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Posts from the "Cars" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: Let Them Drive Cars

South Korea's Cheonggyecheon stream and park used to be a highway. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/25869929@N03/2468502996##Michael Sotnikov/flickr##

South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon stream and park used to be a highway. Photo: Michael Sotnikov/flickr

Quick quiz: What city is the world leader in highway teardowns? San Francisco? Portland? Madrid?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s Seoul, South Korea, which has removed 15 urban highways — and is about to remove another. In this week’s Talking Headways episode, Jeff and I talk about what can take the place of a freeway in a city and why it’s worth it.

We also debunk the argument, made in Atlantic Cities and the Washington Post last week, that promoting car access will benefit people with low incomes. The whole concept is based on a study that basically said that in the 90s you needed a car to get around the suburbs. Not exactly a persuasive justification for automobile subsidies in today’s cities.

We wander down Saffron Avenue and Nutmeg Lane to investigate whether it’s true that cities are losing their smell — and whether that’s really such a bad thing. Then we accidentally trip into a conversation about pheromones and good-smelling men.

What’s your favorite smell in your city? Let us know in the comments.

We’re working on getting the podcast available on Stitcher, which apparently is a thing that exists, but for now you can subscribe on iTunes or follow the RSS feed.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Knight Rider Rides Again

It was a dark and stormy day in San Francisco and Jeff Wood stayed dry in Woonerf studios, recording the Talking Headways podcast with co-host Tanya Snyder, who was bitter that days after the spring equinox, Washington, DC, was getting hit with another snowstorm.

But more importantly — what does the future hold after a tumultuous news cycle for New York’s Citi Bike? What can Chicago (and, oh, every other American city) do to create more affordable housing in the neighborhoods everyone wants to live in? And is the self-driving car seriously going to become a reality by the end of this decade? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jeff and Tanya take on all that and more. Or really, pretty much just that.

Enjoy our sweet 16th episode of the Talking Headways podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters

Look, ma, no hands! A legally blind man tested out Google's self-driving car in 2012. Photo: ##http://byteandchew.com/best-of-2012-8-rise-of-the-self-driven-car/##Byte and Chew##

A legally blind man tested out Google’s self-driving car in 2012. Photo: Byte and Chew

Here’s the rosy scenario of a future where cars drive themselves: Instead of owning cars, people will summon autonomous vehicles, hop in, and head to their destination. With fewer cars to be stored, parking lots and garages will give way to development, eventually bringing down the cost of housing in tight markets through increased supply. Pressure to expand roads will ease, as vehicle-to-vehicle technology allows more cars to use the same road space. Traffic violence will become a thing of the past as vehicles communicate instantly with each other and the world around them.

Then there’s the other scenario: People who can afford it will pay an exorbitant amount for gee-whiz driverless technology, but the new systems will have imperfections and won’t integrate seamlessly with older vehicles. Most cars will still be piloted by humans, so the new tech won’t have much effect on traffic hazards and congestion. The driverless car utopia will remain a Magic Highway fantasy.

Driverless vehicle technology has progressed far enough that we need to start anticipating its potential effects. Google’s autonomous vehicle fleet has driven half a million miles without a crash. But the future is extremely uncertain.

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, “the societal benefits exceed the costs.”

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Here’s how RAND and others are gaming out some of the potential effects:

Read more…

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The Fuzzy Math in the Road Lobby’s Memo to Congress

ARTBA would prefer that you not look too closely at this graph. Thank you for your cooperation. Image: Doug Short/##http://www.investing.com/analysis/vehicle-miles-driven:-another-population-adjusted-low-206969##Investing##

ARTBA would prefer that you not look too closely at this graph. Thank you for your cooperation. Graph: Doug Short/Investing

Don’t know what to make of the news that U.S. driving rates have dropped for the ninth year in a row? Looking for guidance about whether your state or city should be wantonly expanding roads or investing in transit, biking, and walking? The road lobby thinks you should turn to them for independent, unbiased analysis of these trends. Never fear, the road lobby says: Americans are driving more than ever. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. More lanes for everybody!

That’s the word from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which issued a memo Friday [PDF] to Congressional aides clarifying some “false claims” about transportation trends.

In virtually every recent congressional hearing and many media reports about federal transportation policy, the false claim that “Americans are driving less” emerges in some capacity. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data show U.S. vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased 0.3 percent in 2012 and 0.6 percent in 2013. The upward trend is anticipated to continue well into the future as the nation’s economy and population continues to grow. This factual disconnect confuses discussions about the relative viability of various means to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund and support future federal highway and public transportation investments. The reality is that American driving trends are driven largely by macro-economic forces, not agenda-seizing assertions about shifts in societal behavior.

Take that, agenda seizers! See, VMT is increasing — albeit slower than the population, and slower than transit ridership. Drivers have already made up a third of the miles “lost” since the recession (and surely they’ll make up the rest any day now). The last 70 months of stagnant driving is nothing but a blip. Right?

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Making Transit Better Isn’t Enough. Driving Needs to Be Worse.

So transit ridership is up. Everybody knows that. It’s at its highest point since 1956. Right?

That's more like it. Photo: ##http://www.showingsuite.com/high-gas-prices-still-sell-more-homes##Showing Suite##

That’s more like it. Photo: Showing Suite

Well, ridership per capita is still less than half its 1956 point. And by 1956, transit ridership was already at a 40-year low. But with transit growing faster than car travel, at a rate that outpaces population growth, there is still cause for optimism.

But even that cautious optimism took a bit of a beating in the Washington Post’s opinion section this morning, as three prominent urban planning professors declared the transit bump fictitious. “In fact, use of mass transportation has remained remarkably steady, and low, since about 1970,” they go on. “There is nothing exceptional about last year’s numbers; they represent a depressing norm.” They even hint that federal funding for transit is too high.

Way too far down in the column, the professors – David King of Columbia University, Michael Manville of Cornell University, and Michael Smart of Rutgers — shift focus from the problem with transit to the problem with driving.

The nut of their argument is as follows: “Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap.”

Emily Badger made this point in Atlantic Cities two weeks ago (and Jeff Wood and I made it on the Talking Headways podcast last week). It’s not enough to spruce up sustainable modes if we as a nation are still giving enormous amounts of subsidies and space to the private automobile.

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Talking Headways Podcast: From the Free Market to the Flea Market

You think the conflict between Uber and regular taxi drivers — and cities like Seattle — is bad? Check out how new taxi apps in China are upending the transportation system and central economic planning. Meanwhile, in Houston, a flea market has brought revitalization without gentrification to a depressed area near the airport, and now an urban design firm is bringing in pop-up infrastructure like mobile libraries and grocery stores, along with sidewalks and bikeways. And Californians are proving that the culture shift away from the automobile and toward other modes of transportation is happening — maybe even faster than we’d thought.

And for a real downer, check out U.S. DOT’s big idea about how to hold states accountable for better safety outcomes — by not holding them accountable at all.

Enjoy this week’s podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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Does It Take a Crime This Egregious to Hold Drivers Accountable?

A driver trying to avoid a police check for drunk driving killed at least two people last night in Austin's SXSW festival. Photo: ##http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/13/us/texas-sxsw-crash/##CNN##

A driver trying to avoid a police check for drunk driving killed at least two people last night in Austin’s SXSW festival. Photo: CNN

A lively night out at one of the year’s most popular festivals turned to carnage last night as a driver rammed through barricades into a pedestrian-only zone at the South By Southwest music-and-film festival in Austin.

In an attempt to avoid a drunk-driving check by a police officer, the driver — allegedly driving a stolen car — killed two people and injured 23 others. Two are in critical condition and three are in serious condition. The driver — identified by the Austin American-Statesman as 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen, Texas — tried to get away on foot after the car crashed.

It’s a grim reminder of how dangerous automobiles can be. People tend not to think of their cars  — mundane tools of everyday life — as deadly weapons when they’re driving. But motorists kill 92 people a day in the United States. Fifteen of them are struck while walking or riding a bicycle.

Owens faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle for the mayhem he caused last night. Unfortunately, it takes an event this over-the-top to get law enforcement to prosecute drivers who kill. Last fall, a cabbie who drove up onto a sidewalk in Midtown Manhattan, severing a tourist’s leg, got off without even a citation. The driver — a repeat offender — only lost his taxi license for six weeks and now he’s free to drive the streets again.

Of the two people killed last night in Austin, one was a Dutch man riding a bicycle. In his home country, drivers are far more likely to face consequences for injuries and deaths they cause with their cars.

The Netherlands applies a concept called “strict liability” to motorists who hurt pedestrians or cyclists. In their civil courts, the operator of the larger vehicle is presumed to be liable.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Taking Transit Numbers for a Spin

What a week! Transit ridership skyrocketed (ahem, by 1.1 percent) to levels not seen since 1956 (depending how you look at it). Radio Shack is shutting down 20 percent of its stores. Is brick-and-mortar retail collapsing — and is it just as well, if getting delivery from Amazon is more efficient than driving to the store anyway? Plus, there’s a new video game for transit nerds to stay up all night obsessing over!

And we tackle the fundamental question of how to make a real change in how people get around. Will it happen just by improving transit and other modes — or do you need to make driving less appealing, as Emily Badger suggests in Atlantic Cities?

Tell us what you think in the comments. And remember, you can subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

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Ford CEO: More Cars in Cities “Not Going to Work”

It’s the last thing you would expect to hear at the Detroit Auto Show from the CEO of Ford Motor Company. But last week, Ford’s Alan Mulally showed some ambivalence about the role of cars in major cities.

At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said he didn't think more cars could solve mobility problems in big cities. Image: ##http://www.topnews.in/files/Alan-Mulally.jpg## Top News##

At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said he doesn’t think more cars can solve mobility problems in big cities. Image: Top News

“I think the most important thing is to look at the way the world is and where the world is going and to develop a plan,” Mulally said, according to the Financial Times. “We’re going to see more and more larger cities. Personal mobility is going to be of really ever-increasing importance to livable lifestyles in big cities.”

Mulally said Ford has been trying to adapt to changing consumer preferences since the Great Recession. Americans have been trading giant SUVs for smaller cars. Young people have been purchasing fewer cars altogether, a phenomenon Mulally said might be reversed by cheaper cars.

But he also said he wasn’t sure what role Ford would play in the future of transportation in big cities. According to the Financial Times, Mulally said that adding more cars in urban environments is “not going to work” and that he was interested in developments in “personal mobility” and “quality of life.” Then he seemed to indicate Ford is interested in getting into transit, car sharing, or other models that don’t align with private car ownership.

“Maybe [our focus] will be on components; maybe it’ll be on pieces of the equipment,” Mulally said. “I don’t know.”

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The American Cities With the Most Growth in Car-Free Households

car-free_households

Source data: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Have we reached peak car in America? Research from the University of Michigan suggests the answer is “yes.”

The highest rate of vehicle ownership in America occurred in 2007, when the average household owned 2.07 vehicles, according to research by Michael Sivak for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute [PDF]. Recently, the average number of cars per household dipped below 2 — at the end of 2012, it was 1.98.

That’s in part because a growing number of American households — especially in big cities — don’t own a car at all anymore. In 2012 — the latest year in which data was available — 9.2 percent of American households lacked a motor vehicle. That’s compared to 8.7 percent in 2007, according to Sivak’s review of Census data.

The share of car-free households varies considerably among the 30 largest American cities, from 56.5 percent in New York to 5.8 percent in San Jose. But between 2007 and 2012, the proportion of car-free households grew in 21 of those 30 cities. The change was especially pronounced in cities where a lot of people were already getting by without cars. The 13 cities with the highest proportion of car-free households in 2007 all saw an increase between then and 2012, reports Sivak.

Not all cities are seeing an increase in car-free households. Denver, Dallas, El Paso, Austin, San Antonio and Columbus all bucked the trend, registering slight increases. Houston registered no change.

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