In response to my post on inefficient cities, Alon wrote that in Kampala his cousin observed, "The heavier vehicles take the space they want, and pedestrians get the short shrift because they're lighter than cars and if they don't make way they get run over." This is what happens all too often when there is not enough to go around - in this case, enough space to maneuver in the streets - and when the rule of law is weak. Might makes right, and the mighty happen to be the rich who can afford to buy big, heavy vehicles.
It doesn't have to be this way. In the Third World, if you go to places where there is enough street space, such as smaller towns, everyone shares. If you go to places where the rich can't bring their cars, like the narrow streets of the old towns, you can find a more equitable distribution of space.
Interestingly, in these inefficient cities even the rich with their big cars usually have trouble getting around. They may be able to get around a little faster and easier than everyone else, but they still get slowed down and frustrated.
As I wrote in the last post, Los Angeles and Houston have notorious traffic along those lines, but up to now they've been able to build lots and lots of roads to keep cars moving. Kampala and Cairo and Lagos cannot. And here's the problem for LA and Houston (and Las Vegas and Phoenix and Atlanta and Charlotte ...): some day soon, they will lose the ability to build lots and lots of roads. Once that happens, they will become as paralyzed as Cairo and Lagos.
For some, it won't matter. Vegas and Phoenix are so closely tied to the sprawl economy that if sprawl becomes impossible they will lose their reason for existence. People will leave, the cities will shrink, and if there is still a need for anyone to live and work there, they'll probably get around just fine by bike. But they are also heavily dependent on air conditioning and imported water, and if either of those break down the cities will become uninhabitable.
For others it does matter. As Kunstler has argued, coastal cities like LA and DC, river towns like Memphis and Cincinnati, and lake ports like Detroit and Buffalo, will see a resurgence. But the extent to which they function well depends on how well-adapted their transportation systems are for people without cars.
This is where rapid transit comes in. And it has to be rapid so that the transit passengers aren't stuck in the same gridlock as everyone else. The guaguas of Santo Domingo and the bachés of Bamako have phenomenal ridership, but they´re slow, uncomfortable and unreliable during peak times. Streetcars in mixed traffic aren't much better. You need to have at least a physically separated transit right-of-way, and better a grade-separated one. Cities that either have enough of those already or can build them quickly will be in better shape than those that have built themselves around private cars.
Maybe you can see now how this is getting back to the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement. I'll follow up soon.