I'm very flattered that Jarrett chose my post on the supposed convenience of cars for his quote of the week. And I appreciate that a number of people took the time to share their thoughts in the comments about the potential convenience of various modes of transportation. But I was actually quite shocked at how ill-informed many of the commenters were about life without cars, and how comfortable they seemed to be pontificating about it. I mean, this is the Internet, but still, they're transit advocates!
Jeffrey J. Early from Juneau argued that cars are better at "point-to-point" travel. WS seems convinced that transit can't take hikers to the Columbia Gorge. Ron and CroMagnon argue that cars are better at carrying things. Watson "suspect[s] that even in Manhattan taxis are faster than buses or the subway for the majority of trips outside rush hour." Anonymouse, Rhywun, Alon and I rebutted some of their points, but some seemed unconvinced.
The point of my previous posts wasn't that all modes are equally efficient at all tasks. They obviously aren't. My point is that you can't consider the vehicle without considering the infrastructure, and since most of the infrastructure is publicly financed, then you get into talking about relative subsidies. Some of the commenters acknowledge this, while still seeming to miss the point. Watson conceded that "cars aren't much use without roads." CroMagnon says, "if your destination is near some type of road." Jeffrey cautions, "unless you completely rebuild the city itself." Well, that is the point. If there are no roads, if we rebuild the city so that everything's within walking distance, then walking or trains would be more convenient.
The inability of the commenters to seriously entertain the possibility of alternate infrastructures was pretty amazing. Jeffrey J. Early says he lives in New York without a car now, and he's probably seen the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village complex, where a population slightly larger than Juneau's lives in an area 1/26,345 the size. There might be some Stuy Town residents who are crazy enough to drive from one side of the complex to another to visit a friend or go shopping, but the vast majority will just walk.
WS and Watson have probably never been to the Cinque Terre in Italy, which were connected to other towns by boat and then rail long before any roads were paved. There, walking is the only real way to get from one part of a town to another, and the quickest way to get from one town to another, or to Genoa, is by train. If you want to transport something heavy you use a donkey, or maybe a wheelbarrow, or a boat. WS dismissed my example of the mountains near New York City and their numerous transit-accessible hiking trailheads, but I've been told that much of the Alps is quite easily accessible by train and cable car. Even in Albuquerque you can take a bus to some trailheads.
Watson, CroMagnon and Ron have clearly never lived in a place like New York, because they don't understand how "cargo" works. Ron doesn't have time to wait around for groceries to be delivered, and I agree. Honestly that's one of the reasons I've never bothered with FreshDirect. But lots of other people seem to have no problem, and often FreshDirect just leaves the food outside their apartment doors. Many people in New York have doormen (another part of the infrastructure), who can accept packages at all hours of the day. At many supermarkets, if you have food delivered you don't need to wait around for it, because the guy from the supermarket will walk back to your apartment with you pushing the shopping cart.
Ron likes to do one big shopping trip every week or two. But I'll bet he's never felt the luxury of living above a supermarket. You can go shopping every day, and it takes five minutes: grab some fruit, milk, cereal, dinner and tuna fish, check out and you're done. The best part about it is that you can decide what you're going to eat for dinner ten minutes before you start cooking, and the ingredients are always fresh. That beats a freezer full of Hungry Mans in my book. And you never have to carry more than ten pounds of food.
Getting big items like furniture or building supplies is a bit more difficult, but it can be done. You can take it in a taxi - even call a minivan taxi - or rent a handtruck from Home Depot. But you get it done, and it isn't that hard. It's a lot easier than having to go buy new tires or brakes or whatever for your car, and happens about as often (depending on your wealth, your taste in furniture, and the age and make of your car).
Given the right infrastructure, it really is more convenient to do everything on foot or by transit. Just because you can't imagine it doesn't mean that it's not true.