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Fundamental rule of traffic: building new roads makes people drive more (2015) (vox.com)
244 points by jseliger 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 293 comments



In practical terms, we can consume as much transport as we get. If it was cheap and fast I could have ramen lunch in Tokyo. Pick up the kids from crèche in Portugal on my way home to New Zealand.

So, unless we get teleport watches... congestion is the "price," the thing that limits consumption. Economists would prefer the price to be price, being economists.

One thing this article leaves out is what the value of all this transport is. Maybe more roads don't solve congestion but they do produce more "goods," more Kms travelled. Presumably this has value.


There is also question of externalities. Building roads is not without hidden costs. Splitting communities in cities, making distances to travel longer because adding places for streets and parking places spreads infrastructure, air pollution killing people, lack of movement killing people, noise pollution, ugliness etc.

I really like Dutch approach. Take away some space from cars in order to build biking infrastructure. I live second year in Netherlands and I love it.


Bike infrastructure can in fact increase congestion.

Fivethirtyeight did a study in Minneapolis on bike lanes constructed earlier this decade and showed that bike lanes did increase congestion for 10 roads they looked at.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/bike-lanes-dont-cause-t...

Anecdotally, the mid sized city I lived in added a bike lane experimentally on my commute to work. The lanes going into the city decreased from 4 to 3 and immediately increased the amount of congestion. It also slowed my commute anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes based upon what time I left.

And the sad thing was, nobody used the new bike lane. I never saw a single rider use those lanes during my morning commute.


Adding a single bike line is like adding a single road in middle of nowhere. Dutch have bike infrastructure. Here you can go on a bike everywhere and leave bike everywhere. They have very clever solutions to avoid conflicts between cars and bikes, so it feels very safe and you can simply relax. Actually, some cities in Netherlands start to have issues with bike lines congestion :) .

https://bicycledutch.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/groningen07...

I was studying in Groningen and I can tell you this is a daily occurrence there, sometimes it's even worse since the photo is from a rainy day in winter :P .

From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycling_in_the_Netherlands

By 2012 cycling had grown tremendously in popularity. In Amsterdam alone, 490,000 cyclists took to the road to cycle 2 million kilometres every day, according to its city council statistics. This has caused some problems as, despite 35,000 kilometers of bicycle paths, the country's 18 million bicycles (1.3 per citizen old enough to ride) sometimes clog Dutch cities' busiest streets. This is being addressed by building even more bike lanes to tackle a problem many other cities in the world would envy — that of bicycle traffic congestion.

Also, it takes time to build biking culture. And as a side note, biking infrastructure in Groningen was build on anti-car sentiments. They wanted to get rid of cars from the city, not to relive car congestion. They did get rid of them especially from the center and the city is now lovely for pedestrians and cyclists. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/29/how-groningen...


Your windshield perspective is showing. The reason people in cars don't notice bike traffic is because a bike is small and unobtrusive and silent. Fifty cars in the same place is an epic disaster but fifty bikes in the same place is not a problem.

Take for example this data in London, which was produced in response to a question from a member of the public having essentially the same bias as your statement "nobody uses this bike lane." In London some bike lanes have slightly increased travel times by car but cycling has increased more than 50%. The bike lane is five times more efficient at moving people than is the carriageway.

http://foi.tfl.gov.uk/FOI-1235-1718/20170317%20STB%20CSEW%20...


> In London some bike lanes have slightly increased travel times by car but cycling has increased more than 50%.

50% of anything near zero is still darn close to zero. But at the same token, a 5 minute increase for 1000 people is a loss of 5000 minutes.

> The reason people in cars don't notice bike traffic is because a bike is small and unobtrusive and silent.

False. A single bike sticks out like a sore thumb in traffic -- even if there's a bike lane. In this case, I was so pissed off at the increase of my commute I started to count bikes in the bike lane, and I saw exactly zero.


The paper has the number of bikers. But I’m sure your statistically representative research of ‘watching for bikers while driving once’ is much more worthwhile.


My apologies. It was 0 over the course of 30 days of commuting. Exactly 0.


Have you considered using the bike lane yourself?


To start off that’s ableist. And reeks of privilege (can he afford to live a biking distance to work?)

But that doesn’t matter - someone unilaterally changes something and everyone else is supposed to get with the program or find a hole to die in.


I don't think its ableist, I wasn't suggesting that there shouldn't be a road for cars, or that they should even bike themselves. I was just wondering if they had considered why they didn't want to use it as that might shed light on why it wasn't a successful bike lane.


Like the motorists changed laws concerning pedestrian traffic and road laws?


Yes, but I have a life long history of listening to horror stories of people on bikes getting hit by cars.

These days, I fly back and forth to work, so it makes little sense to use a bike.


> so pissed off

> single bike sticks out like a sore thumb

Now it totally makes sense.


Well when you have to dodge an unfit person going up a hill you notice.

I’m all for bike lanes. And bicycle licenses. Can’t go up the 80 percentile hill in your town at 20 mph? You fail.


There are plenty of places in US that are exactly as OP has described. This is not because bike lanes aren't inefficient per se, but because they're often built in the wrong places, or lack other infrastructure.


Lack of related infrastructure is a real problem.

Bike lanes built one at a time, and not connected. So, if you happen to live and work along a single bike lane, great. If not, you're back in the car.

Lack of bicycle facilities at destinations. My office has a tiny, poorly constructed rack outdoors. I wouldn't trust it to hold my bicycle, even with a good lock. Much of the USA is warm or hot in summer, so anything more than a few miles on the bike results in lots of sweating, so showers at offices would be helpful.

In places where bicycle infrastructure is provided, it is well used. The first Reston Metro stop (Weihle Station) has a large, locked bike room with nice racks and a small workbench area. The station is located right off one of the regions main multi-use paths. That bike room is heavily utilized.

Sadly, the second Reston Metro station, Reston Town Center, doesn't provide any infrastructure at all. No bike storage, no parking, nothing. Not sure what the heck the county was thinking when planning this station.


> Bike lanes built one at a time, and not connected.

That's probably the number one problem of bike lanes.

The second problem is that if you add a bike lane, you have to take something away. Usually it's parking or traffic lanes. And neither of those are super popular.

> Much of the USA is warm or hot in summer, so anything more than a few miles on the bike results in lots of sweating

Or there's snow on the ground 4 months out of the year, and makes it a real pain to commute on a bike. Or in several places, you have both. Chicago comes to mind.


On street parking is a horrible thing to have in any urban area. That MUST be banned.

Bike lanes are beneficial in urban areas, and that's pretty much it.

But when it comes to US, the bike lanes is the last thing when it comes to the kindergarten level of infrastructure planning. In my experience infrastructure in US was planned exclusively by NIMBYs...


Increase congestion...for the people still using the car instead of the shiny new bike lane. Use the bike and problem solved, for those that don't, well suit yourself.

And as others noted. A single bike line without connecting lanes will not change people's commute. Changing habit is also something that doesn't happen over a day or even a year. It might take 5 years for the effect to show.


Sounds like Austin, where the prevailing wisdom is to covert car lanes to bike lanes. Which causes nothing but problems because the couple people a day who use the lanes in no way compensates for the cascading problems as fewer cars can drive through an intersection during a light cycle, which means the cross streets start to pile up/etc.


This is happening in New York right now. Massive investment in bike infrastructure. But congestion hasn’t improved at all. Combined with increased ride sharing, NYC roads are now 15% slower. We need solutions for average people, not high brow idealism for people who have fancy bikes and showers at work.

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/12/ride-ha...


Average newyorker isn't a driver, dear. Congestion isn't going to go away in NYC. Mostly because New York wasn't built for this much traffic in the first place... And new bike lanes is a welcome sight in NYC. Based on how much CitiBikes move around the city, you can easily determine that those bike lanes are a welcome change.

But then... I haven't been to a city with a good motor vehicle infrastructure in a long time. Certainly none of the major US cities are designed well to handle even remotely appropriate levels of private motor vehicle use.

PS: I have a car in NYC. Use it for some cases, but would never drive daily in NYC.


That works great in countries one can bike across in a day. It’s not really a solution for American commuters. People mainly choose long commutes for housing affordability. When workers can’t afford to live within biking distance of work, then it’s not a viable solution.


And why, exactly, can't they afford to live within biking distance from work?

Because 1) You're not allowed to build mixed-use areas thanks to NIMBYs

2) You're not allowed to build high or mid-density areas thanks to NIMBYs

3) You're not allowed to build real bike routes (the kind you'd let your 8 year old cycle to school alone on) because of NIMBYs

4) You could cycle the long distances needed on the road, but the US has made it legal to kill people with your car so long as you're sober, so this is dangerous.

Nobody's driving from NYC to LA for their morning commute. The size of the country is not relevant.


I commute 25 miles on-way around Chicago. I used to be an avid cyclist and would have loved to bike to work. I don't for a variety of reasons. My current job doesnt have any shower facilities, so I cannot clean up after the ride in. I also have arthritis in my neck & back that makes my head & arms go numb after less than 5 minutes of riding. I would move closer, but that puta me prohibitively far away from my step kids.

The size of the country is relevant; not everything is as dense as LA, NYC, SFC. Chicago being the 3rd largest metro area is also probably one of the least dense. I cannot reasonnnably bike from my home into the Loop. Between shit roads, bad neighborhoods and generally not wanting to die. Not to mention, it is infeasible at least 3 months of the year.

Also, your argument 4 is just wrong and FUD. It is no where legal to just hit a cyclist and kill them. Probably the slightest you will get is negligent vehicular manslaughter, if you are found to be at fault with no other extenuating circumstances. If you are not at fault, you might likely not face charges.

Obviously not dead, but I was the victim where a car ran a stop sign and T-boned while I was on a bike. The driver, who did stop and offer assistance, was ticketed (I think failure to yield right of way, failure to yield to avoid an accident), faced court, around $500 in fines and had to pay my medical costs (about $20k) amd to replace my bike (about $3500). His insurance took most of the brunt, but I was fully compensated for my losses.


For your arms going numb you should try a recumbent bike. They drastically reduce the stress on the upper body.


This a thousand times over! Love my Bacchetta. Cuts through headwinds like butter too!


>4) You could cycle the long distances needed on the road, but the US has made it legal to kill people with your car so long as you're sober, so this is dangerous.

No, the US accepts that traffic accidents happen, and absent irresponsible behavior like drunk driving, drivers should not be held responsible for accidents. When these accidents involve collisions between cars, they're usually simple fender-benders. When similar collisions happen between cars and bicycles, they often lead to serious injury or even death.

It's an extremely dangerous idea to have bicycles and cars travelling side by side in such close proximity with such narrow bicycle lanes. What we need is proper bike lanes with lane separators protecting them from traffic.


I think operating your car in a way that kills a cyclist, where there could be cyclists (anywhere not the freeway) should be criminal negligence, not an "accident". Presumed liability laws exist in places that are nice to cycle so drivers know they could face real legal consequences.

I can't go accidentally shooting people on the street and expect just a fine.

Generally people who kill others with their car get off fine, so long as they're sober. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/is-it-ok-t...


>I can't go accidentally shooting people on the street and expect just a fine.

On the other hand if a gun range built a pathway for people downrange right by the targets, you wouldn't be the one responsible if you accidently shoot someone. It would be the gun range's fault for creating such a dangerous setup in the first place.


Very true. The designers of modern roads are culpable for many, many deaths. People were outraged much as we are by school shootings when drivers first started killing people. http://thedollop.libsyn.com/193-when-the-cars-came


Agreed. If you are driving in an area where there are bikes or pedestrians around you should slow to about 30km/h.


If hit at 25 mph people survive 90% of the time. At 50 mph they die 90% of the time. Yet many cities in the US plop 45 mph roads where people live.


It's easy to blame NIMBYism but unless those proposals are actually being brought to planning sessions then it's not really true.


You only bring a proposal to a planning session if it's close enough to existing zoning that the variance might be considered reasonable.

Dramatic upzoning is only brought to the table when the NIMBYs are seen as weak enough that it might stand a chance.


Plus, you can’t just go into an area with infrastructure capable of supporting 10k people and Just Add Housing™. What about the electric grid? Water and sewer? Schools, parking, trash pickup, etc. You have to have a plan to update all of these. The simple solution of just building urban apartment blocks everywhere won’t work.


We’ve built cities before, we can do it again. Infrastructure is cheaper with economies of scale than in sprawl. Remember, the people you don’t house still exist and live somewhere.


What a sad perspective. How did anything ever get built in the first place?


>What about the electric grid? Water and sewer? Schools, parking, trash pickup, etc.

Property taxes can pay for these updates once the additional housing is built, it's self-financing. (Of course this won't work in CA, due to Prop 13. But then again, it was a ballot initiative, and those crazy folks in California voted for it. It's all self-inflicted pain on their part.)


The usual response here is that existing residents shouldn’t be taxed to pay for later arrivals’ infrastructure needs.


Meh... I don't think there would be too many NIMBY complaints in Fresno or Visailia if Facebook and Google decided to put offices over there.


People in Southern California routinely commute 50 miles. Expecting your groundskeeper to ride a century on top of his actual job is sick and cruel.


1) That's an absurd straw man.

2) Expecting your groundskeeper to drive a century on top of his (or her) actual job is pretty sick and cruel too

3) I'm pleased you mention Southern California as it's a useful case study of how to turn a pleasant area in to a dystopian hellscape. I've lived in Westwood (near UCLA), Santa Monica, and most recently San Diego (South Park - a fairly upscale neighborhood).

I routinely attended meetings of the planning group for South Park, where the attendees, all of whom were homeowners aside from me (and elderly), opposed ANY new housing of ANY sort ANYWHERE. They were blunt about their reasoning - it might hurt their home values. Of course, keeping homes expensive is a great way to ensure your groundskeeper can't live near work.

They also hated bike lanes, because they thought it would affect parking. It's rather sickening they cared more about places for cars to sleep than for people to sleep.

https://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/profiles/greater... if you care to go yourself. The area's taxpayers will even give you free parking welfare.

Thankfully I escaped SoCal (and the US), but not everyone (including, perhaps, your gardener) is able to do that.


Its almost as if buying and responsibly maintaining your property gave you privlidges.


Over your own property, yes, Don't tell me I have to pay for your "free" (aka taxpayer subsidized) on-street parking. Or stop me from turning a lovely old 4 bedroom home in a nice neighbourhood in to two apartments because you want to live on a skidpad.


It says a lot more about your worldview than the original poster's that you jump to assuming a 50 mile bike, rather than the simpler notion that people live close to where they work.

Is it really so shocking to live that close to a gardener? What is outlandish about that?


> Is it really so shocking to live that close to a gardener? What is outlandish about that?

I think it's not that people refuse to live next to a gardener, it's that the job of gardener does not allow for an income that someone could afford to live close by given the housing market. It might not be 50 miles, but there are areas of affluence where it would take awhile for a low-income person to reach. There are also areas of affluence right next to considerably run-down (but famous) areas, such as Hollywood. Then again, I'm not sure how much housing there is in the run-down portions.


In many areas like DC, poor streets are a few blocks from rich areas. Land is plentiful, and density is cheap. It’s only artificial constraints that cause high housing costs.


Well of course not. That's exactly why the person you are responding to talked about zoning. Without NIMBYs, you could upzone and solve most housing cost issues.


Southern California is dense and sprawling. Not very vertically dense, mind you, but I'm not sure there's a lot of existing room for new development without displacing people, and I'm also not sure any new development would lower housing costs enough to support the workforce in question. It would take a massive amount of high-density housing to get costs low in certain areas, and low-cost housing doesn't exactly draw in the developers.

It may have started as NIMBY, but I think natural market forces eventually reinforce it to the degree that NIMBY isn't necessarily the largest factor at play at this point.


Name one place on Southern California that breaks 25,000 people per square km. It’s all low density.

Manila by comparison is 71,263/km2 in it’s core. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manila


Given the 500 square miles of Los Angeles and the 4 million people population, that's about a 60' by 60' plot of land per person. Given that doesn't include roads, highways, industrial or commercial zoning, and that people will group in housing (families), I think that's fairly dense for the type of housing which is currently in place, which is homes homes with yards.

It's not dense relative to other types of metro areas, but I think it's probably fairly dense for single level housing in an industrialized nation.

My point wasn't to imply that Southern California was very densely housed, but that there may not be a huge amount of unutilized land left to build high density housing one, at least not enough to really change the dynamics. And once the conversation shifts from just what to build and where to also who to displace to build it, it's an much harder conversation.

I could be entirely wrong, I don't live in LA, but my impression every time I visit is that there's not a lot of unused land, even if the land that is used isn't used efficiently (population density wise). If that's true, it's not just a NIMBY situation (even if it might have traditionally been one), as it's also a "don't displace historical group X that's been living in this area for decades" situation (whether entirely accurate or not).


We have not been limited to single story buildings for thousands of years. Saying this is the kind of housing currently in place really is irrelevant, because that argument would apply to farming communities etc. Instead High density means something and nowhere in California applies which is why housing is expensive.

PS: It’s a question of underutilization, where it would be economically profitable to take each of these buildings down and replace them with more useful structures.


As efficient as it may be, demolishing homes is about as bad an image as you could project. Few with political ambition would touch it with a pole.


Demolish the parking.


Whwn the vikings settled Dublin they set up some huts along the river.

Therefore the riverfront should be low density huts forever I guess.


That has little to do with what I'm saying. I'm not saying development shouldn't happen, I'm saying it won't on any quick timescale because of the existing infrastructure and how people fight to avoid change. All I'm saying is that rezoning to allow different building types won't lead to enough new housing immediately starting, nor even the change a decade from now being sufficient. A lot of things are required to fix the problem, and new zoning is just one of them.


The assumption that increasing development leads to displacement is misplaced. Homeowners could turn a single family home into a triplex, adding two new units without displacing anyone. There are also always people trying to sell and move in any housing market. Building new housing leads to less displacement: http://cityobservatory.org/if-you-want-less-displacement-bui...


As a homeowner, I bought my home so I would not have to live in a goddamn apartment. Its going to be a very tough sell to have me rent to strangers, even with the equity boost. I value my space, therefore real estate is expensive.


So.. don't? Not sure what the problem is here.

Out of respect for property rights though, please don't make it illegal for your neighbour to do this to their home should they choose.


I specified Southern California. If you’re unfamiliar with the dynamics of the region it makes sense that you think it’s outlandish.


The "dynamics" of SoCal are atrocious, you get the privelege of wasting your life away in traffic to do the simplest things.

Public transit is a bad joke too, the light rail in LA waits for cars to pass at intersections! I've never seen that in other metros, as rail always gets signal priority, but it is a great way to drive away riders...


We can discuss the practicalites of commuting on the sun, too, if you like.


It might also be worth starting to let go of the notion that you need 2000+ sq ft and a 1/4 acre yard as a minimum. Roads are effectively a subsidy to that life style (everyone shouldn't be forced to pay for the life style of a few).


I could do without the yard, but I couldn't imagine having much less than what we have now (1962 sq feet). 3 kids (1 a surprise - yay twins for the second pregnancy) plus a home office because I work from home.


Yes, once you are used to that kind of space, it’s hard to go back. Hedonistic treadmill and all (or some kind of treadmill). People in the 60s had larger families with smaller houses. However, to fulfill our expectations of progress, House sizes in America keep growing decade after decade.

I’m fully guilty of this myself too. But like all things it cannot keep growing indefinitely.

http://www.aei.org/publication/new-us-homes-today-are-1000-s...


Your link's lowest datapoint has the average/median square feet per person at 500/550 square feet, back around 1973. I'm at 392 square feet per person. I'm not sure I'm on a hedonistic treadmill, but if it is I'm in a time warp.

Beyond that, the stats in that article are just plain bad because it ignores the fact that not everyone lives in a new house, but it still compares the average household size to ONLY new homes built in that year.


Sorry, I was on mobile and found the first link. But I think the stats aren't as bad as you think. For any given year, you will have some inventory disappear completely. There is also new inventory being built. So, the average house size of all houses is also increasing. Not as much as the average new house size, but definitely increasing. Most people don't live in old houses from the 60s.

I would actually ignore the average household size. We already know that that that decreasing over time.

Note that I didn't intend my comment to be a personal attack on you. I'm merely trying to point out this trend. Apologies if I came off that way. But your case also highlights another fact that was rare back in the day -- using your house as an office is increasingly becoming viable or necessary for those doing remote work.


Yeah, between smaller households and new houses being built being on average larger, the trend certainly is that we are getting more square feet for less people. I just think the article does a lot of things with the numbers that are questionable.

I didn't take it personally, but I also didn't quite know the best way to respond either. I probably didn't do the best job at it.


I don’t think advocating lower standards of living is good persuasion. Also, roads are observably popular, because people desire to both go places and to have things delivered.


Spending an hour in traffic each day is not exactly my idea of a high standard of living.


Different people are in different life stages and thus have different preferences.


> When workers can’t afford to live within biking distance of work, then it’s not a viable solution.

This is a catch 22 because the way our cities are designed in America makes them unaffordable. American zoning in most cities prohibits the kind of dense mixed use development that makes low cost housing near work possible. We need to reform the zoning code in most cities and improve bike safety, walkability and public transportation to make headway.


Lack of mid-distance transit is also a huge problem.

Mid-sized USA cities tend to have half decent transit around their urban core (often woefully under-served especially in cities that don't have either trains/subways or else dedicated right-of-way for buses, but none-the-less serviceable).

However, the thing that mid-sized cities almost uniformly lack in the US is any form of regional commuter rail.


We have regional commute rail in the SF Bay Area and in the NYC Metropolitan Region. It doesn't seem to have done much except drive up housing prices near rail stations and create silliness like 5-yr waiting lists for parking at them.

It seems clear that commuter rail is not a silver bullet. Housing density is probably what we really need.


It's both. Rail lets you be more flexible about where to put that density.


Counter-anecdotes: in Chicago (e.g., UP-N), Boston (e.g., Fitchburg), and much of Europe (e.g., many major cities in Germany), the commuter rail systems do take you out into very affordable areas.


I used to commute into SF from Redwood City with the Caltrain. If I couldn't have taken a bike with me on the train, it would have been impossible because the last mile at both ends was completely undoable with local buses.


I can easily see that it would improve my quality of life a lot if there were a bunch of customer-facing businesses interspersed with housing in a dense city block. I would love to be able to take a quick five minute walk to grab that random tool I need or that last ingredient I need for a recipe; my life could be so much more spontaneous!

I have more trouble seeing where the 500 seat office for a global enterprise should go on my city block. it seems like that sort of space would lead to a dead feeling at night when everyone goes home and the space sits empty.


Look at big cities around the world and you'll find buildings with retail at the bottom and office space further up. I don't think it would be an issue, unless you stroll around the sky at night.


Come to Berlin or any other major European metropolis to see how that works out. Plenty of bigger office buildings in the middle of the city where lots of people commute to them with bicycles, public transport and even walking. Right next to apartment buildings with small businesses and restaurants and cafes.

Turns out when you don't need to allocate space for 500 cars around a building, you can build it in a single city block and coexist with other types of buildings. And you even get a rooftop with a view as a bonus.


"more Kms travelled. " might have some value if it means a trip that wasn't taken before is taken now. It has _negative_ value, massively so, if it means people who used to have 10km commutes all move farther out and have 20km commutes instead but cheaper housing. This seems to be what happens.

More people will die horrible deaths in their cars, more people will die walking and cycling, more people will die because their understandable fear of walking and cycling gives them a sedentary lifestyle, more people will die from cancer, lung disease, etc, more wildlife habitat will be destroyed, more sound and light pollution will destroy mental health and disturb wildlife, and the planet will boil a little bit sooner. But those are externalities and not borne by the person choosing to drive more.

But all of this is apparently just fine. Adults matter too of course, but it's striking that cars (drivers, really) are the thing that kills more kids than anything else, and yet people do. not. care. I'm astonished how much outrage there is over kids being killed by bullets but not those killed by cars. People in the US accept it as normal, though. When I pointed out I cared more about automotive violence than gun violence people would look at me like I had 3 heads. And then joke about running over cyclists.

On the bright side, it might encourage those who are able to emigrate somewhere nicer (Netherlands and the Nordics, basically), so I guess it's a gain to those countries.


> It has _negative_ value, massively so, if it means people who used to have 10km commutes all move farther out and have 20km commutes instead but cheaper housing.

Is that because affordable houses are worthless?

So, instead of solving the housing crisis, city planners do nothing on the matter, but go and ration transportation too, so people... well, gain nothing because they will be the same time in traffic.


Of course not - affordable homes are great. Building more homes near the places people need to be will help make them more affordable. But nobody ever got votes by campaigning to reduce home prices. Perhaps because you have to live in a place to vote for those governing said place.


Rationing transport does not solve that problem. It does nothing at all to solve it, just makes it worse.


You can build homes near where oeople want to be, or farther. Or hope people emigrate or die. Which is better for transport?


Spending less on housing has tremendous value for the people who benefit from it, including the ability to pay for better medical treatment, and lead an overall happier life. It's unclear what evidence you have that the net effect would be an increase in the overall number of deaths, or - more importantly - human suffering.

Other than that I do not really understand your "astonishment": you've artificially constructed a personal axiom that has never applied to human society - namely that people should care equally about every casualty, regardless of circumstances or causes, or the impact of those causes on society as a whole - and are then surprised that others don't follow this model.


" namely that people should care equally about every casualty, regardless of circumstances or causes, "

Where did I do that?

A thought experiment - how does your reaction to "cyclist on sidewalk kills child on bike" compare to "driver in street kills child on bike" ? I suggest they should be the same.

I understand we may simply have utterly and drastically different worldviews and priorities. This sort of thing is part of why I moved away from a profoundly hostile city.


We both want affordable housing. I just want it to be legal to build it closer to jobs.

Driving is dangerous, as are its byproducts. More driving kills more people.


If the choice is between cheaper housing with a longer commute, or expensive housing with shorter commute, it's completely unclear that the latter is more beneficial to humanity than the former, even if we only consider the number of deaths caused by each scenario. At the very least you haven't presented any evidence that this is so.


That is not the choice.


When people say that doing X has "negative value", they usually mean that it has negative value compared to not doing X, not compared to some imaginary solution that doesn't exist in reality.


If I could teleport around like that instantly, I'd be acting like that too.

However, real-world transport has a real cost: time (in addition to money for fuel/maintenance/insurance/etc.). If teleporting was cheap but took 3 hours for every trip, I'm not going to be having any kind of lunch in Tokyo unless I'm living there.

The weird thing is how much time Americans are willing to waste on a commute. So many of them think nothing of spending 1-2 hours in traffic, each way, every workday, just so they can have some big McMansion in the exurbs with a giant lawn they have to spend hours maintaining every weekend.

>Maybe more roads don't solve congestion but they do produce more "goods," more Kms travelled. Presumably this has value.

When people don't do anything with all those kms traveled than move farther out of the metro area and extend their commute, no, I don't really see the value to society there. Rather, I see that it has a real cost to society for people to waste their time and money on these things, rather than things that provide positive economic value to the society at large. Don't forget that more miles driven means more accidents, more traffic deaths and maimings, etc., all of which cost society. Plus all the pollution produced.


>just so they can have some big McMansion in the exurbs with a giant lawn they have to spend hours maintaining every weekend.

What other options provide good public schools, homes that are pleasant to be inside, and a clean/safe/well-functioning environment?

I hate sprawl and fast-casual architecture as much as the next guy, but it is the only thing that can grow at scale under our economic and political reality. Alternatives only exist because they were created in a different era, under different constraints. Their supply is fixed and dwindling. So of course we are going to see a large and growing segment of the population in the only kind of housing it's both legal and profitable to build.

Also, by the way, the median driving commute is closer to 25 minutes. Commuting 1-2 hours each way is something transit riders do; for drivers it's very rare.


>What other options provide good public schools, homes that are pleasant to be inside, and a clean/safe/well-functioning environment?

Try traveling to Europe or Japan sometime. They have dense cities with nice homes, great public schools, and a clean and safe environment. Japan in particular has basically zero crime. Cities in Europe are walkable and bikeable, and it's commonplace to have residential units on top of commercial space so that people can easily walk to a nearby cafe or restaurant or grocery store. You see this in NYC too to an extent.

>I hate sprawl and fast-casual architecture as much as the next guy, but it is the only thing that can grow at scale under our economic and political reality.

Continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Sprawl doesn't scale, that's the whole problem: you're just going to get worse commute times, more traffic congestion, etc. It isn't going to help, it's going to hurt.

>So of course we are going to see a large and growing segment of the population in the only kind of housing it's both legal and profitable to build.

Then you need to change the laws.

>Commuting 1-2 hours each way is something transit riders do; for drivers it's very rare.

Here in the DC area, it's extremely common.


>Try traveling to Europe or Japan sometime

Most people shop for housing where there job and family are; international migration is a big deal. Japan is very hard to immigrate to if you lack Japanese ancestry.

>Continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity

>Then you need to change the laws.

Land use policy is made by a small, elite, politically active subset of incumbents. People looking for a place to live, and choosing the best of the available options for their circumstances, are not to blame for the abysmal nature of the available options. This is the whole problem. Market demand has little to no influence on what can be built. It's inappropriate to look down on people for moving to suburbia. The scorn is rightly placed with activists and politicians for crippling our cities so badly that suburbia manages to be better.

>Here in the DC area, it's extremely common.

The data say 32 minutes [0]. This is high compared to the national 25, but no, 1-2 hours is not the norm even there.

[0] https://wtop.com/traffic/2017/04/dc-area-has-2nd-longest-ave...


"What other options provide good public schools, homes that are pleasant to be inside, and a clean/safe/well-functioning environment?"

Cities at one time were far superior to non-cities in precisely those ways. It is not an inherent flaw of cities, just a problem with how we manage American cities.


Regular people deciding where to live is at most a very small input into how we manage American cities.


At one time? Go to cities in Europe or Japan and they still are!


The weird thing is how much time Americans are willing to waste on a commute.

Some studies have basically found that people chronically overvalue how happy a nice house will make them, and undervalue how unhappy a long commute will make them. I don't know if Americans are uniquely guilty of this, but humans are prone to lots of little errors like this.


I spent the last year living 30 minutes walk from work in Central London.

Neither the 4 mile walk through congested, diesel-fumed London or the small, expensive flat with single glazed windows did make me happier.

I now live 30 miles outside London and take a 30 minute train to work. It is much cheaper, much more pleasant (I stand on the train most of the time) and I get to hear the birds and smell the fresh air when I wake up or go outside.


It sounds like your commute duration didn't change.


Um, I don't see your point here. You swapped a 30-minute commute for a 30-minute commute....


I don't know a single American commuter who thinks nothing of spending 1-2 hours in traffic each way. Every commuter I know balks at a single way commute of more than 30 minutes. Any commuter I know that has ever spent more than 1 hour in traffic each way moved within a couple years to be closer.

You're assigning beliefs to Americans that, in my experience, they don't have in any significant numbers.


When I lived and worked in the DC area from 1989 to 1998, it was automatically assumed by everyone I knew that if you were going to commute anywhere by car and you had to intersect with major infrastructure like the beltway, then you'd be spending at least an hour on the road, just to go one way. So, that's a one-hour commute right there for many people in the Northern Virginia/DC/Suburban Maryland area.

And at that time, I knew people who commuted down to the Pentagon from Baltimore, so spending 2-3 hours on their commute, one-way.

When I lived in Brussels, Belgium from 1999 to 2006 and worked for a Dutch consulting company, there was a period of time where my commute was 1.5-2.0 hours one-way to go up to the company offices in Veldhoven, or to a customer site at Eindhoven.

Living here in Austin since 2006, during rush hour, any commute involving any of the major infrastructure (360, MoPac, I-35, etc...) is likely to take at least 30 minutes, if not an hour or more. When there isn't any traffic, that same commute might take just fifteen minutes.

When my brother-in-law lived and worked in the LA area many years ago, until he made a point of moving to an apartment that was ridiculously close to the office, he was frequently spending two or more hours on the road, one-way. And that's when traffic was reasonably good and there weren't major jams that turned into eighteen-plus hours on the road, one-way.

Just because you don't have a given type or amount of experience, doesn't mean that your experience is universal in this regard.

I certainly realize that my experience is not universal, but I do have multiple instances in my life where I saw those kinds of numbers on a regular basis. And I knew plenty of people at the time who had similar experiences to mine.


>When I lived and worked in the DC area from 1989 to 1998, it was automatically assumed by everyone I knew that if you were going to commute anywhere by car and you had to intersect with major infrastructure like the beltway, then you'd be spending at least an hour on the road, just to go one way. So, that's a one-hour commute right there for many people in the Northern Virginia/DC/Suburban Maryland area.

It hasn't changed, and if anything it's worse. The traffic on I-66 into town every morning looks like a parking lot, all so a bunch of people can live in McMansions in Manassas and Haymarket and Gainesville.

>And at that time, I knew people who commuted down to the Pentagon from Baltimore, so spending 2-3 hours on their commute, one-way.

Yep, I've met people who live in DC and commute to Baltimore (because they don't want to live in Baltimore...), and people who live in NoVA and commute to Annapolis.

This stuff is common here. You can see it in the massive traffic jams on I-66 and on the beltway every workday: those people aren't getting to work in 15-30 minutes in that traffic.


> So many of them think nothing of spending 1-2 hours in traffic, each way, every workday, just so they can have some big McMansion in the exurbs with a giant lawn they have to spend hours maintaining every weekend.

That would be a poor decision indeed. But more likely, in my experience, is that they live far from their work because there is no affordable housing near their work.


That's not my experience at all, even here in the DC area. Houses far from work still cost a lot, what's different is the cost per square foot. The problem is that those people aren't willing to live in a smaller dwelling, or a non-single-family home. Then they whine about there not being any "affordable housing" because they can't afford a free-standing house with a giant lawn right in the middle of (or close to) the city. There is affordable housing, but it means they need to settle for a condo or townhouse.


Except for the fact that building more roads != more commerce. In fact, roads often DECIMATE the communities they are built through. Ask the rural United States how building a bunch of highways through their towns to the local Walmart has gone for them. Roads for cars are much less efficient for commerce than community oriented walkable streets.[0]

Also, maintaining roads is expensive. Once you build a new road it is politically unpopular to get rid of it. Who really benefits from the new road being built? The businesses that can afford to build a long the new highway and have a massive amount of parking around it. IE: Taco Bell, WalMart, etc. The people road construction businesses the government shovels money to. [1]

We have a CRUMBLING infrastructure in the US, and people are constantly complaining about potholes in major metropolitan areas. And the solution is build more roads? We cannot even maintain the ones we have!

[0] https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/1/16/why-walkable-s... [1] https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme


>Ask the rural United States how building a bunch of highways through their towns to the local Walmart has gone for them.

Might be hard to get an answer given that most places didn’t build highways to Walmarts.

Either way, consumers tend to shop at their local Walmart regardless of the road to it. Consumers seem to consistently pick Walmart over overpriced local businesses nearly everywhere except for wealthy, dense cities where people can afford to avoid the unpleasantness of shopping the giant things with lower class people.


One thing this article leaves out is what the value of all this transport is.

Trips do have value. When you sell something on Craigslist, the economic activity you are generating depends on the road network, and that transport event can be said to have value.

The epiphany that hit me though is that all the most valuable transport is already happening. Less valuable transport that isn't worth sitting in traffic for, is passed over.

This is key- it means that having roads is good, as it provides transport for those most valuable trips. However expanding the road adds only the less valuable trips. It's wicked diminishing returns- the road is more and more expensive to expand, and the trips/economic activity it adds are less and less valuable. The first two lanes were the cheapest to build and the most valuable to society, and every pair after that is worth less & less.


>Economists would prefer the price to be price, being economists.

I mean, of course. If you pay for something with money, then someone else gets the money. If you pay for something with time, then that time is just gone.

>One thing this article leaves out is what the value of all this transport is. Maybe more roads don't solve congestion but they do produce more "goods," more Kms travelled. Presumably this has value.

A lot of the "value" winds up in making far-flung homes part of the housing market for people working at centers of employment. Suburbanization, basically.


Maybe more roads don't solve congestion but they do produce more "goods," more Kms travelled. Presumably this has value.

It does, which is one reason why (in the United States, anyway), highways are paid for by the governments — to spur commerce.

In contrast, railroads (at least in the United States) still mostly have to pay for their infrastructure, which is one reason why passenger rail is in the shape it's in.


It kind of does. But only to a certain point; in some cases you're just shuffling growth around the region rather than stimulating new regional growth.

A lot of road capacity is needed, but a lot of it is also purely wasteful and entirely caused by social choice.

E.g., the parking lot for the store needs to hold the Black Friday parking demand ->

the store is now too far from the street to walk home with bags ->

everyone drives to the store and there is congestion ->

the street must be widened to accommodate the congestion -->

the street is now too wide to cross or walk along safely -->

everybody drives, etc.

The suburbs are now vastly overbuilt as a result. Nassau County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country yet has been fiscally monitored by New York State since 2000 because it cannot afford the lifecycle cost of infrastructure or services for such a low-density, sprawly environment. And this is despite very high property taxes, to the point where the population is starting to decline.


Looks like New York State did a terrible job at fiscally monitoring them then: https://theislandnow.com/featured/nassaus-fiscal-crisis-bord...

It reads like that county is a complete shit show and not necessarily indicative of the sustainability of low density.


Nassau county isn’t a city, so the state pays almost all of its major road costs on its behalf.


They cover some of it, but in FY2019 $24.9M of County Debt will be issued for $44.5M of capital expenditure on roads: https://www.nassaucountyny.gov/DocumentCenter/View/23320#pag...

This is actually part of the problem of the American model; larger entities are always willing to foot the bill, so why bother assessing the economic feasibility of a project?


That’s peanuts for that kind of work. New York spends something like $17B annually on transportation with about 40% federal share.

I agree with your second point, especially as the feds only fund capital costs and state and local has to do maintenance, which they are awful at. The smart strategy is to fund minimum viable operations costs, let stuff crumble and get more capital $ to rebuild!


Agreed. I don’t get why induced demand is always presented as a bad thing. The title here is a perfect example. It “makes” people travel more, as if this is a bad thing people are being forced to do against their will. If we reframe it by saying it “allows” people to travel more then suddenly it becomes a good thing!

Of course we should carefully consider all the costs and externalities of road expansion before doing it. But it’s all too often presented as being completely pointless or having no redeeming features at all, so there’s no point in even considering it.


in just economic terms, it means our supply and demand curves are out of whack. we have an insatiable demand for additional roads at the current price level. alternatively speaking, we "use up" all new road capacity because the price is so low (it feels like it costs us nothing extra).

road users are insulated from actual costs, since road costs are both subsidized and pass through an intermediary (government, taxes).

since it's costly, inefficient, and politically unpalatable to directly create an efficient marketplace for roads themselves (by building a bunch of competing ones), economists urge regulators to create a market for road use and price in maintenance costs and externalities (pollution, things that Isinlor mentions): tolling, congestion pricing, gas taxes, etc.

if we correctly price road use and there is still great demand, it means we should build more roads. instead, the perverse logic currently employed is that insatiable demand should be a reason not to build roads because (it seems like) we'd never meet that demand.


> we can consume as much transport as we get. If it was cheap and fast I could have ramen lunch in Tokyo. Pick up the kids from crèche in Portugal on my way home to New Zealand.

Nitpicking this from a physical perspective, consuming this amount of travel fundamentally requires you to experience a certain amount of acceleration. I'm pretty sure that the itinerary you describe here would kill you, regardless of how cheap it was.


At 1g constant acceleration/decceleration you could make it to the Moon (380,000 km) in 3 hours.


Fair enough.

A six hour commute is unrealistic, but by my calculations a constant 1g of acceleration is enough to cover a round trip from Wellington, New Zealand to Tokyo and another from Wellington to Lisbon in under 90 minutes of daily commute.

I note that in reality, we don't ever travel with constant nonzero acceleration, but it's fair to ignore that under the explicit assumption that there are no costs involved.


Piling on the nitpicking.

Portugal isn't 'on the way' to New Zealand from Tokyo regardless of speed or timelines.


It is "on the way" if that's what your schedule shows. If you need to leave work, pick up the kids, and arrive at home in that order, then you'll pick up the kids on your way home regardless of spatial arrangements.


Even as a native speaker, the way people use the language still surprises me.


Thoreau and Illitch, among others, had interesting ideas.

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.576...


thanks. Interesting


It's opportunity cost that kills it. Building more roads is a lousy investment for the money spent.


Source? Would be really curious to see how you measure roi on something like this


Is this even a problem? People are given an opportunity to do something and then they do it. That's way better than new roads going unused, isn't it?

I like congestion charging alright, which the article advocates at the very end, but it has a habit of being regressive - it's easy for me, as a software engineer, to show up at work at 11AM, but that might not be the case for those who can less afford to pay those charges. I think it's a net positive, but it can have consequences - especially in places like the Bay Area where there is no vaguely affordable housing anywhere near where the jobs are.

Why not think about locating things people want to go to - especially their jobs - near where they live? Why do we need sprawling suburban "campuses" and a million tech busses to shuttle people from the cities to them? Throwing up huge office buildings and tech HQs in SF - but refusing to build housing the same way - is only a little tiny bit better.

Both just force people to the exurbs, creates more super commuters and more demand on the roads.


It is, yeah. Roads are bad and toxic to the businesses and areas around them. Nobody wants to hang out next to a 4 lane blacktop with cards screaming down it at 60 miles an hour.

It spreads out businesses and makes our cities utilities spending less efficient. The roads need to be maintained, and it is very expensive to maintain them.

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/1/16/why-walkable-s...

https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme


> Is this even a problem? People are given an opportunity to do something and then they do it. That's way better than new roads going unused, isn't it?

It's a problem insofar as building more roads is often sold as a way to resolve traffic problems. When traffic expands to fill all available roads, this solution is an expensive way to not fix anything.

There are probably more useful options, and faster ways to waste money, available to polities.


But it is making trips possible that weren't before; it's not strictly money going down the drain. I have trouble seeing a fully utilized resource as "a waste".

Saying "traffic will be solved by this!" is clearly misleading. But those extra cars on the road must be benefitting, or else they wouldn't make the trip.


Fully utilizing the resource means some benefit is obtained, certainly. But when the cost of the resource to the user is zero, that means the benefit only need be greater than zero.

Have you ever worked on a shared compute cluster? In general, disks fill to capacity & machines run at capacity, no matter what those capacities are. It's bloat; files that don't get deleted until you run out of disk, because deleting files takes ten seconds. Massive processes that are left always-running to save ten seconds of launch time. So on and so forth. Basically, the user is getting some value. But it's very small, and thus makes a poor reason to make expensive upgrades to the cluster.


That's an excellent and very wise question! It's one that deserves careful study. At which point different ways of accomplishing the same goals can be compared and the best option(s) selected. I think we can agree this would be a reasonable, level-headed, approach to make informed decisions.

This may be slightly different from a political cycle that spends ever-increasing amounts of resources on roads without examining if the results obtained provide a reasonable level of value for money. Or indeed address the issues that drove the construction of additional roads in the first place.

Broadly, fully utilized resources are not always an ideal goal. For example, my experience is that meeting rooms in offices are almost always in constant use, no matter how many there are. This may not be the same as all uses of meeting rooms being desirable and efficient uses of the time and other resources used. I know I have been in meetings, enabled by a sizable of supply of meeting rooms, that could have been handled much faster with a handful of emails.


> When traffic expands to fill all available roads, this solution is an expensive way to not fix anything.

It always surprises me to see people actually believe this utter illogical nonsense. There's a finite amount of people and cars, so new roads satisfy existing demands but do not magically increase traffic until everybody drives 24/7 and beyond.

There are plenty of roads with very little traffic. Hasn't anyone of those anti-car-activists noticed?


Of course it’s true that people and cars are finite, but that doesn’t mean that new roads are satisfying existing demands. In fact, the term in economics is “induced demand.” Building more roads around a city often won’t decrease traffic in the city, it will just make more people commute to the city from further away.


> In fact, the term in economics is “induced demand.” Building more roads around a city often won’t decrease traffic in the city, it will just make more people commute to the city from further away.

It's a theoretical concept with no basis in reality as far as traffic is concerned. Every statistic I know of shows that more people move to cities, not farther away despite new roads. What drives people to longer commutes is not new roads, but high housing prices in cities.

Also, when you build useful roads, traffic there certainly increases, but somehow ideologists neglect to measure how traffic on other roads previously used for the same route decreases.


I’m not so sure about that. The Wikipedia article on induced demand has no shortage of cited studies.


> Is this even a problem?

It’s a problem if your assumption was that demand was closer to fixed and building more roads would “spread drivers out”, reducing congestion.

This was for decades, and still to some extent is, a very wide-spread assumption in local politics, leading to incredibly questionable urban planning decisions.


If we paved every square inch, traffic wouldn't go to infinity. It's pretty rare to go driving for no reason. Country roads don't have rush hour.

It seems reasonable to assume that latent demand per capita is fixed, but at a level too high for a city to accommodate without destroying its density advantages.


In my city they're removing roads left, right, and centre, and using the argument that this will reduce congestion, which admittedly is really bad here. However what's actually happened is people in the suburbans like myself who don't have to good public transportation into the city have effectively become isolated from the city hub. There is really no good way for me to get into the city at rush hour anymore unless I want to spend 2 hours in traffic there and back. There has been minimal investment in public transportation as an alternative, and there has been no attempt to more evenly distribute commercial activity throughout the city.

The problem always seemed to me to be less about road capacity, and more about city density and poor planning. I think we need to rethink the central urban hub model for cities. I suspect small hubs throughout the city would dramatically reduce congestion. We face similar scalability problems in tech. Typically if you have too much traffic going to your server you won't upgrade the server, but spin up more nodes. We distribute the traffic instead of spending larges amounts of money on infrastructure to send it all to a single node.

And another problem of this is that it causes feedback loops. I'm now in a position where I either have to continue to find working outside my city or relocate closer to the city centre contributing more to the urbanisation and population density problem.

With the right government incentives I see no reason why we could reestablish the city centre as a consumer hub. A place for shopping and leisure, etc. Then outside the city centre we could have tech hubs, financial hubs, industrial hubs, etc, all with good (perhaps even free) transportation between them. The time and money this would save seems like a no brainer to me. But then again, I don't really know anything. Perhaps there is a good reason to continue densely packing people into small 2-3 mile radiuses, where space is so limited most people can't afford a car, a decent size home, or even a decent sized office to work out of.


I live in Cambridge about a mile walk from Harvard Square, so fairly close to a decent sized city area, yet we almost never go there. Real estate in the Harvard Square area is so expensive and there are so many tourists that almost all the establishments there are priced out of reasonability for regular/daily patronage. We take out of town guests there and that's about it.

I don't see city center commerce and leisure hubs as being particularly able to dominate neighborhood and suburban equivalents. I need a car to get out to work anyway (8 miles away from the city center), so once all the fixed costs of the car are covered, it's incredibly cheaper and more convenient for us to shop and eat in the suburbs.

I don't see government incentives changing that in a meaningful way.


Government incentives probably won't change the life-styles of people such as yourself who can afford to live near the city core. The problem is for those of us who can't afford to do so, but need to work in the city centre (like most people these days do) our options are basically buy a car and waste hours in traffic everyday, or rent an "apartment" - although these days that tends to mean a small bedroom - in the city centre which you can hardly afford and gives you no satisfaction, nor room to do things like raise a family or have a functional relationship.

What I'd advocate for is governments to tax the hell out of companies who want to buy offices in city cores without a good reason. All a lot of these companies do is contribute to congestion and unaffordable property prices through increased urbanisation which forces people into the city or to deal with the congestion. A few years ago my girlfriend use to have to travel an hour every day to get to the city centre to work in a call centre. What's the point in that?

If instead governments allocated certain areas of cities which have low congestion and offered companies tax breaks for opening offices there you probably would see many moving out of the cities to the suburbs, reducing congestion and making properties more affordable.

I honestly think one of the main factors contributing to depress and mental-illness today, and why people don't have kids like they used to is because of the way we're living. Who the hell is going to raise a kid on £35,000 in 10m x 10m one-bed "flat" in a city like London? However, if on that money living in the suburbs of a city like Birmingham you'd be able to afford a reasonable two-bed home with a driveway and garden. The problem is uncontrolled urbanisation is driving businesses to city centres, and often to the major cities, then forcing anyone who wants to decent job to follow along whether they can afford to or not.

I bet most well paid developers living in the UK here live in London. And that's by no accident. It's not that they all just love London so much that they're happy to live in tiny apartments with no hope of raising a family or affording a mortgage. They do it because that's where all the decent tech jobs are. And why? Who is benefiting from this? A few very rich people and large businesses who can afford offices in city centres?


>> Who the hell is going to raise a kid on £35,000 in 10m x 10m one-bed "flat" in a city like London?

Not sure whether you made a mistake in conversion, but 100 sqm is actually a fairly decent living space here in a city like London (Tokyo).

My 90-odd sqm house has been plenty large enough to raise a family. Small garden, no driveway. But who needs car ownersip when there's three well-connected rail lines within a 7-minute walk?

Density need not be the problem you imagine.


> In my city they're removing roads left, right, and centre

This is fantastic to hear, what forward thinking city do you live in?


I don’t think anyone proposed people would drive for no reason. When there is more road capacity, people find more reasons to drive. More people get cars and more businesses use cars to move goods around. In the future self driving cars can be used on the road for any business reason someone could think of. There’s probably reason for 10x the cars we have today if they could fit on the road, which most cities could not handle.


Traffic can’t go to infinity, it can only go to 100%, and yes, if you paved every square inch, then traffic would go to 100% in areas where lots of people want to be, like people driving into urban centers for work.


People will also adjust their housing and working decisions based on road availability, although the lag here is a little long.


If the center is already built and occupied to its legal limit, you can't get a population-level change from this.


But people will move to the periphery and commute farther, or change where their job is.


It's a problem because it's a positive feedback loop. More highways = more traffic, which leads people to want to build more highways to supposedly ease congestion, and this continues ad infinitum. Our cities grow more spread out, less walkable, and less sustainable. Overall it makes our cities worse both for the people who live there and the environment.

If we didn't subsidise highways so much, demand for them would be reduced, and it would make more sense to build denser housing and provide public transportation.


Is this even a problem? People are given an opportunity to do something and then they do it. That's way better than new roads going unused, isn't it?

I've never sat in stop-and-go traffic, looked around and thought "Gee, this is great utilization of this road!"

Oddly, I have looked around a crowded standing-room-only train and thought "Gee, these load factors must be good for farebox recovery"


Personally I’d rather be in traffic. I’ll grant trains are way better for the atmosphere and take up less space, but people are noisy and smelly.


People keep saying they don't want to ride on a train or bus because people are smelly, but with rare exceptions, I just haven't run into that problem.

My solution to noisy transit is to wear headphones.

I think the problem is more cultural conditioning, I've been riding transit for 25+ years, and I like taking transit to work. Others who haven't ridden transit don't understand why I'd ride a bus to work even though we get "free" parking.

On the way to work the bus is usually faster than driving (the bus takes the carpool lane), on the way home, traffic is bad enough that the bus is probably about the same speed as driving (maybe a bit longer since for one stop it needs to leave the freeway express lane so needs to cut through 4 lanes of traffic to get to the stop and then again to get back into the express lane), but I don't care since I'm usually reading.


That’s not an uncommon view, I’m sure, but I suspect if the externalities of driving an automobile with a single person in it were internalized, so each driver paid the full cost of driving, you and a lot of people would change your minds and instead invest in some (comparably vastly cheaper) noise-canceling headphones for the train/bus.


Minus air pollutuon, I’m not convinced. With air pollution cars are obviously way worse. For commuting your point stands: I prefer current trains to Bay Area traffic because they’re not crowded. But for everything else the car wins by a mile.

The land use required to merely own cars is not great but it’s not the primary cause of sprawl in the US. There are plenty of examples that show car-oriented development with transit to a city center can work at up to 2000 people per km^2 and a typical American suburb has less than a fourth of that population density.

The traffic deaths can be reduced dramatically by reducing miles travelled and speed, but if we’re playing that game they also rank lower than infectious disease which spreads just fine on transit. Traffic deaths also are only a bit higher than suicide in America and lower than it in Europe; suicide is a crude example of the excess death burden of unhappiness, which ought to be considered.

And furthermore I’m not even convinced you’ve been on a crowded train. BART is almost never truly crowded. Trains in Wuhan are crowded. Crowded often means literally shoving your way in if you want to go anywhere. And the person I responded to claimed he thinks about the tollbox operator on a crowded train.

So yeah, dying in traffic on an ugly highway? Cool story bro.


I prefer current trains to Bay Area traffic because they’re not crowded. But for everything else the car wins by a mile.

Which Bay Area trains are you taking that are not crowded? Both BART and Caltrain are full during commute hours -- Caltrain express trains are usually standing room only (in rail cars that aren't well designed for standing passengers) and BART is running crush-loads out of Embarcadero in the evening.

The Caltrain local trains are usually less full but those all stop trains take forever to go any significant distance. (SF to RWC is about twice as long on a local as on a baby-bullet)


I have spent years exclusively riding public transit and very rarely have I encountered an issue where another person became a nuisance. I would rather take public transit than drive any day of the week, both for safety reasons and because I can do other things while on the ride.


Sure, but cars take up 50x more space, create way more pollution, and are responsible for 40,000 deaths in the US a year. So you should not have that option.


> people are noisy and smelly.

Indeed. And trains usually don't go from people's homes to their destination, so they typically cause traffic of some sort around train stations.


Ideally, people live near transit (not so common in this country, but Transit Oriented Development near transit stations is becoming more popular), so they don't necessarily need to drive to the station.

But even when they do, it's easier to handle traffic spread among dozens of stations spread out over 100 miles of track than to have all of those commuters drive to the city center.


> But even when they do, it's easier to handle traffic spread among dozens of stations spread out over 100 miles of track than to have all of those commuters drive to the city center.

Commuters don't all drive to the city center, they drive to 1000s of working places and arguably that's easier to handle traffic-wise than the traffic around fewer train stations (in one city!).


No, then you end up in a situation like the SF Bay Peninsula where businesses are spread among small office parks that are hard to serve by transit, and it's impossible for families to live near where they work since the spouses may end up working in offices 30 miles apart, so at least one of them is in for a long commute and since there's no planning or zoning that kept their employer near transit, then they end up driving... or taking the employer sponsored shuttle bus if they are lucky enough to have that option.

If businesses were spread out near major transit lines, that'd be another matter, but as it is now, the density is too low to serve well, transfers are a hard sell to commuters, no one wants to commute 40 minutes by train only to have to wait 15 minutes to transfer to a bus that takes another 15 minutes to get them to work.

VTA transit tries to serve a huge area with light rail, but everything is so spread out and there are so many stops that it takes forever, you can take light rail the 12 miles from downtown San Jose to Mountain View, but it'll take over an hour with 28 (!) stops in between. You could bike faster.


People are given an opportunity to do something and then they do it.

If you don't put a price on it then people won't prioritise, and the demand becomes endless. And you can never have supply to meet an endless demand.


It still costs $0.10-0.20 to drive a marginal mile, so the demand is far from unpriced/infinite.


Driving miles anywhere costs the same. Compared to the annual cost of owning a car making an extra 15 mile trip is absolute peanuts. The problem occurs when 1000 people decide to make that very extra trip just because capacity makes it possible and it's otherwise free to use.


> it's easy for me, as a software engineer, to show up at work at 11AM

That's the point -- we should incentivize people who can time shift to do so thereby alleviating traffic for those who can't.


People feel that incentive very differently. If the 101 is a $5 toll road during rush hour it barely changes my habits. In fact, it might actually encourage me to go in earlier because I expect traffic to be better. The cost of time spent in traffic already outweighs any congestion charge - for me.

There are, however, a lot of people for whom that $50 more in weekly commute costs, would be financially deadly and almost unavoidable.

It's easy for me to advocate for congestion charges; they clearly benefit me. Those who make a lot less than I do might feel very differently.


Well, maybe there is a lesson in that. We have to think about what the benefits of each person commuting is. Does it make sense to fill up highways with people going to work in e.g. fast food restaurants?

If the McDonalds employee has to pay $50 in fees to get to their job, it changes their financial calculations around whether that is a viable job. If enough of them decide to quit because of this, the restaurant will need to pay its employees more, subsidize their commutes or shut down.

If the restaurant shuts down, then it didn't make sense for them to be in an expensive urban hub, and the negative externality of the traffic their employees generated is gone. I suspect a lot of only-barely-viable jobs would go this way, and that's where traffic reduction would come from.

If they pay more, or subsidize commutes, they are paying to paying for the negative externality of filling up the highways to bring their employees in. The people who want cheap cheeseburgers in an expensive urban hub will decide if they want to pay more for cheap cheeseburgers to cover the cost. If they don't, it doesn't make sense for it to be there and the traffic isn't worth it.


As a software engineer who shows up at 11, I can tell you that there is a significant current against us late starters. I agree with you that it would be good for us to move this way, but it is hard for all the early birds to swallow.


Ha. "Early bird" is somebody who arrives before 11?


People who schedule meetings before 10am should be fired.


We should incentivize not driving as much.

What’s the point in me commuting to work to write code on a couch in an office that feels like my living room anyway?


yes but that’s also what makes it regressive


By that same logic, purchasing hamburgers is regressive.


No, you don’t have to purchase a hamburger to earn a living, but you probably have to travel.


Groceries are generally taxed differently because people need to eat. It is not a human necessity to travel long distances to work. It seems to me, if you subsidize travel for low earner you're subsidizing companies that pay their employees poorly, not benefiting the employees themselves. Maybe a subsidy for low earning jobs that are a public good make sense (teachers, for instance), but why should we give subsidies to private for-profit companies to allow them to avoid covering the externalities of their business?


Where their employees choose to live is not an externality caused by the business IMO.


Choosing to open a business that pays minimum wage in an area without housing that is affordable for minimum wage workers inherently generates traffic, doesn't it? I don't have a very solid opinion on all this, honestly, but it seems logical. What do you think?


I suppose that choosing to open a business not in someone’s house generates traffic.

The alternative is not Walmart paying stickers $50K/yr. The alternative is no or fewer Walmart jobs in locales with these laws. IMO, that makes things worse, not better, for prospective Walmart employees.

I also feel like where I live is none of my employer’s business, provided I can do the job. Maybe I’d make an exception for fire or police, but even there I’d rather not make the employer totally paternalistic.


You have to purchase food.


Yes, and taxing food would be regressive, just as taxing/tolling commuting would be. (It's for this reason that supermarket/unprepared food is often untaxed.)


Yes, it is a problem. I can't recall the details, but I have heard compelling arguments why waiting in lines is awful from an economic perspective. You might enjoy hearing an economist's perspective on time.

Poor people would likely benefit overall from more efficient use of roads.

Interstate roads allowed people to live far from things they need (e.g. jobs). Your suggestion is backwards, people should be located near things, not the other way around. Roads with no fees have distorted supply and demand. The market can't function.


If you are sitting there thinking: "So what", I highly recommend you educate yourself on how building roads actually affects US infrastructure.

We have a CRUMBLING infrastructure in the US, and people are constantly complaining about potholes in major metropolitan areas. And the solution is build more roads? We cannot even maintain the ones we have!

Recommended reading:

- https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme

- https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/1/16/why-walkable-s...


Counterpoint: I grew up in an area which allegedly has some of the worst roads in the country. They're fine. Sure they're not silky-smooth surfaces ready for MotoGP but contemporary mass-market vehicles have no problem traversing them. At worst you're going to feel uncomfortable for half a second. Really bad construction might slow you down 10-20 minutes.

Meanwhile America's best, most expensive, most politically supported public transit systems barely work, and can be expected to fail you completely several times each month.

The lived experiences don't match the theory. Roads usually work fine, and degrade gracefully when they don't. Transit is obnoxious on a good day, and when it fails it cascades catastrophically.

I want to be a good urbanist, but the quality just isn't there, nor does it seem to be a budget priority (instead new money goes to fare subsidies, empty bus routes, etc).


I don't know which transit system you think is our best and most expensive, but the one where I live (Portland, OR) is great. In 20 years it's failed me twice: once a bus broke down in a snowstorm, and once a train was blocked by protesters. That's it. The other ~10,000 trips were pretty uneventful. My biggest gripe is that the arrival time api is sometimes 1-2 minutes off.


Fellow PDX resident here!

Literally moved to this city due to the walkability and quality of public transit.

I. LOVE. IT. HERE.


Countercounter point.

When comparing the best roads in the world (Say the German Autobahn) to the best mass transportation in the world (Japan Railways Group) we see that when mass transportation is done correctly it can be timely and reliable. It is also cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient than roads.

We shouldn't limit our sources of inspiration to one continent when developing transportation solutions.


Barring a radical change in governance, we should plan for US transit projects to play out how US transit projects have played out in the past, not indulge in the baseless fantasy that an American polity would suddenly do a system correctly.

Inspiration is cheap. Disenfranchising the stakeholders who reliably mess things up is the real work.


My lived experience is that public transit is great. I take BART 5 days a week and have a 15 minute late experience once every few months.

This to me is something like the “I can’t live in a city because I can’t afford a 2000 square foot detached unit” issue.

You just need to modify your expectations. I’m far happier and less stressed not driving every day - but yes, it’s noisy and I have to stand and sometimes something smells bad.

There’s room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean public transit is unuseable.


The "suck it up" school of user experience design is poorly adapted to a competitive marketplace. There is no supreme authority who gets to say "you just need to modify your expectations." There are only consumers and voters.


You're forgetting the BART strike. That is just unacceptable. Nothing comparable shuts down all the roads.


Roads are bad for more reasons than maintenance though. People don't like to live near them. They are an UNPLEASANT part of the journey, not a destination. That means whoever gets stuck with the road going through their community sees their local businesses suffer and their housing prices drop.

Saying "We need roads because public transit does not work" is just false. There are MANY examples of cities where they all get around just fine without having to slather down some more pavement. I was very impressed by the Park and Ride system in Strasbourg, France and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Or hey, my current home Portland, Oregon! Or my previous home Chicago, Illinois also has excellent public transit! ( Though Chicago has been going through a rough patch lately due to bad zoning laws around the Blue Line EL stops )


The design and operation of a transit system is a huge and complicated topic. It doesn't work out well just because you want it to. I agree that Europe tends to do it successfully; we should be figuring out why, and how to emulate it, because so far our own attempts tend to be mediocre.

When I lived in Chicago it took 60-70 minutes to get to the Loop by bus and Red Line, or 15-20 by car. I don't claim this is an inherent feature of transit. I claim that the way we do transit systematically underperforms the way we do roads, and so all else being equal, roads are going to deliver a better UX. We should be fixing that. Unfortunately, politicians who preside over transit meltdowns (i.e. Cuomo) keep getting reelected.


I have no idea where public transit “fails you completely several times a month” or what that failure mode is.

If you mean transit can’t deliver you to your destination, that certainly isn’t the case in the Bay, Chicago or NY for any of my friends who take public transit daily in those cities.


> most expensive, most politically supported public transit systems barely work

Source?

>but the quality just isn't there

Based on what metrics? Last time I checked, public transportation in any city doesn't routinely suffer breakdowns around the same time, every work day. It also doesn't suck money from productive city centers into outlying suburbs to pay for an absurd amount of infrastructure to support a particular, luxurious transportation lifestyle.


I moved from Portland to New Orleans. Unlike most other things about NOLA, there’s no allegedly in a statement about its roads.


I don't understand how is it possible that you can't maintain roads. Use car taxes to maintain roads. Increase them if necessary. Introduce paid roads where applicable. If taxes were too high, some people would prefer cheaper public transportation, so market will find a balance automatically.


Increased taxes are extremely unpopular. Gas taxes, which are supposed to fund road maintenance, are almost always a fixed per-gallon amount, so they gradually erode due to inflation. They also effectively shrink due to increasing fuel efficiency. Just keeping gas taxes actually steady looks like an increase, and voting for that is a good way for politicians to lose elections.


A surprising amount of people (at least to me) think driving on any road and parking at the destination for free is their inherent right and such people will naturally boycott and lobby against any attempt to charge for routes or parking.


Increase them if necessary.

Good luck.

Introduce paid roads where applicable.

Oh my god do the voters scream about this. They are entitled to free roads.

We struggle to maintain roads because the voting public wants $1.00 worth of services for $0.90


Simple -- tax money earmarked for roads is spent elsewhere, leaving insufficient money for road maintenance.


The problem is not with roads, then, but with tax distribution.


The more intelligent approach to building roads is one i've seen in Washington DC. While the metro system isnt perfect, they allocated a portion of the highway to rail (middle track between both directions on the highway.) This way, the community expanded outwards via longer and longer highways and there was an obvious way to eventually simultaneously also expand the metro system outwards.

They did this with the Orange Line westwards inbetween Route 66. They then did this with the Silver Line North-westwards in-between Route the Dulles tollway.

I imagine the increased traffic due to increased highway capacity is partly because exurbs dont have mass transit support back to the center city...yet people reach further outwards to exurbs seeking more affordable housing. The Washington DC approach solves parts of that problem quite well.


Transit works better if it is where people are going rather than where it is convenient to build - for example, downtown Falls Church VA instead of the freeway median. Building densely around the stations can drive ridership. See: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore. Of course, building in more congested areas is more expensive.

Freeway median transit is no panacea (though better than nothing).


Well the idea is that the major highways are a good indicator of where people are going. If you build a major high way, and then widen it, chances are good its where people want to travel along.

With respect to getting to downtown Falls Church VA, that is more a last mile problem. One I dont want to dismiss, but not something a commuter rail can solve. The commuter rail does pretty well at getting people to several major job districts (DC, Tyson's Corner)

Building commuter rail along highway medians solves a different problem -- the NYC problem where a city fiddles around for 40yrs figuring out where to dig a tunnel and eminent domain problems.


Large roads are a good indicator of places everybody goes through.

People rarely want to go there. Some are built so traffic is moved from where people actually want to go into some place that is not too far (by car) but will not disturb the destination; others are built at the end of a set of smaller roads, linking to a different set at the other end.


DC has increasing traffic congestion, but decreasing Metro ridership. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/...


These statistics are no doubt skewed by the Metro's deferred maintenance roosters coming home to roost and forcing the system to degrade service to accommodate repairs. It remains to be seen if the ridership numbers bounce back now that we are nearing the end of the extended closures.


This was the plan in Houston, too — allocate the center median for future rail. But later politicians and voters decided that it was faster and cheaper to just pave over the planned railroad rights-of-way.

When HOV lanes were first built in Houston, they were designed to eventually be converted to light rail. I bet it never happens.


The problem with this is the last mile problem. Cars are their own solution to the last mile problem and highway placement reflects that. Trying to fit a light rail system on the same footprint immediately runs into the question of how you're going to solve the last mile problem. If you don't, you'll have underutilized train stations sitting in the middle of a road nowhere near where people want to be.


This is an important point that is commonly overlooked.

Traffic is a sign of something. It’s a sign that the benefits of transportation outweighs the costs of transportation. Given this, high traffic often implies that there is pent up demand out there - more cars that would be on the road right now if only the roads could support it.

When more roads are built, this unlocks some of the pent up demand, as the cost of transportation has effectively declined due to more available roads.

However, this reduction in cost / hassle etc and the previously pent up demand may be so large that in encourages much more driving, such that in equilibrium the traffic could be nearly as bad as before.


It’s a sign that the benefits of transportation outweighs the costs of transportation

Which, given the way roads are funded, is something of a broken equation. The costs of transportation are not fully borne by the user proportionally to consumption.

You pay fuel taxes & buy tires, yes, but they by no means cover the full per-mile cost of your trip.


Not sure why you are downvoted, drivers are subsidised to a huge amount, and that doesn't even include pollution, deaths, destruction of wildlife, etc...


Why are roads an elastic demand but it seems that other transportation methods, like light rail, aren't? I've seen cases of quite a few expensive lines and rail-stops that have lower than expected utilization, but it seems like new highway roads and lanes get immediate use. Is it down to the fact that there is simply more "freedom" with regards to roads over rail?


Elastic demand requires free-flowing masses. I'm quite sure New Yorkers or Londoners would be able to fill as many new subway trains during the rush hour as you could humanly add to the rail network, at least on the sections that are most commonly shared between lines to different destinations.

On the other hand, if the on-ramp of a highway would only let cars through for one minute every 10 minutes (which would be considered a good service interval for any suburban public transit), the demand for roadspace would likely be a bit less elastic. Ditto, if the highway would only go to a set of destinations with no connections.

Motorists can embark on a trip any time, join the highway any time, and take any exit, and continue from there to local destinations. This free schedule suits way more people than fixed departures to fixed destinations using public transit.

Only in a densely built city you can achieve the same: people sharing segments of public transit before diverging to a number of different destinations.


I think it’s because in the US cars effectively “won.” Even if mid and long distance passenger rail were more of a thing, you’ll have to rent a car at your destination anyway.

In other words, with just a car you can get anywhere you want in the continental US in 2-3 days. With just passenger rail (or commercial air travel, etc.), you can get to passenger terminals in a lot of places, but that’s about it.


Are you factoring in network effects?

I have lived in Phoenix and Tucson, where the light rail is a joke: they are so short and there's only one line, so you probably don't live close enough for them to be useful and they probably don't take you where you want to go. If there was more light rail, more people would use it, but since so few people use it, there is little incentive to grow the light rail.

Contrast Hudson County, NJ, which has a light rail system that's used heavily, the trains are often full during rush hour. You can use it to get pretty much everywhere (except Union City and uptown Jersey City, which both require a long trudge up the Palisades).


In areas where cities are dense enough for public transportaiton to make sense, adding a new line does indeed lead to induced demand. For cities that are spread out and unwalkable (read: almost all US cities), public transit isn't efficient enough to move enough people from point A to B, due to A and B being very far away -- never mind the fact that once you get to B, you can't even walk to many destinations due to the city being designed in such a sprawly, pedestrian hostile way.

For public transportation to work, we first need to make our cities denser. The best way of doing this is by outlawing use-based zoning and moving to form-based zoning. That means getting rid of the concept of a "single family zone" and a "commercial zone", etc. and just specifying stuff about the materials and shapes of buildings. It also means outlawing parking minimums. Many cities around the world (and even a few in the US, re: Philadelphia, NYC) have this kind of zoning which allows for much denser development.


> Is it down to the fact that there is simply more "freedom" with regards to roads over rail?

Yup. I live in a metro with the longest light rail system in the US (almost 100 miles) and I don't go anywhere near one during my commute and many don't. It doesn't get half the riders that the second-longest gets. I would not vote for light rail funding...different strokes and all that.


People prefer to drive, so they do that first. Public transportation functions the exact same way, so long as there is no more road capacity. There are countless examples of new light rail stations spurring new development in the area.


It's called "elastic demand" and it just means that roads are useful. The Boring Company has a twofold solution (a) charge for usage, and (b) build to 30 levels or more to meet demand


This appears to be a classic case of a visible problem where the effects of the solution are not visible immediately.

Building wider roads is a success if they move more people compared to a more narrow road. It doesn't matter if they stay congested even as you widen them. The goal of a wider road isn't to reduce congestion the goal is to move more people.

This same type of reasoning is used against constructing more housing because building more housing doesn't have an impact on rent prices while ignoring that every new apartment provides housing for a new person. The goal of more housing isn't to reduce rent prices, it's housing more people!


>The goal of more housing isn't to reduce rent prices //

A goal of house building is certainly to provide affordable housing. Unfortunately that goal isn't shared by the people with the money/land whose goal is usually just "make as much profit as possible". Those already profiting from rent are usually strictly opposed to the goal of affordable housing too.

But that doesn't mean that a substantial portion of society doesn't support it; the power to achieve it just doesn't lie with them.


Of course the power lies with them. Their activism is the primary impediment to actually-feasible projects getting built. All they have to do to yield a healthier supply/demand balance is stand down.


In the Old World we have public mass transit. One vehicle can transport a thousand commuters, and it does not need to be stored in the most desired area of the city for the duration of a working day.

Sometimes it looks like the Silicon Valley is trying to solve transit problems either against the laws of physics and economics or, alternatively, ignoring solutions that were there already in the 1800s.


> Sometimes it looks like the Silicon Valley is trying to solve transit problems either against the laws of physics and economics or, alternatively, ignoring solutions that were there already in the 1800s.

The problem is that many American cities, including those in Silicon Valley, would need to be torn down and rebuilt for European- or Japanese-style transit to make sense. Everything is very spread out. Most people in London or Paris or Tokyo live within a short walking distance of a train station. In cities like LA, many people could walk over a mile from their house and only see other houses.

Because everything is so spread out, we would require many stations in suburban residential neighborhoods or nobody would have a station within walking distance of their home. However, those stations would only be useful to the small number of people who live in those neighborhoods because nobody else would have a reason to go there. It's hard to imagine those stations would get enough ridership to make economic sense.

So we are stuck with transit restricted to downtown areas, and if you want to go downtown or leave downtown you need a car. The Boring Company is attempting to recognize that reality and solve the "last mile problem" by turning cars themselves into public transit. It will be pretty cool if it works.


> Sometimes it looks like the Silicon Valley is trying to solve transit problems either against the laws of physics and economics or, alternatively, ignoring solutions that were there already in the 1800s.

That, or the Old World is simply stuck with cities where no more roads can be built without tearing down many inhabited buildings, so people are forced to use smelly, uncomfortable public transport. I'd appreciate more honesty and less ideology in such debates.


> I'd appreciate more honesty and less ideology in such debates

and yet

> forced to use smelly, uncomfortable public transport

There is no need to public transport to be smelly and uncomfortable if enough money is spent on maintenance.


> There is no need to public transport to be smelly and uncomfortable if enough money is spent on maintenance.

I live in Vienna, which has arguably some of the best maintained and expensive public transport. It's still smelly, because people. They forbid food (initially only smelly food, but signs - pictograms in the subway - show any/all types of food) recently because people complained and during last summer the administration handed out free deodorants to passengers.

Sorry, public transport IS uncomfortable and smelly, like most places with many people.


I'm in Australia and the public transport is clean here. No food is allowed, and its enforced. There is the occasional smelly person, particularly in summer, unavoidable. In general though it works well.


I'd like to see some pictures of the inside of a subway train in the center of Melbourne on 6am on a Saturday... ;-)

It's a mentality issue - Singapore and Japan are also famous for clean public transport, but in most countries it's simply not possible.


I'm not in Melbourne so can't say, who knows what they get up to down there but whenever I've been there I've had no complaints. The fact that Singapore and Japan can do it, means its possible though if there's a political will.


In the Old World we have public mass transit. One vehicle can transport a thousand commuters, and it does not need to be stored in the most desired area of the city for the duration of a working day.

If you include London in "the Old World," it has the same horrible freeway congestion problems every other city does. Being European doesn't change the laws of physics.


Musk is trying to solve the transit problem of people making over 200k a year- Maintain the standard of absolute luxury and privacy provided by the car, while reducing the concentration required to drive and the time it takes to be stuck in traffic.


Sometimes I wonder how buses with private compartments would be received, compared to today's cattle cars.


Likely the latter, and for that we can largely thank large motorist groups in the US. Michelin comes to mind, as they created their "Michelin star" metric to give people a reason to drive places, and then lobbied like hell to create town/city layouts that mandated driving.

A hundred years later, driving is a massive part of US culture, and we have trouble seeing the problem because that's "just how things are".


This scheme would not have succeeded if people preferred public transit to driving.

Honestly it's not hard to see why it succeeded. Back in the early postwar period, driving was cheap and easy, parking was plentiful, traffic was light, and the new interstate highway system made long-distance car travel practical.

Even if the motorist groups had not lobbied for it, cars would have taken over anyway because people liked them so much.


In the “old world” cities like London, Paris, Berlin and others are facing the eact same problems, with or without those overcrowded, overpriced buses you mentioned.


I live in London. Many people don't own cars. Many who moved here with a car give up their cars. Working public transport systems leave everyone better off.


Public transport in London is incredibly good, I'm always amazed. But then it's NOT run by 5 competing companies that couldn't care less about linked up journeys.


On the other hand, transit in Tokyo and Osaka is run by a number of public and private companies, some of which compete with each other, and linked-up journeys are no problem at all. It's totally doable.


Japanese companies do not have much of a reputation for red-in-tooth-and-claw competition (e.g. the "gentleman's agreement" about advertised car horsepower).


Your cities are built for mass transit. Ours are not, owing to the enormous landmass we utilize in the ways that we do. This is not a simple problem to solve by just adding more trains and bus units.


I live in London and commute 10 miles each way daily. It takes me ~45 minutes in rush hour. Driving the same distance is, in the middle of the night, 30-40 min (in rush hour you can be stuck simply until it's over). Total cost is also lower at 2000 pounds a year for round trips on my route (which would cover only insurance and gas at best). Also, I haven't taken a bus to work, ever. Tube serves 5 million passengers a day and whilst sometimes crowded, seems to be scaling pretty well.


The Boring Company's "solution" is a [sad joke](https://slate.com/business/2018/12/elon-musks-los-angeles-tu...) that belies Musk's utter disconnect with reality. The fact that the man openly mocks public transportation while crying about LA traffic only makes the matter worse.


Currently, traffic jams only prevent you from moving forward. In the future they’ll keep you from going down, too.

Progress!


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