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Old 11-09-2010, 03:27 AM
 
9 posts, read 17,772 times
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Before WWII, very few Americans owned cars. Cities were dense, walkable, and well-connected with electric trolleys. MUCH less energy was spent on the simple act of getting around. Our national train system was the envy of the world, so people could travel to most destinations without a car and businesses could ship merchandise without the need for trucks. Once again, MUCH less energy was spent for travel and shipping.

We now live in a society where you almost HAVE to own a car to function. Car companies dumped the cost of road building and maintenance on us to keep this system running. Retailers have dumped the cost of shipping/delivery on us as consumers. We have to buy a car, maintain it, insure it and fuel it just to go to work, school, church and the grocery store. It makes no sense. We could do all of these things without cars, save ourselves the money, and enjoy better health and air quality.

Sprawling suburbs are directly correlated with growing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Kids can't walk to school or any other civic function anymore. I've heard it said that corporations such as Wal-Mart require this living arrangement, calling it an "economy of scale". Well, cities can be scaled up as well as out, and logically, why should we foot the bill to keep Wal-Mart in business?

Why do we need cars? Why not highly-efficient mass-transit, biking and walking (like many international cities)? If you feel it's because of "the market", please explain why most American cities have zoning laws that prevent walkable, car-free neighborhoods from being built. Please explain why car-free environments such as Disneyland or Venice are so popular. I want to know why we really NEED cars (not WANT them).
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Old 11-09-2010, 04:11 AM
 
Location: 30-40N 90-100W
13,856 posts, read 22,976,124 times
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I think two factors are

One: Americans are much more individualistic than most nations. That's not an insult or compliment really, it's just what the research seems to indicate. So once we could afford cars we went that way because cars allow us to travel alone if we want.

Two: The US is much more sparsely populated than many/most of the non-car nations you mean. Although it seems like there was a time every little town was connected by train I'm not sure it was as easy to do that as it is with cars.

Not that these are the only factors.

I have to admit I'm not naturally sympathetic to cars, and prefer the idea of everything being trains, but the downright obsession people have here with "dense walkable cities" just makes me want to hop in my van for a long drive. It's the contrarian in me
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Old 11-09-2010, 07:42 AM
 
Location: West Michigan
3,077 posts, read 5,452,941 times
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Driving is generally more enjoyable than public transportation.

Choice 1: Hop in my own vehicle, go at my own pace, listen to my favorite radio station/ipod, control the temperature at the click of a button or flip of a switch, roll my windows down on a nice day, express myself through my choice of vehicle, leave or arrive whenever I want, and make random stops or take different routes at my leisure.

Choice 2: Wait for the scheduled arrival/departure time, deal with weather conditions while walking/waiting, sit next to strangers, deal with whatever the temperature of the transportation mode happens to be, look longingly out the windows but be unable to open them, stand when there is no room to sit, hope for a stop that is close to what I need, depend upon others to get me where I need to be in a timely and safe manner.

Bottom line: Driving in the U.S. is just easier and more enjoyable for too many people. Unless I am trying to make some sort of social statement or am in a very large city, I'm not going to bother with public transportation.
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Old 11-09-2010, 08:21 AM
 
Location: Zurich, Switzerland/ Piedmont, CA
32,377 posts, read 55,190,768 times
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It was a scheme by General Motors(along with Firestone and Standard Oil) to destroy public transit so people would buy cars.

There are a ton of online references to their plot, here are just a few that I googled:

Taken for a Ride - How General Motors (GM) Conspired to Destroy Rail Trolley Systems

streetcar press - essays

General Motors' Destruction of California Transit Systems

What Ever Happened to Public Transportation? | John Robbins Official Site

Once they successfully made Los Angeles a car-oriented city, it was easy for them to glamorize cars to all the newer cities that were still in infancy and hadnt yet developed their own transit systems.

Everytime I think about it I don't feel so bad about driving a foreign car.
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Old 11-09-2010, 08:27 AM
 
11,177 posts, read 22,384,826 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michigan83 View Post
Driving is generally more enjoyable than public transportation.

Choice 1: Hop in my own vehicle, go at my own pace, listen to my favorite radio station/ipod, control the temperature at the click of a button or flip of a switch, roll my windows down on a nice day, express myself through my choice of vehicle, leave or arrive whenever I want, and make random stops or take different routes at my leisure.

Choice 2: Wait for the scheduled arrival/departure time, deal with weather conditions while walking/waiting, sit next to strangers, deal with whatever the temperature of the transportation mode happens to be, look longingly out the windows but be unable to open them, stand when there is no room to sit, hope for a stop that is close to what I need, depend upon others to get me where I need to be in a timely and safe manner.

Bottom line: Driving in the U.S. is just easier and more enjoyable for too many people. Unless I am trying to make some sort of social statement or am in a very large city, I'm not going to bother with public transportation.
That's pretty biased. I actually enjoy riding public transit every day. I can sleep or read, listen to music or chat with friends on the way to work/back. Don't have to worry about drunk driving. Trains come every few minutes and take me within a 5 minute walk of where I want to go.

It all depends on where you are and your situation. I would hate to own a car where I live. No parking, traffic crawls, city stickers, insurance, car payments, gas, etc. I rent a few times a year to go back home, and I'm always overjoyed at dumping the car off when I'm finished. Most of my friends don't own a car, and we all easily could if we wanted.
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Old 11-09-2010, 08:41 AM
 
56,662 posts, read 80,973,859 times
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What the OP mentioned makes me happy to live in a state where you can live in a school district with your suburban, no sidewalk type of neighborhoods, but also have a nice, dense village with some businesses, parks, churches and schools that you can walk to. There seems to be a bus system, at least, for almost every county too. So, you have options and isn't that what our country is supposed to be about?
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Old 11-09-2010, 09:04 AM
 
Location: Boston
1,082 posts, read 2,491,622 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Animalseeking View Post
Why do we need cars? Why not highly-efficient mass-transit, biking and walking (like many international cities)? If you feel it's because of "the market", please explain why most American cities have zoning laws that prevent walkable, car-free neighborhoods from being built. Please explain why car-free environments such as Disneyland or Venice are so popular. I want to know why we really NEED cars (not WANT them).
It all depends where you live. I always either bike to work or ride the train. No car is required for most of what I do. But I have consciously built my life around this concept. Many people don't know that it's possible, or alterantively (and we have to accept this is likely), they simply don't want a car free lifestyle. I'm fine with that, but I'm tired of subsidizing it:

  • Make every road a toll road, or increase the gas tax to fully fund road construction and maintenance.
  • Tax gasoline enough (or increase registration fees enough) to fund the cost of cleaning the environment from the damage done by so many inefficient internal combustion engines.
  • Charge significantly higher premiums for health and life insurance to people who drive everywhere.

Right now, the drive everywhere lifestyle cost is hidden. Let's uncover the true cost, make the drivers pay all of it, and then, maybe others will make the choices I've made, and city planners will be pushed to design car free neighborhoods.
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Old 11-09-2010, 09:26 AM
 
203 posts, read 240,430 times
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Has the OP ever used transport in a foreign country? Ive been on London Underground, Paris metro and British National rail. I wouldnt call any of those to be efficient by any means. Convenient? Maybe, depending on where you are and where you want to go. There are limits to what those systems can do and the convenience might not be too great depending on which areas and cities you want to go between. However, I wouldnt call it efficient. Ive had many delays, closed major rail lines, workers strikes, mechanical and weather issues that have caused those systems to be heavily delayed or suspended for several hours to over a weekend.

In DC, I know the inefficiency of rail by how often there are delays on metro and also on MARC/VRE.

In both my American and foreign experience, rail is great if you dont have a schedule and can wait for sometimes a long time for a bus or a train. Then you there has to be no traffic in front of you.

Cars are simply more convenient than public transport. In most cases, it is a lot more efficient than public transport. Long distance trains are limited by speed restrictions and stops. Your car goes at whatever speed you drive it at. For shorter trips, cars are a lot more efficient. It takes almost no time to drive a short distance that would take 15-20 minutes to walk. Again, for longer distances it is also more efficient than public transport because you are not at the mercy of other people to get where you want to. When you encounter a problem, you are free to detour in a car. On public transport, you cannot do that.

The car is freedom. This country is vast. Things are spread out. There is no way we can have rail to connect every city. The free market tried it and air travel beat out the rail. For a short time in the 1960s, there was no passenger rail service in the USA. The air and car were voted by the American consumer as being better than the train.

North America is vast by its very nature. Canada outside of some of the major cities is very poor public transport wise. For the same reason as the United States: it is spread out over a vast area. High speed and normal speed rail are only good over shorter distances and it can stop at every small city and still be efficient and fast. With so many cities spread out, the car and roads provide the most efficient way to get around.

Also, you are a burden to others when you dont have a car in this country. When you want to go short distances or to places that you cant walk to, take the bus/train to, and the cab is too expensive then you have to rely on others or not go at all. I love having the freedom to not rely on others to drive me to places I want to go to.
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Old 11-09-2010, 09:33 AM
Status: "could've~would've~should've used 'have', not 'of'" (set 22 days ago)
 
Location: A Yankee in northeast TN
10,507 posts, read 14,335,765 times
Reputation: 23357
Quote:
Originally Posted by Animalseeking View Post
Before WWII, very few Americans owned cars. Cities were dense, walkable, and well-connected with electric trolleys. MUCH less energy was spent on the simple act of getting around. Our national train system was the envy of the world, so people could travel to most destinations without a car and businesses could ship merchandise without the need for trucks. Once again, MUCH less energy was spent for travel and shipping.
A slightly different take on this...
Before there were cars and trucks there were horses. From various articles I have read over the years I get the impression that cars and trucks simply replaced horses for most transportation needs.
I'm a little skeptical that cities are or were ever mainly about trolleys, bikes, and foot traffic. (Even in NYC car ownership in 2006 was around 46% of the population, and NYC has the highest rate of public transportation use in the country. Transportation in New York City - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Car free sounds great in theory but I'm not convinced that it is or was practical in all but a few places in the US.

Interesting little article about transportation in cities before the age of the automobile. Apparently this is not a new concern. URBAN POLLUTION-Many long years ago
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Old 11-09-2010, 09:39 AM
 
Location: West Cobb County, GA (Atlanta metro)
9,188 posts, read 30,240,266 times
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One of the cable channels had an interesting documentary some time ago about how the oil industry had invested heavily in so many things decades ago, and how they would control transit issues.

For instance, they played a big part in the dismantling of commuter rail systems in many cities, and promoted express bus services in it's place.

Another thing - supposedly, a company that built monorail type systems approached the city of L.A. decades ago and wanted to use the city as a model for their system. They offered to build and upkeep the entire system for FREE, using it as an example other cities could look to. The oil company lawyers stepped in in various incarnations, stifled it, and the city with with a bus system instead.

There were lots of other examples on whatever this show was, but it all pretty much boiled down to oil companies stepping on anything that didn't benefit them.
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