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Cars took over because the legal system helped squeezed out alternatives (theatlantic.com)
472 points by pseudolus 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 435 comments

Another way of stating this could be "transport is a policy question." How cities are built and what transport infrastructure they're built around.

Im fairly sympathetic to the overall aims of this article. I think a transport system more similar to those in the Netherlands makes for better urban landscapes.

But... this habitual style of treating everything as a conspiracy, built around a personified enemy ("They gave legal force to a mind-set—let’s call it automobile supremacy—that kills 40,000 Americans a year)... this way of thinking isn't doing us any favours.

In day-to-day political conversations and articles, it's mostly just formulaic and lazy. Name the conspiracy, point to vested interests that have been influencing policy, find a link to established personifications of evil.. big oil and segregation, in this case.

I'm not saying we should never think in abstractions... but there is a formulaic pattern here that's old, paranoid and harmful.

No conspiracy required when a lot of people are acting according to a common view. People see the real advantages of owning a car and the freedom it brings, and that activity builds industries and has an impact on policies.

Of course, GM really did conspire to put the trolleys out of business.


However, this is the kind of thing organizations (companies, government agencies, non profits) do when they get to a certain size or have accomplished initial goals and are looking to conquer that next frontier. Just look at the overreach of the SV titans, for example.

For better or worse, we have a car based society now, and pining for the good old days is backwards looking. The next thing should preserve the immense freedom and flexibility that cars brought. Prescribing a top down solution that gives even more power to the state at the expense of the people is a non starter.

    > The next thing should preserve the immense freedom and flexibility that cars brought. 
"Freedom" is a weird word to use for cars. Cities that have been configured for automobile supremacy, actually lack freedom. Every business, every residential area, every road has to be planned and sized to accommodate parking and mobility of cars.

In addition to stimulating sprawl and it's enormous costs, this limits the actual freedom and choices of people who can't or won't drive.

Even ex-burb homeowners whose every trip begins and ends in a parking spot eventually get pissed as the only way for a city to grow is then to pave more and more highways, and spread out in distance making automobile commutes a daily misery literally spanning oceans of asphalt.

> The next thing should preserve the immense freedom and flexibility that cars brought.

Did the car bring freedom? A car is expensive for people to purchase, maintain, and operate. In many regions individuals are also compelled to purchase insurance because they are dangerous. They also drive up the cost of living since the expensive infrastructure must be paid through taxation, construction is more expensive because a certain amount of space must be allocated to parking, land is more expensive since infrastructure reduces the supply. The cost of cars pretty much dictates a particular way of living, even before factors such as urban sprawl are even considered.

Perhaps there were elements of freedom and flexibility when the automobile first gained traction, but the social geography mutated. Workplaces became more centralized, then decentralized, as the automobile facilitated large and dedicated zoning regulations. The shifting of workplaces necessitated the shifting of shopping and recreation, typically following patterns of consolidation in a spatial and business sense. With cities no longer being walkable, there were fewer reasons for housing to stay put. It too drifted outwards, often with little consideration to schools and medical care. The end result is that people are often stuck owning a vehicle or making very serious compromises to live without one.

I didn't mean to paint such a bleak picture, and it is likely more harsh than it rightfully deserves to be, but the reality is that the family car (and, later, personal car) ended up being more of a trade-off than a liberator. It is difficult to deny that more is within reach because of it, yet it is also undeniable that less is within immediate reach.

>>Prescribing a top down solution that gives even more power to the state at the expense of the people is a non starter.

In a certain (much softer) sense, I think this is an example of the type of thinking I was complaining about in the original comment.

I do it myself, most people do it.. especially us "rational" thinkers. But, it is taking a particular and instinctively fitting it into a story that we're used to. Maybe the story is regulatory capture, maybe it's corporatism, overeaching governments and unintended consequences, patriarchy, empire, globalism... Whatever story we're used to refering to.

In any case, I think the next transportation revolution will be related to autonomous vehicles, so this particular conversation is probably moot.. AVs might just dissolve lines between public and private transport. It will, however, probably remain very impacted by both consumer choice and government (generally municipal) choices.

Can you give me an example of the immense freedom and flexibility that cars brought?

Can you give me an example that doesn't involve driving to the middle of nowhere, that isn't solved by a good public transportation system, and doesn't involve bringing home large amounts of groceries, or furniture, etc?

Daily routine for people who do not live, work and socialize exclusively in the city center. Things like going to work, piking up kids, shopping, visiting other people, having hobbies, outdoor activities, returning borrowed stuff,...

A city center isn't required for public transportation to be convenient. I've taken public transit through suburbs and tiny towns and out to the countryside.

It just so happens that most of the public transit in the states royally sucks -- even in the city centers.

It is not a matter of quality. By definition public transport cannot connect all the dots on the map. It is simply impractical or rather impossible. The car gives us freedom of movement that nothing else can currently match. You personal anecdote of taking public transport doesn't invalidate other people use cases and needs, because what works for your situation doesn't necessary work for everyone. If I may use a CS analogy: public transport is like a collection of linked lists and a car is like one giant dictionary. Totally different use cases.

Or has the presumption of car ownership (or indifference to those who without) exacerbated zoning problems, increased prevalence of food deserts, and widened the wealth gap in communities even within cities?

The reality of the GM streetcar conspiracy is disputed.

I sort of agree - I just wish there were more options, that didn’t have the same tradeoffs on alertness and attention that driving a car has. Self driving vehicles will certainly sell themselves.

maybe the trolleys where substituted by the coaches because there were more cheap to use, you don't have to create a network of cables overhead, and with cheap gas there where no need to electrify the public transport.

The coaches have the benefit to be able to go anywhere and modify your routes as suits you, while the trolleys need a fixed infrastructure. Both have their own pros and cons, so i don't see the need for a conspiracy.

As a rough estimate, a streetcar line is more efficient than a bus line above 40,000 passengers per day. My city (Dresden, Germany) has a bus line with 70,000 passengers per day, and you can really see it cracking at the seams. During rush hour, busses run every 3 minutes, and that interval cannot be increased any further because the busses would start blocking each other, thus backing up from the bus stop into the road and creating additional congestion.

The only thing the city can do (and that's what they're working on) is to upgrade from bus to streetcar. Dresden has some of the longest trams in the world, at 45 meters (50 yards), and these carry 3-4 bus loads at once.

The German bus systems I’ve used have been night and day better than US ones. Buses that mostly run to a schedule are incomprehensible to most in the US.

Probably related, I doubt we have a bus line with anywhere near that ridership.

SF has the notorious 38 Geary that had 55+K daily ridership (boardings) in 2017 [1]. It has many of the problems of an overloaded bus line (traffic causing buses to run together, etc). Oddly, the SF Muni metro lines (what they call the light rail, runs underground downtown but on the street elsewhere) don't seem as congested, but I can't find the ridership numbers.

People have been complaining about the 38 for years, but I don't want to criticize the SFMTA (local agency that runs buses/trolley buses and light rail) because it does seem to get the job done without much expensive investment (cost of most recent underground metro in SF was $1.6B for 1.7 miles [2]).

[1] https://sf.curbed.com/2017/9/19/16302396/sf-worst-bus-transi...

[2] https://www.sfmta.com/projects/central-subway-project

I was curious about this as I’ve never looked into ridership by route and at least for Chicago it is absolutely true. A 70k route would be more than 3x the biggest in Chicago.


At least the red, blue & pink lines exceed 70k/weekday. Which is the point: anything approaching that level should be converted from bus to rail.

To be fair, that 70k route is one of the top 5 routes in Europe by passenger numbers IIRC.

I'm not saying we should never think in abstractions... but there is a formulaic pattern here that's old, paranoid and harmful.

Except these conspiracies were (and are) generally real, and their effects are real. The pattern isn't journalistic, it's historical.

This is absolutely true. Why, I myself am a member of no less than 8 conspiracies that I know of. Of course, I can't tell you any further details; that would defeat the point of a conspiracy after all.

The problem is that I keep forgetting the secret handshakes. One of these days, I'm going to leave my thumb out rather than in and someone's going to shank me with a shiv. Or shiv me with a shank; I can't remember how that goes either.

It's both historical & journalistic. Capitalism, corporatism, empire, patriarchy, globalism public choice, regulatory capture... these do all relate to reality, but they are not reality themselves. They are abstractions. A potentially useful way of seeing a broad picture, but also hazardous.

Spending too many brain cycles in these abstractions makes us formulaic. We no longer see unique & specific examples, just uninteresting specific examples of a greater truth.

We all do it. It's inevitable. It's how we think, especially politically. But, it is worth consiously avoiding, in my opinion.

your point seems to be directed at how human discussions happen generally and how we must necessarily abstract away details to even have those discussions at all.

but we sometimes collectively need to grind through the ruts a number of times before finding a good solution, especially if the solution involves a variable abstracted away by the model.

so why specifically does your noted pitfall need to be avoided? and what alternatives can you offer?

but more to the point, what's the model of car-centric cities you'd advocate?

yeah, it's like np problems. Nobody needs to talk about the travellingn salesman, and it's harmful to even say it's an no problem, since we already have SAT solvers, and that's all we need to understand that np problems are hard to solve.

Totally agree and totally ignores the fact that people like the flexibility and freedom (in fact as well as psychologically)

Unfortuetly this area and "green" in general does I am afraid does tend to attract "hobbyist" / "crank" activists. (I am using these terms in the political sense and not dising peoples hobbys

Eg the green movement needs to concentrate on the present problem (runaway global heating) and not on pious things like banning plastic straws.

Speaking as a Dutchman, I experience much more flexibility and freedom riding a bike than my car.

That's probably a consequence of both the overcrowding of our roads, and the density of our infrastructure -- I rarely have to drive more than 15 minutes to reach any kind of shop, and by bike I can take shortcuts that my car can't follow, especially in inner cities.

Ultimately, my car has been relegated to recreational purposes only -- everything else in my life (work, shopping, friends) I can do by bike or public transport. For me, it doesn't really feel like a conscious personal choice -- it feels more like the pragmatic consequence of our infrastructure design.

Also a practical consequences of urban "design." In Amsterdam, Rotterdam or den haag, a 5km radius is a large area that captures a large chunk of the city. In Houston or LA, a 5km radius is a very small area.

I felt the same way on my bike in Tokyo.

Tokyo is hyperdense despite its massive size. I think the point is less "what percentage of the city can I reach easily on a bike" and more "how many places of interest can I reach easily on a bike". In metropolises in Europe or Japan, 5km contains a lot. In the lower density, sprawling cities of North America, there isn't nearly as much utility to the places you can travel to within 5km.

That's because you don't live in a country as big as the US is and don't need to move around like we do in the US.

I am from Denmark who also have plenty of bikes and it's a thing. The reality is however that thats fine as long as you live in the cities, it's not way to get around if you live in the suburbs and have to drive 30 miles to work and take care of your picking up the kids and drive 20 miles to the nearest grocery store etc.

Biking is possible in small cities but you can't build infrastructure around a giant continent like the US on bikes and trucks.

Of course you can. That's pretty much the whole point of the article. You live in a suburb and have to drive 30 minutes because America decided decades ago that sprawl was preferable to dense urban cores. American decided 3000sqft McMansions on 1/2 acre lots was preferable to 1000sqft flats in the city. And that spending billions on road infrastructure and subsidized parking was a fair trade-off for that personal space.

No "America" didn't decide that. The geography of America dictated how America evolved to become a car preferring nation of sprawling cities.

The car is the perfect combination of flexibility, scale, speed, utility and so on.

Sprawls are a byproduct of what the car made possible, they where not created to promote the car they where created because the car made it possible and gave a number of benefits for the individual families.

Yes, and we turned around and codified all of that so we can't easily do anything different. For example, as noted in the article, developers are REQUIRED to supply parking in most locations. Looking out my office window, there's a sea of surface parking. If that was legally mandated, the developer could in-fill with mixed-use and some of us could live literally right next door. Instead, the closest I can get to work is a bit over a mile down the road.

They are required BECAUSE cars are base for the sprawl.

Again even in Denmark and other places that are extremely pro-public-transportation and anti-car, cars are still used by the majority of people because its the base means of transportation which provides the most benefits when you boil it down.

Forcing people to live in big cities with public transportation makes no sense on a continent like America.

Public transportation is only good for very dense areas and becomes extremely expensive once you need to cover less dense areas. This is true even in countries like Denmark which are geographically pretty small.

Denser cities mean more expensive real-estate which means less money for yourself and your family.

The sprawls and laws came after the cars, not the other way around.

makes no sense on a continent like America

Based on what metrics?

Sure, the space is there, but there are real costs to using it the way we do. It is a choice we have made as a society. But, there's no natural law that required us to choose cars or stopping us from reconsidering.

As I see it: - cars and the sprawl they allowed made sense at the time

- entrenched interested worked to codify the car-based lifestyle

- it is likely time to reconsider the path we took, given what we now know about pollution, the time wasted in traffic, and other factors.

- those entrenched interests have done such a good job of selling the car as a fundamental (and "free") part of the American Dream that many people are unwilling to consider anything else (see sibling comments about freedom and flexibility).

Edit - a few links that discuss the costs of maintaining suburban sprawl: 1 - https://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/03/05/sprawl-costs-the-publ... 2 - https://www.citylab.com/equity/2013/05/quantifying-cost-spra... 3 - https://fee.org/articles/the-unbearable-truth-about-infrastr...

Plenty more to read through, if you want to spend the time.

You are confusing two things here.

The discussion is what allowed cars to take over i.e. in the past not what might happen in the future.

Urbanization is a reality ex. because of the way the job market evolves, but the claim that there was some big conspiracy to make the cars take over is simply unfounded and based on very sloppy thinking.

Cars took over because they allowed us to live further away from the big cities which was cheaper and gave us more room and allowed us to build sprawl because the land was plentiful.

It's a combination of things not just some single reason that obviously isn't true which you will see the second you look at other countries who also need cars but doesn't have a legal system that helps.

Urbanization is taking over because of the benefits it offers today. Just because cars might not make sense in the future it doesn't mean that it didn't make sense in the past.

And no matter what, it's not something anyone of us decide to do just because it'something that we do once it makes sense and the benefits outweigh the negatives.

> it's not way to get around if you live in the suburbs and have to drive 30 miles to work and take care of your picking up the kids and drive 20 miles to the nearest grocery store etc.

That's a consequence of cars not the other way around. If cars were never invented, you wouldn't have the problem of traveling 30 miles to work and driving 20 miles to a store. Those things are possible because of cars and now it chains us to those kinds of design.

Apropos of nothing, in 1890 (i.e. pre-car), a pound of flour was roughly $4.00; a dozen eggs was roughly $6.00.

And correlated for inflation?

I should have said: that is in 2016 dollars.

Of course you would have that problem, it would just be even harder to get around and to get things around or to go anywhere.

The reason why people choose to live further out is among other things to get more nature for their children, it is to get cheaper houses, it used to be safer etc.

You're ignoring the other side of the equation: the convenience of also being able to get food, medical care, entertainment, mail, etc. It's affordable and possible to live in suburban / rural locations because the automobile made it easy. Otherwise, these people would need to be significantly more self-reliant.

Yes agree. That's the whole point.

The car took over because the car was the optimal vehicle compared to the alternatives not because of some law which is easy to show since it's the same in other countries like Denmark where the opposite was the case and yet cars are still hugely popular.

You know in larger countries like the USA they consider a hundred miles a short distance and a hundred years a long time :-)

Speaking as a Texan, the Netherlands has about the same area as the state of Maryland and three times the population.

I do love Amsterdam, but there's no way I could live there.

And it helps to live in a famously flat country.

It helps, but there is much more to it. Florida is flat, but Floridian cities are almost entirely non-bicycle-friendly. San Francisco is hilly, and has many people riding bicycles.

Florida is also a very hot swamp. Riding a bike in the southern US during the non-winter is far different than riding a bike in Northern Europe.

And San Diego has great weather, yet it is largely car-centric. On the other hand, New York has terrible weather, and has a high bicycle mode-share.

You'd think, but it's also close to the sea and that gives you strong winds regularly. The effect on riding difficulty is about the same.

Contrary to a slope the wind can also hinder you on the way there and on the way back (when you stayed long enough for the wind to turn). Yay.

Strong winds are worse than hills. If you don't cycle then you might not appreciate how much headwinds can slow you down. Most of a cyclist's energy goes to overcoming wind resistance, and wind resistance increases with the square of the velocity. And crosswinds can be dangerous by making the bike hard to control.

But hills are always in the same place, so you just leave a little earlier and shift to a lower gear. It's slower, but no more difficult, and you have the downhill return journey to look forward to.

We need to give this argument a rest. Cycling infrastructure has everything to do with availability and very little to do with hills. I don’t avoid biking to work because of the hills, I avoid it because it’s treacherous.

Disclaimer: I don't like cars, I love driving, but as a sport, not in urban areas.

Biking is like running, playing soccer, playing tennis, swimming, many people don't do it because they don't do any sport.

Biking requires skills that normal people usually don't have, but that they believe they have.

It is in fact more dangerous than driving (compared to the driver, not pedestrians)

As soon as older people could not bike anymore, they started buying electric scooters and in Holland they have now more deaths caused by scooter accidents than cars.

France is going to ban them because they are too dangerous.

People than cannot drive anymore because of age or because they had their driving license revoked, started using less "law encumbered" vehicles and the number of accidents began to rise.

People on bikes are less controlled,they are not forced to use safety measures, they are not inside a "secured box", they don't have anti intrusion bars, air bags, safety belts, etc. etc.

Very few wear an helmet, many of them don't follow street rules, they bike on the sidewalk, very fast, they are very quiet and many pedestrian don't hear them coming.

They pay a lot less taxes (and fines), taxes used to implement mobility politics.

In Italy, for example, the money that cities earn from fines, cannot be used for anything else than mobility.

City planning is complicated, you don't solve problems just by changing few rules, you have to carefully plan for them

Changing a model that has been THE model for at least half a century and that have become so popular because freed people from the task of commuting or having to go somewhere, fast, without having to share the ride with other 150 people, just like the washing machine freed women from the task of washing clothes, it's not an easy task.


I don't want to give the idea that cities are doomed, but biking is not the solution, biking is just like cars but with different problems, THE solution is walkability.

Walkable cities are for everyone.

Bikeable cities are just for bikers.

Most of your argument is about motorized vehicles, not bicycles. I agree that motorized two-wheeled vehicles are inherently more dangerous than non-motorized forms of transportation, but that is multiple separate discussions, and your argument doesn't necessarily apply to bicycle-oriented vs car-oriented city design.

Walkable cities are for everyone.

This is trivially untrue. Cities with lots of steps or staircases are only accessible for pedestrians, but no one else.

Bikeable cities are just for bikers.

I guess it depends a lot on what you consider "bikers". When you think of bikers, do you think of image [1] or [2]?

[1] https://www.visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen/sightseeing/copen...

[2] https://www.betteshanger-park.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites...

> Most of your argument is about motorized vehicles, not bicycles

They are the same thing.

Bicycles have wheels, they should be on the streets.

> Cities with lots of steps or staircases are only accessible for pedestrians, but no one else.

And that's good!

BTW, you can walk the bike.

Just like you do when you have to jump on a train or take the subway.

If you're talking about accessibility in general, that's a whole other problem.

Bike lanes on sidewalks aren't accessible either, there are deaf pedestrian, blind pedestrians, handicapped pedestrians, that are put at risk by sharing the same space with bikes.

> I guess it depends a lot on what you consider "bikers"

[1] is very young [2] is expert bikers, people that dresses for biking

the percentage of the population that can bike regularly in a large city is quite small and Copenhagen is a very small city.

The point is that you don't solve anything with bikes, just like you don't solve anything with skates, kick scooters and whatever you are thinking of

You're over optimizing for a small percentage of the population.

You solve a lot by removing cars from the streets (think about underground parking lots) and giving way more space to walking lanes, hardly separated from wheeled vehicles (cars, public transport, motorbikes, bycicles, whatever...)

If you improve the walkability, you also improve the mobility: people can easily switch from bike, walking the bike for a bit on a sidewalk, take the public transport, get off, walk a bit more, jump on the bike again.

If you cannot walk easily, safely and fast, you're packing pedestrian on very small areas, you're making their journey uncomfortable and leaving them at the mercy of wheeled vehicles, because they can be obviously faster and demand precedence.

And those who use a vehicle are encouraged to leave it very close to where they are going, because walking, even a little bit, is painful.

That's how we end up with cars parked in handicapped spots or on double lines or on the sidewalks or bikes chained to school gates or road signs or bus stops as you can see in cities like Milan [1] (where they use the bike a lot)

Ironically the road sign in the picture says "bikes chained here will be removed"

The majority of people in large cities walks, even if you don't notice it, even in cities terrible for walking like Rome, it's what people are good at.

[1] https://i.imgur.com/iboqyTA.jpg

> Bicycles have wheels, they should be on the streets.

But who is arguing that they shouldn't?

> [1] is very young

No it's not. Photo from 1926: http://www.rijwiel.net/fotos/foto001n.htm

> You're over optimizing for a small percentage of the population.

From the link [1] in my GP post: "Cycling accounts for 24 % of all commuter trips." That doesn't sound like a small percentage.

> You solve a lot by removing cars from the streets (think about underground parking lots) and giving way more space to walking lanes, hardly separated from wheeled vehicles (cars, public transport, motorbikes, bycicles, whatever...)

I'm unsure what you're arguing against. This is the bike-oriented city center of Den Haag: http://www.ditisdenhaag.nl/hofwegspui/

What would you change in that picture?

> No it's not

There are people in their 90s swimming in freezing water

Would you say it is ok for everybody?

What kind of discussion are you trying to have?

> That doesn't sound like a small percentage.

And what accounts for the remaining 76%?

You are trying to force Netherlands way as if it is the only one.

But Netherlands is a very _uncommon_ place.

> What would you change in that picture?

Why would I want to change anything?

Can you see that there are vast areas for walking in that picture?

Do you think there aren't other small cities in the World where bike is the preferred vehicle?

This is Ferrara, Italy [1] [2]

This is Bologna, Italy [3] [4] [5] [6]

Can you see the large pedestrian areas?

I think they're even more beautiful then Deen Haag.

I've lived in Bologna for 2 years, I never had to drive a car or ride a bike, because I could walk.

Because they're also also very small (the size of Deen Haag) and everything is close.

Now let's talk about big cities:

Large areas for walking means that other vehicles have their spaces as well

Small areas for walking means that ONLY vehicles have their own spaces (streets have to be big enough for cars, but sidewalks can be reduced to a bare minimum or eliminated completely [7] <- this is in Rome) which make moving painful for the majority of citizens, especially the low income ones that cannot afford to own a car or to live near the workplace or people with kids or people with reduce mobility, that's why they then switch to using cars, because streets are not safe for them and bike lanes wouldn't change a thing.

[1] https://italoamericano.org/sites/default/files/styles/crop_s... [2] https://www.lautomobile.aci.it/fileadmin/_processed_/6/1/csm... [3] https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/15/d6/28/b2/... [4] https://cdn.civitatis.com/italia/bolonia/tour-bicicleta-bolo... [5] https://media.audleytravel.com/-/media/images/home/europe/it... [6] https://www.bolognawelcome.com/imageserver/gallery_big/files... [7] https://www.larena.it/image/policy:1.5942827:1504744507/imag...

>> Cities with lots of steps or staircases are only accessible for pedestrians, but no one else.

> And that's good!

Even for people with difficulty walking or in wheelchairs?

> Even for people with difficulty walking or in wheelchairs?

What part of "if we are talking about accessibility in general that a whole different problem"?

walkable means walkable, not staircaseable.

Stop bikeshedding.

Are streets or bike lanes the right solution for wheelchairs?

I seriously doubt that...

And I would add, public transport; even better if free for elderly and people with disabilities.

Public transportation is not free, someone has to pay for it which means its more expensive for everyone else..

The real problem though is what you do in less densly populated areas.


Another aspect of this are discriminatory laws that apply to cyclists. Most states in the US have laws that state that cyclists have the rights and duties of vehicles, but then state that they must keep as far right as practicable within the lane when going less than the normal speed of traffic (no such requirement applies to slower traffic in general). Some states also require cyclists to use the bike lane or other path when one is available.

It helps, but is not necessary. Counterexample: Arhus, Denmark.

> Counterexample: Arhus, Denmark.

91 km2


Rome, 1,285 km2

I'm from Rome

Rome is particularly bad regarding cars (we are probably the western city with the highest number of cars per capita, 73 every 100 inhabitants, if I remember correctly), but it is also a very complicated city for biking.

For two reasons

- hills: they are not a problem for the majority of expert bikers, they are if the average age of the citizens is 45 years, most of them are not expert bikers and there are hills everywhere. Add to it the road surface which is less than optimal for biking in large areas of the city, including the city center (for many reasons, historical in primis, but also political, even more so lately that we have the worst major in the world).

- distances: many people live very far from where they work, 1.5 million people everyday come to Rome for working, but live outside of it, most likely in the range 30-50 kms from the city, not counting the distances you have to cover when in the city (it's easily around 10kms, or 20kms total in a day). How many people can bike 100kms a day and make it alive? How long would it take?

people like the flexibility and freedom

What freedom and flexibility? Being forced to drive everywhere is not flexibility. Being forced to subsidize massive parking lots and highways is not freedom.

> But... this habitual style of treating everything as a conspiracy, built around a personified enemy ("They gave legal force to a mind-set—let’s call it automobile supremacy—that kills 40,000 Americans a year)... this way of thinking isn't doing us any favours.

I get what you are saying, but isn't it, in this case, a relatively accurate description of what happened? If not all over the US, at least in some big cities.

It has the tone of that breathless protestor you see on Market Street yelling about contrails making the frogs gay or whatever.

Yet if you look at the countries that are held up as examples to follow you will find the one thing they have in common is no substantial domestic car industry.

You can't ignore the politics of this.

Aren't Japanese cities often talked about as an example of good public transport (particularly trains) and reasonably dense areas with low housing prices?

True, although Japan is so different from the West culturally that I'm not sure you can make realistic comparisons.

Counties with significant domestic car industries:

* USA * Japan

Countries out of the first list, with policies favouring cars:



Insufficient data.

German public transportation is also excellent and if they aren’t considered to have a significant domestic car industry, I’m not sure who else does qualify.

France too.

If you add in Germany, I think you get 1.5/3

2/3, no way policies in Germany don't favour cars.

German policies don't advantage private car use over public transit use to anywhere near the degree US policies do. To give some examples, a few of which the article mentions or alludes to:

* In many US cities, businesses are required by law to have certain amounts of parking for employees and customers. This makes car use more convenient and takes up space, making walking less viable.

* German taxes on gasoline and diesel are over 100%.

* Most areas of larger German cities are zoned for high-density housing; it's typical for street-level businesses to have several floors of apartments above them.

* You mean like https://www.muenchen.de/rathaus/Stadtrecht/vorschrift/926.ht..., which requires one parking space per apartment (residential use) and also one parking space per 20 to 80 m² for businesses?

* They may be high but motorists still pay less in taxes than the general public contributes to the upkeep of their infrastructure, even when excluding externalised costs (healthcare, climate change accommodation etc).

* The same is true for e.g. New York, whereas (e.g.) London has a fair amount of low-density housing. Not quite sure how this is an argument if the vast majority of space in cities is still reserved for cars (either parking or driving).

  the one thing they have in common is no substantial domestic car industry
Another thing they have in common is that they were occupied by a country with a substantial motor vehicle industry, and then later liberated by another country with a substantial motor vehicle industry.

I’d be pretty happy to follow Germany’s guidance on public transportation.

> How cities are built and what transport infrastructure they're built around.

Context is important.

The population of cities has grown. For example, the Chicago metro area has 70% more people now than in 1950. Population growth has impacted car ownership and use. We shouldn't use today's context against the past. Things were different and that's worth considering.

Urban areas are about 3% of the US physical space. The design of transportation for dense cities (and they are getting denser) is different from that of suburban or rural spaces. There is no one size fits all.

It's not personified, it's almost the opposite — to insitutionalize the mindset in the form of law is precisely to depersonalize it, take it out of any individual's hands. The reason this pattern seems so common to you is because it is an extremely important phenomenon in modernity. See Max Weber on the rationalization of society[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalization_(sociology)

I too don't like the article presented that way. I should note that it was a conspiracy in this case. Automobile manufacturers ran media campaigns and lobbied to make walking across the street a crime.


Most of these are also laws passed by groups of people deciding to control others for a mix of perceived altruistic and selfish reasons. It's not secret but there's people conspiring.

Man, I was talking about this a couple of years ago and got called a conspiracy nut. I was like, "crack a history book." Now I can just point to this video. Cheers!

(FWIW, Robert Anton Wilson once pointed out that, of regime changes in the 20th century, over half of them were the result of some sort of coup. In other words, conspiracy is normal. Make of that what you will.)

Yeah, it is. Glad to see another person realize it. Most write-ups about it act as if believing in conspiracies requires a nutball. Whereas, the world is full of actual conspiracies going on all the time. I wrote a counterpoint to Bruce Schneier saying that:


Wow, very nice.

FWIW, you identified the reason(s) why I'm personally not concerned about general erosion of privacy, while bring very concerned about differential erosion of privacy.

- - - -

A though, can animals conspire? It's something that almost seems to require intelligence and "higher level" communication. Do chimpanzees conspire?

Would there be an adaptive advantage to conspiracy skepticism? Is that why conspiracy skepticism is so common? Most people are followers and a few are... tricky?... leaders?

Maybe rampant conspiracy is a phase between the moment of evolution of intelligence and the time when "fake news" forces fidelity to reality? It's trivial to show that conspiracy is only ever a local optimum. Multiple competing "truths" incur caloric cost to maintain, but honesty is maximally efficient.

Maybe we all get a clue, become scrupulously truthful, solve all our problems, and go on to live in a new Golden Age...

People acting together is not a conspiracy. That waters down the definition of conspiracy to the point of uselessness.

Corollary: the biggest impacts to energy consumption lie in land use and building code changes, secondarily in consumption habits.

See LLNL's 2018 energy flow chart:

https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/assets/images/energy/us/... (PDF: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/assets/docs/2018_United-...)

Of 101 quads, 28 go to transport. Industrial use. is dominated by relatively clean natural gas (methane), with a large chunk likely being ammonia and other chemical production (I'd like to see breakouts).

Dense and local-first construction enables public. transit, walking and cycling, localised services, shared facilities, and numerous other mechanisms of increased efficience

Denser residential spaces and more cimate-appropriate construction hugely reduces

To anyone else wondering what's meant by "rejected energy":


hugely reduces... ? can you please complete your message?

Also, do you mean that places like Japan, or the central, older parts of European cities are more efficient?

He's taken by CIA

Apologies: hugely reduces per capita and total energy budgets.

Flow chart is really cool!

I wonder what the biomass used for transportation is?

Ethanol produced from biomass mixed into gasoline or diesel.

It doesn't seem quite the same, but your comment strongly reminded me of https://www.econlib.org/an-epic-example-of-wealth-destructio... .

That article comes so close to defeating its own argument it's painful. If that land wasn't protected with zoning, it would have been built up long ago into a typical sprawling suburbia – the opposite of what they propose. So if it had been unprotected in the past, that would have been bad. And if it stays protected that's bad because it's underused.

It is only this short sliver of time that is today that this land should be developed into their dream city. That will somehow miraculously withstand the test of time.

No, it won't, that's just greed and narcissism – thinking that we're so special today that we deserve to have that land unprotected for us but doing that for either future or past generations is a mistake.

Perhaps I shouldn't speak for Scott Sumner, but I feel pretty sure he wouldn't recognize your opinion of what he supposedly thinks.

If you make your comment at econlib, he's not unlikely to respond.

My comment is a critique of the content of his article, not an "opinion of what he supposedly thinks" in need of his recognition.

If "thinking that" are trigger words now, replace it with "acting as if" to same effect.

Your comment is a critique of a lot of content you read into his article without the formality of it actually being there.

What regulation prevents that from being built?

[Edit] The Williamson Act? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williamson_Act) "The Williamson Act of the US state of California (officially, the California Land Conservation Act of 1965) is a California law that provides relief of property tax to owners of farmland and open-space land in exchange for a ten-year agreement that the land will not be developed or otherwise converted to another use."

"The property is under the Williamson Act, meaning the land will not be developed or otherwise converted to another use for a number of years." (https://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/article23239941...)

That flowchart is super-terrific; thanks for sharing it!

LLNL have produced these since the early 1970s, with both retrospective estimates to the to the 1950s and forecasts through 2000, created ~1975 (actual usage is well below forecast).

Archives online at the link or its parent.

There is no doubt that we are over-reliant on cars. We (Americans) spent the last century towards developing automobile infrastructure. Now with global warming, it will take many more years to undo the damage. We can agree over that.

But focusing the blame on car companies and the wealthy one-percenters is historical revisionism. It undercuts the fact that these policies were eagerly supported by lower-middle class and middle class people like my family, as well as by many working class people from the countryside. It expanded our agency. It allowed us to vacation to beaches and parks. It allowed us to visit faraway families and pursue work in faraway places. In short, it provided us physical and economic mobility.

We didn't know the damage we were doing. And even if we did know, we probably would have done the same thing. But passing the blame doesn't solve anything.

There’s actually a dichotomy:

Car support was pretty ubiquitous in rural areas where you really needed a horse to get around anyway and it really did radically improve life to get a car.

But car support in cities was quite tepid before the late 20’s, and a significant concerted effort of government and industry together ramrodded them in and sold it through a long propaganda campaign that eventually was accepted.

There’s a book about this early history called Fighting Traffic, by Peter Norton. The US came fairly close to banning cars in a number of cities, and to requiring mechanical governors to a 20mph limit in many others. A bunch of places installed memorials and monuments to “all the children slain by drivers” and so on.

It’s really interesting history that the auto lobby has worked hard to obscure.

Having grown up without a car in a country with good public transport, I never had trouble vacationing to beaches and parks, visiting faraway families, or pursuing work in faraway places (well that last point didn’t apply to me, but certainly did apply to e.g. my parents).

Now, having lived in the U.S. for many years, I still hate driving, but I’m basically crippled if I don’t drive.

"Modern" times attracted people into wanting faster for less. You can do a lot without cars, but you have to unplug your soul from not walking.

Also society shifted, cars meant larger but further shopping centers, and job areas.

You're just passing blame away from the people who are directly responsible for the excessive usage of cars to the users of cars, which solves even less.

If you want systemic change you need to approach systemic levers. Focusing on individual action is much less effective than focusing on the people who have power to change laws and reach the minds of consumers.

living in a big city in europe i was able to live without a car easily, but when i got a job in the US i fully expected that i'd have to learn to drive and get a car to get around.

BUT, i managed to get an apartment 10 minutes walking from the office. this was in san diego, of all places, a city which is very spread out. a few months later i moved in with friends and we found a place far north. most of my roommates had a car, but i took care that i had a bus going directly to work. it ran only once in 30 minutes, so missing it occasionally was a pain, but it was fine otherwise. it also provided for some memorable displays of humanity. another few months later the company moved to los angeles, and again i found a place with a direct bus to work.

i figured that if i can manage to live in sandiego and LA without a car, then i can do that anywhere. sure enough, a few years later i achieved the same in auckland. another city that is quite spread out and has a lackluster public transport system that rivals the US in lack of options.

not everyone is going to be able to achieve this. as a young programmer i could afford the higher rent in the areas close to the office. (i was a stone throw from hollywood boulevard, and crossed it every day on my way to the office :-)

As a European I was really surprised at how cycle-friendly San Francisco and Palo Alto (especially Stanford campus) are- its much better than you might expect. Room for improvement, but no worse than many cities over here.

As a resident of Copenhagen this was not really my impression. Yes, Palo Alto is cycleable, kinda in the same way any small town in the world is cycleable - low amount of traffic and comparatively wide streets. San Francisco is cycleable because it is 7x7 miles large so not that much space to sprawl but cycling infrastructure is basically completely absent.

What surprised me though is how overall passable public transport in San Francisco was. MUNI and BART are pretty okay for getting around even if locals don't believe so. Unsurprisingly whenever I was in trams, they were full of other European tourists.

Yeah, I never understood what people have against MUNI. The bus and subway seemed perfectly fine and quite cheap when I visited.

MUNI's shortcomings are visible during rush hour due to system collapse, and off-hours / on secondary routes due to missing runs or too-infrequent scheduling.

Moving around the most urban cores outside of rush hour, you typically won't see the worst of the warts.

from what i hear about copenhagen, no city in the world can compete with how cyclefriendly it is. even dutch cities struggle to keep up. so naturally, you won't have a good impression of any other place. i don't blame you. i am jealous. :-)

they have the best cycling infrastructure, they are called roads.

I get the feeling you do not know what good cycling infrastructure looks like.

If it requires cyclists to act like pedestrians and is only safe to use at pedestrian like speeds, then it's not good cycling infrastructure.

In Munich, where I live, for example, we have bike lanes on the sides of most streets throughout the town, and dedicated bike paths in the countryside. It's wonderful - cyclists can drive safely the speed they'd like to, without interfering with neither cars nor pedestrians. I use my bicycle almost exclusively for anything up to 20km.

Bike lanes on the sides of streets present problems for cyclists where there are frequent intersections. At those intersections, cyclists need to check for traffic overtaking them and then immediately making a right turn in front of them, traffic entering the roadway and encroaching in the bike lane, and oncoming traffic making a left turn across the bike lane.

I am also interested in moving to Munich at some point, could you tell me more about the state of the biking infrastructure? Is it practical to use cycling as your main transportation method around the city? What about recreationally - i.e. biking outside the city, to a nearby village?

Don't trust your feelings. The problem with the way cyclists and cycling transportation have been used politically is that it is now impossible to have any serious conversation about it, it's just like climate change. The experience of cyclists riding on roads have been quietly dismissed so that the establishment can get away with their bike lane agenda.

It is possible, but it is a challenge. When I was in San Diego Car2Go helped a lot (short one-way car rentals), but they're gone now. I cycled from Clairemont Mesa to South Park regularly and that was brutal.

While you could get between pre-selected points reliably (home and work), how was your experience living in LA carless when it came to going anywhere outside walking distance? The sprawl is massive and the busses/trains only go so far

if i wanted to go somewhere i planned ahead (most of the time). LA wasn't half bad in that regard. it has busses going on all major streets east-west and north-south. for many places i wanted to go to, a single transfer was enough. for example: go east first to the street that you want to reach, then transfer and go south.

i don't remember ever to having had to take a taxi. i got a few rides, but then it was friends who went to the same place anyways (like a linux user group meetup)

Now try going carless in Montana :)

There are plenty of similar places in Europe. I don't see how this says anything useful.

well, i did claim that if i can live without a car in san diego i can do it anywhere. dannyw does have a point about places like montana likely being a lot worse.

i can't think of any places like that in europe. european cities are simply not that spread out. so unless you live on a farm far from everywhere, you should be fine.

In Europe, urban centers are prohibitively expensive to live in if you want to avoid living in a slum.

Imagine if every city was San Francisco, especially in realtion to income.

In the end, I can live somewhat comfortably if I commute, essentially trading my time for lower crime rates and nicer surroundings.

which countries/cities are you talking about? i didn't make that experience in germany for example.

Germany is kind of a mixed bag here - situations are getting weird quickly if you search for Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Stuttgart, they get somewhat acceptable when you consider Berlin (but listen to them complaining about rent!), and in some areas, living is almost free (most of the Ruhrgebiet).

Also consider that if you are reading HN, you are likely to work in IT, which gives you a skewed idea on average income levels.

fair point. i did go by gut feeling, and haven't actually done any thorough comparison. and yeah, i can totally see that working in IT won't let me feel the pain of above average rent.

berlin is indeed interesting, one would think that with it being the capital city, the demand would rise, but i guess that east berlin is less popular, and that berlin also suffers from the overall reputation of east germany.

The population density of Montana is 2.7/km^2. Iceland is close with 3.5/km^2, then Norway and Finland (14 and 16/km^2). (Wikipedia)

Iceland has 824 cars/1000, Finland, 494 and Norway, 616.) The US overall has 811. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_...)

challenge accepted :-)

you haven't watched "Mountain Men" have you? :-D

Jaywalking is also a notion that was created by the car industry, with regulation and a PR campaign to shift the blame from cars to pedestrians.



Perhaps this wouldn't be an issue if more intersections had a pedestrian scramble [1] phase.

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

Where I live there is not a signal at every intersection. In some places there are not even any marked crosswalks anywhere nearby. However, every intersection that's not signaled/marked has implicit "unmarked crosswalks" and according to the law drivers must stop for pedestrians in these crosswalks.

The vast majority of drivers seem to be ignorant of this law, or they just don't care. Enforcement is nonexistent. When I step out into the road, I'm sure most of the drivers think I'm "jaywalking". More often than not they do not stop. I am not "jumping" into the road, nor am I generally walking about in low-visibility conditions.

Maybe fancy urban planning can help, but it's a band-aid on a deeper problem, at least where I live: drivers are ignorant and have bad attitudes not suited for the responsibility of operating motor vehicles. I guess it makes sense that enforcement is nonexistent, because "ignorant and have bad attitudes" is also an apt descriptor of police in America in general. Of course, I have been stopped for jaywalking... because obviously that is so much worse!

>Maybe fancy urban planning can help, but it's a band-aid on a deeper problem, at least where I live: drivers are ignorant and have bad attitudes not suited for the responsibility of operating motor vehicles.

Which is more likely?

a) everyone is irresponsible

b) your definition of "responsible" is not in line with everyone else's

Given my observations of how frequently and flagrantly (and objectively) drivers (and other road users) break laws put in place to keep all the users of our public infrastructure (including themselves) safe, I'll have to go with a). If your definition of being responsible explicitly allows for breaking such laws, you may want to re-evaluate it.

I'm not interested in hearing the word "anecdotal", either. Check out DUI statistics if you want bite-size proof that vast swaths of the population are fundamentally unfit to be driving, or show me data to back up your own point that the roads are not full of irresponsible drivers.

Oh, here's another good one: "In 2017 alone, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers." (from NHTSA: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving)

Oh quit your puritanical hand wringing.

Average people can drive in an average manner and go years or often decade, sometimes entire lifetimes without screwing up badly enough to attract law enforcement attention or get in a crash. We as a society have determined that is mostly good enough. Most people are satisfied with the current level of risk/reward of driving and unless improvements come with minimal trade-offs people are for the most part not interested. Society at large does not demand the same religious adherence to traffic rules as you do.

More people were killed by fires (a hazard that most people would not consider to be a Big Problem(TM)) in 2016 than in crashes related to distracted drivers.


> puritanical

> religious


Your point has regressed from "most drivers aren't irresponsible" to "most drivers are irresponsible but it's fine". If you can support the former with hard data, great, let's see it. The latter is an opinion; it's one I do not share, and it's not something I'm interested in discussing because there is zero chance of that discussion bearing any sort of fruit.

There's no regression whatsoever.

I am telling you, your definition of "responsible" (and by implication irresponsible) is not shared by society at large. I have told you this in several ways. Since apparently my last way of phrasing it wasn't easy to deflect now you're trying to straw-man me.

What sort of citation do you want? You said ~3k people are killed by distracted drivers and implied that it's a regular occurrence and a Problem(TM). I pointed out (with citation) that that's about the same number killed in fires, something infrequent enough that it's generally considered Not A Problem(TM).

Make no mistake, preventable deaths are tragic but preventable deaths as a result of motor vehicles are not the epidemic you portray them to be.

Of course further discussion will bear no fruit. Your mind is made up and will not be changed.

Pro tip: projection and strawmanning aren't good substitutes for reading comprehension skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to form cogent responses in a discussion.

It is my sincere recommendation that you work on the latter three, or possibly on your ability to simulate them when you aren't arguing in good faith.

Yes, and Pierre Curie slipped and fell under a horse-drawn cart, which ran over his head. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Curie#Death)

According to Wikipedia [0], the number of MV-related deaths has been right about 10 or 11 per 100,000 per year for the last ten years. Which makes the opening claim "Americans are condemned to lose friends and relatives to traffic violence" seem particularly overwrought.

And while the legal system may have been of some help, I rather suspect the main reason cars took over is because they give the user a tremendous amount of freedom and agency.

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

If you live in a small town of 100,000 people, that means 11 of your neighbors will be killed by drivers crashing their cars every year.

And that doesn’t account for the deaths and health costs caused by road pollution, by inactive lifestyles forced on communities due to car-centered infrastructure, etc...

Given the car-oriented status quo, perhaps it’s true that cars give owners tremendous freedom and agency (at the costs outlined above, plus tremendous financial cost). But it’s also true that many of the most desirable and productive parts of our cities are that way despite cars and not because of them.

> If you live in a small town of 100,000 people, that means 11 of your neighbors will be killed by drivers crashing their cars every year.

True. But for comparison, if we live in this small town of 100k people, then 192 people will die from Heart Disease, 178 people will die of Cancer, 47 people will die of Respiratory diseases, 43 people will die of Stroke, and 16 will die from the flu (influenza or pneumonia) every single year, according to the CDC. "Motor vehicle accidents" are not even in the top 10 causes of death (they're 13th, using 2016's data).

> the most desirable and productive parts of our cities are that way despite cars and not because of them.

Which is a strong argument for cars. Cars make things drastically more affordable for people. If you remove them, you increase the costs for everything (food, transportation, housing, healthcare, education, etc), to heights no regular person could ever afford. That also carries tremendous costs and even carries it's own death toll.

Paradoxically, making things "more desirable and productive" makes them worst for real people (because that value will be captured in a pricetag, and real people will never be able to afford it). Paradoxically, too much safety can actually be less safe overall (that safety will be captured in a pricetag, and real people will never be able to afford it, and will be forced into less safe alternatives) - https://local.theonion.com/neighborhood-starting-to-get-too-...

More people died from suicide (45k in 2016) in the US, than died from all automobile accidents nationwide (37k in 2016). The tradeoff here is not as simple as people often imagine it to be.

> "Motor vehicle accidents" are not even in the top 10 causes of death (they're 13th, using 2016's data)

To your point of bringing up suicide, there is "accidental" death; where it's 1. Opioid overdoses 2. Suicide 3. Car Accidents

> Cars make things drastically more affordable for people.

In "Energy and Civilization A History" by Vaclav Smil he points out that, once you factor in the time spent earning money to pay for the costs of car transport, you are doing no better than if you walked.

The time that the car seems to save is spent working to pay for the car.


Thing about car crashes is...they are the #1 most common cause of death for young people from age 5-25.

If you look at the population-wide stats, things are dominated by diseases of aging because more old folks are dying overall.

Every death at age 25 has robbed us of more than double the number of years of life than a death at 50.

As for the rumination about productivity, desirability and cost - I really don’t understand your argument.

How do cars make life more affordable in communities that are well-equipped to live a car-free life? (Well-equipped meaning with density of services, walkability and transit.)

The paradox you describe is just a function of how rare these dense, people-friendly communities are in our landscape of endless exurban development crisscrossed by 6-lane expressways where you have to wait 5 minutes to cross the street while walking your dog. If we built more of these high-demand, people-centered communities, the price differential would not be so great.

>Which is a strong argument for cars. Cars make things drastically more affordable for people. If you remove them, you increase the costs for everything (food, transportation, housing, healthcare, education, etc), to heights no regular person could ever afford.

So why is it that the US has the most expensive healthcare costs in the world, and also extremely high food and housing costs?

I live in a small city of about 400,000 and only have about 10 neighbours. I guess Americans are just friendlier.

I also live in a city of about 400,000 - and I have thousands of neighbors. Of course I don't know them all personally - I am familiar with different groups, communities, leaders, families. I know about what's important to them, what their goals are, what they are up to in our shared community. I care about them. Do you care about the health and wellbeing of people who are not your 10 immediate neighbors?

There are higher dimensions involved.

Here's another way to look at it. This link (https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/) says "traffic crashes [...] account for 2.2% of all deaths globally." Which means that out of your 50 closest acquaintances, one of them is likely to die in a car accident.

Motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for people ages 5 through 34 in the United States. Also, the injuries are substantial. In the US, 2.7 million emergency department visits from motor vehicle accidents each year. I am not suggesting we eliminate cars, but the US has gone way, way overboard and thus actually "reduced" our freedoms. Congestion, car dependency, and lack of alternatives is not freedom.

the whole article is a festival of cherry picked statistics, innuendo, and hyperbole, all to support a fantasy world ideal the author desires.

Imagine if someone invented cars today? Hey everyone, we want to make you use this killing machine, that kills a million people every year around the world directly, many more indirectly. We just need to clear out the parks currently around your houses to turn into horrible bleak roads, so they can bring the pollution directly to your door.

But in exchange you get to go anywhere in America. You aunt in San Jose you haven't seen in months because it's a day's horse-ride. Well you can pop over for lunch, and be home for dinner. You can go see Yosemite and Tahoe in the same day. Your groceries will be 10 mins away.

No. If someone invented cars today, he'd be considered a hero. We'd talk about him in history books.

> Your groceries will be 10 mins away.

I doubt your groceries would be more than 10 minutes away even if no cars had been invented. Zoning practices would change to allow more shops distributed across residential areas. That would make more sense than requiring people to ride an hour on horseback.

But yes, the supermarket would be much less 'super' with a much smaller selection of goods.

And more expensive. Like buying everything at a convenience store.

You think there wouldn't be trains?

If we had an adequate bus system, I think you could still visit Yosemite and Tahoe in the same day.

mass transit will never be capillary enough. you know what they did in old European cities when the started blocking city centers to public transit? they introduced 8 seater autobus to have enough and be capillary enough to get people where they needed to. mass transit can't do that, unless at some point you want very very tiny trams and tramways everywhere instead of roads everywhere

or would you prefer to live in a city where the job and housing market develops near a handful main connected roads and everywhere else you travel more than you work?

> [safety concerns]

on a side note, imagine the amount of deaths from not having ambulances or fire trucks and the price gouging of transit company to reach major productivity center.

if someone invented car today those would still be great selling points for them

Mass transit + bikes or scooters is pretty good. Millions of people in cities don't own cars. It's good enough for many people and there is still lots of room for improvement.

It's a great thought. Just to make it more fun, let's fit the cars with tanks of inflammable liquid and then drive them really fast, like say 60mph, along the same roads in opposite directions at the same time!

What could possibly go wrong?

It's kind of true, but how could you let people ride bikes? They don't even have airbags.

The "car-tel" didn't just make a legal victory, it made a political victory.

It's nearly forgotten how much anger and resentment that Americans had against the railroad companies back in the day. Back then, railroads could decide if they would build a stop at your town, or even decide to build a new town on land that they owned somewhere along the line. Railroads were perceived as a vast private taking from the commons.

The car on the other hand involves public ownership of the roads and distributed ownership of the vehicles. That leaves a strong majority of the population feeling that the status quo benefits them and encourages them to keep it that way.

Another result of this culture that I wish the author would have addressed is how cars have changed how we raise our children. We are forced to keep our children inside because all our houses are surrounded by rivers of death. Why are we surprised that young kids spend all their time sedating themselves with screens? What choice have we given them?

We have designed our living spaces to be ideal for cars, not humans. It is hard to acknowledge because it has been that way all our lives but it is a trade-off we are making.

I was aware of this in the abstract before I had kids. Now that I have them, it can be really terrifying. We go for walks even in places with big wide sidewalks and they are oblivious, they would jump out in the street at just about any moment if we weren’t holding hands and teaching them constantly to be afraid of cars.

It’s really sad. Kids nature is to want to run around and burn off energy, and right outside our door it’s safe for adults to do that, but it’s still not safe for young children because you still have to stay in the limited pedestrian zone and carefully cross streets.

I’ve wondered a lot about trying to build a car-free neighborhood with a commuter bus to downtown. I wish that existed, I’d move there.

If you build it or find it, let me know. I want to move there too.

That's certainly the case in the densely-packed public-transit-friendly cities where the only option to being inside is either a sidewalk or the street. Out in the less-public-transit-friendly suburbs, kids can (and do) run around in their front/back yards or even the street if it's not too busy.

> Those who walk or bike to work receive no commuter tax benefit

Its all about incentives. And the government is in the driver's seat. I would love to get paid to bike around - that is a brilliant idea. Not to mention the health benefits of having a population exercise to get to work.

I live in NYC where the city was designed for cars. I find it a travesty that prime waterfront property on both sides of Manhattan - really all around the island - is a highway. If Robert Moses had prioritized non-car means of transport, we would have a very different city.

"Yet the most prominent way of setting and adjusting speed limits, known as the operating-speed method, actually encourages faster driving. It calls for setting speed limits that 85 percent of drivers will obey. This method makes little provision for whether there’s a park or senior center on a street, or for people walking or biking."

This statement causes me to question the veracity of the rest of the article.

Practically every municipality bends over backward to slow traffic near places where children, the elderly, the blind, or even just where too many accidents occur.

"Operating-speed method" is only really used for high-speed, high-throughput, limited access roadways.

Municipalities do not do much to slow traffic. The might put up a slower speed limit sign, and post traffic copes - but the cynic who says this is about revenue not slowing traffic has a good point. There are plenty of real ways to slow traffic known in traffic engineering circles, but they are rarely implemented.

You are not in Southern California then. Traffic circles and road humps are quite endemic.

This is sufficiently common that I could use road humps as a proxy for "Am I going the correct direction?" back before nav systems. Maybe you weren't going the completely right direction, but a road hump (or traffic circle) meant you were on a road sufficiently useful that it needed a traffic calming measure.

Cities with winter have extra considerations, though.

This was a revelation.

...Even so, 85 to 90 percent of toxic vehicle emissions in traffic come from tire wear and other non-tailpipe sources,...

So electric cars will mitigate only 10-15% of the environmental problems of the ICE cars?

This is misleading.

If you follow the link to the actual research paper you find that it's 90% of PM10 and 85% of PM2.5

That is, not "emissions" in general but particle matter specifically.

This makes sense because modern cars have efficient engines and particle filters so that few particles are emitted from the combustion engine itself. The remaining sources are the tyres and the brakes.


But doesn't the point still stays that contrary to the popular belief electric cars would not bring about much change?

Research paper: ..it could be concluded that the increased popularity of electric vehicles will likely not have a great effect on PM levels.

Electric vehicles will bring about significant changes.

As said, and as your quote highlights, this focusses on particles. But the main emission of internal combustion engines is CO2, and other nasty stuff like CO, NOx, hydrocarbons, etc. These are eliminated by electric vehicles.

They are moved by electric vehicles to some remote place (where they might also be more efficiently handled), but even as an electric car driver, I don’t think of them as eliminated.

They are eliminated and electricity production does not have to produce any of them: The short term goal is total elimination across the whole chain.

I think the parent was referring to the mining and manufacturing of lithion ion and other components that go into a car.

That's a secondary effect. Primary effect I had in mind when commenting was the movement of the emissions from the local tailpipe to the electric plant (which is very far from 100% emission-free today).

As said this is so only on 'backwards' countries ;) and certainly it should not last.

Claiming that electric vehicles only move emissions to the electric plant is unfair at best.

I think it's more accurate than claiming they are eliminated.

It's not but it helps some narratives...

OK, I'll play along. Suppose I drive my electric car an additional 450 miles. That will consume an extra ~100kWh of energy from the battery, which will require me to buy an extra 115kWh of energy from my electric utility, which will require them to generate (or procure) an additional 125kWh or so.

Are there any emissions associated with that additional 125kWh of consumed electricity? If so, where? If not, why not?

Yes and no. These sources generate rather large particles (PM10) which, as opposed to PM2.5, don't get to the bloodstream through the lungs.

From the research paper cited by the article:

PM2.5 emissions were only 1-3% lower for EVs compared to modern ICEVs. Therefore, it could be concluded that the increased popularity of electric vehicles will likely not have a great effect on PM levels. Non-exhaust emissions already account for over 90% of PM10 and 85% of PM2.5 emissions from traffic. These proportions will continue to increase as exhaust standards improve and average vehicle weight increases. Future policy should consequently focus on setting standards for non-exhaust emissions and encouraging weight reduction of all vehicles to significantly reduce PM emissions from traffic.


Here's what I find suspicious about this study: resuspension being counted as an emission.

It's said that cars "produce" PMs this way even though they don't per se.

What I'm getting at is that if we reduced the amount of particulates added to the system, then surely there would be less to resuspend?

Unless there's some other, non-car related source of these. If so, why not address it instead?

> Even so, 85 to 90 percent of toxic vehicle emissions in traffic come from tire wear and other non-tailpipe sources, which electric and hybrid cars still produce.

First of all, this person meant to say "particulates" [1] and so we are not talking about CO2 at all. Secondly, the source that he links to has this table in it for PM10 (the table for PM2.5 would be analogous) [2]. Almost all of this argument is based on "resuspension". Basically, the car's slip stream. Seriously?

By the way, these values are (virtually) calculated all on acount of EVs being heavier. Well done I guess for assuming that braking in EVs won't have PM emissions <nod to regenerative breaking>.

It's a pity that an argument based on traffic accidents and cars has to reference such a random and irrelevant article. I agree that Americans like cars too much.

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

[2] Table 5

Comparison between expected PM 10 emissions of EVs, gasoline and diesel ICEVs (mg/vkm)

(Vehicle technology) (Exhaust) (Tyre wear) (Brake wear) (Road wear) (Resuspension) (Total)

EV 0 7.2 0 8.9 49.6 65.7

Gasoline ICEV 3.1 6.1 9.3 7.5 40 66.0

Diesel ICEV 2.4 6.1 9.3 7.5 40 65.3

I drive an electric; wife drives a gas ICE; I maintain both. No way is electric brake wear 1% or less of a conventional car (what it would take for it to round down to zero in that table). I'd put it at around 5-10% of an ICE, making the total particulate emissions higher.

Even if it's 20 percent or more it won't make much of a difference. The table is rediculous to start off with. Almost all of the particulates are due to "resuspension" which is literally the wind / slipstream created by the car. These are not emissions; whatever is on the road is just blown up in the wind and based on this argument they claim that electric cars have more particulate emissions than ICEs.

Unless you happen to have two of the same car in ICE and electric you're going to need to do some math to account for different brake pad volume and vehicle weight. There's a pretty substantial number of variables that would go into it. I assume you're using the same product line for all your pads.

Figuring out whether it's 25% or 50% may require that.

Figuring out whether it's sub 1% or >= 2% probably doesn't.

The whole fucking world is subsidizing this garbage by not charging people for the externalities their lifestyle incurs upon the world.

> Since her passing (1995), approximately 1 million more Americans have been killed in car crashes.

That's a huge cost.

Laws follow practicality, so the first thing to do is make sure drivers pay their full costs on a per-mile basis. Things like gas taxes being earmarked for road construction-- when I buy other miscellaneous stuff I pay a general sales tax that can be spent discretionarily by the government. Not applying that to gas is an inappropriate subsidy to cars. Where autos own the road (most everywhere) road funds should pay for sidewalks; where highways divide communities, there should be liberal allowances for pedestrian bridges. Finally, public transit needs to be professionalized in order to provide a fuller alternative, in the sense that transit organizations can't be run with a 'politics as usual' approach-- the point of the system cannot be simply to kick the can down the road on historic pension obligations. If government wants to require public transit to be better in certain respects-- handicap access and perfect safety come to mind-- these desires should be evaluated against the counterhypothetical of, "if you make the system less useful by only opening one set of doors at the stop (for safety) x number of people will die as a result of being forced back into cars."

I am unconvinced about this claim.

The legal and political and taxation system in Denmark is anti car and pro public transportation and have been for decades.

We are talking 200% taxes on the cars and constant reduction of roads in the big cities, constant expanision of public transportation.

Yet cars for most people in Denmark is very important.

Cars are the perfect balance between flexibility, scaleability, speed, utility etc.

This is why cars win, not because of some conspiracy.

The increasing legal requirements for crashworthiness are self defeating: making vehicles to withstand more energetic collisions requires making cars more heavy — more heavy cars then cause even more energetic collisions.

There's a pretty good book on the origins and consequences of the car culture called, not surprisingly, "The Car Culture by James J. Flink.

It was written in 1975 so doesn't speculate on the future of self driving vehicles but part of what made that book interesting is it took an oil shock to really get some attention on the problems.

(let's not forget that one enormous benefit of automobiles was that they cleaned up the cities which used to be full of horse manure. Of course we know now that they pollute in other, destructive, ways).

People drive cars because they are the most efficient mode of transportation. Laws and policy followed. Anything else is a moronic conspiracy theory.

Let's just take the two examples in the article. First single family zoning. I would argue that before cars (and cities) people lived on farms and ranches. Cars were not to blame. The trend has been towards smaller living areas, not larger. Second, parking requirements. I think parking requirements came after cars, not the other way around.

They aren't the most efficient mode of transportation, depending on your definition. In terms of carbon, energy utilized, or even time, in many places walking/biking will beat cars. It's not a moronic conspiracy theory to suggest that bringing a 2 ton wheel-chair everywhere we go is inefficient.

In very few places in America is walking/biking more efficient than cars. The author is not saying autos are inefficient, which is a valid argument, he is saying there is a conspiracy ("automobile supremacy") to supplant other forms of transportation with the automobile. This is simply foolish.

It's also our values system that allowed the legal system to do it's thing. Cars are also a product of values that focus on "me and my personal needs".

> Those who walk or bike to work receive no commuter tax benefit

False. It’s possible to pay for mass transit with pretax dollars.

You can pay for transit with pretax dollars but not for biking. There used to be a $20 per month commuter benefit but it was killed as part of the Republican tax overhaul. Even before it was killed, you couldn’t use both the bicycling and transit benefit if for example you rode to a park and ride transit stop. You can take advantage of both the parking and transit benefit if you drive to a transit stop.

Is that in a theoretical sense, or is it something I could do now? If the latter can you be more specific - how do I use pre-tax dollars to pay for my bus fare?

Not for an individual fare, but an employer can offer monthly/annual passes on a pre-tax basis (up to $265/mo for 2019)


> traffic violence

> automobile supremacy

The language of this article just makes me cringe.

Other than that, it's really quite reasonable though.

It sounds shocking if you only travel in car as it doesn't affect you as much but if you ride a bike it's a fact of life in many areas.

For example if you wear lycra, you will probably find that a percentage of people will regularly try to "punish" you because they think you "look funny".

The mildest form of punishment will be them driving as close to you as they dare. That could be 50mph 12"s away. That's like standing on the other side of the do not cross line in the subway as a train comes past.

That's my anecdotal experience but a quick search Youtube will turn up many examples of this. Action camera manufacturers specifically design products to document this.

Worse though, you'll probably eventually have someone be more directly aggressive to you. Maybe throwing something at you or trying to drive you off the road.

In that context I think that the phrase traffic violence is fitting. If someone is using a vehicle as a weapon what else would you call it?

I've cycled for decades and never had such an incident of aggression from drivers. Maybe it depends on some other factors in addition to the drivers.

To counter your anecdote, cyclist deaths have risen lately in NYC to the point of public protest:

> Aster Ryan, 25, of Wingate, said “this summer has felt especially dangerous.” In addition to the three cycling deaths that took place within a week, Ryan said she was hit while riding her bike a little more than a week ago on Dean Street, and also watched another rider get hit by an opening car door recently.


These problems are caused by riding in areas where one is not visible to drivers of other vehicles (e.g. filtering to the right of other vehicles that are preparing to make a right turn) and also riding too close to parked cars. A secondary cause are laws that require cyclists to use bike lanes or keep as far right as practicable within the lane.

Speaking personally I'd like to know what those factors are.

Is it just location? Is it the type of bike or the clothes we wear?

There was this study https://helmets.org/walkerstudy.htm which has some interesting conclusions but the sample size is a bit small to be statistically valid IMHO.

Oh and I'd add, if it's not clear already, that most drivers seem to be very nice and considerate people. It's just that there are percentage of aggressive people and when they're in cars they drive aggressively.

I'd say a lot has to do with cyclist behavior. Hugging the curb does not help, it invites motorists to pass even when it is not safe to do so. It is much safer to take the lane, occupy the middle of it, so other vehicles coming from behind know that they either have to wait or change lanes to pass. Segregating cyclists into cyclists-only lanes do not help either. As they usually force them to ride as if they where hugging the curb or in any case give the impression that it is not safe to take the lane. Plus of course all other problems caused at intersections.

But if you don't hug the shoulder the police will harass you for it.

Cyclists seem to want to be treated like a car only when it suits them. I have never seen a cyclist stop and wait his turn in a line of cars at a red light. They always hug the curb and pass all the cars so that they have to pass him again.

You’re incredibly fortunate then. Count your blessings but please don’t discount the experiences of those of us who have been victims of abuse by drivers on the road. Thank you.

>> automobile supremacy

I had two drivers within the last 12 hours taking my right of way by illegally driving onto a cycle path when turning from a side street into a main street.

Both claimed that they couldn't see into the main street if they didn't drive over the cycle path first, but somehow while both of them were perfectly happy taking cyclists right of way, they did not want to take other motorists right of way by driving directly onto the main street.

That cuz you got got by the automtive industrial complex to the point where it effects your views on terminology.

I'm reminded of the General Motors streetcar conspiracy - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_consp...

I was in Switzerland recently and was very impressed with how good the public transportation system was - trains, trams and buses. To top it, the water in the lakes and tap were all 100% drinkable.

I'm vacationing Ireland at the moment, and it really hits me how car-centric it is, and I found the Scottish Highlands be very similar. Quite narrow roads, with hedges or stone fences and very little space for a pedestrian or cyclist.

Southern Germany too, although at least they usually don't put hedges/fences right up to the edge of the road.

I would hate to walk or bike on those roads, despite the beautiful landscapes on display.

Initially I thought there was a pressing need to widen the roads, but then I realized that the real problem is the size of modern cars and how fast most people drive.

While car ownership and driving is currently vital to a lot of rural communities, we need to reclaim the roads for shared usage, and break the imagined car/driver ownership and privilege over them.

I've always figured that the narrow roads over there were (much like the ones in the older European cities) created long before cars, when people relied on horses or horse-drawn vehicles for transport. Roads designed after cars became common tend to be much wider.

That's sort of my point. cars are way too big and go way too fast for a lot of roads, and there is often no room to widen them. So we let the cars squeeze in anyway, to the severe detriment of pedestrians and cyclists.

Did this happen in other countries too? There are varying degrees, but cars are king the world over. I’m suspicious of the idea that it was due to laws or government.

This is generally how I think self-driving will squeeze out human-driving, through regulatory capture. Don't love it for many reasons, but there is precedent.

I'm extremely interested in seeing micro-mobility options expand. The more forms of transportation we have that aren't cars and buses, the more seriously the public will consider things like taking one lane of traffic and dedicating it to bikes, scooters, trikes, quadricycles, golf carts, and the like. If we can make it easier for people to get around this way, we can slowly push cars to the fringes of cities, and maybe with the money we save, even eventually replace them for inter-city transportation.

i will probably get downvoted but this all thanks to the oil industry, they even knew about climate change since the 60s

Not just the legal system but also the city planners who designed all sorts of things like suburbs, malls, etc. that favour cars and are pretty much copy-pasta all over each city on the whole continent. All these people want bike lanes, I want my horse lane.

Let's not forget that, at least in the case of New York, mass transit was deliberately pushed out, in pursuit of some kind of elitist pipe dream. The more I read about Robert Moses, the less respect I have for his legacy.

Your comment makes me think of the premise behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Judge Doom: Several months ago I had the good providence to stumble upon this plan of the city council's. A construction plan of epic proportions. They're calling it a freeway.

Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell's a freeway?

Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.

Eddie Valiant: So that's why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don't get it.

Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision. I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it'll be beautiful.

Eddie Valiant: Come on! Nobody's going to drive this lousy freeway when they can take the Red Car for a nickel.

Judge Doom: Oh, they'll drive. They'll have to. You see, I bought the Red Car so I could dismantle it.

Today, San Francisco only has trains along Market Street, fingering out into a half dozen neighborhoods. Most of the city is served by buses. Originally, many of those buses were, in fact, trains:

> ...as SF's rail network was removed or replaced with bus lines in the mid-century, it went from 16 rail lines to five...

The reason we still have the trains we do is because they were the lines that used tunnels, so they couldn't easily be replaced by buses.

The World's Fair, which also brought us the Palace of Fine Arts, spurred the construction of many of those train routes. You used to be able to get to the Presidio by train! Imagine if, instead of spending effort digging up the tracks to replace them with buses, they buried the tracks and built an actual metro system: you could get around the city without a vehicle.


  Today, San Francisco only has trains along Market Street
Um, Caltrain? BART? Fixed rail Muni, including the 3rd Street line all the way to Bayview?

Perhaps I should have been more specific; I was talking about MUNI:

> along Market Street, fingering out into a half dozen neighborhoods

Do streetcars not count as trains?

> along Market Street, fingering out into a half dozen neighborhoods

Atleast things were "planned" in the US.

In my country (India), there is hardly any planning -- empty land == lets buy and build a building. No regulation even on buying cars, keep on piling and spend an hour or two for a 8 KM ride home from your office.

There is no incentive to use public transport. There is no special lanes for public transport. No one follows the "lane rules" either. They(us) got enough money to buy a car but no sense on how to use them properly.

And note that cars much costlier in India if you consider PPP. Its horrible.

No incentive to use public transport is exaggeration. More than half of India is reliant on public transportation in some form or another. If the Delhi Metro or the Mumbai Local shuts down, there’ll be riots within an hour. Just a couple of weeks ago a 1km stretch of Delhi metro on the yellow line shut down and the whole south of the city was gridlocked in 30 mins in the afternoon (when it usually isn’t). Even in rural areas, a vast majority of people are still dependent on public transit in the form of government buses, private buses, taxis, tempos, autorickshaws etc.

Public transportation is the backbone of India. I can only agree to the point is that it’s uncomfortable and overcrowded to use.

> No incentive to use public transport is exaggeration

There isn't a single person in India who will not buy a car if they have the money to. How many of these 'rich' people really use the Mumbai local and Delhi Metros?

Suburbs, sure, but do malls really favor cars? Where I grew up, the mall was the only place where people would walk from one store to another instead of driving. I’ve also been in plenty of urban malls that have excellent public transit connections and are situated on busy pedestrian streets.

Malls are usually surrounded by a huge carpark.

So are suburban train stations. It’s the natural byproduct of places where people change their mode of transport from cars to something else. Malls are one of the only high-density land uses that people in the suburbs accept, and the surrounding carpark is a necessary buffer between the low- and high-density development. I contend the problem isn’t with the mall itself, but with the low-density development surrounding it.

I think this is the point. Malls in cities in other countries are not as pedestrian/public transit unfriendly as they are in the US.

Absolutely not. In Sydney, we have malls with their own suburban train stations (eg Macquarie Centre), and bus interchanges.

The vast majority of people get there by public transport, not driving.

I want the majority of the road network roofed with turf into a long hill with occaisional exits, or lowered and moved completely underground.

Terrible maintenance costs for ventilation, plant vehicle access, widening (e.g. temporarily for roadworks), poor kerb access for deliveries/emergency vehicle access, plus a firetrap in the case of a burning vehicle

At least that's what I've worked out from Cities: Skylines.

I've concluded the opposite: leave the cars where they are. What I want is a separate pedestrian level to the city - a skyway system (though I'm fine with it being underground). Let the humans walk in air conditioned comfort while not cars to worry about. This is much cheaper than the underground roads.

How about air conditioned skyways for pedestrians in cities and underground roads everywhere else?

Underground roads are orders of magnitude more expensive, so it isn't worth creating them (with some exceptions). With unlimited resources we could create as many as we want, but I have better things to do with my time/money than build roads.

Skyways are significantly cheaper than bridges. It would still be cheaper to make the ground level of your city a building, but not having to support the mass of cars and trucks means skyways can be significantly cheaper.

In the modern world trucks and buses are far too useful to ban completely from cities where people live. People need their stuff delivered, and need to get longer distances once in a while. Thus I'm saying reserve the ground for those uses and get humans away from them. It is a compromise, but I think it is a good one.

Not worrying about the humans in particular. Uncovered ground level roads are just death traps and fencing them off is even worse in many ways.

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