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[flagged] How to end the American obsession with driving (vox.com)
16 points by throw0101a 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments





I use public transportation to get to work when it snows (or did, before WFH). My 20-minute drive is an hour-long bus ride, assuming the buses are on time and my route is running that day. Longer if I have to find a connection. Longer if I miss the connection.

I've got food in easy walking distance. A grocery store (two, if you count Wal-Mart) and a dozen fast-food restaurants. Clothes are mostly clear on the other side of town, unless we do our shopping at Wal-Mart. Same for about half the groceries we buy. My kid's school is in walking distance, which is a plus.

Where we live now, the car's definitely a massive want, even if it's not a strict need. My spouse is really pushing for a move back to Southern California, and the implied greater reliance on automobiles that it implies.


My family and I drive when it's the appropriate way to get to where we want to go. It's hardly an "obsession;" I don't sit around all day fantasizing about driving. This hyperbolization is not helping.

Personal freedom still exists, and will for the foreseeable future. Authoritarians should get used to this fact.


Nothing alienated me more growing up in the Midwest than my anxiety around driving. Moving to a city with public transit made me actually feel like a human.

This is a good point. Highly dense urban areas can and should move to public transit. They have the critical mass of people all wanting to go to the same general locations.

But as of now about half of the US population does not live in highly dense urban areas. In much of where this half of the population live mass transit just doesn't make sense because things are spread out and no one needs to go to the places other people do in enough numbers.

So, sure, the cities and their people can try to end their "obsession" with driving. But for the other half of the population it is not an obsession. It is a requirement and no change in the design of cities (not where they live) is going to change that.

This is not a universal American problem yet. Urbanization continues steadily but it will be a long time before the arguments of this article apply to the majority of the US population.


> So, sure, the cities and their people can try to end their "obsession" with driving. But for the other half of the population it is not an obsession. It is a requirement and no change in the design of cities (not where they live) is going to change that.

For many more suburban areas, taxes are not high enough to support ongoing infrastructure maintenance, subsidies are required. Typically, developers pay the up front cost for infrastructure when building a new development, so the city avoids having to install infra, but then the maintenance costs end up kicking the city in the butt in 30-50 years. If they don't continue growing by building more housing and attracting businesses, places enter decline.

Suburban housing is very attractive to Americans, but over time becomes very expensive to keep up. Eventually, these suburban towns will need to adapt and allow better uses of their land, or they'll need to become so expensive that the taxes can cover the ongoing maintenance.

Cities can absolutely transform a car dependent area into a more productive one with additional transportation options. It'll require a lot of change, likely to zoning and possibly a land value tax instead of property tax. We'll see what happens in the coming years, but there are already plenty of examples of towns/cities going bankrupt because of their infrastructure maintenance obligations.


It is as the saying goes : "build and they will come"

60% of trips in the US are less than 6 miles. Electric bikes and road bikes are perfect for this kind of trip. I used to do almost all my trips in Boston on bike. However, I just moved to Bellevue and even though I want to, biking feels.incredibly unsafe. I know a good few people who would love to do their daily commute on bikes, but they are understandably scared to do so.

When bike lanes are added, they are done with so little thought that it is almost more dangerous to be on them than not (cambridge MA has been doing a stellar job tho)

There is a wierd conundrum at the core of american discourse right now. Housing is too expensive, but there is also too much space between places (requiring cars). The US refuses to welcome housing/zoning laws that will allow for densification. On the other hand, they allow for sprawling cities like pheonix or houston to expand to grotesque amounts.

Biking + mass transit is very doable in many parts of the US. Parking minimums can be replaced with parking outside urban cores and taking public transportation after that. Building housing on parking lots would quicky begin densifying neighborhoods.

When the simple act of living requires 3 cars in a house and driving 10 miles to get groceries, maybe it is time to stop.incentivizing that lifestyle and urban development approach.

All of this being said, US public transportation/pedestrian/biking infrastructure is bad even when compared to similar cities. Cities the size of NYC, Boston, SF, Seattle, etc in other developed countries fare significantly better on all of the aforementioned factors. Maybe the US could start by catching up first and talk about 'doing better' later.


Safe lanes are just one part of the problem. If we target to have people do 60% of their trips on bikes, there are questions like, where do you park the bike so that it doesn't get stolen? (i'm having a bicycle stolen in my family pretty much every year for the last 5 years) What do you do if you don't want to be sweaty? (yes, it's a thing!) and/or have to change into nicer clothes. Or what do you do if you are running late and 6 miles can be covered in 5 minutes instead of 30 minutes? What if you have to get a bunch of groceries or have to get from work to kindergarten to pick up two kids? Yes, sounds boring, but these are real-life questions.

America has very roughly 200M suburbanites, 100M urbanites and 50M rural. IMO only the 50M cannot support mass transit.

Vox's reporting has been surprisingly good lately. I don't know if it was worse before or if I only just started paying attention.

For example, here was another really informative video on the housing situation in the US.

https://www.vox.com/videos/2021/8/17/22628750/how-the-us-mad...


..begins with an unscientific sentence:

"This summer’s series of extreme wildfires, hurricanes, and tropical storms have made it more apparent than ever that the effects of climate change are here."


That will be news to quite a few scientists and national governments[1][2][3][4]!

You should publish your research. How do you know enough about weather, climate, and planetary science to confidently contradict thousands of other scientists, if you don't mind my asking?

Vox gave receipts for their claim, btw[5]. Looking forward to seeing your sources that were not funded by energy companies or conservative political groups.

1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/climate-c...

2. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/sep/15/facebook-p...

3. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/will-global-warming-produce-more-f...

4. https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-chan...

5. https://www.vox.com/21452781/zogg-fire-glass-wildfire-califo...


One thing that doesn't get mentioned in articles like this is that people need to "slow down" their lives. If you walk, bike, or use public transportation instead of driving, many things will take longer to accomplish.

I went car-free for 19 years. By bike, my commute took twice as long. (It was three times longer using public transportation.) Errands that could be made in one car trip, might take several trips if walking or biking, since I could carry less in a backpack or on my bike. You learn that some trips are "unnecessary."

> Many of the car trips that people take are within biking distance — say, to dinner, or an activity like a movie theater.

Maybe; but, I don't want to be sweaty when I sit down to dinner or watch a movie. I'd walk or take the bus.


"may take several trips ... less in a backpack or on my bike"

EBikes help here. I have a 'ready-bike' for these sorts of things, electric (euro-legal pedelec) and a trailer hooked up to it. The trailer will take a week of groceries, and the electric means I can dash out without worrying about the added weight if it's just a tin of beans. So, a lot of errands work for this.

Hooking up the trailer is a bit of a chore, so keeping it on is key (for me) to making this the 'go-to' vehicle.

Trailers are somewhat pricey new, but show up on used/swap sites for cheap; and as a bonus it seems as if people reckon you have a child on board (which I sometimes do, that's what it was originally purchased for) and give you a bit more space.


I think the right way to end the "obsession" (which is probably a poor term to use, since it's highly incentivized to drive), is to end the massive subsidies for car based transportation. Require maintenance to be paid for by the users, and I'm sure we'll see car related costs skyrocket, and then many people will look for other options.

That's going to be tricky. People want to be able to drive around and they don't mind paying for it.

Getting rid of those subsidies would presumably lower everyone's taxes by a similar amount. If people really don't like driving they'll just spend the money saved on something else if not then they'll just spend the money required for infrastructure directly.

I live in a city. I walk. I take public transport. I still own a car though because sometimes it's super handy. I'm sure there's a price where I'd decide the handiness is outweighed by the price but it's a pretty high price and I'm going to be reluctant to vote for people who make my life harder not easier.


> I'm sure there's a price where I'd decide the handiness is outweighed by the price but it's a pretty high price

Have you considered car share programs?


how about providing those non-car options _first_? before punishing regular people for trying to get from point a to point b.

> end the massive subsidies for car based transportation. Require maintenance to be paid for by the users

What maintenance / subsidies is that?


Example subsidy: In NYC, street parking in most residential neighborhoods is "free". This is a subsidy paid for by taxpayers, 55 percent of which do not own a car. These parking spaces take up 500 million square feet of public space. That's a lot of free real estate for storage of private property.

Fix the last Mile problem by providing micro busses or similar between hub and final destination



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