To Get Drivers to Yield, St. Paul Uses Psych Trick

These signs, deslayed at eight intersections in St. Pau used physiological concepts like "social norming" and "implied surveillance" to increase driver yielding at intersections. Photo:  @Indy_Austin/Twitter
These signs, deslayed at eight intersections in St. Pau used physiological concepts like "social norming" and "implied surveillance" to increase driver yielding at intersections. Photo: @Indy_Austin/Twitter

A ground-breaking experiment in St. Paul, Minn., shows a shocking pattern of dangerous and aggressive behavior towards pedestrians. But also how solvable the problem is given the right attention and policies.

For most of 2018, researcher Nichole Morris, director of the HumanFIRST Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, has been measuring driver yielding at crosswalks around St. Paul.

Nichole Morris, Director of University of Minnesota's HumanFIRST Lab. Photo: UMN
Nichole Morris, Director of University of Minnesota’s HumanFIRST Lab. Photo: UMN

Morris and her team initially found yielding rates were dreadful: Only 32 percent of drivers stopped. But they were able to improve that number more than double that using “human factors psychology,” which is focused on altering group behavior.

Streetsblog reached out to Morris by phone this week to hear more. Here’s what she had to say (edited lightly for length):

So I heard about your experiment, from seeing the sign (above) on Twitter. Can you explain this project?

The original assignment was to study what the St. Paul Police Department was doing with high visibility enforcement and the community engagement campaign around a program that they’re doing call the Stop for Me campaign. It’s been ongoing for a few years now where a plainclothes police officer crosses a crosswalk and any drivers that have sufficient time to stop but doesn’t will be fined.

Then they will have community members come out and cross the street with banners and are out there with signs saying, you know, “We Love Our Pedestrians” and things like that so that they really have a community engaged approach to encouraging drivers to look out for and stop for pedestrians.

So the Minnesota Department of Transportation wanted to measure how effective that high-visibility enforcement is. Nationally recognized researcher Ron Van Houten and I set out to measure how effective is the Stop for Me Campaign was but also to use some addition Human Factors Psychology tricks to enhance what they’re already doing and use some additional engineering strategies.

Tricks?

We started measuring driver compliance to the crosswalk law back in the fall of 2017.

We picked 16 sites across St. Paul, which is a fairly sprawling city. These are two-lane, three-lane, four-lane and five-lane roadways. We crossed them 20 times, twice a week.

We used staged crossings, and the reason we do this — where we cross the street ourselves — is, one, to get sufficient data. Pedestrians are not always around when you would like them to be. Or sometimes a pedestrian will show up but they won’t feel very comfortable stepping into the lane of traffic which is what you have to do to make drivers obligated to stop for you by law.

So we had to to do it ourselves where we sort of are walking, trying to look as causal. We stepped into the street, they have more than enough time to stop for us. And if they go through the crosswalk at that time, they’ve now violated the law.

Were they [stopping] less than 10 feet from the crosswalk, were they they 10 to 40 or were they greater than 40? That’s really important because on multi-lane roadway, if they stopped really close to the crosswalk, now they’re creating a sight trap for drivers in the next lane of travel. That can be a fatal situation for pedestrian who steps out into the next lane thinking all vehicles are going to stop — and a next vehicle could be flying down the next lane of travel and won’t have time to brake at all. We want to encourage drivers to stop further back.

Last fall in 2017, we found that about three out of 10 drivers were stopping for us and the rest were not. So it was pretty poor compliance.

When we were taking our coders out to train them, Ron was saying, “We have to have a lot of these before we would even see what a passing event looked like.” But we were seeing them sort of left and right. At the end of that fall data collection we found that about about one every every 10 crossing we were doing, about 11 percent, we saw a passing event. So one car stopped for us and the next car in the same direction of travel went right on by. Either in the next lane of travel or sometimes they cross on the right. Or sometimes in a really egregious situation they’ll actually pass on the left, go into the other lane of traffic, they’re so impatient to pass.

So that’s illegal right?

Right. [Laughing.]

I think it’s not actually illegal everywhere. It varies from state to state. 

You’re right. It’s not illegal everywhere.

Even though it is really dangerous. 

Right. It is really dangerous.

Really what’s startling is the speed at which people do it. It’s one thing to do that maneuver, but just to crawl past to make sure there’s nothing you’re missing. We see people just go through at full speed. In their mind, that car is turning left, and holding them up, and so they’re going to fly around on the right. It doesn’t dawn on them at all that there might be another reason why that car is stopped.

Was it scary for you doing these tests yourself? 

Yes. Yes. Yes. [Laughing.] Yes.

Absolutely. I do these crossings, I have research staff doing it and I have undergrads doing it. I have to be very honest with anyone working on this study that we are risking our lives to do this work. Early on, I would have these panicky moments, where I would say to myself, “Is this too dangerous?”

What the big takeaway?

It’s clear that some drivers just are not paying attention. And I don’t even mean they’re distracted, they’re looking at their phones.

People are just not scanning the roadway looking for pedestrians. They’re not looking for us and they don’t see us.

There’s other drivers that clearly see us, and some of them do this weird thing, they slow down so much we’re almost certain they are going to stop and then they don’t. It’s baffling. We finally think we’ve figured it out. They’re prepared to stop if we step out in front of them, but if we don’t step out they’re not going to stop.

I get a lot of feedback from community members who aren’t very pleased because they want me to be chastising pedestrians more. They think pedestrians are the problem and pedestrians are jumping out into traffic. I almost feel like a lot of drivers are conditioning pedestrians to do that. They won’t stop for you unless you step out in front of them.

big part of it is just convincing people the problem is real and they should care about it. And to educate people about how critical it is not to pass a vehicle at a crosswalk and to stop farther back.

The police wave was just a warning. It was just an opportunity for police to pull over more than 1,000 drivers and give them a flyer and say this is why I pulled you over and this is why it’s important not to do it.

Then in June in 2018, that’s when we did a second enforcement wave. That’s when those feedback signs (pictured above) went up. That’s what gets shared a lot on Twitter and social media. That’s using a [human factors psychology] principle called social norming and it uses other principles like implied surveillance.

We put up these big signs that said “St. Paul Drivers stopping for pedestrians” and then it has a line that says “Last week” and there’s a placeholder for percentage and “Record” with a placeholder for percentage. So social norming works really well when you can show people that the majority of their peers do a certain behavior that’s a good behavior and to encourage people to be more like their peers. If you convince drivers that most people do stop for pedestrians, then they’re going to feel more pressure. they want to be part of the pack.

The first number we posted was less than 50 percent. It was 44 percent, we weren’t proud to put it up. The press started covering it like the signs we’re designed to shame people. That was not the point. They were designed to motivate and inspire people.

(After the first week) we started getting excited because we could see the numbers were coming up at some of these sites.

R 16 signs were very effective at improving driver yielding. Photo: Steton
R 16 signs were very effective at improving driver yielding. Photo: Steton

The signs had been up for a few weeks and the local press just really didn’t pick up on it right away. Then all the sudden, you know how it works, one agency covered it, and then the rest of them jumped on. Then we had this week of just massive press. And that was where we had a big jump.

The third wave of enforcement, which was in August, we put up simple R1-6 signs (pictured right). Those went up at our treatment sites and they were very effective. We started doing another wave of enforcement. Then we started seeing compliance in the 70s, which is just a dream compared to where we were last fall.

Then we did our fourth wave in October and we enhanced those in-street signs to “gateway treatments.” A gateway treatment [see note below] is when you have that R1-6 sign on the center line and then when you have one in the outside lane. So you’re driving through multiple signs on a gate.

That has been shown by Ron Van Houten in other cities to be a really effective treatment.

Were you guys be able to see any tangible safety improvements like a reduction in crashes?

I don’t know yet. That’s something I’m looking forward to trying to do. The number of fatal pedestrian crashes in St. Paul is low to begin with. I don’t know if we’ll have enough statistical power to reach any conclusions.

Is there much hope that much of this stuff you’re discovering become more widespread and be implemented on the state and federal level? Like we never see the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration hammering this important lesson about not passing cars that are yielding to pedestrians. 

We started with 11 percent of our crossings experienced a pass event. On average we’re (now) down to 1 and 3 percent a week. So we have dramatically decreased the number of unsafe pass events.

I got a lot of criticism from people in the community or in the engineering community that would say, “You’re just going to make it worse because if you get more people to stop there’s more opportunity for unsafe passes.” We showed we could improve yielding and reduce unsafe passing. But we were really focused on it.

One thing that we did do, I was looking at the penalty for unsafe passing in Minnesota and it’s the same as if you don’t stop for pedestrians and you get caught it’s like $181 fine. If a car is stopped for pedestrians and you pass that car, it’s still $181.

The risk of those two behaviors is not the same.

We couldn’t change that because it’s a Minnesota state law, but the police department change its policy so that when they catch that behavior, they can check this box that says “endangering life or public property.” If the box is checked, the driver cannot just pay the fine and move on; they have to appear in court. That’s an extra added hurt to have to appear before a judge and be chastised for almost killing someone.

So that’s something I’d like to see more cities emulate.

Thanks so much, Nichole. Fascinating research! We hope other cities will emulate it as well! 

[Editor’s note: The Gateway treatment is considered an “experimental treatment” under the Manual on Uniform Control Devices, an important engineering manual, which means adding them involves extra work for local agencies  This is yet another example of the the influential National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices standing in the way of innovations that might improve pedestrian safety, even as pedestrian fatality rates soar.]

  • Zharol

    “stepping into the lane of traffic which is what you have to do to make drivers obligated to stop for you by law”

    While this is strictly accurate (if the pedestrian were never in the car’s path, the driver would never need to yield) it’s worth noting that the actual code doesn’t absolve the driver of the responsibility of anticipating the pedestrian’s presence in his path.

    Historically speaking under the Uniform Vehicle Code (the basis for MN code) “within the crosswalk” designates where the yielding is to occur (pedestrian yields to vehicles everywhere else under that 1920s redefinition of street space), rather than where the pedestrian needs to be at some unspecified prior time. In other words, the notion that the code allows drivers to not even think about yielding until a person appears in front of them is merely an interpretation — one that’s certainly not the original intent of the law. (To me it seems as ridiculously dangerous an interpretation as saying a driver gets to proceed into an intersection as long as a car isn’t in front of him, even if crossing vehicular traffic has right of way.)

    Obviously once a law is written down, enforcement and other agencies get to interpret with biases in whatever direction they choose (e.g. the MN DOT takes the stance that pedestrians don’t get to use crosswalks on main thoroughfares if vehicles are even hundreds of feet away).

    But rather than meekly taking obviously slanted interpretations as hard and fast facts, part of our drive for safer streets for everyone should be insisting on safe and just interpretations of existing laws.

  • Dave

    I take my hat off to Ms. Morris and her staff, being the decoy pedestrians they are putting their lives on the line for their communities in a big way. Sad to hear that she gets complaints for not blaming pedestrians more!

  • bagh53

    “We started with 11 percent of our crossings experienced a pass event. On average we’re (now) down to 1 and 3 percent a week. So we have dramatically increased the number of unsafe pass events.”

    wait, what? please fix this or clarify

  • CarlessInOKC

    “They think pedestrians are the problem and pedestrians are jumping out into traffic. I almost feel like a lot of drivers are conditioning pedestrians to do that. They won’t stop for you unless you step out in front of them.”

    This is an interesting insight. Inconsistent behavior from drivers can certainly lead to inconsistent responses from pedestrians. Great work HumanFIRST Lab and Nichole!

  • Streetsblog Network

    *Decreased. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Joe Bloe

    I appreciate the study, very good info, would love to see this attempted in San Francisco.

    Dearest journalist…please for the love of Pete…proofread your article, or have an editor do it.

  • Tom McCarey

    The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that 60% of pedestrian deaths are the pedestrian’s own fault. Massive re-education of pedestrians would bear fruit. When I was in the first grade my teacher took me out to the road and said “…look both ways before crossing, and go only when it’s safe….”
    The nonsense in St. Paul is part of the war on the automobile/war on drivers. The goal is to rid the Earth of those dirty nasty homicidal automobiles, and with them our freedom to drive what we want, when we want, where we want. That’s not part of the New World Order plans. They will have the freedom that automobiles provide, but we won’t. Better start fighting back before it’s too late.
    Tom McCarey Member motorists(dot)org

  • KJ

    Unfortunately, when a driver is speeding, a person walking across the street may seem to ‘jump out of nowhere’; however, humans rarely have the speed and springiness to jump out of nowhere. Legally walking through intersections, I am often confronted with drivers gasping to see a pedestrian (me) walking IN FRONT OF THEM… like they just spotted me at the last second… and it makes me wonder: what ARE they looking at if they are apparently not looking at me straight ahead of them? Wake up people !

  • Stuart

    The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that 60% of pedestrian deaths are the pedestrian’s own fault.

    Can you guess what percentage of cases where drivers fail to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk are the pedestrian’s fault? I’ll give you a hint, it’s a nice round number. Very round, in fact.

    The nonsense in St. Paul

    Pro tip: referring to an effort to get more motorists to just follow the existing law governing crosswalks as “nonsense” makes you sound extremely fringe.

    (The NWO reference certainly doesn’t help either. Are the people doing this work by any chance lizard people? Also, LOL at a conspiracy nut advocating for “massive re-education” campaigns.)

  • Sincerely

    I was once hit by a car while riding my bicycle in the bike lane, going with the flow of traffic. Before striking me, the motorist was in the turn lane, facing me while waiting to turn. She said I “came out of nowhere.” That’s motorist-speak for “I was paying insufficient attention to my surroundings and/or going too fast.”

  • Sincerely

    Statistics like that are based on the assumption that roadways are for cars, and that pedestrians are visitors. There would be almost no pedestrian deaths if people did not choose to drive, or if our cities were designed for safety instead of for motorist convenience.

    In almost all states, a motor vehicle can legally be considered a deadly weapon. Choosing to use one is choosing to risk the lives of others (and yourself). How culpable would we judge a victim to be if they were injured by someone casually using any other deadly weapon in a heavily populated place? “Not my fault, officer, the pedestrian walked where I was swinging my machete.” “Sorry buddy, but you walked into the bullet’s path.”

  • Tom McCarey

    You’re part of the anti-auto people. You want cars G-O-N-E because they are evil and dirty and are destroying the planet.
    Pull up “The Greatest Invention: How Automobiles Made America Great”
    by Randal O’Toole/American Dream Coalition
    Do you think the elites will let you have a car? Everyone’s freedom is at stake because people won’t take responsibility for anything let alone their own safety as it concerns cars. The roadways ARE for cars but a radical segment of society feels (note the word) that they should be playground-safe areas.

  • KJ

    That is awful, I am sorry.

  • Sincerely

    The roadways are public space. They’re not for cars.

    I’m familiar with Randal O’Toole. He’s a shill, not an expert.

    I don’t want cars gone because of those reasons you state. I just don’t have the emotional attachment to cars that auto manufacturers and throwbacks like O’Toole have been cultivating for years. They’re a tool and a technology, and they’ve proven to be inappropriate for cities. They fail by almost every measure. Streets that prioritize walking, biking, and transit are better for businesses, better for health, better for the environment, and most importantly they don’t require the massive amounts of exclusive space that cars do and that we simply don’t have. Even if cars really were the fantasy that 1950s planners imagined they still wouldn’t be viable for cities with tens of millions of residents.

    Cars have their place, but city centers would be far better without personal motor vehicles.

  • Claude

    Well, no, roadways are for people. We have areas for people in cars, areas for people on bicycles and areas for people on foot, but the idea is for people to travel.
    The gasoline lobby, like Kato institute’s O’Toole, treat cars like valid, sentient citizens in their own right, but cars are actually just a human built tool for transporting people.
    Since people, and I admit that this is a radical thought, also need to get from one side of the road to the other, it’s actually (surprise, surprise) desirable to do so without slaughtering them wholesale, since they won’t be able to participate in a capitalist free market from inside a coffin.
    To prioritize inanimate objects over human beings is the Kato Way of Life, but unless you’re an oil company or a car maker it’s bad for business to kill off the consumers.

  • Stephen Simac

    This is actually a common cause of motorist collisions with bicycles in bike lanes or separate bike paths where they cross intersections. Drivers focus their visual awareness on the traffic lane- out of habit, stress narrowed cone of attention, looking for what can harm them rather than what they might harm. Thus you are literally coming ‘out of nowhere’ because their focus is only on oncoming traffic in a lane they recognize as potentially hazardous. I know this is figuratively beating a dead horse to point out that educating drivers and cyclists how to share the roads is both the safest, cheapest and most effective means to broaden transportation options, a blast from the past that we early bicycle advocates learned the hard way, but it’s worth repeating.

  • Stephen Simac

    Everyone is a pedestrian at some point, even reptilian aliens of the NWO may have to get out of their armored black limos and cross at an unsafe crosswalk to get the the UN secret chamber. If they are hit by an unlicensed gypsy ride share driver, most likely the police will find them at fault, regardless of facts or globalist agendas.

  • Sincerely

    I much prefer the “all ages and abilities” approach of Northern Europe over expecting the masses of “curious but concerned” potential cyclists to learn how to share the lane with motor vehicles.

    Vehicular cycling is a useful skill on inadequate streets in the US, but it’s dead as an advocate philosophy.

  • jcwconsult

    Can Stuart guess what percentage of cases where a pedestrian crosses in traffic lanes, not at a crosswalk, at night in dark clothing are significantly affected by the pedestrians’ lack of care?

    Drivers do NOT want to hit pedestrians but a part of that good result depends upon rational behavior by the pedestrians to reduce the risks.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Stuart

    cases where a pedestrian crosses in traffic lanes, not at a crosswalk

    Couldn’t be bothered to read the article to see what it was about before commenting, I see.

    Not even the first two paragraphs, which is an especially poor showing.

  • jcwconsult

    Stuart can’t seem to understand I was responding to JUST his comment about drivers hitting people in crosswalks where the pedestrians are not at fault.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Stephen Simac

    It’s still the vast majority of cycling (other than indoors) situations. Having motorists understand that bicycles are legal vehicles and how to pass them safely, is as important as broadening their awareness to Look Twice for One Less Car. Agreed that modern bicycle advocates are all about facilities, but most will prove less safe than sharing the lane with motorists who expect predictable behaviors from cyclists. That unfortunately has been neglected in the push for ‘protected’ bike lanes, or the worst choice bidirectional cycletracks.

  • Sincerely

    Do you have statistics that suggest that most cycling facilities are worse than lane-sharing? The consensus has been the opposite for some time.

  • Stuart

    I was responding to JUST his comment about drivers hitting people in crosswalks where the pedestrians are not at fault.

    Let’s re-quote the key part of your “response”:

    cases where a pedestrian crosses […] not at a crosswalk

    So your defense is that your comment was intended as “JUST” an irrelevant, derailing response to my comment pointing out that this article is specifically about drivers failing to yield in crosswalks (rendering the statistic Tom regurgitated from a list of NMA talking points meaningless), and not an irrelevant, derailing response to the article about drivers failing to yield in crosswalks?

    Got it.

    As little respect as I have for most of your comments on this site, I still thought that you would be able to acknowledge that ~70% of drivers failing to lawfully yield to pedestrians in crosswalks is a serious problem. Apparently even that is beyond you and you’d rather try to play a sad game of whataboutism to try to distract from any conversation about the need for drivers to take their obligation to follow basic pedestrian safety laws seriously. I retract my implication that your posts are any better than Tom’s.

  • jcwconsult

    Drivers that fail to yield to pedestrians that are lawfully in a crosswalk with the right of way are wrong.

    So are the 60% of pedestrians documented by NHTSA who helped contribute to their fatalities with easily avoidable errors.

    If you follow my comments on these forums, I often say it takes responsible behavior from BOTH drivers and pedestrians. Drivers are not always evil and pedestrians are not always the blameless angels that some commenters want to make them.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Just as motorists aren’t trying to kill pedestrians, pedestrians aren’t trying to be killed by motorists. While personal responsibility is important — and should fall primarily on those whose choices endanger others — the problem is largely caused by misguided priorities. When you chop cities up with wide, high-speed roads with only intermittent legal crossings for the convenience of those who choose to drive, you’ll have people entering the street outside of crosswalks.

    (It should be noted that doing so is often perfectly legal; here in Texas, motorists are required by law to yield to pedestrians at nearly every intersection, whether there’s a painted crosswalk or not.)

    As cities prioritize around human beings instead of cars — by reducing road width, eliminating urban freeways, “calming” traffic, and prioritizing transit and active transportation — our roads become safer. The 20th-century experiment in which America destroyed its cities in a vain attempt to realize GM’s fantasy is rightly coming to an end. The new century is about the long task of fixing the mess that automobiles have caused.

  • jcwconsult

    I understand your view. What does not seem to be in the understanding of those with similar views to yours is the fact that many of the vehicles carry people who do not have practical ways to use transit to get to and from their city destinations.

    Yes, it can be safer with fewer vehicles and lower actual travel speeds – at the expense of making it impossible or too inconvenient for many of the travelers want to come at all.

    The expansion of affordable private cars, generally started by Henry Ford in the early 20th century, transformed America with the ability of people to travel when and where they want to.

    If some want to live downtown in major cities and almost exclusively use transit, cycling or walking – that is fine. If some want to live in far suburbs in single family homes in quiet neighborhoods with good schools or even out in rural areas where no transit exists – that is fine too. These changes were not “a 20th-Century experiment”, they were a huge advancement in the freedom to live, work, shop, worship, play, etc. where they want to. The car did not “destroy cities”, it made them accessible to many people who for whatever reasons do not live in the center of those cities.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    From a blog from the National Automobile Dealers Association, some thoughts on why private cars are not going away.

    https://blog.nada.org/2018/10/23/no-sign-of-the-personal-vehicle-ownership-apocalypse/

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    I’m not really interested in reading a blog post by ignorant ideologues, but thanks.

  • jcwconsult

    I think you would find that the National Automobile Dealers Association are professionals.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Professional what? You don’t seem to know the basics of history, engineering, planning, sociology, psychology, or much of anything besides regurgitating last century’s talking points.

    I believe your opinions are paid for, but that doesn’t make them professional opinions.

  • jcwconsult

    I am a volunteer. My compensation from the NMA = $0.00.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    You should find a more ethical hobby.

  • jcwconsult

    I find it quite ethical to help represent America’s 200+ million motorists – many of whom are being treated as “Reverse-ATMs”.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    People who choose to drive are sucking money up like a vacuum cleaner. The car infrastructure we have was the most costly public project in the history of the world, the maintenance of current roads is already impossible to keep up, and suburban sprawl car-centric planning costs several times more city money to support than dense urban development. People who choose to drive foist additional billions in externalized costs onto society, from higher land prices as automobile inefficiency sucks up urban space, to expensive foreign engagements (not to mention support of autocrats) to feed our oil dependency), to higher healthcare costs due to traffic deaths and pollution-related illness, to climate change, and to lost productivity due to congestion.

    If car users paid anything close to what they take from society, very few people would choose to drive.

    Seriously, step outside of your bubble and educate yourself.

  • jcwconsult

    Very few people agree with your total car-hating views and would be willing to give up the freedom of driving when and where they want – especially in areas where transit is rare or non-existent.

    The NMA has long advocated for fair road user fees and the best are fuel taxes which are proportional to use, encourage the use of fuel efficient vehicles, and are cheap to collect at about 1% of the revenue. Also note America is a net exporter of oil today.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Fuel taxes should be increased, but that’s not enough. I suspect “very few people” would be willing to pay the several-dollars-per-gallon tax that would be required anyway. Even if it were politically feasible, the move toward electric vehicles and increasing fuel efficiency will continue to diminish revenue from the gas tax.

    I was pleased to hear today that France, which is decades ahead of the US when it comes to transportation, is moving toward congestion fees nation wide. Such fees going to mitigate the financial damage of automobile dependence is a good first step, especially when the money can also subsidize transit options. Congestion fees also leave alone those who really have no other option but to drive.

    I don’t hate cars. I’m just realistic about the limitations of their use and the magnitude of their drawbacks.

  • jcwconsult

    Electric cars should have a “fuel tax” built into the electric meters for recharging, OR an equivalent cost in the registration fees. Fossil fuel taxes could be indexed for inflation and the slowly increasing average fuel economy of the entire fleet. These are easy issues to solve, if more legislators had gonads. Note that I have no problem with $5 to $7 per gallon fuel in Europe — IF the road quality is equivalent.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    A fuel tax would rightly be less about building roads to accommodate vehicles and more about mitigating externalities. That said, I’m glad we can agree that gas should be closer to $10/gallon. I think you’d find far fewer people sharing your preference for suburban living if that choice ceased to be subsidized even to that small degree.

    It’s odd to me that you have no issue advocating for a politically unrealistic gas tax but are so opposed to much more feasible changes to planning priorities.

  • jcwconsult

    We have long advocated for proper road user fees. Most of Europe pays about $6 per gallon and has roads that put ours to to a total shame. I did pay almost $10 per gallon once in the UK when oil prices were high and the British Pound was very strong against the dollar.

    Local and state legislators generally follow the will of their constituents – at least to some degree – in the planning. We are supposed to be a country “of the people, by the people, for the people” — NOT one “of the dreaming planners who oppose driving freedom, for the dreaming planners who oppose driving freedom, and for the dreaming planners who oppose driving freedom”.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    As someone heavily involved in local transportation politics, I can tell you unequivocally that that’s simple not how it works. The majority of public meetings take place during the weekday when most people, especially the urban poor, are unlikely to be free; in heavily car-dependent cities, the fact that in-person public input is emphasized is disinfranchising those who do not have motor vehicles right from the start. “Open houses” are attended primarily by property owners even in cities where the majority rent, and neighborhood associations wield outside influence despite representing the vested interests of a minority.

    And the idea that state legislators follow the will of the people is demonstrably false. A quick Google search will net you studies that contradict that naive notion even on major issues on which the public is well-informed and aware of the stakes, and if you think the majority of constituents are clearly communicating their transportation-policy preferences to their representatives I don’t know what to tell you. Most people stop at “fix traffic” if they get that far, and often those same people will oppose the few options (capacity reduction and road pricing) that could actually work toward that goal.

  • Sincerely

    As for Europe, they’re better then the US in proper pricing but gas taxes there still generally fall well short of compensating for the true costs of driving. Dr. Georgina Santos’s paper in the journal Transportation Policy, entitled “Road Fuel Taxes in Europe,” does a good job exploring the issue, including highlighting where fuel taxes should be supplemented by congestion pricing and other fees. It would be a good starting point to educate yourself.

  • jcwconsult

    Congestion pricing is too regressive for lower income service workers who have no control over their work hours.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Do you think because the US is a net exporter of oil that our foreign policy is not shaped by the need to ensure access to foreign oil? If you need to do some remedial work there too, the Council on Foreign Relations has a good timeline of oil’s influence that you can find with an internet search.

  • jcwconsult

    Capacity reduction and road pricing deny the use of the roads to many of those who paid for them. Car haters simply refuse to recognize the needs to move large numbers of commuters, shoppers, tourists, visitors and commercial traffic into and out of cities efficiently to support commerce.

    We have reached an impasse again where our goals cannot ever be resolved with the methods you favor.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Cities don’t need cars. They serve a valuable purpose in limited circumstances, but those purposes don’t require the massive infrastructure we’ve dedicated to automobiles. Study after study has shown that prioritizing other modes is better for the health and economy of cities.

    And the point is that the people who pay the least for urban roads are the ones that are most dependent on them, and motorists don’t pay anywhere near close to the cost of roads anyway. You aren’t entitled to drive whenever and wherever you want simply because you’ve paid taxes that pay for a tiny fraction of public infrastructure. My taxes paid for the maintenance on the Capitol in my city, but I’m not allowed to ride my bike through its halls.

    The methods your favor don’t solve any problems, are less politically feasible than more rational and effective approaches, and put the convenience of the car-dependent suburban lifestyle you prefer over the value of human lives. You need to find a more ethical hobby.

  • jcwconsult

    You need to find more people willing to put up with double or more the travel times with total loss of privacy, comfort and freedom of travel. The majority of Americans prefer my view.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Your assessment of what I would need isn’t based in reality. Congestion pricing and reducing capacity would almost certainly improve travel times in most if not all cities. “Freedom to travel” is meaningless to people stuck in gridlock sucking in pollution, and forcing people to buy cars because transit and active transportation are inadequate is the opposite of freedom. Comfort is subjective, but by subsidizing automobile use we promote sprawl, which is why the majority of the top 20 cities with the longest commute times are in the United States. Nobody likes a long commute.

    One of the funny things about the whole “privacy” argument: in nearly every context, humans gravitate toward places where others congregate. People who like to bicycle intentionally seek out others with whom to ride, and places with lots of pedestrians become attractions in their own right. When automobile users cluster, however, we have a special word for it (“traffic”) and it regularly tops the list of things people hate the most about cities. Automobiles give the illusion of privacy, but it is when driving that others have the most direct effect on your experience. They’re just invisible if you view other road users trapped in vehicles to be part of the environment.

    Meanwhile I can get on a bus, put on my headphones, and the only interaction I have to have is when I pull the cord for my stop, communicating to the driver. On the other hand, if I’m in a social mood there’s likely someone nearby with whom it’s rewarding to strike up a conversation.

    If you really cared about freedom, you’d be supporting choice. The obtrusiveness of car infrastructure is the antithesis of choice. If you cared about travel times, you’d be pushing for congestion pricing and reduced capacity. If you cared about people, you wouldn’t be pushing for cars about all else.

  • jcwconsult

    Choice IS what we advocate, and that means not letting the car haters restrict the freedom of movement by private cars for those that find the privacy, convenience, time-saving, etc. valuable.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    It’s not “car hating” to be realistic about the limitations of automobile travel in an urban environment, or to be cognizant of the high cost of maintaining the suburban lifestyle you seem to feel you’re entitled to. Advocating for policies that will actually address issues that everyone (including car users) complain about is also not hatred.

    Seriously, we spent nearly half a trillion dollars to accommodate automobiles based on false promises. And that was just the freeway system in the last century. The cost of the pavement in my state alone is more than many countries’ GDP. 20% of major cities are dedicated to temporary storage for personal cars. Automobile users aren’t being persecuted. The idea is comical to anyone with a bit of sense. As the saying goes, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

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