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Posts from the "Car Dependence" Category


What Happens When You #ReplaceBikeWithCar

Late last week, somebody started the meme #ReplaceBikeWithCar on Twitter and it really took off.

Zachary Shahan used Storify to put together this collection of the most thought-provoking quips. As Robert Prinz showed with his altered news items, a simple word swap can effectively tease out the absurdity of cultural attitudes toward driving and biking.

All we have to say is, bravo and keep ‘em coming.


Atlanta’s Snowjam Disaster: How Much Was Sprawl to Blame?

More disturbing reports from Atlanta’s epic frozen traffic jam disaster are coming to light today. It’s hard to believe how quickly the situation got out of hand when the region’s freeways got hit with a few inches of snow.

What's the answer Atlanta's traffic nightmare this week? Image: The Casa Curtis

What can prevent the traffic nightmare that occurred in Atlanta this week from happening again? Image: The Casa Curtis

A woman who was trapped in her car for 12 hours on a freeway trying to pick up her kids from school described it this way to the New York Times: “It was like something you would see if they told you the plague broke out and you had to run for your life.”

Historian and journalist Rebecca Burns wrote in Politico Magazine today, “More than 2,000 school children were separated from their parents, and spent the night in buses, police stations, or classrooms.”

With so many lives endangered, or at least disrupted, people are looking for someone — or something — to blame.

But the problem wasn’t just a matter of insufficient snowplows or poorly timed school dismissals. It lay, in part, with a transportation system overly dependent on highways to connect a sprawling region, where jobs and schools are spread thinly around an enormous area, and most people have no choice but to get in a car if they want to get anywhere.

While some point the finger at Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for lack of preparedness, Atlanta transit blog MARTA Rocks! says they don’t deserve the blame. After all, Reed and Deal were both major proponents of a transportation ballot issue last summer called T-SPLOST that would have provided the region’s residents with more alternatives to highway travel. Unfortunately, the measure was rejected by 67 percent of the region’s voters in 2012.

MARTA Rocks! writes:

Now we know a rail line to Cumberland [Mall] wouldn’t have been built by yesterday if we passed [T-SPLOST], but we might at least have the reassurance that what happened yesterday may be less and less likely to happen over the years as our transit network and walkability could have expanded.

In her Politico Magazine story, Burns makes the case that a lack of political cohesion and decades of car-based development are at fault. She goes back to the construction of the “Downtown Connector” that now bisects the city, which bulldozed tens of thousands of people out of the heart of Atlanta beginning in the 1950s, “further decreasing the density of the city’s population and triggering more sprawl to the suburbs.”

Burns also laments the failure of the transportation tax measure, saying it illustrates a wider regional problem: the inability to act cooperatively to solve problems. ”This snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it,” she wrote.

T-SPLOST was supported by a majority of people who live inside Atlanta’s city limits. But these folks, Burns points out, make up only about 500,000 residents in a region of 6 million. Political power — and sheer numbers — lies in the suburbs.

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What Will Our Future Be Like If We Don’t Change How We Get Around?

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: ## RAND##

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: RAND

How will Americans get around in the year 2030? A recent report from the RAND Corporation lays out two “plausible futures” developed though a “scenario analysis” and vetted by outside experts. While RAND takes a decidedly agnostic stance toward the implications of each scenario, the choice that emerges is still pretty stark.

In the first scenario, oil prices continue to climb until 2030 and greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, as a result of the recognition of the harm caused by global warming. Zoning laws have been reformed to promote walkable urban and suburban communities. Transit use has increased substantially. Road pricing is widely used to limit congestion and generate revenue for transportation projects. Vehicle efficiency standards have been tightened, and most drivers use electric vehicles. This is the scenario researchers at RAND call, rather dourly, “No Free Lunch.”

In the second scenario, “Fueled and Freewheeling,” oil prices are relatively low in 2030 due to increasingly advanced extraction methods. Americans’ relationship to energy is much like it was in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll own more vehicles overall and drive more miles. Suburbanization will continue. Roads are in bad shape because no revenues are raised to repair them. Congestion is worse. This scenario represents the future if little action is taken to counter the effects of global warming.

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Mr. Money Mustache on Retiring at 30 By Riding a Bike

His claim to fame is that he retired at age 30. He swears that you can achieve greater financial freedom too, if you follow his example by eliminating unnecessary expenses and investing wisely. He calls himself Mr. Money Mustache. And he says nothing is more essential to his philosophy and wealth-building strategy than riding a bike.

Mr. Money Mustache rides through the snow with 85 pounds of groceries. Pin this picture up next to your car keys. Photo: MMM

Mr. MM (his real name is Pete, but that’s no fun) has been dishing out lifestyle advice on his personal finance blog for two years to a faithful following that now numbers about 300,000 regular readers. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he counseled prospective early retirees to live close to work and “of course, ride a bike.” In fact, MMM says, it’ll take you forever to retire if you keep wasting money on cars. He estimates it costs a person $125,000 and 1.3 working years’ worth of time to drive 19 miles each way to work.

Living so far from work that you “need” to drive is a result of bad planning, he says, and should be remedied — or, optimized — as quickly as possible. Riding a bike is the boiled-down essence of everything he preaches. He rejects the idea that his readers can “just follow the rest of his advice, while ignoring the bike parts.”

“It’s time for this silliness to come to an end,” he wrote earlier this month. “You must ride a bike. We all must.”

I’ll let you read on your own about how driving a car is like throwing away 24 blackened salmon salads, and the three questions you should always ask yourself before getting behind the wheel.

Streetsblog caught up with Mr. Money Moustache recently to talk more about how sensible transportation decisions fit into an economically sound lifestyle — and, of course, early retirement for us car-free Streetsblog editors.

Tanya Snyder: Last month was Anti-Automobile April. What did that consist of? How did it go?

Mr. Money Moustache: Anti-Automobile April was a little experiment where I tried to make the readers of my blog track their own driving for the month. My hope was that they would become more aware of it and hopefully consider canceling some of their trips, combining some of the smaller trips into fewer ones, and most importantly, replacing some of the local ones with bike trips.

TS: You take a refreshingly reasonable view of cars — that if a trip’s benefits outweighs its costs, it’s worth it, but most don’t. But obviously, there are times when you find taking a car worthwhile. What are those times?

MMM: Yeah, I am certainly not an anti-car zealot. I secretly love those machines. I love driving them, sitting in them, and reading about them. And for some reason, I have the technical stats for almost every model available in the U.S. memorized.

But you just have to realize what they’re good for.

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Affordability as a Transportation Planning Objective

– This article originally appeared on Todd Litman’s blog at Planetizen, and was reprinted with permission of the author.

What do transportation system users consider to be the most important problem? Here’s a hint: it’s not traffic congestion.

The 2009 National Household Travel Survey asked respondents to rate the importance of six transport problems: traffic safety, congestion, price of travel, availability of public transit, and lack of walkways or sidewalks. Virtually every demographic group rated affordability (“price of travel”) most important, as indicated in the graphs below.

2009 National Household Travel Survey

According to a major national survey, virtually every demographic group rates affordability (“price of travel”) the most important transport planning issue.

Affordable transport is important, particularly for lower-income people. Increased affordability is equivalent to an increase in income.

Yet, conventional planning ignores this concern. Affordability is seldom recognizes as a transportation planning objective, and if it is, it is usually evaluated based simply on fuel costs. Conventional planning ignores vehicle ownership and parking facility costs, which are much larger than fuel costs, and so ignores the inaffordability caused by automobile dependency and the user savings that can result from increased transport system diversity and land use accessibility.

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High Anxiety: Good Parents and Bad Parents on the Road

America’s roads have suddenly become dangerous places for America’s children. At least, that’s what’s suggested by a flurry of viral stories involving kids and cars.

We can all agree this is a bad idea, right? A Colorado police officer snapped this picture. Photo: Jalopnik

In May, an inebriated Florida couple made news when they took their granddaughter for a joy ride, pulling her behind their SUV in a toy car. Then came the story of an Indiana dad, arrested after strapping his four children to the car hood to get them home from a quick liquor store stop. Next, it was the stoned Arizona mother who secured her weeks-old baby in its car seat, popped the seat on top of her vehicle, and drove off. The latest item grew out of a snapshot, taken by a Colorado police officer, of a diapered toddler restrained only by a seat belt while his child safety seat, buckled in next to him, cradled a can of gas.

While the nation may be experiencing a statistical rise in stupidity, substance abuse, or child neglect, more likely we’re just enjoying better access, through cable news and social media, to tales of bad parenting, tales we can take perverse pleasure in consuming and sharing. It’s simple and satisfying to stand in judgment of these “horrible parents” whose choices were so obviously wrong. Here are selfish people who put loved ones into terrible danger, something we would never do. Their evil, then, becomes our good.

Why, though, would we need these object lessons to highlight our own good parenting?  Perhaps such high-contrast, black and white stories help quell the anxiety of transporting our children through the problematic gray area that is modern American car culture.

Cars — equipped with safety seats or not, piloted by sober drivers or not — present real danger to kids. Despite improved auto and traffic safety, they remain the number one killer of young people aged 5-34. Yet many new parents relocate to car-dependent suburbs, and many towns resist expanded transit lines or walking and biking paths, theoretically to protect their families from crime. Feeling children are safer in remote communities, these parents end up driving them everywhere, often to school, despite the fact that they would be about 20 times safer taking the bus. Seeking to protect them from the horrors of climate (but not climate change), moms and dads drive their young ones to school in inclement weather or idle at bus stops to shuttle them, warm and dry, a short block home.

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U.S. PIRG Report: Young Americans Dump Cars for Bikes, Buses

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has been crunching the numbers on travel preferences among young Americans — and the news is not good for auto makers.

Public transit use increased 100 percent among 16-34-year-olds with household incomes above $70,000, according to a new report from PIRG. Photo: U.S. PIRG

The report — Transportation and the New Generation — is chock-full of nuggets like this:

Driving is down: “From 2001 to 2009, the annual number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita—a drop of 23 percent.”

Biking is up: “In 2009, 16- to 34-year-olds as a whole took 24 percent more bike trips than they took in 2001, despite the age group actually shrinking in size by 2 percent.”

Young people even reported consciously driving less to save the environment. “Sixteen percent of 18- to 34-year-olds polled said they strongly agreed with the statement, ‘I want to protect the environment, so I drive less.’ This is compared to approximately nine percent of older generations.”

The trend toward non-automobile transportation options was even more pronounced among higher-income Americans, notable because this group is less likely to be motivated by economic concerns. “From 2001 to 2009, young people (16- to 34-year-olds) who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent.”

A number of factors are thought to be contributing to the trend. Some states now require “graduated” driver’s licensing, making young people pass multiple driving tests and hold learner’s permits longer before they earn full privileges. Higher gas prices, obviously, help put owning a car out of reach for many younger Americans, especially as the age group struggles in a less-favorable job market. Finally, technology, specifically smartphones, and their incompatibility with (safe) driving, help make alternatives that much more inviting.

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Bad Transit Condemns Much of Ohio’s Growing Urban Poor to Dependency

Once every four years, politicians descend on a hard luck steel town in Northeast, Ohio called Youngstown.

Cleavon McClendon has been staying at a shelter in Youngstown, Ohio since he lost his job due to poor transportation options. Photo: Huffington Post

With a 50 percent poverty rate — the worst in the country — Youngstown makes a compelling a campaign speech backdrop, illustrating everything that is wrong with government, or maybe America. Mitt Romney appeared there this week on the eve of Super Tuesday.

The irony of the situation is, of course, that decades of promises have done little to improve the city’s lot. Since the decline of the steel industry that was its lifeblood 40 years ago, life has been very hard here for many people here. Despite recent promising efforts to rebuild the city around tech startups and downtown living, there’s definitely a class of people being left behind, with few options.

And transportation is at the heart of the problem.

Tom Zeller Jr., writing for the Huffington Post, summed up the problem facing Youngstown’s poor:

Exit the Madison Avenue Expressway onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just beyond a road sign advertising the Museum of Industry and Labor, and an elegant, pre-war building, red brick and multi-gabled, rises on your right. Built in 1931 and the former home of the West Federal YMCA branch, it is now owned by the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, which houses dozens of this town’s homeless residents.

Cleavon McClendon, who recently lost his job working at a Bob Evans restaurant, is among them.

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As the Economy Grows and Adds Jobs, Americans Keep Driving Less

The 12-month moving average of vehicle miles traveled, adjusted for population. Graph:

Well, there you have it.

Driving is on the decline — even as the economy grows.

You can see in the above chart, created by analyst Doug Short and brought to our attention by Jonathan Maus at BikePortland, America’s shrinking appetite for car travel is outlasting the recession. As the Center for Clean Air Policy pointed out in a 2011 report, the U.S. economy is increasingly “decoupled” from how much Americans drive.

Adjusting for changes in population, the amount of driving on American roads has fallen to 1999 levels. The sustained decline in driving during a period of economic growth is unprecedented in the 41-year period tracked by Short.

Contrast the drop in driving with sunnier employment figures, and it’s clear what’s going on here isn’t due just to job losses and the recession:

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Mounting Transportation and Housing Costs Devour Household Budgets

In the Phoenix region, the yellow areas meet CNT's threshold for affordability, while the blue areas do not. Image: CNT

On Monday we wrote that Americans can’t afford a transportation bill that locks households into the expenses of car dependence. Yesterday the Center for Neighborhood Technology hammered the point home, releasing new data showing how communities are getting less and less affordable nationwide.

Only 28 percent of American communities meet CNT’s definition of “affordable,” which accounts for both housing and transportation costs. Today American families are paying more for housing and transportation than they did in 2000, according to CNT’s analysis:

Median housing costs, as reported by the US Census, have increased by nearly 37 percent nationwide, while the national median income has increased by approximately 22 percent. Average transportation costs in the geographies covered by both Indexes increased by more than 39 percent or $318 per month.

CNT attributes the growing burden of these basic costs to development in “location inefficient” places, where households have no choice but to shell out for an expensive mode of transport — driving. The findings come amid a Republican-led effort to pass a highway-centric, sprawl-favoring transportation bill, and a presidential campaign season where candidates are tripping over themselves to pander about gas prices without stating the obvious: reducing car dependence saves money.

CNT, a Chicago-based urban research think-tank, has long held that “affordability” shouldn’t be based on housing costs alone, but must incorporate transportation costs as well. Rather than following the conventional practice of dubbing housing affordable if it accounts for less than 30 percent of household income, CNT adds in transportation costs and sets the combined threshold at 45 percent, which changes the picture dramatically.

The result busts the “drive-till-you-qualify” myth that has driven suburban sprawl for decades, because the money saved on housing is often wiped out — and then some — by the costs of a longer commute, especially when that commute is dependent upon — and therefore sensitive to — the price of gasoline.

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