Monday, March 16, 2009

Mindless expansionism

It's rare that a single paragraph perfectly captures the non-thought that so often passes for thought in the minds of people afflicted with Carhead, the mental disorder that turns adults into five-year-olds who are incapable of thinking beyond their immediate wants and who throw terrible tantrums at the slightest hint of frustration. But Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt nails it:
Highway funding, after all, has become as encrusted in unyielding orthodoxies as any political issue. Almost no one disputes that Washington and the states, including Virginia and Maryland, have failed to deliver on the basic governmental responsibilities of ensuring mobility and enabling commerce. The number of miles Americans drive has essentially doubled since 1980 (cars up 97 percent; trucks, 106 percent), but the number of highway lane miles has grown only 4.4 percent. Result: twice as much traffic per road.
That's right -- we're driving TWICE as much as we did just a generation ago and, per the Carhead mentality, it's not nearly enough. There you have it folks, Carhead in all its glory. No matter how many communities we destroy, no matter how obese we are, no matter how many people die in our pursuit of automobility, no matter how much pollution we create, how hot the globe gets, or anything else, the only thing that matters is spending everything we have -- and more -- on pouring more roads for Carheads.

Why, anything else is just ... social engineering!

Portland "Tour De Coops," Saturday, July 25

More info here.

Links from there include one to a really nice design for an enclosure you build yourself from plans.

A systemic preference for treating symptoms only

The most frustrating thing about this article that warns parents that their kids are likely getting gassed with dangerous diesel exhaust every schoolday is that the only solution contemplated is a technological retrofit to the buses, rather than the elimination of the need to ferry kids about in buses every day.

Not only is school busing a direct health hazard, but it's also an indirect health hazard as the obesity epidemic balloons among school-age kids. And that's leaving aside the diminished future that kids are going to suffer because we spend so much money on motor transport rather than on education. Even as the public transit system starves and is withering away, contracting and becoming less useful, we maintain a huge fleet of buses that only serve to provide trips that the kids should be making on foot and on bikes.

Worse, when you get into the situation further, you find that district administrators organize the entire district around this bus fleet. Try suggesting a sensible idea like opening high schools much later in the morning (consistent with all research on teens and sleep) and you'll quickly find that "you can't get there from here" because all ideas are evaluated not for their educational effect but for their effect on the scheduling of the buses.

Even bankrupting ourselves on roads doesn't solve congestion

Hugely important insight from the Sightline Institute: congestion is much more related to the population of the urban area than it is to how much you spend pouring roads. In other words, spending money to attract businesses and people to your city is what causes congestion -- and no amount of roadbuilding is going to change that.

Perhaps, instead of bankrupting ourselves trying to chase the treadmill of roadbuilding and demands for more and wider roads, we should start focusing more --- lots more --- on giving people alternatives to driving in the congested conditions that are going to be there no matter what we do. The whole article at the Sightline site is well worth reading.