Thursday, March 31, 2011

The "Love Affair with the Automobile" is a Lie

You hear it repeated constantly (including this article from Reuters): Americans love cars. The car is so much an integral part of most Americans' daily lives that it makes sense- we spend huge amounts of money and time on them, driving them everywhere, maintaining them, replacing them when they wear out (or become less fashionable), and we wouldn't do any of that without being absolutely in love with cars, right? You'll even hear many people say "I love my car."

This love affair, though? It's a myth. I won't try and claim that there aren't Americans who love their cars- there are certainly plenty of auto enthusiasts out there. Similarly, lots of people love driving- when it's the right sort of driving. But, by and large, the relationship between cars and people in our country isn't a love affair, it's an abusive marriage. We aren't still married to the auto because we're in love, but because we think we're trapped- and meanwhile, our cars are maiming and killing thousands a year and destroying our lives in a hundred ways.

The reason Americans are such prolific motorists is not, by and large, because of a love for the car, but because most of our country is built on the assumption that every adult citizen will drive. Transit is anemic in most of the country. Destinations are sprawled out, uses are segregated and distant from each other, and buildings are set apart by parking lots thrice their size. In the few parts of the country where this is overwhelmingly not the case- San Francisco, New York City, inner parts of Chicago and Portland- we see people turning away from their autos en masse. In those places that are car-centric, we generally love our specific, individual cars because they're the best alternative out of a range of bad options.

Americans have no intrinsic love for the automobile- or, at least, not any more than Europeans or Canadians. Rather, it is the concerted efforts of government policy over the last 70 years that have brought us to where we are today- and, given the choice, the majority of people would change their ways. Let's work on giving them that choice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Beauty of Transfers

So the wife and I were up in San Francisco over the last weekend, and that meant spending time riding the ever-excellent Muni and BART systems. One thing that struck me about Muni is the freedom that the free transfer system allows riders. Here's an example. My wife and I were walking along Divisadero from Haight to McAllister. It's a longish walk, and one we would have preferred to ride the bus on- but we had no idea how long the wait for the bus would be. We started walking, and I kept looking over my shoulder for a bus coming. About halfway there, a bus appeared, and we boarded it and rode the rest of the way.

In Riverside, without an unlimited pass, there's probably no way we would have done that. Paying $1.50 on the first bus, and then another $1.50 on the next, would have been far too expensive- especially if there were a third vehicle beyond that. On Muni, the same $2 fare gets you 90 minutes of transit, no matter how many transit vehicles that involves. It means the freedom to hop on any bus or streetcar, in any direction, in order to arrive at your destination- or even turn around and come back. It is this freedom which I argued every transit rider should have in a very early post- and San Francisco's system (along with many others, including New York) affords it to every rider, from the occasional to the frequent.

I know that the reason our fare structure is what it is in Southern California is due to a formula that provides subsidies using base fare as a proxy for ridership- but we have much better measures of ridership now. RTA has automated passenger counters on every bus. Smart cards, such as Clipper, Compass and TAP, have the potential to provide even better data for subsidy purposes. Isn't it time to re-evaluate the no-transfer transit model?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quick observation

Rosa Parks, who famously sparked one of the great conflagrations of the Civil Rights movement from a bus in Alabama, has a highway named after her in car-dependent Bakersfield.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

CA-HSR Makes Bad Decision

The Authority has narrowed down the alignment through Riverside, and that pretty much means downtown is not an option. The Watkins Drive station (originally proposed by the Authority and shot down by neighbourhood groups) was withdrawn as well, but another station that I hadn't heard of- the Martin Luther King Blvd. station (at MLK/Chicago) got shot down. The two stations under consideration for the Riverside area are Corona (at Cajalco Road near the Dos Lagos shopping centre) and March Field (at I-215 and Alessandro Blvd.). The main factor to decide between the two will be whether the I-15 or I-215 alignments are chosen.

The thing is that other station options in the San Gabriel Valley were rejected for poor intermodal connections or unsuitability for TOD. The only reasons listed against the MLK option? "City and UC Riverside support March Field." The defense for March? You guessed it- "City of Riverside and UC Riverside expressed a preference for this site." Oh, and it's got easy access from the freeway- 'cuz don'tcha know that's what matters out here?

Even the Temecula-Murrieta station is being chosen based on intermodal accessibility- to the point that, at some times of day (commute hours), it'd be easier for me to get to the proposed Murrieta station car-free than the Riverside station. (A quick bike ride/walk/2 stops on the 16 to lot 30, then the 208 straight to HSR vs. 16 downtown to connect to 22 to connect to 20, all local and the latter two only hourly.) Probably easiest for Riverside transit riders will be the San Bernardino station, located at their new downtown transit center, with easy connections on Metrolink and Omni 215.

CAHSRA, City of Riverside, UCR... all I have to say is fuck you very, very much.

(EDIT: Sorry, in my rage I forgot to tell you that the Transit Coalition has the alignment analysis for your perusal.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Southbound 208

It's hard to see in this photo, but this 5pm #208 that I snapped just outside of Lot 30 was standing room only. Either there is something really awesome happening in Murrieta this weekend, or more south county residents are ditching their cars.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Norco Opposes I-15 HSR Alignment

Norco, self-proclaimed Horse Town USA, where "complete street" means asphalt and a horse trail, has decided to stand in the way of the Corona/1-15 HSR alignment. While I'm not usually a fan of HSR opposition, in this case I welcome their opposition. Riverside wants this train, and any opposition on the I-15 alternative will make it more likely that we get it. I still have my reservations about the proposed station location here in Riverside, but I'd still support March Field over Corona.

I have to wonder, though, why Norco wouldn't want a railroad through their town? It seems like it'd help out that whole "Wild West" feel they're trying to cultivate.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trains Are Evil Behaviour-Modification Devices!

So says conservative columnist (and, apparently, conspiracy theorist) George Will at Newsweek. I urge you to read the column- it is grade-A insane. Really, saying that is an insult to the community of people with mental disabilities. Of course, it's just the typical "cars mean freedom!" argument taken one step further, and seen through a virulently anti-Obama lens.

The real story here is that the article has gotten such wide press. Even New York Times economist Paul Krugman devoted a few columns to it on his inestimable blog. The second of those columns sums up many of my feelings on the subject: neither air travel nor driving seems particularly liberating, especially in urban settings, and properly-run trains afford their riders more freedom of time than either of the above modes.

I would, however, like to add that the level of freedom afforded by transportation modes isn't necessarily contingent just upon the characteristics of that mode. True freedom comes from having a choice in the mode of travel you use. Even if cars were the ultimate expression of the rugged individualist American ethos, even if they afforded their occupants all the freedom that Will imagines, how free are car owners if they live somewhere where car ownership is the only option? How free are those of us, stuck in the suburbs by circumstance, who would rather not own, operate and maintain a multi-ton piece of heavy machinery? How free are those of us who would rather put our money towards travel than car insurance? Furthermore, how free are those of us who, through poverty or disability, are unable to own or operate such a piece of equipment?

My answer to all of the above? Not very.