Re: Make Them Want It

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This is exactly the strategy that people use, though, and still the chorus of "don't you dare take my car!" erupts. I don't really know if there's a good solution; people fighting public transit in places like west LA is insane; it's impossible to get anywhere without driving, and it's impossible to drive anywhere. Yet, people do fight it, all the time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:02 PM
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People will walk if walking is a luxury good.

e.g. Seaside, FL


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:04 PM
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As I think about this, it strikes me as a lot like the debate about guns. You have to go out of your way to let people know that you don't want to take their guns/cars away, otherwise all this talk makes them very uneasy.

I don't know why I'm talking about "them," when I have this feeling too. I love being in my car, and react irrationally at suggestions that I'll have to take the train. But if I had a choice, and the train were very convenient, I would probably eventually come around to riding it. So maybe "choice" is the way to frame it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:05 PM
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I mostly only drive to work and back (~5.5 miles each way), but I shudder to think of trying to get groceries for a family of five plus pets home via foot or public transport.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:05 PM
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ogged could totally walk to Plaza del Lago and the Linden el stop if he weren't so lazy.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:08 PM
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it's impossible to get anywhere without driving, and it's impossible to drive anywhere. Yet, people do fight it, all the time.

This is the real problem. Most people looking for change here aren't actually anti-car per se., they are against the way they are used. Being against 'burbs isn't identical to being against cars, but it's related enough that it falls into those overlysimplified, sound-byte terms.

The US has largely bought into a development model that is predicated on car ownership, and to a large degree on cheap oil. Fundamentally though, this is a done deal. A huge percentage of the population lives in areas whose feasability and financial value are completely dependent on maintaining infrastructural and automobile costs relatively near where they are. Many suburbs are worth next to nothing at all without it. And people have most of their wealth tied up in them.

So what you're really asking people to do is completely change the way they live, but many people can't really see an alternative. It's one thing to say `you don't need a car' standing in Manhatten. Quite another in the middle of the Atlanta sprawl.

What people need to see is a workable alternative that isn't new york. More likely, they need to be financially forced into it.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:09 PM
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Yeah, in order for public transit and walking to work, you have to have a pretty dense population, aggressively mixed with useful businesses. The fact that I walk five blocks and up four flights of stairs with my groceries is unthinkable to someone like my mom, but that's really not bad for Brooklyn.

The things I will find hard to give up about public transit are (a) being able to sleep/read/work/etc. on my way to work and (b) never having to worry about dying in a car accident. But I guess that's not a lot, if you don't have a lot of work to do outside of work, you can drive there in 10 minutes, and you don't have an irrational and paralyzing fear of automobile accidents.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:10 PM
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4: I'm no planning expert, but in extremely mixed use areas like Manhattan, the grocery store is close enough that you can just bring your wheely cart, and/or the cost of delivery isn't that much more of an add-on to the cost of the groceries, and I'd imagine less than the cost of gas.


Posted by: Authoritarian Manhattan Dweller | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:12 PM
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What people need to see is a workable alternative that isn't new york. More likely, they need to be financially forced into it.

Indeed, this is probably what's going to end up happening, assuming oil prices continue to climb.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:12 PM
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Reconfiguring certain places (cities that grew a lot in the early era of the automobile, mostly) to make effective use of transit would be fantastically difficult; if you want trains to work you really need either a hub & spoke system or a very heavy density of lines, both of which are tough to arrange in a relatively dense, decentralized city. Changing zoning to support denser, mixed use and multifamily development is a good solution, but the truth is that's going to leave you with transit problems you don't have now if people want to leave their immediate neighborhoods. Still a good idea, though, for environmental reasons if nothing else.

But the idea that you can make any city that doesn't largely predate the car like New York or Boston or even SF transit-wise is probably not that realistic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:13 PM
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But I do want to take away your car. I think I'll adopt a pose of caring about "smart planning" to disguise my nefarious ends.


Posted by: hypnotizingchickens | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:13 PM
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soup pwned, I were. Figures.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:15 PM
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8: There's that too, but also shopping patterns have changed with the introduction of both fridge/freezers and subdivisions.

The old (i.e. european, somewhat falling off these days) model of buying a bit of food most days gets replaced by the weekly or biweekly load up the back of the car run. If you assume you're buying groceries 8+ bags at a time, it's much harder to see how you'd do it by train, even if you could. If you assume you'll pop up the street 2 blocks and grab some stuff for dinner most days, it looks different.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:15 PM
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I don't know if you really need to sell individuals on smart/dense planning. Where it exists now or is created, the demand is totally there; we're a long way from finding out what the upper limit of that demand is.

This leaves us hammering on the political/structural/regulatory things that lead to more large-lot single-use suburbs and greenspace development instead of infill, mixed use, walkable, and so on. Which is really a quite different fight.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:17 PM
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weekly or biweekly load up the back of the car run

I tend to leave the grocery store with my entire trunk filled, plus the floor and seat of the passenger side of my car.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:19 PM
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15: And yet somehow the Apocalypse always gets rescheduled.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:20 PM
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I wonder if public transit isn't also just more efficient in places where people have small families, if they have families at all. Single people can easily carry two weeks' worth of groceries. No one could do two weeks' worth of grocery shopping for a family of five without a car, or at least a monstrous cart.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:22 PM
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Also, dealing with children on the subway is a nightmare. I've done it, with the ex's kids, and it's not that they're bad, but they just really like everyone to sit next to each other, in a certain arrangement, and to be read to throughout the trip, and all that. It's very difficult to manage child-appeasement on a crowded car.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:24 PM
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Between people who are all "cars are evil" and people who are all "Don't even think about touching my car," a lot gets lost.

This is all well and good as far as political messaging goes, but the overwhelming majority of the human race will actually have to go without cars, period, if we're going to stop/slow down/mitigate the damage of an imminent ecological catastrophe, which is one of the many reasons I'm rather pessimistic about the future.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:24 PM
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No one could do two weeks' worth of grocery shopping for a family of five without a car

Or enough storage space at home to accommodate it all. Larger homes go hand in hand with the car culture, just as do longer working hours (not enough time to shop every day).


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:25 PM
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17: I really think it's more about the assumptions that you'll shop for 2 weeks at a time, you'll travel long distances to do it, and you'll do it in one place.

There are conveniences about this approach, of course. But there are underlying infrastructural assumptions (cheap oil, good roads, consistent electrical power, etc) that aren't so obvious. There are also inherent negatives (you lose good bread, etc.)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:26 PM
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14: yeah one other thing is that single family home ownership was massively subsidized by the federal government for years. If you want walkable mixed-use development you probably shouldn't be making seperated single-family housing stock the easiest thing to build and buy. For that matter, we probably shouldn't be privileging home ownership the way we do; there are other equity investments that would be just as useful, if not more so, for the economy.

But I do think, transit policy-wise, that there must be some way to educate people that spending all of your money on freeway expansion is not, in fact, a good way to reduce traffic but is an excellent way to make sprawl -- and traffic -- worse. I think this, and yet it has not been the case that people have been successful educating people this way.

Another problem is that there are so few places in this country that actually operate this way that they tend to become hugely expensive hubs for educated people, which makes them job centers, which inspires the building of massive sprawl around them.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:27 PM
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just as do longer working hours (not enough time to shop every day).

It's interesting how this tradeoff of travel time vs. shopping/cooking time has played out.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:27 PM
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I highly recommend the book Suburban Nation for anyone interested in how you can harness market demand and the economic interests of developers to create liveable towns. The authors make much of the fact that a significant fraction of the housing that exists at the middle of this century has not yet been built. We got ourselves into this mess in less than 50 years, it's not inconceivable that we can get ourselves out, notwithstanding the many forces arrayed against sustainable development.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:28 PM
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19: gasoline powered cars, yes. The idea of single family atomized transportation is not necessarily the singular portent of doom, although obviously it's trending that way.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:29 PM
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Yeah, in order for public transit and walking to work, you have to have a pretty dense population, aggressively mixed with useful businesses.

One also has to convince suburbanites that buses aren't just for black people and poor people. And part of the trouble with that is that due to how suburbs and commute routes are laid out, public transit is either so inefficient that commute via car is more attractive if you can afford it at all (back to the poor people problem), or that when it is efficient, it only serves a very small area (Pittsburgh T, I'm lookin' at you.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:29 PM
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24: Thanks for the pointer, I haven't seen that one.

We'll have to get ourselves out somehow, but it's a really touchy... if you do it the wrong way (or external forces do it for you) a large percentage of the countries personal wealth disappears very, very quickly. How do we get there from here isn't easy. There are also significant settlements in parts of the country that don't actually make any sense, absent pretty strong versions of the assumptions above.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:31 PM
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Even given existing patterns it's possible to develop cities in a more transit-friendly generation. Ratailing and jobs can follow transit. That's been Portland's strategy, and IIRC it's worked pretty well.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:32 PM
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that when it is efficient, it only serves a very small area (Pittsburgh T, I'm lookin' at you.)

Atl MARTA too. Deeply ingrained racial/class prejudice to blame. For years, neighborhood associations around Emory have been successful at keeping more efficient public transport out so as to keep undesireables away.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:33 PM
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18: Ugh. Whenever I see women trying to maneuver strollers up and down the stairs all I can think is, damn, if I ever have a kid in this town, I need to be rich enough for taxis. Actually, what do you even do then? Do you have to cart car seats around?


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:33 PM
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I'm rather pessimistic about the future.

Yeah, I can see this. The worst case but very plausible scenarios start to look very messy, very soon. I guess we'll see.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:33 PM
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One important factor, I imagine, would be having a really tight schedule for trains and buses in areas of less density. Like, if I miss an F train, I'm not too worried about it because I know there will be another one in five minutes or so. But in a less dense area, that kind of crapshoot is totally unacceptable.

I'm even imagining the possibility of a series of small shuttle-buses from the suburbs to downtown, that would keep to a really tight schedule, only run during rush hours, would drop off and pick up at several major places. Something like that would work even in a very not-dense area like Omaha.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:33 PM
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It's interesting how this tradeoff of travel time vs. shopping/cooking time has played out.

Indeed. Increasing numbers of people have commutes in excess of 45 minutes (statistics on this would be interesting), in part because they've had to move farther away from their jobs to find affordable housing. If you then try to take away their highway expansion dollars, you're faced with a real dilemma: they can't afford to find another job closer to home, and can't afford to shorten the commute by buying closer to the job. Unless! they buy a smaller home, something many people are loathe to do (where will they store their groceries?)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:35 PM
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29: When they were building the orange line in Chicago connecting Midway to the Loop, there was much moaning and wailing from Southwest Side neighborhoods about "them" and what "they" would do if "they" could get to such neighborhoods on the el.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:36 PM
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that when it is efficient, it only serves a very small area (Pittsburgh T, I'm lookin' at you.)

Probably the worst I know of these is Houston's lrt (affectionately known as the wham-bam-tram by some, due to it's starting off life with the highest casualty/mile figures, easily).

They're planning on improving it soon, but as it is now it has one short line from downtown to the medical center. The assumption that mid-town development would grow around it failed, and the downtown was nearly gutted years ago (not that it was ever exactly vibrant) so it really isn't that useful.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:36 PM
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I'm even imagining the possibility of a series of small shuttle-buses from the suburbs to downtown, that would keep to a really tight schedule, only run during rush hours, would drop off and pick up at several major places. Something like that would work even in a very not-dense area like Omaha.

They do that in various parts of the Bay Area. It's very difficult to keep costs down.

In general I think busses suck. Dedicated transit routes are the way to go: fuck sharing space with cars.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:37 PM
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Unless! they buy a smaller home

This is often not actually the available tradeoff. Sometimes there really aren't any small places to live, or the smaller, closer ones still aren't cheap enough (because they're in the super-expensive city area), or the small homes are all also in extremely shitty condition.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:38 PM
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33 I read somewhere in the last few years that the average time americans spent preparing food was south of 15 minutes per day now. It would be interesting to see a plot of that number against average time in car.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:38 PM
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25: The problem isn't just carbon emissions; the problem is roads, suburbs, farming and the amount of wilderness and biodiversity it all consumes. Humans are basically just taking up way too much space - with ourselves, with the stuff we make, with our garbage - than our environment or, ultimately, we can handle, and the measures we'd need to take to reverse this trend would require such drastic measures taken by so many different entities - nations and international bodies, corporations and individuals - that I don't have much hope that they'd actually happen.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:39 PM
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37: This was made much, much worse by developers, and by peoples greed for social signaling. Large and crappy materials beat the hell out of small and well built. Which is another thing that will come back to haunt people in 20 years.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:39 PM
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There are also significant settlements in parts of the country that don't actually make any sense

Yep. Take away cheap energy and you really have an uphill battle to argue that Houston should exist.

Much of the west, of course, is going to run out of water before the transit issues get really severe.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:39 PM
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that I don't have much hope that they'd actually happen

Well geez I'm not talking about having much hope. One must press on, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:40 PM
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urbanist agenda is all about trying to turn the entire United States into Manhattan

I've never had this sense. I do know urbanists, though, who'd be happy to turn DC into Manhattan. There aren't nearly enough grocery stores in the city. IIRC, the mayor is considering proposals to subsidize developers for planning grocery stores and less parking into mixed developments.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:41 PM
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34: My grandmother goes on in a similar fashion every time there's a Bart extension. It seems that CalTrans (or whoever) spends all of its time making sure the dregs of humanity have easier access to my grandmother's door. Soon the villains of Livermore will be free to rape and pillage as they please!


Posted by: hypnotizingchickens | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:41 PM
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37: True, that did occur to me. That wouldn't be true everywhere, but certainly in some places.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:42 PM
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I was just re-reading the Viridian Design Manifesto earlier this week. Bruce Sterling writes a good manifesto, and the goals he presents are absolutely correct, but I'm not sure that any significant progress has been made in the last 8 years.

[W]e will be told that Global Warming is merely a "theory," even when our homes are on fire. Industry is too stupid to see planetary survival as a profit opportunity. But industry is more than clever enough to sabotage government regulation, especially when globalized industry can play one government off against the next.
...
It's a question of tactics. Civil society does not respond at all well to moralistic scolding. There are small minority groups here and there who are perfectly aware that it is immoral to harm the lives of coming generations by massive consumption now: deep Greens, Amish, people practicing voluntary simplicity, Gandhian ashrams and so forth. These public-spirited voluntarists are not the problem. But they're not the solution either, because most human beings won't volunteer to live like they do. Nor can people be forced to live that way through legal prescription, because those in command of society's energy resources will immediately game and neutralize any system of legal regulation.
However, contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks attractive, glamorous and seductive.
The task at hand is therefore basically an act of social engineering. Society must become Green, and it must be a variety of Green that society will eagerly consume. What is required is not a natural Green, or a spiritual Green, or a primitivist Green, or a blood-and-soil romantic Green.
The world needs a new, unnatural, seductive, mediated, glamorous Green. A Viridian Green, if you will.
...
The current industrial base is outmoded, crass and nasty, but this is not yet entirely obvious. Scolding it and brandishing the stick is just part of the approach. Proving it requires the construction of an alternative twenty-first century industrial base which seems elegant, beautiful and refined. This effort should not be portrayed as appropriate, frugal, and sensible, even if it is. It must be perceived as glamorous and visionary. It will be very good if this new industrial base actually functions, but it will work best if it is spectacularly novel and beautiful. If it is accepted, it can be made to work; if it is not accepted, it will never have a chance to work.



Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:43 PM
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I think there should be a movement to turn Manhattan back into Manhattan. There are a lot of neighborhoods that are so expensive that they can no longer sustain reasonably-priced restaurants, delis, grocery stores, laundromats, etc. Even my neighborhood in Brooklyn is losing these places to more and more bank ATM fronts and "destination" restaurants.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:43 PM
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I do hope there's some way to keep all these housing/transportation problems from blowing up in our faces. Still, part of me chucklingly anticipates the huge dislocations likely after we follow standard practice and fail to do anything.

After the Last Oil Crisis, the white-collar worker will think nothing of biking two miles through suburbs to get to the train station!


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:43 PM
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Vancouver Washington was resistant to mass transit connection to Portland because of fears of riffraff, which is hilarious if you know anything about Westley Allen Dodd -ville.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:45 PM
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We should be pushing full speed for Soleri-style arcologies. Why? Because awesome, that's why. I call the two bedroom near light well B-18 with easy access to hydroponic gardens and the ultrasonic showers!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:45 PM
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47: there's not any particular way to do that, unless you can somehow manage to get the murder rate way back up.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:46 PM
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48: If there really is a `Last Oil Crises', there won't be any subdivisions to bike through, because the infrastructure won't work for them (think electricity, natural gas, big boxes, not carbon emmissions)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:46 PM
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Teo's (9) is worth emphasizing. Oil is already over 100 $/barrel. Economics is going to end the car culture long before we can figure out a nice way to break the news to people that their lifestyle is unsupportable.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:46 PM
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46: Excellent. Thanks, Nick.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:46 PM
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53: The real problem is if it happens too fast, the car culture is the least of the worries, really.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:48 PM
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Gas is more expensive now, adjusted for inflation, than it was at the last peak in the early 80s. We are in an oil crises, and there is no sign of a recovery followed by a new stretch of cheap oil. This is the last oil crises.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:49 PM
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There's a trend to build lighter houses out of cheaper materials, and to destroy what was there before rather than to reuse. In some ways this is wasteful, but in other ways it may help; if a home's expected lifetime is 40 years instead of 200, sensible rebuilding could happen fast.

I'm not alarmed by the dislocations introduced by gas becoming more expensive-- if there are fewer trucks and stompers on the roads, very light electric cars will be safe, and will allow gradual reconfiguring of what's built now rather than shocks.

Even at $100/barrel, oil is cheap enough that people are only now beginning to invest capital in technologies to reduce energy use.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:50 PM
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My big hope for the future was that China would realize that car culture is insane and, since they're not a democracy, they could shove the right decision down people's throats. Sadly, it appears that they've decided to stick with Communism's dismal environmental record.

What pisses me off the most is that there was an awesome network of rail transit in the US that was actively torn out in an effort to prop up the car-based economy.

I agree with Sifu's thoughts about buses sucking -- I actually think that Chicago should experiment with diagonal streets being bus-only (for example).


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:51 PM
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55 to 56. I agree, but the real pointy question is how long things will drag out. Collapse over 10 years is vastly different than collapse over 50. It's plausible that oil will drop a bit and plateau again. All sorts of things are plausible, and nobody actually has the information to say what is most likely.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:51 PM
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You people spell crisis weird.

As far as the current situation goes, yes it will continue to get worse, but I don't know that it'll be that abrupt a transition. I suspect the world economy could -- will -- absorb $300 a barrel oil with surprisingly little obvious tumult. Why do I think that?

Who, me? Why what? Huh? Bet you didn't think of that!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:51 PM
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One important factor, I imagine, would be having a really tight schedule for trains and buses in areas of less density. Like, if I miss an F train, I'm not too worried about it because I know there will be another one in five minutes or so. But in a less dense area, that kind of crapshoot is totally unacceptable.

This is quite a lot of it. I know the bus system around here pretty well, but it can be a pain in the ass on Sundays where service is every hour or so. Back at my parents', there is a bus that would take me downtown that stops at the edge of the street; but I think it leaves once at a time that would get one into the office at a reasonable hour. Virtue my ass; what it needs is demand, because if a bus ran every fifteen minutes, it could be considered an option.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:53 PM
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41: Take away cheap energy and you really have an uphill battle to argue that Houston should exist.

I'd say wouldn't exist in its present configuration. It is still the 2nd biggest port in terms of tonnage in the US. (Dallas is more "contingent").

35: Ah, so they actually built the Houston lrt. Being discussed when I was las there 20+ years ago. Its potential impact on me shows the problem with retrofitting to car cities. They were planning a spur out the SW Freeway. Turns out I lived and worked within a quarter mile of two proposed stations. Perfect right? It still would have been hard for me to use. No problem in the walkable neighborhood where I lived (my wife walked to her job ... rare in Houston), but the station near my job would have been a across two access roads and a 1/4 mile along a typical "death to pedestrians"* stretch of Houston multi-lane suburban arterial road.

*pedestrian unfriendly is too mild a term.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:54 PM
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The problem is that the demand for gas is very price-inflexible. Price flexibility of demand is the term economists use to describe how much demand changes as price does. For products like gas with very few replacements, demand is generally inflexible.

This means that people will be very slow to adapt to higher oil prices. Which in turn means that we are in for some hard times.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:54 PM
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In case anyone was wondering, the title of this post was taken from a spam subject header in Witt's e-mail inbox.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:55 PM
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52: I'm just imagining a world analogous to Japan, where gas has been expensive for ages.

I don't really understand your parenthesis. Do you mean that electricity transmission and use is more intensive in resource use or carbon emissions in suburbs?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:56 PM
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Maybe the boomers, once they age a few more years and become afeared to drive, will push for more transit.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:57 PM
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Bruce Sterling writes a good manifesto, and the goals he presents are absolutely correct, but I'm not sure that any significant progress has been made in the last 8 years.

I think Sterling actually succeeded admirably in his efforts to do things like reinvent green as sexy/designer-y/luxury. The problem is -- and I don't know if this is something he should have foreseen -- that these efforts kind of started and stopped at luxury goods, rather than his hoped-for effect of making energy consumption and carbon emissions seem dowdy and unfun.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:57 PM
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nobody actually has the information

The actual state of Ghawar is a secret closely guarded by the Saudis. It's not the whole picture, but it is the largest field in the world. They've been paying kaffirs to drop more wells per year in the last decade than before, but who knows what that means.

JIT supply chains cosidering local vs distant sourcing can be reconfigured pretty quickly.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 12:59 PM
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Part of the reason for the inelasticity of gas-demand is the abundance of infrastructure that policy types bitch about. Once you've got your .5 million dollar home a 45 minute commute away from your office, a $.10 gas hike doesn't mean shit, nor would a $.50 one.


Posted by: hypnotizingchickens | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:00 PM
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60: I agree that there is still a long ride up in the price of oil before it really impacts the basics of the mass of American development.

At some point there will be a real crisis, during which I predict the US will act very, very badly. (current Iraq will be the equivalent of the Spanish Civil War.) Not meaning to go all mcManus here.

America: My Constitution, Yes; My Industry, Maybe; My Exurban Home; Never.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:01 PM
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Maybe the boomers, once they age a few more years and become afeared to drive, will push for more transit.

The situation in Florida gives little cause for optimism.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:02 PM
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In this case, I imagine the more inflexible the demand, the harder its eventual snap.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:02 PM
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47: Don't worry, AWB, the gentrifiers will get theirs.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:02 PM
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Maybe the boomers, once they age a few more years and become afeared to drive, will push for more transit. chauffers.

67: I dunno, I still have hope it's going to trickle down to cars once green tuning and so on takes off. DIY electric and hybrids can be very fun things.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:03 PM
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Speaking of cities with walkable neighborhoods and public transit, I will be in D.C. this coming Monday evening. Do any local commenters have interest in meeting for a beer? E-mail me at knecht underscore ruprecht at yahoo dot com.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:05 PM
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65: Concentrating on cars is a bit of a red herring. $100/bbl with certain availability leaves people complaing about $4 gas. $200/bbl with availability shifts car production more, and probably development. Most areas of the economy get damped a bit (what fun).

But if supply becomes a real issue though, forget about the cars. Food production falls apart (nat gas & oil) , heating & cooling (nat gas & oil & coal) becomes intractable in some areas, the real economy tanks, parts of the country aren't worth living in any more (and the nominal wealth tied up there evaporates). real fun stuff. It's entirely plausible with a tight enough oil & nat gas market, the crazy overabundant agricultural outputs of the US would suddenly have trouble feeding the country, let alone maintaining oversupply.

The problem with subdivisions is that they are pretty much predicated on a few things. Solidly available electricity since 2 weeks food in your fridge + another months in the freezer is a pain in the ass if it spoils once. What about once or twice a month?). Electricity is vulnerable to nat. gas availability as well as oil, unless a huge growth in coal (its own problems) is made, ad that might not work. They are predicated on the industrial agriculture model working (very vulnerable to nat. gas & oil) and the supply model for big box stores (which in turn need elect, and cheap heating/cooling), In many parts of the country, being at all comfortable there is predicated on heating & or cooling of increasingly oversized airspaces. This is vulnerable to oil & nat. gas.You've got to be able to afford to drive back and forth, but so do any and all services. Etc. etc.

It's an interlocking system with oil & nat. gas at the center of it.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:05 PM
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Maybe the boomers, once they age a few more years and become afeared to drive, will push for more transit.

I suggest burning boomers (deceased, of course) for fuel; it's a solution to the oil crisis, but not to global warming. Darn.



Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:07 PM
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The actual state of Ghawar is a secret closely guarded by the Saudis.

Exactly. Nothing to do with the Saudis particularly though. Absolutely everyone in the industry lies throught their teeth about this, and nobody has a good feel for the whole system.

It could be a lot better than we think, it could be a lot worse. The production indicators are kind of scary though.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:08 PM
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76: at least we'll always have Jenkem (or should I say Leeeeroy Jenkems?)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:09 PM
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77: we may need them for fertilizer more.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:09 PM
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80 to 79.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:10 PM
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73: See also, "98% of Commuters Favor Public Transportation for Other People".


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:10 PM
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Interurban light rail.

I've read that, 100 years ago, you could travel from NYC to Chicago on trolleys - even small cities were trolley hubs, and a city like Pittsburgh would have trolley lines running 35+ miles to surrounding county seats. Metro North and the LIRR are remnants of this (I think some Boston lines go pretty far out, no?).

Point being, this sort of thing makes small cities/large towns viable for a less car-centric lifestyle: you can live in a walkable "urban" center, and train into the local metropolis for work. This cuts down on crazy-long, crazy-making car commutes, and leaves behind the single family car for necessary family trips (or, in a 2-income fam, for one earner to drive to the non-centrally-located job).

The way in which this addresses issues raised here is that these places (Washington, PA, Greensburg, PA, etc. - county seats of 10-30k) are full of cheap, dense housing that is in no way threatening to suburbanites (maybe not big yards, but yards, and detached or semi- houses), with the existing infrastructure for a lot more people. Insofar as more people want to move to these places, new housing can be built - but in town, not in new car-dependent subdivisions just outside town.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:12 PM
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83 took so long to write (ramble), that it was somewhat 58-pwned. Sheesh.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:14 PM
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83: somewhat far.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:16 PM
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It's plausible that oil will drop a bit and plateau again. All sorts of things are plausible, and nobody actually has the information to say what is most likely.

FWIW, I was talking to my dad (30 years doing forecasting for Exxon, now retired) about this last weekend. He says that they (the forecasters) knew damned well that something like this was coming. But the war is worth maybe $20/barrel, and there's some additional tightness in the market just due to general fears. His basic take is that the "proper" price of gas about now is somewhere around $75/brl, although who knows when/what might trigger a drop to that level.

We probably need the war to end, plus for some piece of high-profile "good" news that settles down traders. What then needs to happen, of course, is for pols to show some balls and say, "OK, folks we've had a big scare, and things have gotten a bit better, but let's be prepared for next time. Sensible Energy Plan, activate!"


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:19 PM
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Commuter rail farther yet.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:19 PM
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Interurban light rail.

My dad used to have aunts who lived in the city (St. Louis) and could travel back home to mid-MO by train (now 1.5 hours by car). The idea of taking the train anywhere in Missouri is so, so weird now.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:20 PM
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68: According to shivbunny, a Saudi group is currently nosing around his employer, because while they haven't explored for more oil in a while, they're interested in doing so again. (If he goes to Saudi Arabia, I ain't visiting.)

And apparently there's been discovered a very large underground repository of oil in Saskatchewan. Like comparable to the most recent big one in Texas. Apparently, they've known about it for some time, but a number of recent factors have made it recently considered worth looking into.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:22 PM
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36:
this is the way to do bus systems that beat train systems in a lot of ways.


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:22 PM
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50: Can I be Judge Dredd?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:23 PM
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One can still go Philadelphia to, er, New Haven I guess, via commuter train: SEPTA, NJ Transit, Metro North. Then I think you'd have to switch to Amtrak.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:24 PM
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but let's be prepared for next time. Sensible Energy Plan, activate!"

Which is what should have happened in the 70's crisis.

At this point all that's needed is China and India to keep growing industrially, and no-one to magically find huge reserves. In other words, we're almost certainly screwed, but the time scale is unknown.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:24 PM
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Everyone likes to cite Curitiba's BRT system, but has anyone else been able to replicate it? Even getting real dedicated travel lanes for the buses seems to be hard everywhere else, and forget about bonuses like the boarding/payment pods.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:26 PM
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94: dude everybody in Boston just loves the silver line!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:28 PM
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So much so that when they say its name in the heat of passion they leave out one of the letters!


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:29 PM
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Which is what should have happened in the 70's crisis.

The thing is, it more or less did: as of the early 90s, GDP had grown ~50% over the late 70s, without a substantial increase in national energy usage. But Reagan undermined what Carter had set in place, and then oil got crazy cheap*, and it was largely undone. We still have a much less energy-intensive economy than we did (thanks, deindustrialization!), but another Carter term (ha!) would have set us in really good stead, even still.

Even with the war and torture, I'm not sure I've ever been quite as angry as when Cheney made his "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue" comment. Not only was it unbearably snide, but it was also 100% wrong.

I'm getting all tense just thinking about it. Asshole.

* My dad also reported that they knew that was sort of a false price, but what can you do? Raise pump prices on principle?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:32 PM
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71: I'll believe any story about Florida drivers. My mother's stud-muffin was driving up until his last visit to the ICU in his nineties. When he needed to use the brake he would pick his leg up with his hands and move it to the brake from the gas pedal, and so on.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:37 PM
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has anyone else been able to replicate it?

About 10 years ago, the local transit agency introduced airport-style minibuses that did little loops out in the burbs. But of course transit always gets squeezed, and so they faded away - we've lost main trunk lines in the past ~3 years, so it's not like little loops could survive.

87: What the hell is anyone doing way out there?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:38 PM
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97: you know what fucking pisses me off? His vested interest in killing Amtrak so fucking CSX can use the tracks more freely.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:38 PM
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99: actually, the commuter rail goes all the way to Providence. I wish it went to New Bedford; I'd move to that city in a heartbeat.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:39 PM
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97: It's true, the real problems were in the 80's and 90's (oh, we're not screwed, lets party), the immediate reaction in the 70s was to clamp down a bit.

Our economy is less energy intensive by some ways of counting, but they're flawed counts -- they're predicated on the availability of external inputs that use a lot of energy. Overall we're using much more, but that's neither here nor there.

More problematically, over the same period we've done things like shift almost entirely to an industrial agriculture model that is absolutely predicated on plentiful and relatively cheap oil and natural gas, while at the same time effectively dismantling the system it replaced. It was a mind-bogglingly stupid thing to do as completely as it has been done.

My dad also reported that they knew that was sort of a false price, but what can you do? Raise pump prices on principle?

At a minimum, yes. All of the policy stuff that was done only looks ok if you assume essentially unlimited oil supply. Which everyone knew was pretty stupid by the 50's at latest.

Your dads comments gel pretty well with what the current oil guys I know say, for what it's worth.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:44 PM
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Rumor has it that thanks to a VPN connection, I will be able to monitor the location of all Silver Line buses from my apartment in realtime. Not that that helps anyone else, but it's sloooowly getting there.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:44 PM
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I has been interesting to watch the reclamation of the old Pacific Electric (Red Car) right of ways for the new commuter light rail.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Relief_map_Pacific_Electric_Railway.jpg

One used to be able to go from Redlands, approx. 60 miles inland to Santa Monica.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:44 PM
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Oh, I was also thinking this about O's references to marketing/framing:

I used, inadvertently, the phrase "car-dependent" up above. I think that's a potentially valuable term - it inverts the traditional association of car=independence, and, as long as you use it to describe places, not people, you set up a third party enemy. "You're not the problem; it's the car-dependent development that some pointy-headed bureaucrat enforced." Along those lines.

Also, I think that framing lifestyles/locations in terms of requiring a second car helps, because it makes implicit that we assume everyone will have one car - we just don't want to force people to pay $5000/yr for a second car they shouldn't even need.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:44 PM
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95: Don't talk shit. I took the silver line not two weeks ago and it was sick.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:46 PM
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101: Now there is a worthwhile real estate speculation. With a commuter rail extension, New Bedford becomes the next Newburyport, guaranteed.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:46 PM
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105: that's a good way of phrasing, I think.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:47 PM
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107: but with nicer houses.

106: I think that means it was good?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:47 PM
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I think that means it was good?

See why you shouldn't drive, granpa?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:50 PM
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100: For a second I thought you meant my dad. He's Amtrak-friendly, AFAIK.

101: I was pretty sure you could train from Providence to Boston; I just wasn't sure if it was "commuter" train. Given the economics of housing in Boston, it seems like extending lines out to places like New Bedford would be a no-brainer; there's a lot of (potentially) very nice towns ringing Boston that are maybe a bit far for driving commutes.

At a minimum, yes. All of the policy stuff that was done only looks ok if you assume essentially unlimited oil supply. Which everyone knew was pretty stupid by the 50's at latest.

I just meant that Exxon couldn't unilaterally raise pump prices in a time of $15/bbl gas, no matter what their own planners told them. But "everyone" didn't know it was stupid by the late 50s - the Exxon Building at Rock Center* was built in the 60s with a heating/cooling system that involved chilling water year-round, piping it to every office, which would then use electric resistance to heat it to the occupant's desired temp. So good for worker productivity, so bad for the planet.

* And, I presume, its non-Exxon contemporaries at Rock


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:51 PM
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111: I mean't that everyone knew it was stupid to assume effectively unlimited supply. Which is quite different than acting on that knowledge, obviously.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:55 PM
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14: The politics of density is tricky. Since property taxes are the life blood of most municipalites low density, high property value development is best. It generates the most money per capita.

There's also the social ideal of the "American Dream." I live in Chicago and have started looking to buy a condo. My real estate agent has said, "I won't let you buy a one bedroom" because of resale issues. But I live alone and don't have a lot of furniture. Why do I need the extra space. Move out the 'burbs and the ideal is the front and back yard. People are conditioned to want space.


Posted by: Eric S | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:57 PM
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As Emerson mentioned, Portland is a great example of transportation policy as a driver of smart city planning (planners love this place); it's also an example of how a city's development can turn on a couple of key decisions. Here there was a potentially disastrous freeway project (in which the city-fucker Robert Moses had a hand), the rejection of which empowered (yeah, I hate that word too) community organizations and freed up funds for light rail. Also, Oregon had one of the great conservationist Republican politicians in US history, Tom McCall, who established a model land-use planning system (and also put on the only state-sponsored rock festival ever in the country).


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 1:59 PM
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113: There are a lot of momentum issues like this to overcome. But seriously, it looks like only a choice between overcoming it in a planned way, or an unplanned way. The latter could get pretty nasty.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:01 PM
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I see now that the MY post that O was referring to is actually about Morgantown, WV, which was no more than 1 trolley transfer away from Pgh, back in the day. So yeah, MY is pretty much right on, AFAIC.

113: RE professionals are pretty insidious. They're very much like Beltway pundits, "interpreting" the CW in a way that defines and cements it. We were fortunate to have an agent whose main business was very much not helping young couples buy run-down old houses, but he was quite game and very helpful. But I've heard many stories about perfectly viable neighborhoods that are effectively redlined by hidebound RE agents - and the flipside, where 1 or 2 agents practically turn around a neighborhood single-handedly.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:05 PM
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Point being, this sort of thing makes small cities/large towns viable for a less car-centric lifestyle: you can live in a walkable "urban" center, and train into the local metropolis for work.

83 gets it exactly right. I've recently been finding out that there are some good bus options that get me to neighboring cities, but if they ran more frequently (or didn't stop at 7:00) I'd use them a lot more often.

I think Sterling actually succeeded admirably in his efforts to do things like reinvent green as sexy/designer-y/luxury.

I agree that Sterling has been pushing hard on the right side of several issues (his Computers Freedom and Privacy keynote speeches also make good reading) but in this case not being able to extend into mass/low market goods is a failure of the explicit goals of that manifesto.

But, again, I think that manifesto does a great job of presenting the overall goals and challenges.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:05 PM
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The politics of density is tricky. Since property taxes are the life blood of most municipalites low density, high property value development is best. It generates the most money per capita.

This is a widespread belief, but no less false for being widespread.

1. Low density development generates less property tax revenue on a per square foot basis (which is ultimately the limiting factor on what a municipality can tax). Compare the assessed value of a block of Cambridge, MA with the same land area in Great Barrington, IL.
2. It also costs geometrically more to provide services like water, sewer, roads, garbage pickup and street lighting to a less dense development.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:06 PM
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It also costs geometrically more to provide services like water, sewer, roads, garbage pickup and street lighting to a less dense development.

This is one of the issues that may well help lead to dead suburbs under enough oil pressure.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:07 PM
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Someone up above mentioned Boomers helping to get us past the car-centric thing. I will note that Boomers have been a major mover behind the Downtowns renaissance that has helped virtually every city in the country. It can only help that there's a new, high-profile model for the the Good Life that involves intensely urban living, even if the model as it exists is explicitly child-free.

But as has been said, it's not about Manhattanization - it's about reclaiming denser, semi-urban places.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:08 PM
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Very tangentially related to the current discussion (It's an oil company! That counts!), I'm struggling not to giggle at this company that BusinessWeek loves:

No. 8: BJ Services

...BJ Services specializes in getting more crude out of tight rock formations and other unconventional spots...

Most of us would find it no surprise that BJ services would do so well in any economy. It's a pretty solid counter-cyclical.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:10 PM
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76

"... Electricity is vulnerable to nat. gas availability as well as oil, unless a huge growth in coal (its own problems) is made, ad that might not work ..."

Only about 3% of US electricty comes from oil. Natural gas is more (close to 20%) but there is still plenty of natural gas worldwide. Coal is currently about 50% and could easily be increased.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:21 PM
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Ironically, a big selling point for the new dense housing being built in San Francisco is that it is convenient to the highways going south to silicon valley:

"People here want new, they want views and they want access to Interstate 280,"

In addition to the south of market condos by the ballpark, there are also plans for hi-rise condos in the southwest corner of SF which is less dense to start with but still has good access to 280.

The projects are still a good idea from an urbanist perspective but car commuting isn't going to go away.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:24 PM
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Stay off my 280, bitches!


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:25 PM
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111

".... Given the economics of housing in Boston, it seems like extending lines out to places like New Bedford would be a no-brainer; there's a lot of (potentially) very nice towns ringing Boston that are maybe a bit far for driving commutes."

Some of you are talking as if mass transit is basically free in terms of energy. This is not the case, it is a bit better than cars but not dramatically better. A 20 mile car commute may use less energy than a 40 mile rail commute.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:26 PM
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Ha, just clicked through. I got a little brochure in the mail for One Rincon a year or two ago. God, you might as well be dead as live in a place like that. Not that I could afford it anyway, thank you very much.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:26 PM
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Concentrating on cars is a bit of a red herring. $100/bbl with certain availability leaves people complaing about $4 gas. $200/bbl with availability shifts car production more, and probably development. Most areas of the economy get damped a bit (what fun).

For what it's worth, car production is already shifting a huge amount. The light truck sales numbers are incredibly grim, and show no signs of turning around.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:28 PM
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123: but car commuting isn't going to go away.

Yes, this is another structural issue, the dual (or more) commute household, especially with the move to suburban office parks. (The dual worker is here to stay, but the attractiveness of the green water-hungry lawned office park workplace can be changed.) Suburb-to-suburb commutes in the US currently outnumber suburb-city sommutes, as I recall.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:29 PM
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Shorter 128: It's all the fault of the feminists!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:31 PM
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A 20 mile car commute may use less energy than a 40 mile rail commute.

Depends on the number of riders, doesn't it? Not to mention the amount of congestion.

BUt that's beside the point. Energy usage for the exurban lifestyle is not limited to commutes. Even taking your suggested energy comparison, if the 40 mile rail commute also entails a pedestrian lifestyle at home, then it's a clear winner over the have-to-drive-for-a-galloon-of-milk lifestyle of the exurban car commuter.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:31 PM
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God, you might as well be dead as live in a place like that.

The location blows, but the views are awesome.

I still wonder where the residents are going to go food shopping. I can't see many of them walking down to the Whole Foods, even if it is only a few blocks away.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:32 PM
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Stay off my 280, bitches!

It's not *your* 280. It belongs to the guys in the Porsches speeding down to Sand Hill Road.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:33 PM
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Of course "speeding" s/b "doing 120 and a few lines of blow".


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:34 PM
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especially with the move to suburban office parks. (The dual worker is here to stay, but the attractiveness of the green water-hungry lawned office park workplace can be changed.) Suburb-to-suburb commutes in the US currently outnumber suburb-city sommutes, as I recall.

Oh, I meant to comment on this. If there's a significant shift in lifestyle patterns, then businesses will start moving back into towns - the dominance of suburban office parks is a quite new phenomenon (been building for decades, but only became more common in the last ~10 years), and can easily reverse. More than anything else, it's been driven by car access - business owners will tell you they're doing it for their workers (and, sometimes, their customers).

But in the short term - once fewer workers find suburban commutes convenient - I see no reason that office parks can't run private shuttles to the nearest transit stop. The local mega-medical center runs shuttles to satellite parking all over town, this would be quite comparable. It's not ideal, of course, but the point is that it's a very soluble problem.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:36 PM
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Once people actually move in, I assume that some enterprising soul will open up a new grocery store nearby. BTW, those looking for signs of impending economic doom should keep an eye on how many of the ORH condos come back on the market when the buyers can't close.

Oh, and re: making Manhattan more like Manhattan. You wouldn't have to increase the murder rate; serious troubles in the financial services industry would do wonders for reducing property values. As we may be about to find out.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:36 PM
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I just noticed that almost no one walks much around here, even though the town is ultra-safe, has sidewalks, and is only about 6 blocks wide by 15 blocks long at most (probably 60-70 square blocks altogether). Probably half the town is within 5 blocks of downtown, but people mostly drive.

I think that walking tends to have become associated with childhood and poverty, so that driving instead of walking is associated with respectability and personal dignity.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:42 PM
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One word:Plastics. Which means, along with steel & rubber, that there won't be any cars or trucks to consume that gasoline. So don't worry be, happy.

Chilean grapes? How much energy does it take to make a microprocessor? Are we really going high-rise, well, consider the girders and concrete. Where does cement come from, anyway, and how much does it cost to transport it. Which is why nuclear ain't an answer, takes a lot of oil to build a nuke plant. Or a solar roof. Or a windmill.

Basically, at some point the price of everything, including credit, will go logorhythmic, the world will go chaotic, and population & output will precipitously decline. War is a certainty.

Collapse, not decline. Just forget adjustments and incremental measures. All irrelevant. The survivors, about two billion from eight billion, will make those decisions.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:43 PM
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Groceries Grow Elusive For Many in New York City
With Rents Soaring, Stores Are Being Demolished for Condos

Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:44 PM
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One year I had a job in a suburban office park in Burlington. I took subway+bus to get there from my city apartment; it was a straight shot, and pretty easy, if not super-speedy. I found it telling that basically the only other person there who lived in the city was the CEO, who had a nice place in Brookline, and that the half of the company that were Chinese guys on H1-B's had immediately set themselves up with suburban lodging and cars.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:46 PM
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Some of you are talking as if mass transit is basically free in terms of energy. This is not the case, it is a bit better than cars but not dramatically better. A 20 mile car commute may use less energy than a 40 mile rail commute.

Shearer is not entirely wrong, but not entirely right. Even at relatively low levels of ridership (because you have to run a lot of off-peak trains that don't have very high seat load factors), passenger rail in the US is anywhere from 30-50% more fuel efficient than automobile transport.

However, at peak commuting hours, when automobile fuel efficiency is lowest, and train efficiency is highest, there is no contest: the train is at least 10X more efficient on a per passenger mile basis.*

And that's even though the US uses about the least energy efficiency form of rail traction: electro-diesel propulsion, over most of its rail network. A modern rail network with catenaries and regenerative braking blows automobile transport out of the water--and at much higher speeds!

Also, the costs of the automobile culture are not just in fuel consumption. Equally important are
- road congestion
- space for parking
- superfluous miles traveled (e.g. the time spent looking for parking, driving on errands because of big-box retail culture)
- tendency to promote sprawl, with the attendant impact of increasing average dwelling size (which has a much bigger ecological impact than the choice of transportation mode)
- detrimental impact on the livability of communities.

*In freight transport, the 10X advantage is regularly achieved in one important segment, coast-to-coast intermodal shipments, where a fully-loaded double stack container train is fully ten times as efficient as trucking the same freight.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:47 PM
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I've only read a couple of chapters of The Transit Metropolis but it seems to be a good look at transit systems worldwide, with a fair amount of good things to say about dedicated bus service in addition to or even instead of rail.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:58 PM
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"However, at peak commuting hours, when automobile fuel efficiency is lowest, and train efficiency is highest, there is no contest: the train is at least 10X more efficient on a per passenger mile basis.*"

You have a reference?

"*In freight transport, the 10X advantage is regularly achieved in one important segment, coast-to-coast intermodal shipments, where a fully-loaded double stack container train is fully ten times as efficient as trucking the same freight."

You have a reference? Note even if true this has nothing to do with efficiency hauling people.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 2:59 PM
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James, no one asked you for a reference. This is a blog. I'm not sure that anyone's ever asked you for a reference for your assertions.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:02 PM
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I think that walking tends to have become associated with childhood and poverty, so that driving instead of walking is associated with respectability and personal dignity.

As a walker/biker one of the areas in which I am jealous of car commuters is just having a place to put things.

Say you're going to work and want to grab a basketball and pair of shoes in case you decide to stop by the gym on the way home -- no problem. If you're on a bike you can do it, but it's a hassle, and you won't do it on the spur of the moment.

Obviously it's easy to live without, but it's a real benefit of cars.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:05 PM
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I'm not sure that anyone's ever asked you for a reference for your assertions.

They have and he's had them, as I recall. Anyway, no need to get defensive (on Knecht's behalf); maybe Shearer just wants a reference for his edification.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:08 PM
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grab a basketball and pair of shoes in case you decide to stop by the gym

Respectability and dignity includes belonging to a gym that has its own basketballs.

And doesn't mind bike shoes on its courts.

And with that, I'm off to test out the bike riding mix I just crafted/threw together.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:16 PM
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What pisses me off the most is that there was an awesome network of rail transit in the US that was actively torn out in an effort to prop up the car-based economy.

Everything you need to know about the mess we're in you can learn from Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:17 PM
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just having a place to put things

It's actually really sweet to consider the ways in which the culture might change if public transport (or biking) becomes more the norm than the exception. Lockers at work! Being self-employed, I keep a rather ridiculous amount of stuff here at the shop. Makes for a more home away from home feel, and surely would contribute to increased employee loyalty and such. But perhaps a lot of employers allow for this anyway.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:17 PM
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If people start documenting shit I'm going to boycott this place. Documentation is entirely inappropriate. There are rules.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:17 PM
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144: As a walker/biker one of the areas in which I am jealous of car commuters is just having a place to put things.

Yeah, it's hard to get 6 cup holders on a bike.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:18 PM
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Re: cars. Depending on where I end up for graduate school, I might have to learn how to drive a car, and I find this greatly disheartening. Of course, this is more out of general laziness and economic concern ($$$ for car, gas, insurance, etc.) than feelings of moral superiority, but whatever.

Re: collapse of oil-based economies. I'm pessimistic that this won't happen in my life time, but I can hope! Seriously though, I realize that this kind of collapse would harm me (perhaps even significantly), but I take solace (and pride) in the fact that those who live lifestyles I dislike and haven't chosen for myself (family, car, house, commute, etc.) will be hurt more. This country will yet be great again, I imagine.

As for turning the entire country into Manhattan (or instead, modulo present Manhattanites' concerns about what Manhattan has "become", what Manhattan was): what dreams may come!


Posted by: Currence | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:19 PM
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142: James, this stuff is pretty well studied. I can dig you up references, but not at the moment. Remind me if you'd like them.

The biggest distortion in the freight comparisons is that rail pays all it's own infrastructure costs, and trucking doesn't.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:20 PM
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144: Seriously, in any given case there can be good reasons for walking. But what I said is that I almost never see anyone walking.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:20 PM
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Shorter 128: It's all the fault of the feminists!

I made one professor in college posit that women's lib was made possible by the automobile. Prior to that to have any sort of freedom of mobility required a carriage and team of horses (women don't ride horses?). The relatively cheap, no need to be escorted nature of the auto meant more autonomy, and presto- demand for equal rights.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:21 PM
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144,150: Xtracycle to the rescue!(?)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:23 PM
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Automobile -> autonomy. I buy it. If you're not a self-mover, how can you be a self-legislator?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:24 PM
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I'm confident that the free market economy will efficiently make sure that the people hurt most be any disaster will be the poorest, regardless of who was wasting the most energy before the shit hit. There will be exceptions, e.g. as the Amish, but by and large the pain will be distributed through the normal economic pain distribution channels.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:24 PM
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In Salt Lake, the ridership on the light rail that's gone in is far above projections. That thing is packed. Sure, we still drive a bit. But my wife drives 5 minutes or so to the park and ride to take the rail downtown, and my work is only a couple miles from our house. And this town is hardly some trehugger hotbed. People will ride the rail if it's done right.

Green up that car technology along with more rail lines in the valley, and this would be a fairly green place transpo wise. Doesn't have to be the apocalypse to drastically improve these things.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:25 PM
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Some of you are talking as if mass transit is basically free in terms of energy

It's not. It's much, much better than typical US cars, but it's not free. As noted though, in face of a real availability problem for oil, personal transport really isn't the problem. It is clear, though, there is no drop in replacement for gasoline. So no building lots of lrt to existing suburbs. The suburbs just don't make sense without cheap oil etc.

Only about 3% of US electricty comes from oil. Natural gas is more (close to 20%) but there is still plenty of natural gas worldwide. Coal is currently about 50% and could easily be increased.

This is incorrect. Natural gas supply is a real problem as well, and coal is problematic in a number of ways. Shifting stuff more heavily onto natural gas puts more pressure on agriculture from an additional direction. It's all connected, and you can't, juggle your way out of it, period.


For what it's worth, car production is already shifting a huge amount.

This is true. It's a day late and a dollar short, but it is shifting. Mostly this is going to have economic effect though, on the short to mid term, rather than an emissions effect (which isn't really the problem anyway).


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:29 PM
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This railroad industry white paper puts trains at 4x more ton-miles per gallon, and a brief look seems to indicate that it's not assuming doublestack trains. (The massive fuel efficiency advantages of long-haul doublestack trains are generating new railroad construction for the first time in decades; there was a WSJ story a few months ago that had some neat Flash maps.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:35 PM
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Natural gas supply is a real problem as well

My understanding is that there's natural gas out there, but not the infrastructure, particularly the transportation infrastructure, to get it where it needs to be and store it effectively, making natural gas a lot less fungible than a barrel of oil. Yes? No?

I expect, under the rules of most-bad that the American government operates under, we're going to see a ton of coal-to-liquid and coal gasification projects over the next ten years. Mad Max climate change, here we come!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:38 PM
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natural gas out there, but not the infrastructure, particularly the transportation infrastructure

Projects like this are probably going to become more common. As for more natural gas being "out there", a lot of Russia's economic comeback is natural gas fueled - manipulating this supply to neighboring countries is part of Russia's political comeback - and I would assume that a lot of investment is going to go into making some of the resource rich parts of Russia that have been nearly inaccessible much more accessible in the near future.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:43 PM
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I wrote 162.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:45 PM
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161: My understanding is that it isn't even out there to the degree once thought, at least not to the point that it is worth going after assuming high oil prices (which is a kicker in some of these things). Of course, I could be wrong about the supplies.

The `oh, we can use more coal' arguments mostly fall down for similar reasons. The supply here isn't so huge that shifting over a lot of electrical to it won't run it out fairly quickly, and projections based on current extraction costs are bogus for the above reasons. Liquified coal as fuel is a joke, large scale.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:45 PM
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161: My understanding is that it isn't even out there to the degree once thought, at least not to the point that it is worth going after assuming high oil prices (which is a kicker in some of these things). Of course, I could be wrong about the supplies.

Huh, that doesn't square with my understanding, which has natural gas very roughly pegged to BOE pricing at some ratio -- as the price of oil creeps up, doesn't it make sense to start building captures instead of flaring the gas off? Unless you're saying that high oil prices make the cost of building pipelines and holding facilities untenable, which is basically the "totally fucked" case.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:48 PM
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Unless you're saying that high oil prices make the cost of building pipelines and holding facilities untenable

Exactly, this kicks in sooner than you might think. And the supplies are not as big as once thought in the first place. I'm not saying we are for certain `totally fucked' as you put it, but there are plausible paths where we can't build enough new infrastructure economically to shift things fast enough.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:50 PM
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It's funny how fast we went from 'chill out, we're not going to take your car away' to 'we're going to take you house away.' Or maybe it's 'we're going to make you wish we would take your house away.'

I support and frequently use mass transit. Because it frequently (but not always) makes sense to do so. Drop all the moral stuff, and all the Mad Max stuff -- build it well, and it'll be filled up. Make people think you're trying to herd them into arcologies, and you may as well just elect Dick Cheney king.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 3:57 PM
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the thing about the `mad max stuff' is no that I believe the worst case stuff is likely to happen, but that I believe it's quite likely we'll end up triaging some of the less tenable areas we're currently using. Which will psychologically be a big shift. Much as the small towns in parts of the country have pretty much evaporated, leaving boarded up main streets, the same can happen to some of the sprawl.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:02 PM
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Cheap electricity has led to very little capital going to solar energy research-- amorphous silicon is not that good, and was discovered essentially by accident, and also very little capital going into storage technologies.

We won't run out of energy for fertilizer and steel. Exurbs may die in the southwest, but given how often people move, I don't think that's such a big deal.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:13 PM
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If what I'm reading about overbuilding, walkoffs, and lender walkoffs is true, the triaging is already starting. Not strictly because of gas prices, of course, but because of the whole land-use / housing overreach.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:18 PM
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Even when someone with upside-down indebtedness walks away, the bank still has a property that's worth real money to someone. Maybe not the 600k they loaned on it 18 months ago, but a buyer willing to pay 450k will be found.

If it makes my little house worth $1 million -- I live close in, but not so close as to lose good schools -- the psychological shift is going to be mitigated more than a little. Emerson is right above -- pain will not be evenly distributed.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:25 PM
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161

"My understanding is that there's natural gas out there, but not the infrastructure, particularly the transportation infrastructure, to get it where it needs to be and store it effectively, making natural gas a lot less fungible than a barrel of oil. Yes? No?"

There is lot of natural gas out there as shown for example by the fact that substantial amounts are still being burned off while producing oil. The problem is getting it to market. It can be converted to liquid form and shipped. This is expensive and has not been competitive in places like the United States which have had sufficient local supplies. However it is technically feasible, Japan for example imports almost all of the natural gas it consumes. With higher prices in the United States liquid natural gas terminals are being built and should be able to handle the demand.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:25 PM
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I care about the "South", and I don't mean Dixie or Arizona.

I want to get cheap energy to Bangladesh and Brazil, and I want to do it yesterday. Those will be the people who die first.

Fuck America. What does the propping up of inestment prices mean? What do the high returns on finance mean? It means capital won't get invested where it really helps.

America is the great suckpump of world hope. It moves here and dies.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:27 PM
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According to recent reports, Napi, banks are walking away from some properties which they think are hopeless because they don't want to pay taxes and maintenance on them for years before selling them at a loss.

I don't know how common that is, but if it's true it might be possible for someone with capital to scavenge up houses dirt cheap and rehab a few doomed neighborhoods.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:28 PM
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164

"... The supply [of coal] here isn't so huge that shifting over a lot of electrical to it won't run it out fairly quickly, ..."

This is simply untrue assuming fairly quickly means in less than 50 years.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:29 PM
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174

"According to recent reports, Napi, banks are walking away from some properties which they think are hopeless because they don't want to pay taxes and maintenance on them for years before selling them at a loss."

I believe these are mostly run down properties in bad neighborhoods not new construction.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:32 PM
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Towards the end of my time as a speechwriter in Little Politics, we proposed that my boss should stop saying things like "in our new smart-growth city center, you can wake up, shop for groceries, see a movie, hit a restaurant or a club, go to the theater, go shopping, all without using your car!" and instead say things like "the more of these smart-growth principles we enact, the fewer people will be clogging up the freeways when you're driving around in your car!"


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:37 PM
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Not in the story I read.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:44 PM
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174 -- If property is going to be sold for taxes, there may be killings to be had. I don't tend that way, but late night infomercials tell me everyone can be a millionaire flipping these houses.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:45 PM
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My dad's a retired oil engineer. He's told me a bunch of times that natural gas is out there, sure, and feasible to hook up to urban systems, sure, but that the extraction process for natural gas makes coal plants look clean.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:47 PM
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everyone can be a millionaire flipping these houses.

Last year when everyone in the industry could see the meltdown coming, a guy I worked with suggested putting together a vulture fund to buy foreclosures. When I asked where the potential buyers would come from, I got a blank look. I don't know if he went ahead with his cunning plan.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:50 PM
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Towards the end of my time as a speechwriter in Little Politics, we proposed that my boss should stop saying things like "in our new smart-growth city center, you can wake up, shop for groceries, see a movie, hit a restaurant or a club, go to the theater, go shopping, all without using your car!" and instead say things like "the more of these smart-growth principles we enact, the fewer people will be clogging up the freeways when you're driving around in your car!"

I think that mass transit systems created for other people to use generally do much worse than mass transit systems created for you to use.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:50 PM
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At the risk of turning attention away from the always-entertaining apocalyptic vision of bob mcmanus and the bean-counting turn this thread has taken, I'd like to point out that fuel efficiency is only one of many issues underlying good city planning and transportation policy. Christopher Alexander is perhaps the best known proponent of a more holistic view, to which the living neighborhoods site is a good introduction. It's squishy, hippie stuff, of course, but sometimes the hippies are right.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:51 PM
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but sometimes the hippies are right.

Only the clean hippies. Dirty hippies are never right.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:56 PM
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everyone in the industry

Are there regulations that forbid brokers from speculating in homebuilder equities?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 4:59 PM
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I was really talking about cherry-picking the abandoned houses and picking a few up for almost nothing. The real disasters seem to be when whole neighborhoods are abandoned half-finished -- something like that ssems to have happened to my niece.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:06 PM
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Are there regulations that forbid brokers from speculating in homebuilder equities?

Nope. No insider information, really. Plus, the other Keynes quote comes into play, so there really is no need.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:11 PM
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183 -- that's the Pattern Language dude! I never really read it, but an anarchist I used to work with was reading it at work once and it looked cool, so I bought it.

It's kind of a master key for good things in physical space. Like the Monster Manual, except with individual parts of the living environment, instead of monsters. Maybe more like a periodic table of permaculture.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:20 PM
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Drum has a link to a story of what Emerson is talking about. I'd link to it, but everytime I go to Drum's site, I lose internet.

I watched Soylent Green the other day. Those of you who haven't seen it in the last decade or so (or never seen it) ought to give it a spin. Yes, we all know the big reveal. What's interesting is how 2022 NYC looked in 1972.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:22 PM
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Maybe more like a periodic table of permaculture.

Totally. The rest of the Center for Environmental Structure series is also fascinating.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:36 PM
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188: Oh, A Pattern Language is fantastic, fascinating. The Living Neighborhoods link looks great, thanks.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:45 PM
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159

"... It's much, much better than typical US cars, but it's not free. ..."

The table in this wikipedia article suggest "much, much better" is an exageration. On the other hand it seems rail freight really is much more energy efficient than heavy trucks. Although using ton-miles as the figure of merit is biased in favor of trains.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:50 PM
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Last time I went home, I was meeting some friends at my roommate's house, which happens to be in the same horrible subdivision as my parents' house, like maybe two blocks away. When I got there, no one could figure out how I'd managed to travel all that way without a car -- I had to repeat a couple times that I just walked.


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 5:50 PM
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"A Pattern Language" is very good book.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:09 PM
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178

Here is a story about banks abandoning properties.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:16 PM
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Although using ton-miles as the figure of merit is biased in favor of trains.

Not really, given that the likely concern is 'how much does it cost to send X tons Y miles.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:18 PM
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186

"I was really talking about cherry-picking the abandoned houses and picking a few up for almost nothing. The real disasters seem to be when whole neighborhoods are abandoned half-finished -- something like that ssems to have happened to my niece."

Half-finished is a different story. But I don't believe there is much completed new construction which is literally worthless. I have visited people in newly constructed $300000 homes which are probably well under water but they look nice enough and I expect would sell in a flash at the right price, for example $100000.

Of course there are always bargains to be had. I went to my condo board meeting recently and learned one of the units had gone to the town for taxes (at like 5% of value) and then been resold for full market value. It seems the owner was wanted by the police and willing to walk away from a valuable property. Buy the right tax lien and you could get a similar return.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:35 PM
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The Senate housing bill contains big subsidies for purchasers of new and foreclosed homes. Keep the suburbs afloat!


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:39 PM
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198: Keep the suburbs afloat!

Make the pie higher!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:47 PM
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196

"Not really, given that the likely concern is 'how much does it cost to send X tons Y miles."

Bulk matters also. I expect trucks would do better in terms of moving X cubic feet Y miles.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:50 PM
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You have a reference?

I was off the grid and see this challenge to my commenter honor. Shearer raises a fair question, and to be fair, the 10X statement is only true under certain limiting assumptions.

Start here and follow along with the math.

According to the Department of Energy, average energy efficiency for US commuter rail trains in 2005 was 2743 Btu's per passenger mile. Average passenger car energy efficiency in 2005 was 5409 Btu's per vehicle mile. At 1.57 passengers per vehicle, that's 3445. So the train is about 25% more efficient on average (though keep in mind that commuter rail is less efficient than other types of rail because so much energy is lost in braking and restarting at frequent stops).

But wait! I said passenger cars. But 48% of register motor vehicles are "light trucks". Let's charitably say that 1/6 of those are not used for primarily for passenger transport, so 40% of automobile miles are really light truck miles. That bumps the average up to 4016 Btu's per passenger mile, making commuter rail 46% more efficient.

But wait, that's the average of all automobile trips, including highway trips. So adjust the automobile consumption up by about 15% to account for the difference between the overall average and the city average. Now the train is about 68% more efficient.

Now, commuter rail systems nationwide run at under 20% passenger load factor. In the commuter rail system I know best, peak hour trains on average have load factors of 80-85%, and individual trains can have load factors over 100%. So I've used 4.25 as the load factor differential between the average train and the average peak hour train, i.e. fuel consumption per passenger mile is 1/4.25 of the average (ignoring the additional weight of the passengers, which is negligible in comparison to the empty weight of the train).

Now, if we look at the most favorable case (a lone commuter in a car in city driving versus a commuter train at peak hour load), the energy consumption of the automobile is 7,252 Btu's per passenger mile versus 645 for the train--a difference of 10.2X.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 6:54 PM
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I'd add a note about how much more efficient cars would be if people kept their tires properly inflated, but the DC Circuit says I don't have standing to push that point.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:00 PM
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You have a reference? Note even if true this has nothing to do with efficiency hauling people.

I can't cite a source for the claim I made about the 10X advantage on a coast-to-coast intermodal move, but I will ask you to trust me that I have done this calculation directly from original (confidential) source data, and it is not bullshit.

Again, have deliberately cherry picked an ideal case for rail; more typically, intermodal has anywhere from a 4-6X fuel efficiency advantage* over a pure truck move, depending mostly on the length of haul (which in turn determines the proportion of truck miles in the total origin-to-destination distance).

*This is on a per "unit" basis (i.e. one intermodal container), not a per ton-mile basis, so the weight distortion that Shearer notes does not apply


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:06 PM
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Bulk matters also. I expect trucks would do better in terms of moving X cubic feet Y miles.

Actually, James, this isn't true, either. Rail obviously is the preferred mode of transport (along with barge) for very heavy bulk commodities such as coal, metals, and lumber. A truck cannot legally carry enough of these commodities to make it competitive over anything but the shortest distances.

But once you get beyond a length of haul of a couple hundred miles, rail is also the preferred mode for "fluffy" commodities such as plastic pellets and even paper products.

The main difference between "rail friendly" and "truck friendly" loads is value per ton of the commodity. The more valuable the commodity, the less significant the role of transport costs in overall product costs. Also, on more valuable stuff, the inventory carrying costs start to become significant, so the faster mode of transport may be worthwhile despite the higher cost of trucking.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:15 PM
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Haitians Riot Over Food Prices

We don't have time for this shit.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:22 PM
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But once you get beyond a length of haul of a couple hundred miles, rail is also the preferred mode for "fluffy" commodities such as plastic pellets and even paper products.

Warren Buffett now owns something like 14% of Burlington Northern, and it's hard to view it as anything other than a bet on sustained high fuel costs.

Bob, I know that you're not genuinely interested, but the Brazilians are probably better equipped than most countries outside Europe for periods of serious petroleum inflation due to a functional ethanol industry and the climate that makes it work.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:34 PM
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IIRC from the Oil Drum World Pop will reach all time peak around 2015. Now remember babies are always bein born, so it will mean replacement births will be exceeded by deaths.

But, oh, for maybe ten years before the high death rates, there will be hunger and suffering, barely hanging on, a decline in net world calories per person. We are already there.

And you want me to get excited over an x% increase in rail vs truck efficiency, realizable in 10-50 years with a national effort?

Too late. Won't matter. You won't recognize the world in a generation. You may not recognize it in a decade.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:35 PM
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201

"But wait! I said passenger cars. But 48% of register motor vehicles are "light trucks". Let's charitably say that 1/6 of those are not used for primarily for passenger transport, so 40% of automobile miles are really light truck miles. That bumps the average up to 4016 Btu's per passenger mile, making commuter rail 46% more efficient."

Where do you get 48% light trucks? According to table 4 in 2004 there were 136 million cars and 81 million personal trucks. And the cars were driven more. And the trucks had higher average load factor (1.72 vrs 1.57). So the above computation appears questionable.

"... In the commuter rail system I know best, peak hour trains on average have load factors of 80-85%, and individual trains can have load factors over 100%. ..."

Is this counting the trains going in the other direction?

"... i.e. fuel consumption per passenger mile is 1/4.25 of the average (ignoring the additional weight of the passengers, which is negligible in comparison to the empty weight of the train).
..."

Is the increase in air conditioning load also negligible?

"Now, if we look at the most favorable case (a lone commuter in a car in city driving versus a commuter train at peak hour load), the energy consumption of the automobile is 7,252 Btu's per passenger mile versus 645 for the train--a difference of 10.2X."

And if you look at a full car vrs an empty train?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:37 PM
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207: You may not recognize it in a decade.

I know, early onset Alzheimers, my biggest fe


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:38 PM
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Now remember babies are always bein born, so it will mean replacement births will be exceeded by deaths.

Oh no! It'll be like the whole world has been plunged into the terrifying dystopia that is Italy! Or, worse, Japan!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:38 PM
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People will abandon their cars if there's a baseball game at the end of their mass transit route. Ride the Red Line before or after a Cubs home game and see if I'm wrong.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:39 PM
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210"Try sub-Saharan Africa. Something like the AIDS orphans.

Or Darfur.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:43 PM
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204

"But once you get beyond a length of haul of a couple hundred miles, rail is also the preferred mode for "fluffy" commodities such as plastic pellets and even paper products."

Trucks could still look relatively better for fluffy commodities. Say 5-1 disadvantage instead of 10-1. Are you claiming measuring tons instead of cubic feet makes no difference at all?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:44 PM
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Dont forget to add the part about population control. People should have fewer babies. (Or less babies for you northerners.)


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:47 PM
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And if you look at a full car vrs an empty train?

If we're looking at typical US commutes, why would we do this? Should we also consider zeppelin technology?

Face it, James. You lost. It was a good troll, a nice effort at keeping people honest. But KR had the goods, and the contrarian position is, in fact, the wrong one.

Whatever the specific numbers are, cars aren't even close in fuel efficiency for commuting.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:50 PM
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(Or less babies for you northerners.)

Hey! Since when are Northerners presumed to be grammatically degenerate? Most of the grammar snobs I know are New Englanders.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 7:52 PM
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214: (Or less babies for you northerners.)

Nice try Johnny Reb, but we'll not fall for your cunning plan.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 8:06 PM
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208 James, my point was that trains are more energy efficient than cars for commuting under real existing conditions--there is no serious debate about that--and that under certain idealized conditions, the difference can be quite large. You can play with the assumptions in my calculation all you like and it doesn't change that fact.

Now, IMHO, both modes of transit could are far less efficient on their own terms than they need to be, given the technology currently available, but that's a matter for another day.

As far as the modal advantages of truck versus rail, there isn't a magic low density at which truck becomes more fuel efficient than rail. The key factors in modal choice are dollar value per weight of commodity and length of haul. Over very long distances, even high value shipments often move by rail. J.B. Hunt, which many consider the best managed national truckload carrier in the U.S., generated almost half of its revenues from intermodal moves last year (i.e. loads that moved part of the way by train).

If trains make you feel icky because dirty hippies like them, it might ease your mind to know that railroad employee political contributions over the last decade have favored Republicans by three to one.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 8:12 PM
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Now, IMHO, both modes of transit could are far less efficient on their own terms than they need to be, given the technology currently available

Just channeling some of the automobile technology improvement of the last 20 years into fuel efficiency instead of building 5000# vehicles that accelerate faster than 1970s sports cars would save a shit-ton of energy. I was noodling around the other day looking for mid-range, vanilla vehicles with less power and better fuel efficiency than the current norm. There aren't many.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 8:48 PM
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201

"... In the commuter rail system I know best, peak hour trains on average have load factors of 80-85%, and individual trains can have load factors over 100% ..."

Over the entire length of the route? The trains north from NYC may start out full but they don't stay full all the way to the end of the line.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:01 PM
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Surely the bicycle should have a role (geddit!?) in any discussion of feminism and transport. After all, wasn't it a bit of cliche in Edwardian Britain?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:03 PM
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221: What, "bicycle smile"? I think you're in the wrong thread.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:04 PM
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218

"James, my point was that trains are more energy efficient than cars for commuting under real existing conditions--there is no serious debate about that--and that under certain idealized conditions, the difference can be quite large. You can play with the assumptions in my calculation all you like and it doesn't change that fact. "

I am not disputing that trains are on average a bit more efficient. I am questioning whether shifting a few commutors to trains would actually accomplish much. I expect a 10% improvement in overall automobile mileage would be easier to accomplish and would save far more fuel than any remotely plausible shift to trains.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:09 PM
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221: There's a very important work of American feminism by Frances Willard on this very subject, written in the 1890's, called Wheels Within Wheels.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:13 PM
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Those are not mutually exclusive alternatives.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:14 PM
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The big question is: what conveyance brought each attendee to Seneca Falls?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:14 PM
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I expect a 10% improvement in overall automobile mileage would be easier to accomplish

Well you're right in the sense that there simply is not a drop in replacement for cheap gasoline, but you are wrong in the same sense. Commuter miles are only a smallish bit of the puzzle, and while it's unrealistic to expect lrt to crop up everywhere and solve that problem, it's similarly unrealistic to expect a technological fix allowing current commuter patterns.

Simple answer is that current commuter patterns cannot last at all, period, and also that longer distance freight is much better managed by train (which kills the wal-mart model if expenses for trucking get too high, and implies a subtle but far reaching change in how business works here.)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:29 PM
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wow, the first sentence of 227 is pretty broken. the latter bit should read `but you are wrong in the larger sense, 10% shift in commuter use doesn't really help'.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:32 PM
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227

"Simple answer is that current commuter patterns cannot last at all"

In which case extending rail lines to serve far out suburbs would be an expensive mistake.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:40 PM
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Over the entire length of the route?

Yes. Seat load factor is defined as the ratio of passenger miles to available seat miles, so it does in fact take into account the light loads at more distant stations. Load factor can exceed 100% for particular trains when you have people standing in the aisles and vestibules for part of the trip.

This isn't an issue worth trolling.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:44 PM
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227: Right, extrapolating from current data suggests many suburbs are dead, period. But the length scales are difficult to estimate.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:48 PM
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I am questioning whether shifting a few commutors to trains would actually accomplish much.

See 140, the latter part. To have liveable communities, a growing economy, and ecological sustainability, you need a balanced transportation portfolio that internalizes the external costs of pollution, fossil fuel depletion, AND congestion. An optimal balance would still include a major roll for automobiles (and highway freight), but it would look a lot different from the contemporary U.S., which privileges the personal automobile in myriad ways. It would also be less transportation-intensive in general (shorter supply chains, fewer freight ton-miles per $ of GDP, fewer passenger miles traveled per capita).


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:53 PM
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what conveyance brought each attendee to Seneca Falls?

For the women's convention? Men, mostly.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 9:54 PM
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Only the clean hippies. Dirty hippies are never right.

This is a common prejudice, but it is mistaken. In fact, abstinent dirty hippies are occasionally correct. It's only the dirty fucking hippies that are invariably wrong.



Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 10:12 PM
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If trains make you feel icky because dirty hippies like them, it might ease your mind to know that railroad employee political contributions over the last decade have favored Republicans by three to one.

My dittohead railroad executive BIL dreams of the day Amtrak is sufficiently devalued that it can be carved up and parted out for next to nothing. Public transpo doesn't interest him so much.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 10:34 PM
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Who's wine? What wine? Where the hell did I dine?

See, I'd really like to participate in this thread intelligently but Peter Frampton has other ideas.

Last time we talked about urban planning, I was doubtful. I continue to be. My investment in your dying suburb is pretty thin. My interest in your desire that I live differently is thinner still. Cities/counties are going to muddle through; some few with enough of a communitarian bent will get themselves together enough to try to make a community livable, many more will be laissez faire hellholes. Fine.

Nice places to live, with good jobs and good schools, are going be to more expensive. People who can't afford them are going to live in places that aren't as nice.

It seems to me, based on the last 35 years, that much more than the real lifestyle changes discussed above, the next 20 years of energy price increase will lead to technological innovation. Better mileage, fewer SUVs, more efficient appliances. Less travel for middle class and below. That is, Aspen does fine, maybe Branson has a tougher time.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 10:35 PM
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James, you are simply misinformed about both US coal and US natural gas reserves. Natural gas production remains below mid 70s levels, and relies heavily on imports from Canada (whose production has peaked as well). For the most part, oil industry doesn't burn the stuff off any more and while there are some reserves untapped due to expense, there simply isn't an abundant supply out there to supply the shortfall in other areas. Similarly with coal. If you expect coal to fill shortfalls in electrical supply, heating, and transport fuel (you can liquify it) you aren't going to get your 50 years from US supplies. 20 will be more likely.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 10:35 PM
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234:Ahhh...but I think I need a further discussion of abstinence as celibacy or continence to know if I am always right.

Fuck dudes, the Philosophy's Other blog just laid Benjamin's Arcades on me, all 175 megabytes of it. I need advice:will this book drive me insane?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 10:36 PM
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Nápi, for the most part I agree with you on the form changes will take --- but the SUV's aren't the issue. It's agriculture and heating/cooling.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 10:38 PM
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239 -- Sure. Soylent Green again. When have you last seen it? I'm not usually a fan of C. Heston, but the way he stands in front of the air conditioner in the rich people apartment is worth a chuckle.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 11:00 PM
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Soon they'll be breeding us like cattle! You have to tell the world!


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 11:10 PM
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Completely OT: If anyone has a bead on a Boston-area store that sells rolling papers at 1:30 AM, I'm all ears. There are times when I truly, deeply, love SF, and this is one of them.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04- 4-08 11:40 PM
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Cars r Coffins


Posted by: Willy Voet | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:08 AM
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Further(vaguely) OT:
Boston is a European city. The assumptions embodied in its infrastructure are old-school, but they've dated themselves, and policy has failed to adapt the way Barcelona's or Munich's has. Everything is walkable, but only during the day. The T is great, but the bus sucks; this is symptomatic of a Boston that thinks of itself as Boston per se. You don't need a car, but you shouldn't, and they do everything to make you want one.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:29 AM
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242:Inner cardboard of a tp roll and aluminum foil worked fine for me in desperate straits.

Movie reviews:Watching something called Nearing Grace and I am finding myself utterly exhausted with coming-of-age movies. These are usually the wisdom of 25-yr-olds looking back on their teens. Right.

2) Watched Reign Over Me. What a mess. Wasted even Saffron Burrows and Don Cheadle. I can't think of many good PTSD movies. We need some.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:36 AM
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245a:Paper towel roll gives an even better bong effect.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:39 AM
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Yggles dad wrote a good one. The one with Harrison Ford & Jristen Scott Thomas wasn't too bad.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:44 AM
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And oh, yeah, Alison Ander's Things Behind the Sun was on again tonight. I guess there is a few.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:48 AM
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245,6: It's not that kind of cigarette (more is the pity), but it might come to that, so the advice is appreciated.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:50 AM
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237

Regarding coal supplies this wikipedia page gives US proven reserves of 246643 million tonnes and annual production of 1053.6 million tonnes (as of year end 2006). This is a 234 year supply. Increasing production by 50% would suffice to replace electricity generation currently supplied by oil and natural gas. This would reduce the supply to 156 years still well over 50.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 2:20 AM
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I'm late to this, but never mind. We're a family of 6. I haven't driven to a shop for about 2 months, i.e. beginning of February. At the beginning of March I got about a month's worth of food delivered (all our supermarkets do online shopping). I buy fresh fruit and veg when I need it. I've got an old lady style shopping trolley that I can use every couple of weeks and load up with milk and bread.

My children prefer the train for long journeys, and I certainly do: read my book or drive? No contest. With my gas-guzzling car and the extortionate fuel prices, plus a Family Railcard for train fare discounts, the train can work out cheaper (was about 3/4 the cost on our recent trip to Scotland, and that included the bus journeys I then had to make whilst we were there).

Of course, I still use the car for loads of short journeys each week because the bus for 5 of us is stupidly expensive. But one day I might be perfect.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 5:24 AM
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250: The problem with coal is not, contra soup biscuit, its scarcity (it is plentiful*), but its relatively high carbon emissions per BTU. If the external costs of carbon emissions were internalized through pigouvian taxation, the favorable economics of generating electricity with coal would be severely impaired.

For the time being, there is no practical substitute for the coal-fired generators currently in use. But over the long term, it's very hard to imagine how we can get carbon emissions under control without reducing our reliance on coal. So the relative abundance of coal is actually a bug, not a feature, IMO, because it creates temptation (and a powerful constituency) to steer energy policy in the wrong direction.

*Just as an FYI, James, your back of the envelope calculations ignore a very important factor: unused coal reserves are not equal in net energy value to the coal we have already burned. We burned the good stuff (e.g. Pennsylvania anthracite) a long time ago. The 20-foot seams of Appalachian bituminous are also gone. In the East, we are down to narrow seams that take a lot more energy to mine. The major growth in coal production since the 1980s has been from the Powder River Basin. Although this coal is actually cheaper to mine than Eastern Coal, it has a substantially lower BTU value per ton, and it is MUCH more energy intensive to mine (through surface mining) and to transport to where power is generated. This will be even more true of more distant North American coal reserves. DoE projections take these factors into account.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 6:54 AM
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I really don't have time to get into this today, I was probably sloppy yesterday by folding to much into `economic problems' --- the problem with coal isn't simple scarcity, as KR notes. The reserves are probably overestimated, but even if we assume they aren't, it doesn't solve the problem. You face diminishing returns in both quality and accessability. We've used nearly all of the best quality and the easier to get coal, so it costs more to get from here out (in real costs, not dollars), and you get less out of it. If you assume we're forced into a large scale shift back to coal for electricity, on top of massive infrastructure costs and emmissions, there is going to be a lot of pressure to use coal other ways, particularly if we are worried about electricity to this degree then heating is already a problem, so you'd better predict it being used that way too (and probably as diesel too). This is why the 50 years estimate doesn't hold up to a little scrutiny.

So moving this direction involves some pretty nasty environmental tradeoffs, and doesn't actually save us from the problem.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 8:16 AM
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So moving this direction involves some pretty nasty environmental tradeoffs, and doesn't actually save us from the problem.

Coal is the enemy of the human race, as the saying goes.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 9:06 AM
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re: 251

I find with the relatively extortionate cost of train journeys, that I am often cheaper driving. If I can book a long time in advance and cash in on the best available discounts, the train is cheaper for me as an individual. But otherwise, or if we're both travelling, it's almost always cheaper to drive.

Public transport during commuter hours has become particularly insane. If I wanted to get the train into London for work -- I don't work in London but I've considered it -- it'd cost me something in the region of triple the cost of driving. Even factoring in parking costs and an underground pass, I could probably drive for less than the train. Which is crazy.

That said, I do most of my day to day travel by public transport.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 9:41 AM
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I'm going to break MC John E's rule about references. Soup, do you have any references for the source of your bleak prognistications? I'd like to look at the evidence myself before I join you in the Slough of Despond. (This is a blog, as someone keeps reminding us, so feel free to ignore my request, but I'm genuinely curious.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:27 PM
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Ok Walt, I'll dig you some up later (I'm on the road). I don't know that I'm particularly despondent about this stuff, I just think that the main issues are pretty difficult to wish away and it's the time scale that's a problem --- but we don't really have a good feel for what that's going to be.

I don't expect any real mad max scenario, more like an economic pinch that stifles growth in some areas (lack of inputs) coupled with a chunk of lower-middle class people losing most of their apparent wealth (tied up in housing that becomes nearly worthless) and a refocusing of energy on agriculture. We've gone from something like 35% of the population working in that to less that 1%, and I suspect we'll re-balance somewhere in between. So this will be a big shift for a lot of people, but if it's done over a long enough period, should be manageable. It's the speed of change that could really screw people.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 12:45 PM
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No one could do two weeks' worth of grocery shopping for a family of five without a car

My mum and I used to do a big weekly shop for a family of seven on our bikes, with the shop being about fifteen minutes cycling away.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 1:58 PM
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re: 258

Yeah, our family did the same. Although these days most supermarkets (in the UK at least) deliver anyway.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 2:11 PM
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It'd cost me something in the region of triple the cost of driving.

Are you factoring in the cost of owning a car? I calculated once that it costs you something like $2000-$4000 a year to own a new street-legal car (registration, licensing, insurance, payments, depreciation, etc.) if you have free parking and don't drive it at all. Gas, oil, tires, and maintenance are added on to that.

I used to feel bad spending $30 on taxi fares in a night, but when I realized that owning a legal car would cost me $100-$200 a month up front, PLUS gas etc., the $30 looked more reasonable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 2:17 PM
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My $80/month subway and bus card is starting to look pretty cheap.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 2:36 PM
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255 - yeah, cheaper train fares involve planning. But my car has really appalling fuel consumption, and it's diesel, so even more expensive. Though I don't mind paying a bit extra for being able to relax and to send the kids to the toilet when they want to go.

Over Christmas, it cost us about 60 quid to drive the 1000 miles from Toronto to NY and back. Costs me more than that now to fill my tank and gets me maybe a third of that distance. Had to keep reminding myself about the NHS, and holiday allowances!


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 2:36 PM
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260: But one presumably also has to factor in the use of a car for other things. (And I think you're running awfully high per year.) It was cheaper for me, by myself not to have a car once I factored in all the items you mentioned, and use the money for trainfare or airfare as needed. But if I'd had a job that required a commute, all of those would be costs I already had to incur, and airfare or trainfare would be bonus on top of that.

At that point, it's whether the airfare/trainfare beats out the gas prices, and cars can carry more than one person, so they almost always win.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 2:57 PM
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I'm behind on this thread, but I want to throw in a note about natural gas.

Natural gas production in a region typically peaks about 10 years after oil production peaks. The estimate is rough, because natural gas areas and oil areas don't coincide. The point is that shifting to natural gas at most buys time for the fossil economy, and it doesn't buy that much time.

Plus, as others have noted, we already need a lot of natural gas to produce artificial fertilizer. There is room for substitution in this sector. Basically, you can use anything that produces hydrogen as a feedstock for the haber-bosch process. We use natural gas. The Chinese typically use coal. Still, we have a lot of different industries drawing on the non-oil fossils.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 3:01 PM
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255: The commuter/local trains in England are particularly insane in cost, and I could never figure out why. The Metra in Chicago, which handles train trips out to the suburbs with probably about a 40-60 mile radius from the city, costs at most about $4 per ride. All sorts of monthly, ten-ride, weekend, and other special fares mean you're probably typically paying more like $2-3 per ride if you take it with regularity.

The train from Cambridge to London cost more like £9 each way, even though it was also only about a 50ish mile journey. Completely crazy.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 3:46 PM
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My higher per year cost assumed buying a new car. Cars depreciate even if you don't drive them. My lower per-year costs assumed buying a used car. My numbers were guesstimates and I'd like to see someone else do it up right. $250 / month or $3000/ year is considered a low car payment. Insurance and registration must put the cost up to nearly $4000. If you imagine paying it up and then selling it, that would be your cost.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 4:00 PM
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New cars are very expensive; this much is true. I do know a few people who decided their longish commutes were costing way too much money and went out and bought the cheapest car they could (in one case, a brand new Chevrolet Aveo for $8k out the door). I doubt it cost them $3k/year.

That said, I can only imagine that long-ass commutes are going to continue becoming less and less popular.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 4:11 PM
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$250 isn't that low for a lease, I don't think. Low but not impossibly so. That's all complicated anyway, what with the questions of deductability, and of the upfront payment. On the other hand, my payments on my 2000 VW are zero. Have been for a while.

Where a car really starts to make sense, though, is when you start ferrying people around. It doesn't cost me any more if I have two passengers along on a trip to Philly. Driving by myself is just about break-even with the train -- including costs of a=ownership as calculated by the people who pay mileage -- but with two passengers, no train under consideration is going to beat it.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 5-08 4:14 PM
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re: 265

Actually, £9 each way is completely wrong re: commuting cost for a 50 miles journey.

A return from Oxford to London -- similar distance as London-Cambridge -- during peak hours is nearly 50 pounds. So, 25 pounds each way! It is about £9 each way if you travel off-peak.

£50 pounds [or more accurately 45-ish] for a journey that takes less than an hour each way is absurd.

re: 260

For me, the cost of owning a car is definitely lower than that. But I don't own a new car. I've had my car around two years during which time I've spent [in US dollars] around 1200 on maintenance and another 800 or so on tax and insurance. If I sold the car tomorrow I could probably get around 75-80% of what I paid for it. Possibly more. All the depreciation happened before I bought it. Even including the cost of the car itself spread over those two years, I'd still be looking at a maximum outlay of something like 150-175 USD a month.

As I said, I use public transport a lot. The car is mostly for longer journeys and for times when I want to travel places where there's no easily accessible public transport, where the public transport doesn't run when I need it, or where the public transport is prohibitively expensive.

The prohibitively expensive part is the bit that annoys me. There's no good reason that a commute into London should cost as much as a minimum wage earner would make in a day.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 12:31 AM
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A return from Oxford to London -- similar distance as London-Cambridge -- during peak hours is nearly 50 pounds.

Oh... shit. I never took the train during peak hours, and I'd forgotten that there were such higher prices. It's the same cost at all times of the day here.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 12:40 AM
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I am painfully familiar with the fares from Cambridge to London as I used to do this several times a week. A standard return is £29. Off peak cheap day return (arriving after 10 am, returning after 7 pm) is £14.
Still, those obscene prices don't stop the trains being uncomfortably packed most of the time.


Posted by: Nakku | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 1:19 AM
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I don't ride the MARC train so I don't know, but Amtrak prices vary by time, as do subway prices. The bus always costs the same. And given the infrequency of off-peak runs, the bus averages out to about the same amount of time, whether during rush hour or not. Driving is wildly variable: if I leave the office after 8 pm, I'm home in 15 minutes. At 5:30 pm, it's apt to be nearly 40. To go 6.2 miles. That sounds like you could walk it faster, but it's an illusion: much of the time is waiting for lights, and walkers have to do that too. And while the hills aren't San Francisco style, they are quite substantial.

During peak hours, the bus is always standing room only, and while the ridership skews a little younger (and more female) than either the subway (which is also standing room during peak hours) or reality, it doesn't seem significantly different from either in terms of race.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 7:13 AM
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I don't know why so many 20- & 30-something women ride the bus, but that + sunshine + blackberry reception > subway + about 10 minutes faster.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 7:17 AM
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Via Atrios, a relevant piece from Calculated Risk.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 11:20 AM
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Walt, the thread is dead and I'm still not back (delayed), so rather than try and disinter it, email me if you want ....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 6-08 1:05 PM
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