Sunday, April 29, 2012

Our bodies and our auto bodies

I recently talked about the power games that drivers play with each other, how they often involve using cars as weapons, shields or placeholders, and how that can kill pedestrians and cyclists if the drivers forget that we don't have two tons of steel protecting us. In a counterpoint to that, I have noticed that drivers often perceive their cars as parts of themselves.

You've probably all had the experience, as car passengers if not drivers, of looking for your car in a large parking lot and saying something like, "I think we're over here." It used to drive me nuts to hear myself saying that. I would correct myself: "No, we're right here. The car is over there." But it's very easy to think of things that way. After all, when we're driving around, most people just see our auto bodies and not our flesh bodies inside them.

People often get very protective of their auto bodies. I personally never have, maybe because I've only ever driven used cars and rentals. It may simply be that it's inconvenient and expensive to repair damage, and even if you can get a dent out the car still doesn't look like new. But I think there's something more, due to the way drivers identify with their vehicles.

Combine this protectiveness for the driver's own auto body with the casual disregard for the flesh bodies of pedestrians and cyclists that comes from power games, and the result is homicidal craziness. I've read tons of stories of cyclists and pedestrians who tapped on the fender of a car, and even done it myself occasionally. It is invariably done in response to some kind of dangerous move on the part of the driver. Often the victim, either a pedestrian with no warning system but their own voice, or a cyclist with no horn and only a little bell, was simply trying to get the driver's attention. Sometimes they hit the car out of rage, but only intending to express their frustration, not to cause any damage.

It never accomplishes anything worthwhile. Sometimes the drivers just zip away indifferently. Sometimes they roll down the window or even get out of their cars, shaking with fury and hurling threats. "You touch my car?!" I've heard of fistfights resulting, or weapons. Even worse, sometimes the drivers stay in their cars and use them as weapons to try to harm the cyclist or pedestrian.

When a cyclist or pedestrian talks later about an incident like this, in person or on a message board, some condescending jerk will often lecture the victim about the folly of hitting someone's car. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Yes, it's a really bad idea and it can get you killed. But let's step back from the pragmatic perspective and reflect on how deeply, insanely divorced from reality the driver's point of view is. On one side we've got a flesh-and-blood human who's just been put in mortal danger by someone with two tons of steel. On the other we've got a person who probably has no damage or danger at all to their life or property, and at the absolute worst has a fifty dollar repair job. But the person who is in no danger is making homicidal threats to the other.

This kind of thing happens every day on our streets. It is the very definition of bullying and injustice. And it has to stop. It will not be stopped by electric cars, or fuel cells, or natural gas. It will only be stopped by shifting to a system where there are no cars.

Why we need walkable, transit-oriented suburbs

You regularly hear transit and livable streets advocates talking in terms of an opposition between "urbanists" who want transit and walkability, and "suburbanites" who want car-oriented sprawl. I've said before that that division is way oversimplified: it is certainly true that cities tend to be more walkable and have better transit, while suburbs and rural areas tend to be more car oriented, but this division is not set in stone. There are walkability and transit advocates in the suburbs, in small cities and towns, and in the country, just as there are advocates for car-oriented development in the heart of the city.

There is absolutely no sense in setting up the cities as walkable fortresses surrounded by sprawl. Even if we could persuade every city-dweller to go car-free and keep everyone else's cars out, we would still sometimes want to go out and get some fresh air in the mountains or by the beach. We should be able to do that by transit, on foot or by bike. If walkable, safe streets with convenient transit are good enough for us, they should be available to everyone else too. We also need all the allies we can get when we're fighting for walkability and transit; why write off the suburbanites and people who live in the country and small cities?

I would like you to imagine taking a trip by foot, or maybe by local bus, from New York City to Albany. This trip by foot would take you several days, so let's assume that there's a hotel to stay at wherever you need one. I've chosen Albany because it's completely in the State of New York, but you would see similar (but less rural) phenomena if you went to Philadelphia or New Haven.

You would find Manhattan and the Bronx to be very walkable, with convenient transit. In Westchester County it would vary depending on where you went, but you could find a comfortable route at least as far as White Plains or Ossining. North of there you would find walkable downtowns like Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck, some of them even served by halfway decent buses, separated by increasingly long stretches of inhospitable sprawl and country, until you reached Albany.

Those walkable downtowns are where our natural allies live. Some of them don't own cars. Some keep the car in the driveway all the time. Some curse their cars every time they get behind the wheel. The people who live in between are the ones who tend to vote for sprawl boosters like Nan Hayworth.

Speaking of Westchester sprawl boosters, remember Richard Brodsky, the Assemblymember who managed to convince half the liberals in New York that congestion pricing was a tax on the poor? He was elected from Elmsford, a Westchester suburb that lost its train station in 1958. His district does include walkable villages like Dobbs Ferry and Pleasantville, but it would be significantly more transit-oriented if there were still regular train service to places like Elmsford and Ardsley.

Of course there's no guarantee that transit-riding voters will elect pro-transit representatives, as we see from people like Ruben Diaz and Hakeem Jeffries. But I think that if the Putnam Line had never been shut down - and if at least one of the Thruway, Saw Mill River or Sprain Brook highways hadn't been built - Brodsky would have been a bit less likely to oppose congestion pricing. There's no certainty there, just statistical likelihood, but that's why we have to keep working to build transit riding constituencies in the suburbs and all over the state.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Making up for the police with bureaucracy

I don't know exactly how much credit the Police Department deserves for the drop in "street crime" (i.e. things like muggings, sexual assault and drive-by shootings) over the past twenty years, but I'm willing to give them a lot. In terms of other types of crimes that happen on the street, not so much. Streetsblog has covered this territory in great detail, and if you're not already following their coverage of the department's "no criminality suspected" approach to vehicular manslaughter, you should be. In terms of routine enforcement, they rarely issue tickets for reckless actions like speeding, red light running and failure to yield.

In terms of misdemeanors, the NYPD's traffic division has been doing a fairly good job of enforcing rules governing alternate-side parking, metered parking and no standing zones; if they make Jimmy Vacca and his friends mad, they're probably doing something right. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be doing very well at enforcing the laws that protect pedestrians and pedestrian and transit spaces, especially outside Manhattan. It is not at all unusual to see cars and trucks parked on sidewalks, in crosswalks and in bus stops all over Queens. These appropriations put pedestrians in danger and slow down walking and transit trips, but I almost never see a traffic cop writing tickets for those offenses.

To a large extent, traffic calming facilities like bollards, sidewalk extensions, signal timing, lane reconfiguration, and restoring parking and two-way traffic flow, discourage the illegal behaviors that the NYPD doesn't punish. They can be thought of as making up for the deficiencies of policing. In most cases, though, they're actually better than police enforcement, because they work automatically through physics and psychology, and they're usually cheaper than paying for cops.

There's another way to make up for inadequate policing, but it's much less effective. If there's some kind of special permit requirement, the city can use that to enforce the laws. For example, taxi drivers and owners have to go to the Taxi and Limousine Commission to get their licenses and permits renewed, and any complaints can count against them. So how's that working? And as every New Yorker knows, taxi drivers conduct themselves with greater care than the average driver. Or maybe not. Actually, what you get is regulators who over time develop sympathy for the people they're supposed to be regulating and wind up going easier on them than the actual police.

That brings me back to last night's post, where a raft of politicians want to set up a special permit system for intercity buses in New York City. Most of the problems they complain about are enforcement issues:

  1. The buses often idle. "Some neighbors believe" they can make residents' asthma worse (Gotham Gazette).
  2. The buses make it "difficult to maintain a steady flow of ... pedestrian traffic" (Gotham Gazette).
  3. "and automobile traffic" (Gotham Gazette)
  4. and "to regulate trash and parking" (Gotham Gazette).
  5. Competition also creates "the possibility of accidents and even violence" (Gotham Gazette).
  6. Parked buses "could tie up deliveries, and other businesses in the area will be affected as well" (Tribeca Trib).
  7. "Noise" is a problem, according to Council Speaker Quinn. (Greg Mocker).
  8. The buses park in local bus stops. (Tri-State).
  9. "People's homes and businesses are being blocked by buses, commercial areas, residential areas," says Senator Squadron. Whatever that means (Metro).
That's right, there are laws already on the books against idling, blocking the sidewalk, blocking the road, littering, physically attacking your competitors, and parking in city bus stops. If the NYPD were doing its job, they would be enforcing all these laws. But get this: "In a Chelsea Now article, police officers from the nearby Fifth Precinct report that it is difficult to maintain a steady flow of both pedestrian and automobile traffic because of the buses. The buses' multiple staging areas also make it difficult to regulate trash and parking." The NYPD has the power to ticket the drivers and owners of these buses, but for some reason they just throw up their hands. Well of course Dan Squadron feels like he's in the wild west. The sheriff's out of town!

Unfortunately, this is not like traffic calming, where you can simply set up infrastructure that will restrict the ability of these buses to idle, block the sidewalk or road, or litter. You could of course set up attractive infrastructure: build a nice big bus terminal with dedicated on-ramps to exclusive bus lanes on the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, for example. You'd probably get a lot of buses off the streets that way.

But no, Squadron and his colleagues Chin and Silver want to set up a whole new layer of bureaucracy and create a new class of entrenched interests protected by high barriers to entry. What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The wacky anti-bus campaign

I'm really starting to get sick of this shit.

Look, transit is good, right? The easier and cheaper it is to get to Boston or DC by bus or train, the less likely people are to rent or own cars. And buses are good; what I've been complaining about recently isn't buses, but people telling me that we should only have buses and not trains.

Private transit is a very good sign. If you follow transit advocates from the hinterlands like Sheryl Gross-Glaser or Helen Bushnell, they have a hard enough time trying to convince governments to provide transit to their citizens as a public service, as opposed to some charity for the desperately poor and disabled. The idea that it might ever be a profitable business is completely off their radar. But here in New York City we have so many people who want to ride buses that private operators are flooding in. Isn't that great?

Well, some people look at this and all they see are problems. In September 2008 it was Councilmember Alan Gerson and Manhattan Community Board 3. In October 2008 it was CHEKPEDS and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried. In May 2009 it was Gerson again, Borough President Scott Stringer and CB1, and again I proposed a solution. In April 2011 it was Gerson's successor Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Assemblymember Dan Garodnick, and a raft of studies.

Now Silver, Squadron and Chin have gotten together with Commissioner Sadik-Khan and agreed on a bill to allow the city to regulate the buses. Fortunately they don't have a Republican sponsor in the Senate, which means that they probably won't pass a bill this year.

Okay, remind me why we need a bill? Well... everyone just ...kinda wants one. The complaints are actually pretty incoherent. Let's take a look.
  1. The buses often idle. "Some neighbors believe" they can make residents' asthma worse (Gotham Gazette).
  2. The buses make it "difficult to maintain a steady flow of ... pedestrian traffic" (Gotham Gazette).
  3. "and automobile traffic" (Gotham Gazette)
  4. and "to regulate trash and parking" (Gotham Gazette).
  5. Competition also creates "the possibility of accidents and even violence" (Gotham Gazette).
  6. Parked buses "could tie up deliveries, and other businesses in the area will be affected as well" (Tribeca Trib).
  7. "Noise" is a problem, according to Council Speaker Quinn. (Greg Mocker).
  8. The buses park in local bus stops. (Tri-State).
  9. "People's homes and businesses are being blocked by buses, commercial areas, residential areas," says Senator Squadron. Whatever that means (Metro).
Many of these things are already against the law. We have laws against littering, idling, double-parking, and parking in bus stops. Do we really need a permit system to enforce them? Others are just vague and bizarre, like the city should create a pre-crime unit to arrest people before they commit violence. But the biggest complaint people seem to have, according to last year's press release, is that they're messy. Squadron's favorite phrase is that Chinatown is "like the wild west." It's "chaos," Chinatown is being "overrun" with "no clear rules." The proposal would "create a clearer system" that would allow the bus companies to operate "in harmony with the local community."

That part also makes no sense. To me, everything about Chinatown is chaotic and overrun, with no clear rules. Sometimes I really like that. Are they going to make laws against durian, fish and those little beckoning cat sculptures too?

The remaining concerns speak to a deeper issue: the allocation of street space. As with much of what goes on in New York, that's the real issue; the rest is just smoke. But it'll have to wait for another post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Lurch

Last week I asked bus advocates to answer these questions: "Is there a bus you love? What is it, and why? How often do you take it? Would you complain if someone replaced it with a train that was at least as fast?"

One of the reasons I asked is that bus advocates so often come off as scolds, telling us that in this new economy we're going to have to make do with less, so we should all get used to buses. Then they try to tell us that buses are really just as good as trains. Yeah, right.

My daily commute involves two subway trains and a local bus. I also take express buses on a regular basis, and I'm a pretty frequent passenger on commuter trains and Amtrak. I'm intimately familiar with rail and buses, and all other things being equal I'd take a train over a bus any time.

Jarrett Walker has often cautioned us against using coincidental characteristics to judge buses and trains, and assuming they're universal intrinsic characteristics. For example, most buses operate in mixed traffic, and most trains operate in dedicated rights-of-way. Those trains, all else being equal, deliver more value than those buses, but a train operating in mixed traffic (often called a streetcar) delivers less value than a bus in a dedicated right-of-way (often called bus rapid transit), all else being equal.

I want to talk about a characteristic that I've observed in every bus trip I've taken but relatively few train trips. I believe bus professionals call it "ride quality," but I'll call it the Lurch, and I think anyone who's ridden a bus for any length of time knows what I'm talking about. Buses almost always have to change lanes. Unless there's a bus bulb, or they run in a curbside lane, local city buses have to do it at every stop. They also do it if they have to overtake another vehicle, or when preparing for a left turn across traffic.

This is a big deal for me and many others, including Adron Hall. I can get violent motion sickness, especially if I'm reading or writing or doing anything with any kind of computer. I get it in cars if someone else is driving, especially if I'm sitting in the back seat. I get it on buses and planes, but never on trains - with the single exception of the Acela Express. I get it most often on winding country roads, but I still get it on city streets, especially if the bus has to make a lot of turns.

I haven't taken any of the prototypical "BRT" systems in Curitiba, Bogota or Guangzhou, but all the pictures I've seen have space at some stations for the buses to pass each other, and that would cause a Lurch. Select Buses here in New York certainly do the Lurch. On the other hand, the rubber-tired subways of Paris and Montreal don't.

The only time you get a really strong lurch on a train is when the train changes tracks. One such switch that I know well are the one just east of the Times Square station on the #7 line, where trains can enter or leave either of the two terminal tracks. The other is just west of 75th Avenue on the Queens Boulevard, where F trains switch from the express track to the local track and back.

These switches can cause the train to lurch, but they're not Lurches. One big difference is that they're very predictable. I know almost exactly when the train will go over the switch before Times Square, and if I feel it I know that I need to stand by the doors on the right side of the train if I want to get out first. The train operators also know well in advance, and they usually slow down. Just when I was writing the last paragraph, in fact, I went over the switch at 75th Avenue and we didn't even lurch a little.

The big difference, I think, between a little lurch and a bus Lurch is predictability. Every train has a set of movements, but you can be confident that unless there is some extreme event (short stop, derailment, giant scorpion sting), those movements will not exceed a certain range. With buses, the range of possible movements is much bigger.

I mentioned this to Jarrett once, and he asked if it helped to have a low-floor bus. After a couple years' experience, I have to conclude that it doesn't. The movements may feel a bit different, but they're not significantly better. He has acknowledged this on his blog: "Ride quality in buses is improving, and guided busways may give buses an even more rail-like feel, but new rail systems will probably always have an advantage with their smoother running surface. Is the smooth ride of rail indispensible to a useful network? This can be a tough question whose answer may vary from one community to another."

Having lived in cities with all-bus networks, I definitely wouldn't say that the smooth ride of rail is indispensable, but it makes a big difference. As I said at the top, all other things being equal I'd choose a train over a bus any time, for that reason. And whenever a bus advocate tries to tell me that buses are just as good as trains only cheaper, I wonder: when was the last time that they felt the Lurch?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I would pay for a comfortable ride

Three years ago I wrote a series about comfort, class and transportation. I observed that when it comes to transit, many segments of the population are too old for this shit. Some people are poor enough that they can't afford anything better and have to put up with the subway all the time. Some people take local buses, some take express buses or commuter trains, and some take taxis. Some people buy cars.

I don't want to buy a car. After seeing someone killed by a car, I simply don't want to be the person who kills someone else through a momentary brain fog. That option is closed for me.

I've tried local buses. Here in Queens they're not like local buses in Manhattan. They rarely parallel a subway line, so wherever I go they serve people without any other option. That means they're usually full of people, and at least some of those people don't know how to use cell phones or earphones.

I'd love to take commuter rail or an express bus, and I'd be willing to pay the full $5.50 or $6.25. Unfortunately, the commuter trains from here only go to Penn Station, and I almost never need to go to anything near Penn Station. There are no express buses that stop anywhere in Sunnyside or Woodside - anywhere west of the BQE in fact.

That leaves taxis or car services. But those are just a little too expensive. It's almost always at least $10 including tip to go anywhere in Queens, and usually more. Manhattan is $20 or more. I can afford to pay up to $7 each way, but $20 is not worth it.

I'm not faulting the car services. We're talking one guy who is devoting all his attention (well, maybe 90% of his attention if he's on the phone) to taking me to work. He deserves the money. But I don't really want one guy to be driving just me around. I'd be happy in a bus or a van, with one guy or woman driving six or ten or twenty of us around.

With these choices, you can see why some people buy cars. The best way to get them to stop buying cars is to offer a ride to Manhattan at a higher price point - $5.50, perhaps - and see if enough people will take it. There is a real demand for service that is a cut above the subway. That need is being felt even more urgently today, since I threw my back out last weekend. It would help, of course, if the buses had a lane of their own so that they can be even close to time-competitive with the subway. But I would leave earlier, and pay up to $7.50, for a ride that would guarantee these things:
  1. A full-size seat in rush hours
  2. A seat with elbow room on off-hours
  3. Reasonably clean vehicles and stations
  4. Not to have to listen to someone else's music, cell phone conversation, video or video game
  5. Not to be asked to accept Jesus
  6. Not to be asked to buy peanut M&Ms
  7. Not to worry about amateur acrobats making their one big mistake when they're above my head
  8. Corridors, stairways and escalators that are not so overburdened that I have to constantly fight left-huggers
I have to say that I myself am bothered by the idea of a more expensive class of transit. I still remember the disgust and disapproval I felt for the first-class cars on the Paris metro and commuter trains. Why would I want to replicate that?

I have to keep reminding myself that there is a class system in transportation, and there always has been. Transit cannot create a classless society by itself.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Games people play behind the wheel

In transportation there is almost always conflict, or at least the potential for conflict. Even on the most deserted road there are times when one person will want to go faster than the person in front. We have systems for resolving these conflicts: traffic laws, traffic cops, traffic signals.

But these systems are never followed 100% of the time. There are people who feel that the laws are wrong, or that the laws don't apply to them, or that the laws don't apply in a particular case, or that a particular law applies in a case when it actually doesn't. Enforcement is never 100%, and in many cities is far less.

When people aren't following the laws, they resolve conflicts with games of power and cunning. Sometimes one person will defer to another, giving up the transportation advantage for moral rewards. Sometimes a faster or more agile driver will slip into a place in line or a parking space and simply block the other vehicle from getting it.

Many times the conflict is played out in contests of weight and nerve in addition to speed and morals. In games of tailgating and chicken, a more brazen driver, often with a larger vehicle, will charge at another vehicle. The driver gives no hint that he or she is prepared to stop, leaving the impression that a collision will result if the other vehicle doesn't get out of the way. Honking the horn can be used for added intimidation.

When a challenge of chicken or tailgating is issued, the other driver may yield immediately, moving out of the way. The driver also has the option of ignoring the challenge and continuing on their path at the same speed. They may also answer the challenge, honking their horn in return and either speeding up for chicken or slamming on the brakes for tailgating.

If the second driver does not back down, the first driver faces the same choice: back down, continue or escalate. this continues until one party backs down or a crash ensues.

In such a system, pedestrians and cyclists have several disadvantages. In space-grabbing games, we take up only a small fraction of the space that a car or truck can occupy. In tailgating games, we usually go slower than motor vehicles. But it's in games of chicken that we have the worst disadvantages.

We don't usually have loud horns. I've fantasized about buying a portable air horn, but I think without backing it up with a large vehicle I'd be asking for trouble. We don't have speed, but most importantly we don't have mass and we don't have armor. If we lose a game of chicken with a car or truck, we usually pay with our lives.

The scariest thing, and a significant factor in cyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths, is that many drivers play chicken with us anyway. They aim heavy vehicles at us at high speeds, as though we were protected by two-ton cars. Some of them are psychopaths who are well aware of our greater vulnerability, but after some uncomfortably close observation I'm convinced that the majority are simply acting out of habit and treating us like cars.

If you treat pedestrians and cyclists as cars, you wind up thinking that it's okay to charge at us. The worst you're likely to do is dent my fender, right? Of course the reality is that you can do much, much worse, as people do every day. For those of us who are still in touch with reality it has a chilling effect, which is why you see so few pedestrians and cyclists on stroads.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Us and you and how much you should love your buses

"Don't you think I've heard the talk? Nobody's going to tell me who to love." - Freedy Johnston

When Will Doig told us, "It's time to love the bus" last month, he was repeating a mantra that I've heard over and over from other proponents. Kate Slevin, Joan Byron, Aaron Naparstek, Walter Hook - the message is always the same: buses are just as good as trains but cheaper, we can't afford trains, so you should love the bus.

You know what I've never heard any of them say? "I love the bus." They may get excited about a snazzy bus system in some faraway country where they'll never live, but not about buses that are here and now. They never say, "If we had this kind of bus, it would make my commute so much easier." It's never about them, it's about you.

Contrast this with a train advocate like Ben Kabak or Alon Levy, or a bicycle advocate like Doug Gordon or Clarence Eckerson. When they talk about trains or bikes, it may be about you, but it's also about them. You get the feeling that Ben would take an apartment off Second Avenue when the subway opens, and that Doug cares about bike lanes in Brooklyn because he can imagine himself riding on any of them.

I don't know how Doig or Slevin or Byron or Hook get around. In New York I'm guessing it's not by bus, or else they'd be late to every meeting. I know that Aaron likes to ride bikes: I've seen his Dutch cargo bike in person and in photos.

To be fair, journalists, advocates and consultants aren't supposed to be thinking about themselves all the time. But you'd think they'd be able to find one person who loves buses, and prefers them to subways, for themself. If they can't, how can they ask us to do it?

To anyone I called out here, or to anyone who advocates buses instead of trains, you're welcome to prove me wrong. Is there a bus you love? What is it, and why? How often do you take it? Would you complain if someone replaced it with a train that was at least as fast?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I was really annoyed by Elizabeth Rosenthal's article in the Sunday Times, which led with this sentence: "In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country roughly the size of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada." OMG! Can you imagine! I have visions of everyone from New York City crowded into Area 51, the population of Los Angeles stuffed into the Gila Wilderness, and the residents of New Jersey overflowing the Grand Canyon.

Nigeria's land area is 351,649 square miles. The current population is 162,471,000 for a density of 462 per square mile. If the country hits the 300,000,000 people total that Rosenthal suggests, it would have 853 people per square mile. That's a big jump, but today there are 39 countries that are denser than that. Okay, some of them are urban microstates like Macao and Monaco, or poor countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, but there are other quite respectable First World countries where people lead a decent lifestyle and even have quiet places to go outdoors. How upset would we be if Nigeria turned into South Korea, Israel or Belgium?

To her credit, Rosenthal does acknowledge that birthrates and even populations have been declining in many countries around the world, and that the birthrate is even declining in Nigeria itself, but that seems only a small obstacle on her rush to sound the alarm. She makes no mention of the fact that there are tens of millions of people living comfortably in denser countries, and in denser areas of low-density countries like the United States and Canada.

There's even a correction to Rosenthal's article, stating that she originally said that Nigeria was only the size of New Mexico and Arizona. The fact that she chose two (and later three) of the emptiest states in the country is telling. In fairness, the biggest states are the emptiest, and to find some that add up to 352,000 square miles with higher density would require more than the magic two or three. But choosing Arizona and New Mexico creates an unnecessary contrast that can distort the emotional impact.

The bottom line is that population density isn't always bad. Whether it's good, bad or indifferent depends on how much of the land's resources are being used up. For Nigeria, Rosenthal doesn't give us much detail.

Fearmongering may seem like a good idea at the time, but it can easily backfire and put an entire campaign in jeopardy. It's dishonest, and it's too much trouble.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Calming big boulevards

You know that big ugly boulevard near you? Maybe when it was built it was the Champs-Elysées of your town. Maybe it wanted to be, but things didn't turn out quite right. Or maybe your town planners had a less ambitious model, like the Miracle Mile or Route 66.

Whatever the ambitions, today that boulevard is a stroad. It's one of the most dangerous places to drive or walk, but people keep going there anyway, because that's where the Target and the Old Navy and the Barnes and Noble are. Even though it's one of the most popular shopping streets, it brings in a relatively small fraction of the tax revenue.

There are a number of remedies that can be taken for a stroad boulevard (boulevaroad?). I want to focus on one particular remedy that combines traffic calming and transit expansion; we can call it green tracks.

The poster child for this method is Paris, in particular the Boulevards des Maréchaux. This is a ring of boulevards that runs just inside the city limits. They replaced the "rue Militaire" that ran along the inner extent of the fortifications built between 1841 and 1844 under Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers and torn down between 1919 and 1929 after they proved unable to stop heavy artillery in the Franco-Prussian War. The road is divided into 22 segments, each named (more or less) after one of the military leaders who bore the rank of marshal under Napoleon.

I've visited a few of the Maréchaux many years ago, and they were all pretty unpleasant places to walk. Definitely not what comes to mind when you think of a stroll through Paris. Even though they had trees, cafes and fairly wide sidewalks, they were noisy and felt dangerous. The 4-5 lanes of unbroken traffic and the long gaps between crosswalks made the boulevards feel like a barrier; I rarely crossed them, and usually took parallel streets when walking home from the metro. I never took the mixed-traffic "PC" bus, after trying once or twice and finding it slow and infrequent.

At its core, the design of the Maréchaux privileged cars at the expense of pedestrians and transit riders. The city of Paris found an excellent way to adjust that balance in favor of the more sustainable users. They built a trolley.

Here in the United States, we have basically two ways of building a trolley. We can build "light rail" which operates primarily in an old rail right-of-way or highway median with some mixed-traffic or dedicated segments, or we can build a "streetcar," which operates entirely in mixed traffic. Jarrett Walker in particular is fond of slamming streetcars for offering no mobility improvements over buses. Both, notably, minimize the amount of street space reallocated from cars.

The Tramway T3 takes a third approach. Its entire route, except for intersections, is physically separated from all other vehicles. This helps trolley passengers get to their destinations faster, because they are much less likely to get stuck in traffic. To underscore this point, and to simply look nice, the right-of-way between and around the tracks is covered with sod. This evokes the grassy medians where trolleys have traveled in other cities - for me particularly, the "neutral grounds" of New Orleans.

The right-of-way of this new Paris trolley was not previously a train line, or private property. It was street. Two lanes of these boulevards were simply taken from cars and reallocated to transit. The sod has the additional function of marking the right-of-way as "not car space" and thus discouraging any use by cars.

The last time I was in Paris, the T3 was not yet running, but the street space had been reallocated. It made a huge difference. There weren't as many cars, and they were going much slower. The noise was much less oppressive. Crossing the boulevard was easier and felt much safer. There were two sets of pedestrian refuges at each intersection, not just one. But wherever I've seen street-running trolleys, they're always more predictable than cars, and therefore safer. They almost never leave their tracks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cassandra on the street

I've never been a huge risk-taker, but when I was younger I used to ride bikes and roller skates in traffic, for miles, on a regular basis. I did this on the country roads of New Hampshire, on the stroads of Westchester and Long Island, and on the streets of Manhattan, New York, Chicago and other cities. I crashed more than once on country roads when I was a teenager. I knew that I could get hurt badly, even killed. But I practiced defensive cycling and skating, keeping my eyes open, going slow when I needed to.

I also drove occasionally. I owned a car once when I was a teenager, but couldn't afford to maintain it. I like to think I was careful, but only relative to other teens. No way I could afford a car phone, but I did let myself get distracted by eating and listening to tapes. Sometimes I sped, but usually when everyone else was speeding too. I was already aware of many of the problems with cars, but I still enjoyed driving them, and I liked the idea of long drives.

That all changed several years ago when I saw a cyclist get killed by an inattentive driver. I stood there and watched the life drain out of the man, knowing that I and those around me had done all we could do to stop it. A few days later I found out that he had a wife and kids who would never see him come through their door again. The main thing I did after that was to move back to the city where I would never need to own a car, but my experience was not over.

In Greek mythology we hear the legend of Cassandra, the princess of Troy. Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy, but then out of jealousy cursed her that she would never be believed. She spent the rest of her life foretelling the Trojan War, the horse that the Greeks used to enter the city, and the sack of the city. One disaster after another she saw coming, but she could do nothing to stop them.

Since I saw that man die, I have been sensitive to the dangers of cars. When I see objects of a certain weight moving at a certain speed, that sensitivity activates knowledge from the physics courses I took way back in college, and I can predict what their impact would be. Often they don't collide, because one stops or the other one swerves, but the impact is narrowly missed. I am also aware of the dangers posed by cars driving on sidewalks, even at low speeds, and by cars parked on sidewalks forcing pedestrians out into traffic.

You could call this the gift of prophecy. But when I try to tell people, they don't believe. Who can blame them, really? As Upton Sinclair used to say, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." Many of these people have built their whole lives around their cars. How are they going to get to work? How will they get the kids to school? How will they get milk, and underwear, and sheet rock? How will they ever get laid? So they deny that there is a problem.

That is my curse. For years I tried to tell people when they were doing something that would put me or others in danger. Nobody wanted to hear it. I gave that up long ago, but still I see crashes that could happen. I keep them to myself, and just hope that this time will be more like other times, and that the cars will miss. That curse isolates me from people. When they're having a good time together in their cars, I stand by wailing about the destruction to come.

Monday, April 9, 2012

These Zones of Freedom!

I came across this notice taped to the window of a Red and Tan bus last week:

I apologize for the blurry words. Let me transcribe them:
In accordance with the "Zone of Rate Freedom" provisions of N.J.A.C. 16:53D-1.1 and N.J.A.C. 16:53D-1.2, the undersigned has filed a tariff with the New Jersey Department of Transportation for an increase in all its regular one-way intrastate fares effective May 1, 2012 as follows: All present fares are increased 10¢ per ride.

School ticket book fares per ride will be 66% of the increased regular one-way adult fares and senior and handicapped citizen fares will be 50% of the increased regular one-way adult fares so long as the state reimbursement programs for such reduced fare rates continue.

The increased fares are within the "Zone of Rate Freedom" established by the Commissioner of Transportation of the State of New Jersey.

Further information may be obtained at the company's office, 201-263-1254, or by contacting the Office of Regulatory Affairs, Motor Vehicle Commission, 225 East State Street, PO Box 162, Trenton, NJ 08666-0162.

Rockland Coaches, Inc.
180 Old Hook Road
Westwood, New Jersey 07675

This tells us at least two interesting things: (1) There is something called a "Zone of Rate Freedom" that constrains rate changes by private bus operators in New Jersey. It sounds like those "Free Speech Zones" at protests that remind you how much freedom you have by limiting it. (2) New Jersey has a reimbursement program providing low fares for students, seniors and "handicapped citizens."

I should make it clear that this relates to intrastate fares, in other words for trips that do not cross into New York, Pennsylvania or Delaware. There's a transportation lawyer who has a nice little history (if a little dated) of bus regulation in New Jersey. The Zone of Rate Freedom for interstate bus fares has been limitless since the 1980s (PDF).

Back in 2002, Tri-State had trouble finding out what the Zone of Rate Freedom was (PDF). It's determined every year by the New Jersey DOT, but it's not on the DOT's website. It is available, as they say, from Lexis-Nexis, so here's the latest edition for your reading pleasure. If you don't feel like reading through all that legalese, here's the Plain English summary: ±10%.


N.J.A.C. 16:53D-1.1 (2012)

§ 16:53D-1.1 General provisions

(a) Any regular route autobus carrier operating within the State, which carrier seeks to revise its rates, fares, or charges in effect as of the time of the promulgation of this rule, shall not be required to conform with N.J.A.C. 16:51-3.12, Tariff filings that do not propose increases in charges to customers, or 3.13, Tariff petitions that propose increases in charges to customers, provided the increase or decrease in the rate, fare, or charge, or the aggregate of increases and decreases in any single rate, fare, or charge is not more than the maximum percentage increase (10 percent for 2012) or decrease (10 percent for 2012), upgraded to the nearest $.05.

1. For illustrative purposes, the following chart sets forth the 2012 percentage maximum for increases to particular rates, fares, or charges and the resultant amount as upgraded to the nearest $.05:

Present Fare Percent of Increase Increase Upgraded To
Nearest $.05
$ 2.00 or less 10.0% $.20
$ 2.05-$ 2.50 10.0% $.25
$ 2.55 upward 10.0% $.30+

2. For illustrative purposes, the following chart sets forth the 2012 percentage maximum for decreases to particular rates, fares, or charges and the resultant amount as upgraded to the nearest $.05:

Present Fare Percent of Decrease Decrease Upgraded To
Nearest $.05
$.50 or less 10% $.05
$.55 to $ 1.00 10% $.10
$ 1.05 upward 10% $.15+

3. Except as may be provided in the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, changes to student, senior, transfer, interline and other unique rates, fares or charges for a regular route shall not be subject to the requirements of this chapter, provided they remain less than the current or adjusted regular route fare applicable to the route.

I love how they give you little examples in case you have trouble figuring out what ten percent of two dollars is. Yeah, I know that the ZORF could potentially be set to 17.3% and the fare could be $2.38, but still. Based on the history given in the Chapter Notes, it looks like it's been ten percent since at least 1984. But every five years they have a hearing. Those must be fun.

You know what else is funny? Coachusa doesn't even list the intrastate fares on their website.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The state budget's bogus parity

Every once in a while the debate over the New York State budget turns briefly to transportation, and we see where our leaders have their priorities. Back in January, Streetsblog reported that the Governor had allocated $150 million to the MTA Capital Plan for next year, 5.7% of the budget for that plan, while requiring the MTA to borrow six times as much. Even this paltry amount was blocked by the State Senate, until a budget deal was hashed out by the infamous "three men in a room": Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos.

State Senate Budget Committee chair John DeFrancisco made his priorities clear to Glenn Bain of the Daily News: "DeFrancisco also expressed concern that funding for upstate road and bridge projects were being treated fairly," wrote Bain. "We don’t have too many MTA trains going to Syracuse," DeFrancisco told him. When the deal was finally announced, Dana Rubenstein of Capital New York surmised that "what the Senate Republicans might have been holding out for, in this case, was more money for non-city road and bridge projects."

Republican Senators, in particular Tom Libous of Binghamton, the Deputy Majority Leader, were also concerned that there would be "parity" in road funding between upstate and downstate, and last week State leaders produced a "memorandum of understanding" that would send "$751 million to the upstate regions north and west of the Hudson Valley. ... the Hudson Valley, including Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Ulster and Dutchess counties, would get up to $158 million, Long Island would get up to $291 million, and New York City would get up to $415 million."

It's not clear what the actual basis is for the "parity" demanded by Libous and DeFrancisco. Are there the same number of drivers in the Hudson Valley as transit riders in New York City? As many drivers Upstate as in the City and the Island combined? Or is it based on land area, or taxes paid, or political contributions, or spiedie consumption? I don't have figures for those criteria, but let's take a look at the commuting population and how they get to work, from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey:

RegionTotal commuting populationDrove alone, carpooled, taxi, bicycle or motorcycle to workPublic transportation to work
Hudson Valley1,003,833797,964122,356
Long Island1,067,230796,873191,913
New York City3,618,6901,119,4121,998,795

Let's combine the public transit commuters from the Hudson Valley, the City and Long Island as the total constituency of the MTA. Some of them may only use their local county bus systems or even private buses like Red and Tan, but I'm guessing that most of the commuters from outside the city ride Metro-North or the Long Island Rail Road. We have to exclude Upstate transit commuters, because those transit agencies apparently got zero capital support from the State budget. You could say that people who walked to work benefited from State DOT money, but the state DOT spends so little of its money on pedestrian infrastructure it might as well be zero. True, everyone indirectly benefits from roads because they get things delivered by truck, but the enormous inefficiencies of truck freight would probably cancel out any indirect benefit.

ConstituencyCommutersPercentage of commutersCapital fundingPercentage of capital funding
Upstate car/bike commuters2,841,15536.1 %$751,000,00032.2 %
Hudson Valley car/bike commuters797,96410.1 %$158,000,0006.78 %
Long Island car/bike commuters796,87310.1 %$291,000,00012.5 %
New York City car/bike commuters1,119,412514.2 %$415,000,00017.8 %
MTA riders2,313,06429.4 %$150,000,0006.44 %

You can see that something's off there. Needless to say, bicyclists are a tiny share of commuters, but none of the percentages match. Now what if we allocated it differently, based on population?

ConstituencyPercentage of commutersCapital funding approvedCapital funding by populationFavored by budget
Upstate car/bike commuters36.1 %$751,000,000$637,308,123$113,691,876.61
Hudson Valley car/bike commuters10.1 %$158,000,000 $178,993,733($20,993,732.96)
Long Island car/bike commuters10.1 %$291,000,000$178,749,007$112,250,992.57
New York City car/bike commuters14.2 %$415,000,000$251,098,712$163,901,288.03
MTA riders29.4 %$150,000,000$518,850,424($368,850,424.25)

So there you have it. The Upstate drivers, led by Tom Libous and John DeFrancisco, and the Long Island drivers, led by Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Transportation Chair Charles Fuschillo, each got over $112 million more than they would if it were based on simple commuting numbers. City drivers, led by Republicans Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza and Independent Democrats Jeff Klein and Diane Savino, got $163 million more. A tiny bit of this ($20 million) came from Hudson Valley drivers, but the vast majority, $369 million, came from city transit riders.

There is no "parity" here, even for drivers. The formula is simple: the more powerful "legislators" get more money for their constituents, and every driver is worth as much as 4.5 transit riders.

Keep this in mind next time you hear Skelos, Fuschillo, Golden, Lanza, Klein and Savino complaining about MTA cuts. They may act like they care, but when the money's on the line they're not fighting for transit riders.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why I care about transportation in the suburbs

If you read my posts you'll notice that I live in the city, but I talk a lot about transit and roads in suburban counties like Rockland and Bergen. You might be wondering: why do I bother? Why not just let them have their roads and parking lots, and focus on my own transit and sidewalks?

Sometimes I even ask myself that, but I actually do have a good reason, with several consequences. The fact is that we live on one planet, in one country, and in one region. Within that region, I live in one state with lots of suburbs in it. New York City is not hermetically sealed off from these suburbs. They affect our lives, in terms of carnage, pollution, resource consumption and socialization. And of course, they affect our lives politically.

Of the cars that drive through my neighborhood, polluting and killing, many come from Long Island. Many more would be on the Long Island Expressway if it weren't full of people driving in from Long Island. Many of the teachers, police officers, firefighters, merchants, doctors and bureaucrats who work in my neighborhood live on Long Island and drive in. Some live even further, in Staten Island, Westchester and Rockland.

The air and water pollution from suburban cars gets borne by wind and water currents and winds up in my lungs and on the beaches I go to. Every gallon of gas burned in one of those cars is one less gallon that will be available to my grandchildren for energy, for plastic or for fertilizer. Every ounce of steel and rubber is one more ounce that will not be accessible without energy-intensive recycling. And of course, when they want "parity" for their roads, it's our tax dollars that go to build them, and rebuild them, and widen them....

The suburbs also affect our lives culturally. In my neighborhood in Queens, the non-car-owning half of the population primarily looks to Manhattan and its streets, while the car-owning half mostly looks to Long Island and its malls. But there is a large middle chunk of the population that looks both ways: drivers who take the subway in to see a Broadway show and walkers who bum rides to Roosevelt Field and Costco. It's especially noticeable as a parent of a small child, because many other parents, and magazines like Queens Parent, orient their lives around car-dependent destinations like the Alley Pond Environmental Center and the Long Island Children's Museum.

Most importantly, they affect our political lives, which means that they exert control over the laws and budgets that affect transit and walking. The leaders of the fights against congestion pricing and the Ravitch plan were legislators from Westchester and Long Island, but also from eastern Queens, the northern Bronx, southern Brooklyn and Staten Island. Drivers from the fringes of the city have provided critical margins for Rudy Giuliani, Christine Quinn and George Pataki.

It's true that there are plenty of politicians in the City who drive and who pander to those who drive. But many of them are on their way out, and others are changing their tunes. We need to make sure that the suburbs change their tunes too. We can't let the suburbs do what they (or at least their leaders) want. Their decisions affect our money, our air, our water,our culture and our safety.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Price drops aren't always forever

A few months ago I came across the notion of "filtering" on Charlie Gardner's Old Urbanist blog. It's an idea that's fairly well established in real estate economics, based on the observation that a lot of cheaper buildings are old and run-down. The theory is that the older a building is, the harder it is to maintain. The owners don't maintain it all that well, so it deteriorates, and no longer fetches as high a price or rent. The notion is usually the basis of an argument that adequate affordable housing doesn't require subsidies or mandates; we just have to wait for the housing to age and the market will take care of it.

As Charlie pointed out, this doesn't make any sense. Filtering is a very nice theory, but it really doesn't seem to match the data very well at all, and I expect that it will match it less and less well as time goes on. Charlie suggests that "the process of filtering, at least for initially high-income older neighborhoods, was a temporary result of rapid suburban dispersal in the 1940-1970 time period, and since that time has been steadily reversed."

Take the Grand Concourse in the Bronx for example. It was "the Park Avenue of the Bronx" when it was built, lined with large luxury Art Deco apartment buildings. Real prices and rents declined after World War II, and in 2000 you could get a two-bedroom apartment with hardwood parquet floors and a sunken living room for under $800 a month. Now those apartments go for $1500-2000.

It's true that most of those buildings were not well-maintained, but the causation is more likely the other way around: the landlords didn't put a lot of money into them because they didn't bring in much rent. So why were the rents so cheap? I'm guessing that there were several related factors: racism, city services, crime, noise, fads and the suburban ponzi scheme.

First, there are a lot of racists out there who don't want to live near black and Puerto Rican people, and if anything there were more fifty years ago. That reduces prices and rents anywhere near where black and Puerto Rican people live, which can be a good deal if you're not a racist. The problem is that the city was run by racists and by people who spent money where the rich and powerful people lived, and when the rich and powerful people moved away from the South Bronx, the city cut back on street sweeping, garbage pickup and other services. Most notably, it cut back on policing. At the same time the drug booms fueled by crack and other substances brought money and power to criminal gangs that lived in those neighborhoods. Some people (usually poor) seem to mind less when there's a lot of noise around from amplified music and other activities, but when the people who do mind move away, that lowers home prices and rents even more.

Finally, at that time it was "the thing to do" to move to the suburbs and buy as big a house on as big a piece of land with as big a car as you could afford. The suburban ponzi scheme described so well by the StrongTowns crew made housing cheaper in the suburbs than it needed to be to cover the amount of services that the municipalities were providing. All those factors made housing cheap in the Bronx, in Harlem, in Williamsburg and in Fort Greene.

Now those factors are reversing one by one. The suburban ponzi scheme has mostly burnt itself out. "The thing to do" is now to move back to the city and live in an apartment. The drug boom has subsided, and crime is much more under control. People may be less racist. So middle-class white people move back to the city, the noise levels go down, the city starts spending more money in the neighborhoods and the black and Latino people can't afford to live their any longer. Prices go up.

A lot of the anger over gentrification comes from the fact that the poor black and Latino people who lived in these neighborhoods for fifty or sixty years thought that the change was permanent. They thought that this was now their territory. Sure, they had to put up with crime, noise and dirty streets, but they got big apartments with parquet floors in Art Deco buildings on the Grand Concourse, and brownstones in Fort Greene and Harlem. They never thought anyone but them would want to live there again.

Is it fair that poor black and Latino people can't afford to live in these neighborhoods any more? Probably not. It wasn't fair when the neighborhoods were built and their grandparents couldn't afford to live in them. But the solution is not to keep the neighborhoods dirty, noisy and dangerous. As Matt Yglesias says, the best way to bring down the price of housing is to build more of it. And as I said last month, the best way to make sure that we have affordable housing that isn't dangerous or inaccessible is to build lower-quality housing alongside the high-quality housing.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When mobility is the enemy of commerce

For many years, Icelandair has been offering flights between Europe and North America, connecting in the main Keflavík airport. A friend who flew through there in the sixties pointed out that somehow there was always engine trouble or something else delaying the connecting flight, leaving travelers with time on their hands and nowhere to go but the Icelandic gift shops...

Engineer Scotty left a long and thoughtful comment on my recent post about vehicles for roads, streets and country roads. The whole thing is worth reading, especially for short-term recommendations, but I want to focus on this part:

But we still have need for intra-city mobility of the sort that cannot be accommodated with streets alone. Even if SOVs were banned, trucks and busses still need some way to get around to serve medium-distant trips. Cities need arterials of some sort to function.

I think that when he wrote that, Scotty hadn't yet read my subsequent post where I argue that trucks and buses will always kill and intimidate, and the only way to transport large loads and large groups of people without disrupting the street is by train.

The problem with urban "arterials" of any kind is that they don't work the way everybody seems to think they do. As I argued back in 2008, the nucleus of a city is a transportation pivot of some kind: a crossroads, an intermodal transfer point like a port or a railroad station, the entrance to a pass or a valley, or even just a rest stop.

It is the very fact of having to slow down, stop or rest that makes a city what it is. If the travelers and drivers don't stop, they won't spend money, and there is no reason for businesses to set up there. If there are no businesses, there are no jobs and thus no reason for anyone else to live there.

Bypasses kill cities in two ways. They can simply remove any reason to slow down or stop at all, so that every customer just goes flying by, and all the commerce goes to another city. Or they can move the crossroads away from the old downtown to a new place on the outskirts, which becomes the new downtown (if you can call it that).

Yesterday, the Urbanophile tweeted links to a Detroit Free Press article about the vast open spaces in that city, and a Chicagoist post about similar developments on a smaller scale in Chicago's South Side. My reply was simple: both places have been bypassed. They're no longer at any kind of pivot point on the way to anywhere. They no longer have access to anything useful. So why would anyone want to live or make anything there?

Of course, Scotty isn't talking about a bypass, but some kind of moderate arterial where through traffic is prioritized over local side traffic. This is the same problem, just to a lesser degree. The easier you make it for traffic to pass through the city - the more you facilitate mobility - the less commerce you have. In cities, mobility is the enemy of commerce.

I'm simplifying, you understand. A city can't be a complete bottleneck to the point where people make their own bypasses, for example by going through other cities. The people who sell things to travelers, well they have to get those things somehow. Sometimes you need to go outside easy walking distance to another neighborhood, and you don't want that to be too difficult.

That kind of wider access can be provided by transit. The ideal urban transit is the subway, because it's mostly invisible, but you can get a lot with elevateds and "green tracks" trolleys. Bicycles, of course, are a great way of providing medium-range mobility.

In the past the push for bypasses came from two directions: the shippers and travelers who didn't want to be slowed down, and the neighbors who didn't want traffic. But the reason the neighbors didn't want traffic was because the traffic was dangerous, noisy and polluting. Cities like Detroit and neighborhoods like Bronzeville will never come back until through traffic can cross them at a safe, human scale.

The key is to balance mobility and access with commerce, comfort and safety. Speed can be mitigated by the use of rails instead of tires, and lightweight vehicles like bicycles and pushcarts. Separate faster rail traffic from slower foot traffic if you must, but if you make your city too easy to go through or around, then you risk making it irrelevant.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The right way to connect roads and streets

As I wrote yesterday, we have trucks and buses for highways, feet and pushcarts for streets, and pickup trucks for country roads. A lot of the problems we have come from people using trucks and buses on streets.

One common workaround is to create hybrid vehicles that can operate on some combination of highways, streets and country roads. Panel trucks, sedans, sport-utility vehicles and pretty much any vehicle that I didn't mention in the previous paragraphs are examples. Even bicycles. Versatility is good, right? Well, most of these vehicles aren't actually all that versatile. Cars and trucks of all sizes still disrupt street life. Fast cars and trucks disrupt country roads. Bicycles, compact cars and pushcarts can disrupt highways.

Some of this comes from my Law of Transportation Mode Inertia: people in cars tend to stay in cars. Beyond that, there's another widely observed law of inertia: that people driving at high speeds tend to want to keep driving at high speeds. As long as we have connections between highways, streets and country roads, people are going to keep driving big trucks, buses and other dangerous vehicles on the streets. They will slow down, but not as much as they should. They will keep pushing and pushing the envelope, and it will take all our efforts to beat them back. Is that really what we want to do with our time?

Another workaround is to build hybrid ways that have some of the features of streets, highways and country roads. Chuck Marohn calls these "stroads," and he's talked a lot about how wasteful and dangerous they are. They're all over America, and they satisfy no one. In fact, the Strong Towns approach is to undo those hybrid stroads, by examining each one and deciding whether we want it to be a road or a street (or maybe a country road). If we want it to be a road, we close off the driveways and intersections and make it into a limited-access highway, as proposed by New Jersey Future for Route 1. If we want it to be a street, we add intersections and pedestrian infrastructure, institute traffic calming measures and encourage walkable businesses. If we want it to be a country road, we depave it to gravel or dirt - as many governments are doing anyway, for financial reasons.

Depaving country roads to gravel also helps with the problems of hybrid vehicles. It's a big help in getting cars and trucks to slow down, and it saves money too. On streets, some have tried or suggested restoring cobblestone or Belgian block surfaces for the same reasons; Hoboken is planning this.

The best solution is one that Chuck only hints at in his critique of "forgiving design": roads can be railroads. What if we had no bus bigger than a 30-passenger cutaway, and no truck bigger than a pickup? Everything else has to go by train.

One of the biggest safety features of railroads is their predictability: trains very rarely leave their tracks, unlike steered vehicles. If we keep the big loads and fast trips on trains, then they can't come barreling down our streets and country roads when we least expect them.

Trains also take care of the problem of driver inertia. Instead of an amateur driver rushing off the Interstate with his or her head full of speed, or a stroad driver enraged by stop-and-go traffic, the average pedestrian would encounter nothing but country drivers on gravel roads and local drivers on Belgian blocks. With no highways to drive on, people would buy cars for durability and efficiency, not speed - and probably less people would even buy cars.

Obviously, this is a long way from what we have now, but we have to keep imagining a better world.