- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A pretty picture...

This is a pretty graph from the Economist. Readers of this blog will recognize the total vehicle-miles graph from the DOT website that I highlighted last month. If you look at it more closely as in my previous blog, the number of vehicle miles has come off by several billion in the last year or two - nice, and shows just how much discretionary driving there is around the place, but just a drop in the ocean compared to the ramp up in car use over the last 40 years. The Economist has interestingly added the number of miles of roads in the US, which looks essentially unchanged since the 1960's. The unspoken implication is that we are drastically in need of more money for roads...

That is, until you think of these things:

1) Once you already have a road network, you don't need ANOTHER one, even if people are driving more. We already know that nearly a third of all the land space in US cities is already allocated to automobiles. What are you going to do - make more space for them? Oh yea, that's what we are doing with the billion dollar cross city tunnels we are building. No - building more roads because people are driving more and the roads are getting blocked is like a doctor saying that a patient with high blood pressure just needs more veins to carry blood - by that logic he'd pretty soon be all veins and nothing else because the underlying condition is not treated. No, what we could really do with is a different kind of network - a proper rail network or a pedestrian roads network, as it has been shown that the only reason that a lot of people drive at all is because there IS no other option.
And I am not talking about railway networks that will just carry coal to the coast - which seems to be the biggest rail item on the recently announced Australian infrastructure spending plan.

2) Secondly, just because
"Highway System Mileage" has not gone up does not mean that we have not built more roads. If you measured "Highway System Mileage" by miles of lanes rather than miles of roads, then the line would probably look steeper than the other line showing total miles driven. In other words the graph is a complete illusion. Roads and highways in the US have swollen to rediculous proportions like the cancerous growths that they are - so much so that experts seem to agree that adding new lanes actually does not alleviate traffic problems - it has become part of The Traffic Problem. And the new infrastructure - bridges and tunnels etc., that have been built to accomodate those new lanes have cost the nation a FORTUNE. And of course the more such infrastructure is built, the more needs to be spent on maintenance.

To be fair, the thrust of the Economist article seems to be that just such lasting metro rail and other infrastructure should be built in that the US and that it should be paid for by an increased gasoline levy, which would have the added positive effect of discouraging discretionary driving even further

But at first glance, that is not what the picture says.

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