walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

more people I want to agree with but find irritating

Currently 40% of the way into _Green Metropolis_. First and foremost: of _course_ I believe we should put more of the total cost of asphalt etc. onto drivers, change zoning laws to increase mixed use and higher density so that it is possible to walk/ride a bike on more trips and develop appropriate public transit options so people have choices other than cars. Love the road diet, blah, blah, bleeping, blah. I, too, find it bizarre and offensive that people seem to think that decreasing commute time and parking-hover time is somehow environmentally beneficial, when it just seems to maintain the car thing in situations where really people should be switching to something else.

But this guy is just weirding me out. Ignoring, for the moment, the very low density place he lives while praising Manhattan to the skies. Actually, I won't ignore that. There are some damn good reasons to not like living right in the middle of a city, and two of them involve noise and light pollution. That's right: loud noises and it never getting dark at night mean my husband never sleeps well in a city and he is a pain in the tail to have around when he isn't sleeping. I'm betting he's not alone. We could do some things to fix either or both. For instance, my condo in Seattle is at the end of electric busline -- very quiet public transit! Lots of trees to absorb what traffic noise there is locally, leaving only the distant hum of 520 and I-5 in the middling distance (not much to do about that). But a big chunk of why it is quiet there is because that little few blocks has virtually no activity at night -- the bars, restaurants and shops are a few blocks down 15th. The light pollution is a tricky tradeoff: we've got centuries of data that support the idea that more light means less crime (even tho this isn't strictly speaking true). In any event, reducing motor vehicle traffic, and making what is left electric goes a long, long ways to reducing noise levels in cities. Creating "home zones" -- residential areas a few blocks on a side, so still very walkable to everything else, but also very quiet at night when people are sleeping, and possible to keep a bit darker to support a reasonable sleep cycle -- might fix the rest of the problem. Here's hoping he starts talking about these ideas eventually. It's easy to predict these things would work when they have already been implemented in other cities successfully.

In the mean time, he strikes me as overly focused on aversives: make commutes and parking miserable and expensive to get people to switch. I do get that as long as driving is attractive, people will do it and that is a problem. I further understand the induced demand problem. I support road diets: making sidewalks wider and travel lanes fewer and narrower and taking the curbside parking out and replacing it with bike lanes. I do! But I _also_ think that public transit is a lot more successful when it is perceived as (a) available (b) useful (c) appealing and (d) reliable. There is a _lot_ we could be doing in "soft" terms (ads, directed mail, workplace info, etc.) to get people to switch over. I feel like I'm in a room with a curmudgeon telling me this will be good for me. Sure, I complain about being in a room (or a book) with a rah-rah cheerleader (you'll _love_ it!), but geez. It's like this guy doesn't have any capacity to introspect his own decision to move out of Manhattan when he had a kid and realize that if you don't make cities (or at least higher density areas) great places to live with kids (not just cheaper, but better), the problem isn't really going to be solved.

Finally, he keeps quoting stuff about transit ridership that I'm questioning. Yes, transit use went up with the price spike. Yes, it came down some when gas came back down. But transit retained a higher plateau after the spike. And other stuff about transit ridership trends over decades which I _know_ can't mean anything. I mean, _of course_ you're going to see massive transit ridership drops in the 1960s and 1970s. The big numbers were on trains in Northeastern cities (and Chicago) when those trains were run by railroads that were losing money even when the trains were packed, and the railroads were averse to getting help from the metropolitan governments and the metropolitan governments were still thinking of railroads as gigantic pots of money that can be bled endlessly. Reliability and availability on commuter rail didn't stabilize for decades after they were spun off into quasi-governmental entities (SEPTA, METRA, MBTA, Metro North, MARC, etc.), and even after that, they've never been adequately marketed by British standards, never mind Western European standards -- never mind what the Germans do for their metropolitan transit systems. And they (SEPTA et al, not the Germans. Altho I'm sure they have plans to burnish their transit systems.) still have a ways to go on being appealing.

There was _nothing_ inevitable about the automobile and sprawl in the US. This was very path dependent, and a shocking amount of that path dependence can be laid smack at the door of bad accounting, horrible tax structures, inappropriate (simultaneously overdone in some areas and inadequate in others) regulation, unproductive corporate structures that grew out of the previous three, entrenched interests who had to be pacified long after they ceased to be contributors (and I don't just mean the unions, either; Pennsylvania RR's management springs to mind), mindless idolatry of deregulation regardless of the cost and consequences and a host of other inobvious social and political phenomena. I'm of two minds about how we dig our way out of this thing (disturbingly, I find myself completely convinced we are going to solve this. Mostly. So much for my attachment to doom!). On the one hand, we might just latch onto some new theme for the age and run it into the ground, yet another turn on Asoka's 30ish year political cycle in the US. On the other hand, maybe we'll collectively learn enough about all this crap thanks to Modern Technology aka teh intarweb, and start making good decisions.

Yeah. Miracles will happen.
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