65 votes

Suburbs and car centric urban design is the worst mistake in modern history.

Designing our countries to accommodate cars as much as possible has been one of the most destructive things to our health, environment, safety and social connectedness. The damage has spread so far and deep that it has reached a crisis point in most developed cities in almost every country. The suburbs we live in are subjected to strict zoning laws baring any form of high density building and any form of mixed zoning. As a result our houses are spaced so far away from each other and from the essential services we need that unless you own a car you are blocked from having a normal life. The main streets full of independent stores and markets have all been killed by megamalls 30km away from where people live with carparks bigger than most park lands. All of this was caused by car usage pushing our societies further and further apart to the point where many people find it acceptable and normal to drive 40km each direction to work each day.

One of the more devastating effects of this urban sprawl is the supermarket has been moved so far away that most people avoid going as much as possible and limit it to a single trip every 1-2 weeks. Fresh food does not last 1-2 weeks which leaves people throwing out mountains of spoiled food that wasn't eaten in time as well as the move to processed foods packed full of preservatives. As well as a shift to people buying dinner from drive through takeaway franchises because their hour long commute has left them with little time to cook fresh and healthy foods.

Owning a car in many countries is seen as the only way to get a job. This locks the poor from ever regaining control of their life because the cost of owning and maintaining a car is higher than most of these people get in an entire year. Our city streets which should be places of vibrant liability have become loud, unsafe and toxic.

Elon and his electric cars solve none of these issues. Electric cars are not the way of the future. They don't even solve air pollution issues entirely because a large part of air pollution is brake pad fibres and tire wear which is proportional to the vehicles weight. And these Teslas are not light.

The only solution is reducing personal vehicle usage as much as possible in urban areas. Of course there will always be some people who will genuinely need vehicles such as in rural areas but there is simply no reason to have the average person drive to and from their office or retail job every day. Its wasteful and harmful in so many ways.

There needs to be a huge push to reclaim our cities and living spaces to bring back the liveability that we could have had. In my city some of the side streets were closed to cars and the change was incredible. Plants and seating filled the spots that would have once been a row of free parking. The streets are filled with the sounds of laughter instead of the roar of motors. The local pubs and cafes have benefited hugely. They didn't benefit at all from street side car parks that were always filled by people who have done 5 laps of the city looking for an empty park and do not intend to shop there.

What is everyone's opinion on this topic and what can we do about it?

42 comments

  1. [5]
    Rocket_Man Link
    This topic is a bit larger and more complex than I think I can do it justice. But it's something I've been interested in lately. So here's two fun resources for anyone interested, both are...

    This topic is a bit larger and more complex than I think I can do it justice. But it's something I've been interested in lately. So here's two fun resources for anyone interested, both are fantastic.

    1. City Beautiful

    City Beautiful is a YouTube channel dedicated to educating everyone about cities and city planning. Cities are amazing! I cover topics such as transportation, land use planning, and urban design. I post new videos monthly and sometimes more frequently.

    1. The LIfe and Death of Great American Cities

    A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs's monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.

    14 votes
    1. Petril Link Parent
      I don't know how you feel about "Adam Ruins Everything," but I found his episode about cars to be very interesting!

      I don't know how you feel about "Adam Ruins Everything," but I found his episode about cars to be very interesting!

    2. [3]
      Pilgrim Link Parent
      City Beautiful is your YouTube channel? Great job man!

      City Beautiful is your YouTube channel? Great job man!

      1. [2]
        eve (edited ) Link Parent
        Just a small note of clarification, city beautiful isn't his channel. His post said that here's two fun resources and the text below the links are quotes from the places themselves. So the "I" in...

        Just a small note of clarification, city beautiful isn't his channel. His post said that here's two fun resources and the text below the links are quotes from the places themselves. So the "I" in the case of City Beautiful is City Beautiful talking about themself, not Rocket Man talking about himself.

        3 votes
        1. Pilgrim Link Parent
          Ah thanks. That definitely confused me.

          Ah thanks. That definitely confused me.

  2. [6]
    Octofox Link
    I don't think we necessarily have live within walking distance from work but we should live within cycling distance or within walking distance to a train stop to get to work. I do think we need to...

    I don't think we necessarily have live within walking distance from work but we should live within cycling distance or within walking distance to a train stop to get to work. I do think we need to be within walking distance of a place to buy fresh food every few days. Especially if you live in a high density area you can pack pretty much every industry within cycling distance.

    18 votes
    1. [5]
      pleure Link Parent
      I can't see it happening in America unfortunately. Cars are so embedded into the culture and the cities have been designed so poorly that it would be an enormous effort to change. Don't get me...

      I can't see it happening in America unfortunately. Cars are so embedded into the culture and the cities have been designed so poorly that it would be an enormous effort to change. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see the suburbs demolished and replaced with medium-density mixed zone areas connected by a robust transit network but the political will just doesn't exist. We barely even have functional transit along the eastern seaboard which is one of the most densely populated areas in the country.

      6 votes
      1. [4]
        NaraVara Link Parent
        Probably less effort than you expect. Construction in neighborhoods tends to churn over the span of 30 years or so. You won't do it overnight, but you can dramatically change the character of a...

        Cars are so embedded into the culture and the cities have been designed so poorly that it would be an enormous effort to change.

        Probably less effort than you expect. Construction in neighborhoods tends to churn over the span of 30 years or so. You won't do it overnight, but you can dramatically change the character of a region within one person's lifetime with some foresight and planning.

        If you build the transit and foster mixed-use, urbanist development you can just build pockets of density and spread out from there. People will locate there naturally if the amenities are good enough. The main impediment to mixed-use urban development isn't lack of demand for that lifestyle, it's lack of supply. Densely built cities where you can live without a car, or even just live a life with one car per household rather than one car per driving age member, are just plain illegal to build in most of the country. As a consequence, the few places that do provide this lifestyle are unreachably expensive for many people.

        7 votes
        1. [3]
          Greg Link Parent
          This seems crazy to me - would you say it's a case of good intentions with unintended consequences, or is this just plain old fashioned corruption and special interests?

          Densely built cities where you can live without a car [...] are just plain illegal to build in most of the country.

          This seems crazy to me - would you say it's a case of good intentions with unintended consequences, or is this just plain old fashioned corruption and special interests?

          2 votes
          1. [2]
            NaraVara Link Parent
            Well they're "good" intentions in that they were meant to realize some vision of a glitzy, shiny, orderly future where there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. But part of...

            Well they're "good" intentions in that they were meant to realize some vision of a glitzy, shiny, orderly future where there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            But part of that logic was that some people need to be put in their proper place, if you catch my meaning. And we don't need to worry about investing in amenities for their communities or protecting the wealth they were trying to build.

            Also cities in the 50s and 60s when this ideal of development started to come together were honestly pretty unpleasant places. They were noisy and extremely polluted. The desire to retreat to a leafy bedroom community made more sense in a world before a Clean Air Act to ensure you could raise a family in a city without having them sucking down coal-ash and smog whenever they played outside.

            Cars are also quieter, soundproofing is better, and a host of other modern conveniences have dramatically lessened the downsides of density and city-life while exacerbating the downsides of suburban living. While cities got better, cars got bigger, gas got more expensive, job security went away, and traffic got way worse.

            8 votes
            1. Greg Link Parent
              Very interesting - thank you.

              Very interesting - thank you.

  3. [6]
    Thrabalen Link
    The biggest impact is that the idea of living where you want to live goes out the window. You move into a corporate village or you don't have a job, unless you like working retail or food service....

    The biggest impact is that the idea of living where you want to live goes out the window. You move into a corporate village or you don't have a job, unless you like working retail or food service. If you want to work manufacturing (which is a generally good job for decent pay), good luck finding a factory or similar within walking distance.

    It would return us to the concept that a job isn't something you choose, it's something you're born into. You work at the Bigco factory because you live near it, because your father worked there, because his father worked there.

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      pleure Link Parent
      The alternative isn't that you have to live near your job, it's that there's a robust public transportation system that you can use to get to your job instead of driving. Many European countries...

      The alternative isn't that you have to live near your job, it's that there's a robust public transportation system that you can use to get to your job instead of driving. Many European countries have fantastic public transportation and you can easily commute from your neighborhood to another part of town or even another city without a car.

      16 votes
      1. hungariantoast (edited ) Link Parent
        To be fair, OP didn't mention anything about this in the topic, but rather, it was a part of the equation that was picked up in the comment section.

        The alternative isn't that you have to live near your job, it's that there's a robust public transportation system that you can use to get to your job instead of driving.

        To be fair, OP didn't mention anything about this in the topic, but rather, it was a part of the equation that was picked up in the comment section.

    2. [3]
      Spel Link Parent
      I'm not sure if you're saying that "the idea of living where you want to goes out the window" with car-centric design, or without car-centric design? Could you clarify?

      I'm not sure if you're saying that "the idea of living where you want to goes out the window" with car-centric design, or without car-centric design? Could you clarify?

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        hungariantoast Link Parent
        My interpretation (which might be wrong) of the comment is that cars allow us to travel greater distances in a shorter amount of time, which opens up better opportunities for work and...

        My interpretation (which might be wrong) of the comment is that cars allow us to travel greater distances in a shorter amount of time, which opens up better opportunities for work and possibilities to live in different places, as you're less geographically locked to your place of work when you own a car.

        For instance, if I were planning to go back to school soon, I could choose the school that is four miles away and only have to drive nine minutes a day, or even take a slightly longer trip of fifteen miles and twenty five minutes, but be able to attend a better school

        4 votes
        1. Thrabalen (edited ) Link Parent
          This is exactly correct. Your employment opportunities extend exactly as far as you can travel. If travel extends only as far as your feet can take you (some people seem to be assuming public...

          This is exactly correct. Your employment opportunities extend exactly as far as you can travel. If travel extends only as far as your feet can take you (some people seem to be assuming public transportation, but I saw no mention of that anywhere in the OP), then your choice of employment doesn't extend far at all. You are highly likely to live near work, and work near home. If you get that once-in-a-lifetime job, you'll move practically next door to work, just like everyone that works at that company. The area directly around a sufficiently large employer will become a de facto corporate town, catering entirely to that company and its large workforce.

          Never mind that you don't like the shopping options in the town, never mind that there are five houses available and you don't like any of them. You want that job, so you're going to live in that corporate town, because the two go hand in hand.

          2 votes
  4. [2]
    jlpoole Link
    The USDA touches upon this subject with an area that first was named "food deserts". That moniker and concept has changed to accommodate more definitions of what it takes to buy fresh produce, so...

    The USDA touches upon this subject with an area that first was named "food deserts". That moniker and concept has changed to accommodate more definitions of what it takes to buy fresh produce, so "food access." See https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas.aspx

    9 votes
    1. jlpoole Link Parent
      CAUTION: the Government shutdown appears to be affecting the map -- this warning "Due to a lapse in federal funding, this USDA website will not be actively updated. Once funding has been...

      CAUTION: the Government shutdown appears to be affecting the map -- this warning "Due to a lapse in federal funding, this USDA website will not be actively updated. Once funding has been reestablished, online operations will continue." appears and the layers are not working. I guess someone disengaged some servers the provide the layer data as part of the shutdown.

      Also, the USDA will not share their data for this model citing that the defining points, supermarkets with sales over $2 million a year, is proprietary and belongs to A.C. Neilsen, therefore we must rely upon A.C. Neilsen as to what the definitions of the overlays in the USDA maps are.

      8 votes
  5. [13]
    hungariantoast (edited ) Link
    It's already been mentioned, but the thing about cars is that they enable more opportunities for people, despite increasing the commute time. Without access to fast, reliable, long distance...

    It's already been mentioned, but the thing about cars is that they enable more opportunities for people, despite increasing the commute time.

    Without access to fast, reliable, long distance transportation, people become very geographically locked to their work place, since it takes much longer to ride a bike to work than it does to drive a car.

    Obviously, public transportation is one big area that can help solve these issues, but the truth is that some cities have been so "car-centric" for so long, that the costs, both in money and pollution, to slowly develop away from a car oriented design, might actually do more harm than just developing the cars to cost less and be more efficient.

    Overall, I see the cities of the future investing more in public transportation, but for a lot of them, that won't mean trams and subways, it'll mean ride-sharing. A lot of people won't own a car, they'll rent one every time they need to take a trip somewhere, whether it be to work and back, the grocery store (but let's be honest, by this time groceries will mostly be delivered to you (I actually do this, have my groceries delivered, it's great)), or to meet friends for a night out. These little four-wheeled drones will be so ubiquitous that most people won't have to wait more than a minute for a "unit" to arrive in front of them, and when cities start experiencing shortages of drones to carry people around, they can conveniently buy more from GM or Ford.

    One major upside of this is that, as climate change continues to hammer us into extinction, these automated fleets of drones will be able to easily, quickly, and safely carry millions of people out of cities when evacuations happen, avoiding the chaos that has cost us lives in the past. (You don't want thousands of people stuck on an interstate in a deadlock when a hurricane comes through)

    Of course, things like automation, universal basic income, and telecommuting could all play a big role in city development in the future, but I don't have time to brainstorm about all of that.

    For the record, I generally agree with your sentiment. Cities would be (and are) much nicer in general if they invested heavily into systems that promoted biking and walking rather than driving long distances.

    8 votes
    1. [12]
      NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
      Does traffic not exist where you live? I can bike to work faster than I can drive once you factor in the time required to find parking. I also don't need to worry about how many drinks I have when...

      since it takes much longer to ride a bike to work than it does to drive a car.

      Does traffic not exist where you live? I can bike to work faster than I can drive once you factor in the time required to find parking. I also don't need to worry about how many drinks I have when I go out since I will always have a safe and efficient way home.

      Overall, I see the cities of the future investing more in public transportation, but for a lot of them, that won't mean trams and subways, it'll mean ride-sharing.

      Ride sharing doesn't get rid of the problem of lumpy demand. As long as people mostly go to work and go home at roughly the same times, you're never going to have enough road capacity and parking space to have this be pleasant. Building that much car infrastructure necessarily means using the space extremely inefficiently. Just go to any venue where a bunch of people all get out around the same time, like a ball game or a concert. Ride sharing isn't going to make the process of getting out of those parking lots and plodding down the highway any faster. A train that can cart away 100-200 people at a time, however, will.

      It's not a technology problem, it's literally just the fact that cars occupy a ton of space and the more space is given over to moving and storing them the less space there is for things we actually care about. A bus can move 60 to 100 people in the space it takes 4 cars to move 15 people at max capacity. You just can't hit that kind of efficiency.

      9 votes
      1. [6]
        oryx Link Parent
        Just as an aside, riding you bike while drunk is just as stupid as driving your car while drunk.

        Just as an aside, riding you bike while drunk is just as stupid as driving your car while drunk.

        7 votes
        1. [3]
          Pilgrim Link Parent
          Well almost as stupid... it's much harder to kill pedestrians while on a bike...

          Well almost as stupid... it's much harder to kill pedestrians while on a bike...

          5 votes
          1. [2]
            oryx Link Parent
            You can still be the cause of a car accident that results in death.

            You can still be the cause of a car accident that results in death.

            1 vote
            1. cadadr Link Parent
              Well you can just hold your bike to your side and walk it along with you. Or in some cases fold it up and get a cab and put it into its boot. None of which is possible w/ a car.

              Well you can just hold your bike to your side and walk it along with you. Or in some cases fold it up and get a cab and put it into its boot. None of which is possible w/ a car.

        2. [2]
          Octofox Link Parent
          If you hit someone on your bike its almost never going to result in the other people dying and if you were drunk at the time you will probably still be responsible for their injures.

          If you hit someone on your bike its almost never going to result in the other people dying and if you were drunk at the time you will probably still be responsible for their injures.

          1. oryx Link Parent
            You can cause a car to swerve and kill someone else or you. I'm a cyclist and don't own a car but it really bugs me when people think it's safe to drive their bike drunk.

            You can cause a car to swerve and kill someone else or you. I'm a cyclist and don't own a car but it really bugs me when people think it's safe to drive their bike drunk.

            2 votes
      2. [6]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. [5]
          NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
          This is kind of the point. The car dependent infrastructure of the city has locked you into needing a car in order to be a functioning member of society. If the infrastructure was friendly to...

          Houston is a prime example of how not having a car geographically locks you to your employer.

          This is kind of the point. The car dependent infrastructure of the city has locked you into needing a car in order to be a functioning member of society. If the infrastructure was friendly to other modes of conveyance this would not be the case.

          There's nothing safe (or efficient) about riding a bicycle while drunk. It's quite irresponsible. You're still putting yourself and others in danger, not to mention you are at a much higher risk of causing property damage by riding into something, like a parked car.

          Why would you assume I'm riding a bike while drunk? You can bring your bike on the train or hitch it to the bus. The availability of many modes of transportation to get from place to place that don't require me to drive is the point.

          The engineering isn't the issue here, but rather the regulations, legislation, and cost, both in terms of money and pollution.

          These were solved problems in the 1920s when New York and Chicago built their trains and streetcars. Mass transit has lower pollution than car dependent infrastructure. And the "infrastructure" for a bus is literally the same as the infrastructure for a car.

          than I would for feasible, large scale public transportation in Houston.

          You don't need to fix all of Houston with the snap of a finger. You can just build 5 or 6 mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods as destinations and build out transit throughout key development areas. If you just make it legal to build densely by eliminating parking minimums and other impediments people will just naturally start to cluster around the transit hubs and the density will follow. You just need the transit and city infrastructure (water, sewage, power, etc.) to serve the density.

          Not to bus or train levels of efficiency, but definitely better than they are now.

          That's not good enough. Bus or train level efficiencies are barely enough as it is. There will always be some magic future-technology that solves all the problems, but this is only because when discussing magic future technology you only need to think about the imagined benefits while not having to imagine any costs. The reality is, if you have the technology for a self-driving car, you will also have the technology for a self-driving bus. And since the bus is more efficient and economical, it will still make more sense to focus on trains and buses.

          Hell, we already have self-driving trains. The train conductors are often just there to babysit the robot as a fail-safe.

          The only place I really see a hard to replacing household dependence on cars is for parents with children, as kids can't walk as far and small children usually need a baggage train behind them. You could actually solve this with a drone-stroller/storage chest that just follows you around. This is a much more useful and practical application of AI-assisted driving than expecting to get all the challenges of an AI-taxi, which is the hardest AI-driving problem I can think of, ironed out.

          5 votes
          1. [5]
            Comment deleted by author
            Link Parent
            1. [4]
              NaraVara Link Parent
              1 heavy vehicle, I'm pretty sure, is not going to degrade a road as much as hundreds of cars running over the same surface. Moreover, I would imagine the ruinous effects of thermal expansion do...

              Heavier vehicles degrade these roads much faster than lighter vehicles do

              1 heavy vehicle, I'm pretty sure, is not going to degrade a road as much as hundreds of cars running over the same surface. Moreover, I would imagine the ruinous effects of thermal expansion do more damage than anything else. This is a situation where denser development patterns are beneficial. You don't need to pave over as much land to connect everybody to the grid, which means you can invest more heavily per mile on building to last and maintenance.

              Another issue facing Houston specifically is heat, that, when coupled with climate change, suddenly makes walking, riding a bike, or transporting yourself in anything except for an air-conditioned space down right inconveniencing at best and deadly at worst.

              Amsterdam regularly has dangerously frigid weather, and they manage to have people bike around just fine. People are better adapted to cope with heat than with cold, so this just isn't a problem for an able bodied person. Social norms around being sweaty in public will adjust.

              but traveling outside in Texas over a minor distance inst an attractive offer.

              And being outside in Chicago during the wintertime is? People will adjust. Texas has outdoor malls already that people drive to, in the summer even. Well design streets with plenty of shade are just not that terrible to walk in. DC regularly hits the 80s and 90s with 100% or higher humidity and people manage. And they manage wearing G-Man issued suit and tie.

              Lots of historic cities have managed as well. It's not as if Israel doesn't get hot as hell, but they're walkable. Singapore and Hong Kong are even closer to the equator than Texas is and people are fine there too.

              the simple fact is that in places like Houston people may not want that.

              I'd wager more people would want it than would want to spend hours a day stuck in traffic, or spending their weekends playing chauffeur to their kids since they can't get around on their own.

              perhaps even helping curb climate change in the process, but we didn't.

              A built environment isn't a static thing. It was built, it can be rebuilt.

              3 votes
              1. [4]
                Comment deleted by author
                Link Parent
                1. [3]
                  NaraVara Link Parent
                  This is a maintenance budget problem, not anything inherent to bus lines. You can also just build streetcars or trolleys, which are more resilient. You’re still too trapped in a paradigm of sprawl...

                  Except it isn't "1 heavy vehicle," it's several, every day, on the same route, moving people. There are roads in Houston that don't see activity from large vehicles, and then yards away from that road there are roads where the heavy vehicles go. Those roads are always torn up and shifting around from the weight faster than the roads where the heavy vehicles don't go.

                  This is a maintenance budget problem, not anything inherent to bus lines. You can also just build streetcars or trolleys, which are more resilient.

                  For how long? How long does the weather in Amsterdam stay dangerous? A day? A week? Off and on over two months? In Houston, it's almost half of every year, and it's getting worse.

                  You’re still too trapped in a paradigm of sprawl and imagining walking down exposed roadways instead of sidewalks that are designed to be comfortable, shady, and minimize the urban heat island effect (something sprawl is really bad at). Like I said, DC is regularly in 80 degree+ weather with 90%+ humidity and people get by walking to work in suit and tie.

                  Either way, those two problems you just mentioned are equally solvable by automated ride-sharing as they are by other forms of transportation.

                  No it won’t. Automated ride share doesn’t change anything about the intrinsic issues with occupying space. At best you might reduce the requirement to have parking. And how happy are people going to be to have cars they can’t store things in? Or having to pull car seats in and out of cars they don’t own? Ride sharing doesn’t actually fix any major transit problems aside from being able to let kids too young to dry not have to conscript their parents into being chauffeurs.

                  I just don't think you're going to achieve mass public transit in Houston, in a way that is optimal for people and the environment, without automated ride-sharing

                  What is with the stanning for a thing that doesn’t exist yet? You literally need to do nothing to make automated ride share happens if it actually works as promised (which it won’t). It’s just a carry over of the same, polluting, wasteful car centric infrastructure we already build for.

                  But the catch is it won’t work as promised. Taxis cost what they cost for real practical reasons. Lyft and uber are losing money on every ride despite criminally underpaying for labor and expecting their labor to bring their own capital. How is automation, having to pay for the capital themselves, going to fix this?

                  This is a pipe dream that is sold as a way to distract from practice and actionable solutions that have been proven to work. Singapore is way more of a weather hellhole than Houston, but also way more livable.

                  2 votes
                  1. [3]
                    Comment deleted by author
                    Link Parent
                    1. [2]
                      NaraVara Link Parent
                      Adjusting to expectations around aesthetics is different from actual practical utility. This is emblematic of the boondoggle behind boosting self-driving cars as panacea for transit challenges....

                      Well you argued earlier that people can adjust to "being sweaty in public." I think they can also adjust to not being able to leave things in their car, since they won't own a car anymore.

                      Adjusting to expectations around aesthetics is different from actual practical utility.

                      As for car seats, those will likely be a thing of the past, or more likely, they'll be included in most cars in an easy to setup and use fashion.

                      This is emblematic of the boondoggle behind boosting self-driving cars as panacea for transit challenges. You get to wish away every shortcoming and complicating factor while overemphasizing the costs of the practical and affordable technologies we have now that have the advantage of actually existing.

                      We also would likely be able to get rid of a large number of parking lots, as most businesses or transit hubs would have a drop off lane for a quick departure rather than an expansive lot.

                      At this point you're suggesting that the entire built-environment adapt to eliminate parking lots and have buildings come closer to the streets. If you're already expecting this kind of dramatic alteration to how the city is laid out, why is it so hard to imagine putting down some rail or a bus line?

                      As far as transit problems, I think you are, again, underestimating the potential efficiency of a fleet of automobiles that drive themselves and communicate with each other. As automated vehicles become more popular I wouldn't be surprised to see congestion decrease.

                      I think you're wishing away challenges. The fact is, you still need to merge and exit and there is simply not enough space. There is also such a thing as induced demand. The easier you make it for people to live in sprawl, the further they will sprawl thus negating the mild advantages you get. People have a maximal tolerance in terms of commuting times, distance, etc. and they will structure their lives in ways that let them come in under that high watermark.

                      I don't think you're ever going to get to the ideal point without going through ride-sharing and automated vehicles first, because the business incentive is already there, the infrastructure already exists, it doesn't need to be built from scratch, and the politics and zoning are almost entirely out of the equation.

                      As a point of order. This technology has not been invented yet. And it's not even really on the horizon. Most companies that invested heavily in it are already giving up. The few that may have a chance are confined to running shuttle services on closed roads in cloistered campuses.

                      You don't need to transform all of the political entity known as Houston. You just need to make a car-free lifestyle possible for people there and they'll vote with their feet. You can take lessons from the first rounds and move from there. It's not like flight to suburbs was an intentional project, it was prodded that way by zoning rules, FHA loan policies, and choices made regarding infrastructure spending. If you alter those it will naturally revert to a more sustainable mode of living.

                      2 votes
                      1. [2]
                        Comment deleted by author
                        Link Parent
                        1. NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
                          You keep speaking as if this is something beyond the pale. But like I mentioned, lots of people already live like this and are perfectly happy with it. DC, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv. . ....

                          I think most people will find that being sweaty every day, for an hour or more

                          You keep speaking as if this is something beyond the pale. But like I mentioned, lots of people already live like this and are perfectly happy with it. DC, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv. . .

                          People seem to have figured it out just fine. And I'll mention, many of the places on my list have more restrictive standards of formal/office attire than most Southern American states do. It's not about charging your phones and stuff. It's about not having to cart around your kids' stuff or not needing to carry your tools into the house with you. In more urban environments this is less of thing, because density allows you to invest in lots of public goods and amenities, like changing tables, water fountains, convenience stores never being more than a few minutes away, etc. These nearby amenities obviate the need to carry stuff around with you at all times.

                          When they first started building bike lanes and emphasizing walkable streets in Amsterdam people had the same complaints. "We are not Italy" they said. "We have winter here! Nobody is going to want to bike. The voters don't like it."

                          40 years later, they didn't abolish winter in Amsterdam, they just built the infrastructure and people figured out how to make use of it. The city has densified and the success of their urban development model built further support for more investment in it.

                          Driver-less cars are going to be the next major development for transportation,

                          You might as well assert that unicorns will solve the problem because they are exactly as real as driverless cars that operate at the level of sophistication that they would need to. Like I said, your projections rely on assuming away all costs and impediments to driverless cars to make them work. At best, you're going to have jitney dollar cabs which is, functionally, just a bus system with dynamic routing. It's still not feasible for a non-walkable sprawl-based development because you're just not going to have door-to-door service in any way that is economical.

                          The technology exists,

                          Not at the level of sophistication you would need it to. Driverless cars still kind of suck and can't navigate real city streets without human assistance or intervention. That's why the only versions that currently exist are on sequestered campuses and restricted routes. If you can't have a region pre-mapped and make sure everything about it is known, they fall apart. It just doesn't work at scale. Real city streets are chaotic and ever-changing and no government is going to keep up with it enough to make it work because it's actually quite expensive to keep that sort of data current. The money you'd have to sink into redesigning roads and putting sensors to monitor road conditions everywhere would be better spent on developing urbanist transit corridors.

                          You will have AI good enough for a driver-less bus long before a driverless door-to-door taxi. Buses have fixed routes, established infrastructure for depots and maintenance, and a rider-population that is already aware of its existence, how to use it, and how to pay for it. And yet, we don't see driverless buses or streetcars do we? The practical realities of a real urban street are just too numerous. We probably will get driverless bus routes at some point, but it will be way way way before it's ever ready for personal transit. And even then, the cars themselves won't be like the point-to-point taxis you're expecting because the economics just aren't there to support that.

                          I pointed this out about the business model before. Uber and Lyft already subsidize every ride despite underpaying their labor and making their labor bring its own capital. Despite this, they lose money and they aren't widespread enough to cover the practical transit demands of a sprawly area. The business model of a driverless taxi system doesn't substantially change these economics aside from making it more expensive. Suddenly we have to have the ride-share service provide the capital themselves and take on all the back-end costs of maintenance? Not in your wildest dreams is this going to be an affordable transit option without public subsidy. And if you're relying on public subsidy anyway, you might as well build a mass transit system that actually works.

                          You might think that getting cars out of our cities is a good thing, I might even agree with you, and once again, we might disagree on how the city is going to develop in the future, but there's no denying that the beginning of the implementation of any kind of large scale transit system in Houston has been shot down time, and time, and time again.

                          It got shot down in LA over and over again too. Until it didn't. LA is going through a transit-building binge now and it's going to precipitate an urbanist renaissance there.

                          The problem with your driverless cars as trojan horse notion is that it's not actually a Trojan horse for anything. It doesn't build a constituency for urbanism or transit. It doesn't fundamentally change anything about the built environment or structure. And your advocacy for it just kind of assumes there are no costs or trade-offs associated with it. It's functionally just an argument for not doing anything and assuming technology will magic the problem away without carrying its own set of costs. The minute those costs are known and you can't just wish them away, people will resist voting for those too.

                          It's not actually a solution to the problems we need to solve. It's just sitting around hoping for a savior to show up and solve the problem without lifting a finger or mustering any political will. It's an opiate, something to lull you into inaction while not actually resolving your predicament.

                          4 votes
  6. [3]
    NeoTheFox (edited ) Link
    I live in Moscow, and Moscow is notorious for its traffic problems. There are two major reasons to this - first reason is that the core of the city had been planned by the soviets, and these...

    I live in Moscow, and Moscow is notorious for its traffic problems. There are two major reasons to this - first reason is that the core of the city had been planned by the soviets, and these communists assumed that most people wouldn't own cars, because it's not the way of the proletariat™. Instead they built a sprawling metro underground and paired it with a lot of planned tram tracks. However, the tram part was never finished and now we have buses instead, and a lot of them too. These things don't stop people from owning a car, and same exact things are happening here that you've described - local shops are being replaced by mega-malls far away, and suburbs are growing out of control. The reason for this is that public transport only helps to bring up these malls, because now every major Metro station has one built on top of it, and people can easily get to them, even without a car. And frankly, people still prefer cars if they can afford it, even with ALL the measures that the government tries to implement to make people use the public transport - the moment someone can get a car they do. First reason why is public transport is a miserable experience. You have to share a quite crowded space with a lot of other people, and it involves an awful lot of waiting. A commute by public transport can take up to 3 hours from one part of the city to another, and rush hour is a thing you would really hate if you have to travel to the work by a public transport - it's always overcrowded and you would almost always be in a very inconvenient spot where chances are you wouldn't even be able to use your phone comfortably. The same trip on car could take the same 3 hours in traffic, but at least you'll be in your own car, comfortably and without all other people around you. In fact, people would often take much less attractive jobs to avoid commuting at all. And on top of all that the city keeps growing larger and larger, because people keep buying houses in the suburbs that are being built further and further away from center, where most of the offices are.
    I think this just goes to show you that the US simply responds to the market and what people actually want to have, and no matter how good your public transport is people would still prefer to own cars just because it makes the daily commute more comfortable, and they would still be absolutely ready to travel to the huge mall to get their food cheaper, and more importantly all in one place. Our habits and wishes shape the world around us more than the world around us shapes us in this case I think.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      Greg Link Parent
      London checking in here with almost the exact opposite experience! Also not a city designed for cars (both the street layout and the original public transport system predate the internal...

      London checking in here with almost the exact opposite experience!

      Also not a city designed for cars (both the street layout and the original public transport system predate the internal combustion engine), but by and large people use busses or the tube.

      Sure, there's some traffic, and the public transport can be a bit crowded at times, but broadly speaking it works. Proximity to a station is a major decision when finding somewhere to live, and it's reflected in the housing market; much as we like to grumble, the service is better and cheaper than pretty much anywhere else in the country; the city is spending billions on adding new lines and expanding existing ones.

      I started thinking through a list of friends and colleagues, and after getting to 20 of them, only one owns a car. Most could afford to, they just don't see the need and they'd rather spend the money elsewhere.

      No doubt there's an interesting discussion to be had here as to why the two cities differ so much - having never visited Moscow myself, I honestly don't know.

      5 votes
      1. NeoTheFox Link Parent
        I bet it has a lot to do with size and the weather - Moscow is almost twice as big as London, and it gets to -25C in the winter. This sounds like a good potential research topic on public...

        I bet it has a lot to do with size and the weather - Moscow is almost twice as big as London, and it gets to -25C in the winter. This sounds like a good potential research topic on public transport engagement and stasfaction.

        1 vote
  7. [6]
    emdash Link
    FYI, average usage of an electric car rarely utilises the brakes. Regenerative braking is the most common form of speed reduction in an electric vehicle. Tyres I will concede.

    FYI, average usage of an electric car rarely utilises the brakes. Regenerative braking is the most common form of speed reduction in an electric vehicle.

    Tyres I will concede.

    4 votes
    1. [5]
      hungariantoast (edited ) Link Parent
      I wonder if manual cars pollute less than automatic cars for similar reasons? My understanding is that regenerative braking is a lot like engine braking in a manual, and engine braking is...

      I wonder if manual cars pollute less than automatic cars for similar reasons?

      My understanding is that regenerative braking is a lot like engine braking in a manual, and engine braking is certainly my number one way to slow down, so I wonder if manual cars (and their often more experienced drivers) are more likely to pullute less than automatic vehicles?

      Would be interesting to see the results of a study conducted on this. Maybe it could help keep the manual transmission alive for a little while longer as the environmental and societal impact of automatic drivetrains is revealed for the terrible mistakes they were. (That's me being sarcastic... sort of)

      1. [4]
        NaraVara Link Parent
        In the early days possibly. Nowadays the computers are tuned to be way more efficient than a person could ever be. Unless you need the extremely fine control needed to pace your way through an F1...

        I wonder if manual cars pollute less than automatic cars for similar reasons?

        In the early days possibly. Nowadays the computers are tuned to be way more efficient than a person could ever be. Unless you need the extremely fine control needed to pace your way through an F1 track there isn't much practical utility to the control of a manual. It's like owning a mechanical watch. It's about intangibles like nostalgia, fun, aesthetic, heritage, etc.

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          hungariantoast (edited ) Link Parent
          A driver with a manual transmission can short shift quite readily to the point that they greatly undercut the emissions produced by automatic transmissions. Of course, most manual drivers probably...

          Nowadays the computers are tuned to be way more efficient than a person could ever be.

          A driver with a manual transmission can short shift quite readily to the point that they greatly undercut the emissions produced by automatic transmissions. Of course, most manual drivers probably don't shift in that way, but the potential is there. As far as pollutants from braking, it would make sense to me that manual transmission equipped cars would produce less of that kind of pollutant, as they utilize engine braking to a great degree.

          Unless you need the extremely fine control needed to pace your way through an F1 track there isn't much practical utility to the control of a manual.

          That's partially incorrect. Strict manual transmissions may only have the added benefit of tradition, like you mentioned, but manual transmissions aren't even used in F1 anymore.

          However the "fine control" you mentioned, is needed for a great variety of tasks outside of racing, especially towing, which is why many automatic transmissions have a "manual" mode, because it's very difficult to automatically determine and manage what gear a transmission should be in for optimal performance, especially since what is considered "optimal" varies by driver, but that's beside the point.

          The ability to select the specific gear you're driving in is a powerful feature, and it's still commonly accepted that trained drivers know better than their car's computer which gear they need to be in. Not even Porsche's PDK has quite figured out how to regulate gears better than an experienced driver.

          3 votes
          1. [2]
            NaraVara Link Parent
            The key here is "trained" drivers. Most of what you're referencing, like towing, are pretty small edge cases. The vast majority of drivers will never bother with this. They will go with the path...

            The key here is "trained" drivers. Most of what you're referencing, like towing, are pretty small edge cases. The vast majority of drivers will never bother with this. They will go with the path of least resistance because most people don't really like driving at all.

            1 vote
            1. [2]
              Comment deleted by author
              Link Parent
              1. NaraVara Link Parent
                My sister lives in Houston and from what I’ve seen pretty much everyone has a spotless, oversized truck without a mark on it. Folks like to cosplay as people who use macho trucks for macho “truck...

                Have you ever been to Texas? Pretty much everyone has a truck and pretty much everyone uses that truck for "truck" stuff, like towing. It's definitely not an "edge case" when it's something thousands of people do every day, for a variety of reasons.

                My sister lives in Houston and from what I’ve seen pretty much everyone has a spotless, oversized truck without a mark on it. Folks like to cosplay as people who use macho trucks for macho “truck stuff” but they’re mostly just paper pushers like the rest of us and use the tow package a handful of times because they have it and never again.

                The proportion of people who actually use trucks for truck stuff is pretty constant across the country. And it’s not like most towing use cases, like tugging a small boat or a trailer, can’t be done with a Miata these days.

                Sorry, but automatic transmissions are still worse than manual transmissions except for one thing: they are getting more gears.

                And continuously variable gears. The conventional wisdom on this is at least 5 years out of date. At this point it’s really not a practical thing, and a good modern automatic is still going to functionally work better, not least of all because it will actually be optimized for fuel efficiency regardless of how road ragey or unfocused the driver is. Even someone who knows better won’t behave better most of the time just because they have other things on their minds.

                It’s hard to find a pragmatic justification for a manual these days. Fun factor is a valid reason, but we don’t need to pretend it’s practical or utilitarian.

  8. nsz Link
    You will probably find this link post quite interesting. It's an essay from 1973 and shows a surprising (at least to me) amount of foresight, touching on some of the points you bring up.

    You will probably find this link post quite interesting. It's an essay from 1973 and shows a surprising (at least to me) amount of foresight, touching on some of the points you bring up.

    1 vote