow to what it is now. But there certainly are other shining examples of successful public transport implementations in (mostly) Asian and European cities.

It's not impossible once the fetish for cars and parking (which is heavily related) is put aside.

[1] (https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2012/08/lessons-zuric...)


How much can you condense a city if you have no roads at all? What I mean is that walking/biking/scootering in a city with no roads is probably twice, if not more, times more efficient.


You can compress a lot, but you can't compress away all the space currently used as roads. The space is important for allowing sunlight and fresh air to enter buildings and also acts as a noise damper in a community. Not to mention, some amount of visual privacy from neighbors. There is also the problem of emergency services (ambulances, fire trucks, police etc) being able to move around quickly. Finally, you should probably have some amount of bus/train transit in the city. Good reasons for it are bad weather, night time safety, tired or sick people, people with disabilities or long-term health problems and children.

I think the best you can do is that every building is next to one one-way car lane (shared with bikes going the same way) and one bike lane (for going in the opposite direction). The road should not be asphalt but some softer, less conductive material. No street parking. If you want to own a car, you can't externalize the cost to society but build a garage for yourself. Of course, there is a maximum size on the cars that you can buy and 30 km/h speed limit on most roads. You can have mini-buses (20ish people) and subways to take people around.

I think this is already a massive improvement on car centric cities. With the right distribution of retail and housing, you can have people enjoying a really nice life.


>you can't compress away all the space currently used as roads

You can however plant a lot of trees which would make a huge impact on the sustainability of cities by regulating the heat/cold much better. Also if you look at old European cities you can pretty much compress away all the car space. Jan Gehl's "Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space"[0] is a fantastic read if you're into thinking about this sort of thing.

[0] ISBN 978-87-7407-360-4


How are you suppose to move goods around if you have no roads? On bike?, on foot?, by rail? Biking and on foot would be impractical for large items or many items, and if we used rail it would have to be all over the city, so your back to the same problem with roads but instead of cars and roads its trains and rail.


Design in distribution systems that are separate to human systems. There are plenty of ways you could do that from the superblock Barcelona style system to, if we're designing from scratch, hyperloop tunnels or similar sci-fi approaches.


Cargo bikes? Something like an Urban Arrow Tender [1] can transport up to 350 kg. How often do you need something heavier?

[1] https://www.treehugger.com/bikes/urban-arrow-e-cargo-bike-re...


> It seems this discussion comes up fairly often, and the solution is almost always some variation of "make driving too expensive and/or too inconvenient, to force people to use public transit". On the surface that kind of makes sense, using a large stick to strongly encourage change, but I think at its core it misses a huge portion of the problem, which is that bad public transit is 10x worse than just sitting in a bit of traffic, or dropping a few bucks on an Uber/Lyft.

The solution is to charge correct prices. Nobody in the US knows what the actual societal and cost burden of driving is, because none of them pay for it. Yes, that would make it "too expensive" to drive for those at the margin, if that didn't happen it wouldn't be a solution.

The way that you get the benefit of correct prices without burdening the poor specifically is to refund the difference via a general tax mechanism like the income tax. If driving taxes go up by $5000/yr but income taxes go down by $5000/yr, then the net burden is zero for those who don't change their behavior but it's a net benefit for those who do.


The main issue is that the people can not live near the place they work.


Homeless people using transit as a shelter is a huge problem, it makes transit undesirable. Also politicians are so milquetoast they won't address the problem for fear of looking like a 'bad guy' when in reality transit was never designed to be a homeless shelter, so homeless need to be forcibly removed from the vehicle and excluded from the transit system where possible. Eventually homeless ruin everything they touch and society needs to find a way to deal with them.


Okay I guess I have to heavily adjust my view of public transit here. Given, I've only seen European transit systems, but none of them had a problem of that scale. Sure, the occasional junkie and drunk, but nothing even remotely bad enough to have an influence on my everyday transit behaviour.

That being said: I prefer biking, and with two saddle bags I can easily do the shopping for two. And I've seen friends get e-bikes and ditch a lifelong car lifestyle on the countryside.

EDIT

And "by the way": why do the richest societies of the world afford themselves the " luxury " of having homeless people at all? It's so weird...


Because solving the issue of homelessness (or poverty in general) would mean parting with precious, precious currency.


You can't solve the issue of poverty. Poverty is as unsolvable as stupidity, or having people you don't personally get along with in the world. Those aren't solvable problems. Poverty is relative, so there will always be "poor" people. Even our poor people rich compared to Indias. And I assume you are fine with spending other peoples money to solve homelessness, or spend from the "commons" as is the typical solution to this issue. You want to spend while requiring nothing in return for that spend. So easy to make trite little comments that show you "care".


I think my original comment may have been a bit too snarky. But countries like the US could absolutely be doing more for their poor and downtrodden than they currently do. And yes, I guess I am fine with spending "other people's money" (AKA money belonging to people who don't need it) if it means that the quality of life for those with the least advantages was improved.


>But countries like the US could absolutely be doing more

They could do more for sure. But it's a bottomless pit. The more you invest the more "poor" people are "pulled" into orbit of the programs requiring more spend, which brings more poor which requires more spend ad inifinitum.

> I am fine with spending "other people's money" (AKA money belonging to people who don't need it)

Oh ok then, I just decided that you don't need your money and I will spend it on the poor. Since I am "good" and I have everyones best interests at heart because I said so, then there's no problem. I will also decide who does and doesn't "need" their money. What an awesome power to wield.

What weasel word language you're using "life for those with the least advantages" just because you are poor doesn't mean you didn't earn it or don't deserve it. What simplistic logic you are using, what gigantic and awesome powers you propose to wield with such little thought.


Could you please not use HN for political and ideological flamewar? It's not what this site is for.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Because they are a money pit, more and more and more money is required. The more resources and infrastructure you build to "help" them simply pulls more of them to you, which then requires more money to maintain and on and on.

The most basic standards of care and concern are absent from them, they litter and loiter and harass and stink and steal without any regard. So attract them to your city at your peril.

>That being said: I prefer biking, and with two saddle bags I can easily do the shopping for two

^This right here. You don't come into contact with them ever, so you don't see the problem. You probably never will but you cluck cluck whenever somebody who does have to deal with them complains.


> Eventually homeless ruin everything they touch and society needs to find a way to deal with them

Although your rhetoric is terrible, you're not entirely wrong there.

But using jackbooted thugs to kick homeless people off public transport is not the solution though, and doesn't achieve anything. It simply pushes the problem somewhere else. You need to actually solve the causes of the problem, rather than trying to cover up the symptoms. That's not even starting on how you determine if someone is homeless or not. I saw a hipster the other day who I genuinely thought was homeless, until I saw that he had a bottle of craft beer under his arm, rather than a $2 bottle of wine.

If anything, banning homeless from public transport is just going to make the problem worse, because you've just pushed them somewhere else. Now they have no means to move anywhere (or they'll just steal bikes), and they're just going to shelter anywhere else that they can, including breaking into buildings.

Society does need to find a way to "deal" with homeless people, but you can't just make being homeless illegal. Just like you can't "deal" with heroin addicts by banning needles.


>Now they have no means to move anywhere (or they'll just steal bikes), and they're just going to shelter anywhere else that they can, including breaking into buildings.

They already do all of these things.. and also they befoul public transport and harass people on the subway and buses.

You merely assume I want to do unethical things to them meanwhile you don't really condemn their unethical behavior denying their agency while amplifying mine. I think we should just round them up and take them to a place outside of town that feeds them clothes them and gives them whatever drink and drugs or amusements they want so long as they stay there. ALL benefits are contingent on life reform so they can continue to receive benefits if they leave, or they must stay there (kind of like a gilded cage).


This is one of those scaling vs. switching cost problems. If you have a small town, then cars are a better option than transit. In a large metropolis, transit is better. The problem is that as a city scales up, each individual step results in continually adding infrastructure for cars without ever making the active decision to switch, and redesign the entire city.

When a small town grows into a medium, it makes sense to add car infrastructure rather than rebuild everything. Again when you grow from medium to large it remains cheaper to add that new interchange rather than change the fundamental structure of the city. Growing from large city to metropolis often means incorporating other cities and their car based infrastructure, and making a coordinated move to anything else is extremely difficult/expensive.

Edit: I doubt we could properly identify the "next big metropolis" early enough to put the proper infrastructure in place. Even if we could, the politics surrounding who gets the infrastructure spending would cloud the process. Neither do I think we could simply set up a new metropolis some where and "build it correctly from the start".

The best bet is to find a means of bootstrapping the conversion of existing metropolises to walkable/dense/transit oriented methods. How do we mortgage the immense future benefits to apply pressure to make changes now? Is there an achievable half step toward the goal that provides enough benefit to drive the rest of the conversion? When I'm confronted with a switching cost vs scaling cost problem in operations, I would be putting in dual use infrastructure. Maintain compatibility while removing dependency.


>If you have a small town, then cars are a better option than transit. In a large metropolis, transit is better.

Were did that came from? In a small town, you can get by fine with walking, bikes and so on -- like tons of Europeans do in tons of small (and even larger) towns, including towns where cars are totally forbidden and others were (because the town was built in medieval times and its buildings still stand just fine) they are impractical in large areas of a town.

And besides costly transit infrastructure like subways (which you probably have in mind), buses and trams are totally find for small towns as well.

In (most of) Europe you don't have to be a heroin addict or homeless person to ride the bus. Nobody has a problem riding the bus.

>When a small town grows into a medium, it makes sense to add car infrastructure rather than rebuild everything.

Again, what? Who said there's any need to "rebuild everything"? You can keep the "historic center" (as it's usually referred to), that is, the original small part of town, and build around it, all the while improving and extending transit infrastructure.

No reason to extend the city around car infrastructure -- like the horrible sprawls one sees in Texas for example.

In fact the US has a nice example of a "city" (speaking of the main area of Manhattan up and slightly beyond the Central Park) that has great density, and if there was the will, could be equipped with a great modern subway (not the way NYC subway is now), and lots of quality buses (modern, air-con, well maintained, not meant for the piss poor), a trolley line, and so on.

The area could be expanded from ~ 1 million people, to say 5 times the size, and with all those plus Uber/Taxi options, bikes and electric scooters, nobody would even care for driving their car there.


I live in a New Hampshire city of about 10,000. I'm about three miles out of town, too far to walk regularly. You should try biking downtown in January in the snow, slush, and wind! I don't see anyone biking with shopping bags, even in the summer. We bike for recreation. We've made our choices.

There used to be a railroad that came up from Boston and deadheaded here. It went out of business, was revived, and failed again. There isn't even a scheduled bus through town.

The nearest Lyft is 45 minutes away right now. Meanwhile, my car works great. It's convenient, clean, fast, private, and fairly inexpensive. It hauls my goods, my kids, and my pets. I only need to drive it a few thousand miles a year, so gasoline costs aren't much of a consideration.


>>> I don't see anyone biking with shopping bags, even in the summer.

See, this is where cultures clash. You don't expect people with shopping bags in bike friendly European cities either. Why? Because they don't buy groceries for a week at a time.


>I live in a New Hampshire city of about 10,000. I'm about three miles out of town, too far to walk regularly.

We (parents and us) used to live about 4 miles out of my hometown. One can always bike or use the regular public transport (bus e.g.).

But if you live 6 miles outside a city you can also drive there. What we were discussing was about not building the city itself around car traffic -- not not connecting it to the rest of the area / country.

>I don't see anyone biking with shopping bags, even in the summer. We bike for recreation. We've made our choices.

Well, that's a choice.


US towns stopped building as a dense collection of buildings at the end of the 19th century. Modern "towns" are a dozen or so old buildings from that era surrounded by dozens of square miles of urban sprawl mcmansion housing.

Fundamentally the US simply has a density problem at all grades of construction. Its just more apparent in cities where the overconsumption of land per capita impacts more people.


The US also has a ton of land. I stayed with family in a British suburb once, and everything was still neatly squished in together, even single-family houses, compared to the expansive yards of American suburbs. Kids could walk to school and everything.


The fact that kids walking to school is surprising really highlights the difference. Growing up in the UK, people who got driven to school were the odd ones (depending somewhat on the area).


When I was in middle school, we were picked up by bus, any time my parents had to go to school, we drove -- walking was never an option (which I assumed at the time was because it was too far to walk).

I recently looked it up on a map, and school was 0.7 miles from home -- a 15 minute walk. The worst part of the walk was that it crossed a 4 lane road, but it had a traffic light.... there were no sidewalks in our neighborhood, but that didn't stop us from walking to the bus stop.

Ironically, our neighborhood bus stop was 2 blocks from home in the opposite direction of the school, so I walked 0.3 miles away from school to take the bus... so in reality, the bus "saved" 10 minutes of walking time, though I spent more time than that waiting for the bus.

Now that I'm older and wiser (?) I seek out bike friendly commutes (through housing and job choices) and commute 15 miles by bike even though I have transit and car options. And I'll take a longer commute route to stay away from schools, seems that kids still aren't walking to school much, and my community has decided not to offer regular bus transportation so parents drive their kids, and it's like a car war-zone near the school


There’s nothing more American than a big yellow school bus belching black diesel smoke.


Having a lot of land doesn't change the fact that no matter how much land you have, there is still a place everyone wants to be. You could have a million new houses built in Idaho and it wouldn't make a dent of difference to the LA housing market.

The US real estate market is built like it can go infinitely wide, but the real world demand and price structures show the reality that density matters.


There was definitely a hard way to learn that lesson.


> In a small town, you can get by fine with walking, bikes and so on

In a small town, most of the population served by the amenities in that town don't actually live within city limits. The people in town may be fine with walking or biking, but providing non-car transportation options to rural people isn't as easy. Most people who live on farms would find it difficult to get by without a car.


>>>If you have a small town, then cars are a better option than transit. [...]

>W[h]ere did that came from? In a small town, you can get by fine with walking, bikes and so on

This isn't really the point. Sure, you can build a small town which prioritizes walking over cars. There are even examples in the US, such as Helen, Georgia. However, most people (US) would not prefer to live in such a town. In Europe, those towns are already in place, and people already live there.


>However, most people (US) would not prefer to live in such a town.

Citation needed. Most people in the US were never given the chance to live in such a town (all other things being equal, like them being able to afford to live there).

And there's also the cultural conditioning.

Besides, there are rich areas in the US too, with little to no cars and lotsa walking and jogging, and people go live there just fine, paying millions for a house there too.

I know plenty who'd kill to live in Manhattan (and not drive, like bona fide Manhattanites) but can't afford to precisely because too many want to live there and since it's an island not much further expansion is possible.


Well, either that or you're the one who's been culturally conditioned. You're posting on HN after all. :) I would personally prefer to live someplace like Manhattan than amongst suburban sprawl, but I'm in the minority of basically everyone I've known all my life (which is also anecdotal of course).


The relative prices of urban vs suburban housing pretty definitively shows that more people want to live in urban settings than can currently be accommodated. The free market clearly wants more urban housing but is prevented from supplying it by government intervention.


>Citation needed.

There is no need for a citation for such a claim. It is well within the boundaries of my personal experience. I live in America, I have known lots of people, and I've become familiar with what they want.

>And there's also the cultural conditioning.

People should only be conditioned to live the ways you want them to, of course. It's only "cultural conditioning" when you don't like it.


And citations are only needed when something is in contradiction to your experience? :)


>People should only be conditioned to live the ways you want them to, of course. It's only "cultural conditioning" when you don't like it.

Or you know, conditioning can go either way, and a society should decide what's better (including for the environment) and push for one or the other.

Suburban sprawl, wastelands designed around traffic, obese citizens who seldom walk anywhere, no urban center for communities to meat, and unfriendly crime ridden cities don't seem to work that well...


This is simply not true at all. There were countless small towns in America that had streetcars. It scales up quite well too. Your town turns into a city? Demolish the park-n-rides and turn them into stores.

I hate this bullshit of "America is too spread out for transit." No, it is now. It's only happened in <100 years. It was because GM and Ford bought up all the street cars and replaced them with buses or killed them. It can be reversed.

Jena, Germany is a town of $100k with 4 trams and 3 intercity rail stations. Chattanooga, TN, home of the famous song about the Chattanooga Choo Choo, has 200k people and doesn't even have an AmTrak station.

Public transport is the single largest factor in reducing poverty in any town or city. Car ownership should never be required of any American. It should always be a luxury item.


The reason the streetcars went away in the US was because of competition from cars, which, not coincidentally, were beginning their rise to dominance ~100 years ago. GM and Ford were in the process of killing streetcars the moment the Model T went on sale.

The vast majority of American towns, with their lower density and wider streets than their European counterparts, were simply better served by the automobile than by mass transit in 1920, and after 100 years of car-centric planning are even more so today.

The genie is already out of the bottle, and with the exception of a few rapidly-growing cities, mass transit use in most American cities is falling.


No, no, no. The amount of misinformation in this post is staggering. I'm assuming good faith on your part but its hard to do so.

> The reason the streetcars went away in the US was because of competition from cars, which, not coincidentally, were beginning their rise to dominance ~100 years ago. GM and Ford were in the process of killing streetcars the moment the Model T went on sale.

They killed it because they knew that a car-dominated culture would substantially increase their markets. By killing streetcars, they were simply increasing their market. They did not do this out of any sense of altruism.

The other step that greatly helped was convincing the Federal Government to invest in an interstate highway system that deliberately cut through the major cities.

> The vast majority of American towns, with their lower density and wider streets than their European counterparts, were simply better served by the automobile than by mass transit in 1920, and after 100 years of car-centric planning are even more so today.

They weren't always this way. Suburbia as we know it now was a consequence of the postwar boom and white flight; most towns fairly dense. In fact, they were dense enough to be effectively served by trams!

> The genie is already out of the bottle, and with the exception of a few rapidly-growing cities, mass transit use in most American cities is falling.

No its not.


Mass transit is a viable solution to people only when it's more convenient than cars. When the hassle of driving and finding parking is less than the extra walk/transfers/etc of taking transit, most people will drive. If you have mobility issues or have cargo you need to haul back, you're even more likely to drive.

Here in Seattle our roads are at capacity and the city is actively working to increase density, creating a virtuous circle of improved transit availability and frequency. This is great when I need to get to the airport during rush hour - I live near the UW and can take the light rail and be guaranteed to be at there in an hour, with a bus transfer. Outside of rush hour, I ask someone to drive me there in ~25 minutes. If I lived farther away from the nearest light rail station, I'd necessarily choose to get a ride every time.

Unless your city is actively making transit a priority, or its road system is packed to the gills, the shift from cars to transit is not going to happen on its own.

article on falling US transit ridership: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/fal...


It is important to split mass transit from public transit. I ride mass transit everyday but am vilified for it since it is private.


??? What transit is this? Commercial airline?


Why would you need to transfer to bus? Wouldn’t link go from UW straight through to the airport?


I take the bus from my neighborhood, transferring to light rail at the UW station.


> I hate this bullshit of "America is too spread out for transit." No, it is now. It's only happened in <100 years. It was because GM and Ford bought up all the street cars and replaced them with buses or killed them. It can be reversed.

Unfortunately, the American population has also exponentially grown in that same time period. It really isn't that easy to switch back to streetcars or light-rail or bicycling, and if someone figures out how, it'll probably be the biggest infrastructural development of the next fifty years.


> Unfortunately, the American population has also exponentially grown in that same time period.

Even if that were true (I'm pretty sure even with immigration, the doubling time of the US population has been increasing over that period, so the growth has not been exponential, which would be constant time to any given multiple) why would that particular shape of the growth curve make a difference?

If you are just misusing "exponential" to mean "fast", more population in the same area makes mass transit more, not less, viable an alternative to individual transit.


Was there a reason to be pedantic here? If you look at [1] then the US population has grown exponentially, and we are in the higher slope portion of the curve. But if you zoom into 1920-{current} you can form a linear curve.

Anyway, city planners are not looking at aggregate population statistics and making their decisions based off those. Usually, cities grow due to migration of new people. As more people enter the city, city governments decide what infrastructure to add in order to sustain population growth. For many years, the consensus was simply to add more roads. Studies eventually revealed the phenomenon of Induced Demand [2] which caused more roads to be consumed after creation of the roads. This and the realization that roads filled with single-occupancy vehicles don't scale well has led to a more "modern" consensus that transit makes sense once cities become big enough. For a long time, people thought that building more roads was the way to make a city more accessible.

[1]: https://www.census-charts.com/Population/pop-us-1790-2000.ht...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand


Small towns can be built with walkability in mind. In fact towns built before automobiles were invented were built this way: dense, narrow streets with doors opening onto the streets, multi-use buildings, blocks with mixed commerce/residential use. This is a sustainable and resilient way to build communities. Building around cars is not.


Small towns can be built with walkability in mind

This is true. Look at the bedroom communities surrounding Chicago. There are plenty of them where people take commuter rail into the city, then get around their home towns largely by foot. Cars are only used to go to the outlying malls and neighboring small towns.

Chicago is also doing something interesting with the whole notion of "streets."

Essentially, the notion is that since streets are public property, why are we allowing people to store their private property in them? Specifically, cars.

Parking spaces are being turned into miniature parks, or the parking lanes eliminated entirely in what are called "traffic calming" schemes to make streets more pedestrian-friendly.

Unfortunately, the backbone of the project -- Making it harder to park on the street to encourage people to park their private property in private parking garages -- got derailed when the mayor leased the city's parking meters to a private company for 99 years.

Now every time a parking space is removed from use (whether for a parade or a street festival or turned into a pocket park), the city has to pay the private company for that space. The payments are in the order of $30 million/year.

So, it'll be a good project in 94 years or so, when the parking spaces become public property again.


>Parking spaces are being turned into miniature parks, or the parking lanes eliminated entirely in what are called "traffic calming" schemes to make streets more pedestrian-friendly.

What? Why? It seems like it would be better to add additional lanes (shared left turn lane + 2 bike lanes or some similar configuration) to increase overall efficiency and throughput. When you have raised sidewalks traffic speeds don't really doesn't affect walk-ability as long as there's crossings at lights (regardless of traffic speed you won't find an opportunity to cross anywhere else if traffic is reasonably constant)


What? Why?

Studies show that narrower streets cause cars to drive more slowly, making neighborhoods more livable. (Less noise, among other factors.)

There are other methods used that also cause cars to slow down - road humps, textured (fake cobblestone) crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands, pedestrian bump-outs, replacing parallel parking with angled end-in parking, etc...

When you have raised sidewalks traffic speeds don't really doesn't affect walk-ability as long as there's crossings at lights

No, walking on a sidewalk with traffic whizzing by at speed is not a pleasant experience.

increase overall efficiency and throughput

Increasing throughput is last century thinking. Current best practices is to encourage people to use transit, especially in a city like Chicago that has (in spite of its flaws) has pretty good transit for an American city.

Here's a PDF from CDOT explaining much of this: https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdot/st...

[Edited to add PDF link]


How about all those amazon deliveries?

I'm all for banning garaging on roads, and I don't see why private cars need to be driven in the centre of major cities at all, especially during the day. Things like the London congestion charge for all cars from say 7AM to 9PM (depending on when transit is running well) are great, although should really scale with the value of the car.

But when the supermarket drops the weekly shop off, they need somewhere to park for 10 minutes.


There's a concept called "loading zones", which are curb space set aside specifically for commercial vehicles to stop for short periods while loading and unloading deliveries.

They're very compatible with the rest of the curbside lane being set aside for parking (if they're actually enforced), or with that lane being built out with sidewalk extensions, micro-parks, bicycle parking, bus bulbs... etc.


A number of large cities had extensive networks of pneumatic tubes and underground rail runnels for delivery. They fell out of use with the rise of cars, but the idea that deliveries go via vehicles on streets is far from a given.


Coincidentally, Chicago has a disused network of underground delivery rail tunnels.

They were widely forgotten until a pile was driven into one beneath the Chicago River and the river flooded many of the buildings in the downtown's Loop district.†

Today a few are still used, though not for deliveries. Mostly for running fiber optic networks, and the Palmer House Hotel uses its section to raise mushrooms for its restaurant.‡

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

https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140618/loop/palmer-house-h...


> How about all those amazon deliveries?

That's what the drones are for


Also, amusingly, it's usually the case that everyone gets where they're going faster if roads are cut down to a single lane (or 2-lane, depending on if you count oncoming traffic) because a complication in car flow brought on from complex passing interactions is highly reduced. This holds ever for the country roads with a lot of passing-legal portions.


That's false if left turns are permitted.


It improves efficiency for cars, while dramatically reducing efficiency for pedestrians. If a road is two lanes, drivers are more likely to avoid it. And pedestrians can cross anywhere instead of finding an intersection, hitting the crosswalk button, waiting 1-2 minutes, crossing, and then walking back to their destination.

Why should we give cars such privilege when they are so wasteful of space and fuel?


My favorite is the Spanish city of Girona (couple of hours north of Barcelona by train). You can walk clear across the city in a half hour, but the buildings are typically 3-7 stories tall.


My wife is from a small town in Italy. It doesn't have transit, but it's quite possible to get around it on foot or by bike, because it's compact.


I think your point gets missed by many people.

Europeans tend to have cities that have been around much longer than cars have, and you can see it in the design - they were built back when horses were the fastest mode of transportation.

Many small American towns were built after the introduction of the automobile (or at least significant chucks of the towns were).

Trying to undo history, or even taking a new mode of design is extraordinarily difficult. The discussion threads on this post seems to highlight that difficulty, while many miss that root cause.


The town I live in now, Bend, Oregon is barely over 100 years old, which is pretty new even for the US. And yet the downtown is still fairly walkable, if perhaps not quite as much as an Italian town.

The really bad stuff only really started coming out after we got zoning and then accelerated with post WWII development.

Can we make something just as walkable and nice as those Italian cities? Maybe not, but we can certainly walk back some of the worst excesses of the late 20th century.

This site has a lot of ideas and discussion: https://www.strongtowns.org/

Oh, and it also turns out that much of suburbia is not very sustainable financially, and nor is it great for the environment.


You give a great example - and raise an even better question:

  Can we "fix" cities to be more functional in a world dominated by autos?
I wonder if we can. It seems like inertia has become so great that it will take many decades to overcome this. In Houston, I think this easily could take 1/2 a century or more.


The suburb I lived in, in Italy was mostly built out after widespread use of automobiles.

And yes, it was walkable, because things were close to one another.


> And yet the downtown is still fairly walkable, if perhaps not quite as much as an Italian town.

But I bet almost everybody has a car.


> Trying to undo history, or even taking a new mode of design is extraordinarily difficult

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."


Although European cities do exists for way longer, for most cities, that's only true for the small city center. The larger newer parts have been built in about the same period as most USA cities: the 19th and 20th century. Since the 1940s the car has become the dominant mode of transportation in European cities as well, and particularly up till the early 1970s new city planning was quite car focused. You can still see that today by these large multi-lane roads through heavily populated areas in cities. But also a lot of industrial parks have been setup with only cars in mind. In the meanwhile these choices are in the process of being reverted by limiting through car traffic, adding bike lines, sidewalks, more green areas, and so on.


No, that's not the reason. Most surface area of european cities is modern. Zoning laws have been created on purpose to make cities walkable.


I'd bet anything that your wife's small town in Italy was mostly settled and developed before cars, in a time when being able to get around town by foot (or by horse, at the fastest) was important.


Obviously. But it still seems optimal to build cities this way today, and it is surprising we don’t.

With modern levels of obesity and pollution, why don’t we want walkable cities?


The (mostly American, mostly late 19th- mid-20th century) cities at issue were largely developed by people with cars in mind, before obesity and pollution were known issues. There's a lot of inertia to that kind of design.


I think a lot of the headaches could be avoided by zoning in ways that allow for density improvements to occur. We can't just build every new city as a planned green city too (i.e. Masdar City).

I think it would be beneficial if there was some kind of standard at a state level for not just building codes but zone codes. It would also be nice if there was some kind of zoning and code for underground, so lower levels could be built as density increased (i.e. Lower Wacker in Chicago[0]) to allow vehicles to still park and travel but allow the buildings to narrow on the upper street. It would then also provide a separation of humans and cars which would help for safety. [2]

That also would allow for the potential building of middle-ground assets that are much more affordable like the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to allow for BRT/Light Rail. [1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multilevel_streets_in_Chicago and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wacker_Drive

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downtown_Seattle_Transit_Tunne...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit-oriented_development


American cities don't like to mix commercial and residential zoning. If you had a mix, you'd see more places with grocery stores you could walk to, like in London or Chicago.


I'm not sure which cities your referring too but even in towns like where my Dad grew up, a population of 40k, they're beginning to zone mix-use in urban areas.

As yardie mentioned, there is a huge demand for mix-use properties. To keep with Chicago as an example, I lived near a large area of small mutli-family (Du/Quad-plex or multi-story flats) and large single-family homes. There was plenty of commercial space but there was a huge local demand for mix-use property which led to it being developed. Called "New City" it was a tower on top of a movie theatre, a grocery store, with surrounding retail and restaurants.[0]

[0] https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9086253,-87.6488544,17z & http://experiencenewcity.com/

I wouldn't be surprised to see more zoning like that in small to medium cities, however, it's likely they would be more like landscrapers than skyscrapers.


They don't like to but they are doing it now. They have no choice as a younger demographic is clamoring for it and developers are responding by getting zoning for it. If a city isn't planning with mixed use, mid/high density housing in mind then I'm not sure I'd call them a city.


Christopher Alexander wrote about this problem.

The trick is to make it possible for cars to come in the surroundings of a city center without interacting with people.

This post is too short to explain the details but when you have a walking area in front of shops you can have a parking area at the back side of the shops.


This generally happens if the city grows too fast to get enough time to experiment with transit, reorganize and densify neighborhoods entirely over centuries like Paris or London. However if the city grows fast enough like some Chinese cities, it's much more economical to directly invest in mass transit, taller buildinngs, walkable areas...etc.


What large city actually developed this way?


Pre-auto LA was a series of towns connected by a trolley network. Seemed to work pretty well.


I agree, but "people" should mean all people, not just the able bodied.

Cities keep on inexplicably designing these cool pedestrian only areas for the able bodied and young. There are people who can only travel limited distances, so if you set the beach front back half a mile, you've now cut it off from many older and disabled people.

What I am saying is: For the physically young and able, vehicle-less areas as great, for the elderly and or disabled, vehicles are an absolute lifeline to be able to gain access to things.

For a specific example, where I grew up the shops were pedestrianized (think outdoor mall), my mom had a stroke and struggles to walk, but can drive. The distance from a car door to a shop is a good ten minutes, so she simply doesn't go there. She goes to out-of-town supermarkets with disabled bays right near the entrance.

If the utopia this article wants comes to pass you have to design it with disabled access in mind. "Walk ten+ minutes" is a non-starter.


Making cities walkable is not ableist, or at least doesn't have to be. In Copenhagen you see motorized wheelchairs using the bike lanes, here in the Bay Area I see motorized wheelchairs forced to operate in dangerous roads because the sidewalks are too narrow or damaged for their scooters.

Further not everyone with a disability can't walk or bike. What about legally blind people? Auto-centric infrastructure is terrible for anyone who is legally barred from driving.

Lastly, every able bodied young person (and that's the majority of the population) that you get out of a car means that road infrastructure get's better for those who genuinely need to use it.


I don't think the person you're replying to is saying that you should build exclusively for one class of people. You need to look more broadly when you design cities.


The point of the article is that what is being done in places like San Francisco is what looking more broadly looks like. It's not ableist to allow people who'd prefer not to drive to bike or walk instead, and it's also not ableist to build our cities to allow these different modes of transport in addition to cars. Framing it like it's ableist ignores the near century of subsidies and prioitization of the automobile in the US.

The fact is that us able-bodied people need spaces that we can enjoy too. We need to find a way to inhabit the same space without inhibiting each other.


You're taking away a mode of transport some disabled people depend upon, you have to take their needs into account while doing so. Simply adding ramps and slapping ADA stickers onto everything isn't an actual answer, just a convenient way to simplify the problem.

If you go from heavily vehicled areas to large pedestrian areas where vehicles are banned, you've gone from one extreme to the other. In both cases disabled people are left behind.

> The fact is that us able-bodied people need spaces that we can enjoy too.

I thought that was everywhere, including nature.


I agree.

The thing I'm concerned about is that reintroducing cars into these areas is a trickle opening onto a floodgate in terms of causing us to backslide into car-centrism. And by your argument ADA compliance becomes a good excuse to erase all the pedestrian- and cyclist-only areas and replace them with "good old" city streets again. It effectively becomes an argument for people who want car-centric infrastructure only to disguise their desire and hide behind the disabled to accomplish their goals.

What I'm wondering is if there's a way to accommodate without using cars? In a market we could provide some scooters or other motorized transport that's more compatible with the market's layout.


I fail to see how making a place pedestrian friendly is one extreme. Are you saying the disabled are only able to move around by car? This will bother some of my disabled friends who have to rely on unreliable buses, too narrow sidewalks, and other city failures.

Also, a mobility scooter is a perfectly acceptable form of transportation in pedestrian areas.


> The point of the article is that what is being done in places like San Francisco […]

Got it. For other places, step 1 is to build a dome over the city to establish San Francisco climate.


>It's not ableist to allow people who'd prefer not to drive to bike or walk instead, and it's also not ableist to build our cities to allow these different modes of transport in addition to cars.

Well it doesn't have to be but it certainly can be. Like that GP comment up there ^^^ said, making walkable spaces that require foot travel can certainly be ableist to those who can't do that.

I mean I could rephrase your comment in a way to say "it's not ableist to allow people who'd like to use the stairs to use the stairs and it's not ableist to build our cities to allow stairs" - except if what I mean by that is that I want the city to build places where stairs are the only option then yes, it is ableist. And if what I mean by "walkable" is that I want the city to build areas where walking is the only option then it's the same deal.

>Framing it like it's ableist ignores the near century of subsidies and prioitization of the automobile in the US.

No it doesn't. Those subsidies have nothing to do with what is being discussed. It's a completely separate issue.

>The fact is that us able-bodied people need spaces that we can enjoy too.

...

Lol, just reread what you said.

>We need to find a way to inhabit the same space without inhibiting each other.

By which you mean you would rather the able-bodied not be inhibited by having to accommodate the non-able-bodied?


> The distance from a car door to a shop is a good ten minutes, so she simply doesn't go there. She goes to out-of-town supermarkets with disabled bays right near the entrance.

...which is rather ironic, considering "ten-minute walk from parking lot to shop entrance" is an almost unique American suburban problem: we need huge parking lots because everybody's driving.

Construct a city so that 95% of the people take public transportation, and you can keep parking space for the rest 5% who really need it, and they will be practically at the front door when they get off.


Short of things like taxis and ubers and so on, is there any form of public transportation that is so dense, when it comes to stopping locations?


Sorry I wasn't clear: I meant "at the front door" for those 5% who have to drive. The rest can walk. It's good for health, and usually still faster than being stuck in the sea of single occupancy vehicles! :)


I feel like this only makes sense if you build cities of any size, even when they have 50 people, as if they are ultra-dense. The reality is that public transit takes a certain size city before it reaches critical mass and becomes superior to individual transit. Even where I live (Portland, Oregon) which is considered to have decent public transit, I would have to walk a lot and plan on 2-3 times as long if I wanted to stick with public transit. The density just isn't there yet.


It isn't lack of density, that is a symptom. We don't allows stores, jobs and houses to be within walking distance of each other. As a result you have to drive everywhere. As a result you have to have a car. As a result we need space for lots of cars, as a result things are spread out.

If you had stores and jobs within walking distance of your house you would not need a car. As a result you wouldn't find a car worth having. As a result you wouldn't need all the space dedicated to the car. Also as a result you would take public transportation.

It also hurts that our focus on not allowing change means that even when someone is willing to spend their own money to tear down a smaller house/apartment to replace it with something larger we won't allow it. Thus areas that "want" to grow denser cannot do that. The only option is to grow outwards. That means people need to be farther out, which implies more time in a car, which implies more roads and parking spaces, which in turn means less density is possible.

Note that the above is simplistic. I ignored many other factors. It is a complex problem and no one change can solve it.


Most sidewalks are accessible to mobility aids; like walkers, scooters, canes, wheelchairs and so forth. _All_ can be designed to be accessible to such.

Moreover, the choice isn't between only pedestrians or only cars; there exists combinations of the two that are more favourable to pedestrians but allow access by vehicle for those that need it.


> Most sidewalks are accessible to mobility aids; like walkers, scooters, canes, wheelchairs and so forth.

If people cannot traverse the distance required, it doesn't really help.

For example someone with bad osteoporosis, and who doesn't have a $10K+ wheelchair and a $75K minivan to carry it, won't really gain much by theoretical ADA sidewalks if the distance is too far.

Claiming stuff is "disabled accessible" without really considering the people we're talking about is just a lie society tell itself to feel less guilty.


You’re right: such city designs should be accompanied by good universal healthcare and accessible public transportation, like most other wealthy countries, so that neither of these would be an issue.


I'm Canadian, so might I suggest that part of the solution is ensuring that mobility aids are available as a matter of public expense, rather than private. It works OK for us, most of the time.

Wheelchairs and scooters can be funded by the Government, generally in a means-tested manner, and we have something called "Handydart", though where I live _all_ transit is wheelchair accessible.


> For example someone with bad osteoporosis, and who doesn't have a $10K+ wheelchair and a $75K minivan to carry it, won't really gain much by theoretical ADA sidewalks if the distance is too far.

You can't exactly escape the cost issue. The alternative you present is that this person has a car, which is quite expensive itself, and presumably someone to drive them given the bad osteoporosis.

Regardless of the design of your hypothetical city, such people may just need family help or public assistance to get to where they want to go.


Then maybe these pedestrianized areas should have small fleets of scooters that people who need them can use, like large grocery stores tend to have.


> someone with bad osteoporosis, and who doesn't have a $10K+ wheelchair and a $75K minivan to carry it, won't really gain much by theoretical ADA sidewalks if the distance is too far

One solution to this is this person should move closer.


Closer to what if doctors, shopping and other places are spread over miles?


> what if doctors, shopping and other places are spread over miles?

The article imagines "building cities for people, not for cars." That implies re-imagining the suburban model of doctors, shops, et cetera being spread across miles. My Manhattan city block, for example, features an allergist, several restaurants, a grocery store, a book store, a daycare, a coffee shop and--in all likelihood--half a dozen other things I have yet to notice.


Maybe the solution is to share those wheelchairs. Not everyone needs one all the time.


From my observations, walkable neighbourhoods can be great for disabled people. I live in a very walkable neighbourhood where there are many homes, businesses, schools, and more in walking distance, as well as bus lines and a subway station. Everything within 10 minutes at a normal pace. There is a home for people in wheelchairs (not sure of the correct term) down the street from me, and the people that live there are always out and about. Same with a man in a wheelchair that lives one street over. Same with the slow, tiny, 90-something-year-old lady that lives across the street from me. Same with the blind man who lives down the street. None of these people have to drive, and I believe none of them even own cars, but they are able to get around with little issue because they have the option to just jaunt down the sidewalk 10 minutes for most things, or use accessible transit connections for longer trips.


As a disabled person who's spent his entire life dependent on others for transportation basically anywhere, I'll confirm how badly I'd love to live in a place like that. (I understand if you don't want to say where you live, but any hints to narrow it down or other places like that you know of?)

It can't be overstated how confining it is when anything you'd like to do or see involves logistical wrangling to work out when exactly you need to be there, how long you'll be there, when you need to be picked up, etc. I've lost count of the number of times I've just decided to not bother with all that and just stay home, which makes for a pretty depressing existence after a while.

Things like uber can help, but you're still placing your trust in someone you've never met to be able to get you there, and more importantly, to be able to get you back home. Not to mention having to do an upfront value analysis to determine if the trip is worth it, and for disabled people this can be a tough call given the difficulties with employment and income in general.


I live in Boston, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, it is an expensive place to live (probably because actually walkable areas like this are so rare in the US), and I may not stay much longer with the rate of rental increases.

If you do live in an area that is more car friendly than anything, a van might be the better option: https://nicolagriffith.com/2018/05/26/new-car-an-accessible-...


Thanks for the tip on the area. Not surprising that it would be seeing climbing costs; that's all too common these days. Increasing cost is a pretty significant problem all around. I'm in the Seattle area, and the skyrocketing housing costs thanks in large part to Amazon's insatiable growth have pushed me out of the city into a much less accessible area.

My logistical disability is a visual impairment, so while I'm able to walk, there's relatively little to walk to in the area other than suburban sprawl. Unfortunately, operating any kind of motor vehicle is right out, and while it would be legal for me to bike around, I'm not confident that it would be safe given my poor vision, particularly in any kind of traffic.


Oh yes.

I just had surgery that requires me to be on crutches for a few months, so I'm temporarily disabled.

If you're young and able-bodied (like me pre-surgery) and want to understand what it's like to not be young and able-bodied (which you almost definitely won't be at some point) you should put your right leg in a brace, and try not to let your foot hit the ground for a day or two and try to live that way. The ground is lava for one leg.

"Walking distance" means about a block or two before you get sore from crutches or your arms get tired or your hands fall asleep.

Disabled access is a godsend, everywhere. And while I can't cook a meal in my own kitchen because I can't move around and hold a plate of things at the same time, I can drive to get takeout and carry the bag inside.

The world changes when you can't easily walk.

Edit: Those electric scooters at Costco aren't as fast or fun as they look.


Cars are not the only solution here. Transporting a single disabled person does not require a 100+ horsepower 2-ton vehicle.


But doing it fast, cheap, and flexibly does.

Cars cost 50 cents a mile, go anywhere at as fast as anything that doesn't fly, and require negligible physical exertion or special skills to operate. When there is adequate infrastructure that's pretty optimal.


The point is, in a walkable city, nobody needs the speed. What's the point of driving at 40mph in a 10x10mi city vs using a scooter at 15mph? You'll probably hit a stoplight after hitting 20mph, and then waste braking to stop again.

Electric mobility scooters are, per-mile, much much cheaper than cars, and cost much less to purchase.


In your example a corner to corner trip would take ~90 minutes by scooter, considering the 20 mile Manhattan distance + stoplights. A ring highway would get you there in 15-20 minutes. Even a set of properly timed lights would allow 35mph traffic to cross the width in ~20 minutes - which notably can't be (or just never are?) efficiently timed for pedestrians/scooters.

for the extra hour+ that scooter would take (given no/low traffic) there is no price where its worth it vs the ~$10 that trip costs in a car. (20 miles, irs rate of ~50c/mile)


In a walkable city you don't need to go from one end of the city to the other. 10 mi. is insanity. You should be able to go a maximum of 2 mi. and find what you're looking for. I'm in a biking-density neighborhood, and have multiple grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, and furniture stores within 1 mi. of me. In a walking density neighborhood, I would expect that to all be available within 0.5 mi. of me.


Nobody needs to do much of anything, but people want to. 10 miles is 130th st to downtown Manhattan, a distance people most certainly either want or need to travel regularly. Even in the most culture/store/apartment dense corner of the country.

Now I'm all for effective public transit and dense neighborhoods, but walking and/or biking are simply worse for a lot of use cases.


I'm not familiar with Manhattan, are you describing the phenomenon of building dense commuter urban-areas and far-flung residential areas? Because that is not part of being a walkable neighborhood.

But what stops public transit from being the solution here? In fact, over a 10 mi. radius, public transit scales much better than single-occupancy vehicles, and even fully loaded sedans. Go to Tokyo and folks take trains all day. If you're taking about low-to-medium density areas (which isn't a city) then yes, cars are the most effective.


Car infrastructure is anything but cheap. Our suburbs are going broke, in a large part, because maintaining roads, bridges, parking lots, and solving drainage problems caused by these things is very expensive. Add to these the external costs of pollution and car crashes, and it gets even more absurd.

Most electric wheelchairs have 10+ mile ranges,can be fully recharged for pennies, require even less physical exertion and special skills than cars. And they don't put other residents at serious risk.


I was on crutches for a few months a number of years back when I broke my foot. Fortunately, I was able to switch to mostly working from home. But it was still really eye opening. I cut out most of my travel, didn't really go into the city at all, got home grocery delivery, etc.

I did find I was able to cook so long as I kept things simple and didn't do anything that would have required moving heavy pots around. Decent takeout options are pretty limited around where I live so I felt I had to just cope with cooking the best I could.


A lot of big-box retail chains (like Walmart) have mobility scooters to help folks like your mother. Mandating that open, pedestrian friendly spaces have some of these available should be pretty easy.

There are also disabilities that are exacerbated by driving rather than aiding. Legally blind folks can walk but have a much harder time driving.


If you can get the able-bodied out of their cars, then there's more room for those that really need a car. I only take my car when it's not practical to walk or ride my bicycle. And probably 80% of the time I'm in my car, I could easily be on my bicycle but there's no safe way to get where I'm going.

It's also a myth that disability automatically equals driving. I have a friend with impaired vision who can't drive but can ride a bicycle. I would like for him to be able to do that as safely as possible.


But when you are really old or disabled you can't drive either and then you are totally screwed. And your electric wheelchair is not usable in a typical US town.


On the other hand, not depending on cars helps a lot of disabled people. Busses and subways are generally made taking into account wheelchair use, plus visually impaired people can use transit systems where the stops are called out.


Accesibility is important, but for decades, urban centers were sacrificed to benefit suburban, car-dependent sprawl. Even now, much urban development is burdened by mandated parking requirements. But where space is at a premium and traffic congestion is already a nightmare, why encourage more cars? Private cars don't have to be the only option (here in Boston, the MBTA has services for the disables, and apparently Uber and Lyft are making a little progress in this area).


From the_gastropod below:

> Cars are not the only solution here. Transporting a single disabled person does not require a 100+ horsepower 2-ton vehicle.


Rendering a webpage does not require an 800+ watt 50-pound computer setup. A balanced diet does not require flavor. Clothes do not require coloring.

We can't just throw out having nice things because they aren't "required."


Your first analogy (50lb computer) is nonsense because that's exactly the point I'm saying: computers that fit on your pocket and are just a few grams can easily render a webpage. Who thinks that a 50lb computer is nice unless it's sophisticated hardware that can't be condensed? Cars are nice yes but there are plenty of other smaller and more nimble transportation devices. So weren't not throwing away nice things here.


The desktop computer will likely be a lot more responsive, let you do a lot more, have a higher resolution and screen size, let you have more tabs running at once, etc. Using nothing but a smartphone for all my home computer usage would be a major setback.


> Using nothing but a smartphone for all my home computer usage would be a major setback.

But that's not the analogy here. This is for the "last mile". Perhaps a more appropriate analogy is using a lightweight laptop (rather than a phone)


>>> We can't just throw out having nice things because they aren't "required."

I wouldn't assume driving for 30 min in traffic is "nicer" than a 30min train ride.


sidewalks are usually wheelchair accessible...


I'm one of those folks who would love to drop everything I have going to wander off into the desert/forest/underwater/whatever with the intention of bootstrapping a new city from scratch. The more I talk about it, I've found that there are a lot of people who would love such an adventure - if we could all just find some effort worth getting behind. It's sort of like starting a hippy commune, only with high-tech intentions. I'd rather embrace the world and one-up it than to hide away from it. I meet a lot of people who agree so I'm surprised there aren't more projects of this nature getting traction.


Need a kickstarter like system. Get 10,000 people to deposit $10,000 and you have got $100,000,000 to acquire a nice plot of land, set up planning and governance, and incorporate a new town. I'd be interested in seeing plans for such towns and would be interested in living in one.

Or one billionaire with similar ambitions.


I'd be down. I would be curious of how the governance would work for a situation like city-funding(?). Would funders get some special say, or are they simply along for the ride?

What if a corporation started a city instead of a billionaire? "Hello, welcome to Amazon!"


> Or one billionaire with similar ambitions.

I was with you until this part. I'd rather not live in a city with an 'owner'.


A benevolent dictator does have its advantages. For example being able to determine a culture until it's proven and critical mass makes it unlikely to change. It's comparable to the eternal September problem.

Say some 'hippies' try to bootstrap a city that's very walkable and people flock to it because they want to live in such a city. But it takes a while to get used to a new situation and during that time it's very easy to say "I like to walk to the shops, but I'm used to doing my groceries once a week, so allow me to use my car for that." Before you know the 'short-sighted yuppies' overwhelm the 'stubborn hippies' and cars are allowed everywhere one exception at a time.

The biggest disadvantages of a dictator are overcome by being able to move easily and the city being part of the larger legal framework of the country it's in.


Multiple of both types would be nice to have to see how they turn out. If you are not locking people in, the amount of dystopia that such a city could support should be minimal.


I would love to do that too. The problem is that you have to comply with the laws of whatever state/province/country on whose land you build the city, so you are often restricted in many ways - not least in understanding the regulations and working with the government to demonstrate compliance.

These guys https://www.seasteading.org/ are working towards building floating cities. In the short term, they want to figure out the technology part of it, but in the long term, they want to build cities in international waters and declare independence. Then you can do whatever you wanted to.


I believe there's still unincorporated land in the American Southwest. I've heard secondhand about a "new intentional city" project in Colorado. Someone had a big chunk of land; other people -- invite-only -- were buying lots.


It’s possible and been done. See this doc for a good example of this happening in US:

https://www.netflix.com/title/80145240


I think the Rajneesh movement is a pretty bad example of the kind of project the OP talks about. Among the ways it could be improved on, it would be nice to not destroy a town which was already there, to build a secular community without a cult leader, to avoid kidnapping and drugging homeless people, and to not poison hundreds of people in an attempt to interfere with an election. Oh, and maybe let people wear a color that isn't red.


I didn’t say the overall project was good. Just a good example of someone achieving “building a new city” goal.

It was a solid initiative after all. It just went sideways afterwards.

I’ve watched the doc and further read about the events. I didn’t want to spoil the doc with details.


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