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Automobility "Myths":

Ted Balaker and Samuel Staley of the Reason Foundation address "5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Crazed Culture" in today's Washington Post "Outlook" section. The "myths" they seek to qualify or debunk are:

  1. Americans are addicted to driving;

  2. Public transit can reduce traffic congestion;

  3. We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving;

  4. We're paving over America;

  5. We can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

Tek Jansen:
What a weird article. It doesn't even address several of the main points it tries to make - there's not even a single mention or discussion of traffic congestion, other than listing it as a myth it tries to debunk. (1) is just fluff that also isn't addressed, and 3-5 are straw men that aren't commonly-held beliefs and are easy to swat down.
1.28.2007 12:03pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
A typical "fact" from the article:


The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that during the 20th century the Earth's temperature rose by 0.6 degrees centigrade and -- depending on which of the many climate models turn out to be closest to reality -- it expects the temperature to rise 1.4 to 5.8 degrees by 2100.



Try again - much of that range depends on which of several projected emissions scenarios turns out to be correct. In other words, if we listen the geniuses like these guys and do nothing to control emissions, the high end of the range is more likely, because the pessimistic emission scenarios will have turned out to be correct.

They claim to be experts in this field, but I think I'll discount the rest of their alleged facts accordingly.
1.28.2007 12:06pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
I don't know about the other 4, but I have absolutely no doubt that "Public transit can reduce traffic congestion" is a myth. If you don't believe it just come to houston. Nothing causes more traffic in this city than 7 huge Metro buses driving 10 miles per hour all next to each other, and accellerating from 0 to 10mph in about 180 seconds. All the cars that desire to drive more than 10mph swerve in and out, trying to get around the buses (only to find another one in front of them). Then the cars in the adjoining lanes have to slow down/stop to let those cars in. It's a sick joke. Even if these buses were filled to twice their capacity it would not be worth the traffic they cause. But they're never filled more than 20% at the most. The average Metro bus is only filled to 3 to 5 percent capacity.

And if you are downtown or in the medical center, all the hundreds of buses and the thousands of cars trying to get around them get stuck at red lights every 20 seconds to let one of the 100 million dollar "MetroRail" trains go buy -- all of which are 99% empty.

I've long felt this was a politically correct joke. Get rid of the trains, get rid of all buses, and give out free bicycles to those who can't drive. Traffic, pollution, and the buget will be reduced a huge margin.
1.28.2007 12:08pm
Justin (mail):
#2 is undeniably correct. Can you imagine what NYC would be like without a public transit system? DC? Compare that to LA, which is actually a far less dense city than DC or NY, and you'll see what I mean.
1.28.2007 12:09pm
Tek Jansen:
Whether or not #2 is a myth (presumably #2 is right in some cases, wrong in others - like NYC), it may have been a good idea for the article to address why it's a myth, or discuss traffic congestion at all.
1.28.2007 12:12pm
Cornellian (mail):
We're paving over America

Actually sometimes I think it would be kinda cool if the world looked like the Imperial planet in the Star Wars movies.
1.28.2007 12:19pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
They "debunk" these myths by obfuscation, strawmen or even undermining their own point but pretending that arguments against the point they are trying to make support their arguments e.g:

We aren't addicted to driving, The Europeans only take 10% less trips by automobile than us.

Only a quarter of the people in New York use public transportation, so it couldn't possibly reduce congestion.

Because we have cut emissions from automobiles through the introduction of pollution controls (which of course the auto industry initially claimed was absolutely impossible) reducing the actual amount of driving won't help reduce pollution at all--or something like that.

It's a big country, there's a hell of a lot more of it we could pave.

Well yeah, car emissions might contribute to global warming, but what about the Chinese and Indians? And anyway, doing something about global warming is worse than not doing anything about it and continuing to drive 50 miles each way alone in my Chevy Suburban (in which I have never engaged the four wheel drive) to work.
1.28.2007 12:23pm
Justin (mail):
#2 only says "Public transit can reduce traffic congestion," and thus is correct. It does not say it always does reduce traffic congestion, or that in certain circumstances it cannot no matter how well designed.
1.28.2007 12:50pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Their book is about 5 inches down in the bathroom library. I was hoping for something more like differential equations, and left off suffering from the tedium on page, let's see, p.79 ``When Faith Trumps Truth.''

It may be right but needs an editor.
1.28.2007 1:02pm
rjh:
So they have decided to debunk five strawmen. Four are such obvious strawmen that they deserve little response. The congestion deserves some response.

Actual highway and transit planners understand that new added capacity (both road and transit) results in "induced traffic" that frequently results in no change in congestion. They even try to plan for this on a rational basis.

For the bus/rail/etc. evaluation take a look at this report for a more genuine discussion. The Highway Capacity Manual (not free) gives a typical capacity for passenger cars at 2,200 people/lane/hr, and up to 6,000 on some freeways. Experience shows current heavy rail to be 13-40,000 people/track/hr; light rail is 3-18,000 people/track/hr; busways 2-10,000 people/lane/hr; and bus in traffic 1-3,000 people/road/hr.

Planners also understand the importance of intersection planning, station planning, stop planning, etc. This is a complex subject. New construction planning must then factor in all the construction costs, operating impacts, etc.

But it is clear that all these forms of transportation have roles, and none of the Reason strawmen are found in the actual transportation literature. They exist only in the mouths of politicians and political pundits.
1.28.2007 1:07pm
Randy R. (mail):
I'm not sure what the point of the article is. Stop building public transit? Public transit should be abolished? It's a failure? I just don't see their point, unless it's an anti-public transit diatribe.

Public transit certainly reduces traffic congestion -- it isn't a myth. If it were, then just imagine living in the Washington area without it. The federal gov't even subsidizes its workers with metro fares.

What the article fails to talk about is Myth No. 6 -- That everyone can drive a car. That of course simply isn't true -- there are many people under the age of 16 or too old to drive cars, or too poor to own a car, and for many of them public transit is the only way to get around.
1.28.2007 1:08pm
Elliot Reed:
As others have noted, 1, 3, 4, and 5 are obvious straw men.

Also, Randy R. - you forgot the disabled. Lots of them can't drive either.
1.28.2007 1:28pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I don't know about the other 4, but I have absolutely no doubt that "Public transit can reduce traffic congestion" is a myth. If you don't believe it just come to houston.

Oh yeah, let's hold up Houston as a shining example of responsible public policy and urban planning.
1.28.2007 1:38pm
Angus:
Public transit that relies only on buses is not going to reduce traffic congestion very much, since the buses use the same roads. When I think of effective, congestion-relieving public transportation, I think subways, elevated light rail, etc. Obviously, this is only cost effective nowadays in high-density areas, but hopefully someday it will be possible to do in and between any decent sized town or city.
1.28.2007 1:41pm
Tom952 (mail):
The development of an affordable Flux Capacitor is the only hope for Earth.
1.28.2007 2:04pm
WHOI Jacket:
Tom,

That and a Mr. Fusion.
1.28.2007 2:13pm
Derrick (mail):
Oh yeah, let's hold up Houston as a shining example of responsible public policy and urban planning.

Although snide, extremely true. I have never seen a city that makes less sense than Houston. I don't think that there is a public transportation system alive or dreamed of that could make that an easier city to get around.
1.28.2007 2:30pm
Avatar (mail):
Well, Houston's a lousy city to use as an example, simply because it's an outlier. HUGE, very low population density, no zoning, and the traffic isn't really that terrible. (Okay, so I grew up here, I'm used to it. Like the heat...)

On the other hand, despite the total lack of anything which could even be mistaken for urban planning, Houston still works pretty darn well. Then again, I live up 59, not out west from I-10...
1.28.2007 2:45pm
Byomtov (mail):
As for #1, the fact is that Western European countries generally use somewhere around 1/4 as much gasoline per capita as the US.
1.28.2007 2:54pm
ben (mail):
One of the lines that struck me, was that mass transit should focus on the poor and the handicapped. As someone who rides Boston's subways and buses, I would say three biggest problems mass transit in boston are

1) over accommodation of the handicapped, people just haven't figured out easy ways to get wheel chairs on and off the buses and trains and you just can't spend 10 minutes doing it. Mass transit has to be about getting lots of riders.

2) forcing people to go through downtown, no radial connections connecting the many spokes.

3) the employees are basically zombies
1.28.2007 3:06pm
anonymous coward:
My favorite claim: Western Europeans drive less than Americans because their income is lower. That MUST be it!
1.28.2007 3:10pm
r78:

Public transit can reduce traffic congestion

There's an article I don't need to read to know that it is crap.

I live in San Francisco. BART - a light rail system - brings in over 100,000 per day into the city. If you add Caltrain and the MUNI light rail systems there are about 300,000 people coming into SF every work day.

To claim that these public transit systems don't reduce congestion is just stupid beyond belief.
1.28.2007 3:22pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
There are an awful lot of strawmen, to be sure, but they're all in the above comments, which substitute snarkiness and outright silliness (that roads "induce" traffic, for instance, which people "conclude" only by confusing correlation with causation), along with ignoring what Balaker and Staley actually write.

A sample of the strawmen:

* Brian Schmidt claims that they "claim to be experts in the field," but (a) they certainly do not claim to be climatologists, and (b) they certainly do not say we should "do nothing to control emissions." Nothing at all in their piece says anything about pollution controls. Their only point is about reducing driving.

* Justin comes up with the brilliant observation that transit "can" reduce congestion, which is true in the same way that more law enforcement "can" win the war on drugs. Yes, in a hypothetical world where a different species behaved entirely differently than people actually do, transit could reduce congestion. But in this world, spending more on transit does not significantly reduce congestion. Mass transit is a very poor substitute for driving, in most cases, which is why most people don't use it.

* Randy R says that it "fails to talk about" the fact that not everyone can drive a car; this is a falsehood. The penultimate paragraph of point #2 explicitly addresses this.
1.28.2007 4:03pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
r78:

1) Perhaps you should read it, instead of thinking you "don't need to." They did not say what you claim they say.

2) Incidentally, Balaker and Staley write (elsewhere -- not in this brief op/ed) that BART is the only mass transit system that's actually cost-effective.
1.28.2007 4:08pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Byomtov,

The part of Europe you cite has a much higher population density than the U.S. A better comparison would be to those American states with population densities and per capita incomes similar to the parts of Europe cited in the study you refer to. It will look much different if use the American states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island as the American baseline for your comparison.

Inclusion of wide-open, freeway heavy, American states such as California and Texas for per capita gasoline usage shows only that you can ruin the utility of any comparison by playing games.
1.28.2007 4:12pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
This reminds me of when I was a kid. My father was a civil engineer working for the federal government, and was involved in the early planning for BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. They did a bunch of early work trying to predict traffic patterns and such. Unfortunately, according to my father, every study of effectiveness and effiency that provided any value whatsoever to people's time ended up making the automobile the most efficient means of transportation. Public transportation was only cost-effective if people's time was of no value.
1.28.2007 4:22pm
statfan (mail):
The article claims that in New York, "only one in four commuters uses mass transit."

The 2000 census says that 54% of New York commuters use mass transit (and that doesn't count those who walk or bike). And that's counting the city as a whole -- in manhattan, fully 75% of households don't own a car.
1.28.2007 4:51pm
Elliot123 (mail):
An auto privides feedom to people, and people like freedom. It lets them make heir own choices, go where they choose, when they choose, and do what they choose. They like that.

However, those who want to tell the rest of how to live rally don't like that. How can you have a well regulated, diverse, communal society when even granny can zip off wherever she wants whenever she wants? If people would just listen to their betters, we wouldn't have any of these problems.
1.28.2007 4:59pm
Randy R. (mail):
David: But in this world, spending more on transit does not significantly reduce congestion.

Any thing to back this up, or is it just a figment of your imagination?

Right now, there is a massive project planned for Tysons Corners in Virginia that will add four new metro stations costing a few billion or so. They are doing it because there is no alternative, and it is backed by just about everyone. the only criticisms are that they are not spending MORE money to make it all underground. Without this massive expendituture, the local businessmen are afraid that the increasing traffic congestion will choke off Tysons and people and businesses will move elsewhere.

As for the disabled, yes, they talked about poor and the handicapped (I was wrong on that point). But their point made no sense. According to them, we should not spend any more money on transportation, but we should focus on the needs of the poor and the handicapped. So, like put them all in ghettos where we currently have buses and subways? I guess the handicapped (which will increase greatly once the baby-boomers get older and have to stop driving) don't have the 'right' to live in the suburbs, like all us normal people, right?
1.28.2007 5:14pm
Randy R. (mail):
"How can you have a well regulated, diverse, communal society when even granny can zip off wherever she wants whenever she wants? If people would just listen to their betters, we wouldn't have any of these problems."

Ah, yes. The car means freedom.

Baloney. The average car costs over $5000 per year to maintain, according to the AAA. (I remember that figure from ten years ago, undoubtedly it's much higher). What happens when granny's eyes get so bad her license must be taken away from her? With no public transit and no car, her suburban house becomes more like a prison. she is unable to get her even a quart of milk.

Kids without licenses can't go anywhere without a car. Where is there freedom? So the parents are forced to drive them to playdates, soccer practice, music lessons and everything else. Granted, you don't want children riding public transit alone, but your average 14 to 18 year old certainly can.

Or how about you? What if you break your leg or become temporarily injured to the point where you cannot drive a car. Or what if your car is in the shop for repairs for a few weeks? How are you going to get to work? (Oh, I suppose the car repair scenario is easy -- just rent a car. But unless your insurance pays for it, that's a mighly expensive option).

A truly sane society would offer a number of transportation options to most areas. In the past, you could walk, ride a horse, take a tramway or hire a cab, depending on your needs and income. Today, driving yourself is virtually the only option. And one that you pay dearly for each year.

So why anyone would be so against public transport, I really have no idea. It benefits all of us, even if those who don't use it.
1.28.2007 5:23pm
Justin (mail):
"But in this world, spending more on transit does not significantly reduce congestion. Mass transit is a very poor substitute for driving, in most cases, which is why most people don't use it."

In every major city I've lived in - NY, DC, Copenhagen - #2 is true. From personal experience, it is also true in Chicago, Boston, London, Rome, Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm. From friends, it's clearly true throughout Japan, in San Francisco, and Seoul.

What's up?
1.28.2007 5:26pm
Randy R. (mail):
One of my favorite thoughts is that in Randyworld, ALL public transportation would be free to all users.

If that were the case, Americans would become used to 'free' subways and buses (naturally ignoring the fact that they pay for it in taxes). But having perceived it as a free benefit, Americans will demand more of it and have high expectations of it. In other words, they would treat subways just like roads and airports.

There wouldn't be any of these silly arguments about the benefits of public transportation, since we would all grow to depend upon it, just like roads and cars. We would just demand it.
1.28.2007 5:28pm
Jeff S.:
r78,

You'd have to at least read the study by Winston and Maheshri (which is cited by Balaker in another article, itself referred to here by David M. Nieporent) to decide whether BART is a cost effective way of reducing congestion. If I ride my bike, that reduces congestion, but it's not pertinent. By the way, BART is heavy rail, not light rail.

I suspect that the recent costly BART extensions (SFO, Pittsburg/Baypoint, Dublin/Pleasanton) lowered the net social benefits of BART, whatever they might or might not be. The rest of the system was built in the '60s and '70s.
1.28.2007 5:44pm
Adeez (mail):
I can't possibly do a better job destroying this nonsense than my predecessors. So I just have to vent about #1: we're addicted to driving.

Of course, they don't mean "addicted" in the clinical sense, so they are using the term to roughly mean that we just do it too damn much to our detriment. And with that the case, I say fuck yeah we're addicted to driving!!!

I've seen reports of rural people driving to their mailboxes!!! Like 100 feet away! Even the other extreme: here in NYC there are so many people who could easily take public transportation or walk when they instead choose to drive out of sheer laziness. If it were up to me, cars would be banned from Manhattan, w/the obvious exceptions of course.
1.28.2007 5:54pm
Aleks:
Re: Public transportation was only cost-effective if people's time was of no value.

It's 20 miles between home (Fort Lauderdale) and work (Boca Raton) for me. But during rush hour traffic on the freeway moves a stop-n-go crawl, so the trip takes at least an hour. The train also takes about an hour, counting time spent on the platform waiting for it to show up, and time on the shuttle from train station to office complex. So it's competetive in time and, at $25 for six round trips, very competitive in price.
1.28.2007 5:55pm
Byomtov (mail):
Tom Holsinger,

I wasn't trying to play games. Just to investigate your point, though, I looked here.

As you can see, the lowest usage is in DC, still close to double Western Europe. The lowest state is NY, at just under 2/3 the national average and almost 1.5 times DC.

Speaking of playing games though, what were the authors referring to in their 78% vs 68% comaprison?
1.28.2007 6:09pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Houston always reminds me of a real city that someone squashed flat with a scallopini hammer, so no, I would not expect mass transit to work very well there. On the other hand in real cities, such as NY, Phil, Boston, Chicago, SF, etc. mass transit is much handier than the car. Don't have to park the bus, don't have to walk back to the parking garage, etc. Saves a lot of time.

What I miss here, which makes the systems work in Europe is a yearly or monthly pass, although in some of the smaller cities we lived in you could walk or bike to the center.
1.28.2007 6:16pm
markm (mail):
Aleks: But for how many people does the train actually go between their home and their work? If you add in getting to and from the train stations by bus, then public transportation tends to be very, very slow - if there even is a bus route going in the right direction.
1.28.2007 6:27pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Seems that some people here need a little refresher on what a 'straw man' is. A straw man is knocking down a claim somebody didn't make.

No one ever claims that Americans are addicted to driving?
No one ever claims that we can cut air pollution only if we stop driving?
No one ever claims that we're paving over America?
No one ever claims that we can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving?

For god's sake, the man even cites a book by the name "Asphalt Nation". No one's claiming that, though? Pay some attention!

FYI, the definition of straw man is not "The author disagrees with me, so I'll call it a logical fallacy regardless of weather it's a true charge".
1.28.2007 6:30pm
Joel B. (mail):
People sure are quick to jump on to the public transportation provides miracles bandwagon, but that's not news. I think the "truths" some people are arguing on here, are not the truths they think they are.

People complain "But public transportation reduce congestion really it does." I suppose that is probably true in the sense that public transportation reduces congestion in the alternative of no public transportation or road improvements, the point I would think the authors are making is that public transportation is FAR less effecient at reducing congestion then appropriately scaling and modifying roads. Which should be the real issue. Not if we pour $30 billion in to this transit system we'll reduce congestion with out considering that if we put $5 billion towards better roads we'd reduce far more congestion.
1.28.2007 7:08pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I've lived in Washington Heights and the northeast Bronx, and my family always had a car, but we never drove downtown for commuting. OTOH from the northeast Bronx to Lake Success was 20 minutes by car (and an East River toll) -- and 90 minutes and 2 bus fares by bus.

For the first time in more than 20 years as a working adult in greater Boston I'm working downtown and taking an express bus ($4 each way). Even when I lived 7 minutes from a T stop and worked 7 minutes from another stop on the same line I drove a lot, even the month when I had a pass -- I didn't want to spend 30 minutes on a 10-minute trip just to get my car and pick up my wife at my mother-in-law's. But parking is so expensive downtown ($35/day) that I take the bus. Travel time is comparable, the only issue is waiting, especially when a bus doesn't show up and 15-minute headway comes out to a 30-minute wait. I'd much rather be sitting in my own car, listening to the radio, than waiting at a bus stop or a train station.

As for the handicapped, we have something called The Ride here. The T will send a car or van to pick up handicapped people in any town in the service area. I don't know the economies.

My experience in both New York and Boston is that parking is at least as much a gating factor as road capacity.

I wish there were more places I could get to from my house without driving, but my auto mechanic is one of the few businesses within walking distance. The new high school build hundreds of parking spaces for students, but nothing as far as I know for students who bicycle; the principal of the local elementary school refused to put up the bike rack they sent him, and discourages children from bicycling to school, supposedly for safety reasons. (A girl in his district was killed a few years ago when she rode a bicycle into a street; but a boy in a neighboring district was killed around the same time when a van's sliding door hit him in the head as his mother let him off at school.)
1.28.2007 7:16pm
BobNSF (mail):
It strikes me that there's a great deal of money to be made if someone would figure out a way to efficiently and cost-effectively tunnel in urban areas. Riding the underground portions of MUNI (light rail) in San Francisco is very fast. Once the trains are out on the surface, sharing lanes with cars, not so much.

Of course, as Boston's Big Dig has so well demonstrated, there's a lot more money to be made by doing it inefficiently. Ah, capitalism...
1.28.2007 7:35pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
I realise Houston is a bad example, but all the reasons why public transportation cause traffic in Houston are true everywhere else, albeit to a lesser extent. Every bus which stops every 200 yards, accellerates from 0 to 15mph in 2 minutes, and takes up 1.5 lanes is a per se cause of traffic.
1.28.2007 7:37pm
Ricardo (mail):
The main problem with the article is that the authors do not distinguish between big cities and suburbs in their claims about public transportation. San Francisco, D.C. and New York simply would not be able to function as they exist now without public transit. This becomes obvious if you watch the panic that ensues whenever there is talk of a transit workers' strike. Someone earning a middle-class salary cannot afford the $15-20 a day it costs to park downtown. Add to that the fact that these cities are connected to suburbs mainly through bridges which quickly fill to capacity during rush-hour.

While most of the U.S. is not like these big cities, it is still relevant when we start talking about "wannabe" big cities that are expanding rapidly in population and may rival some of our largest cities now. The question is should they adopt the L.A. model or the New York model. This article is not helpful in answering that question.

As for whether or not public transit reduces congestion, in central London the introduction of congestion charging has increased average driving speed from (if I remember correctly) 8 miles per hour to 11 miles per hour. To the extent that this is at all due to more people switching to the Tube or public buses, #2 is true.
1.28.2007 7:49pm
Hattio (mail):
BobNSF,
I think you've got it wrong there. Boston's Big Dig showed us that it's much more efficient (ie., causes a higher profit) to do things unsafely. The problem was an emphasis on efficiency over safety.
1.28.2007 7:51pm
Matt W.:
It's pretty clear that most of the commenter's here live in the big northeast cities, you know, NYC, Boston, Philly, DC. These cities were built for humans walking to work back before the Automobile and thus the density is much higher, at least in the big downtowns of these cities.

However, most of the country lives in cities built for the Automobile and building transit does not make any economical sense. I've seen no model anywhere that makes transit a good alternative for cities such as LA, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Cleveland and a ton of other places.

Here in Atlanta, we have MARTA. MARTA in fact is by far the biggest public transit system in the southeast and the trains carry hundreds of thousands of people. However, those trains were built with billions of dollars in the 1970s and 1980s. Atlanta simply has very few spots with enough commercial density, and just about no spots with residential density, large enough to support transit, around 12 people an acre according to some planners.

Now, they have a 25 billion dollar Atlanta transportation plan with most of the money going towards transit. Five billion dollars is going towards HOV lanes alone even though the report itself projects that HOV usage will actually decrease. They're also talking about a 300 million dollar streetcar line to go around 7 miles on Peachtree. This is money that gets spent on transit and not on Atlanta roads.

Houston, and Atlanta for that matter, are extreme examples, but nevertheless most of America has followed their development pattern. These cities very well should have had better, transit-oriented planning, but that didn't happen and we're stuck with this auto-oriented situation for at least the next 25 years. With the houses, office parks and malls already built, it doesn't make any sense to create a transit system meant for a non-existent densely populated city.
1.28.2007 8:03pm
SlimAndSlam:
David Chesler said: I'd much rather be sitting in my own car, listening to the radio, than waiting at a bus stop or a train station.

I guess this is a matter of individual choice. If I have downtime, I'd rather spend it reading a book or the newspaper than listening to the radio. Can't do that if I'm driving, but it's easy on public transport.

Does anyone want to take up the cause of public transportation as promoting literacy? (Sadly, I'm not sure if I'm joking.)
1.28.2007 8:13pm
Aleks:
Re: However, most of the country lives in cities built for the Automobile and building transit does not make any economical sense.

San Francisco is not exactly an old city (it's about the same age as Atlanta, at least in terms of being a major city), but public transportation works there. Even in Chicago, in the wide open Midwest, the El is a popular means of getting downtown. And the megapolis of S Florida where I live has a rail system that runs it length and, as I can attest, is a very efficicent way of getting to and from work. (Admittedly, the region is compressed into a narrow densely populated strip by the ocean and the Everglades so there's really only one major direction of travel, north-south.).
1.28.2007 8:33pm
Tacitean (mail) (www):
I don't know about literacy, but I certainly think public transportation promotes more civility than the alternative. Imagine how many times have you taken up a conversation with a stranger on a bus or train!

Yet when we're driving in rush hour traffic, our fellow human beings become merely "that jerk [and here I'm softening the language] who just cut me off."
1.28.2007 8:37pm
Randy R. (mail):
Another fallacy that keeps coming up is this argument: " Not if we pour $30 billion in to this transit system we'll reduce congestion with out considering that if we put $5 billion towards better roads we'd reduce far more congestion."

In other words, they argue, the cheapest way to reduce congestion is to build more and better roads.

Once again, pure 100 full fat baloney.

Some of the worst congestion in northern virginia is the Tyson's Corner's area. The only way to possibly reduce congestion is to cut more roads across the area or widen existing roads. The problem is that there are already major buildings, malls, shopping plazas and so on. To widen existing roads - some of which are already four lanes wide - would require the acquistion and demolition of many tall buildings and offices. That's prohitively expensive. The only other solution is to cut more roads through to each other, which still comes up with the problem that you must acquire built up land and tear down.

Whenever someone says the solution is to build more roads, I ask WHERE? Where in the entire island of Manhatten can you build more roads? How could you widen any street without destroying buildings and much of the tax base?

A few years ago, the people voted down a tax to build more roads for this very reason. Developers said that the money would go to build new roads. Guess where? Out in the rural areas that they already gobbled up for development! There were ZERO proposals to use that money to actually widen any congested streets or cut through new streets. People are not that stupid.
1.28.2007 8:42pm
Aleks:
Re: The average car costs over $5000 per year to maintain, according to the AAA.

I assume that must include gasoline and insurance. Only once have I ever spent more than $1000 on car repairs in a single year.


Re: Or what if your car is in the shop for repairs for a few weeks?

A few weeks? You're kidding, right? The only repairs that would take long would be the result of a serious colision and if it's that bad it's going to be totaled. I have never had repairs take longer than two days (and got a ride to work with a coworker, and bicycled to other places)

Re: If you add in getting to and from the train stations by bus, then public transportation tends to be very, very slow - if there even is a bus route going in the right direction.

I drive a mile to the station at my end. The shuttle at the other end takes me a quarter mile to my office complex (I often walk the latter distance on the way back in the afternnon). Our area is a very narrow and densely populated strip stetching from Homestead north to the far suburbs of West Palm. It's maybe twenty miles at its widest point (counting the exurbs they've built on reclaimed land in the Everglades). This type of geography works well for mass transit. Parking at the train stations by the way is plentiful and free. (And some people also ride their bicycles to the trains) And that hour commute I mentioned is total: from door to door. It's pretty much the same whether I drive or take the train-- but much cheaper by train and far less nerve-wracking.
1.28.2007 8:43pm
goldsmith (mail):

I don't know about literacy, but I certainly think public transportation promotes more civility than the alternative. Imagine how many times have you taken up a conversation with a stranger on a bus or train!


Hmm, never? Everyone in New York goes to great lengths to avoid such unpleasant things.

Mass transit is just a breeding ground for communicable disease. Better to stay in your car.
1.28.2007 9:00pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
Alex,

First, of course, those studies were done years ago, when congestion was not as bad. However, the choice to have congestion is exactly that -- a choice. I've seen that in obvious terms in DC, where much of the congestion is a side effect of the left-liberal pro-mass transit attitude of city/county planners. In these areas, planners are given the choice of trying to make public transporation cost effective (which they cannot) or to make private transportation as unpleasant as possible (which they do).

Certainly, if you take action to make private transportation bad, then public transportation, no matter how bad and expensive it is, will start to look better. In DC, for instance, it is *illegal* to build a facility with adequate parking. If you expect to need 100 parking places, you can only build 70. The explicit purpose of this is to force commuters to use mass transit. It would be cheaper and more efficient to build adequate parking, but that's not going to happen. The beltway is congested,at least in Maryland, in large part because of the decision not to build the intercounty connector. Could you make traffic in Northern Virginia better? Of course.

Since these folk can't make public transportation fast and efficient, they *can* make private transporation inefficient and unpleasant. And that's what they've decided to do.
1.28.2007 9:18pm
Kieran RInggenberg (mail):
A fallacy that infects both the original article and many of the supporting posts is that transportation spending and development patterns are exogenous. They are clearly not. We have sprawl patters because government spent billions dollars on highways that make it easy to drive to work from, to, or between suburbs.

Likewise, in areas where there is transit spending, it encourages density. For example, I live in Oakland, CA, and here the regional BART system was built out in the 1970s. Many of the areas around the BART stops in Oakland have been subject to the greatest amount of higher-density development. In my mind, there is no question that BART is a major reason for this. Obviously, the sprawling boom in nearby Contra Costa county continues, and the traffic for a car commute from that area is bad, but even in that area higher density development near BART stations is a fact. It is plain that car-based sprawl and traffic would be worse but-for BART.

Tbat leads me to a more general observation: The suggestion that transit does not reduce congestion begs the question -- as compared to what? Perhaps it is true that no reasonable amount of transit spending can reverse historical trends and cause congestion to decrease on an absolute level. But obviously, in nearly all cases, transit spending decreases traffic congestion as compared to not having transit spending. And, as another commenter pointed out, spending on roads vs. transit is a false choice because in the most congested areas, more roads are not a practical option.
1.28.2007 9:19pm
Justin (mail):
William, "making stuff up" is not an argument.
1.28.2007 9:22pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The 2000 census says that 54% of New York commuters use mass transit (and that doesn't count those who walk or bike). And that's counting the city as a whole -- in manhattan, fully 75% of households don't own a car.
I think the article is talking about the metro area, not just city residents.


So, like put them all in ghettos where we currently have buses and subways? I guess the handicapped (which will increase greatly once the baby-boomers get older and have to stop driving) don't have the 'right' to live in the suburbs, like all us normal people, right?
Right. Nobody has a "right" to do anything, if by "right" you mean the right to force other people to give you benefits so that you can do something you're otherwise not capable of doing. We don't "put" them anywhere. They choose to live where they want; they should choose to live where there are services for them.

The average car costs over $5000 per year to maintain, according to the AAA. (I remember that figure from ten years ago, undoubtedly it's much higher).
$5000? Are you insane, or are you "remembering" way wrong? $5000? That's off by a factor of two or three. (And it's hardly as if mass transit is free either, you know.) (And to answer your question about kids: apparently you've never heard of bicycles, either.)
Re: Or what if your car is in the shop for repairs for a few weeks?
Then you're living in the 1950s or something. I don't know what kind of repair shop you think takes "a few weeks" to repair a car nowadays.
1.28.2007 9:45pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I don't know about literacy, but I certainly think public transportation promotes more civility than the alternative. Imagine how many times have you taken up a conversation with a stranger on a bus or train!

Like Goldsmith said. I've been assaulted a few times riding the bus in New York. I prefer the safety of my car. Never struck up a conversation on public transportation either.

A long train ride can make for a good read, but when most of the trip is walking and waiting, and the travel is by bus, I can do more reading with the extra time at home. (I read a tabloid, not a broadsheet, and there's still barely room between my seat and the seat in front on the bus to read it. Lots more space in a car.)
1.28.2007 10:00pm
Matt W.:
"San Francisco is not exactly an old city (it's about the same age as Atlanta, at least in terms of being a major city), but public transportation works there. Even in Chicago, in the wide open Midwest, the El is a popular means of getting downtown. And the megapolis of S Florida where I live has a rail system that runs it length and, as I can attest, is a very efficicent way of getting to and from work. (Admittedly, the region is compressed into a narrow densely populated strip by the ocean and the Everglades so there's really only one major direction of travel, north-south.)."

San Francisco has much more density than Atlanta. Even what was built around the turn of the century in Atlanta wasn't conducive to public transportation. Even a few blocks outside of downtown, there are many 50s suburb-like houses. In short, San Francisco was cramming houses into tiny lots while Atlanta created America's first subdivision at Inman Park.

Every situation needs a different solution. As an extreme case, even the most staunch transit activist wouldn't recommend light rail for, say, Macon, Ga. Similarly, New York City literally couldn't function without transit, as demonstrated by the transit strike a year ago.

So, please don't make a strawman out of the "anti-transit" argument that we're against trains any and everywhere. Tyson's Corner, with DC's density and developed metro system, could definitely be in need of mass transit. What I don't like is how many transit activists take rail as something that should be applied to every reasonably sized metro area without any consideration of rail's opportunity cost. When a new rail line costs five time more per passenger than a new highway lane, rail simply cannot make sense.

What makes sense in that situation is to increase capacity for the population already living there, while also making adjustments to planning to help control sprawl, or at least making new residents pay for their negative externalities (impact fees and the like). While transit sounds very appealing, we can't ignore the costs of traffic congestion and pollution for the sake of idealism.
1.28.2007 10:24pm
Joel B. (mail):
The idea that BART spawned the higher densities of the SF, and East Bay Areas is absolutely silly. The penisula has some high densities (where growth is not foreclosed) and has no BART. Instead the plain reason for the high densities in the Bay Area, is that it is a plainly beautiful area. Lots of people want to live in the East Bay Hills and for good reason. It's also insanely expensive for a small plot of airspace.

Lastly, people are so dreadfully uncreative. Well we can't expand freeways, I guess that means we should build underground transit (after all where would be the space for the above ground transit). Oh wait...if we can tunnel for trains we surely could tunnel for roads, or maybe even build double-decker roads (at least in non-earthquake sensitive areas). There's always a way...
1.28.2007 10:45pm
Ricardo (mail):
"So, please don't make a strawman out of the "anti-transit" argument that we're against trains any and everywhere. Tyson's Corner, with DC's density and developed metro system, could definitely be in need of mass transit. What I don't like is how many transit activists take rail as something that should be applied to every reasonably sized metro area without any consideration of rail's opportunity cost. When a new rail line costs five time more per passenger than a new highway lane, rail simply cannot make sense."

This is fair enough, but every rail project inevitably has its detractors -- the idea that some people oppose rail transit is not a "straw man" at all. Here is what the authors of the article have to say after declaring that it is a "myth" that public transit can reduce traffic congestion, "Transit agencies should focus on serving those who need transit the most: the poor and the handicapped. They should also seek out the niches where they can be most useful, such as express bus service for commuters and high-volume local routes."

Nowhere do they mention building high speed rail lines to serve commuters and decrease congestion. And of course, if they did they would be admitting that point number two is not a "myth" but a claim in need of qualification.
1.28.2007 11:08pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
Justin:

I'm not making anything up. I was involved in planning a new facility in NW DC. Aside from the byzantine regulatory issues, community issues, etc., there was an *explicit* requirement that we provide only 70% of needed parking. It was for that reason, and others that we eventually decided instead to move to Rockville. Try planning a major facility in DC and tell me I'm making stuff up. And, Justin, why don't you tell me how long they have been working on the intercounty connector?

In congested areas, better roads *are* an option.
1.28.2007 11:46pm
straightarrow:
Ok, I admit it. I didn't read most of the comments. I am so very tired of the hysterical that deny reality. I don't give them an audience anymore because the global warming alarmists do not listen to anything except what makes them feel special because of their assumed, though false, erudition and concern for the well-being of our planet.

Global warming is a fact. No question about it. None. However it is a mistaken belief that humans, in general, and Americans specifically are the cause. In fact, we aren't even significant contributors. None of mankind is. So don't anybody make the argument that I am one of those Americans that is exploiting the earth.

It has been less than 40 years since the hysterical bleatings of the "global warming" cadre were warning us of the end of life on Earth as we know it, due to the coming Ice Age. The same hystericals that are now warning us about the end of life on Earth as we know it due to global warming. Pardon me if I don't get all excited. I have this cynical outlook that when the grant money runs out and the same people that spent the last grant change their views to get more grant study money, that they may be more interested in job security than science. But, hey, that could just be because growing up I knew a lot of con men and other defrauders that makes me sensitive to a scam. Hey, what can I tell you? A scam is a scam no matter the credentials of the con man.

The above is not a joke, nor the ravings of someone uninformed. All the computer models upon which these so-called experts rely, cannot even precict with anything approaching accuracy the past climate, which we know happened because we have lived through it and kept records. If the models can't reproduce what we know to be fact, how the Hell can we trust them to predict the future?

For example the 13 century was much hotter than the current times. I don't know how many automobiles or power plants or smokestack industries there were in the 1200's, but I suspect they were very scarce.

As mentioned earlier, no model currently in use can give results for the past that we know are true. However, one simple two line graph is an almost perfect representation of the fluctuations of the temperature variations of Earth. Yeah, that's right. Ask any so called government funded global warming researcher how a graph of the sun's output over the centuries relates to temperatures on Earth. I do not believe he will answer you. If he does, the gravy train will never leave the depot.

The sun's output varies, and it has a direct and measurable result on our climate. Climate above and below the surface. Think on that.
1.29.2007 12:04am
Jeff S.:
Kieran Ringgenberg,

You may live in Oakland (as do I) but BART was not built out in the 1970s as you claim. Major suburban extensions were completed in the mid-90s (Dublin/Pleasanton) and Pittsburg/Baypoint) and recently to SFO (the airport). All three were brutally expensive (in constant dollars, multiples of the cost per mile of the original system), and all three have ridership far below the rest of the system (per mile). While you are correct that the BART stations on the new extensions resulted in nearby higher density housing, you still make the big "So What?" statement: "It is plain that car-based sprawl and traffic would be worse but-for BART". Well, but for BART or any other auto traffic reducing measure, including allowing the taxpayers to pay me to ride my bike to work or just to stay home. Instead, what's the best way to reduce congestion, (as in, Is there any way to do it which results in positive net social benefits?) Hint: if there is a way, it's not heavy rail extensions.
1.29.2007 12:08am
Randy R. (mail):
The $5000 annual cost of vehicles includes the fact that most people either lease or have monthly payments on their car, and includes gas, insurance, repairs and maintenence.

My car, a 1997 Buick Lesabre, was in the shop for three weeks due to brakelines being unavailable. Perhaps this is unusual, but it can happen.

"The beltway is congested,at least in Maryland, in large part because of the decision not to build the intercounty connector."

Nope. Although some traffic goes between the two ends of Maryland, it doesn't explain why traffic is so congested on the remaining 3/4 of the beltway. But it also raises another point, one which traffic engineers have reluctantly conceded in the last decade, that building more roads or widening existing ones will relieve congestion in the short run, but then they soon become just as congested as before the 'improvements.' This is because when the so-called improvements are made, traffic flows better, and it encourages more development. Soon, you have even more people living and working in the corridor and traffic becomes congested all over again.

Density has little to do with congestion. I live on Capitol Hill, which is all row houses and apartment buildings. It is far more dense than most any part of nothern virginia, yet, I hardly ever see traffic problems in any part of Capitol Hill. And our community has some of the highest prices for houses in the metro region, so it is clearly a desirable place to live.

Perhaps, then, the best solution to congestion is to build high density housing that also provides easy access to highways, metro, bike lanes, and shops, restaurants, office space and groceries within walking distance? Congestion around area would evaporate.
1.29.2007 12:18am
Randy R. (mail):
"It has been less than 40 years since the hysterical bleatings of the "global warming" cadre were warning us of the end of life on Earth as we know it, due to the coming Ice Age. The same hystericals that are now warning us about the end of life on Earth as we know it due to global warming"

Yup. And 100 years ago, physicians laughed at the notion that clean hands would have anything to do with preventing infections during surgery. Now they claim the exact opposite. So I guess I should disregard anything my doctor tells me because they flip flop so much on this stuff. Afterall, what do these so-called scientists know about anything at all?
1.29.2007 12:22am
Lev:

The penisula has some high densities (where growth is not foreclosed) and has no BART.


That's true, but for many decades So Pacific ran commuter trains between San Jose and SF.
1.29.2007 12:27am
Lev:

Americans are addicted to driving;


Yeah we sure are, check out auto ownership.


Public transit can reduce traffic congestion


Questionable. Public transit can help increase population density, but I wonder whether it can reduce traffic congestion per se. If a person takes public transportation and leaves his car at home, the position would be that that takes a car off the road and reduces congestion. Except that, supply and demand intervene - the additional supply of an extra car space on the road leads to demand for someone else's car to fill it. Congrestion remains the same, more people are commuting than would have without the public transportation.


We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving


I think that's right, but one needs to look at the right thing - urban air pollution. I doubt the stats have changed any to show that the greatest contributor to urban air pollution in, say LA, SF, Houston, DC, NYC is the auto.


We're paving over America


I aks the commentatoriaterati from Houston - how wide is the Kay Freeway being widened to? Six lanes each direction plus another 4 lanes of frontage roads, plus right of way? How wide is that right of way now? 1/4 mile? 1/2 mile?

How wide is that Texas Superhighway Goober Perry is promoting through the heart of Texas supposed to be? 1/2 mile wide?
1.29.2007 12:37am
Brian G (mail) (www):
Where is all the global warming Al Gore promised me? It is freezing here in Philly.
1.29.2007 2:48am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
I can testify to the slowness of buses. I used to depend on them to get to work. A 12-mile commute took one hour. (That's not including wait time at the bus stop.) And they call it Dallas Area Rapid Transit...
1.29.2007 4:40am
NicholasV (mail) (www):
San Francisco is not exactly an old city (it's about the same age as Atlanta, at least in terms of being a major city), but public transportation works there.

I lived in San Francisco for a couple of years. I tried taking the bus to work, but there was no bus from where I lived (Potrero Hill) to the area I worked downtown so I had to walk to a bus stop, wait for a bus, wait for it to get to a particular stop, get off, wait for another bus, get on, then wait for it to get downtown, then get off and walk a couple of blocks to the office.

I quickly discovered that it was actually quicker for me to walk to work (~45 minutes) than it was to deal with all those shenanigans. Plus it was free and I got exercise that I sorely needed when working a desk job.

Some of my workmates found public transport in SF to be effective but I never really did. If you wanted to go to certain areas it worked, but being on a bus is uncomfortable and time consuming. My biggest complaint is waiting for busses. I often spend more time waiting than riding.

I currently live in Sydney, Australia where I think we have a decent public transport system, except that the train line ends a few miles from where I live. Still, if I want to go downtown, I take a bus, but if I want to go just about anywhere else I drive. I personally find the best way to cut congestion is to avoid having to go somewhere. Telecommuting from home sure beats car commuting.
1.29.2007 9:41am
JK:
This site needs a one week moratorium on the use of "strawman," with each utterance its meaning becomes broader and broader. It's getting completely out of hand.
1.29.2007 10:02am
George T. Talbot (mail):
I so miss taking the train. I used to do the reverse commute from center-city Philadelphia to an outlying town (Ambler) where my job was right across the street from the train station. At that time, I subscribed to The Economist, and read every issue on the train. Since my wife and I have moved to a suburb, (Springfield, Delaware Co.) and I work in Blue Bell, PA, there's no simple way to get to work except driving, so no more time to read The Economist.

When I lived in center-city, I didn't own a car for most of the time, until I switched jobs to one where the train wouldn't get me there.

I would attest to the civility factor--I definitely had more positive interaction with other people than my car drive now. I would also attest to the previous comment about lack of connections between the radial train lines in Boston w.r.t. the Philadelphia area. If there were more circumferential connections on the train lines, I would likely be able to figure out a decent way to get to work.
1.29.2007 10:14am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The $5000 annual cost of vehicles includes the fact that most people either lease or have monthly payments on their car, and includes gas, insurance, repairs and maintenence.

Whenever I hear these figures, I'm reminded of the joke about the young man who, like NicholasV above, decides to save money by jogging to work behind the bus each day. But he's not saving enough money, so he switches to jogging behind a taxi so he can save more money.

You can get a lot of dependable car for a lot less than the figures quoted. I don't do my own work any more, so I've upgraded to driving cars about 8 years old when I purchase them, and I've bought two such cars in the past few years for $2400 each. (My wife wants a car at home when I've driven to work. Her '88 Escort she'd had since new, the '85 Estate Wagon we'd bought cheap in 2001, and the '84 Fiero we got as a hand-me-down in 1993 all hit the ends of their useful lives recently.)

Although not mentioned here, a lot of the "cost of car ownership" makes no distinction between and fixed and variable costs. Once you've got a car, additional trips costs little more than fuel costs. (SWAG that half of maintenance costs are sensitive to time, not mileage.) This also applies to a second car (if stay-at-home-parent wants a car available, and it also serves as a spare) and to situations where somebody is taking public transit for a few months.
1.29.2007 11:16am
NY (mail):
Tacitean: mass transit encourages civility?

I had to look up the word in case you were using it in an obscure archaic sense, like "encouraging a sense of community" (you know, like xenophobic nationalism or religious fundamentalism do). As it is, civility seems to be about politeness and courtesy, so you must not live in New York, or if you do you must not take the subway much. The evidence, anecdotal no doubt, is overwhelming that these people are crazy; evolution obviously did not mean for homo sapiens to live stacked nuts to butts like this and they've reacted to their environment by shutting off higher brain functions and shutting out everything their fathers ever taught them about behaving in public. If you've never seen two people copulate in the middle of the day in a subway car, hie thee to yon F train and enjoy.

Perhaps if we were honest we could say that conservatives like to choose who they associate with and so drive there and liberals like the 'romance' of elbow-rubbing with hoi polloi so they force mass transit on everyone.
1.29.2007 11:20am
Randy R. (mail):
The figure is for average costs of a car. Many people buy high end expensive cars that require expensive routine maintenence. Presumably, those people pull up the average, and you pull it down.
1.29.2007 11:21am
Stacy (mail):
Libertarians really suck at comparing apples to apples. I'm a motorsports enthusiast myself, but it's ridiculous to complain that transit is subsidized and people should be left alone to use "free" cars. Cars are subsidized to the tune of billions per year for road construction, paid by every taxpayer whether they drive on any given road or not. Transit users pay a higher fraction of the cost of their particular trains or buses than any driver pays for the roads they use. And since transit _does_ "reduce" congestion if a few people ride instead of driving, transit users are in some sense subsidizing drivers.

Yes, transit doesn't make sense for most people, but it's not an either-or. There's a niche for it. And personal cars are not completely paid for by their users any more than mass transit is.
1.29.2007 11:24am
Randy R. (mail):
" As it is, civility seems to be about politeness and courtesy, so you must not live in New York, or if you do you must not take the subway much. The evidence, anecdotal no doubt, is overwhelming that these people are crazy;"

Again. pure baloney. I've ridden public transport in NYC, chicago, SF, and regularly in Washington. The overwhelming majority of people sit or stand with a blank expression on their face, or read something. A smaller number tend to children or talk with friends. A tiny number of people act weird. It's the same on the road -- most people are good and courteous drivers, but it's only a tiny portion that act like jerks and make the experience trying. So much for any 'romance' of the open road!

Of course, the one crazy person you encounter will likely rattle you for days on end, so it may seem as though everyone is nuts. But the truth, as you must admit, is that the vast majority of people simply behave themselves.

Furthermore, the random acts of kindness and civility far outweigh
any rudeness. I see people give up a seat to an older person far more often than I see couples copulating, for instance.
1.29.2007 11:27am
pete (mail) (www):
I think the original question of "Public transit can reduce traffic congestion" depends in a large part on the city. I lived in Philadelphia for the summer during the 1998 public transportation strike and can attest to the effectiveness of public transportation in reducing congestion in that city. I arrived just after the strike started and had to drive to work on very congested roads, but as soon as the strike ended and I started taking the train to work there were about 70% fewer cars on the road during the normal rush hours. Public transportation there was often faster and more convenient than driving. Plus I never had to worry about parking.

Here in San Antonio I have never used public transportation and doubt it has that much effect on congestion either way. My 20 minute morning drive to downtown would take about an hour on a bus (no trains here) and I would have to switch routes multiple times. The public transportation here helps those who can not drive or who happen to live right on a good route, but with downtown parking at $30/month there is no reason for most people in the city, even thoae who work downtown, to even consider using it.
1.29.2007 11:47am
jallgor (mail):
Statfan,
I use the subway everyday but your stats on NYC are very misleading. I beleive that 54% of city residents use mass transit but I assume when people talk about car usage "in NY" they are includnig people from outside the city who commute in everyday. I read somwhere that during the day the population of NYC almost doubles. That's 8 or 9 million people coming into the city from outside every day. Many of them drive in. Many more drive to a certain point and then get on a train or a ferry. You have to consider those people in any analysis of traffic.

As for mass transit "promoting civility" I agree that most NYC subway riders are normal, unoffensive people but "civil" is pushing it. Staring with a blank expression may be appropriate but it's not civil. At least it's not overtly rude like many subway riders. Here are some of my pet peeves: 1. bags on the seat in a crowded subway, 2. legs sprawled apart like you are lounging in your living room (taking up aisle and seat space), 3. leaning up against a pole so that it is impossible for people to hold on during the train ride. This is just a minor list that doesn't include the crazies and the people looking for a fight. I am telling you that riding the subway every day for the last 10 years has defeinitely given me a dim view of humanity.
1.29.2007 12:16pm
Houston Lawyer:
The anti-car crowd has taken to restricting the building of new lanes on roads because it would "encourage traffic". In Houston, all of the downtown streets have been torn out and repaved with one less lane. This was allegedly done to "increase foot traffic". This despite the fact that people stay in the tunnels downtown because it's too damn hot to walk on the sidewalks in the summer.

In addition, dedicated contraflow lanes on all the freeways have been built that take up the space that could have been used for additional lanes of traffic. Now we have the "light rail" fiasco, which is so bad that the Vegas guys were taking bets on how many would be killed by the train when the Superbowl was hosted here. Metro responded by stopping service when the streets got crowded.

People who can afford to drive will take mass transit only when it is more convenient than driving. I don't anticipate that happening for very many people.
1.29.2007 1:04pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
People who can afford to drive will take mass transit only when it is more convenient than driving. I don't anticipate that happening for very many people.

People rarely appreciate the cost of not taking public transportation. I lived in Atlanta and Alexandria, VA where I regularly commuted to work on public transportation. The Metro in D.C. allowed me to go from a two-car family to a one car one. Although my commute time was extend by probably fifteen minutes, it included a ten minute walk (if it rained my wife dropped me off at the station),certainly good for my health, and reading time on the train which was certainly a lot less stressful than the hassle of traffic. In Atlanta, I drove to the MARTA station but the total commute time was actually less than driving all the way downtown because of the horrendous traffic there. And in Atlanta, public Transportation is hindered by racial attitudes (ask anyone from Atlanta what the unofficial acronym for MARTA is). A lot of people simply refuse to take the train because they truly believe that they will encounter black thieves loaded down with television sets, jewelry, and silverware who have taken public transportation out to the suburbs to burglarize white folks' homes. (this is why there are no MARTA lines to Cobb or Gwinnett Counties).
1.29.2007 1:32pm
brett (mail):
What a shame, to see a good article linked here and then crapped on by moronic commenters. Where do all these idiotarians come from? This was a good article that made a lot of sense. I guess some are too busy reflexively defending public transportation to actually read it.
1.29.2007 1:46pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The figure is for average costs of a car. Many people buy high end expensive cars that require expensive routine maintenence. Presumably, those people pull up the average, and you pull it down.

It might be useful to analyze these things in terms of the cost of the component that provides the basic reasonable functionality and the cost of the luxury component. (For some definition of reasonable: A car with a working radio and heater that spends more time out of the shop than in versus a new Lexus; housing with no more than two kids per bedroom versus a mansion.)

Cars are subsidized to the tune of billions per year for road construction, paid by every taxpayer whether they drive on any given road or not. Transit users pay a higher fraction of the cost of their particular trains or buses than any driver pays for the roads they use.

I'd like to see the numbers on that before I'm convinced. Buses use the same paid-by-every-taxpayer roads; buses and trains use the diesel that our armed forces keeps flowing cheaply. And there are lot of areas where you can fudge: is that each passenger, or the total of all the passengers on a given bus?
1.29.2007 2:54pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Libertarians really suck at comparing apples to apples. I'm a motorsports enthusiast myself, but it's ridiculous to complain that transit is subsidized and people should be left alone to use "free" cars. Cars are subsidized to the tune of billions per year for road construction, paid by every taxpayer whether they drive on any given road or not.
Except that much of the funding for road construction and maintenance comes from gasoline taxes. Which are paid for by (ta da!) drivers, not taxpayers. (Let's not forget the other taxes paid for by drivers, not taxpayers, like car registration fees, tolls, special car taxes, etc.)

Oh, and don't whatever monies that taxpayers expend on roads also support the buses? So how is this an advantage for buses over cars? And didn't taxpayers have to pay for the cost of laying rail for trains? And the cost of excavation for subways?
Transit users pay a higher fraction of the cost of their particular trains or buses than any driver pays for the roads they use.
I see a huge amount of data... that isn't there.
1.29.2007 3:09pm
Jeff S.:
Libertarians really suck at comparing apples to apples.

Nice. Well thought-out.

Transit users pay a higher fraction of the cost of their particular trains or buses than any driver pays for the roads they use.

I'd like to see the tiniest scrap of evidence to support this statement.
1.29.2007 3:36pm
statfan (mail) (www):
Statfan,
I use the subway everyday but your stats on NYC are very misleading. I beleive that 54% of city residents use mass transit but I assume when people talk about car usage "in NY" they are includnig people from outside the city who commute in everyday. I read somwhere that during the day the population of NYC almost doubles. That's 8 or 9 million people coming into the city from outside every day. Many of them drive in. Many more drive to a certain point and then get on a train or a ferry. You have to consider those people in any analysis of traffic.


Not even close. About 3/4ths of people who work in Manhatten commute from New York City. Also, the numbers in that article (from the Census) indicate that the 54% number is for people who work in the city -- not people who live there.
1.29.2007 4:14pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Randy R: The average car costs over $5000 per year to maintain, according to the AAA.

I agree it costs money to have a car.

Randy R: Kids without licenses can't go anywhere without a car. Where is there freedom?

I agree a car dos not provide freedom to people who can't drive.

Randy R: Or how about you? What if you break your leg or become temporarily injured to the point where you cannot drive a car. Or what if your car is in the shop for repairs for a few weeks? How are you going to get to work?

If I beak a leg, or break my car, my car will not provide freedom.

Happily, I can afford two cars, have a license, and do not have a broken leg. So, I can enjoy the freedom the car offers just like granny and millions of others.
1.29.2007 4:21pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
JF Thomas:

Different people's experience differ with the convenience of public transportation. I also took the metro into work in DC. I lived at the end of the red line. So, I had a 15-minute drive to the metro station every day, a $14 parking fee (as I remember), an hour and 15 minute commute in, and a 15 minute walk to work from the metro station. All in all, about 2 hours and $18/day. Or I could drive in in about 40 minutes.
1.29.2007 7:50pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
Oops. Hit Post instead of Preview -- let me finish that thought.

I could drive in in about 40 minutes, and I had a position that allowed me a parking space. Now, folk *could* make public transportation cheaper and more efficient, or they could make private commuting more difficult. Guess which they chose? We ended up being required to cut parking spaces to force people to use mass transit. Now I hear they are charging, or want to charge, to use the roads. So the choice is clear -- you can't make mass transit a good deal for most folk, but you certainly can legislate enough problems to make everything else almost as bad.
1.29.2007 7:54pm
nelziq (mail):
Libertarians like to leap to the defense of cars (wonderful freedom vehicles) at the expense of public transportation (nasty big-government institutions) like public transportation. Yet, rarely do I hear complaints about the extortion of taxes to pay for massive public road projects or pervasive zoning rules that require parking lots in violation of the right to dispose of one's property. Libertarians should get past their superficial aesthetic preference for the individual motor vehicle and acknowledge the huge role that the state plays in creating and maintaining the car culture.
1.29.2007 8:05pm
TokyoTom (mail):
The source of the congestion problem is like many others - users who do not directly pay for the use of a resource tend to overuse it. Just as introducing peak load pricing has proven useful in addressing burdened power grids, congestion problems on existing roads can also be addressed through pricing mechanisms.

Other avenues that should be explored include the privastization of the road networks, and to cease governmental construction of new roads, which would be more rationally funded and managed by developers and drivers. This would dampen both suburban sprawl and congestion.

The lack of pricing for common resources is of course what also fuels climate change. There is no doubt that we are now subsidizing the abuse of an important commons. It makes sense to start to start pricing GHG emissions and to change other incentives related to AGW, and to start negotiaiting seriously with other nations over BOTH climate change and development issues. Effective mitigation poliicies will require coordination to achieve meaningful regulation and to eliminate free riders, and as well to invest seriously in the governance and rule of law that are needed to provide the institutional framework for development in the third world - otherwise, any so-called "adaptation" aid will be simply poored into the pockets of the wealthy in those countries (but would still be a better investment than $1 trillion wars).
1.29.2007 9:45pm
JimmyMay (mail):
On the Tyson's dilema. I grew up in Vienna and now live in Haymarket. Tysons has always been a mess. Always, traffic through Tysons was bad in the late 80's. Here's my take, you can't widen the roads in Tyson's, but not everyone is driving through Tyson's to work in Tyson's. They are getting around Beltway traffic, Rt. 7 traffic, and Toll road traffic. You could open up the interior toll lanes to the airport, no need to build a subway, just open up those lanes, they are way underutilized, you have traffic backed up for miles on the outerlanes, and you sit and stare at 2 completely empty lanes in the middle for aiport traffic. What's the going rate on 20 miles of a 2 lane highway these days? That would help traffic in Tyson's, so would widening the Beltway. Case in point, I-66. They just widened it out to 234 bypass with plans to widen all the way to Haymarket. My 1 hour trip (on back roads or on I-66) from Haymarket to the NRO area in Chantilly now takes 20-25 minutes, all because they added 2 lanes to each side of I-66. They could have spent 10 billion on a subway on I-66, but they spent 70 million adding lanes. It improved ALL the backroads. Add highway lanes to the Beltway, 66 inside the Beltway, and the Toll Road (or at least open up the interior lanes to all traffic) and Tyson's traffic will improve as well. Not everyone drives to Tyson's, a lot cut through Tyson's. Just my take having done exactly that for about 15 years.
1.30.2007 8:39am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I also took the metro into work in DC. I lived at the end of the red line.

I find it hard to believe that someone who lived a fifteen minute drive from the end of the red line, spent an hour and fifteen minutes each way on the train (and I don't know where you were going because it is only a half hour from either end of the red line to Metro Center), and worked in the District, could do the same commute during rush hour in forty minutes by car--not to mention the cost of parking in the District.
1.30.2007 9:08am
jallgor (mail):
"About 3/4ths of people who work in Manhatten commute from New York City. Also, the numbers in that article (from the Census) indicate that the 54% number is for people who work in the city -- not people who live there."

Statfan are you saying the article is wrong because it sayd 54% of city residents don't own cars it doesn't say people who work in the city. The people coming into NYC every day aren't necessarily coming in because they would say they "work" there on a census questionnaire. Both my brothers technically work in NJ but they have to come into Manhattan for work almost everyday. You also seem to have made the mistake of conflating Manhattan with NYC. I said that I heard the population of NYC doubles during the day I did not say just Manhattan. I admittedly have no evidence for my figure it's just something I heard but the census numbers you are pointing too do not paint the full picture of car use in NYC.
1.30.2007 11:00am
darwin (mail) (www):
I find it very difficult to believe that those above who describe San Francisco's MUNI as "working" and the BART as "cost-effective" have ever actually stepped foot on a MUNI or BART train.

MUNI is in deep financial trouble, mostly due to the incredibly greedy employees union :

masstransitmag.com article
"
While a projected $15.1 million shortfall may sound like a lot of money, in the world of San Francisco's municipal budgeting, it's not too bad. During the current fiscal year's budget deliberations, the Municipal Transportation Agency once faced a $57 million deficit. Officials raised bus fares and cut service to help balance the budget.
"

(note that they raised fares and cut service because they are unable to do what other employers would do.. cut their workforce.. because they are unresponsive to market conditions and their labor supply is very inflexible due to a large union)

BART :

BART Wikipedia Page
"
In 2005, BART required nearly $300 million in subsidies after fares. About 37% of the costs went to maintenance, 29% to actual transportation operations, 24% to general administration, 8% to police services, and 4% to construction and engineering. In 2005, 53% of the budget was derived from fares, 32% from taxes, and 15% from other sources, including advertising, leasing station retail space leasing, and parking fees
"

$300Mn/yr in subsidies (not including budget "derived from taxes" apparently... !) is "cost effective" ? I'll have what you're having...

The big problem with the mass-transit cureall is the incredible expense (fixed costs) of everything but the humble bus. As most mass transit in America is a government monopoly, this should come as a surprise to.. just about no-one. The real problem is that (except in rare cases) mass transit does not attract enough ridership to make it worth the initial (taxpayer) investment and very high continuing fixed costs.

For further info :

open-space.com article
"
[N]ew US rail transit systems have generally performed poorly. Total transit ridership has shown only minimal improvements and, at times, declined. Financial performance has been disappointing in most cases, particularly when understood in the context of the additional system costs
imposed through the reconfiguration of bus networks to serve the new rail systems.
"

I'd love a society designed around high density city cores with similarly dense business areas that are fed by regionally-coordinated transit systems. Unfortunately, that is not the world that most of us live in. The world we actually live in is, generally, best served by lots of automobiles. Pretending that we live in the other world with this idealized concept of mass transit and its economic benefits has been and will likely continue to be counterproductive at best.

=darwin
1.30.2007 6:10pm
Randy R. (mail):
"I am telling you that riding the subway every day for the last 10 years has defeinitely given me a dim view of humanity."

Well, no argument here. I didn't mean to say that everyone is wonderful -- and I admit there are scary ones.

Actually, doing ANYTHING in America these days will give you a dim view of humanity. Just look at these posts, for example....
1.30.2007 6:17pm
Randy R. (mail):
For the record, I'm not really anti-car. I think it has a place, and our society is so tightly wound around it that it is impracticable to thing that this is going to change any time soon.

But no body here is arguing that we should do away with cars. And no one is saying that public transportation is a good solution for every situation. Houston, probably not. Most far flung suburbs, probably not.
All we are saying is that public transportation should be an option and should encouraged. Many people cannot afford cars, or cannot drive due to health reasons, age or whatever. It's great that most people are healthy and wealthy and can drive a car -- but for those who cannot, they should still be able to get to work and buy the necessities of life. You would rather they become welfare dependent?
And some people actually like public transport and see it as a better way to travel. Why should they be denied the choice of public transit? And there are a great many things that benefit us all -- it lowers fossel fuel consumption, making us less -- not more -- dependent upon foreign oil. It reduces greenhouse gases (Okay, may be not buses, but even those can be converted to natural gas).
1.30.2007 6:26pm
darwin (mail) (www):
And some people actually like public transport and see it as a better way to travel. Why should they be denied the choice of public transit? And there are a great many things that benefit us all -- it lowers fossel fuel consumption, making us less -- not more -- dependent upon foreign oil.

Yes, but there's that word "public" which is supposed to mean that it benefits the "public" more than alternative ways of spending the "public"s tax money on transit.

Your argument seems to be that public transit is an absolute good, not a relative good. If investment in low-return public transit is in lieu of investment in higher-return alternatives, it may help a subset of the "public" ... while harming the majority. That minority might "see" it as the better way to travel, but their perception is not what matters. What matters is whether it is actually the better way to travel, as defined by a large number of faily obvious metrics (congestion, travel time, pollution, cost-per-rider, etc.).

Much like environmental law, if you fill in "infinite" as the value of the benefit, you don't get sensible guidance for decisionmaking between available choices.

=darwin
1.30.2007 9:09pm
WarrenN (mail):
Mass transit works only to reduce congestion when you have an old city that grew up before the modern automobile, and the commercial district remains important.

I live in Arlington, TX, the largest city on the planet without a fixed bus system (~375k people). We have no obvious business district, and no singular set of destinations. Bus service for us is stupid.

It is also stupid in about 90% of the other cities where it exists. In Dallas, the farebox recovery ratio (the percentage of operational costs paid by riders) is less than 10%. In Fort Worth, it is a bit more because Fort Worth refuses to be quite as stupid as Dallas, and run their buses where they obviously aren't needed.

The number of good mass transit systems in the U.S. can be counted on one hand: New York City (where the riders pay <90% of the operations, and incidently, where the system was privately built), and Chicago (where the riders pay about 75% of the cost).

Okay, two fingers will do. Other cities could make their systems be much better, but the socialized nature is ripe for political stupidity to intercede, and most systems are run for the benefit of politicians hoping to get something named after them, and be fondly thought of as the guy that got the new train system working.

It is also a serious case of edifice complex for many bureaucrats and office holders. They talk about how bad sprawl is, and then raise taxes on the inner city to pay for a rail system that allows wealthy suburbanites to ride to downtown courtesy of the taxpayers, thereby increasing the impetus to sprawl. There is not a good light rail system that can be justified in any real way anywhere in the U.S.
1.31.2007 1:03am
Randy R. (mail):
"Other cities could make their systems be much better, but the socialized nature is ripe for political stupidity to intercede, and most systems are run for the benefit of politicians hoping to get something named after them, and be fondly thought of as the guy that got the new train system working. "

good point. But this is why we should blame politicians and others for the failures of public transportation, not the transportation itself. In other words, it CAN work, and certainly does, if done properly.

" What matters is whether it is actually the better way to travel, as defined by a large number of faily obvious metrics (congestion, travel time, pollution, cost-per-rider, etc.)."

Agreed. And those factors are numerous enough (which one is more important? Do we give greater weight to pollution savings or cost-per-rider?), vague enough and open to interpretation enough that anyone can manipulate them to support their arguments. Which gets us right back to square one.
1.31.2007 11:02am