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The Mobility Trap: Why We'll Never Fix Congestion by Speeding Up Traffic (strongtowns.org)
161 points by oftenwrong 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 240 comments



>So what do we achieve by building new highways and speeding up travel? We don't actually shorten people's trips; we just enable them to live and work farther away from each other.

That is a good thing. One of the reasons why the Bay Area is so expensive is that the commute to cheaper areas in Central Valley is so long. Mobility allows choices. The type of home and the neighborhood you want to live in, is no longer as tightly coupled to the type of job you want to do, the place of worship you want to attend, the school you want your kids to go to, or the doctor your family wants to see.

Yeah, having a corner grocery might be good, but without mobility, the grocers are going to realize that you don't really have much choice about buying from them, and maybe start charging higher prices, or not stocking as much variety, or higher fewer people and having less service.

Mobility means more choice, and more decoupling. This means you not having to live in a high priced, crappy home because of proximity to your job. The further the distance we can make 30 minutes of commute, the more choices people have.


But the high speed of travel is effected by making virtually everything pavement. You're just traveling through nothing (well, asphalt).

Thanks to parking minimums the actual buildings you want to go to are _dwarfed_ by their parking lots.

https://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/13/the-whole-city-of-flo...

Also, forcing everything to be so far apart makes it nearly impossible to traverse on foot, serve with public transport, ride a bike to, etc.


New York begs to differ.

Because of high city density, I can walk to nearly every destination of day-to-day shopping or services. I can commute in 30-40 minutes from (more) affordable Brooklyn to job-packed Manhattan.

I can take a train if I want to read, or a bike if I want to enjoy the view.

Car traffic is pretty slow here, admittedly. But I need a car maybe once or twice a month, and Lyft provides it.

The cost of it living in an apartment, and not your own house with a lawn to tend. I'm fine with that.

Unfortunately, the US lacks another such city, except maybe Chicago. Most US cities are large sprawling villages around a small downtown where all buildings are offices and commerce, and nobody actually lives.


But.. we agree completely. I'm not sure I follow?

New York exists because it was built before we made it illegal to build cities like it.

One of the reasons we lack other cities like it is because we made it illegal to build large buildings without huge amounts of parking and gigantic roads.

Though, would Boston not qualify?


Also Philadelphia and parts of DC (basically most cities that started before cars were invented).


>Most US cities are large sprawling villages around a small downtown where all buildings are offices and commerce, and nobody actually lives.

You just described San Jose, which brings us back into the Bay Area.


San Jose has 4 high rise residential towers downtown: https://www.highrises.com/san-jose/high-rise-condos/


Is this meant to be a high number or a low number? It seems quite low to me for a city of over a million people.


This. And its depressing. A walkable city is much easier to be in a good mood in than a car-centric city.


>much easier to be in a good mood in

Is that for you, or for the average person, or for most persons ? If not the last, it's just a personal opinion, and a possible typical mind fallacy.


Consider the health implications of effects of motor traffic.

Noise pollution exposure is known to be associated with stress, raised blood pressure, memory loss, nervousness and depression.

Congested traffic is associated with stress and aggression, even domestic violence.

Air pollution is associated with perceived annoyance, not to mention all manner of medical conditions that have (IMO) obvious mood implications (COPD can be a real downer).

As a matter of opinion it seems obvious to me that a space designed for cars is not as comfortable to people as a space designed for people. As a matter of statistics, there are a lot of associations between motor traffic and poor mood, and illnesses with mood implications.


Well, add me and everyone who visited me in the centre of Dublin to the list.

If nothing else, inhaling less poison and, crucially, hearing less engine noise helps.


This is a good question and one that should be applied to the OPs comment that kicked off this thread.


Cities including Kent, WA mandate a 60/40 split if parking to building area, enforcing cars are the only practical transport option.

This equation has shifted due to eBikes, as they can blow past the snarled traffic on the handful of roads that connect the area, but it still leaves elders, youngsters and the infirm housebound.


Used to work in Kent. Loved my job, hated that awful town.


Everything I know about Kent I learnt by watching Almost Live (eg https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6JOQbwVJjxY). Seems to be a worse version of Renton.


If your already in a mobility scooter, I could see it being modified to work in ebike mode. In a way, it's even more convenient for you because you don't have to lock it up or park it anywhere.


Mobility scooters make poor eBike platforms due to the direct electric drive, small radius tires. Hitting 10+mph in a mobility scooter is not likely to happen without serious modifications that are more costly than welding two eBikes together.


The world record is over 70mph but yes, seriously modified http://www.colinfurze.com/fastest-scooter.html


But you can foresee a mobility scooter that was designed to go 1-20mph comfortably? They take up so much space and weigh so much you could probably make them street legal electric motorbikes.


Mobility scooters are designed to operate in pedestrian spaces, including indoors. Ones capable of 20mph would probably get banned from pedestrian areas, indoor operation, malls etc for the same reason you wouldn't let someone ride an electric motorbike up the corridors.


Addendum - this video (shared recently in another HN discussion) is a _fantastic_ illustration of the problems of parking minimums, made with Cities: Skylines

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lvUByM-fZk


> Thanks to parking minimums the actual buildings you want to go to are _dwarfed_ by their parking lots.

Has anyone put together a summary of parking minimum ordinances are across the US?


Dense urban living also requires most of your surroundings to be pavement.


Have you never been to old European cities? They’re beautiful and dense. Hell, even London has many parts that are dense compared to US cities yet are beautifully old and green (like Hampstead and Highgate!).

At the end of it, we live in a world where every bit of profit matters more than earning slightly less and having something better looking.

I mean let’s compare Los Angeles County vs Greater London: 4,058 sq mi vs 606 sq mi Density 2,100/sq m vs 14,550/sq mi.

I mean the difference is insane! And ignoring the towers springing up all over London because of greedy developers, London doesn’t feel all that cramped or as if there’s concrete everywhere.

US cities need better public transport and more dense areas. Leave the rest to nature!


What business _isn't_ greedy? Do we complain about "greedy greengrocers"?

You need to build systems where people trying to maximize profit isn't a problem. It's not something we've completely figured out (see: externalities)

Ironically if greedy developers got their way in the US we'd have more low or no-parking buildings, as evidenced by the fact that they weren't build "enough" (whatever that means) parking until the law forced them to.


> greedy developers

What's wrong with people building things that others want to buy?


Here (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/29/skyscr...) is a good article that explains it well.

Plus, I don’t think housing should really be left to the free market. This is the UK after all, social housing is one of the best things we’ve ever done (IMO).


The article is full of bombastic statements like "They are loved by virility-obsessed mayors."

I.e. the article isn't credible.


The author is previous deputy chairman of the National Trust and English Heritage.

A quick search would’ve shown you who the author of the column is.

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


Doesn't matter who he is. If he wants his article to be taken seriously, he shouldn't fill it with unsupportable bombast.


People buy things without accounting for externalities (which were not forcefully included in the price by govt regulation). Some buildings that people want to buy have negative effects on the rest of the people living in the city. Hence, there is an argument to be made that there is something wrong with certain kinds of buildings. These might be super high rises or it might be a polluting factory in the middle of the city.


What's wrong is that there is no profit in selling real estate and housing at below market value, by definition. And in places like the bay, market rents are not affordable to an increasingly large population. Hence, the greedy perception. Developers are acting in self interest and the old system of financing predicated continuous wage growth.


Sorry I’m talking in relation to the UK. It’s a much different reason for high prices here than somewhere such as SFO.


Not building towers will result in even higher prices for housing.


At least in the UK the price per square foot greatly increases after each new build that replaces an older one. Surely prices would go down? You can even verify yourself. Go on a property portal such as Zoopla or Rightmove and compare the cost of a new build and old build in the same area. I have yet to find one where the new build is cheaper per square foot.


Prices will still rise if demand is increasing faster than supply. If supply remained constant, the prices would rise even faster.


Of course, people like newer things. But how was the cost of surrounding old builds affected?


> But how was the cost of surrounding old builds affected?

Not sure I understand?

Edit: Anyway, the poster I was replying to was making the point that these towers are alleviating demand and subsequently pushing prices down, which is not happening.


I meant "people who might have bought an old home instead went to the new one".

If I have a market of 10 dumpy old cars, people will pay X for it. If I destroy 1 dumpy old car and add 2 brand new cars, people will pay more for the new cars (like your new building) but the dumpy old ones will be slightly cheaper.


That is not what I wrote. I said the prices with the tower would be lower than prices without the tower, which is not the same as saying prices would decline.

I.e. relative vs absolute.


https://content.knightfrank.com/research/478/documents/en/20...

This research shows that there’s an average of 1.5% price increase per floor. Care to share a counter-claim source?


Increasing the supply of something simply does not cause price increases. If the price increases, it's because demand is increasing even faster than supply.


At this point there’s no way you aren’t pulling my leg. The research paper showed that increasing the amount of floors increases the price per floor. Are you saying that these towers control demand? So if they lower the amount of floors then suddenly demand is going down because they are cheaper?

Also I do hope you know the context of my posts relate to the UK market?


People like living high above traffic. There's a reason penthouse apartments are at the top.


Bar the main roads, there’s not a lot of traffic down residential streets in London.


Compare a picture of Kansas City to one of Manhattan. In Kansas City, there are entire city blocks in the middle of downtown solely dedicated to parking, and more blocks that are given to massive highways to move people downtown. In Manhattan, there is virtually no given space given to such endeavors.


Manhattan's landscape is concrete and (steel and glass). It's hardly pastoral.


Sure, but literally everyone in Manhattan is only a short subway ride away from Central Park.


NYC has a surprising number of parks.


Not Manhattan. Outside of Central Park there's not much green space at all. Midtown south, Flatiron, Downtown, etc have nothing! They may have paved urban parks but there's simply not enough green space per person, and that's a choice they've made historically based on greed. People need accessible green space for use on a daily basis near their homes, not requiring long subway rides back uptown to Central Park.


There are many small parks in Manhattan in addition to Central Park.


The Battery Conservancy has 25 acres of parkland downtown at the tip of lower Manhattan; most of which is green.


Midtown had a bunch of small parks nestled between roads in lots of places near Columbia U.


Columbia U is pretty far uptown, not midtown. Small pocket parks don't really cut it, people need to be able to go for walks under trees and maybe a sporting field or two.


The Flatiron building is literally one block away from Madison Square Park...


I am well familiar with my old stomping ground Madison Square Park. Not what I'd call a proper park by any means. It's a series of benches around a lawn. Nice to sit and people watch, but that's about it.


It absolutely doesn't. It does if you mandate the only transport option to be low density, but pretty much every European city begs to differ


Paris is one of the highest-density cities in the world... and even then, the city by area is more than half parkland.


Go to tokyo, it's less paved than LA in many places!


Florence, like Rome and all cities in Italy are dirty, chaotic cesspools with the few remaining crumbling ruins to remind us of a better time.


Right.

Some people want to live on top of each other in dense urban areas. That's fine and this should be an allowed pattern of development.

"Enable them to live and work farther away from each other" is, simplified, pretty much the entire reason I wake up in the morning. I opt out of dense urban living. If the towns want to opt out of having people like me working there, so be it.


Well, right. But, I think that a lot of people are frustrated because living in dense urban areas is NOT an allowed pattern of development in most cities, especially the Bay Area.


Right.

It doesn't work for anyone.

I'd love to see a city that had like, a super dense core, then a ring road with endless car parks around it or something like that. You drive in, from your country home, get the subway for 10 mins from the ring road to the CBD or your urban dwelling friends' place, sorted.

Zone the ring road to kill sprawl.

Ban cars inside the ring road other than trucks for deliveries, workmen etc.

Best of both worlds.

It's not gonna happen in a pre-existing city though, the winners will block it (and rightly so).


Manhattan is basically this taken to the extreme. With different levels of commuter rings.

First level is the subway from New Jersey or Brooklyn/Queens. Next level is a commuter line like NJ Transit or Metro North.

You can live as far as 90 miles away and have a somewhat reasonable commute, while living in a fairly rural area.

I personally would much rather live in the dense urban core and have easy access to the outskirts, but commuting to Manhattan works for some people.


Totally. There are actual people who take Amtrak from Albany at 5AM every day to Manhattan as a commute. Not many, but they exist!


It's amazing/depressing what patterns of living these megarich metropolises end up creating. There are people who live in Ireland and commute by boat and train to London for half the week in order to work.


The seat of state government is Albany and the seat of commerce/finance is in Manhattan. A couple where one worked in each place would naturally have something like that arise (and I'd think it wouldn't even be particularly rare).

I suspect for the majority of those couples, living in/near Albany would be vastly preferable to NYC, even before you consider the after-hours of political work is probably benefited more by locality.


How long would a 90 mile commute take, in a best case scenario?


My commute from Poughkeepsie NY to my office in midtown Manhattan was 2:15 door to door. That included the ~10 minute walk to and from the train stations at each end.

There are a LOT of people that do that commute and many of them drive from much further away and work much further away from Grand Central Terminal.

It was better than the 15-1:30 commute I used to have from Seattle to Bellevue in a car though, just because there was almost no variability and I wasn't driving.


So 4.5h for commuting, 9h of work, 8h of sleep, that leaves just 2.5h for everything else in your day, including enjoying your rural lifestyle. That would drive me absolutely crazy.


Remember, 4 of those hours of commuting are sitting on a train. You can watch movies, read books, take a nap, play games, get work done, etc.

I usually was at work from 10-5 and usually sleep closer to 6 hours a night. That gave me about 6.5 hours of free time. I also worked from home twice a week.

I personally hated it and only lasted at the job for a little over a year, but I could understand how some people could make it work.


I don't know how you'd get 90 miles with Metro North or NJ Transit. The furthest you can go on Metro North is NYC<->New Haven, which is 70 miles and takes 2 hours 7 minutes, one way.


That is interesting I regularly used to do a 65 mile commute to London which can take just over an hour on the slower train and 35 min on the intercity. (Bedford to St Pancras)

Not sure id have done one at double the time.


New Haven isn't the furthest, Poughkeepsie is. I was a little off with my mileage though, since Poughkeepsie is 80 miles north, not 90.

There are hundreds (thousands even) of people that drive from further north to get to the Poughkeepsie train station every day. It's bananas.


Technically you can transfer to the Shoreline East in New Haven and go all the way to the Connecticut River.


I'd love to see a city that had like, a super dense core, then a ring road with endless car parks around it or something like that. You drive in, from your country home, get the subway for 10 mins from the ring road to the CBD or your urban dwelling friends' place, sorted.

The UK often does something similar with "park and ride" bus schemes. To reduce congestion in inner cities, there are large car parks on key roads coming to the city, and usually you can park very cheaply or free and get a relatively cheap bus ticket into the centre. Often the buses also have privileged access so they can bypass queues where people chose to drive their cars all the way in instead.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it certainly does reduce congestion and all its negative consequences locally and in the short term, which is obviously a good thing. On the other hand, it sustains a culture where we drive longer distances in vehicles much larger and less efficient than we actually need in order to get to work, which is a significant cause of negative consequences over a wider area and a longer term.

I heard a suggestion long ago that the best thing to do about congestion in our cities might be nothing at all. The argument was loosely related to the points in the article here: the underlying problems are the need to make so many journeys in the first place and the inefficient modes of transport we use to make them. By allowing journeys into crowded cities to become ever more expensive, financially and otherwise, we would force better solutions in terms of how we plan our residential, business and recreational spaces. We could encourage areas with relatively dense populations where good public transport both within and between them is practical and efficient, where currently many of our cities here haven't really got critical mass to run a good 24/7 public transport system but are too big and often badly designed for historical reasons to support the volume of traffic that now wants to move at peak times. We could encourage the use of smaller, more efficient personal vehicles where public transport isn't sufficient. We could encourage the use of remote working for those whose jobs allow it. And in general, newer and more efficiently designed places to live would become relatively attractive compared to those with historical baggage that don't work as well practically.

I haven't seen anything like enough evidence and analysis to know whether that's really a good general solution, but it has always struck me as a reasonable enough proposition to be worth exploring.


> By allowing journeys into crowded cities to become ever more expensive, financially and otherwise, we would force better solutions in terms of how we plan our residential, business and recreational spaces.

Perhaps. I mean, it certainly seems to be working so far - anecdotally people are stuffing themselves into smaller and smaller apartments, flat shares, etc, naturally.

I'm biased so it's difficult for me to really conceptualise it. In that scenario, I would (and in fact have) just nope out entirely and move to the country because I can afford it.

It seems unfair to tell everyone who can't to just suck it up and live in a shoebox.


I'm sure you're right about the smaller and smaller accommodations, but I think the argument I heard before was intended to be a little longer-term than that.

Our starting position is that a lot of employment is very centralised in big cities or industrial areas, sometimes for historical reasons that aren't necessarily as relevant today.

With better planning of future cities, with an emphasis on keeping everyday services like schools, shops, basic medical care and sports facilities more local to where people live, both the provider and the consumer have less need to make routine long journeys that overlap lots of other people's routine long journeys.

There will always be a need to centralise certain key facilities more, say hospitals that need to respond to a diverse range of serious conditions very quickly but also serve a wide area because fortunately there aren't many people with each condition at any given time. However, there is no need for your dentist or optician to be based 10 miles away in the nearest city centre when there are more than enough patients who need that sort of care within a one mile radius anyway.

In my country (the UK) we do this much better in some respects than others.

Schooling is usually relatively local in the early years, for example. Most kids don't have to travel silly distances to reach secondary school (ages around 11-18) either.

Some places have much better routine medical facilities available locally than others. This is definitely an area where we could improve.

Shopping in bricks and mortar stores is so bad now that we're increasingly seeing our traditional high streets turning into deserted wastelands, far too expensive and time-consuming to reach for a quick visit when you just want to buy a new shirt for the weekend or toy for your child. Online stores and huge, car-friendly out-of-town shopping centres with almost exactly the same 100 brands as all the others are driving all the traditional, local, interesting shops out of business, sadly.

More generally, far too many of our vanilla office jobs are based in city centres entirely unnecessarily. Their staff don't live nearby any more because they can't afford to, so what was once an advantage is now a disadvantage that causes big problems for and because of commuters.

So I don't really think living in shoe boxes is the answer. Moving everything else so it's more readily accessible from good quality homes is the answer, according to this argument at least.

Just to be clear, this isn't necessarily an argument for moving everything out to the suburbs or smaller, more rural towns. The same principles can also be applied in much larger cities, by better balancing residential, business and leisure facilities in each neighbourhood. The trouble is usually that historically this wasn't so well understood, so existing planning/zoning rules often aren't very effective but you can't just transplant everything overnight to where you'd ideally like it to be. Hence the desire to promote newer and better designed areas as a general trend, and in (lots of) time allow the older and less practical areas to be rearranged.


Your argument is basically sound, but IMO based on a wrong starting point.

> Our starting position is that a lot of employment is very centralised in big cities or industrial areas, sometimes for historical reasons that aren't necessarily as relevant today.

So first of all, I don't want to get stuck in a home office. I want to share an office with my coworkers and engage in normal human social behavior during the workday. A coworking space does not appeal to me either: I'm not comfortable spending my workday around strangers who appear and disappear every few weeks.

But besides that, I think that work is only one part of the equation. There are other reasons why people live in big cities. I grew up in a German city with 100k inhabitants, and there was basically nothing I could do after 8PM once shops had closed. I now live in a larger city where there is a lot of stuff going on everyday in some place (tech meetups, concerts, etc.). You just don't have that in a village or small city.

Another, smaller thing: I have some chronic ailments, so it's convenient to be living in a large city with a good coverage of specialist doctors and hospitals. A small city (say, 10k inhabitants) will have a couple GPs and probably an ophthalmologist, but will likely lack more niche specialists.

There are more reasons. That's not to say that everyone wants to live, or should want to live, in a big city. But it's not a good idea to force everyone to live in small communities either.


So first of all, I don't want to get stuck in a home office. I want to share an office with my coworkers and engage in normal human social behavior during the workday. A coworking space does not appeal to me either: I'm not comfortable spending my workday around strangers who appear and disappear every few weeks.

That's all fair enough. Everyone is going to have their own preferences for something like this. But why should the office be located in a hard-to-reach central area at all, if most or all of its staff live somewhere else?

But besides that, I think that work is only one part of the equation. There are other reasons why people live in big cities. I grew up in a German city with 100k inhabitants, and there was basically nothing I could do after 8PM once shops had closed.

Again, that's a fair point. I did acknowledge that there would always be a need for some facilities to be located more centrally and serve a wider area. Anyone wanting to use those facilities will also benefit if there are fewer unnecessary journeys competing for space with their private vehicles or overcrowding public transport, though.

That's not to say that everyone wants to live, or should want to live, in a big city. But it's not a good idea to force everyone to live in small communities either.

I agree, and this is the point I was trying to make in my final paragraph before. Sorry if it wasn't clear.

The problem, IMHO, isn't having large cities. Many people prefer to have less personal living space but be nearer to a wider range of facilities, much as you described yourself. The problem, IMHO, is the design of many large cities today where there is a central area with most of the places people want to go, surrounded by suburbs with most of the places where people live.

The geometry of such a design prevents it scaling well. As the city grows, the residential area spreads outwards. This means more people live further from the area with the services. Typically, the area available for the services also can't grow proportionately, creating a problem of where to put enough new services to meet the needs of the growing population.

A less centralised design based on clusters that each combine residential accommodation, basic services for the local population, and possibly some sort of business district, has much more ability to grow without separating large numbers of people from their everyday needs, even if you then position large numbers of such clusters close together, introduce additional areas among the clusters for more specialised facilities, and form a big city.


But why should the office be located in a hard-to-reach central area at all, if most or all of its staff live somewhere else?

Because most or all of its staff live in different somewhere elses and mass transit is horrible at random route commutes. If you take a city and express it in polar coordinates defined by each spine of mass transit as being at a constant theta, putting the things that lots of people need to come to near the center makes the most sense.

Locating an office 3 miles out of the center at a random theta means that a lot of people need to commute into the center, change to the line serving the office [waiting], and continue their commute out, reversing the same on the way home.

If I'm competing for the best employees, I'm far better served to pay more to put my office near the transit hub and lower the inconvenience for my employees.

All the above assumes a significant commuting base on fixed route rail that tends to cluster around hubs. It might be possible construct (more expensive) transit that was not hub and spoke. If you do that, I predict you end up in the less centralized design you describe in the last paragraph (which still seems like it doesn't serve the needs of people who need to work together but are served by different of the numerous hubs).


Because most or all of its staff live in different somewhere elses and mass transit is horrible at random route commutes.

Right, but the problem with this isn't the different somewhere elses, it's designing mass transit systems that are only useful on arterial routes into or out of the centre of a radially organised city.

This is often how things work today, but there's no reason it has to be, as long as you have a reasonable alternative layout and sufficient volume of journeys to make comprehensive mass transit viable at all.

For example, consider a big city like London. There are enough travellers to run both the Underground (metro) and bus services almost 24/7 now. A wide variety of routes, many of them not just arterial paths to or from some central hub, cover most of the Greater London area.

In that sort of situation, even if you aren't living within convenient walking/cycling distance of your normal place of work, it makes little difference whether you're travelling into the centre of a city or further around it.

If I'm competing for the best employees, I'm far better served to pay more to put my office near the transit hub and lower the inconvenience for my employees.

The assumption of a single, central transit hub rather than a more distributed, uniform arrangement is the problem here. It has much the same inherent scalability problems as any of the other services that some of us were discussing further up the thread.

All the above assumes a significant commuting base on fixed route rail that tends to cluster around hubs. It might be possible construct (more expensive) transit that was not hub and spoke.

Exactly. The challenge is to match the scale of the city with the scale of the transit system so the "(more expensive)" becomes negligible. But since in this case the costs of inefficient transportation systems and unnecessary journeys are more than just financial, that doesn't seem like a crazy idea.


> I'm far better served to pay more to put my office near the transit hub

Coincidentally, my office is right next to the busiest tram stop in the city center, which is great because I don't have to change lines during my commute.


I think I remember Doug Crockford talk in which he laid out the original design of EPCOT. It was very similar to what you described.

Found it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvoCIPKWobs


I think both groups of people would benefit from less regulation in land use. Get rid of zoning and let the free market decide land use issues.


I'm all for letting people live how they want, but suburban planning tends not to account for the true lifetime cost of that mode of living. If we can fix that, then knock yourself out.


Suburban living is essentially what I'm describing here as being the 'bad' middle state that causes the issues.

You have congestion because there are just houses dotted everywhere clustered around the city, making the 'last few miles' hellish. Later, those suburbs become 'urbs'.

I'm saying have urban and rural with a sharp divide. Inside the 'event horizon' of where you'd normally have suburbs, have car parks and dump people on to urban transport that uses space more effectively like trains/buses/etc.


> I'm saying have urban and rural with a sharp divide. Inside the 'event horizon' of where you'd normally have suburbs, have car parks and dump people on to urban transport that uses space more effectively like trains/buses/etc.

The problem with this design is that cities commonly grow over time. If you have a core which is full of 30 story buildings, it makes much more sense to allow the radius of the core to expand from 10 miles to 20 by bulldozing some car parks and replacing them with more 20 and 30 story buildings than to have to bulldoze the existing 30 story buildings and replace them all with 95 story ones.

The sharp divide is what we already have and is one half of the causes of the existing problem. You have a core which is zoned for higher density surrounded by suburbs that aren't, which prevents the dense core from expanding outward as necessary. The other half is that even the core doesn't allow very high densities, so you generally don't get 50+ story buildings even there, you just get outrageously high rents instead because it can neither expand upwards nor outwards.

You're essentially suggesting that it expand only upwards, but that's still a lot more expensive than expanding in both directions, and there comes a point that it becomes impractical. We don't really have a lot of experience constructing large numbers of 200 story buildings and even if we could figure it out it probably wouldn't be cost effective and result in affordable rents.

Meanwhile there is a threshold density above which you can have things like effective mass transit, at which point expanding outward at the same density allows you to maintain those advantages over a larger area without paying the high cost of constructing buildings at the limits of our engineering talents (and also paying to destroy existing tall buildings in order to do it).

Which is basically what naturally happens without zoning density restrictions. In theory someone could then build a 30 story building in the middle of the suburbs, but that doesn't make a lot of sense when it's more profitable to put that building closer to the core, until the core is already full of those, and then the most profitable place for that building is right next to the core. Which is how the core expands as needed. You don't really need to prohibit people from building at inappropriate densities when appropriateness is already closely aligned with profitability.


Real estate never accounts for itself. It’s too boom/bust.

If anything, suburbia with individual owners and smaller governments are better maintained than urban core.


Better schools, better roads, nicer parks and playgrounds, lower crime, less homeless, worse food, worse entertainment, worse public transportation


Here in Massachusetts, I'd say there are not many playgrounds in suburbs at all. There are many very nice playgrounds in (certain) cities. I've always assumed that suburbs don't care as much about playgrounds and parks because most houses have a (large) yard already.

On the whole, suburbs also have nicer libraries, though there are examples to the contrary - e.g. Cambridge, MA has a really fantastic main library.

The quality of libraries and schools mostly tracks how wealthy the suburb/city is.

I agree with you that no matter how wealthy the suburb, food, entertainment and public transportation are going to be seriously underwhelming compared to a city.


Depends on your point of view. For 50 years in vital cities, the model has been that most people who aren't rich boogey out of the city when their entertainment needs evolve away from nightlife. Unless you are a 9-5 corporate or .gov type, which is increasingly less common, suburbia is more convenient for many purposes once you have the ability to support a car.

Being chained to public transit corridors and schedules is very difficult for workers with marginal means.

I live in the city and love it. Fortunately I bought my home earlier -- today it would be dumb. Living in the city is great, except when school lotteries mean that your kids have to go to school 45 minutes away from your home, because of a court order from 1970, and you end up paying for private school. My city has to fund a large police department and fire department, so my city taxes are 30% higher than a suburb. The city school district has to provide much more special ed and social services, so those taxes are 40% higher.

Good news is that living for my family is cheap and convenient. But I can't improve my home, because the value won't go up due the taxes. If I had invested about 30% more in 2002, my housing investment would be about 150% more valuable today.


   Yeah, having a corner grocery might be good, but without 
   mobility, the grocers are going to realize that you don't
   really have much choice about buying from them, and maybe
   start charging higher prices, or not stocking as much 
   variety, or higher fewer people and having less service.
This is precisely what happens in cities. You'd think city centers would typically have a larger selection of things available at competitive prices but thats hardly the case and price gouging is frequent at these neighborhood stores whether youre shopping for some house fixtures or even a six pack.


  This is precisely what happens in cities.
Not in my experience, but I'm sure it varies with location and how "functional" the city is. But on the whole, for me big metros have had much better selection and decent prices on the whole.

It's true that won't always be at the small place literally on your own corner. And some of those places bump prices a fair bit in exchange for being open at most hours. But a little searching and you will find many gems.

You can't really get the costco/wallmart experience easily in city cores, but I don't really want it so no loss there (for me). If you want one-stop shopping you are going against the grain, really.


I wouldn't accuse these neighborhood stores of price gouging as much as I'd just say they are pricing high enough to cover the much more expensive cost of leasing or owning the commercial space.


You're claiming that corner stores - independently owned entities in expensive real estate selling cheap commodities - should be able to sell products as cheap or cheaper than Wal-Mart?

Things are more expensive in corner stores because it's more expensive to run a corner store. You don't have as many customers, but you have higher expenses. You can't stock a larger variety of goods because space is limited and you have to move the lightest, most profitable goods to stay afloat. You can't dedicate $20,000 worth of real estate (one corner of your shop) to 12 kinds of salsa.


Just live within walking distance of Chinatown.


In many cities, like DC, there are no Chinese left in Chinatown. They've been replaced with white yuppies. If you want the good deals from the asian or latin market, you go out to the suburbs where the asian and latin populations live.

Which is one of the deeply ironic things about urbanism as a movement. We have made our cities hostile and overly expensive to families. So people of color--who disproportionately are the folks still having kids--are decamping to the suburbs in large numbers: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2015/07/31/black-f... https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/0504_ce... (p. 10). From 1990-2010, the percentage of african americans living in the suburbs increased from under 40% to over 50%. For Hispanics it increased from around 45% to 60%. For whites, by contrast, the percentage living in the suburbs was relatively flat.

My Bangladeshi immigrant family members moved to Queens in the 1990s, and as soon as they got their feet under them economically they moved to Long Island. That’s the story of big cities like NYC: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/18/upshot/how-much-slower-wo.... Large urban counties would be shrinking if it wasn’t for a continuous stream of international migration. (But of course eventually the immigrants become part of the stream of domestic migrants leaving the city.)


> We have made our cities hostile and overly expensive to families.

A large part of that is schooling, followed by crime wave paranoia. Most who have kids want to decamp to the best school district they can afford, even at the expense of other aspects of quality of life. Safety is an issue too, because a lot of Americans are irrationally paranoid about children being able to navigate by themselves. In Japan, a 7-year-old going to school by themselves by taking the train is normal; in the US, it's grounds for calling Child Protection Services.


>Yeah, having a corner grocery might be good, but without mobility, the grocers are going to realize that you don't really have much choice about buying from them, and maybe start charging higher prices, or not stocking as much variety, or higher fewer people and having less service.

Have you never lived or shopped in a dense city? In most you'll have 2-3 grocers within a 5-7 min walk, with many more within a 15 min walk, including discount grocers and specialty grocers.


I’ve lived in several. There was no grocer within walking distance of my apartment in Baltimore. (Near Penn Station.) There was one overpriced Safeway where I lived in DC. Next nearest was a Giant 15 minutes away. No grocery store within walking distance of the apartment we looked at in Philadelphia. Many places in Manhattan don’t have a grocery store 5-7 minutes walk away (though most will have one within 15).

Have you ever lived in a dense city in the US?


But how much of this is our own fault through zoning? Look at this:

http://maps.dcoz.dc.gov/zr16/#l=12&x=-8575451.094054567&y=47...

All the yellows and browns are residential zoned. And almost no mixed-use zoning. This makes your experience sound as if by design, not as nature would do it.

Well, looks like that regulation isn't great for stores. Here's the exceptions to residential units in the residential apartment zones:

https://dcregs.dc.gov/Common/DCMR/RuleList.aspx?DownloadFile...

Huh. 420.1.c explicitly bans corner stores. 420.1.g kind of looks like you can do a store under the apartment at least. This zoning map really doesn't look friendly to foot traffic.

My experience was as the OP, grocery stores I haven't even bothered to try yet within a 10 minute walk. This is the zoning map of Somerville.

http://3pb8cv933tuz26rfz3u13x17-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-c...

It looks totally different, granted the scale is much different.


Wow, great map. Know of any for other american cities? Would be interested to see nyc, especially if it had grandfathering layered in.


Pretty much everyone publishes them online, everyone needs them when they do construction projects.

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/zoning/zoning-maps.page

They appear to have each section of the map available as a PDF. I guess everyone just does it a little different. I'd expect NYC to be closer to Boston though since they're from the same era and both have limited area to spread and have a lot of grandfathered in buildings.

I'm a bit surprised DC is so segmented by land use, though I suppose it's a more recent city it's not as if 200 years is chump change. It seems like the zones are created and existing stuff gets exceptions carved out, and if they get torn down then they lose those exceptions and become the default type. So if buildings get destroyed quickly or if there's a lot of space for new construction I'd expect more simple separations between land use types.


A lot of it is the fault of zoning. But that’s the reality in many US cities, even dense ones.


I wonder if this is an american thing then. I'm Canadian, have lived in several cities here plus several more in europe. I'm in Montreal currently.

The cities I've been in in those places are pretty much all as I described. Manhattan and Brooklyn are the only US places I know well. Those have lots of grocers, but are very expensive, which I chalked up the fact that everything in NYC is expensive.

It could be that this is just a difference in how American cities are laid out and regulated. I have noticed that when I'm in most other American cities they seem either very small at their core, or very car centric.

For example, Boston's historic core is incredibly small. Washington seems to be a ghost town during the evening, except in georgetown. Pittsburgh has a tiny core. Santa Monica was hard to walk instead with all the traffic lights at each block.

I haven't been in any of those places enough to have a definite view though, or at least I didn't grocery shop there.

Rereading your initial comment, I realized that all the cities I lived also had excellent mobility. You could bike or transit easily to any other part of town.


When I lived in SF (Nob Hill) I had at least corner grocery stores within a 10 minute walk. One full service grocery store, and 2 more full service grocery stories if I extended to a 15 minute walk.

The corner stores were small and had limited selection, but had a decent produce selection, and the store closest to me had a daily meat delivery, so I could ask for pretty much any cut of meat and they'd have it for me the next day. I'd usually make a weekly trip to the full store for staples, and then stop by the corner store for daily needs.

But nowadays, proximity to grocery shopping is moot for me since I just shop online and have it delivered.


> Many places in Manhattan don’t have a grocery store 5-7 minutes walk away (though most will have one within 15).

This is not true, unless you’re including Harlem and FiDi. Manhattan stores are pricy, I permit that, but that’s not for a lack of competition.

Have you ever lived in Manhattan?


You just names two large sections of Manhattan, where a lot of the cheaper apartments are. Add to that parts of the UES and Hells Kitchen. I lived at 89th and broadway. We had a grocery store nearby, but there are definitely parts of Manhattan that don’t have a real grocery store within a 5 minute walk.


Fair enough.


Harlem (140th give or take) was the only place I could find a decent grocery store that wasn't outrageously expensive. I was fortunate enough to live about 10 minutes from it, though I was not pleased that that's one of the few places left on Manhattan that still has significant hills.


This applies if you're well-off, but the less wealthy don't get a choice in mobility. If you don't have money, a secure job, housing, car, etc, mobility is quite limited, costly, and time-consuming (if it exists at all). Others' increased mobility can even hurt the less well off (see: white flight). That hurt then becomes a burden on everyone, as it manifests as poverty, crime, unemployment, over-reliance on public services, and so on.

But increased accessibility reduces those problems, because it becomes less difficult to do things people need to do, regardless of socioeconomic status. You have the option of being mobile, but you don't have to be.

Now, getting more specific to the OP: traffic congestion is due to inefficiency. Adding lanes/roads doesn't address the source of the issue: cars are inefficient mass transportation mechanisms. Traffic jams only occur when large masses of people are transporting themselves. You can either A) add more mass transit, or B) bring the services closer to the people, so they travel less.

The latter helps the traffic jams, but it also helps people who don't even have an option to be in the traffic jam. Mobility helps the well-off, accessibility helps everybody.

(downvote away, you know i'm right)


Almost everyone has access to a car in the US, including 80% of people under the poverty line. That means that as a practical matter a Wal-Mart in an exurb can do a lot more to serve poor people than anything in a city (where prices are going to be inflated by the high cost of rent and labor in our urban areas).


You and the article seem to be in agreement: It won't solve congestion.


> One of the reasons why the Bay Area is so expensive

But the reason the Bay area is so expensive is because Apple, Google, Facebook and 246 other Nasdaq-traded companies all call it home. It's ridiculous, if only for disaster planning. One natural disaster away from wiping out $3tn. Sitting on a fault line, no less.

So, yes, you could spend hundreds of billions hacking out better infrastructure links into this mess, or raise the speed limit, and that will increase "mobility". But that quickly translates into higher house prices even further out, and crappy new stock as developers get greedy. It's a vicious cycle that we've been over again and again and again, in many major cities.

Hotspots are toxic national planning mistakes that should have been smothered and forced out before they reached critical mass. Instead local pride (and land ownership) fosters them. Instead of fixing the problem, we're just trying to find new ways to make better returns on real estate investments. It's not sustainable.


It's either spread out or build up. This is a choice communities need to make.


If these highways were actually user-pays, nobody would be able to afford to commute on them. Spending billions building rail or huge highways to outer towns with very low density who would never allow high density development makes no sense and other taxpayers should not have to subsidize their lifestyle choice.


Exactly. Giving more people more access to economic opportunity is, imho, a moral imperative.

Congestion will never be "solved". Because the commute time people are willing to tolerate is, as the article demonstrates, roughly constant. Adding lanes doesn't decrease congestion. But it doesn't increase throughput. Which means more people have more access to good jobs.


This article disproves itself. The two chief errors are as follows:

1) The article incorrectly discounts the value of time saved by avoiding congestion. The study the article cites actually estimates $7/hour for time saved on a commute, plus a whopping $22/hour for increasing reliability on a commute: http://faculty.bus.lsu.edu/papers/pap16_07.pdf. Both figures are critically important.

As to time savings, transit commutes are significantly longer: https://www.geotab.com/time-to-commute. 30% of public transit commutes in NYC are over 1 hour, compared to just 10% of car commutes. 28% of car commutes are under 30 minutes, versus just 6% of transit commutes. In Dallas, a place without the geographic constraints of NYC, 57% of car commutes are under 30 minutes. People in Dallas are accruing tremendous time value savings by driving as compared to people taking transit in NYC.

As to reliability--while in theory transit should be highly reliable, in practice it isn't. In DC, rail on-time performance is just 87%, meaning you'll be late once a week on average. NYC's performance is worse--it recently just broke 80% on-time performance: https://www.metro-magazine.com/news/photos/734837/nyc-subway....

All this has a practical ramification. The US has some of the fastest commutes in the OECD: https://www.oecd.org/els/family/LMF2_6_Time_spent_travelling.... 48 minutes per day for the US, versus 101 for heavily transit-dependent Korea.

2) The article acknowledges that from 1982 to present, we have been able to increase vehicle miles traveled per day by 60% without significantly increasing daily commutes. The article illogically assumes that there is no value to that increased mobility. But if there wasn't nobody would do it. People do it because they would rather have a bigger, newer house, in a place with better schools, than a shorter commute. The article not only fails to quantify the value of those additional amenities, it refuses to acknowledge they even exist.


People do it because they would rather have a bigger, newer house, in a place with better schools, than a shorter commute. The article not only fails to quantify the value of those additional amenities, it refuses to acknowledge they even exist.

Indeed. As much as I agree with urban activists on many policy goals (liberalize zoning, densify city cores and increase walkability in them), I get a feeling that they often don't get that many people would hate living in dense city cores. I was on both sides of this, I hated rural/suburban living as a teenager and in my early twenties, and I yearned for a big city life and enjoyed it very much when I achieved it, but now that I got older, big city life, being squeezed in an urban apartment, with noise outside, loud neighbors, no yard or workshop of my own etc sounds extremely unappealing. I get the impression that the urban activists think that I'm somehow stupid and wrong to like it, and instead I should like to live in a dense walkable city core.


> I get the impression that the urban activists think that I'm somehow stupid and wrong to like it, and instead I should like to live in a dense walkable city core.

Not at all. There is obviously a range of places people want to live in, from very dense to very rural.

It should all be allowed, and people should also shoulder the costs of the choices they make. This would likely include higher gas taxes and fewer subsidies for automobiles.


It’s not clear to me that on a per passenger basis automobile subsidies are higher (even accounting for pollution) than subsidies for transit. We should eliminate both kinds of subsidies and replace them with direct cash payments to low income people.


Some of the "subsidies" are inherent in the services themselves though. At the top of this thread was a quote about the dollar value of time saved on a commute. What's the dollar value of the 100k people taking the Caltrain from SJ to SF to the people driving on the 101?

The people who have to commute by car are greatly benefit by every incremental person who takes transit and to some extent vice versa since trains are less crowded, etc. Eliminating subsidies (whatever that means) seems every bit as centrally planned and subject to great economic inefficiency as the decisions to fund transit.


Whenever I read a smalltowns article, the article assumes high density living is great or can be drastically improved, and usually bakes in some arguments about why low density suburbs are evil.

They seem to completely ignore the votes made by people's feet on something so important to most of those people.

I have experienced some of the costs and benefits of both city and rural lifestyles, in a variety of countries.

I dislike anyone trying to restrict that choice (even if it is for the good of X).


Their argument is much more disturbing than that. They argue that middle to upper class suburban living is subsidized by taxation on people living in high density neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are predominantly populated by the poorer people. In other words, rich people are making choices and getting poor people to pay for them.

It's not that low density suburbs are evil, its that towns and cities are making unsustainable financial decisions based on deeply flawed information and as a results are bankrupting themselves and trapping poor people in urban blight.


In other words, rich people are making choices and getting poor people to pay for them.

How much in taxes are even being paid that are being "wasted" on the rich's choices?


> They seem to completely ignore the votes made by people's feet on something so important to most of those people.

Those votes are constrained though. Many more people would live in urban areas if the housing there was more supportive. Tons of my friends who lived in NYC moved out when they had kids only because they couldn't afford a 2 or 3-bedroom apartment. There's also a lack of amenities in urban areas like playgrounds. One of my friends moved from a suburb to Berlin, and loved it because apparently Berlin has fantastic playgrounds, while still being a nice urban area.

And even for people who want to live in suburban or rural areas, enabling more people to live in urban areas is beneficial, because it means shorter commutes as the infrastructure is less overburdened, and less land is occupied.


Can we fix those problems in the US? My wife and I are city people at heart. But we left DC for the suburbs when we had our second child because we were sick of being surrounded by childless yuppies. It’s lonely.[1] Now, we have a lot more chain restaurants in our life, but we live somewhere where there are young families who can afford to have a couple of kids and send them to good schools without both parents (or either parent) making six figures.

[1] These days, the sprawl of suburban Texas seems a lot more alive and vibrant to me—you can walk into an Applebee’s and see tons of diverse families with children in tow—than the walkable, well-manicured, childless streets of downtown DC.


Washington DC is very different depending on where you live.

It’s got a strange mix of inner city poverty and people moving to the suburbs to be able to afford rent. The horrifically designed street layouts likely play a major role in this. IMO, Fix those streets and more of the city would be viable, resulting in both gentrification and more affordable middle class rents.

PS: Personally, I am not willing to give up the vote to live there, but that’s another story.


One thing I wonder about is if the large sprawl development can scale and is economically sustainable over long term. Looking at bay area cities finances most of them are in debt (and we're at the peak of a 10+ year economic boost in this area) and will be even into more debt in the future considering the pension obligations that they already signed up for and how even now, in a great economy, they are going behind with the required road maintenance.

Let me rephrase this more clearly: in a large sprawl development, the number of road feet per person is larger (obviously) so the maintenance goes up too (although not necessarily completely linear), does the amount of local tax income also scale in a way that can maintain much larger road maintenance cost per capita long term?


> As to reliability--while in theory transit should be highly reliable, in practice it isn't.

In practice it is, just not in the US, which has a problem with chronic underinvestment in and incompetent management of transit infrastructure.

> As to time savings, transit commutes are significantly longer: https://www.geotab.com/time-to-commute. 30% of public transit commutes in NYC are over 1 hour, compared to just 10% of car commutes. 28% of car commutes are under 30 minutes, versus just 6% of transit commutes. In Dallas, a place without the geographic constraints of NYC, 57% of car commutes are under 30 minutes. People in Dallas are accruing tremendous time value savings by driving as compared to people taking transit in NYC.

Better transit improves commute times for both drivers and public transit riders, since people will switch from driving to taking the bus/train, which reduces congestion. More roads improves commute times for NEITHER drivers nor transit riders, since any temporary improvement in congestion will just cause people to drive more (switching from other modes of transport) until the roads are just as clogged as before. That's why investing in transit is generally superior to investing in roads, even if the current transit commute time is longer than the current average driving commute.

You are also making an apples-to-oranges comparison by comparing average car and transit commute times, since the two demographics are making _different_ commutes entirely. If everyone could get to work faster by driving why does only 22% of Manhattan own a car? It's certainly not because only 22% of the borough can afford a car; it's one of the richest cities in the entire country.

> The US has some of the fastest commutes in the OECD

You are completely misinterpreting that statistic. The US has fast commutes because a large fraction of the population lives in smaller metro areas, which have shorter commutes than large metro areas. It has nothing to do with everyone driving instead of taking the train. Fully half of Korea lives in Seoul metro, which has 25 million people, of course the average Korean commute is going to take forever. If EVERYONE in Seoul tried to drive to work, the average commute wouldn't go down to 48 minutes, it would go up to 300 since the roads would be permanently gridlocked.


Public transit in the U.S. could benefite greatly from privatization.

In the U.S. we don't nationalize heavy or large industries because the President lacks the power for it (see the Steel Cases), Congress mostly won't bother, and the States have to compete with each other, so they know better. But the cities, oh boy, the cities love nationalizing, and what have they nationalized? Transit. NYC's subways were built and operated by private companies until around WWII, when after twenty years of starving them of fare increases, the city finally acquired them. NYC used to have great trolleys and buses, but now its bus system is no good, not in comparison to, say, Buenos Aires' bus system.

I mentioned Buenos Aires. The bus system there is privately owned and operated, and it is fantastic. In Argentina the federal government is extremely powerful, so over the years they've nationalized (and privatized, and nationalized, ...) lots of things, while the provinces and cities have little power. When a government nationalizes enterprises, it tends to nationalize the ones that capture its imagination/attention -the big ones-, and the bigger the government, then bigger their targets. So the bus system in Buenos Aires gets spared because it's small potatoes to the central government. Meanwhile, in NYC, where only the City has the power and inclination to nationalize anything (the State and the Feds don't or don't bother), all they get to nationalize is... city-level enterprises -- and public transit fits that bill. What they did not nationalize in NYC, they regulated (taxis!).

This pattern repeats all over the U.S., and so most everywhere you go in the U.S., if there's public buses, they run no more often than every 20 or 30 minutes at rush hour, no more often than every hour otherwise, and not at all over night.

If you want better public transit, privatize it. Let the market go nuts and see how it goes.


If you want better public transit that optimizes to serve only profitable routes, privatize it and "let the market go nuts".

I'm generally nearly fanatically free market, but there are elements of mass transit that need to serve unprofitable routes, just like the USPS, legacy POTS telephone, and electric company [all of which have significant government restrictions that ensure they serve unprofitable areas].


I don't see any public transit serving the farms just outside my city even though those farmers would benefit. Until public transit serves them your argument is invalid.

Private public transit companies will operate some unprofitable routes letting the profitable routes subsidies them. They know that in some cases the customer satisfaction that comes from people being able to get to those places with little demand is worth running unprofitable routes. I won't speculate on how many they run - other than to state that they will constantly reevaluate all such routes)


That's the thing, in Buenos Aires the bus system has an enormous number of routes -- many more than NYC's.


To my knowledge, there's nothing stopping a private company from going into these cities and setting up a private bus system and absolutely eating the lunch of the public system if it's going to end up being so much better. So why isn't this happening?


I bet you can't get bus stops.


This is like arguing having a faster CPU, GPU, more memory, or more networking speed always ends up with the same delays.

Your modern word processing software seems as low or slower at reacting to UX than old 16/32-bit processors from the 90s, even though your computer is exponentially faster.

But this completely ignores the RADICAL improvement in capability. The latest word processors may not render at 60Hz, with 16ms latency to UI events, but they are multilingual, they support vector fonts, they have collaboration features, and on and on.

Some basic phone operations might be more convenient on an old feature phone than a modern touch phone, but the smartphone delivers to much more.

Our transportation infrastructure is our nervous system, our circulatory system. Maybe adding more neurons won't let you think faster. But it might make you think in ways you couldn't before. Other animals can process and react to stimuli vastly faster than we can, but our 'latency' perhaps affords us greater capabilities.

More than thinking about individual latency, it might be worth considering whether hyper-mobility benefits the overall system granting group benefits that exceed individual costs. (or positive externalities that exceed negative externalities)


I'm pretty sure the negative externality of burning more fossil fuels because we're driving farther than ever before is a big enough problem that no positives like being able to live in a house with a big lawn is worth it.


Props for actually thinking.


This isn't what they studied, but a simple thought experiment shows a limited use case where traffic absolutely can be helped by speeding things up.

Let's imagine a world where self driving cars are required for freeway driving; this allows them to respond in a predictable and timely manor with respect to directives to avoid lanes (and not jump the line) as well as to go at an exact speed.

An event (accident, whatever) obstructs One of Five possible lanes for use (including the HOV lane) on a section normally rated at 60 MPH.

This reduces the capacity of the road by 1/5th, or alternately, one lane of flow should be re-distributed across 4 lanes (1/4th per lane).

Idealized solution: A temporary bypass zone is communicated to the self-driving cars. There is a lead up zone where the speed is expected to ramp up to the new target, followed by a merge zone where the lanes reduce and the flow is re-shaped to balance traffic evenly. The cars would then pass the incident zone in this higher speed lane-compressed flow, before expanding out and then slowing back down to normal speed.

Due to the unexpected nature of the incident there has also been a buildup of volume before the incident, so to alleviate that slightly higher flow will be allowed to drain the high pressure area.

In the above hypothetical case, for 4 out of 5 lanes nornally at 60MPH, I would prefer to imagine: (1 + 1/4) * 60MPH => 75, but round up another 5 MPH for the bypass flow for a total of 80MPH in the corrected flow area.

Many sections of freeway could likely support that safely ; they're often engineered very well but have conservative speed limits set for political and driver quality reasons. However some sections would 'cap out' at a lower actually safe speed; in those sections the above procedure could help minimize the traffic flow impact.

However... CGP Grey really nailed the real problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHzzSao6ypE


> Idealized solution: A temporary bypass zone is communicated to the self-driving cars.

There’s so many great opportunities like this once the cars are self driving and connected. For example, a ten lane highway without dividers! 8v2 split depending on the time of day and traffic patterns. How many times have you been stuck in a lane with the other lanes in the other direction completely open?


Also, drafting. With human drivers it's not feasible to have cars travel 6 inches behind each other, because human reaction time is shitty enough that everybody would crash. With computer control you could easily have cars match speeds, then slowly get closer until they latch together and form a train. This'd both dramatically increase the carrying capacity of roads (with the default 1-car-length-per-10mph-of-speed rule, 7/8 of a highway is empty space), and it would improve fuel economy by reducing cross-sectional area and wind resistance.


We have a similar thing going on here in Vancouver. The computer controlling the cars centrally manages their location and velocity, as to ensure that there's a breadth of passenger coverage around the metropolitan area. It's also elevated to help streamline trip times too.


This is still a terrible idea. What happens when the car in front of you has an axel failure?

Oops, my car's instant reaction time is worth nothing because the brakes cannot physically prevent my imminent death.


...which can be mitigated with a different high-tech solution: accurate sensors. If some critical component is near imminent failure, the car shouldn't allow itself to be included in a high-velocity train.

But I fear we have a trust problem there: we wouldn't trust the industry to be accurate in their sensor assessments, since the prevailing assumption (I'm looking at you, HP) is that these sensors are used to maximize revenue instead reliability.


High quality brakes on all four wheels should be able to stop a car faster than an axle failure.


It seems like this is the exact same problem that was solved (to our satisfaction, at least) by trains over a century ago. If you're riding on the light rail and the train car ahead of you has an axle failure, what happens? We don't think very much about this case, because in practice it basically never happens.


It works because they're physically connected already, which would be really really difficult with cars (standardizing the connectors, etc etc). Agreeing on a standard protocol for communication is a hard enough problem to start with.


Nobody who's looked at the economics of self-driving cars realistically thinks private ownership is an option: if you're putting that much capital investment in a vehicle that could operate 12-16 hours/day, your amortized costs go up by a factor of 6-8 if it's only operating for 2 hours/day. If we get self-driving cars it'll be in the form of ridesharing or rental services.

Agreeing on a standard protocol for both connectors and communications is a relatively easy problem if you have an industry with a dozen or so operators rather than 300 million private owners. It also solves the other major reason trains don't regularly crash, which is regular maintenance.


Nobody who's looked at the economics of self-driving cars realistically thinks private ownership is an option: if you're putting that much capital investment in a vehicle that could operate 12-16 hours/day, your amortized costs go up by a factor of 6-8 if it's only operating for 2 hours/day. If we get self-driving cars it'll be in the form of ridesharing or rental services.

This same reasoning applies to non-self driving cars, but somehow we do have a few privately owned cars around. The only way self-driving would make it any different would be if self-driving cars were so much more expensive that only very few would be able to afford it. If you however try to estimate the shape of the demand curve, you'll note that even today that are plenty of cars sold at $100k mark, so unless self-driving cars are many hundreds of thousands of dollars each, you'll still see privately owned self-driving cars.

More importantly, once the technology is out in the wild, many manufacturers will copy it, and it will push down the markup for self-driving capability rather low. You can sell a self-driving Toyota Corolla for $100k if you're the only manufacturer of self-driving cars. Once Nissan and Ford have their own equivalent technology, you can no longer do that.


When I think of the economics of self driving cars I pull out of my keister a sub $10k price for that option and then estimate the monthly amortization cost at 'under $200/mo'

At that point I start worrying that self driving cars externalize the cost of congestion off the driver to the public at large. Everyone has to deal with congestion except the people inside their self driving cars yapping on their phones.


Then nobody intelligent has looked at the idea. There isn't much gain from car sharing: more then half of the cars in the fleet will be used for one trip in the morning and one in the afternoon - rush hour is much busier than any other time of the day. Even if a car could be used for a second trip, it needs to get to the next rider, which means travel back out to the suburbs empty - adding wear and tear to the car and burning fuel (CO2)

Some people will car share, but most will decide that the convince of having their gold clubs in the trunk is worth having their own for the little cost difference it will be.


Nonsense, if self driving is a $30k option on a camry, that makes it a 60k car to amortize. How many $60k+ BMWs sold last year?


Probably a small fraction of the total sales, given that the average new car price was about 3 times less (and many people buy second-hand cars). Therefore, private self-driving cars will only be available to a very small fraction of the population, and the rest of the population will have to use car-sharing.


You could open up lanes a quarter mile at a time even depending on traffic demands.

Eg. Between exit 1 and exit 2, 8 northbound lanes are open. Between 2 and 3 we have 6 northbound lanes.

It's would be pretty disconcerting to travel in your self driving car and head full speed into oncoming traffic only to shift lanes a few moments before collision though.


They had this in Montreal back in the day (i.e. the 1960s, when the risk of a head on crash was one you just accepted by driving).

There would be a bunch of lanes undivided from each other and over the lanes would be lights telling you which lanes were open for your direction of travel.

Movable barriers work too but are far more expensive.


Seattle has this with a physically separated highway. It’s closed in one direction and switches directions around noon.

Fun to wait at the entrance with a motorcycle. As soon as it’s open you have 5 miles where it’s physically impossible for another car to merge on.


Yes, nothing sounds more utopian to me than a world covered in 10-lane highways...


Hate to break it to you but the world is already covered in 10 lane highways.


I'm sure we'll start seeing autonomous driving only lanes in a few years.


Also introduce effective information to commuters to reduce flow: many drivers can vary their timing (come into work 2 hours later), or path (delivery schedule; go to a different office), or just cancel (go shopping tomorrow instead).


I have a first-hand experience: my town created a lot of "binaries", that is, converted pairs of streets into one-way avenues, in order to speed traffic. But now one needs to drive 4x longer to reach the same destination. Even if average speed increased 2x (and it did not), everybody stays on road 2x longer.


Making lots of one-way streets is certainly an overused hammer, but it shouldn't double the distance traveled, it should add at most three blocks, and usually far less.


Sure, the changes went beyond one-way streets, that was one of the tools; but the final result was, you used to be able to go A to E almost straight, now you need to go A,B,C,D,E.


One of the biggest reasons I'm looking forward to self-driving cars is to solve the traffic wave[1] problem. These are so unnecessary and deeply frustrating. When I started paying attention to what was causing traffic in the Bay Area I saw them all the time. There's so much added congestion due to erratic speeds, merging too late, rubbernecking and so on.

1) https://www.reddit.com/r/gifs/comments/5tf814/how_one_person...


The entire point of this article is that doing something to solve the traffic wave problem still won't fix congestion, and is in fact the entire wrong problem to solve!

I think that the article is a great refutation of the value of self-driving cars as a solution to our traffic woes. Self-driving cars optimize the wrong thing, enabling out-size use of miles travelled, and will make us less happy than if we instead optimized for accessibility, as this article argues.


As much as its in-vogue thing to push for higher density living some of us dread living close to each other like the plague, for very well founded reasons that have been proven right over and over again.

Our population density (in the United States) is very high as it is in, most metropolitan regions. I'm sure there are perfectly valid reasons for some to want to live in close quarters to one another. But it isn't for everyone given the intense polarization of the American public off late, around even issues that were unchallenged only a few years ago. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for this development. It's better for everyone to choose to live as they see fit for their safety & security. (Tim Ferriss even cites risk of terrorism for him leaving the Bay area entirely! [1])

Fully autonomous zero-waste cars should be welcomed and not shunned.

[1] I am Tim Ferriss, host of “The Tim Ferriss Show” and author of “Tribe of Mentors.” AMA! https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/7erct8/i_am_tim_ferri...


I think the problem here is you can't have both things. You can't say "I hate other people and want to live away from them" and at the same time say "...but it's also my right to access all the same stuff people who are willing to live near each other have access too".

So, if you want to be a hermit, go for it, but you shouldn't expect the entire world to conform to your concept of what you like even though it's demonstrably less efficient.


Why not? If we have the technology to solve that problem is there any reason not to?


It's not a solved problem, and it's not just s simple technology problem. It's a problem of getting a large number of people from far-flung suburban or even rural areas into a small urban area, and then back home again.

It's still the last-mile into the city that's going to be congested, and far flung commuters complain about local commuters "Don't make dedicated bus lanes, they slow my car commut!" or "Get those bikes off the road, I'm already driving an hour to get to work, they are slowing me down" or "What do you mean you want me to park outside of the city and take the train, I'm already in my car, I'm not going to go park and then ride a train".


>Our population density (in the United States) is very high as it is in, most metropolitan regions.

Have you tried living in other countries with major cities? The population density in most major US cities is a lot lower. Paris, for example, is twice as dense as NYC.

I'll let you compare yourself:

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

And if you want to limit to large enough cities:

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

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


I've seen that comparison a few times, and I feel it's a little misleading.

Paris is only twice as densely populated as NYC by virtue of it having an administrative definition that captures primarily the most-densely populated core of the metropolitan area.

e.g. the borough of Manhattan has 30% higher population density than Paris and is about 60% of the size.

However, because the boundary of the city includes relatively sparsely populated boroughs like Staten Island and Queens (the land area of which contains not one but two major airports), the average density is much lower.


US, but the claim wasn't "selected portions of the most dense cities in the US". It was "Our population density (in the United States) is very high as it is in, most metropolitan regions."

I don't doubt Manhattan is very dense. It is far from representative when it comes to "most" metropolitan regions in the US.


The same distinction applies to the population density of various Amsterdam "boroughs" (or satellite districts) whether its Almere or Bos en Lommer. The density & the people you run into varies markedly although they're both accessible by public transit and are only a stone's throw away with what you typically associate with Amsterdam.

How is commuting in from Zwolle or Amersfoort to Amsterdam Centraal different than say commuting in from New Canaan, Connecticut to Manhattan?

I'm sure the same is the case with any large metropolitan region anywhere in Europe.


I love the concept of a zero-waste, entirely sustainably sourced and operated car [1], but the total cost of building, owning, and, at end-of-life, disposing of one would easily run north of a hundred thousand dollars.

Multiply that by the number of people in your city, and consider whether or not personal automobiles are the best use of that money.

The future of transportation is not an electric car. It is the electric train, the electric bus, and the electric scooter.

[1] Also, no such vehicle exists on the market, and even if it did, it's not clear that we could scale the concept into billions of vehicles.


> As much as its in-vogue thing to push for higher density living some of us dread living close to each other like the plague, for very well founded reasons that have been proven right over and over again.

It's "en vogue" if you want to call it that, only because it's highly undersupplied. And the existence of some dense living in one place doesn't prevent you from getting your preferred lifestyle where you want it. Do what you want with your property, but also let people live the way they want to live.



Definitely didn't mean to make a distinction between those two spellings, and hadn't noticed it!


Self driving cars will solve problems in cities like Beijing, where the infrastructure is triple saturated, there is no room to build new roads, and subways can only do so much (not to mention taxis are already plentiful and affordable, they just aren’t optimized very well). For America, you are probably right, however.


> the entire point of this article is that doing something to solve the traffic wave problem still won't fix congestion

The problem here is that the article (and StrongTowns, and most urbanists) are simply wrong. Demand simply does not work that way. They have a fundamentally flawed understanding of Induced Demand, and are incorrectly applying it to gain incorrect results.

By StrongTowns logic, we should never build more hospitals (it would just induce demand for more sickness), and we should never run new sewer lines (it would just encourage people to poop more often), and we should never run fiber lines (because it would just encourage people to "waste" internet bandwidth), and so on


It is fairly well documented that demand for road travel DOES work this way though and is different than demand for health care, waste disposal, and the internet. [0] There is strong evidence that building additional roadway capacity does not decrease travel time in the long run. Whether or not increasing the throughput of the roads is the best way of enabling mobility or the best way to design a city is a judgment call, but it is fairly clear that simply adding roadway capacity does not solve congestion.

Would be interested in seeing any evidence to the contrary if it exists.

[0] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315534829_Closing_t...


Doesn't this end up implying that a city that was made entirely of dead-end roads would in some sense be very 'good' as it would lack all congestion? Portland seems intent on trying to prove that argument, but just because there would be no congestion in such a city does not mean that there is no value in making the roads efficient even if congestion remains the same. Sure, congestion doesn't decrease with more efficient roads, but efficient roads can clearly have a higher bandwidth.

A saturated dial-up line is not of the same quality as a saturated fiber line, even if packets are being dropped because the line is saturated, unless your protocol (roads) are of a deeply inefficient design to begin with.


so what you are trying to say is that all the competing vendors with varying degrees of HW/SW expertise, can implement the solutions that will always co-operate in real-time among different generations of products, has no lag/delay, glitch that would cause abnormal behavior resulting in a traffic wave.

I doubt that. We don't seem to be able to that on far simpler stuffs.


Would love to see a study that examines the level of racial segregation within a city and how it correlates with commute times from suburbs / exurbs into that city.

Segregation, and the lack of resources that go to certain neighborhoods because of it, generally make large swaths of an area undesirable to people who have enough means for options. Dealing with a longer commute seems like a trade-off that many Americans have made given the choice of 'undesirable segregated neighborhood' and 'too rich for my blood'.


Seems to me that the article does not get the reason why people move to big cities:

> So what do we achieve by building new highways and speeding up travel? We don't actually shorten people's trips; we just enable them to live and work farther away from each other.

If people can live and work farther away while keeping travel time the same, then they have more opportunities for work and leisure in their reachable distance. That is major advantage of living in a big city compared to a small town.


> We can always travel more miles at higher speeds to reach the same stuff—family, friends, jobs, dining, shopping—if technology and cheap energy enable us to keep spreading out. Heck, some of us might commute to the moon if we could.

This is where the argument unravels for me. Mobility is obviously preferable to immobility, and family is a great example as to why! It's very rare to have your entire extended family in one city. The ability to keep in contact with people who are far away is an obvious good.

Also, I'm not sure about commuting to the moon (although if it was fast enough, why not?), but it would be cool to visit. The increased ability to travel broadens people's perspectives.

I don't understand why this is the fight they want to have.


> Mobility is obviously preferable to immobility, and family is a great example as to why! It's very rare to have your entire extended family in one city. The ability to keep in contact with people who are far away is an obvious good.

That's fine for freeways that people are taking across multiple states. When trips are too long to work as commutes, the level of traffic is low lower and you're immune to induced demand from everyday traffic.

But this is about the roads that get you around a city. If you make those roads a lot wider, but the housing density drops 3x, your ability to visit family doesn't improve at all.

Increasing the distance you can go in 6+ hours broadens horizons. Increasing the distance you can go in 30 minutes inflames sprawl and congestion, unless you have some kind of efficiency miracle to apply to the construction.


Increasing the number of lanes of traffic available increases the number of people who can get from A to B using that network during a specific time period.

Whether "congestion" increases or decreases is besides the point. Congestion is definitional in economically successful urban areas.

The trivial example is to imagine a theoretical road with free-flowing traffic and a 10mph speed limit. Add another lane and now twice as many cars can get from A to B (if the demand comes). No individual car will make the journey faster.


There are two dimensions under which we can alleviate traffic problems. One is to increase throughput of roads and transportatio, and the other is to increase density and otherwise make efforts to allow people to live closer to their jobs and services they need.

The article would have us believe that only one of these things exists or could be useful, when in fact both can be true and both can help to improve the situation.


Both can be true, but if society has already spent a lot on one, than it can be much much more efficient to gather the low hanging fruit on the other.


Well, in some cases big overpasses or 5 lane roads make high density difficult or unpleasant. You can't have both a high density area and a freeway.



>a staggering tripling of the developed land area with zero net population growth

Sounds like a good thing to me. Cramming twenty-six thousand human beings into each square mile of space is every bit as perverse as our modern diet of fat and sugar, or spending sixteen hours a day sitting down staring at a screen.


Road traffic is caused by two main things: congestion and bottlenecks.

Congestion is solved by properly designing cities and their transit systems so that there's an optimal ratio of car/bus/train/bike use.

Bottlenecks are solved by properly designing the road network itself so that you don't have situations where 5 lanes become 2, or highway onramps/off-ramps that are too short and cause an entire lane to be backed up by people entering and leaving.

Yes adding more lanes by itself doesn't solve the problem due to induced demand, but refusing to expand highways while simultaneously neglecting to have transit keep up with growth is even worse.

I personally think that all new housing should have a state "transit expansion" tax per unit of housing it introduces, to allow the system to keep up with growth.


> I personally think that all new housing should have a state "transit expansion" tax per unit of housing it introduces, to allow the system to keep up with growth.

Why not just tax the transit use directly? That way you remove the complexity of determining which new housing is reducing traffic (by letting people commute less) and which housing is increasing traffic by how much.


Taxing transit use directly is called a bus ticket.

However when you provide unmetered road usage you also need to provide subsidies to persuade people to use transit, which is what transit taxes do.


There are other ways to do road pricing: odometer taxes, toll roads, even fuel taxes.


> Congestion is solved by properly designing cities and their transit systems

Redesigning a city/system won't eliminate congestion because it can form even in straight-line conditions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZC9h8jgSj4

It all starts when a single car slows down, causing the car behind slow further, the chain reaction continues until all traffic stops. The phenomena can be seen as waves in the video. However, breaking is not the cause of the problem because this situation wouldn't exist if individual cars were able to accelerate at the same time as those in front. The answer are smart vehicles capable of accelerating with zero reaction time.

I don't think congestion is a problem by itself as long as there are no traffic waves and no bottlenecks ahead. Just imagine congested traffic moving uniformly at high speed.


Fixing congestion by speeding up traffic is a red herring. Think of peak usage (rush hour) like pouring a 5-gallon bucket into a sink. The peak volume will always be able to overwhelm the pipe no matter how big the pipe is but a big pipe sure helps it go away faster. This principal applies to mass transit as well. There will always be backup, like on the subway platform at 5:05pm, but more capacity (more lanes, faster flow, more frequent service, etc) means it will cycle through faster.

This article's gripes about measuring the cost of congestion are mostly accurate. That TTI study is laughable. Their gripes about mobility not being a goal are totally bunk. I understand their agenda and why they feel this way but the reduction in cost of moving a fixed distance has enabled us to massively increase our standard of living. They just don't like it because it's made certain other societal problems more bearable so we haven't fixed them yet (e.g. terrible zoning in some places) and it's environmentally unfriendly. Barring some revolution in transportation on par with the automobile I doubt they'll go unfixed that much longer.

I'm not in the least bit sympathetic to the author's belief that increased difficulty of travel is good. I grew up somewhere that was hard to get to and the economic reality that bring sucks (your dollars only go like 80% as far) and people would be stupid to want to impose on this on themselves. The author is conflating his distaste for the automobile (which is fashionable and has some merit,especially on environmental grounds) with a distaste for lower cost/higher speed transportation in general. If you were to re-write his article and instead complain about how city buses and subways have made it possible for people's range to extend beyond their neighborhood or imagine some alternative reality in which cars are replaced with carbon neutral mass transit of equivalent cost/throughput it would become immediately apparent how nonsensical this distaste for reducing the time/money cost of physical distance is.

Edit: My analogy is for reasonable pipe sizes only.


> The peak volume will always be able to overwhelm the pipe no matter how big the pipe

This doesn't make sense? If your sink's pipe was 1 meter in diameter you wouldn't overwhelm it with 5 gallons would you?

Not saying that should be the goal, but the reasoning seems wrong...


True, but the point is, making pipes big enough to actually make this work ... is physically impossible with current constraints.


That would be like having a 1 mile wide freeway


The issue is that new usages appear as soon as the pipes get bigger. So you're never making it go away faster.


It's one of those things everyone always says but doesn't seem to always be true. There used to be a spot on my commute that always had traffic jams. It was a single lane turn coming off a bridge and having to merge with a busy road. Traffic always used to back up and block the entire bridge. A couple of years ago they changed the one lane into two lanes and put a light. No issues since.

But adding a big highway before a congestion point, that doesn't help.


And why is that a bad thing? It means people are not forgoing trips because the cost (time, money, either, both) is too high.


Maintaining a sprawling network of massive pipes costs a lot of money, and precludes more efficient forms of plumbing.


If the Green New Deal passes, a really interesting consideration would be a bill that would actually require employers to let (or require) employees to work from home a certain number of days a week.


Do you have a source or article about that?

I would be interested to see what that means for places where you can't work from home (restaurants, doctor's offices, etc.)

I work from home full time and it's pretty incredible (despite being a little bit lonely.)


No because it is my personal idea.

Obviously this is really only relevant for knowledge workers. There would be of course exceptions for anyone who needs to physically be at their workplace to do their job.


I swear this was part of Hillary's platform. I remember a big news article about it.


Congress has no such power.


Huh, nothing about the potential for self driving cars to optimize road usage? Yes, it does require 100% buy in, and it will probably happen in Asia and Europe before the USA, but a fleet of self driving vehicles can theoretically coordinate in ways people can’t (not to mention the standard lack of parking needed for taxi-like personal transportation).

But then would people just live even further out, given that even drive time is now free?


> very rarely would anyone be willing to spend 6 minutes worth of their wages (say, on an express toll lane) to avoid that congestion—turns out this has been studied and people will pay, on average, more like $3 an hour, or well under minimum wage.

That doesn't quite make sense to me. If someone makes 60k a year (USA GDP per capita) then, roughly speaking, isn't 6 mins of pay for them $3? Most tolls are <= $3 in my experience


This doesn't make sense to me either. Most people would gladly spend $3 to save an hour of their life.


Express tolls here max out at $10 - I'll pay the $10 if it saves me 30 minutes (the toll signs also give expected travel times for the express (toll) lanes compared to the regular lanes).


If they thought about the trade-off that way, sure, but people have a desire not to feel "taken advantage of", a feeling which might be triggered by road tolls.


Uhhhhhhhh.... Okay let the bridges fall.. let that be on responsibility on the locals? Engineers? As opposed to a trading system that works?


Perhaps the solution to traffic is remote work + Starlink? Most of the jobs in downtowns of big cities seem to be office jobs in skyscrapers. Can’t most of those people just work from home instead? This would also increase demand for local restaurants and shops to serve all those people working from home.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Fry purchased a London cab so that he could use bus and taxi lanes to efficiently drive around London


Unstated assumption: living in an inner city is the best way to live; living in the suburbs is worse, and living in a rural area is the worst.


It's pretty straightforward logic: if driving places cost you 10 percent less time, would you drive less, or more?


How about max-flow min-cut theorem?


That assumes complete control of the network. Even one unknown link would break the flow optimisation.


The only way to fix traffic is to fix the problem plaguing virtually every human in the world right now: the inability to be deliberate, focused, and mindful about the task that they’re currently engaged in.

Doesn’t matter what bandaids we slap on it, more rail, more carpool lanes, wider roads, etc... those are all treatments to the symptoms not the root cause.

I would posit that if people were mindful and conscious about driving, traffic would improve dramatically. Get off your phone. Stop thinking about the emails in your inbox. Don’t worry about the dinner date you have tonight. Focus. Drive. Be mindful. Be aware.


As a bicyclist I see people driving distracted all the time. There's of course the obvious example of people using their phones while driving. But sometimes I see drivers casually drifting into my bike lane as though they just let their mind wander. Other times I see drivers make a turn without checking for bikes & pedastrians: they're clearly not looking both ways.

OP is wrong that mindfulness is the only way to make traffic better. But distracted driving causes delays from crashes, to people missing a light that turned green.


Your observations are absolutely correct. I see this as a vehicle operator too. I was also a dedicated commuter cyclist for many years, and it’s worse on two wheels. I don’t think being mindful (and I’m not referring to the brand-name Mindfulness meditation world, I’m speaking as a generic dictionary term) will cure all of our woes overnight. But if we don’t address the issue of inattention and distraction first, everything else is literally just a bandaid on a gunshot wound.


While getting people off their phones would certainly reduce injuries and fatalities, the fundamental problem of traffic is that a car takes up way too much physical space for only one person.


That really depends on where you are. It’s all relative. It’s easy to say everyone should ride a bike if they live in the Netherlands. Cars are an absolute necessity in the middle of America.

I point to phones as one cause, but you can be distracted by a dozen other things that are not your phone.

How often do you observe truly clueless daydreaming individuals driving around? I see it all the time. People who are completely conscious, but who are sleeping at the wheel.


> That really depends on where you are. It’s all relative.

No, it's not. As anyone who's paid attention in their driver education can recall, safe operation of an automobile requires at minimum a 2-second gap between you and the vehicle in front of you. (3 seconds in rain, or at night, 4 seconds in rain and night).

At city speeds, that is a 20-40 meter buffer between you and the vehicle in front. At highway speeds, it is a 60-120 meter buffer.

We're talking about a hundred yards of pavement, per vehicle on that pavement. If that vehicle carries only a single driver, this is an incredibly wasteful and expensive use of our roadways.

This is also why the HOV/dedicated bus lane of a 4-lane freeway tends to have a higher throughput then the other 3 lanes, combined.


How is being near the 405 relevant?

I used to commute from Santa Monica to El Segundo. 405 was hell. My bike down Venice Beach, Dockweiler, etc. was absolutely amazing. Saw dolphins jumping out of the water for a long stretch of jetty once; bonfires, a tv show (Willard I think?) being filmed, drum circles, etc. The only crappy part was the cars, and getting hit by them. Rib still hurts some mornings from a side swipe, and on one of the few times I took Lincoln I very, very nearly died when someone didn't see me until literally the last second, slammed on their brakes, and screeched to a halt 1 inch from my rear tire.

Point being that smaller vehicles, like bikes, make perfect sense if you build for them.


It was not, and I have since removed that portion of my remark.


So you're saying an army of self-driving Ubers would fix traffic?


I find your “solution” hard to put into effect, since most people find driving in traffic to be boring.


So by virtue of the fact that traffic is boring, folks have the right to become distracted and put their attention elsewhere?

It’s a chicken/egg problem. If people were more focused, there would be less traffic. If there was less traffic, there would be less boredom.


Well, yes? You can drive and think about other things–honestly, I wouldn’t believe you if you said you don’t do this in.


They should ride a motorcycle then. Having literal skin in the game helps keep people engaged.


can you elaborate?


There is a podcast episode that touches on this concept under a totally different lens that might be meaningful: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/26/754336716/you-2-0-deep-work

It’s a discussion with the author of a book called Deep Work, that intends to help the reader learn how to focus deeply on challenging problems, and avoid distraction.

The EXACT same shit that plagues knowledge workers working on deep issues also plagues the rest of the planet: cognitive overload and distractions. It’s way bigger than deep work.

We are all walking around with the equivalent of a dog shock collar in our pockets, on our wrists, and on our desks: anyone can steal our attention in the blink of an eye. Email. Text. Tinder notification. Instagram like. A lot of people cannot detach from these signals, and it consumes their ability to think and focus.

Why do we allow this, as a society and culture?




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