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krazeeboi

Myths surrounding suburbia

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This article details five "myths" concerning suburban sprawl and our automobile-dominated landscape. They are:

  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.

Supporting information is given in detail in the article.

What say ye?

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This article details five "myths" concerning suburban sprawl and our automobile-dominated landscape. They are:
  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.

Supporting information is given in detail in the article.

What say ye?

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While that article gave reasoning to "debunk" each myth, I wish we would still address these as truths. I personally would love the ability to take day trips by train to tourist destinations and leave my car at home, I would even like better mass transit where I live to enjoy an evening out without having to worry about the car. I do agree cars pollute less, however with gas mileage falling we are burning more fossil fuels plus we are adding more people and cars to the totals every year, so I wonder how much the reduced pollution from newer vehicles is affording us. While only 5.4% of America may be "developed", what has been developed has been without much regard to the environment. We won't be able to stop driving, however I'm optimistic we'll find a way to keep our personal transportation with a power source that has extreme minimal impact on the environment within the next 10-20 years.

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The writers of that article, from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian "think-tank" also advocates that the U.S. needs to spend $533 Billion to build 104,000 additional lane miles on our highways over the next 25 years, or we're all going to experience LA style gridlock. And yet they say we are not a car-happy society. They also state that transit should only be for the poor and handicapped. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. :silly:

Reason - Mobility Project

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Who knew? Suburbia is the way to live! I'm off to buy a hummer for my 2 hour commute.

Seriously though... does this article mean to tell me that fewer cars on the road won't impact pollution levels and traffic? Thats quite laughable. Does a pedestrian give off more emmissions than a car? Maybe after a 5 bean burrito. Paris recently started giving its streets back to the pedestrian. They made roads in the city narrower, sidewalks wider, and provided more public transit everywhere. Lots of people were pissed off (drivers mostly).... but for some "mysterious" reason, pollution levels around the city have dropped significantly. Hmm....

I think this article misses the point entirely. Obviously people aren't going to just give up their cars. However, if you can provide more opportunities for a cmore compact lifestyle, a lot of people will choose to live that way, which mean there are that many fewer people living in the suburbs.

Suburbia itself has proven to be unsustainable, but this article makes you assume that New York/Manhattan sytle urbanism is what it will take to work- and it even questions that. But I think its important to go to these places, and look at the impacts that cars have on the lives people lead there. Even in DC, where this article originated- you can see the effects of good urban development, and then the effects of bad urban development. DC trulely exists in a paradox with the second best transit system and the second worse traffic probelm in the USA.

What if you could go form suburb to suburb (which is not a reverse commute, like that article thinks) via transit? What if you could take a train from Tyson's Corner to Bethesda? Marrietta to Lawrenceville? Long Beach to San Bernardino? Would all people really rather drive that? I think that its unrealistic to think that a better transportation network that allows more options for people would not be more sustainable in the future- just as its unrealistic to think that everyone will give up their cars. And thats the problem with this article. It comes from the auto oriented lifestyle perspective. It assumes that you will still need to drive to pick up your kids and to get your latte. Its very possible that you could see transit oriented nodes with things like grocery stores, daycare, startbucks, movie stores, etc. to make it convenient to live in a non-auto world. Things like that are happening. Just wait.

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What a terrible article. The whole thing uses such baseless arguments to beat around the bush while delivering its opinion in a candy coated manner.

1) I wouldn't say that Americans are addicted to cars like they might be addicted to fast food and cigarettes, but there is a reluctance to give up something that you own to take something that is publicly owned. It is very convenient to take the train/bus on daily routes like commutes, to the grocery store, to school, etc. But it is not convenient to take mass transit to all your vacation destinations unless you are seeking an urban-centered vacation.

Personally, I like driving to my vacation destinations (if they're somewhat close). I get to see everywhere in between, and I get to experience a piece of America (Take U.S highways, not interstates). That's a huge part of the economy here. Each summer, thousands of families drive "up north" (from the cities) to their cabin/favorite resort on the lake and spend a week or two just lounging around.. fishing, reading, swimming, boating, hiking... you can't arrange train service to EVERY resort, and you can't expect people to give up the car and travel somewhere more convenient to the mass transit system. For this, cars are necessary.

And I like my car. In true urban environments, they are not necessary as you can walk/bike to where you need to be... but out in rural America, everything is on a much larger scale. Again, cars suit this best.

So, here I do think we are addicted to our cars more out of necessity and the "American spirit" than anything.

2) An argument they use a lot in this article, and a reactionary at once "Transit ridership has been on the decline for half a century" and therefore we should just give up on transit and push cars? Bullcrap! Transit has a place in most places except the most rural ones. Bus/train ridership has taken a sharp climb upward in the past few years due to increased awareness, congestion, and gas prices. If you can save from adding 2 lanes to a freeway by putting in a high volume train/bus system, you've won. Also, public transit is inherently more efficient than driving, so it will be more profitable.

People don't want to ride in crowded, stinking buses, but they also don't want to drive on crowded freeways. We can't force everyone to hand over the car and get on the train, but our silly subsidization of gasoline/oil in this country allowed our economy to become more auto-centered than would be natural in a true "free-market". Before cars became affordable to everyone and airtravel was limited to only the well-to-do, our train system was one of the best in the world. Gas prices will only become more volatile in the short term and will only rise faster than inflation in the long term. Mass transit should be considered as a viable alternative when we make a large transition into alternative fuels.

3) They do have somewhat of a point. Air pollution has been reduced since the Clean Air act was put into law, but in many places an increase has been recorded simply because of explosive growth related to sprawl. Yes, the LA basin might be cleaner today than it was in 1988, but Las Vegas most certainly isn't. We have uncontrolled population growth in these areas and we're making areas that were previously clean, dirty.

Also, under the Bush administrations, the clean air act has been scaled back and companies are allowed to put more pollutants in the atmosphere than before he came into office. This goes completely against their arguments.

4) Another bad argument: Only 5.4% of the U.S is developed, therefore we have no responsibility to use our land wisely. What an idiotic argument. Much of this "5.4%" development takes place on some of the richest farmland in the world. A lot of the other 94.6% of that is impassible mountainous land in the west, or barren tundra in Alaska. How much of New Jersey is developed? How much land is truly considered viable for development in the country and how much of THAT is developed?

5) Another stupid argument: Kyoto wouldn't make a big difference and therefore we shouldn't try to combat global warming.. instead we should installing screens in Bangladesh.. a country that could well be under water before we ever start worrying about nailing on mosquito nets. These people obviously do not understand the consequences of runaway global warming and do not personally understand the adaptions that THEY would have to make if the planet were to warm as much is projected.

I'd almost rather hear the deniers out there babbling than hear them accept the science and then run off with their "adaptation, not prevention" garbage. I don't want to have to adapt more than I have to. If that means a little slower growth in the economy and further research of alternative fuels, then so be it. Economic growth will be impacted much more by runaway global warming than by the miniscule impact Kyoto would have had on it. Try selling snowmobiles when it's 50*F in January. Or farming corn when it's 100*F and bone dry all summer long... or raising cattle in 115*F heat all summer long.

I guess if you want to sit in a desert hovel and refrain from eating and/or drinking, then adaptation is the way to go. Until then, quit giving Canada the benefit of the doubt.

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  • Americans are addicted to driving.

    --Absolutely, without question and no doubt whatsoever.

  • Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.

    --If people stop driving and ride it then it can but, as it is now, not really.

  • We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.

    --We can cut air pollution if we stop driving...but not ONLY if.

  • We're paving over America.

    --Sure.

  • We can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

    --Fossil fuels are a big part of the problem and reducing them is a must.

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I'll answer in kind.

  • Americans are addicted to driving.

    --Yes. I think many Americans LOVE driving everywhere, and have a love affair with their cars. I also think many Americans have a car because they feel they MUST of that they have no alternative. Currently I'm in that latter category. I work out in the exurbs and the transit commute would take 2.5 hours. Driving is 40 minutes. If I worked in Newark, or Jersey City, or Manhattan I would gladly let go of the car!

  • Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.

    --It can stop a congestion problem from getting worse. Transit gets the highest ridership in areas where the costs of driving (dollar and time costs) are astronomical. Getting across the Hudson River into Manhattan, for example, takes a lot of time and costs a lot (tolls, wasted petrol, parking), so transit is a clearly preferable alternative for tens of thousands of commuters who cross the river every day. People take the path of least resistance. If the congestion and fees associated with driving go away, more people will drive because it will be cheaper and faster.

  • We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.

    --It's a contribution.

  • We're paving over America.

    --Living in the state that will reach build-out first, I can say YES! The linked article (horrible as it is) stated that only 5 + percent of the U.S. land area is "developed." Of the remaining 95%, how much is "undeveloped" farmland, how much is mountainous or otherwise not developable, and how much is in Alaska? This country will reach build-out long before 100% of the land area is "developed."

  • We can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

    --Driving will contribute to global warming as long as it contributes CO2 emissions. If cars become cleaner-burning, their contribution to the problem will diminish.

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People don't want to ride in crowded, stinking buses, but they also don't want to drive on crowded freeways. We can't force everyone to hand over the car and get on the train, but our silly subsidization of gasoline/oil in this country allowed our economy to become more auto-centered than would be natural in a true "free-market". Before cars became affordable to everyone and airtravel was limited to only the well-to-do, our train system was one of the best in the world. Gas prices will only become more volatile in the short term and will only rise faster than inflation in the long term. Mass transit should be considered as a viable alternative when we make a large transition into alternative fuels.

s truly considered viable for development in the country and how much of THAT is developed?

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And what would all those tax breaks to oil companies be? Gasoline is taxed on a per gallon basis to provide funding for building roads. The basic price for a gallon of gas is brought lower than most other nations by extensive tax breaks and incentives to oil companies.

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Americans are addicted to driving.

Yes and No. In most urban areas, yes. This is because in most urban areas aside from commuting by car maybe quicker than using transit (such as Lammius explained) most people are obsessed with their cars. Another example is where I am from where there seems to be a huge relucance to improving our public transportation system. The biggest argument is, "Nobody uses it." or "All the buses are mostly empty." This is due to the massive cuts that occuring nearly a decade ago by a corrupt official that is now gone who was heading the transit agency.

No, because if you live in a rural area it is much more difficult to have a rural transit system. I am currently interning at a planning commission for a generally rural region and I know this one for a fact to be true. Most Americans still live in the more rural settings although we are becoming a more urbanized nation.

Until otherwise occurs, I would say we are not really addicted unless you live in the former.

Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.

Yes, this is true. Various forms of public transit such as HOV, carpooling/vanpooling, express buses, and rail transit would offer much better and quicker alternatives than commuter daily in a single-occupant vehicle in urban settings. Many people won't give up their personal vehicles because they think it is taking away from their personal freedom. Not true, being stuck in traffic on an over-congested roadway is more "captive" than riding a express bus/train to and from work. Public transit also increase viability of quality of life of everybody especially those who can't afford personal vehicles that is includes just the poor, elderly, and disabled. This can include teenagers who aren't of driving age and college students who can't afford to drive everywhere all the time and the wear-and-tear of doing this or doesn't have a personal vehicle due to finances.

We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.

Yes, studies have shown that although the Clean Air Act of 1970 has reduced the pollution, we have made up for a lot of that displaced pollution with an increase in the # of personal vehicles and the amount we use them.

We're paving over America.

I'm not so sure of them, but it does seem apparent that we have become very wreckless in how development has occurred in most places.

We can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

Not true. We can still drive, and deal with global warming. We just need to become better with overall planning of how development occurs. Make developments less car-oriented and more pedestrian-oriented but attempting to put shopping, medical facilities more adjacent to residential developments, i.e. mixed-used developments. Personal vehicles can still be used for long-distant trips such as vacations, ect.

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In further response to Buster:

What you said would be like denying that farmers are subsidized because there is tax on food. Yes, there are taxes on food stuffs and even sales tax in some states. The ingredients that make that food are very heavily subsidized by the government, however, so that processed junk food is much cheaper than it would be if we didn't subsidize it.

We all know what the consequences of $1.29 boxes of Little Debbies have on Americans.

It is the same with oil companies as I said in a previous post. The gas tax is a tax imposed on the gasoline by the state at the point of sale to fund roads/transportation projects.

Maybe you should be reading up on this stuff as well.

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I thought this may be of interest. It's a piece from James Howard Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency. Kunstler is best known for his book, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape. If he's right, I think this should be required reading for every American.

LINK

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Very interesting article. I foresee a scenario like this as totally possible in the next 100 years. This is of course one of the more extreme examples of what could happen, but it is plausible.

Life certainly will change and the average person will likely see a reduction in quality of life compared to today's standards.

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Indeed a very intersting article, JDC. Thanks for posting. This may indeed be a scenario that humanity and civilization will face in the next 20-100 years. I really hope that we find ways of avoiding some of the forseen outcomes. (I am at heart an optimist, regardless of how bad it looks.)

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I think people should take this test, and report their ecological footprint to see where they stand.

http://www.earthday.net/footprint/index.asp

When living at home in Bemidji, I use about 19 acres and if everyone lived like me, we would need 4.3 planet earths.

When I'm at school, I use 13 acres, at which rate we would need 2.9 planets if everyone lived like this.

When I was in Europe, I was much more ecologically friendly. The fact that I only ate meat about 2 or 3 times per week plus the fact that I walked everywhere only taking the bus on rainy days, I used only 2 acres, meaning we would need only 1.1 planets to support everyone if you remove the fact that I flew to Austria, which adds another .1 planet right there.

The American way of life is inherently more wasteful. And suburbia certainly doesn't help that.

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I think people should take this test, and report their ecological footprint to see where they stand.

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Ugh I take up 20 acres. And I always thought I wasn't that bad. I think it's my driving 20 miles to work 4 days a week that kills me, even though I walk everywhere else...

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Public transit can reduce traffic congestion

Just wanted to throw in a response to this one, since the other ones have pretty much been taken care of.

Essentially, the authors are correct: reducing automobile congestion is not one of the reasons to invest in public transit.

I always groan when I see transit advocates making this argument, yet they make it over and over again. It is really kind of strange that this is the most common argument for transit. Essentially what it is saying is, "Keep driving: your car commute will become easier because someone else will ride transit." This is clearly a response to political reality: decisions are made in this country based on majority votes, the majority of people are self-centered and will only vote to fund programs that benefit them directly, and the majority of people drive. Therefore the only way to make an effective political argument for transit is to tell people who drive that it will help them.

Unfortunately, it is a completely baseless argument. If you want to find all the places with the worst traffic congestion, it's easy: just look for the places with the best transit systems.

New York. Tokyo. Hong Kong. Paris. San Francisco. London.

(Note that there are other measures, such as traffic calming measures used in Paris, parking reduction programs in Copenhagen, and congestion charging in London, that can reduce auto congestion. However these are not transit systems.)

What do all these places have in common? They are places that a lot of people want to be. And I mean a LOT. So many, that their trains, buses, AND highways and streets fill to capacity every day.

They are the great cities of the world.

Here are some things that public transit investments can do for a city:

- Make commutes faster or easier for people who ride transit.

- Get far more people into the downtown area of the city than would be physically possible via private automobiles, hence increasing economic activity and street vibrancy.

- Increase the availability of a car-free or car-lite lifestyle to residents, hence creating a more affordable city (even as housing values rise as the city becomes more attractive).

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- Increase the availability of a car-free or car-lite lifestyle to residents, hence creating a more affordable city (even as housing values rise as the city becomes more attractive).

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I took it twice.

The first time was considering my current work situation. I scored 19 acres (4.3 earths).

The second time I considered if I worked in NYC every day (instead of just once/week). I scored 13 acres (2.8 earths).

If I lived AND worked in NYC I'd probably do better still, although I'd have to sell 2.8 earths just to afford an apartment there!

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