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We drive as we live

Kevin Berger, Salon
No wonder traffic will never improve. We are doomed by our behavior, as a drive in New York with “Traffic” author Tom Vanderbilt reveals.

… Vanderbilt emerged from his road trips with the world’s arcane professors of traffic with a narrative humming with vigorous facts. Did you know more people travel on Saturday at 1 p.m. than during typical rush hours? That only 16 percent of daily trips are to work? Where’s everybody going? Given that Americans spend all the money they make, and bury their credit cards in debt to buy more things, “it should come as little surprise,” Vanderbilt writes, “that much of our increase in driving stems from trips to the mall.”

Perhaps most eye-opening is Vanderbilt’s declaration that “the way we drive is responsible for a good part of our traffic problems.” That’s right, it’s not what urban philosophers Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, James Howard Kunstler and, well, my brother and I, in our 1993 book, “Where the Road and the Sky Collide: America Through the Eyes of Its Drivers,” have been saying all along — we are burning in traffic hell for our greedy sins of rampant urban sprawl.

No, what’s gumming up the highways are hideously self-absorbed drivers who weave in and out of lanes — creating a chain reaction of people stepping on the brakes — desperate to get to some utterly inane appointment for which they think they can’t be late. It’s not that America has too many people and too few highways. Nearly 90 percent of our roads are not congested 90 percent of the time. Look at it this way: If one-fifth of solo drivers hitched a ride with neighbors or friends to the business park or mall, we’d be sailing along Happy Highway every day.

The tall and slender Vanderbilt, a rather soft-spoken scholar himself, doesn’t resort to loud adverbs to make his points about congestion. In his book, he gives way to traffic behaviorist Alan Pisarski, who blames affluence for cities jammed with narcissists in BMWs. Congestion, Pisarski says, is “people with the economic means to act on their social and economic interests getting in the way of other people with the means to act on theirs.”
(27 August 2008)

It is time for the US to sell its highways?

Matt Maye, Groovy Green
It’s difficult to imagine a person not having heard the old axiom “Buy low, sell high”, and it is prudent advice when you are making financial decisions. It’s the second part of that adage that might warrant a look at our strategy for infrastructure improvement in this country. If you are looking to make the maximum amount of money by selling something you want to sell that something when it’s at its highest value. I wonder then, is it time for our government to sell its infrastructure? You know, since the effects of Peak Oil are beginning to make themselves felt, the value of the infrastructure developed to serve cars running on cheap oil will decline each year into the future; starting soon. Selling high might mean selling soon.

Now, I don’t think we should sell all of it, by any means. We should keep the ports and the train lines, but is now a good time to start selling our roads, highways and airports? There has been news recently of other governments selling their infrastructure (check here for one opinion or here for a story about Pennsylvania, and this guy has the same idea I do, although he doesn’t tie it to Peak Oil), and considering the value of these items in an energy scarce future I would contend that their value will never be higher.
(28 August 2008)
Interesting concept. The comments at the original point out why it may not be such a great idea. -BA

As Americans fill trains, frustration grows

Reuters via MSNBC
Amtrak commuters grow weary of increasing crowds, slow speeds

Looking up at a list of delayed trains at Boston’s crowded South Station on a summer afternoon, Peter Pesis asks why passenger trains in the United States are so slow, so crowded and so prone to delays.

“This is not like Europe,” sighed the 38-year-old Greek native who has lived in New York 15 years and often rides the nation’s only high-speed train, Amtrak’s Acela Express, between midtown Manhattan and Boston.

Rising costs of traveling by air and car, brought on by record oil prices, drew a record 2.8 million people onto America’s cash-strapped passenger railway network in July, the largest of any single month in Amtrak’s 37-year history and up nearly 14 percent from a year earlier.
(27 August 2008)