Tuesday, March 13, 2007

5 myths about suburbia and our car culture

I'm a little crunched for time tonight, so a quick pass along from Reason. This overview is inadequate, and I wanted to do some more excerpts, but they would have added up to most of the article, so just read the whole thing (permalink). And don't miss the link at the bottom too.

Myths About Suburbia and Car Culture
In a column for the The Washington Post, excerpted from their new book The Road More Traveled, Reason's Ted Balaker and Sam Staley examine many of the myths about our love for cars and the evil suburbs, including:

We're Paving Over America
"How much of the United States is developed? Twenty-five percent? Fifty? Seventy-five? How about 5.4 percent? That's the Census Bureau's figure. And even much of that is not exactly crowded: The bureau says that an area is 'developed' when it has 30 or more people per square mile. But most people do live in developed areas, so it's easy to get the impression that humans have trampled nature."

Europe Relies on Mass Transit
"Some claim that Europeans have developed an enlightened alternative. Americans return from London and Paris and tell their friends that everyone gets around by transit. But tourists tend to confine themselves to the central cities. Europeans may enjoy top-notch transit and endure gasoline that costs $5 per gallon, but in fact they don't drive much less than we do. In the United States, automobiles account for about 88 percent of travel. In Europe, the figure is about 78 percent. And Europeans are gaining on us."

More Cars Equal More Pollution
"Since 1970, driving -- total vehicle miles traveled -- has increased 155 percent, and yet the EPA reports a dramatic decrease in every major pollutant it measures. Although driving is increasing by 1 to 3 percent each year, average vehicle emissions are dropping about 10 percent annually. Pollution will wane even more as motorists continue to replace older, dirtier cars with newer, cleaner models."

The 5 myths debunked:
1. Americans are addicted to driving.
2. Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.
3. We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.
4. We're paving over America.
5. We can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

You can find the full column here.

"Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion." - Mary E. Peters, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

"The Road More Traveled clearly outlines the transportation infrastructure problems facing our country and examines several innovative funding solutions. This book will change the way Americans view our highways and interstates and show them how we can build better roads at less expense for the next generation." - U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, South Carolina

In The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think and What We Can Do About It, Staley and Balaker debunk several other myths and offer 10 solutions that nearly every city and state can take to reduce traffic significantly. For more on the book and traffic solutions, please click here.


At 12:11 AM, March 14, 2007, Blogger Max Concrete said...

The article appeared in the Dallas Morning News last week. The article also included Balaker and Staley's "10 steps to congestion relief"

1. Add lanes
2. Public-private partnerships and toll lanes
3. Traffic signal optimization
4. Creative construction (eg tunnels)
5. Freeway ramp metering
6. One-way streets
7. Incident Management
8. Telecommuting
9. Parking reform
10. Improving intersections and access roads

I think it is safe to say that the evidence, in the US and Europe, shows that investments in mass transit just don't reduce traffic, so it does not appear on the list.

At 11:15 AM, March 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need to spend more time reading the entire article, but I would like to address one claim regarding pollution. First, CO2 emissions have increased dramatically since the 1970's. Need I remind everyone that CO2 emissions is the largest contributer to climate change. Two, some auto pollutants have been reduced since the enactment of the Clean Air Act (ex. NOX and Lead). But, some air pollutants have not decreased and are still at dangerous levels (ex. ozone and particulates). And any reductions occurred only because of government regulations requiring such things as catalytic converters and unleaded gasoline. The auto industry, oil industry, and many on the conservative right were against these regulations, just as they are against new regulations we need to bring our air to healthy levels.

At 11:36 AM, March 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more thing, I find it interesting that the authors completely focus on trying to contend with the negative consequences of climate change (consequences they even concede-finally) but refuse to address any actions that would reduce carbon emissions.

At 3:11 PM, March 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both particulate and ground-level ozone *have* decreased, since both Clean Air Acts. See:


Regulation of *what gets put into the air* (rather than land use or mode of travel) has, unsuprisingly, been successful at reducing *air pollution*.

Hopefully when we get around to regulating CO2, we will focus on what gets put into the air and not the exact details of how it gets there (by taxing emissions instead of, say, banning incandescent light bulbs).


At 8:18 AM, March 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Facts without context are fun! So is arguing with straw men!

For example, is 5.4% of land developed a lot, or a little? What's the idea amount? What's the trend? What was it 20, 50, and 100 years ago? This is a bit like saying, 'The answer is 42.'

The "we must stop driving" myth is not a myth I hear much except from people seeking a strawman.

As for the transit vs roads argument, well, it's not really an argument that many serious advocates of transit are having; transit works very well in certain places, it's a good supplement to roads in others, and it doesn't work at all for some situations. That's not as much fun of a "myth" to shoot down, though, so it escapes Reason's attention.

Which is why they aren't particularly credible on much of anything, I'm afraid.

At 5:19 PM, March 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Whether or not CO2 truly contributes to climate change is highly arguable"

KJB434, you have got to be kidding. Even the major oil companies have conceded this point. Using the phrase "highly arguable" really distorts the amount of scientific consensus there is on this point.

On another item, while emissions for cars have declined dramatically over the last few decades, the problem is that emissions of vehicles that are not classified as cars (i.e. SUVs) have not.


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