28 September, 2005

Walk or die

Billmon asks what a rational energy and transportation policy would look like.

About 90% of oil goes to transportation; about 40% of primary energy in the U.S. So energy and transportation are largely one and the same. For both, start with land use. It's the huge, easy-to-pick fruit that is just hanging there, waiting for hands to pluck it.

That is: We need dense, walkable neighborhoods in every city and town. New development should be in the form of walkable neighborhoods clustered around existing intersections and roads. We should cease all road expansion and put all dediated transportation funds into reviving or creating a rail and bus infrastructure. But mostly, our transportation problems are not the result of too little transportation, but too much. We need to create communities where people can live without cars, or with fewer cars, and where they can choose to drive but can also choose not to drive.

The example of the Rita and Katrina "evacuations" -- compared to the smooth, successful, and incredibly speedy NYC evacuation by transit, foot, and private vessel on 9/11/01 -- should show that a new development paradigm is not just a matter of efficiency, but also safety.

So how does this play out in policy? Transportation dollars should be handed over to local jurisdictions, who should be allowed to use them to subsidize transit operations as they see fit. Current rules governing "level of service" (aka vehicle delay) and "planning" (aka project current trends in a straight line into the future) should be abandoned. Bicycle and pedestrian safety should be the paramount concern on every path, road, and highway, far above vehicle driver safety. These are all no-cost policy changes.

Meanwhile, it's time to start taxing imports to monetize the destruction they wreak on local manufacturing and on generations of folk wisdom about such necessities as how to make shoes. This is the kind of stuff we need if we are to survive the end of oil -- we need to subsidize our cobblers or tax imports to the point that going to a local cobbler makes sense.

And no, this is not bad for the exporting countries. The last thing they need is to go into debt turning their countries into sweatshops. Vietnam will gradually become a ghost town as oil gets pricey enough to make domestic production more profitable than shipping goods 10,000 miles. Better for them to develop an economy of domestic production for domestic consumption, the post-WW II India model. It's that or a catastrophic future collapse.


When was NYC evacuated? I don't remember that happening... 

Posted by saurabh

Also, a reasonable question is, since we've been running a trade deficit for so long, why haven't we been taxing imports more already? I understand there's some free-market ideologues out there, but self-preservation is an instinct I'd think even they possess. 

Posted by saurabh

Well it wasn't a mandatory evacuation, but practically everyone just up and left -- most notably a few million workers who lived in outer boroughs. Because the trains were all closed and the bridges closed to vehicles, private vessel owners showed up and started hauling passengers away. I saw some study showing that vessels carried between 100,000 and a million people that day, mostly over to Jersey.

The theory of not taxing imports is basically that we want cheap stuff from where it's cheap to make more than we want the jobs we had in the past. Better to specialize geographically. Which is fine so long as fuel is cheap. 

Posted by hedgehog

Actually, I think Lower Manhattan (south of Canal Street) was evacuated by order of the City, partially uptown to Upper Manhattah, and partially across the bridges to the outer buroughs. And apparently, by boat as well.

I've been chewing over this:

Transportation dollars should be handed over to local jurisdictions, who should be allowed to use them to subsidize transit operations as they see fit. 

Why would this necessarily help? Sure, in engaged, politically active cities like San Francisco or Berkeley "the people" will speak up for their mass transit, and environmental-consciousness often transcends class. But I wouldn't be surprised if even as close to San Francisco as over the hills in my Contra Costa hometowns, or down in Silicon Valley, town hall meetings and county supervisor boards are dominated by the wealthy SUV drivers and soccer mom's who wouldn't be caught dead on a bus. The elderly, the immigrant workers who ride the bus, the carless, and even the 20 and 30something single bike riders are just not as likely to show up at board meetings. For example, I think around here extending BART down past fremont to Santa Clara, down past Milbrae to at least Palo Alto, running a few express trains during commute hours and running until 2 am all the way around town would be great for relieving congestion. Any money you give to local jurisdictions about that, however, is more likely to be thrown at these
highway projects.

Posted by Saheli

I have no doubt at all that in any city in the country, demand for high-quality public transportation will be extremely high. Everyone wants good subways and buses, and a substantial fraction of the population relies on public transit for daily commuting in the city. It's not the populace I'd worry about; it's the local government. Look what they did in Boston , with $13 bill of federal money. 

Posted by saurabh

Saheli, I'd bet that you have spent little time at transit funding meetings. Bikers and bus riders are the only people who ever show up. Motorists are big in number but see no community among their own kind. They don't go and help one another out. Neither do peds, by and large. But bikers and bus riders are very aware that their individual survival and well being depends on things getting better at a social scale. So they show up to everything. Not just in SF or NY or Berkeley, but in places like Reno and Detroit, too. For real. Of course the politicians, as Saurabh says, are usually braindead maggots who think that cars=prosperity. 

Posted by hedgehog

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