Monday, September 23, 2013

Who's fighting car dependence?

Earlier this month I talked about how car dependence is overdetermined, with at least seven more or less independent factors influencing it: identification, leadership, NIMBYism, corruption, the "Two New Yorks" lie, the power of drivers and rural bias. I wrote that any good campaign to reduce driving has to tackle at least two of them, and the more the better. Or we can work together to make sure that all the bases are covered. Here are some people working on these factors:

  1. Non-drivers identify with drivers. People want to see themselves as empowered, autonomous citizens with freedom of movement. They need to see empowered, autonomous citizens with freedom of movement who aren't driving. Some bike organizations, like Transportation Alternatives, promote exemplary bike commuters. Blogs like Humans of New York and the Sartorialist celebrate the city's pedestrians. The Underground New York Public Library was a great project to show the erudition of ordinary New Yorkers on the subway, but it seems to have lost steam. Ben Kabak's Second Avenue Sagas helps keep the dream of good transit alive.

  2. Key segments of the population drive at higher rates. Transportation Alternatives ran a site called for a while. Streetsblog has had great coverage of parking permits, and occasionally covers a news reporter or politician who suffers from windshield perspective. At this point I don't know of an organization that is making this a priority.

  3. NIMBY arguments favor drivers. The main way to defuse NIMBY arguments is to remove parking requirements. Streetsblog has been covering this, too, and there's nationwide pressure from Donald Shoup and his followers, but there's no organization that's focused on taking parking requirements out of the zoning code in New York.

  4. Corruption favors road capacity. New York is full of "goo-goo" groups who have been fighting corruption for over 120 years, and they tell us that any day they'll start making some headway. Reinvent Albany, with connections to Streetsblog and Transportation Alternatives, is probably the most promising. In the transportation area, Alon Levy, Drunk Engineer and a number of other railfans around the country have been putting the screws on inflated railroad costs. StrongTowns has been leading an amazing nationwide movement for efficiency in transportation and development, mostly roads. As far as I know, there is no local organization fighting transportation corruption.

  5. The "two New Yorks" narrative favors drivers. Not enough people are working on this.

  6. Drivers have more political power. The big heroes in this are StreetsPAC, the newly-formed campaign fund for pedestrians and cyclists. I personally know and respect nine of the fourteen board members, and the others by reputation.

  7. Rural bias favors driving. Reinvent Albany is mostly focused on corruption, which is fine, but someone should tackle the conceptual side of things. Even Jim Kunstler, who detests sprawl, talks a lot about gardens and agriculture. The best bet for breaking the "upstate=rural/suburban" myth is Duncan Crary and his Small American City podcast. He's doing a great job, but he's just one guy.

As you can see, Streetsblog, Transportation Alternatives, Reinvent Albany and StreetsPAC are probably the strongest organizations in these areas, and they definitely deserve your support. But their efforts are a bit light in many of these factors, especially leadership, "two New Yorks" and rural bias.

Can we afford to ignore these three factors? Is there an organization or blog that I'm missing? Do you know of a city or region that has successfully overcome challenges like these?

Regardless of what everyone else is doing, I hope that you will take the time to think about all seven of these issues, and then blog, tweet, Instagram or otherwise generate content about each of them.


Komanoff said...

Good post. Please elaborate on #5, 'The "two New Yorks" narrative favors drivers.'

Shaun said...

First one reminds me of my family. All drivers, whenever they're in the city they rush across the crosswalks "so drivers don't have to wait long for me to cross."

I just walk at my normal everyday pace. They can wait, I'm not rushing myself.

People who don't drive someday want to drive, so they sympathize with the drivers, who they someday see themselves being associated with. Or, they don't believe their own position as a pedestrian/transit rider is "marginalized," and the car is and always has been king.

Capn Transit said...

Thanks for asking, Charles! I've written more about the poisonous "two New Yorks" narrative in the past. In brief, the "poor" New York always winds up being run by drivers. The only way to avoid that is by slicing the city into "two New Yorks" of drivers and non-drivers,

Nathan Landau said...

It seems like the idea of two New Yorks ought to highlight transit. It's the elite New York that is heavily car-oriented, even in some cases limousine-oriented. But the mass of New Yorkers across the city is critically dependent on the subway and bus system. The neglected New York takes transit.