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  1. #1
    Poky Oxymoron's Avatar
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    Asphalt Nation

    OK, I originally posted this as a reply to "Oil and Dependency", but wasn't sure if anyone would see it, so now it's a thread.

    There is a book called "Asphalt Nation" by Jane Holtz Kay. It is about the true cost of cars at every level of society and the environment. If you need facts to throw in car driver's faces this book is a must read. I will look through it again and write more about it later.

    I saw her speak once and wrote some quotes down:

    --1/4 of US defense budget goes to the Middle East
    --It costs $50 a day to own a car
    --20% of automobile related deaths are pedestrians and bicyclists
    --60,000,000 square miles of the US are paved for cars
    --A pedestrian requires 5 square feet when standing and 10 when walking
    --A car and its access demand 300 square feet when standing, 3000 when moving at 30 mph, and proportionally more at higher speeds
    --In commercial terms each shopper takes 70 times his or her floor space to drive and park the car
    --Each car needs three parking spaces: home, work, and store
    --33% of the life time pollutants produced by a car are created before it ever leaves the factory
    --60% are created during its lifetime, and 7% in disposal

    --"You're not stuck in a traffic jam, you are the traffic jam."
    -German public transport campaign
    --"The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city."
    -Lewis Mumford, urban prophet
    --"Growth for its own sake" -slogan of the cancer cell
    --"Mall-lignancy"
    --"Honk if you love the environment" -an actual bumper sticker
    --And saving the best for last -"Drive to work/work to drive"

    This book has got a million of these--it will change your life, even if you already swore off cars years ago. I'll write again with more interesting info if I find it.

    If anyone ever actually reads this book please let me know. I have never had a chance to discuss it with anyone, but would love to

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    I've always wondered exactly how much more it really costs to own and drive a second car for that person in the family who'd really rather stay home from work.
    No worries

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    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    $50.00 per day to own a car equates to $18,250.

    That just doesn't seem realistic considering I know people who make $6,000 per year and still own/drive an automobile. A couple of bad stats chips away at the integrity of what otherwise would be a fascinating collection of information.
    Mike

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    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    $18K per year is 2-3X what I have heard from other sources. By far the greatest costs of owning a fairly new car are capitalization and depreciation; for an older car, repairs and maintenance gradually rise to the forefront.

    My solution is to buy new cars, drive them far less than average, and keep them 20 years.
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    Poky Oxymoron's Avatar
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    I was wrong. I should be more careful when quoting--I must have misheard what she said in her speech, or maybe she was including other things. The figure of $50 per day is too way too high.

    I looked it up in her book and she says that there is an average of $6000 in user costs per year to own and operate a 2 year-old car. That cost includes gas, parking, tires, depreciation, maintenance, insurance, and tolls for the administering, building, repairing, and operating of roads.

    There are also the external/social costs, paid for by the public at an average of $3000-5000 a year per car. These include parking facilities, police protection, land consumed in sprawl, registry operations, environmental damage, uncompensated accidents, etc. These hidden costs equal 35 cents a mile on average nationally, and up to $1.50 in dense urban zones.

    This is just from pages 120-121 in her book. It's the stuff that can't be reduced to number that will REALLY piss you off. There is also a whole section on bikes, and others on mass-transit and walking. She is an activist and does not sugar-coat what she says, but she has done her research well and is considered an expert.

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    Senior Member Bigtime's Avatar
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    Yeah, and I bet she rides a bike to wherever she gives her speech. Her numbers sound way off to me. She says a car needs 300 square feet standing, that's 30 feet by 10 feet. She says a car going 30 MPH needs 3,000 feet, that's over half a mile!

    I won't argue that cars are bad for the environment or that they kill people, this is all well documented. But our society is dependent on vehicles and if this lady wants us to all ride bikes everywhere or take the bus she is in a dream world. If she has a realistic alternative I would love to hear it.

    I read somewhere that an old chainsaw produces more pollutants in one hour of use than a newer vehicle does in 8 hours of continuous driving. If she wants to be an effective activist I say she should write a book about that.
    -BT

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    put me back on my bike stewartp's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Oxymoron
    --Each car needs three parking spaces: home, work, and store
    The 3 spaces can't be right. I don't have a space at the store with my name on it - reserved just for me. When I'm not there, other people park in the spaces. (don't they?)
    And I don't drive to work, I cycle. And I know of many car owners who take the train or bus to work.
    And if my car were parked in the garage (its not, the garage is full of bikes!) then even my home car space would not be intruding on the public.

    I looked it up in her book and she says that there is an average of $6000 in user costs per year to own and operate a 2 year-old car. That cost includes gas, parking, tires, depreciation, maintenance, insurance, and tolls for the administering, building, repairing, and operating of roads.
    This is disengenious of her because the roads are also used by buses and trams (public transport) as well as motorcycles, cyclists and pedestrians. Even if there were NO cars we would still need roads that need maintenance and repair.

    These hidden costs equal 35 cents a mile on average nationally, and up to $1.50 in dense urban zones.
    How does one evaluate hidden costs. I agree that policing, registry, insurance etc, does get factored in to the cost of the car, but arriving at the amounts must be tricky

    This is just from pages 120-121 in her book. It's the stuff that can't be reduced to number that will REALLY piss you off.
    What pisses me off about stats is that if they can't be reduced to number then its just sucking figures out of the air.

    There's no need to over-egg the anti-car argument with bad, meaningless or worthless figures or stats. People will focus on the bad stats and throw the baby out with the bath water.


    Stew - the king of mixed metaphor.
    Last edited by stewartp; 03-19-02 at 02:32 PM.
    The older I get the better I used to be.

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    Senior Member Bigtime's Avatar
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    I agree with Stewart. I think Oxy is a cool cat as well and I take issue with the "Asphalt Nation", not with him.

    Let's not forget this either: Everything we have, everything we eat, everything we are going to have needs cars/trucks/whatever to get where it needs to go. How many jobs would be lost if we had no cars? Then it goes right down the line: parts stores, gone. Tire stores, gone. Mechanics, all gone. There is always another side to the coin that people seem to forget. It's a complicated issue for sure, and getting rid of cars would be nice but it just is not going to happen.
    -BT

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    sandcruiser thbirks's Avatar
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    You all need to go read this book. I don't care if you love or hate or couldn't care less about cars, this book should be required reading. I believe the subtitle is something like "how the car took over the U.S. and how we can take it back" The book explains how the automobile came to dominant our transportation system, why dependence on private car usage isn't a viable option for our future and Yes ,Bigtime, she gives ideas on how we can ween ourselves away from automotive dependency.

    This is the best book on the subject that I have read and I've read quite a few. I can't defend or debate statistics. Statistics can be manipulated to prove or disprove just about anything. Hovever, I don't need statistics to prove to me car-dependence is destroying our quality of life.
    "only on a BIKE"

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    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Originally posted by thbirks
    I believe the subtitle is something like "how the car took over the U.S. and how we can take it back" The book explains how the automobile came to dominant our transportation system, why dependence on private car usage isn't a viable option for our future.

    Hovever, I don't need statistics to prove to me car-dependence is destroying our quality of life.
    I do concur with these points, particularly since our proven world-wide supply of petroleum is around 50 years, which means we will begin to run short during my sons' lifetimes (and even mine, if cycling, genes, and diet keep me going to 100). The key is to establish legally that one has the fundamental right to travel safely and conveniently by bicycle, on foot, or by mobility scooter from Point A to Point B. We simply need a ped-and-bikes-first / cars-last policy for establishing traffic controls and designing intersections and roadways. I am sick of prime arterials, legally and morally accessible to all, being designed to look, feel, and flow like freeways, complete with high-speed merges and diverges. No government agency should be permitted to build a public road without providing for non-motorized users.

    By the way, I do drive, use transit, bicycle, and walk/jog. I am not necessarily anti-car, but I think our society pays a tragically high price for auto-dependence and overuse of cars. Do not worry about the economy -- over the decades, various jobs come and go, and the workforce adapts according to market cues.
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    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    OK, i have only skimmed this book, but it is like THE most acclaimed car/culture/environment book b/c of it's age - written sometime in the 70s i think... and i know a fair amount about this subject from various other sources, so since the comments here seem to present the general dominant US view, i'll try and widen the viewscope a little bit here...

    about the numbers and statistics: if i remember right these are estimates of the TOTAL costs and sizes. For instance, $6000 (i think AAA's current number is like $6500 per year) is about the cost TO THE USER to own, insure, maintain and operate a vehicle... $6000 isn't too bad. But there are so many other costs like road construction, police service, oil subsidies to keep prices low and stable, military expenditures to help denfend/protect our oil source interests, pollution costs, etc... these costs are not visible in the $6000/year but *someone* is paying for them - in the US it gets taken out of tax dollars that could go for education or other social services --- how much money does your state or community spend on new road construction? how much money goes to police service to give speeding tickets? how much for the fancy traffic monitoring systems (signs, video, real-time monitoring) in most major cities to help alleviate traffic problems?

    as for the parking space numbers: the 3 is figured as such:: 1) most people have their own parking space at home (or on the street in front of their house) that is almost always not used by them when they're not home. 2) most people have a parking space at work - while it may not be dedicated, your company must have enough spots for all the workers who drive -- and if you visit a company parking lot at 3am, you'll see almost all spots unused.. 3) then when you shop you need a parking spot - again you don't have a personally reserved spot, but every place you shop needs to have enough extra spaces so there's one for you whenever you want to shop there, so they need to come close to meeting MAXIMUM capacity ---- admittedly there is some overlap - some people live in urban areas where others park for work when they're not home but most people live in the suburbs and no one parks in front of their house during the day. and yes, there is sharing between different retail businesses... but again, if a store doesn't have enough parking then people will shop somewhere else where they can find parking (or maybe free parking) ---- thus, the statistics are difficult, but it's very close to 3 parking spots for each car operated. think about the Walmart parking lot and then the Safeway parking lot and then Blockbuster, etc... and then all the parking garages and parking lots at your company...there's a lot of parking out there and most of the stops are empty at least half the day and often 90% of the time (think about the last spot at your company or the last row at the Walmart - is it ever full? if so they're probably planning to build more right now)

    in the US, the car is the accepted standard and these service expenditures go unnoticed. as an aside, in political terms, money spent on road improvements or infrastructure is always considered an 'investment' -- like "we need to build this road to invest in our local community", but when rail projects come up people say 'the train service is not profitable. Amtrak's been losing money for years. Why do we we need to SUBSUDIZE trains?'... no one expects for money spent on roads to turn a profit (possibly some toll roads but i think most loose more money than they earn), but for the train it is not an 'investment' but a 'subsidy'... do your tax dollars spent for road construction ever turn a profit? this represents the American mindset with the car as the standard.

    besides the hidden societal costs of operating a motor vehicle, another big item that would help reduce people's often excessive car use is reducing the fixed cots to be per-mile costs so people realize the real costs of their actions... for example, with a few exceptions for discounts if you work near home, once you fork over the cash to insure you car it costs you no more to drive 100,000 miles in a year than 10 miles... and most people don't make the connection between usage and maintenance - they just fix the car whenever it breaks... so the per-mile cost of using a car looks like just the cost of gas (US price of gas also reduced through lots of government expenditure for oil subsidies and military protection - your gas taxes and auto registration do NOT cover all of this) which is quite cheap... i.e. if work is 5 miles away and gas costs $1/gal and your car gets 30mpg, then it *seems* like it only costs $.32 to drive to work and back... but this is not counting what you already spent on insurance, what you will spend in maintenance, and all the external costs already paid by society for roads and oil, plus the costs from pollution that society will bear in the future... even just your real direct personal *usage* cost is much higher than what you think(what's the current IRS number $1.25/mile?? i haven't driven for business in the US in a while)... not to mention the *real* total cost of driving...

    in most of Europe gas costs 2-3 times as much as in the US so the per-use costs are higher, but in general the major result is that people buy more fuel-efficient vehicles and other transportation like public transit becomes more attractive because of increased money savings... but even in Europe with higher registration taxes and gas prices most of the costs are still 'invisible' to the user... the system is still set up to encorage people to drive as much as possible by making it cheap and easy.

    and the main reasons why so much US government tax money is spent on the car infrastruture have to do with the fact that the automobile industry has a lot of money and makes more money the more we drive... and now almost all of business especially in the US is 'dependent' on cars (for workers to get there and shoppers to come buy stuff) so it's an 'investment' in society to makes car use cheaper, easier and more stable... i, of course, don't necessarily agree

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    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    I find it extremely significant that Lido Iacocca, who worked almost 50 years at Ford [Mustang] and Chrysler [K-car, minivan], is now pushing his Lido Motors Neighborhood Electric Vehicles instead. The demographics are ripening, and the societal costs of autodependence are becoming increasingly apparent.
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    Originally posted by nathank
    ...Why do we we need to SUBSIDIZE trains?'... no one expects for money spent on roads to turn a profit...
    Great argument. I'll be using that one the next time I hear about subsidizing the bus system in our county (a hot topic at the moment).

    ... (US price of gas also reduced through lots of government expenditure for oil subsidies and military protection ...[/QUOTE]

    I agree that we subsidize oil via military support, but what other subsidies (sp?) are there?

    Kevin S.

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    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    Kevin S,

    other oil subsidies... hmmm, OK, on this i'm not an expert... and i don't have off hand any definite stats...

    but i'm pretty sure the US govt provides various oil-exploration tax breaks and research incentives (under the guise that helping the US obtain cheap oil in the future will help the economy and allow our oil-excess-based lifestyle to continue to grow)... and then helps out with things like oil pipelines and oil-transportation infrastructure... and then softening of environmental rules so companies save money by doing fewer tests, less impact research and less paperwork... the oil companies have tons of lobby groups in Washington and i'm sure they get something for all the money they pump into their lobby groups...

    if nothing else, the US and state governments basically smoothing the way and making it easier for oil companies to do what they want to do - OK, it's maybe a little overdramatic, but Stephen Segall's move from about 6 years ago about an oil company terrorizing Alaskan Inuits... it's not really an example of direct subsidy, but all local services (sherrif, etc) were on the side of the non-local oil companies instead of the local comunity - b/c of $$$ - i don't think that's too unrealistic.

    and glad that you like the subsidize/investment thing - i am always amazed at the difference in attitude:: *investment* in roads and *subsidy* for public transportation --- the only way that this makes any sense is IF you subscribe to the philosophy that any normal person drives a car and only lower class people who need state assistance use public transit - i.e. subsidy... but i totally disagree with this --- being stuck in a car in traffic is not my idea of luxury and the 'good life'

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    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Travel by private automobile is the most heavily-subsidized mode of transportation in the history of the world. Gasoline and vehicle sales tax revenues fall far short of covering the true societal cost of motoring.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
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    Thanks Nathank.

    I'm not denying that there are subsidies, I'm just trying to get specifics -- it's very difficult to fight generalities. I want to be able to name specific subsidies the next time I get in a discussion with someone about bikes on the roadway.

    I read and enjoyed Asphalt Nation a few months ago. I found that it challenged standard automobile thinking, but also painted a pretty bad picture of the old trolley and intra-city railroads also. Not in general, but whenever she talked about details she couldn't avoid talking about run-down trains and shoddy service.

    Kevin S.
    Last edited by Kevin S; 03-22-02 at 11:01 AM.

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    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    I firmly believe that every honest person admits that automobile
    transportation can never be a model for worldwide transportation
    planning.

    The planet cannot support that many cars. Period.

    I heard that China is pursuing an aggressive campaign to build new cities at an alarming pace. With the global warming already
    occurring just from current auto use (a part of Antarctica's ice shelf just splintered into ice bergs recently,) the addition of a 250 million new cars would be unthinkable, especially given the poor record China has in environmental preservation.
    No worries

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    山馬鹿 Spire's Avatar
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    I completely agree with everything that is being said. But realise how utterly dependant we are on road/car/etc.... You commute to work, which is great, but that does not mean that you do not contribute to road contruction/destructione etc.....

    Everytime you buy something at a store : How did the merchandise get there? How did the raw materials for the store arrive there? How did the merchant get there? etc....

    The answer to all these invariably is roads.

    -- S

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    A politics of oil Saturday.

    Here's a distinction ignored by the author of _Asphalt Nation_, at least as that author is represented here.

    There are two senses of "subsidy" that are importantly different:

    (1) An activity is subsidized when its costs are not recouped by direct user payments (at the time or place of the activity, per activity).

    (2) An activity is subsidized when its costs, overall, are greater than its benefits, and other activities make up the difference.

    Notice that (1) does not imply (2). It might be, for example, that roads cannot be provided on a per-use basis, because the number of access points to roads and the number of users makes tolls impossible. So, roads would have to be funded some other way, perhaps through gas taxes, property taxes, costs of auto pollution or something like that. Nonetheless the total cost of roads might be less than the benefits provided. So (1) would be true of roads but not (2).

    I think that in fact this is the situation with roads, as things are now.

    I also think that the costs of gasoline powered vehicle transportation similarly are subsidized in sense (1) and not (2), but I don't have the time to make this case in detail. As others have noticed, though, alternatives to combustion engine transporation would be staggeringly costly.

    The distinction between (1) and (2) also provides a helpful rebuttal to the comparison between passenger rails and paved roads for automobiles. Roads aren't "profitable", we're told, and so they're just like railroads. Yet one is considered an investment and the other a waste of money.

    Well, yes, roads don't turn a profit because they're not paid for on a per use basis, but their near universal use makes a powerful case that they are worth the total cost of providing them. Passenger railroads, on the other hand, are clearly just a way to incinerate huge amounts of cash. No one rides them, unlike roads which are heavily used.

    An even clear indictment of passenger rail comes from noticing that cargo trains are profitable. Cargo rail companies own rail lines and trains and still turn a profit. So the unprofitability of passenger trains is not because of some impossibility of charging privately for the costs of use, as is the case with roads, but simply because almost no one wants to take a long, slow train ride to his destination. And who can blame him?

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    Originally posted by Merriwether
    A politics of oil Saturday.

    An even clear indictment of passenger rail comes from noticing that cargo trains are profitable. Cargo rail companies own rail lines and trains and still turn a profit. So the unprofitability of passenger trains is not because of some impossibility of charging privately for the costs of use, as is the case with roads, but simply because almost no one wants to take a long, slow train ride to his destination. And who can blame him?
    Big cities like London , Tokyo etc rely heavily on railroads to service their commuter needs. It would be impossible for over 1million people to commute into London by car, there simply isnt room to park them all. In the UK, the rail network is overburdened by the sheer number of people who use it. After decades of under-investment, the infrastructure is in desparate need of updating.
    In France and Japan where they take rail investment more seriously, long distance travel by rail is achieved at speeds of 200km/hr, from city centre to centre, not to some edge of town airport.

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    opinionated SOB cycletourist's Avatar
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    Someone earlier said this book was published in the 70's. That isn't true, Asphalt Nation was published in 1997.

    The thing I don't like about statistic heavy books like this one is that I forget most of what I read. I remember the basic idea but not all the numbers.

    But two things that made a lasting impression on me were;

    1) The need for automobile parking causes buildings to need twice as much land which encourages urban sprawl. It also means the city has to build and maintain twice as much water, sewer, and power line to get, and keep everyone connected.

    2) The GeneralMotors/Firestone/StandardOil/MacTruck conspiracy in the late 1940's and early 1950's to eliminate competing forms of transportation.

    Those four companies made an insane amount of money off of WW2 and, instead of using that money to improve their own product, they set up a dummy company called American City Lines and used it to buy out and shut down trolly lines.

    Because of this, we Americans have become slaves to the automobile while europe has built a much more sensible transportation infrastructure.

    The moral of the story: If the govt doesn't create a transportation plan that benifits the citizens of that country, then private enterprise will create a transportation plan that benifits itself.
    Last edited by cycletourist; 03-23-02 at 01:58 PM.

  22. #22
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    Originally posted by MichaelW


    Big cities like London , Tokyo etc rely heavily on railroads to service their commuter needs. It would be impossible for over 1million people to commute into London by car, there simply isnt room to park them all. In the UK, the rail network is overburdened by the sheer number of people who use it. After decades of under-investment, the infrastructure is in desparate need of updating.
    In France and Japan where they take rail investment more seriously, long distance travel by rail is achieved at speeds of 200km/hr, from city centre to centre, not to some edge of town airport.
    Michael, yes, you're quite right that passenger trains may well be able to make a go of it in some cases. The eastern seabord of the U.S. may be another case. The cities are not very far apart, and trains can move from city center to city center quickly.

    By and large across the U.S., though, airplanes and then driving are much favored compared to trains. This is sensible given both the large distances in the U.S. and the great spread of cities and suburbs.

  23. #23
    Donating member Richard D's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Merriwether


    By and large across the U.S., though, airplanes and then driving are much favored compared to trains. This is sensible given both the large distances in the U.S. and the great spread of cities and suburbs.
    Wouldn't airplanes linked to a fast train service, linked to underground/metro systems feeding the suburbs/cities be an even more sensible alternative?

    Richard
    Currently riding an MTB with a split personality - commuting, touring, riding for the sake of riding, on or off road :)

  24. #24
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    OK, I've only really skimmed this thread, but I'm going to make a couple of points here. Firstly, nobody was talking about banning automobiles outright. However, at present, I believe society seems to be obsessed with the other extreme (i.e. trying to over encourage their use) which, really, is just as bad. Imagine if a Middle Eastern war forced the price of fuel to shoot up tomorrow. Personally I think there is a lot of middle ground here that hasn't yet been explored.

    And can anyone tell me why 'public' transport is expected to be profitable and pay it's own way, while 'private' transport gets subsidised to the hilt with my taxes? Seems to me that somebody important has some serious problems with their definitions here. Perhaps if trains and buses were subsidised the way that private cars are now, they'd be a bit more efficient.
    Last edited by Chris L; 03-26-02 at 04:30 AM.
    "I am never going to flirt with idleness again" - Roy Keane
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  25. #25
    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Chris L
    Firstly, nobody was talking about banning automobiles outright.


    You haven't softened up a bit, have you Chris?

    However, at present, I believe society seems to be obsessed with the other extreme (i.e. trying to over encourage their use) which, really, is just as bad. Imagine if a Middle Eastern war forced the price of fuel to shoot up tomorrow. Personally I think there is a lot of middle ground here that hasn't yet been explored.
    Albert Einstein once said something along these lines: the measure of intelligence is the ability to delay gratification. So, let's think ahead and solve this problem reasonably before the
    situation forces us to solve it through crisis.
    Last edited by LittleBigMan; 03-26-02 at 10:33 AM.
    No worries

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