You are missing the elephant in the room: our cars are simply too big. The planet is doomed if every household aspires to a 2 1/2 ton SUV, electric or not. Just look at the best selling vehicles in the US last year: 1. Ford F-Series (should that be FU?) 2. Chevrolet Silverado 3. Ram pick-up. Despite all the blather about range anxiety, most journeys are short and average vehicle occupancy is less than two. So why are people driving in vehicles that look like extras from a Mad Max movie? A combination of CAFE standards and 'shift the metal' marketing. Government could kick start changing social norms by introducing aggressively size related vehicle taxation and by supporting ride sharing and AVs (HT to Xiaohu and Peter S

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also, a great maps I jest read : https://twitter.com/ScootFoundation/status/1368820855141134336?s=20

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Interesting point of view Noah ! Where does the chart with the cars owned, VKT, biking frequency come from ?

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From my home in Queens, I used to spend approximately 2.5 hrs/day commuting to a Manhattan job via rail & subway. When I told my daughter that I estimated I had passed the 250,000 miles mark on public transportation, she had a "Distinguished Commuter" trophy made for me. I know all about public transportation from the seat of my pants, so to speak.

But once getting home, after dinner I used to enjoy going to get a coffee and browse the bookshelves at a B&N about two miles from my home. By car, it took about 5 minutes to get there. After a long day of commuting, there was no way I was going to walk to the bus stop, wait for a bus, and then stop every two blocks, turning a 5-minute outing to the book store into another 45-minute commuting endeavor. No way.

So what I'm saying is that planners have to see public transportation & automobiles as compliments, not substitutes. You want most urban residents to rack up their miles on public transit, but shouldn't want to impede them using private transportation when it's appropriate. In an ideal urban world, everyone should be able to afford an EV but rarely have to use it.

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Are you skeptical of autonomous cars? To me, this discussion almost feels moot since I expect them to be ready for mass deployment within a decade. Then you get the advantages of both cars and transit with few of the drawbacks.

Transit isn't that efficient by the way, especially not compared to an electric single seat vehicle that I expect would become the norm if autonomous taxis catch on.


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Hi Noah thanks for the post

just one question:

- Do you think it should be feasible to have more cars in common? not personal cars instead.

I mean the example of japan talks about replacing trains by cars.

But what about the impact of things like developing Uber?

The difference is that uber you could have personalized usage, not predetermined

I think thats a main reason why public transit has limited impact. The degree of freedom on use is limited

A final remark: lots of people argue that reducing cars ownership is mandatory if we want to stay under 2°C

I am curious what would you answer them?

Many thanks :)

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It definitely depends a lot on lifestyle - I cycle or walk pretty much everywhere, and use trains to travel long distances, but that's because I'm young, single and live in a small city in the UK - I wouldn't use a car much even if I had one. I actually could afford one, but I save a lot of money this way, and with the right carry rack and panniers it's impressive how much stuff you can move with a bike.

However, I can't see living without a car being practical if you want to live in the countryside, or even the suburbs, unless you're really patient or really into physical fitness. It becomes especially difficult once you have children and need to shift more people and objects around.

I can imagine a future in which owning a car becomes uncommon, especially once driving becomes automated and drops the cost of renting a car, but as a cyclist I totally understand that some people will hold on to antiquated technology, there's always going to be a committed group of car enthusiasts for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

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Some food for thought about ripping up neighborhoods and rebuilding with increased density:

1. Post-COVID, higher density will be resisted and not without good reason.

2. Anyone who thinks ripping up suburbia, exurbia and parts of urban America to make them car-free-zones isn't going to cause a massive amount of pollution and an increase of our carbon footprint is smoking something they shouldn't.

Does anyone REALLY think tear downs and new construction are an "energy freebie".?Also, given the shoddy workmanship that developers are allowed to get away with, these new "green neighborhoods" are going to have to be rebuilt every 20-30 years. Much of the downtown in my small was rebuilt about 15 years ago. Guess what? Already there are structural problems in LUXURY buildings and the area looks like crap. New construction only continues to hold up if it is well built...and YES and building quality also has a carbon cost.

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Well reasoned and I know we won't be seeing the end of cars soon but there is one thing that you overlooked and almost all do and that is the epidemic we have of cyclist and pedestrian deaths. Deaths due to traffic violence have absolutely sky rocketed since 2008. EVs will do absolutely nothing to solve this. In fact they are heavier than their ICE equivalents and will be filled with bigger and bigger dashboard distractions.

Market Street may be wide and appear empty but there is far less blood on the pavement than would have been had cars not been removed. You're right this needs to be done intelligently and I believe Oslo is a good example. But all the density in the world doesn't help people if they don't feel safe simply walking to a grocery store. I have been to too many vigils and memorials to believe that F-150s have any place on dense city streets.

Streets used to be gathering places where multiple modes shared the space. Jaywalking wasn't a thing until the automotive industry invented it to get pedestrians out of their way. Denver, my home town, had an amazing streetcar grid. We ripped it out to make room for cars. It's time we took some of that space back.

Cars absolutely need to be removed from dense urban cores. We can start to reclaim street space in many ways, Market Street included, once we are no longer scraping bodies off the pavement. In order to do that we can not allow cars, with some exceptions (deliveries, emergency services, those that absolutely must drive due to disability), in our most dense places.

#bancars is a sticker you put on your water bottle because "get these fucking speeding death boxes out of our city centers which can accommodate mass transit, and walking and biking with ease" is too long.

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great read :) using this for my ap lang assignment :P

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re: Market street i see what you mean about it being a dead zone but i do appreciate that it makes the buses a lot faster

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Sorry, cars don't kill people.

I've had many cars in my lifetime and not a single one of them took off on its own volition and killed someone.

It's "the nut holding the steering wheel" who kills people.

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I prefer trains to cars but I agree with the post. I think future cars will be automated and electric. Also I think less people will own cars and only use them when they need them.

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Funny, most places in the world were car free prior to 1945. Is Noah Smith saying a roughly 75 year old social phenomenon is indispensable? I doubt it.

Prior to World War Two cars were found mainly in North America and western Europe. How did ancestors in other places cope? They had to otherwise a lot of us wouldn't be here.

Current car dependency lifestyle is largely an America product along with television: the two together were a happy accident where the one amplified the other. Prior to the war many Americans lived in small towns or rural areas, travel between towns was by train. Within towns access to business and entertainments was by foot. Humans have used their feet for millions of years, we're good at it.

Mass car dependency was affordable during the 1950s and 60s because the US at the time was the world's #1 provider of liquid fuel. This fuel enabled manufacture along with car use. With the venicles came an entire ecosystem: heavy construction; fuel supply and distribution, real estate and insurance; also bank finance to pay for it all. Giant governments emerged to guarantee the loans along with giant militaries to steal resources... As the 60s wore on the US reserves began to decline and the country found it necessary to import fuel which increased dependence on external sources such as OPEC. The 1973 embargo followed by the 1980 Iran-Iraq war were devastating to the world economy which had become car manufacturing-dependent.

There were frantic efforts to cope: everything but conservation and jettisoning the car lifestyle: offshoring jobs, opening borders the borders to millions of undocumented workers, deregulating finance- and industry, neoliberalism generally; also, union busting, bubble economies, China opening, replacing Bretton-Woods w/ Plaza Accord, the euro and the EU, dollar depreciation, Carter Doctrine, rise of central banks, decades of futile US wars. All of these were intended as hedges against real fuel price increases and declining energy returns on our (massively expanding) energy investments. Comes now electric cars full of happy sound and fury = another pathetic hedge.

Why have every one of these hedges failed. Because resource depletion and decline are matters of physics that cannot be 'outwitted' or negotiated with.

When considering cars its necessary to take in the material demands of the entire car ecosystem and to consider the scale of the enterprise. The bigger the enterprise, the greater the material needs, including greater waste carry capacity. Right now the scale is working against itself; reducing the 'utility' humans are supposed to be deriving from car ownership. Leaving out the car-related war deaths (80 million in WWII) and deaths due to car pollution, the car business kills over a million every year (WHO) in crashes, mostly in 3d world countries. When is enough enough?

The idea that electric cars will affect our depletion trajectory is stupid. Where are the electric roads? Where are electric tires or the electric plastics that makes up most of a car? Where is the electric glass or electric parking garages or electric mining equipment and processing plants or aluminum mills or electric railroads. Where are the electric ocean-going car transport vessels or electric oil tankers shipping trillions of gallons of fuel for the millions of gas powered giant pickup trucks and luxury sports sedans manufacturers must sell in order to internally subsidize the handful of electric sedans?

Another insolvable problem is the absence of return by way of car use. Driving cars is an open-ended expense, driving doesn't pay for the car ... or the rest of the enormous car ecosystem, instead, what pays is debt, in currently astronomical amounts. More cars = more debt, The costs of the debt plus that of the cars is compounding: our entire economic regime groans under the burden of exponentially increasing costs: what is the outcome if they double? Would the costs ever reach that point?

The total amount of car-related debt was unpayable decades ago. Now? What does this mean for your children? Slavery? Homelessness? Debts will be repaid one way or the other. Starvation? Endless warfare? For what? A goddamned car? Good grief!

As for suburbs, they will be abandoned as areas have been- and are being abandoned continually right now in this best of all possible worlds. Some ruined suburbs will be returned to agriculture use or be reclaimed by nature. Car use will decline when there is nowhere to go (as during Covid) or fuel is unavailable or too costly or the rationing regime does not allow recreational use -- 95% of auto use is recreational. Rationing is currently imposed by limiting access to credit: relatively high fuel prices result in credit shortages which keep motorists off the road but also cause banks to fail. When this particular hedge breaks down there will be hard rationing as during the war or the 1970s.

And break down it will because more cars = more bankruptcy. Basically, if we don't jettison the cars by way of policy or strategy, they will disappear as being unaffordable, destructive luxuries.

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Will the next giant Biden Bill be Greenfrastructure?

What changes will States need to choke down to get the $$$?

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As a fairly anti-car urbanist, I appreciate this post and agree with most of it. When pro-car ideologues are being intransigent and unreasonable, I do respond with "ban cars" but I fully admit that it's an argumentative and idealistic Twitter slogan, not a universal policy.

That being said, I think you are wrong to suggest that urbanists oppose cars primarily due to climate change. That is part of it, but mostly I oppose cars because of the death. Dead kids who get run over by their own parents in their driveways. Dead cyclists who get crushed by truck drivers making unsignaled turns. Dead grandmas killed in crosswalks because people in souped-up SUVs have no visibility. Dead folks who have to risk running across 8-lane arterials because DOTs do not build pedestrian infrastructure.

Vision Zero (as in zero road deaths) needs to be the goal. That will involve a lot of things. SUVs and trucks need to be heavily taxed and regulated to reduce their bulk and increase windshield visibility. The gas tax should go up to encourage consumers to buy lighter-weight cars. Streets need to be redesigned so that they are narrower and have bump-outs or speed tables at crosswalks. Protected bicycle infrastructure needs to become ubiquitous, as it is in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Especially dangerous intersections need to be completely redesigned. And yes, in some places, we should ban cars.

I think you are letting one negative experience on Market Street color your whole perspective on car-free streets. You link to the story of London, but the facts of that article indicate the problem is a failure to regulate Uber and truck traffic - not the congestion charge itself. Go to Charlottesville, Virginia or Burlington, Vermont and you will see how much energy and commerce can be created by pedestrianizing main streets. But that doesn't have to be the only goal! Speeding up transit can be a motivation for this too. King Street in Toronto or 14th Street in New York still have the same sidewalk space as they did in the past, but restrictions on car traffic have revolutionized those streets as transit corridors. Where buses and streetcars were once not much faster than walking, they now speed along and have seen big ridership increases. Creating a plaza atmosphere where people lounge around in what were once parking space is great, but it is not the only reason (and maybe not even the main reason) for restricting car traffic on some urban streets.

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