Linky Friday: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    LF4: Bad linkReport

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    LF17: Cars give freedom but at the same time do all the damage to villages, towns, and cities that the article proposes. That being said, I’m not so sure how much cars are contributing the loneliness epidemic. In the past we had a street life because people didn’t have A/C and the amount of things to do in the home were limited. You went out on the street in nice weather because your home was a furnace and there wasn’t much to do if you did not like reading. People have A/C, internet, movies, tv, and video games these days. This really cuts into street life.

    Another interesting debate is whether people would have meaningfully less mobility if our transportation was more geared towards public transportation. The Americans loved trains and streetcars for the same reason the automobile took over. Streetcar companies knew that it was important to give people a reason to ride the streetcars when not commuting, so they heavily invested in amusement
    parks and other entertainment venue. And let’s face it, most people really don’t use their cars for long drives through the wilderness or rural areas as depicted in car commercials. They generally use them for commuting and short trips. Would a train or street car ride to the beach or other local attraction be less freedom loving than a car trip?Report

    • Avatar Aaron David says:

      And let’s face it, most people really don’t use their cars for long drives through the wilderness or rural areas as depicted in car commercials. They generally use them for commuting and short trips. Would a train or street car ride to the beach or other local attraction be less freedom loving than a car trip?

      Most people have lives and need to run errands. This takes up a large amount of time. But given the freedom of time, yes, many of us do love going for drives in the country. I would gladly spend a couple weeks just driving backroads across the country. And no, I don’t need an amusement park as my destination. Considering the joy that goes into a cross-country bus ride, yes, many people would prefer to use their own car. This allows them to stop when they are hungry and choose the food they eat. Allows them to stop when they want to rest of see something or when they need a restroom. It gives them quiet and privacy. It gives them freedom.

      People flee the cities for many reasons, but flee they do. Suburbs may be hated as sprawl on the left, but they exist for a reason.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      Americans would have vastly less mobility if we depended on trains. We have 10 million miles of roads and only 140,000 miles of rails. For every mile reachable by rail, assuming you can get the train to stop where ever along the track you want, which is not the case, there would be 70 miles that are reachable by road only.

      So if you imaged the Continental US as a rectangle cut by equally spaced rails and roads that ran east-west from coast to coast, the rails would be spaced 22 miles apart (north-south) but the roads would be spaced 1600 feet apart. So even assuming you could stop the train anywhere along the tracks that you wanted, to reach an random spot you would on average have to walk 5.5 miles from the train track but only 400 feet from a road.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      LeeEsq: They generally use them for commuting and short trips. Would a train or street car ride to the beach or other local attraction be less freedom loving than a car trip?

      Suggesting trains will fix our problems ignores multiple realities. Density. Weather. Children. Rare events.

      The United States has a lower population density than many third world nations. The UK’s population density is 7 times ours, Germany’s is 6 and so forth. Every European country of note is multiples of ours. It’s easy to ignore this if you’re on the coast but that so much of our population lives on the coasts means the situation for the interior is worse than the numbers suggest.

      Having children basically makes taking the train/subway everywhere impossible, even if it’s available. If I’m going to the beach with my children I need to bring my gear, their gear, and so forth. My wife fills her car when she’s getting food. If it’s absurdly uneconomical to put a train stop ANYWHERE close to my place of work, then my kid’s dance studio is even more absurdly out and so is my home.

      It’s absurd to picture a subway opening even two miles away from where I live, and it’s even more absurd to think that would be close enough. It’s currently 13 degrees outside with a windchill of -6 and none of the local schools are closed. Today is bad but not exceptional, much less record breaking. Transportation needs to function on the worst 10% of the year, not just the best.

      I have a massive SUV. Yes, the vast bulk of driving I do is short hop or commute (which trains already don’t work for), but I need 4WD maybe 20 times a year and taking everyone skiing will happen 2+ times. Saying I don’t normally need to do that ignores that you buy a car for your worst yearly situation, not your average.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        There are large swathes of the United States that are so low density that rail makes little sense. The problem is that we have large parts of the United States with the necessary density and insufficient transit like Los Angeles County or the entire state of Maryland.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Everything you say is true, but unique to the second half of the 20th century and only emphasizes why any solution will necessarily be systemic in scale.

        The world we all grew up in was designed specifically with the assumption that everyone had a private vehicle at the whim.

        And I do mean the entire world. The physical shape and form of our houses, streets, office buildings; the underlying financial and banking and insurance structures; the laws and regulations; These were all written with that same understanding of how people move around.

        But it wasn’t always this way. In most older cities, you can see the remnants of how people used to live, where there would be a rail station, and around it sprung up hotels and restaurants and office buildings which catered to travelers.

        A world of mass transit like Europe isn’t going to happen tomorrow or even within a decade, but then again, the car-centric world we live in took decades to build, after decades of deliberate policy and electoral choices.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter says:

          the car-centric world we live in took decades to build, after decades of deliberate policy and electoral choices.

          Yes, that. I’m not sure how you deal with the whole “electoral choices” problem.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            I’m not sure how you deal with the whole “electoral choices” problem.

            AOC has a helpful suggestion.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter says:

              The freedom granted by a car has been so popular that it’s created suburbs, roads, etc, massively influencing the evolution of society.

              Traditionally at some point the socialists run into the problem that their ideas are so deeply unpopular in their implementation (as opposed to their theory) that they need to be inflicted on society at gunpoint.

              That’s one solution for the whole “electoral choices” problem. If you think AOC has a different solution, by all means, please put it on the table.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Socialist programs like functional use zoning, Social Security, the GI Bill, the FHA and VA mortgages, and the Interstate highway system, which also created the suburbs and were *checks notes* wildly popular electoral choices in their implementation.

                This is why I keep hammering this point, that the world we take for granted didn’t just happen through mysterious forces of nature.

                Trying to draw a line between the “top-down command and control socially engineered world of government experts” and “free market forces” is impossible.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                We’re talking about getting rid of cars. Feel free to mention whatever AOC thinks will make it popular to concentrate people into locations dense enough to make trains work for all.Report

  3. Avatar fillyjonk says:

    Though I suspect that for a lot of people (thinking of myself here), switching to public transport for things like running errands would add another level of finding-the-time woe. So, for example, if the grocery store I went to, buses ran to it only on the hour, I’d have to be sure to be there to catch a bus, and then spend an hour at the store, so I could then get the next bus home. And that’s if they ran on time…

    I think with the way some people’s worklives are, adding in the delays, time-spent-waiting, and lowered-convenience of public transport: SOMETHING would have to give. And I don’t see most employers giving people an extra 20 minutes a day or whatever for “transport issue time”

    I would love to be able to walk to everything I need, but living in a climate where it’s realistically above 110 F for a good chunk of the summer, that’s also not so feasable. I can’t see carrying 20 pounds of groceries ten blocks in 110F weather.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      Yeah, transit that runs once an hour is not at all compatible with transit-centric use of the city by anyone who has other options. Ideally you should be able to just walk to the transit stop without checking the minute hand on your watch – checking the hour hand to verify that it’s between say 7 AM and 8 PM should be enough to know that the bus / tram / train will be along shortly.

      The time cost of automobiles is an easy one to miss – the car might allow you to get to your job half an hour quicker, but then the first couple hours on the job is spent paying for the car. Or it might the the only way to get to your job at all, at which point if you earn even one dollar more than the cost of maintaining a car it’s a winner.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    When we moved to the city, we got rid of our car and get around entirely by foot, bus, or subway now.

    Of course, the density of the city and frequency of the transit system here in LA makes it easy so this isn’t a universal solution. But it does bring into sharp focus the cost of convenience.
    For example, buses and trains run about every 5 minutes int he mornigs and afternoons, but slow to about once every 20 minutes at midday, when there is less demand.
    So when I go to a meeting, I need to plan around the next available bus.

    It would be more convenient to have a personal vehicle waiting for my whim at the moment I desired it.
    But the car needs a home, a parking stall which costs around $250/ month here in downtown. It also comes with its overall costs of maintenance and depreciation and insurance.

    So the actual cost of that few minutes of convenience every so often, is very steep.

    Which IMO, can be expanded to address our overall stance towards the environment. Much of our consumer economy is aimed at providing convenience. Everything from disposal everything to on-demand everything, the cost of convenience has been low, fueled by mass industrialization and government policy and rapidly developing technology.

    One of the things we are grappling with is the externalities of this convenience are higher than anyone considered- the trash in the ocean, the massive waste of resources and energy.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      Chip Daniels: One of the things we are grappling with is the externalities of this convenience are higher than anyone considered- the trash in the ocean, the massive waste of resources and energy.

      My expectation is the bulk of that ocean trash isn’t from the US, but is instead from much poorer countries. Ergo us beggaring ourselves is more likely to make that situation worse rather than better.

      Dealing with pollution is best thought of as a luxury good. The demand for luxury goods rises as income rises.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Again, with the microlitigation.

        We could assert the same thing about air pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, or any other environmental ill.
        To what end? To be able to say, “We should do nothing?”

        Yes, global environmental stress is…global.Report

  5. Every morning, when things are still, I hear the horns of the test trains running on the commuter rail line in my suburb in the distance. The physical construction was complete two years ago. Why is RTD still running test trains, rather than real service? Because Congress specified a particular positive train control system for new rail lines, and the wireless version doesn’t quite work. The last I knew, the city was getting ready to sue everyone in sight in federal court. Their legal theory is that the PTC specified by Congress must be good enough, no matter its specs, because if Congress had intended to say “no new rail lines” they would have said that.Report

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