What’s The Problem?

Post by Steven Dale

We live in a marketplace of ideas, and right now cars win because that idea is better than what public transit has on offer. It isn’t better for everyone, but it’s better for most. That might change in the future, but right now, that’s the game.

You want to get people out of their cars? Provide a better alternative, full stop. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean cable, it just means provide something that’s cheaper, more pleasant and more convenient than the private automobile. The technology/mode choice is somewhat irrelevant. Just do one small thing right.

Or design your cities so you don’t need public transit or the private automobile (unlikely, and a matter for a post in the future).

For the last generation we’ve been building transit lines ad nauseam in North America and little’s changed (to a lesser extent, the same holds for Europe). Car use increases, transit ridership stagnates (or decreases), communities sprawl and commute times increase. Traffic and delays have only gotten worse.

There’s a problem here and same-old-same-old solutions aren’t working. Until we’re willing to admit that, nothing’s likely to change.

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  1. I don't think cars have "won" where they have, because they are "better". I think they have "won" because it is the lowest common denominator. It is the easiest to organise, as you essentially have to do nothing as a government. Transit is harder to organise, and hard to do well. Traditionally there isn't much political courage or depth of talent in any political organisation or government to do anything but build roads and throw buses on them as an afterthought. In Australia most of the public transport that still works today was built before the mass ownership of cars. And I don't think we live in a marketplace of ideas. There are lots of ideas out there, but not many are buying. Instead what we have now is what we are going to have in the future, with only a little bit of improvement to look forward to along the way. We don't get to radically change things every generation, but more like once a century if we're lucky. As for designing cities so they need neither public transit nor private automobiles, yes please. Yes please on a post, and yes please for some bold experiments somewhere in the world doing exactly that. Transit is OK with me, but I definitely would like to see car free cities.
  2. Cars have "won" because they receive the most government subsidy. Now that they've "won" the driving public create a strong voice to continue that subsidy, and hence we are stuck. The question is how to create an equally strong voice for non-car solutions to get out of the rut we are in.
  3. Well at least in some European countries car ownership is declining. Sure most of the time that means a family has only one instead of two cars but it is a start already. And in larger cities there are a increasing number of household which have no car at all. In North America cities have been planned with the car in mind. So nothing else than cars work. Distances are to long for pedestrians and a pedestrian friendly environment is key for any public transport, the last couple of meters will be always on foot. The cheapest fix would be in many cases to promote bicycles and build some dedicated bike paths. But when i read that US cities close their bussystem, switch of their street lights and even sell of their cars cows aka parkmeters i doubt that even the low investment in some bike lanes can be done. Maybe the problem will be solved by itself that more and more people going bankrupt and cannot afford a car and a house in suburbia. Finalyl it seems that all the infrastructure for all those cars cannot be maintained in the long run. And the more the roads decay the less attractive is travel by cars.
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_car-free_places "It is the easiest to organise,[...]" - not only for government, for the individual as well. I think you've got there a major point. Another interesting form of describing the problem is this headline and article: Is Amsterdam unfriendly to cars? (http://static.rnw.nl/migratie/www.radionetherlands.nl/radioprogrammes/curiousorange/co-080908-cars-amsterdam-redirected) ergo: are all other cities too friendly to cars? hmmm :)
  5. I'm also skeptical that cars are always winning in a true "marketplace of ideas" (or a "fair fight"), particularly with all the funny business going on in the land-use area. That said, I also think the current favored transit technologies often make it very capital intensive to set up a worthy rival to cars even where the local land-use patterns would seem to make them viable. Of course one could note that cars often have relatively easy access to public capital, but that is still an issue transit advocates have to find a way around. So I do see something like gondolas (or maybe crazy Chinese straddle-buses) as a potential gamechanger, insofar as they may be able to expand high-quality transit services at a relatively low capital cost. By the way, one of the likely effects of privatizing parking assets is to diminish parking subsidies. So while that money may not immediately be invested in other modes of transportation, the privatization process likely favors them anyway.
  6. Are there anywhere comparsions of costs of using 1 year or 1 month only public transport and one just a car (to be fair - time needs to be an issue too in that analysis)?
  7. Re: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_car-free_places That's a damned short list and even what there is is a bit of a joke. Melbourne CBD car free? Yeah, right. Maria Island? Lovely place, but it's a bit like saying there aren't any cars on Oodaq Island.

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