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  1. #1
    Senior Member Brian Ratliff's Avatar
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    A city with no cars

    The other day, I was reading "The Invisible Class" about a messenger in Chicago. In it he musses about a city without cars and how cars change the landscape of the city.

    Then I got to thinking about how this situation of "car culture" came about.

    The auto vehicle has many advantages to other forms of transportation. It can travel over distances relatively fast with no effort from the body. It can be used to carry very large loads over any distance, short or long. Trains, busses, and bicycles do not have this kind of flexibility. They can be made to do this, but at the expense of effort or loss of flexibiltity. The car is really a personal transportation device that can do most anything.

    I do not think that anyone can doubt the negative impact that the car has on the city or on human living in general. Just look around next time you are sitting at a busy arterial intersection or traffic jam and think of the number of gallons of gasoline are just sitting on the road. I could go further, but there are other threads that deal with just this issue.

    The problems I see with the efforts by cities and activists are that they are trying to convince people to ditch their vehicles for transportation options that are less efficient (from the time and flexibility aspect). Some of us, many on this forum, have found reasons for ditching the car (in some instances) that trump the arguments of time efficiency.

    So here is the question: How to get people to drop an environmentally damaging, but incredibly flexible, personal transportation vehicle in favor of a less flexible but more environmentally friendly (not just pollution but social environment as well) vehicle (ie bicycle), or an even less flexible and not even personal vehicle (ie mass transit)?

    Whatever solution, it has to start in a modern city. Car free cities takes the liberty of starting a city from scratch, but that is not an option. Not only the city centers have to be considered, but the suburban centers and sprawl have to be considered as well.

    Any suggestions?
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  2. #2
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    The solution is so simple, and yet so controversial:
    Add $3.00 tax to every gallon of gasoline.
    It works in the Netherlands......................
    Je vais à vélo, donc je suis!

  3. #3
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Gaul. This thread got me to remembering a couple we meet in our Normandy Bike tour in 1999. Remember talking to a cyclist couple sort of on the outskirsts of a town, their home directly adjacent a major bike pathway, leading to two nearby towns.
    the wife and husband bought the house, because it is convenient for them to access the bike path to go in different directions on their bikes to work. What a change of attitudes from here.. I would love to live in such a city.. Bet people are friendlier and you can walk about the town unhindered by traffic and smog. . I assume motorists could park their cars on the edge of town so as to access them when needed for long distance commutes.
    Of course, to me long distance means you can't access it by bike in less than 2 hours. Yes, simple solutions- 3 dollar tax on gas..The world of the future..

  4. #4
    It's in my blood Pete Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Brian Ratliff
    So here is the question: How to get people to drop an environmentally damaging, but incredibly flexible, personal transportation vehicle in favor of a less flexible but more environmentally friendly (not just pollution but social environment as well) vehicle (ie bicycle), or an even less flexible and not even personal vehicle (ie mass transit)?
    Brian, I would have to agree with D*Alex, Chris L. and Adam Smith. People will do whatever is most profitable for them personally.

    Having said that, I will once again agree with D*Alex and Chris L.:
    riding a bicycle and walking are already most profitable for me.

    Now I will agree with myself: I love to walk to the bus stop or train station, then sleep while someone else does the driving, unlimited rides, for no more than the cost of signing on to the internet!

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  5. #5
    opinionated SOB cycletourist's Avatar
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    The book Asphalt Nation deals with this issue in detail. It was written in the mid-90s but is still very relevant.

  6. #6
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Pete. I think people are not that rational. We are creatures of habit and often irrational.. Commuting to a job three hours drive, to save 200 % on an already overpriced house is nuts..
    Affordable housing close to work, has been the norm since recorded time. But not now. I think that is the root of a lot of our all too common road rage. Road rage is but a sympton of some irrational force driving us crazy.. Having to replace a car every couple years because affordable housing in not available near to work is pretty irrational too; yet alone not cost effective.
    I think the limited incomes I see in our costly housing markets will some future year cause unknown consquences. I think when people can't afford to commute to work and the housing market collapses due to everyone being 'house poor'- will result in an economic meltdown because we have not developed an economic system that is sustainable.. All this is suggested in the 'Asphalt Nation' also..

  7. #7
    It's in my blood Pete Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by cyclezealot
    Pete. I think people are not that rational. We are creatures of habit and often irrational.. Commuting to a job three hours drive, to save 200 % on an already overpriced house is nuts...
    Yes, I couldn't agree more!

    Our whole transportation system reminds me of a gambler who bets all his chips on one number. What will people fall back on if driving a car becomes too expensive?
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    Senior Member surreal's Avatar
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    i'd like to second the endorsement of _asphalt nation_ as a worthwhile read for ppl who are into thinking long and hard about these issues. the book was recomended on a thread at this very forum back when i first began lookin' round here(it's been a l'il while now!) and i went out and bought the book on the advice of several BF members. it's proven to be, overall, an entertaining and informative read, despite some of the drawbacks in terms of style.

    -rob

  9. #9
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Pete Clark

    Brian, I would have to agree with D*Alex, Chris L. and Adam Smith. People will do whatever is most profitable for them personally.

    Having said that, I will once again agree with D*Alex and Chris L.:
    riding a bicycle and walking are already most profitable for me.
    I think it was D*Alex and Cyclezealot you were agreeing with, but hey, you can add my support in there as well. I think the whole $ aspect is one that has been largely ignored by cycling advocates and I really don't understand why. The focus seems to be on "cycle to benefit the environment/community/whatever."

    Well, that's all well and good, but nobody seems to focus on the fact that the costs of operating and maintaining a car for a year amount to thousands of dollars (this is before the cost of buying one in the first place is even considered). Hence this is why I have always said I am better off without one.

    Sure, it might be a little more convenient to own a car, but once someone knows how to use other methods of transport effectively, the difference in convenience pales into insignificance when one compares it to the cost of driving.
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  10. #10
    Grounded Inkwolf's Avatar
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    http://www.mackinac.com/?SourceId=aAbout

    Sadly, it's more a tourist trap than a real, sustainable economy, but it does show that you can live without cars, even in the USA. Scary, though, in a way, to think that a town becomes a tourist attraction mainly due to the 'oddness' of having no motor traffic...

  11. #11
    RAGBRAI. Need I say more? Steele-Bike's Avatar
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    Originally posted by D*Alex
    The solution is so simple, and yet so controversial:
    Add $3.00 tax to every gallon of gasoline.
    It works in the Netherlands......................
    I have heard it said, that if there was a large tax on gasoline, our economy would suffer. This is mainly due to the fact that with the vast open lands of America, many goods are shipped via open road and rail. With this in mind, here is my amended tax proposal. Commercial use vehicles would be exempt from heavily taxed gasoline, but privately owned vehicles would pay the full amount. Of course, every one would try to say their vehicle was for business use only.

    Now that is an idea that every one can love. (Except, perhaps, cagers). Then again, I support the flat tax and the privatization of Social Security. (I am a registered Indpendant...yes, I prefer to think for myself).

  12. #12
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    In many older European cities it is quite easy to get by without a car. You dont need one for travelling around a compact city, and intercity travel is easily accomplished by rail. Riding around cities in Germany or Denmark is not considered a sign of poverty or social protest, just transportation.
    It is pretty difficult to convert a low-density car-based city into a higher density carless one. People are scared of high density living, but if you take the space devoted to cars away, there is plenty of room for more people. In car-based societies, only the poor and have-nots are warehoused in high density "projects", located by unpleasant freeways, and polluted by all the good people travelling past them to the 'burbs every day.

  13. #13
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    I agree with most of the arguments presented so far, but I'd like to point out a few additional things.

    1. The "cost-effectiveness" of transportation doesn't seem to be an important factor for many people. Many people will commute by car because they find it "more convenient", i.e. because they can listen to the radio, talk on the phone and feel they are in their private adobe. Look at the number of people talking on the phone (even on public transport), and drop an ear on their conversation, and there is a lot of unnecessary chatter going on... especially when one considers time on a cell phone is usually billed by the minute (it's during daytime).

    Some people factor in some auto costs and prefer to use public transport to go to work. Yet, these same people will go shopping, or will go to church by car, even if there is good bus service.

    2. As others have pointed out, bicycling is often more time effective than driving. It's true in large cities, because of parking hassles, traffic jams, etc.; but even in small cities, cycling is time effective for distances up to 3-4 km. When I was working in Trois-Rivières, it took me 7 minutes door to door from home to office (2.2 km). My father was driving the same distance in 7 to 12 minutes (warming the car, finding a parking spot, etc.). And walking was a 25-minute proposition... which was about 30 minutes faster than public transport!

    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  14. #14
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    Originally posted by mgagnonlv
    The "cost-effectiveness" of transportation doesn't seem to be an important factor for many people. Many people will commute by car because they find it "more convenient", i.e. because they can listen to the radio, talk on the phone and feel they are in their private adobe.
    I believe most people use the term "cost-effectiveness" to represent a favorable cost-benefit relationship leading to a choice, such as riding a motor vehicle. If a person perceives the benefits of driving to outweigh the costs, they'll choose to drive the car. To them, a car would be "cost-effective".

    You have to examine all the benefits (and costs) of a behavior, not just the obvious ones. In fact, you name some of ancillary benefits of auto driving -- convenience, privacy, listening to radio, etc. -- that weigh heavily in peoples' minds when choosing to drive. Yet, unless I'm misreading your post, you seem to use these benefits as examples of how people continue choose a (in your view) cost-ineffective form of transportation.

    My only point here is that, for instance, listening to the radio on the way to work can be a major benefit of driving. Personally, I wish I could listen to the radio on my bike-commute to work (I don't, because it's unsafe) and absolutely love to when I drive.

    Little things like this mean a whole lot to people and explain why the demand for driving far outstrips the demand for biking. Until biking is perceived by the general public to be advantageous (relative to cars), this whole thread is moot.

  15. #15
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Andy.. I am convinced people do not know what is good for them..Never have I seen angrier people than when they commute on LA freeways and can only move 15 mph because the traffic does not move.
    I remember someone on this web site posted a study by some British university, stating the average speed of cars in British urban areas is only 19 mph, when you factored gridlock and traffic lights. That is about what I do on my bike !..This is not effective transportation..
    Personally, I am not advocating 3 dollar tax on gasoline.
    I just think it might effect some of our habits- just maybe..?
    I would like to think commuters will find others solutions to traffic gridlock, just because gridlock alone, tells us this is not rational..

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    Originally posted by cyclezealot
    Andy.. I am convinced people do not know what is good for them....Personally, I am not advocating 3 dollar tax on gasoline.
    cyclezealot, from your earlier post: "Yes, simple solutions- 3 dollar tax on gas..The world of the future"

    Whatever your thoughts towards additional taxes on gasoline, remember that a significant segment of the population that can't reasonably ride bikes on a daily basis would be adversely (unfairly?) taxed for the benefit of those that can.

    Remember, too, that the Netherlands is (a) a small country, (b) flat, and (c) generally temperate. And its population never threw a Tea Party.

  17. #17
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Andy. I know biking to work is not everyone's cup of tea.. A part of our transportion system should include the bicycle, but also mass transit..
    The public should realize if their problem prone car can't get them to work, they have no job.. Public (mass)transportion is every bit as important to a robust economy as train tracks for freight trains, highways for trucks, etc..
    Yes, that public transit system should allow we bicyclists access- so we can take along our bikes and commute on bike farther than presently possible.
    In fact, I will say providing the means- guaranteing the workforce access to work, is really a national security issue.
    I have spent too much time in Europe- our dependence upon the auto is not necessary.. you can get where ever you want and have no car..

  18. #18
    We drive on the left. Dutchy's Avatar
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    The pro's and cons of car ownership are only relative to where you live and the infrastructure of public transport that is available to you, not everyone has the same access to these facilities.

    I know that I can cover 16km/10miles as quick as a car can in traffic @30kph, but when I add in the time for a shower at the end of my (old) commute, driving is 15mins quicker. Then on the way home I can average 25kph, taking 38mins, the cars takes about 35mins. So the time difference isn't that much to warrant owning a car, except that my wife (and most other people) can't ride at this speed. She also wears a suit to work, and takes stuff to and from the office.

    Then if I want to see my parents that live 80kms/50mile away, the only way to get there is by car, there is no public transport. So a car is necessary.

    The public transport system here is a complete joke, every half hour on weekdays and every hour on weekends, stopping at 11pm.

    The car is even quicker outside of peak hour traffic, cycling takes just as long regardless of the time of day.

    CHEERS.

    Mark
    Last edited by Dutchy; 09-09-02 at 01:13 AM.
    I'd rather be riding.

  19. #19
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Andy Dreisch

    My only point here is that, for instance, listening to the radio on the way to work can be a major benefit of driving. Personally, I wish I could listen to the radio on my bike-commute to work (I don't, because it's unsafe) and absolutely love to when I drive.
    I got to listen to the radio at that time earlier this year when I was between jobs. If it's the same as what's on the radio over there, you're probably not missing all that much.
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    When it costs $1B per mile (or something close), public transportation is not a viable option. If work didn't stop every time a snail was uncovered (i.e., EPA regs), maybe the costs would be lower.

    The Bay Area's BART system is extensive already. Still the roads are backed up. Still people choose to travel by car. So they apparently disagree with you and believe that driving is still worth it (is "cost-effective"). Gridlock and all.

  21. #21
    RAGBRAI. Need I say more? Steele-Bike's Avatar
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    The problem with the way Americans have designed their cities, mass transportation is not a realistic option. The solution? Americans need to stop the excessive urban sprawl and begin to build more community oriented areas (i.e. neighborgood grocery stores, hardware stores).

    Here in Iowa City, housing has grown 12% in the last decade, while the population has grown by a much smaller percentage. Having lived in this community for 15 years, I have seen the sprawl first hand. Every year the neighborhoods inch out several blocks into what was previously farm land. With Iowa have arguably the most fertile soil in the nation, how can we take this land and put more and more houses on it. I guess this is where the higher yielding genitically altered crops come into play. Hmmm...

  22. #22
    Mister Slick Matadon's Avatar
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    The problem is that you can't just suddenly change things, both because its impractical, and because you'd have a difficult time getting three hundred million Americans to just abandon their cars. It won't happen.

    What would help to change things would be a gradual increase in the cost of gasoline; have it reflect the real costs of driving, rather than be subsidized out of the general fund. This would reduce overall income taxes signifigantly, and would result in those that use the roads actually paying for them.

    Right now, the American transportation system is suffering from a tragedy of the commons -- everyone perceives it as a free resource, and uses it accordingly. If people actually had to pay for what they used, driving-wise, there'd be a lot less in the way of cars on the road, and a real demand for public transporation.
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    Right now, the American health care system is suffering from a tragedy of the commons -- everyone perceives it as a free resource, and uses it accordingly. If people actually had to pay for what they used, there'd be a lot less in the way of expensive and useless tests, and a real demand for cheaper forms of health care.

    Right now, the American education system is suffering from a tragedy of the commons -- everyone perceives it as a free resource, and uses it accordingly. If people actually had to pay for what they used, there'd be a lot less in the way of mediocre and failing schools, and a real demand for accountability.

    ...

    The same argument can be made for very many "free" government services funded by levies on you and me.

  24. #24
    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    Whatever your thoughts towards additional taxes on gasoline, remember that a significant segment of the population that can't reasonably ride bikes on a daily basis would be adversely (unfairly?) taxed for the benefit of those that can.
    OK, maybe this is getting off subject, but come on Andy, what are you talking about? what percent of the population cannot ride bikes on a daily basis? we're talking parapalegics, people with major medical problems, the severly mentally ********, and the extremely old that they have to ride in a wheel chair and can't climb stairs.

    For the most part, anyone who can get in and out of a car, go up and down steps and generally make their way around w/o assistance is capable of riding a bike. i live in Europe and i see 90+ year old men and women that look like they couldn't even sit up in bed out riding bikes.

    on the other hnad, maybe some people are so out of shape they couldn't ride very long, but riding would make them healthier.

    not to mention the potential cost savings for future health-care from our letharigic car-driving tv-watching populace.

    anyway, sure, there are people for whom we'd have to help or shuttle or make special accomodatikons for if driving weren't avaiable, but that's a bogus argument. there is virtually no one that NEEDS a car for their life --- they just need a car so that they can live so far away from work and school and drive all over the place.

    anyway, back to the original topic: a combination system of walking, cycling, public transit, motor-powereed freight, and limited use of personal automobiles is a very viable as well as cost-effective, sustainable and effective solution.

    in 20 years or so, people will laugh at the idea of driving a personal car for basic transportation -- unfortunately not because of the environment or deaths from car accidents or destruction of cummunity life or sprawl and loss of farmland ---- no, pretty soon it will no longer be convenient to drive b/c traffic will be so bad it won't be reasonable. If it takes 3 hours to drive 20 miles to work, society will suddenly become very creative about finding alternatives. unfortunately we're a dumb species and can't recognize the problem until it's too late --- it is a classic tragedy of the commons
    why drive when you can ride?
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  25. #25
    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    and Matadon, your comments are right on!

    personal auto transportation is a tragedy of the commons, and as usual, no one sees it until it's too late.

    as you suggest, we cannot reasonably change things overnight, but we can do things to try and prevent it from getting worse so when we do have to change we can actually do it.

    the US would be in really bad shape right now if for some reason we didn't have an oil supply. with all the economy and security talk of the current administration i just don't understand why no one talks about our greatest weakness -- other than suggesting we detroy Alaska to add a few drops to the bucket.

    and Andy, your analogy about all government services being tragedy of the commons is flawed. first off, the US doesn't have much of a public health care system, but anyway... people are i think generally aware that we pay huge amount of taxes for schools and other government services -- i.e. that they are subsidized by all taxpayers for the real users. But i think awareness about the level of auto-subsidation is not general public knowledge. many people actually believe they pay for their public costs through their gas taxes and car registration fees. This is like saying that students who pay for their subsidized workbooks and their $1.90 subsidized lunches pay for their education.

    AWARENESS should be the first step -- public disclosure and full understanding of the true costs of driving

    then reduction of subsidies and other factors that create an unequal economic playing field (or market) and make people MORE likely to choose driving more and more and longer and longer distances --- existing residents paying for new services for communities further from the city, free roads, free parking, subsidized infrastruture, military protection of oil interests, etc.

    anyway, unfortuantely i've become rather pessimestic --- i think there's very little hope of helping the situation and things will have to get really really bad before they will get better. some time soon we will have hundreds of thousands of people who waste many hours a day sitting in traffic and pollution as they try and live the American dream of living in a huge house on a huge plot of land out in the country (where land is cheap) while still holding down a job 50+ miles away in the city and also driving kids to school and wherever else. in many cities in the US like LA, Houston a large number of people are now more than 3 hours per day in the car. i think something around 4-6 hours/day of REQUIRED driving will be the breaking point. but before then we will have to endure more road rage, more deaths from tired careless impatience drivers who just want to get on with their lives but think the car is the only way...
    why drive when you can ride?
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