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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 01-28-07, 08:50 AM   #1
Slow Train
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5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture [Wash Post Article]

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5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture
By Ted Balaker and Sam Staley
Sunday, January 28, 2007; Page B03


They don't rate up there with cancer and al-Qaeda -- at least not yet -- but suburban sprawl and automobiles are rapidly acquiring a reputation as scourges of modern American society. Sprawl, goes the typical indictment, devours open space, exacerbates global warming and causes pollution, social alienation and even obesity. And cars are the evil co-conspirator -- the driving force, so to speak, behind sprawl.

Yet the anti-suburbs culture has also fostered many myths about sprawl and driving, a few of which deserve to be reconsidered:

5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture
The authors of this article apparently work for the Reason Foundation. This is a self-described libertarian think tank that is anti-government and anti-regulation. According to SourceWatch among their principal contributors are Exxon and Chevron.

Any comments on these supposed myths? I'll start with this one (emphasis is mine):

Quote:
But public transit still has an important role. Millions of Americans rely on it as a primary means of transportation. Transit agencies should focus on serving those who need transit the most: the poor and the handicapped. They should also seek out the niches where they can be most useful, such as express bus service for commuters and high-volume local routes.
OK - I absolutely support improving mass transit in any context. But I feel what the authors are really saying here is that mass transit should only serve those who have no other alternative and then only when it is most efficient to do so.

In other words they would reduce service to limited windows for the morning and evening rush hours. Mid-day and late at night commuters would have to depend on their own resources to get to/from work.

And since most of us know that our daily schedules can change at a moment's notice and require us to work longer, go to work earlier, stay late to attend a class, etc. a mass transit system that only runs conveniently during rush hours quickly becomes too inconvenient for 95% of the people. So they opt out and drive a car.

If mass transit is to be a solution at all it must be a convenient choice even when your schedule doesn't match some city administrators' idea of when you should be going to/from work.
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Old 01-28-07, 09:16 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Slow Train
OK - I absolutely support improving mass transit in any context. But I feel what the authors are really saying here is that mass transit should only serve those who have no other alternative and then only when it is most efficient to do so.

In other words they would reduce service to limited windows for the morning and evening rush hours. Mid-day and late at night commuters would have to depend on their own resources to get to/from work.

And since most of us know that our daily schedules can change at a moment's notice and require us to work longer, go to work earlier, stay late to attend a class, etc. a mass transit system that only runs conveniently during rush hours quickly becomes too inconvenient for 95% of the people. So they opt out and drive a car.

If mass transit is to be a solution at all it must be a convenient choice even when your schedule doesn't match some city administrators' idea of when you should be going to/from work.

I don't get that at all. What I do get is that in our world of limited resources (show me any government agency, well except the military, that has all the money they want for their projects) it is key to get the best "bang for the buck"

Sure it would be nice to have mass transit that went everywhere, at any time, and on the rush hour schedule so you had to wait less. Ain't gonna happen. So by focusing on where mass transit can make the most bang makes sense. Plus in doing so you garner additional support for transit, which generally will help yield a better budget, which in turn allows an expansion of transit to other areas.

-D
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Old 01-28-07, 09:49 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by derath
I don't get that at all. What I do get is that in our world of limited resources (show me any government agency, well except the military, that has all the money they want for their projects) it is key to get the best "bang for the buck"

Sure it would be nice to have mass transit that went everywhere, at any time, and on the rush hour schedule so you had to wait less. Ain't gonna happen. So by focusing on where mass transit can make the most bang makes sense. Plus in doing so you garner additional support for transit, which generally will help yield a better budget, which in turn allows an expansion of transit to other areas.


-D
Well "It ain't gonna happen" as long as the voters are against it. And they'll be against mass transit as long as the auto companies are the biggest advertisers in the world, brainwashing folks into thinking that you're a sorryassed loser as long as you don't have a car.

Inefficient routes will always be necessary in public transit. You have to provide people with the whole transit package--off-hours service and buses that come almost to their doorstep--in order to get them to buy into the mass transit system. And if you think buses are less efficient than private cars, think again.

So if that good service was provided, and transit companies spent one-tenth as much on advertising as car companies do, I bet millions more would ride the bus instead of drive their cars. And don't forget that millions already do ride buses and trains, even with the current lousy service and almost non-existent advertising.
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Old 01-28-07, 10:28 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by derath
I don't get that at all. What I do get is that in our world of limited resources (show me any government agency, well except the military, that has all the money they want for their projects) it is key to get the best "bang for the buck"

Sure it would be nice to have mass transit that went everywhere, at any time, and on the rush hour schedule so you had to wait less. Ain't gonna happen. So by focusing on where mass transit can make the most bang makes sense. Plus in doing so you garner additional support for transit, which generally will help yield a better budget, which in turn allows an expansion of transit to other areas.

-D
I think one could carry an argument that "in a world of limited resources" mass transit systems probably can move people for much less overall resource cost than the one person - one car philosophy.

I absolutely agree with you that improving mass transit increases public support for it. People won't support (i.e., pay for) things they don't personally benefit from. Where I disagree is where that improvement most needs to happen. I feel it is on the margins of rush hours where we most need to increase mass transit options. Look at just about any survey on why people don't take the bus and you are likely to see among the reasons these 3:

1) It doesn't go where I need to go.
2) It doesn't go when I need to go.
3) What if my plans change?

Until people feel confident that they can get there and back using mass transit they aren't going to take the risk. They will drive instead. And the bus will remain the "poor peoples limo". An unsavory place to be.

Personal Example: I used to live in a middling distance suburb from DC that was served by a bus every half hour only during rush hours. I had to walk 1/2 mile the stop. The bus took me to a Metro station where I then took a train to work. Now Metro has beery good rush hour service and pretty good service after the rush hour. So that was never a problem.

The problem was trying to make that bus in the evening. Like most white-collar salaried workers I don't have a set quit time. My day could end at 5pm. It could end at 8pm and often does. But the last bus to home was at 6:45PM. End result was I never, ever used mass transit unless my car was in the shop or the weather was really bad.
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Old 01-28-07, 11:13 AM   #5
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Your conclusion is, I think, directly opposite of what they are endorsing. In a true freemarket, a business would cater to the customer in an effort to draw their dollar. Municipal public transportation cares little for the customer, you must fit YOUR schedule to their transportation schedule. By adding niche markets a private enterprise could better serve potential customers who might not otherwise avail themselves of mass transportation.
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Old 01-28-07, 11:19 AM   #6
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These kinds of articles are a waste. They invented their myths in order to rebut them. I'm an american. Who but the authors claims that I'm addicted to driving? I rarely get in a car. Same thing with the other unattributed myths. Their myths are stated in all or nothing language to make them easier to rebut because they don't have to write their articles in quanitative terms like how much paving is too much or how much should we reduce driving to reduce carbon emissions. They also apply their myths across the entire nation where no thoughtful person would consider the issue. For example if you come to my town and look at the crowded buses and imagine if every person on the bus were instead in a single occupant vehicle you'd see that the buses do reduce congestion. There isn't physical space for all those vehicles. These kinds of articles are why I don't feel a need to read the washington post.
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Old 01-28-07, 11:20 AM   #7
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The basic issues behind sprawl and it's subproblems involving commuting are simple really.
You CANNOT continue the notion of developing outwards so everyone can have a backyard.
Many urban planners the world over support the notion that the cores of the cities must support life.
Developing upwards then becomes it solution, maintaining the mass of your population within the greater city limits is the key to the 21stcentury's inevitable exponential population increases.

Developing upwards also helps with the developing farmland close to urban centres, which could and should be used to feed the closest city...meaning all farmers would be able to sell their crops close by. bonus.

Now it's the people that have to come to terms with the fact that the front and back yard with the fence just might not be possible anymore. Unfortunately, land developers are very powerful in our society here in the west. So it will be an uphill battle.

It's so much easier to do mass transit if your mass of ppl are within a reasonable distance.
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Old 01-28-07, 11:23 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roody
Well "It ain't gonna happen" as long as the voters are against it. And they'll be against mass transit as long as the auto companies are the biggest advertisers in the world, brainwashing folks into thinking that you're a sorryassed loser as long as you don't have a car.
Yesterday I came upon a personal safety/self defense web site that gave links to quizzes that estimate how likely you are to be a crime victim. One question was "Do you use public transit often?" My answer was "yes". So in the final analysis of my answers, it was mentioned that "riding buses and trains will expose me to car-less criminals". I'm basically quoting here. For some reason the quiz authors did not mention that some of the most dangerous areas around are parking lots and garages - that's where the most robberies happen, for example. And if you drive a car, you will necessarily have to spend a bunch of time walking around parking lots...
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Old 01-28-07, 11:24 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Slow Train
[. . . . ]

Personal Example: I used to live in a middling distance suburb from DC that was served by a bus every half hour only during rush hours. I had to walk 1/2 mile the stop. The bus took me to a Metro station where I then took a train to work. Now Metro has beery good rush hour service and pretty good service after the rush hour. So that was never a problem.

The problem was trying to make that bus in the evening. Like most white-collar salaried workers I don't have a set quit time. My day could end at 5pm. It could end at 8pm and often does. But the last bus to home was at 6:45PM. End result was I never, ever used mass transit unless my car was in the shop or the weather was really bad.
Exactly right. Same here. When my knee was hurt, I took the bus to work. But there is no bus at 11:30 PM, when my shift ends. There should be, especially in a town with lots of manufacturers and hospitals who employ lots of shift workers. Nevertheless, my local bus service boasts of 10 million trips last year, in a population of 120,000. They could double it if they had better service.
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Old 01-28-07, 11:34 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Bockman
Municipal public transportation cares little for the customer, you must fit YOUR schedule to their transportation schedule.
This isn't true in my city. Sinced I've lived here I've seen the public transportation change toward better service. They've extended the hours of operation, added cars and improved bicycle access. They change slowly but they are providing a better fit to the customer's schedule not forcing the customer's to change their schedule. We also have private entrepreneurs who fill in some of the service gaps with van pooling and whatnot. It looks like the planners design from behind the steering wheels of their private cars so they have no idea how people will want to use the system. After a piece has been installed they seem to be surprised by how many people use it and how and when they want to use it.
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Old 01-28-07, 04:00 PM   #11
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Myth #2.Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.
This myth supposes mass transit to be in decline, expensive, and not in keeping with the habits of "wealthy" Americans. It ends with this thus stunning statement that was just crying out for some fact checking:

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And even then the best-case scenario would be replicating New York, where only one in four commuters uses mass transit.
The article doesn't cite any sources, and who would when it's easier to make things up, but a quick check on Wikepedia which cites the US 2000 Census survey reveals the following:

Quote:
Of all people who work in New York City, 32% take the subway, 25.2% drive alone to work, 14.4% take the bus, 8.1% travel by commuter rail, 7.7% walk to work, 6.1% carpool, 1.2% use a taxicab, 0.4% ride their bicycle to work, and 0.4% travel by ferry.

Transportation in New York City
Just adding up subway, bus and commuter rail gets us to 54% using mass transit.
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Old 01-28-07, 05:12 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chephy
Yesterday I came upon a personal safety/self defense web site that gave links to quizzes that estimate how likely you are to be a crime victim. One question was "Do you use public transit often?" My answer was "yes". So in the final analysis of my answers, it was mentioned that "riding buses and trains will expose me to car-less criminals". I'm basically quoting here. For some reason the quiz authors did not mention that some of the most dangerous areas around are parking lots and garages - that's where the most robberies happen, for example. And if you drive a car, you will necessarily have to spend a bunch of time walking around parking lots...
There's also carjacking and just plain auto theft. I never heard of a busjacking or even Grand Theft--Bus. Buses are by far the safest way to travel in the US. Not only are you less likely to be a crime victim, you are extremely less likely to be injured or killed in a traffic accident.
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Old 01-28-07, 05:43 PM   #13
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Alternatively, the focus could be on preventing the negative effects -- the disease and death -- that global warming might bring. Each year malaria kills 1 million to 3 million people, and one-third of the world's population is infected with water- or soil-borne parasitic diseases. It may well be that dealing with global warming by building resilience against its possible effects is more productive -- and more realistic -- than trying to solve the problem by driving our automobiles less.
The only myth is that you can read something half intelligent in the Washington Post. The authors kind of slyly admit that global warming is a problem, but conclude that reduced automobile usage wouldn't be a solution to it... instead they come up with a solution that they can't back up with a credible scientific source. When you know even the most basic facts about global warming, you realize these guys are spouting it out of their butts. These guys have "paid for by Exxon-Mobile" written all over them.
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Old 01-28-07, 05:48 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Roody
There's also carjacking and just plain auto theft. I never heard of a busjacking or even Grand Theft--Bus.
Over the holidays some drunk (or high?) guy with a gun actually hijacked a bus in Toronto! Nobody but the driver on the bus though, I think. The driver complied and drove the hijacker around, letting him off a few kilometers from the starting point. A really bizarre incident though.

In general, I've always felt safe on Toronto's public transit system (TTC). It is a really popular way to get around: while on average TTC riders are probably less wealthy than car drivers, you see people from all walks of life on buses, subway trains and streetcars - especially in the downtown area. And TTC even has a special program that allows women travelling alone at night to get off in between regular stops - thus avoiding both the danger of a fellow passenger stalking and of unsavory characters waiting at bus stops for their victims.

Quote:
Buses are by far the safest way to travel in the US. Not only are you less likely to be a crime victim, you are extremely less likely to be injured or killed in a traffic accident.
Yep.
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Old 01-28-07, 08:53 PM   #15
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Might want to check out this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHr8OzaloLM

there was a full length version somewhere.
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Old 01-28-07, 09:25 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by gerv
The only myth is that you can read something half intelligent in the Washington Post. The authors kind of slyly admit that global warming is a problem, but conclude that reduced automobile usage wouldn't be a solution to it... instead they come up with a solution that they can't back up with a credible scientific source. When you know even the most basic facts about global warming, you realize these guys are spouting it out of their butts. These guys have "paid for by Exxon-Mobile" written all over them.
Of course. Somebody can make money by fighting malaria, but fighting global warming will cost a lot more than it will make. Other ideas proposed by the right wing "think" tanks are similar: Put mirrors in orbit to reflect sunlight before it warms the earth. Emit smoke into the stratosphere to reflect UV light before it can heat the atmosphere. What a bunch of crap--ideas that will make some corporation billions of dollars without even addressing the real problem of greenhouse gases. TYPICAL republican/corporate "thinking."

Did you see Doonesbury today? The Bush Presidential Library is to include a Belief Tank: "It's like a think tank but without the doubt."
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Old 01-28-07, 09:34 PM   #17
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If I were in charge of a public transit system I would do the opposite of what many of you are suggesting.

I would make no attempt to come to where the people are. I would, instead, focus on providing a very high level of service in a more focused area. That area could be a downtown center, it could be a dense suburban area, or it could be a planned community that hasn't even been built yet. These types of projects have succeded in several test communities around the globe.

You simply cannot provide a high level of service to the type of residential communities we have been building in this country for the last thirty years. Trying is a waste of money.

Build the system, and the people will come to it. If you want to make it happen faster, stop all road projects and focus solely on transit. Stop approving building permits for 2000 home neighborhoods 15-20 miles from city center off a two lane road. Instead, approve dense housing development along your new rail corridor.

...but people will whine that they want a yaaardddddd.... Fine, let them buy a used house, or some type of infill development.

Our leaders, however, are the same SUV-driving, suburban-living "problems" we're trying to fix though. They can't even see the problem. Screw all the big plans... our first priority should be to make people SEE the problem. Scare everyone a little bit - because honestly, they should be at LEAST a little scared.
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Old 01-28-07, 09:57 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by JeffS

You simply cannot provide a high level of service to the type of residential communities we have been building in this country for the last thirty years. Trying is a waste of money.
AMEN +1

Quote:
Build the system, and the people will come to it. If you want to make it happen faster, stop all road projects and focus solely on transit. Stop approving building permits for 2000 home neighborhoods 15-20 miles from city center off a two lane road. Instead, approve dense housing development along your new rail corridor.
We just got news of yet another development in what used to be the rural area surrounding our small farm...8,000 new homes! and I guarantee they have not made any allowances for increasing the road infrastructure. Just what I want to have to deal with 15,000 frustrated motorists trying to get somewhere on narrow two lane no shouldered roads We have seen over 5,000 homes go in neighborhoods within a 5 mile radius of us in just the past 5 years.

Aaron
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Old 01-28-07, 10:53 PM   #19
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I think that the feasibility of providing transit to the suburbs is highly dependent on local geography and the forethought of the system's planners.

My suburb of choice is a city of 750,000 people just west of Toronto. The entire city is laid out on a supergrid of blocks that are 2 square km per side.

There is a large bus system here, but it unfortunately converges on the gigantic shopping mall next to the city hall. That's great for the few thousand people who work in the office buildings nearby, but it makes taking bus trips elsewhere very difficult.

The city of Toronto, just east of us has very similar population density and layout outside of the downtown core. They provide a bus system that mostly goes in straight lines up and down major streets, connecting with subways and regional trains as they're available. The result is that people in the furthest flung wastes of Etobicoke and Scarborough can depend on bus service at regular intervals 24 hours a day, and can make connections along routes that are much the same as they'd take by car.

The key to the success of the TTC in suburban Toronto is linked partly to our benign geography that allows us to have massive grid-based suburbs that aren't really that far apart. It's also a direct result of the design of the system that takes money from the popular downtown routes and subsidizes the suburban routes so that they're viable as well.
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Old 01-28-07, 11:11 PM   #20
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The authors of the WP article are not journalists. They work for the Reason Foundation, a right-wing libertarian think tank.

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Originally Posted by Reason Foundation
Founded in 1968, Reason advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.

Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. Together, our top-tier think tank and political and cultural magazine reach a diverse, influential audience, advancing the values of individual freedom and choice, limited government, and market-friendly policies.
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Old 01-29-07, 10:43 AM   #21
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I don't know just who wrote this piece but from
my view point it's a load of ***** filled with the
slant that oil is limitless and global warming is
an ad campagin. Garbage........
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Originally Posted by krazygluon
Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?
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Old 01-29-07, 10:52 AM   #22
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Outlaw suburbs, and new land developments, give the land near urban centres back to farmers, and create renewable energy circles around cities on the not-so-good-for-farming land. Wind towers can also co-exist with farming. Build up...not out. Mass transit is for the masses not for distance riding, and it makes no economic sense.
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Old 01-29-07, 11:06 AM   #23
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.... Mass transit is for the masses not for distance riding, and it makes no economic sense.
Interesting, but I'm not sure I understand this summation. Could you please elaborate?
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Old 01-29-07, 11:14 AM   #24
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It's the sprawl that causes all the problems as we suck up all the land around our urban centres. A city can't keep spreading it's transit arms out further and further, at some point a functional limit is reached, and it's way short of how far out our populations are moving based on 50's and 60's ideals of commuter living. Population density per square mile IN the city limits is what needs to increase, not how many square miles the transit system can access. If you live an hour's drive from the city, it's madness to expect any sort of transit solution to get out there, but this is how our planners are still thinking. A fundamental shift in how we view family living in the 21st century is what's needed. Build up not out. Keep the city alive by keeping it full of people when the 9-5 is over. If the city is empty after 5, it will slowly die, while the burb's thrive.
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Old 01-29-07, 06:05 PM   #25
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The authors of the WP article are not journalists. They work for the Reason Foundation, a right-wing libertarian think tank.
It's amazing to see this kind of article in a respected journal. You really have to remark that the oil lobby is a powerful entity. Fortunately, there are a few real journalists left in the country and occasionally they do write thoughtful articles, like this one below from the New York Times today.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/29/op...=1&oref=slogin
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And yet, here in New York, we even have the debate over bicycle traffic backwards. We focus on drivers’ complaints about the bicycle commuter who races through red lights, rather than on the concerns of the mother biking her child around organic-food delivery trucks that idle in bike-only lanes. In December, the police say, a bicyclist was killed on the Hudson River Greenway by a drunken driver speeding along a bike lane that was completely separated from the road. Asked what was being done to improve safety in light of the biker’s death, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested that bikers “pay attention.”

“Even if they’re in the right, they are the lightweights,” he told a reporter.

Contrast this response with that of Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago after a 4-year-old pedestrian was killed in a hit and run. Mayor Daley immediately set up a pedestrian awareness program, suggested that police sting operations arrest speeding drivers and proposed to add 500 miles of bike lanes, so that there would be one within a half-mile of every resident.
Still I am amazed at much of the journalism around greenhouse gas solutions. It's like they are inactive waiting for a technological solutions to CO2 in the atmosphere when we all know the technology has been around for a while... it's the will to act that is missing. Anyway, this article made me smile.
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