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Street by Street, Amsterdam Is Cutting Cars Out of the Picture (citylab.com)
207 points by gmck 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

As someone who’s interested in living in Amsterdam, I wonder what are options to commute other than by walking, cycling or taking a public transport? As far as I know, electric scooters are illegal in the Netherlands. I fancy motorcycles but I’m not sure if they’ll be banned right after cars (at least those that use ICE).

As someone who has lived in Amsterdam for a few years, and have several friends who were very bike adverse when they moved here, everyone ends up biking. It’s very convenient, safe, and enjoyable here, and you can get electric bikes or electric scooters to help if you bike long distances frequently (or just don’t want to bike).

With weather apps that give you the rainfall down to a few minutes, you can escape the weather by either biking in the lulls, participating in a e-bike scooter sharing system, or falling back on public transport when you need.

Very rarely can you get someone faster by driving than you could by biking or public transport (at least according to google maps) so long as you live within the ring. Outside of that I don’t think cars are going anywhere, and there is ample parking near the major public transport hubs. I know plenty of people who park there and take a quick train or metro to their work and don’t complain about the hassle.

It’s a different way of living and I miss driving sometimes but it’s really nice once you acclimate!

I've only spent 3 days in Amsterdam and I enjoyed the ability to walk the city. I covered quite a bit of ground there and most of the areas were void of cars. Pretty great for tourists; although I'm not sure how much locals like the tourists.

I think I was in "the ring", if we're talking about the adjoining canal systems that circle around the center part of the city.

"the ring" is considered the freeway that encircles the city.

And the ring of canals is called the "grachtengordel". I challenge any non-Dutch-speaker to try to pronounce that.

The thing that really impressed me in Amsterdam was how freaking polite the drivers were to both pedestrians and cyclists.

..coming from a city where cars will speed up if they see you crossing the road, and regularly muscle bikes into the gutter.

Here it's the other way around. Bikes speed up when they see anyone crossing, and they're the ones muscling cars out of the way.

> With weather apps that give you the rainfall down to a few minutes, you can escape the weather by either biking in the lulls, participating in a e-bike scooter sharing system, or falling back on public transport when you need.

Hey, I just made an account to ask what weather app you're talking about? I have tried Dark Sky and Buienradar on iOS but they don't seem to send rain notifications as expected. Right now I'm looking out the window and it's raining (like, the water is collecting on the ground/rooftops) but neither app has notified me. I've just checked to make sure that they have notifications and location access allowed as well.

There are electric mopeds, but tbh the qualifier "other than by walking, cycling or taking a public transport" does not make a lot of sense when talking about getting around in Amsterdam. You can cycle across the city in 15 minutes along dedicated bike paths and public transport is safe, clean and relatively cheap.

This is almostr true, but it depends where you live and where you are going.

If your travel stays inside the ring (the highway circling the city), yes, travel time is not that long. Although 15 minutes is optimistic. While I have destinations I usually reach in 10-15 minutes, there are other places that take me 25-30 minutes. Which I don't find worth complaining about anyway, but not everything is 15 minutes away.

Living inside the ring is very expensive though, and many workplaces are outside of it. In that case, biking can take 45 minutes to an hour, or become impractical. I have friends living in neighborhoods from which biking is impractical (Bijlmer, Geuzenfeld).

You can always take public transport, of course, and mix it with biking. But biking through a city with 800.000 inhabitants in 15 minutes is not possible.

Where would you reasonably commute from where cycling or public transport wouldn't be good options? I'm moving to Amsterdam (probably Amsterdam-Zuid) next year, and unless I go waaaay outside the city, I can get to the center from almost anywhere in less than 25 minutes. I never use public transport in the US, but when I'm in Amsterdam I take it everywhere. Once I'm more comfortable with biking there, that will be even faster (though for the moment it's a bit nerve-wracking).

Electric scooters are around, though. There are a ton of mopeds at the moment, but I share your suspicion that they'll eventually be banned (and I don't totally hate the idea -- Amsterdam would be incredibly quiet without them).

Mopeds have already been banned from bicycle paths [1]. Reportedly scooter-related accidents went down from 53 in 2018 to 10 in 2019 [2]. Finally, for e-scooters the situation is more complicated/fluid [3]. Only approved models are allowed and you will probably need to have insurance. E-bicyles are probably the best option if you need to commute medium distances.

[1] https://newmobility.news/2019/04/08/mopeds-in-amsterdam-no-l...

[2] https://nltimes.nl/2019/09/16/amsterdam-use-cameras-enforce-...

[3] https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/verkeer/overig-verkeer/mag-...

Ah, so they're just illegally using the bicycle paths. Interesting.

It's a confusing situation. They have only recently been banned from some bicycle paths, but not all. So you need to pay attention.

I'm curious what modes of transportation you would like, other than scooters? You've ruled out the practical common ones.

Walking is great and effective. Biking works well too. Public transport is there for you too. Keep 1-2 extra "station bikes" parked in practical locations around town. Then you can use whatever method you want based on the circumstance.

You can't ride an electric scooter on the sidewalks (or the paved areas in front of shops and such); it's just too chaotic, with stones and gaps and things that won't do well with scooters. And you would have to be pretty bold to ride a little scooter on a bike path along with all the people who are on bikes (you WILL have a collision at some point, and you'll be on the losing end when compared to a big Dutchman on a 50lb steel bike)... or worse yet, a big moped will run right over you.

My advice is go there and be open minded and flexible. You'll find a mode or combination of modes that works (everyone else does).

Many people are riding escooters on the cycle paths in Copenhagen. There are private ones and several hire companies breaking every regulation they can find.

I don't know the accident statistics offhand, so this might justify our refute your point.

Why not bicycle? We have electric ones and all of our infrastructure is built to accommodate.

Ebikes work really well. The only disadvantage I can think of is it's much harder to take a bike on public transport than a scooter so the escooter makes a better option for getting to the pt stop

There are foldable bikes that are easier to take on public transport.

They are still massive compared to a folded scooter

Not really.

A child's kick scooter is small, but adult sized electric ones are long and fairly bulky.

A folding bicycle is roughly backpack sized, and easy to stand over (like a backpack) on a metro train.

Scooters aren't being actively policed. Electric mopeds work fine, as do electric bicycles if you don't like regular ones. There's public transport bikes as well.

Further you can still take taxis, rideshare or rent something like a car2go, for which parking is more feasible, if you use it every now and then.

I mean... what else is there to want?

You can ride a moped, people ride them in the bicycle lanes in Amsterdam. Though I think that's a little unsafe for everyone else.

I would add Amsterdam is one of the easiest cities to get around in, I don't know why you would exclude public transport as an option as it is clean and efficient there.

As of this year, mopeds can no longer ride on bicycle lanes: https://nltimes.nl/2019/04/08/amsterdams-scooter-ban-bike-pa...

I love that in Amsterdam, they don't have motorcycle gangs, but they have scooter gangs.

We do have a motorcycle gang: the Hell's Angels. They used to have a city-funded club house until the city got sick of their criminal connections and found weapons in a couple of raids. Not entirely sure what the status is at the moment. (Though it's entirely possible they started out as a moped gang in the early 1970s.)

It’s indeed a kind of person who tend to ride scooters....

> "As far as I know, electric scooters are illegal in the Netherlands"

Careful here. "Scooter" can mean two different things in English. It can be a moped (which is what Dutch people call a scooter), which is entirely legal in Netherland if you've got insurance for it; or it can be a motorised step, which is currently illegal. Although that's not stopping one of my co-workers from using one for his commute.

Also legal are e-bikes, although that's a developing issue, as they're technically electric mopeds, which means they require a helmet, whereas the users would prefer to see them treated as a bike, which wouldn't require a helmet. I don't think anyone actually uses a helmet (except on the super fast ones), but legally they should.

What is a motorised step? Is it like the "bird" scooters that I see people complaining about because they get left in the walkways?

Could be. I see very similar images when I google for both terms.

We do have electric scooters but a much more expensive kind, figure 2-3K at least.

> I wonder what are options to commute other than by walking, cycling or taking a public transport?

Honestly that sounds a bit like "what are my options for breathing other than using my nose or my mouth?".

That is s a good interview question. Gills? Direct oxygen injection?

A big problem is removing the CO2 (or you get acidosis) but how about "heavy pump attached to perfluorocarbon liquid with high oxygen content through hole in chest into lung"?

Personally I don't live there because it stinks. The air quality sucks thanks to the airports and the legion of mopeds (why haven't we banned 2-stroke engines?).

Live in one of the satellite towns and commute with the train. You'll have a proper quality of life and commuting here is easy.

> why haven't we banned 2-stroke engines?

They have been banned.


That's a great start, but it's only Amsterdam. It should be nationwide. Those engines are worse than even big old diesel engines.

Compared to what? Compared to the vast majority of cities, the air quality in Amsterdam is pretty good.

The three big cities here have bad air quality compared to the less densely populated areas which are still within commuting distance with public transport.

I live about an hour commute from Amsterdam in an area where the air quality is considerably better than it is in the cities.

Current AQI is actually identical to San Francisco. What a coincidence!

The central idea is that you want to live as close as possible to work. You shall pay lots of money for the privilege of a cramped, overages, badly maintained apartment in some central location. You are not to have any other constraints on your choice of living space than that. In particular, you are not supposed to live 20km outside the city. Unless that 20km happens to be in walking distance to some remote train station. But you're still weird then.

Edit: Everything I read about these urban Paradise concepts screams "small town" to me. Where I grew up, that was how a small town functioned and of course it was quite nice. But that is not how a city functions.

Personally, I wonder how long it will take cities to depopulate after they made commuting too hard. In my observation, the car just acts as a proxy for the conflict between people living in the city and people that merely work there.

>But that is not how a city functions.

This concept of a city didn't stop cities from functioning before cars and it won't stop cities from functioning after them.

A large city, like London, in the XVI century, would be in the low hundreds of thousand inhabitants range. Two orders of magnitude less than today.

If we're going to use arbitrary points in time, at its peak Ancient Rome had over 1M inhabitants, and Chang'an had almost 2M, all before the IX century.

A more apt comparison might be London right before the car became common place, though.

The moment in time you pick for London does not change the picture. Victorian London still didn't have a million souls.

Rome's 1M population is a disputed number. Cities of tens of million inhabitants are all post-industrial and none work solely on mass transit. The car is an essential piece of the equation.

Car-less cities are an interesting thought experiment, but none has gone past the implementation barrier. That part of the equation should go into the though experiment.

> Victorian London still didn't have a million souls.

Can you provide a link? I'm either confused about what "Victorian" or "London" mean, because it seems to me that metro London definitely had over 1M people in the late 19th century.

Pre-war London had a population of 8 million and cars were strictly for the wealthy.

What city did actually function before the invention of individual motorized traffic? Rome? London? Would you want to live there back then as a simple citizen?

Is this a serious question? Let's take 1900 as an example year that's before individual motorized traffic (the car existed but clearly wasn't popularized). New York had a population of 3.5MM. London was 6.5MM. Paris 2.7MM.

If we're going to identify something key to the growth of cities, surely it is mass transit. Much of this isn't apparent in modern cities in the USA because so many of them tore apart their streetcar systems in the middle of the 20th century as policies shifted to favor the private automobile. But mass transit seems to me like the thing that drove the growth.

Just research how 1900 London was like for the average worker and then tell me you'd want to live like that.

Just research how London is today. Most people don't use cars at all.

Well it wasn't full of diesel and petrol fumes. The great stink was forty years earlier, they already had decent sewage systems (many of which are still in place now).

I live in Amsterdam and I love it, public transport is amazing and cycling lanes are one of the best in the world. I never used a car here and never felt that I have to. Yes, rent is expensive, but it's like that because there is demand for it. If I wanted to live in the country side, yes, I would leave 20 km outside the city, but why would I want to leave that far away when I that means spending hours daily just to get where I want to? I fell in love with being able to bike or take the tram to get where I need in 15mins average.

They should make the public transport cheaper. At least as cheap so that gas for driving alone in a car is more expensive. Even among other big cities in the Netherlands Amsterdam per km rate for public transport (€0.162 p/km) is quite high.

Plenty of people in major cities across the globe are fighting for free mass transit. It's not that unreasonable at all when you consider that, in many cities, the per-trip subsidy is already higher than the fare price anyway.

And if you reverse the situation, and imagine a city with free public transit that is then considering adding a fare to it, said fare would be extremely regressive and would hit the worst off the hardest.

> Plenty of people in major cities across the globe are fighting for free mass transit.

I never understood why. This study from Talinn, Estonia[1] shows that the overall impact on passenger numbers was very small (+1.2% increase) and that most of it is due to a decrease in pedestrian traffic and bicycle use.

> And if you reverse the situation, and imagine a city with free public transit that is then considering adding a fare to it, said fare would be extremely regressive and would hit the worst off the hardest.

Personally, I believe that cash transfers are more ethical and less paternalistic than in-kind benefits, but if you want, you can still give poor people a high discount on public transport or simply limit free public transport to poor people.

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Oded_Cats/publication/2...

Most free fare experiments have been failures from what I've seen. City Beautiful has a video about it. Free fare can attract people who are less desirable to ride with, even potentially decreasing ridership.

A nice middle ground would be free public transport for people under 18 and $1 for adults. $1 a trip is very little for almost everyone but it still discourages randomly taking the bus just for fun.

People under 18 would be in the less desirable crowd that the parent referred to. Crying babies and out of control teenagers are 50% of why I avoid public transit (the other two being drunks/addicts and/or the homeless).

On the other hand, car centric city design has totally locked out anyone under 18 from going anywhere so we have the greatest responsibility to make sure they have access to public transport.

Can you provide a link? What major cities have tried free fares?

I'm also really curious to know what "less desirable" means, exactly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccxVYborUcU was the video I was referencing. It was far more positive than I remember.

https://ftp.fdot.gov/file/d/FTP/FDOT%20LTS/CO/research/Compl... is the research I remember that was more critical.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport is also good.

Less desirable means people that other riders are less likely to want to ride with. From the paper above:

> In the Austin, Texas fare-free demonstration, both anecdotal and official data suggest that problem riders increased substantially and drove away other riders. Joy-riding youth and inebriated adults, as well as vagrants, increased. In addition, in both the Mercer Metro and the Austin, Texas experiences, problem riders actually drove away many of the regular bus commuters. In none of the experiments did the increase in transit ridership include automobile commuters enticed by the fare-free service (Connor, 1979; Kounes, 1993; People for Modern Transit Technical Committee, 2001).

Less desirable probably means "people who are homeless and/or mentally ill, who use the free-bus ride as a heated place to hang out all day".

Considering many Dutch jobs include a supplement to cover transportation costs, public transport is not a particularly big expense for locals. And for tourists, it's ok to be a bit expensive (especially in Amsterdam where tourism is so big that it's making the city almost unlivable).

And if you compare public transport costs to housing, it's nothing.

I don't know about that. Median netto salary is 2150 eur[1], people often pay 30% of their netto in rent = 1505 eur, health insurance is about 100 eur so you're left with 1405 eur "discretionary spending".

Average commute is 22.6km [2]. You need to go there and back again - 45 * 0.162 + 0.96 = 8.25 eur/day * 22 = 181.5. That's almost 13% of your money.

Or anecdote: my wife travels from Amsterdam to Utrecht. Seasonal train ticket is about 180 eur but there is another 200 eur she spends on bus and train of getting to and from train station. Compared to taking the car which costs like 150 eur in gas. It shouldn't be cheaper to take the car alone compared to public transport!

[1] https://www.amsterdamtips.com/salaries-in-amsterdam-netherla...

[2] https://www.iamexpat.nl/career/employment-news/more-half-emp...

A lot of companies reimburse the costs for your commute. Even when they don't, you can deduct transportation to work from your taxes, which helps quite a bit.

I do agree that it shouldn't be cheaper to take the car to work, but you did not take into account two major factors for the cost of commute by car:

1. Depreciation, insurance, maintenance and taxes paid for the car

2. The cost of parking in Amsterdam

Where I live, revenue from fares makes up ~11% of the total. (The largest chunk of revenue is from local sales tax.) Making transit cheaper would be relatively painless and highly effective: we have a 'free fare day' every year where 25-65% more people board a bus or train than on regular days. A new frequent bus service connecting train stations and major destinations sees as many boardings as existing light rail; it is free to ride.

A small sales tax hike is palatable to enough people that it is politically viable, whereas a $2.50 fare every time you board a bus or train makes more people not ride transit who otherwise might.

It wouldn't even cost 11% of the total to make public transit free because you can save money by not having to collect payment at all. No gates or ticket machines to maintain, buses go faster because no one is waiting in queues to pay at the door, etc.

Now admittedly more people would start using it if it were free, but that's a feature not a bug. And the marginal cost of higher ridership is much lower than the sunk capital costs of constructing the system in the first place.

>buses go faster because no one is waiting in queues to pay at the door

Well, you could always not accept payment at the door. But more passengers doesn't equal faster buses; after a point the service will bog down as the buses bunch up, and increasing the number of buses will not solve that.

A small base fare goes a long way to persuade people to walk short distances instead of catching the bus.

> Where I live, revenue from fares makes up ~11% of the total

Where is this? 11% would put your system near the bottom of farebox recovery ratios for major systems.

See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio

Utah. UTA has a pretty poor reputation when it comes to its administration. Overpaid executives who like to spend lavishly on international travel, and a history of shady deals with real estate developers.

Some recent coverage: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2019/05/02/are-utahns-o...

2019 budget: https://www.rideuta.com/-/media/Files/About-UTA/Budget_Book_... page 57

Despite all that, we really have a pretty decent transit system for the metro size. I have reliable 15 minute service to downtown and it only takes me twice as long to take the bus to work than it takes me to drive.

They should make public transit free. Why should it need to make money if it's a public benefit? If everyone is better off the more people use it, why not optimize to maximize it's utilization?

First, free != "free". You pay for it with either fees or taxes.

Is the concept of a public benefit collecting fees for its own operations that strange to you?

And of course not everyone is better off the more people use it; regular business commuters will be turned off by "problem riders" (See above comments for details. Having a nominal barrier to entry reduces the percentage of problem riders.

One of the main reasons people elect not to use public transit is personal safety and comfort. ( https://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/TC_Whos... )

> Is the concept of a public benefit collecting fees for its own operations that strange to you?

Yes. This seems to be the thing that kills public services. If you are going to have everyone spend a lot on the initial cost, it seems wild to me that people don't want to spend a little more to make sure their investments are well maintained. Would you buy a car and then not maintain it? That's just asking for things to get broken down sooner.

Public transit cannot just raise prices, as higher prices reduces ridership.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons public housing in the states has such a different reputation than public housing in the rest of the world - housing is expected to make enough money to maintain itself while also providing housing for the poorest. (Also, maintaining giant buildings is much more expensive than, say, maintaining a bunch of 4 story apartments.)

For me the biggest cost (with buses/tram) is usually the one-time boarding fee, not the p/km charge. So it's €0.96 + €0.162/km, and I usually pay like €1.5 (so ~60% of the cost is the boarding fee).

In the future it seems completely logical that all surface level traffic would be by walking, scooter or electric bike, etc, and everything else would be subsurface.

That sounds like a fairly expensive solution. I can see eliminating most/all private car traffic in urban centers, but I think it's not likely that everything else goes underground.

High density and high traffic urban areas would be the first targets obviously.

Rather than build streets underground, in somewhere like Manhattan why not build pedestrian areas on top, with direct building entrance at level 2?

often the pedestrians don't cause traffic as much as other cars (my perspective as a lay person)

Sure, but this way allows the city to begin again without the angst of trying to ban cars.

Buses (probably electric) are likely to remain surface traffic. Also, you need interconnects around the core where vehicles aren't permitted where people can transfer to private vehicles for travel outside the core.

I think underground or overhead even for buses and trains makes more sense.

Much too expensive.

It would go up with flying cars before it went down. Down is very expensive while up is free.

Up is very much not free. It costs a lot of energy to keep something suspended in mid-air. Airplanes that move hundreds of people are already under scrutiny for how much energy they use, there's absolutely no way we'd accept personal flying machines. Personal automobiles that can rest firmly on the ground are already criticized for their consumption even without having to lift off the earth.

Down is much cheaper.

Not sure what the future holds but if we could just remove this gravity effect they could float.

What if they were more like balloons?

I think in the far future we will be able to transport and it will be the cleanest method of travel.

You presume boring will always be prohibitively expensive.

Maintaining, cleaning, lighting, environmental controls. Plus the cost to dig up existing items and move them.

We would save in road salt. Might be a good idea to start building stores/housing below and would serve as protection against climate change.

For the cities that aren't as mild and flat as Amsterdam, putting the pedestrians and bicycles undergound would make more sense.

Except that kills business and is massively expensive.

I recently needed to commute to the airport in Amsterdam during rush hour and, in trying to figure out how bad traffic would be, stumbled upon this[1] YouTube video.

It's incredible how many people are able to commute at once using the bike lanes.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXWKQCavjck

Now imagine how the non-bike lanes would look like if every one of those people on a bike was in a car instead!

I know it’s fast forwarded but it’s hard to ignore the cyclists/riders sneaking into the car lane to get to the head of the pack. That said the great majority observe traffic safety rules.

In many instances a cyclist riding in the "car lane" is not illegal. It's not in Texas, in fact, it's legally required in some instances. I'm a cyclist, and recently I had a driver road rage at me because I was using the left turn lane, which is required by law when turning left!

I don't know specifically about Amsterdam, for what it's worth.

Also, a cyclist riding in the road is not necessarily unsafe either. Many bike lanes are poorly designed and contribute to safety problems.

the amount of times i've been yelled at to "get out of the middle of the road" when trying to turn left...

It’s reassuring to me when drivers honk at me on my bike because I know they see me.

We don't seem to get that in the UK anymore, thirty years ago it was different but there are so many cyclists on the roads now people seem have got used to them.

You’re right it depends on local laws and some make these compromises because of a lack of dedicated lanes, among other reasons too perhaps.

I do know I’ve biked in places where there were dedicated bike/scooter lane and despite there being rules about signals and left turns (which had prominent signs for them), often times people ignored the signs. On occasion, you’d see the stark result of ignoring the signage.

I'm pretty sure Amsterdam doesn't allow running a red light across traffic, as the line jumpers were doing.

I didn't watch the video, and was just responding to the idea that going into the "car lane" is bad.

The bike lanes are optional unless marked as bike lanes only with the appropriate sign, so bikes are allowed on the road in that spot. In many places you'll see the first four or five meters before the traffic light used to expand the bike path right in front of the cars to get more bikes through the traffic light. That depends on cycling the lights appropriately and requires a separate set of lights for the bikes.

Many of them seem to be going past to turn right, which would be a valid use of the right turning lane.

Also, I'd contest the behaviour being characterised as 'sneaking' - in most places, bicycles are still considered road vehicles, and allowed to use regular lanes.

You might be right. It could be allowed behavior. What throws it off for me is that most people stay in the bike lane. Only a small minority try to get to the head of the pack via circumvention (which, like you point out, could be permissible).

That's because there is a level difference, which can be hard to navigate when you are going down on an oblique angle. Most people don't bother, the lights cycle fast enough. But when you're in a hurry you'll skip the queue (and plenty of people will skip the light too, but that's another matter and not allowed).

The level difference is there to discourage cars from going on the bike path. Of course it also has the opposite effect.

I think part of the reason is that it's just a small minority that intends to turn right. For them, waiting is somewhat useless, as they're not crossing any other traffic. Once the traffic light turns green, not many of those waiting turn right; most of them cross the road.

Why does it matter? By increasing the frontage of the waiting cyclists stopped at the light they are actually helping more total cyclists to clear the intersection in the same amount of time.

It generally is good practice for the fastest cyclists to get up to the front of a waiting pack so that they can pull ahead and not get stuck behind people once it's clear to go.

When a car driver speeds over the speed limit, rolls past a stop sign, makes an unsafe turn, doesn't use their signals, and so on, nobody really bats an eye.

When a bicyclist judges that they can safely cross a road, suddenly everyone cares.

Hopefully other city centres built before the advent of the automobile will follow suit. Edinburgh (Scotland), I’m looking at you ...

This 'knip' idea is exactly what my town needs to implement. We're a small town with a small population of folks who actually live there, but our two main roads connect the freeway and large towns south of us. From about 3-7pm, the town is just one giant thoroughfare.

One or two knips would solve the entire issue.

I wonder if there will be statically significant health benefits

Just look around and you'll have a hard time finding the combination of obese people and cyclists.

There seem to be articles from citylab (and other 'urbanist' outlets) flooding Hacker News daily. Somehow they all end up on the front page. This article's submitter (https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=gmck) is a 5-month old account that submits almost entirely just citylab articles.

Clearly there are people looking to influence the HN crowd one way, especially with the anti-car narratives. Here's a different narrative about cars that shows the other side:

Cars are fast, and in areas that are not ultra high-density, they save time relative to ANY alternative (walking, biking, buses, trains) and therefore drastically improve your quality of life. They don't require you to wait on someone else's schedule, especially given the often inconsistent timing of buses. They work in all weather (such as rain) and in all terrain (such as hills) and are viable for older folks who may not be comfortable riding a bike everywhere. They don't require you to risk sitting down on dirty seats (6-year-old girl stabbed by uncapped needle on bus: https://metro.co.uk/2019/06/08/girl-6-injected-needle-hidden...). They don't require you to expose yourself to violence (40 to 60 teens rob BART train: https://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/BART-takeover-robbery-5...). They let you travel all over the land, including away from cities, and therefore give you a greater degree of freedom than the reach of fixed rails or transit systems that are limited to cities.

It seems most of these anti-car articles conveniently ignore the massive benefits we get from fast, private, point-to-point motorized vehicular transport.

PS: literally less than 10 seconds after I posted this comment, it was down-voted. No one reads that fast, and this is clearly a spiteful downvote from someone who doesn't want any visible challenge to the prevailing narrative. That's unfortunate and a sign of degradation in discourse within the Hacker News community.

I agree with most of your points. However, these articles are mostly focused on removing cars from the ultra high-density areas where they are ineffective. Going from NYC to the Adirondacks for a backpacking trip? Can't beat a car. Going from the Upper West Side to Wall Street? Please don't drive, it makes everything worse for everyone, including yourself.

My personal opinion is that the HN crowd likes looking at transit in large cities as a complex optimization problem. There are a ton of variables to play with, and we're currently so far away from anything approaching optimum. Cars downtown give me the same feeling as a 10MB web site that has two paragraphs of content. We can do better than this.

> Going from NYC to the Adirondacks for a backpacking trip? Can't beat a car.

Incidentally: https://www.adirondack.net/directions/getting-here-by-train/

> Every day, one train leaves New York City, travels through the Adirondacks, and ends up in Montreal. Another train follows the opposite route daily.

One train per day isn't exactly convenient. And once you get off the train, you still somehow need to get to the trail head.

For what it's worth, there's a super popular hiking spot 1.5 hours outside of NYC called Breakneck Ridge that is only served by a few MetroNorth trains per day (and only on weekends and holidays). And yet when I went there were MANY people doing it. That trailhead is close to the train station which is why it's so popular, but if it weren't, there's always Lyft/Uber.

These are city-dwellers who don't own cars doing these hikes, so "driving your own car" isn't even an option. Renting a car for the day/weekend is, but that's much more expensive than round-trip train tickets.

Yeah, it's great that these options exist. I've taken Metro North to hike on Mount Beacon before. But I still wouldn't say it's more convenient than a car.

It's not more convenient than a car that one day of the month, but not having a car is definitely more convenient the other 30 days of the month. Owning a car in NYC is super inconvenient and expensive.

Although I will say, the drive isn't that much faster than the train ride. And driving is dead time, whereas train riding time isn't.

Please don't drive, it makes everything worse for everyone, including yourself.

This assumes that people are simply so oblivious that they aren't aware of driving being worse for them. This can happen occasionally, but let me assure you that whenever you see people stuck in traffic, for overwhelming majority of them, being stuck in traffic is preferrable to alternatives. It might not be so to you, but they aren't you.

Don't assume stupidity, but rather try to understand why people would rather be stuck in traffic driving a single occupant vehicle than take a public bus. This way, you might learn things that could lead to improving public transit and making them more attractive to all.

I think many drivers have inaccurate views of how good the various alternatives are. As a cyclist, I've had drivers tell me over the years that going from A to B is practically impossible on a bike, but I often find it perfectly reasonable. (A and B are random locations picked by the driver I'm speaking with, e.g., often drivers say that getting groceries on a bike is impossible.) In my experience, most drivers never give cycling a fair chance.

Many people simply don't like physical activity. Of course, it would probably improve their health should they chose bicycle instead, but they aren't stupid or oblivious choosing to drive, nor is cycling objectively better. Some (in fact, probably a good majority of Americans) value less exertion and more convenience over health benefits or cash price. Maybe it would be better if they didn't, but compare it e.g. with reading books vs. watching TV. It might be better for society if people read more and watch TV less, but it would be silly to suggest that most TV watchers never give novels a fair chance, or express incredulity that some people are so oblivious that they prefer to watch TV instead of reading Dostoyevski.

In short, people have differing preferences, and your model of reality should account for that.

I acknowledge that people's preferences vary. I don't recommend cycling to everyone.

But I also believe many people are mistaken about their preferences. Using your example of physical activity, I find that people greatly overestimate how difficult cycling is when done regularly. Fact is, you'll get in better shape, and what was once far too hard becomes easy. Similarly, many people seem absolutely opposed to sweating at all and that seems to be what stops them from cycling. But I actually don't know a single transportation cyclist who takes a shower after their commute. Yes, they do sweat, but they find the amount of sweating acceptable.

There seems to be psychological research about this phenomena, e.g., here's a random article I found via Google: https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2004/04/pelham

Similarly, many people have views about cycling that are false. For example, I've talked to several drivers about buying groceries on a bike, and I was surprised by how few seem to consider that you can add cargo capacity to a bike. Groceries seems to be many anti-cycling drivers "gotcha" question, but it's really not a problem.

I don't think these things are obvious, but most drivers I've talked about these issues with seem to take very little initiative to investigate these assumptions. The easiest way would be to ask experienced cyclists.

Also: I don't think that I'm calling drivers stupid or oblivious. If you think I am, can you explain how?

I'm a bicycle commuter. It can get above 100F here and the desert sun is brutal. Before I rode an ebike, I definitely needed a shower in the summer.

In Austin, TX, I rarely have found that I truly need to take a shower, even when it's over 100 F. When I was less experienced this was more of a problem but now I reduce my speed, take a shorter route if possible, and change to a wet t-shirt and shorts that are different from what I normally wear. I used to also wear a wet skull cap but I've been meaning to buy a new one.

It helps that my commute is only about 5 to 10 minutes each way, but I'd keep cycling without taking a shower even if it was longer.

Anyhow, perhaps not all cyclists agree about the the necessity of showers. My point was that this is an issue where one's opinions may change.

But I also believe many people are mistaken about their preferences. Using your example of physical activity, I find that people greatly overestimate how difficult cycling is when done regularly.

Of course, I do agree with it. I can also confirm that going to gym regularly and getting jacked is not all that hard either. Nevertheless, median American is in terrible physical condition, obesity is rampant etc. Point is, there's quite apparently a wide chasm between knowing things, and actually restructuring your life according to those ideas: this requires committment, effort, planning, foresight etc. We gave up on expecting those things from average person in other areas (e.g. consider recent idea of "food deserts", which implicitly assumes that a person affected by those is unable to have enough foresight to make weekly or biweekly travels to grocery store, something our ancestors 100 years ago were perfectly capable of), so I find strange the incredulity of cycling proponents when it comes to understanding people shunning bicycles.

Similarly, many people have views about cycling that are false. For example, I've talked to several drivers about buying groceries on a bike, and I was surprised by how few seem to consider that you can add cargo capacity to a bike. Groceries seems to be many anti-cycling drivers "gotcha" question, but it's really not a problem.

There's no "gotcha". It's simply extremely convenient to do grocery shopping with a car compared to a bicycle, and adding cargo capacity only alleviates some of the inconvenience. The only reason people bring up groceries, or ferrying kids to school, or all the other excuses you've certainly heard fair share off is that when you say "car is simply more convenient to me", you're met with incredulity, and are being explained to, like the grand parent poster, that driving actually makes thing worse for you. You need to keep explaining the exact ways in which alternative ways are less convenient (less cargo capacity, more physical exertion required, more time spent on commuting with public transit etc), and the response is usually either minimizing the cost, or moralizing about health benefits or externalities.

I don't think these things are obvious, but most drivers I've talked about these issues with seem to take very little initiative to investigate these assumptions. The easiest way would be to ask experienced cyclists.

Indeed, "it's simply more convenient" is not the acceptable response here, you need to ask experts to tell you that you're wrong.

Also: I don't think that I'm calling drivers stupid or oblivious. If you think I am, can you explain how?

I don't think I quoted anyone calling drivers that, but the grandparent comment certainly implied that people driving in Manhattan are making choice that's simply wrong for them, which implies that they are either stupid, or, more charitably, oblivious.

I'm only "incredulous" if the anti-cycling arguments don't make sense. Personally, I don't have a major problem with the "ferrying kids around" argument. But the groceries argument is much weaker than you believe it is, and I'd encourage you to try buying groceries via cargo bike in a reasonably bike-friendly place sometime.

If the main argument against cycling is "seems like too much effort for me to figure out how to make cycling work", okay, I can understand that. But that's not what people have been telling me, so it's not what I have been responding to. (That's not to say it isn't something I should be responding to.)

I wish I could upvote you twice!

I’m one of the minority of Manhattan residents who use a private car instead of transit. My schedule and routes are unusual enough that transit doesn’t serve me. Even when doing a more traditional UWS->Financial District commute, I often prefer to drive because of the knock-on benefits: I can shop at Eataly and bring home some goodies for the family; I can make stops at a few stores along the way that would otherwise be too far from the standard subway commute route. I don’t enjoy sitting in traffic, but it’s so much easier for me than any other alternative. I pick my travel times to minimize delays for myself (and presumably others) and I’m tired of being labeled an entitled snob, an idiot, or a murderer of cyclists.

Indeed. I'm a west coast resident, and I've only visited NYC a handful of times, but last time I was there with my family, I rode cabs about as much as subway: in my limited experience, subway in Manhattan works well if you're moving on north-south axis, but not so well on east-west axis. When you're going east-west in Manhattan, you have to spend 15-20 minutes walking more often than not, which is usually not that bad, unless it's 95 degrees outside, and your children are miserable: spending 20 minutes in air conditioned cab then is much preferrable to spending 15 minutes walking in that circumstance. In that scenario, cabs also win often with subway, especially on short routes, since you can move 4 people with a single cab fare, while you have to pay 4 times the fare when you take the subway.

> I can make stops at a few stores along the way that would otherwise be too far from the standard subway commute route.

Where are you stopping between UWS and FiDi that has convenient parking?

There are metered parking zones all over Manhattan. Many are commercial-only during the day, but revert to regular meters after a certain hour. There are copious bus lanes on many major thoroughfares, which are legal to park in outside of peak commuting hours. In some areas the street sweeper dance starts the evening before, leaving many spots unoccupied after drivers have absconded in search of parking spaces that won’t see a sweeper while the drivers are at work the next day.

I use all of these hacks and more to make it possible to zip around town in a personal car.

I attended a Seder on upper Park Ave, Manhattan, which had 3 people who used cars, including the rabbi who lives in Manhattan. One party was a visitor from out of town. The streets do look like rivers of cabs but I spot private cars and not all of those have ride share stickers.

Cars were fast, in the sixties and seventies. There was space on roads. I used to enjoy the "freedom of the open road". Miles of twisty roads with just a few roadblocks to navigate around. Even better on a motorbike...

Not any more. Now a car is an expensive pain in the ass and aside from in the early hours, roads are pretty much constantly full. Full enough that even a motorcycle isn't quite the fun or freedom it was when I passed my test 40 years ago.

Anything that reverses the trend to a car (self-driven or not) being a necessity is good in my book. I'd far rather have an infrastructure that promotes public transport and cycling like the Netherlands does.

The sooner we get back to streets safe for children to play in, the better.

I won't play tit-for-tat with equally emotive and useless links to stories about people having watches and wallets lifted at lights etc.

I am curious, did you perspective regarding the freedom cars grant change when you got older and, if you had children, follow that development? I find that most people use the "for the children" argument online, even though cars hurt everyone who lives in a city, just children disproportionately.

Well, it's difficult to completely separate the two...

Mainly the sheer annoyance of increasing delays and gridlock. Which of course correlated with my ageing, as it's increased over the years. The journey to work being an increasingly unpredictable journey, timewise. The fun of the increasingly rare empty road remained, as did like of motorbikes, or the fun of a track day. We use the car less and less, despite the intentional political neglect of public transport.

We did a fair few trips with the kids by train. I don't believe they ever got a car journey to school wherever we lived - they walked. Luckily the street they grew up until around 12, was traffic calmed with no through traffic, so they got to play out plenty, kick a ball around the road etc. Other places made that far more difficult. Playing out today on the street _I_ grew up and played on at similar age would be suicide.

You make general conclusions based on your non-general results. For many the car is not expensive, is not a pain, and their roads aren't constantly full. What trends you might want to reverse may be based on an even narrower view of reality than what makes them persist.

I am interested where this place you are talking about where cars are not expensive. Where I am in a smallish city, cars are a massive expense with the purchase cost, registration and insurance, fuel, maintenance and for a lot of people parking costs.

What is and isn't expensive is subjective. That's the whole point of my comment, don't make generalizations on what other people think about convenience or cost using your own opinion. My vehicle is not expensive in my view compared to its utility.

I would think expensive would be in terms of the cost of other transport options. A car is very very expensive when compared to public transport, cycling, motorbikes, walking.

Other than air travel, a car is probably the most expensive transport option there is.

A car is often cheaper than other alternatives when you consider time or convenience.

Few US drivers seem to appreciate how "subsidized" parking is (and by consequence, driving). The fact that most places in the US have parking minimums means that, for example, I end up paying $100-$200 more per month for rent than I would otherwise (as I recall based on a study), because I don't use the parking my apartment provides me.

> Miles of twisty roads with just a few roadblocks to navigate around.

Roadblocks? Why were there roadblocks?

Other drivers. ;)

> Not any more. Now a car is an expensive pain in the ass and aside from in the early hours, roads are pretty much constantly full.

But it doesn't have to be this way. I think that depends on the particulars of the city. Seattle, for example, has been very drivable until the city enabled a large population influx in the last 5-10 years, undertook significant upzoning, and simultaneously purposefully degraded driving infrastructure (unnecessary reductions in speed limits, for example). I would say medium-density cities can be very car-friendly rather than frustrating, if they avoid trying to make one large city-center and instead aim for something more distributed with several smaller centers.

> The sooner we get back to streets safe for children to play in, the better.

I feel they already are on neighborhood streets, which are almost always limited to 25 MPH in the US. Highways and arterials are not where children are expected to play.

> I won't play tit-for-tat with equally emotive and useless links to stories about people having watches and wallets lifted at lights etc.

While I do not have data on hand, I'd wager that watches/wallets lifted at lights are rare compared to robberies/assaults/harassment at bus stops or on subways. I've personally heard public transit horror stories from friends several times, but never something similar in their car.

I've lived in Seattle for a long time. Many decades. It was never 'very drivable'. The geography has always made getting in and out a challenge.

> I feel [children] already are [safe] on neighborhood streets

Much of Seattle's neighborhood streets don't even have sidewalks or traffic calming devices. 25mph is a suggestion, at best, when people are trying to get around the lights on Aurora, for example.

> I've personally heard public transit horror stories from friends several times...

The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. You already seem to dislike public transit, and may surround yourself with people who feel similar. Could also be confirmation bias.

Maybe it doesn't have to be, but I haven't seen anywhere that seems to get it right. Sure, if I could shop at 3am, the convenience and speed would be real, but at 3pm it becomes hindrance.

TL;DR driving would be lovely but for the other vehicles. :)

> limited to 25 MPH in the US

I'm more thinking of traffic calming such that there is planting and chicanes to ensure no line of sight, equal priority, and drivers naturally tend to dawdle at 10 or 15mph along like they might if driving through a town pedestrianised high street.

A city centre night out or shopping trip is far nicer when the streets have been pedestrianised, and there's no traffic except the odd service vehicle and public transport. Sitting outside with a coffee is much more pleasant without the taste of fumes.

> Highways and arterials are not where children

No they're not, but you have to get to them, which is where a lot of problems arise. At that point I may as well get to the railway station instead of the highway. Except thanks to lobbying and politics, that's comparatively neglected, so not as appealing as it should be.

Because you're immediately dismissing a whole set of thought with random anecdotes.

The only way that policy decisions should be made is with hard data. Policy decisions shouldn't be made on the basis of little girls getting stabbed by needles, just like they're not made on the basis of people getting hit by lightning.

Yes, there's circumstances where cars are essential.

Dense urban environments are not it. There's a massive set of negative externalities that cars and the mindset that people should never have to walk more than twenty feet between their front door and their destination bring. They've lead to greatly reduced quality of life in these urban areas.

Its funny that people focus on extraordinarily rare situations like sitting on a needle that are so rare that you have to find a news article to show that it can happen but ignore the horrifyingly common occurrence of car crashes which are so common almost everyone has experienced one or knows someone who has and usually has life threatening outcomes.

I am not a bot or a shill, but I upvote the articles you're describing whenever I see them, because I'm very interested in public transit and urban planning and enjoy discussing alternatives to automobile-centric cities and lifestyles.

Seconded. This account is linked to my real-life identity; I'm not a bot/shill. I'm a city dweller and these kinds of articles are highly relevant to my interests and my real life advocacy and organizing work.

It shouldn't be surprising that lots of tech workers who hang out on this site live in dense cities like SF or NYC, and are interested in how cities can be improved by removing vehicles, which don't scale to high urban densities anyway.

It is curious they keep submitting from Citylab, but that they reach the front page insinuates people are interested in it. Just because people don't share your sensibilities doesn't mean there is a conspiracy against your point of view.

That is possible, yes, although it seems improbable to me because almost the same content is repeated all the time. It is also possible submitters/activists employ voting rings to push up these articles. The rapid-fire downvote patterns I've seen in these articles' comment sections is unlike other discussions on HN that involve conflicting viewpoints, which is why I feel something else is happening.

Look at any story that concerns China or the CCP, you see similar patterns of comments and downvotes. It's tempting to believe the CIA/CCP are waging information warfare on HN of all places but if we are to believe dang it's just because it's political and people knee-jerk respond in kind with their ideology. That is more logical but upsetting to some people because it suggests there are people who massively disagree with them.

You're breaking the site guidelines with comments like this. Please stop.


dang - how do you propose we have meta conversations about issues like this? I get that there are site guidelines, but concerns about the community being exploited by organizations (rather than individuals) are legitimate and not frivolous. It's this same concern that has reduced the signal to noise ratio on Facebook, Reddit and Twitter. And clearly, people are not willing to just blindly trust that Facebook or Twitter are perfect in their approach or that they are even attempting to do the right thing. Is there a way to discuss this topic that you wouldn't object to?

I hear you. That's a tough one, because the kinds of comments people post as part of such "meta discussions" pour fuel onto the very fires we're trying to contain. And to be honest, I don't know how much more of this kind of discussion I have in me. I spent most of the day writing about it, and it's burning me out. Take a look at these posts and let me know if you still have questions.







We definitely want HN users to feel like their concerns about possible manipulation are heard and taken care of. At the same time we want HN users not to bully and hound each other out of prejudice—which unfortunately is happening, not on purpose but because the frames through which people interpret others' comments are much too small. When someone else's view is, say, more than a standard deviation away from one's own, people don't think "wow, that's really a different point of view". They think "astroturfer", "shill", "spy", "bot", "troll", and even "communist agent".

Access to the city, efficiency of transportation, and climate change are the topics that will make me always click on an article that's on the HN front page. As I see it, these are the biggest and most important problems of our day. They are not new, but they are tough and getting worse; in particular they are huge concerns of those who are younger. Even high-income young people are financially screwed compared to middle-income people that brought property in cities a generation ago, and that sort of massive inequality weights heavily on every renter in the Bay Area, even if they are making $250k a year.

I think there's probably a big generational shift here, by any chance are you over 50? Talking about sitting down on dirty seats, and exposing yourself to violence are not typical concerns of younger people I talk to, they are usually far more concerned with climate change and ensuring equitable access to the city. Though security on public transit is a huge privilege for men, so I could also perhaps see your concerns coming from a women who's less than 50 as well! Don't mean to box you in.

But the big demographics on HN are younger males, so thinking that Citylab articles are astroturf would seem to be missing a huge thrust of the current zeitgeist.

The benefits of cars are obvious. Nobody needs an article to point them out, just like how we don't need articles extolling the incredible energy density and wide availability of gasoline.

The articles are here to point out the non-obvious downsides of cars, and people upvote them because they find them interesting.

You're probably getting additional downvotes because of the bilious bits about how HN is degenerating and being manipulated, none of which is on topic or interesting. Also, adding complaints about downvotes breaks the site guidelines and guarantees more downvotes.

Edit: also, it looks like you've been using HN primarily for ideological battle. We actually ban accounts that do that, because it destroys intellectual curiosity, which is what this site exists for. There's lots of past explanation here: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que....

Would you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and take the spirit of this site more to heart?

dang - I read through all of your past posts from your link before writing this comment. Respectfully, I do not understand the note about ideological battle.

I typically post when I am reasonably informed about a topic and see representation for one viewpoint, but not the one I have. I also do this when existing comments are dominated by a single uniform perspective or feature one perspective repeated many times relative to others (groupthink). I view my postings in such situation as diversifying the information represented in a given discussion. Very commonly, I see these situations with single-viewpoint domination present themselves in topics that are 'political', and perhaps this is because the HN demographic (location, profession, and so on) is relatively homogeneous. And so I end up commenting in such discussions more often.

Additionally, I am less interested in some of the purely technical discussions (such as "why is framework X better than framework Y") and more in the economic/cultural/political discussions that take place here. Given time limitations, even though I may lurk on many different topics, I post on those few topics more often. Those discussions are inherently ideological in nature, and taking any position could be considered ideological. I don't understand why the litmus test for being a good HN citizen is "posting on several different topics" since that basically means one cannot participate or contribute without investing time significantly, or by artificially keeping up some balanced spread of contributions.

To bring things up a level - we all live our lives and contribute to broader society in specialized ways, since we all have different interests/values/experiences. So why require something more generalized and diffused by way of commenting?

I'll try to explain. HN has one core value: intellectual curiosity (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html). Everything that we do as moderators is derived from that (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...).

When we tell people they can't use the site primarily for political or ideological battle, that's because the purpose of battle is to defeat enemies. One uses whatever tools and weapons one can, over and over until the enemy is defeated. Repetition, in battle, is key to victory. But curiosity withers under repetition. Curiosity looks for something new that hasn't been said or seen or thought before. Curiosity wants to encounter difference—ideology wants to defeat it.

Not only do ideological arguments on the internet tend to be repetitive, they also tend to quickly turn nasty, and that is another quality that kills curiosity.

You're right that I often tell people that a good HN user tends to comment on a diverse range of interesting things. But that's just a proxy for curiosity. If that's not how your intellectual curiosity works, that doesn't need to be a problem. What starts to be a problem is if you're using HN to push some sort of political or ideological agenda rather than to gratify curiosity. Users who do that have a wrong goal for HN—their goal is to bend the threads in the direction their agenda is pre-focused on. The right goal is to bend the threads in whatever direction is most interesting—and that tends to be unpredictable.

> Cars are fast, and in areas that are not ultra high-density, they save time relative to ANY alternative (walking, biking, buses, trains) and therefore drastically improve your quality of life

I mean, of course, does anyone deny that. They improve your life over the lives of others. Cars are incredibly bad for society, insanely bad. If someone had come up with the idea of a private car today, they would be rightly lambasted for their idiotic and dangerous idea. 2 tonne chunks of metal hurling down streets at 50mph mere feet away from unprotected people? Insane.

I don't disagree with you that cars have their usage. But it's funny you give links on some very rare incidents about a robbery and girl who got stabbed by a needle, but totally ignore the number of people who die every year from car accidents... (fwi, https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/#targetT...)

>> Cars are fast, and in areas that are not ultra high-density, they save time relative to ANY alternative (walking, biking, buses, trains) and therefore drastically improve your quality of life.

The key in this sentence is "that are not ultra high-density". This does not apply to Amsterdam. Also, you are comparing one of the worst public transportation systems (SF) to once of the best transportation systems (Amsterdam) making sound like just because public transportation sucks in SF your only real alternative is a car. I lived in both places and I do not want to commute in SF by car at all. This is one of the reasons I have moved back to Europe, I do not need to own a car here. You are downvoted because your argument is very one sided. I do not mind citylab articles being on HN at all. Just so that we have more numbers your argument about cars:



I really like not owning a car and going to work without the hassle. I can read on the train or tram or listen to music, even write code if I want to. I occasionally use car sharing services if I want to go outside the city where I could not go easily without a car. I chose when (off peak) and am not in rush. The psychological impact of driving to work every day is just misery.


There is wild eyed optimism and admiration for EVs and anything self driving on HN. It's probably the demographic rather than any innate hatred of ICE vehicles. The enthusiasm for a loss of privacy and freedom of movement inherent in 'on demand' rented transport does disturb me though - the great joy of owning a vehicle is you can go wherever you want whenever you want.

1. Most cities are high density enough that cars and bicycles are about the same speed. When you build for cars like in the USA you get very low density and a ton of space wasted on parking.

Things could be improved by using multi floor parkings more often, but as someone who has spent 3 months in the bay area, I think the current state is a disaster.

2. Buses in other countries don't have inconsistent timing. I can go out of my place in London to the bus station that is 3 minutes away and then wait for a bus come in 5 minutes or less, consistently. Yes, a bus comes every 5 minutes. No its not the city center.

3. Public transport is not affected by weather. Cycling is also possible in most rainy weather with the right equipment. The cases where cars are really needed are very rare compared to typical day-to-day use. There are still some, but not nearly enough to warrant actually getting a car, for a vast majority of people

4. Your anti-anti-car rants ignore the drawbacks of the widespread overuse of cars. For example, buildings taking 2-3 times the space due to parkings needing to accommodate so many cars, together with huge roads accommodating the crazy number of cars further increase of distance between things, making walking and cycling an even less viable option. Add to that pedestrian and cyclist unfriendly development (no sidewalks to enter the commercial area!) and you end up with a result that is unusable for anything but cars!

Not only that, but commute times tend to grow extensively. Do you like driving for 1h or more every single day, during which the only thing you can reasonably do is listen to a podcast? Do you like wasting 10-15% of your waking life on driving a car? I know I don't. I'd rather do a much less stressful activity, like sitting in a train for 30-40 minutes while reading or doing some light work. (maybe with the addition of 5-10-minutes of walking and cycling on both ends)

The sad thing is that people take that self-inflicted state into account to judge how viable other modes of transportation are. Well yes, they clearly aren't once you've built things for cars. But why not read about how it can be successfully viable, in other countries?


FWIW, a downvote shortly after posting is a common occurence for comments on front page articles. Almost every comment I've had in the past 10 years that eventually hit double-digit points went to zero or -1 within minutes of posting.

Supposedly a trick people use on reddit is to downvote all of the other comments on an article when you're making a comment, to give your comment an extra bit of boost, especially early on when there's few upvotes. I would hope the reddit algorithm catches that, and with HN requiring a pretty high karma threshold for downvoting comments should keep people from doing that.

Isn't it possible that people view the karma threshold as a barrier to entry they can take advantage of? What's to stop some organization from making 100 accounts that accumulate karma and then start engaging in low-signal astroturfing/shilling that is harder to distinguish, especially if others cannot counter them without similarly organizing a group and accumulating karma over time?

It is a curious occurrence but that has happened more than once for me. It's also a good lesson in ettiquette and patience: editing your comment to challenge downvoters almost assures that it will not rise positively again.

The greatest trick the Russian voting rings, Megaphone, and the 50-cent army pulled is convincing us to shadow-box all the time. We never know when they're in action and so we're always seeing a threat. Very clever.

This is actually quite interesting to me. We each build up a notion of what the HN community is and what we believe to be its core principles and when we see the 'regulars at our pub' (for want of a better metaphor) suddenly in violent opposition to our views, we immediately conclude it's because it's a bunch of shills. But what about the counterfactual? What if our friends actually violently oppose our views. What would it take to convince ourselves of this?

FWIW I think HN is too big to have any sort of unified core principles. It isn't even pro-startup anymore, which is sort of ironic.

Here's my hypothesis: Lots of people on HN fully believe the pro-public-transit narrative. You're not downvoted by Chinese voting rings, you're just being disagreed with. Just like when I'm pro-Internet-advertising I'm not downvoted by Big Patreon, I'm just in opposition to the rest of the community. I downvoted you because I hate downvote whining and shill accusation.

Dying from air pollution to own the citylab writers

How good is becoming disabled because some driver was checking their phone!

From the HN guidelines, https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html:

"Please don't post insinuations about astroturfing, shilling, brigading, foreign agents and the like. It degrades discussion and is usually mistaken. If you're worried about abuse, email us and we'll look at the data."


"Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading."

I'll admit I saw this bit in the HN guidelines previously. I finally said something on this topic anyways, because I've seen other commenters also point out the same in other citylab discussions recently, and feel it is a problem in the community.

The voting mechanisms here makes discussions less diverse. I'm especially not fond of the feature where downvoted comments are marked 'dead' or have their font color changed to make them less readable. Leaving aside the obvious accessibility concerns, it leads to echo chambers, just with a slower degradation rate than say Twitter or Reddit.

Did you do the thing the guidelines suggested? (Emailing the site admins?) What was the response?

I’ll add another angle. Cars enable social mobility, particularly for people of color, who as a group make less money than white and Asian people and are less likely to be able to afford the skyrocketing price of housing near reliable transit. One of the biggest demographic trends of the last couple of decades—more significant than young white people moving back into cities, which Citylab spends a lot of ink writing about—is people of color moving to the suburbs or car-dependent southern cities: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/02/census....

Here in the DC area, while DC gentrifies and pushes out middle class people and families with kids, the predominantly African American suburbs of PG County are growing. The same thing is happening on the other side of DC in Fairfax county and Arlington county with Hispanic families. For these folks, cars enable a huge increase in quality of life that would be foreclosed otherwise. (My cousin, whose family immigrated here from Bangladesh, grew up in a small apartment in Queens. I remember visiting back in the 1990s and think it looked post-apocalyptic. Now, her parents have a nice house in Long Island. They’d never be able to afford anything like that near a subway station.)

I don’t think this is intrinsic to societies generally. There are lots of reasons why housing prices are out of control in US cities, and lots of reasons why people of color are underrepresented in the kinds of professions, such as programming, that enable people to afford housing near transit. But that is what it is. Until we fix those problems, urbanist snobbery will have problematic race and class undertones.

These people would be better served by building increased mass transit to accommodate them, as car ownership is expensive and beyond the reach of many people who don't have much.

We’re talking about middle class people. They can afford cars, more than one in fact. What they can’t afford is $1 million+ on a house in DC in a decent school district near good public transit. (Indeed, the “can’t afford cars” urbanist trope applies to almost no one. Even among people who are under the poverty line, 80% have access to a vehicle. Driving is one of the most egalitarian institutions in the US.)

Building more mass transit won’t fix the schools, and mostly just seems to facilitate gentrification. It costs billions of dollars to extend the DC Metro these days. That means anywhere remotely desirable that gets a new metro line becomes totally unaffordable for middle class people with families. The structural cost problem has huge knock on effects. If building rail here cost what it does in Europe, you’d be able to build five times as much. If we had five new lines in the last decade, instead of just one, maybe rents near subway metro wouldn’t be skyrocketing. But that’s not the world we live in.

Meanwhile, on the world of facts and data, we see that car commuting is a privilege of the wealthier classes.


Land near metro got expensive (very recently! U St used to be (ugh) "ghetto") because it's GREAT and wealth inequality means rich people can bid up its price. The answer is to build MORE of this great thing so there is enough for poor people too.

> Meanwhile, on the world of facts and data, we see that car commuting is a privilege of the wealthier classes.

98% of all commuting is by car. Driving is one of the most egalitarian and universal experiences in the US. There is a small minority of urban poor reliant on mass transit, but that doesn’t even account for the majority of poor people. Meanwhile, rail transit is heavily used by higher income people. (Median income for DC metro is $115,000.)

> The answer is to build MORE of this great thing so there is enough for poor people too.

I agree. The problem is that at current prices, a new rail line is a once in a generation project. Metro’s 2040 plan doesn’t even contemplate a new rail line.

Source on the 98% figure? That strikes me as very, very wrong.

That's about passenger-miles, not commutes by person.

The statistic I'm seeing is that 76% commute to work by driving themselves. Another 9% carpool, and then the rest walk, bike, bus, train, etc.

This is all fair, as someone who just started the DC housing search. In a perfect world the metro would have 3+ new lines to augment what we already have and infill the city. Perhaps the Purple Line is a good start.

The Purple Line isn’t a “start” because it’s not going anywhere sustainable. The Purple Line will cost the same amount of money as it took Copenhagen to build a fully automated ring subway beneath beneath downtown (of a similar length). If that’s the price to build above ground light rail that isn’t even grade separated, then there is no hope going forward of new lines to middle class neighborhoods that don’t result in rapid gentrification.

Sustainable how?

$6 billion to build 16 miles of light rail, is not the first step in a sustainable program of building transit in the suburbs. It’s a once in a generation boondoggle.

I mean, that's just the cost of construction in the US, sadly. I'm not sure what the alternative is - not build it and allow more sprawl?

I have upvoted op because it is an interesting topic. I upvoted your comment because it is more interesting than the op. I would use occam’s razor to say that the pattern you see is normal.

It is a pity we do not see enough posts on problems of public transportation though. All those articles about beauty of public transportation and biking in high-density, nice weather areas are highly misleading.

Cars are great, especially electric cars.

If you are in the US, are 40,000 deaths a year and over 2 million injured of disabled worth it for the convenience they bring? Not to me. Are those direct deaths going to stop with electric cars? Not while people are in control.

Cars also allow for exploration, going through remote roads at you will, traveling to where you like and when you like. The US is enormous and cars are not purely negative there.

I guess that is worth the death count to you? Not to me.


That's not true, and commenters who post glib claims like this have no idea how far the truth goes the opposite way. I've personally spent countless hours working to counteract manipulation and abuse on HN. I've written the subsystems of the HN software that focus on that and catch quite a lot of it which, as a result, you never have to see.

From all that work, experience, and data, I've learned how utterly misplaced these cheap claims about astroturfing and manipulation usually are. They mostly have nothing to do with reality. What's going on is that when people encounter views they dislike, they get upset and reach for explanations of abuse, bad faith, manipulation, disingenuousness, etc. as a way to ward them off. People on all sides of every issue do this. It's against the spirit of HN, which is why the guidelines ask users not to.

The only claims you've ever made about abuse on HN, unless I'm forgetting something, have been complaints about your ideological opponents. The opposing side makes exactly the same claims about yours. Everyone who thinks this way is sure that HN is secretly dominated by their enemies and the mods are probably in cahoots with them. But they all, of course, have a different picture of which side is dominating—always the one they dislike.

In the case of the OP, it's clear that the submitter is here to promote Citylab. But there's no evidence that the voting on these stories has been manipulated. They're just articles that a certain class of (legit) HN users like and tend to vote for. When we notice a submitter with a promotional history, we penalize the account; we want users to submit stories that they ran across and personally found intellectually interesting, not because they or a friend or an employer have something to promote. Still, this is the mildest class of bad behavior that we see on HN; such submitters usually haven't got a clue that they're doing anything wrong, and they're doing nothing underhanded behind the scenes.

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