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A world without projections

We don't need better projections to build a nation of Strong Towns. All we need is a clear understanding of the relationship between infrastructure spending and growth. Good infrastructure spending is not designed to induce growth but is the proper response to successful patterns of development. This is not a chicken and egg argument; it is the difference between gambling and investing.

We would like to thank Brannyn Allen and Eileen McCarthy for their generous donations to Strong Towns and for everything they do to help spread the Strong Towns message. We rely on donations to fund a large percentage of our efforts. If you value this blog, our podcast, our TV channel, the Curbside Chat or any of our other efforts, please consider making a donation today.

In The Projections Fallacy, (July 23, 2012) I made the case that there is a terrible track record when it comes to making traffic projections. The only thing we are consistent with is being wrong. Advocates for building a better model to get it right this time fail to understand that they are working in a realm that is simply not conducive to modeling, particularly over the decades-long time frames they extend their supposed insights. That this is a ridiculous pursuit prompted me to make the following statement:

There is a certain contingent out there that is already pounding out their email to me demanding that, if I'm so smart, I provide a better way of estimating. There's the fatal flaw in our current system. I'm not so smart, but neither is anybody else. The big difference here is that I'm not pretending to be able to predict the future.

After receiving a lot if backlash from people who wanted the best model possible -- flawed or not -- because modeling was essential to making good decisions about the future, I pointed out in Better to be lucky than good (July 31, 2012) that it was human nature to prefer the illusion of certainty that came with expert prediction and analysis. Even when we know their projections are, at best, educated guesses wrapped in a veneer of complex analysis, we feel better narrowing our decisions based on the advice of experts. I quoted economist Noreena Hertz, who said in a TED talk about our over reliance on experts, "We've surrendered our power, trading off our discomfort with uncertainty for the illusion of certainty that they [the experts] provide."

Then, in Why we need projections (August 2, 2012), I explained why the American system of growth and development that we have adopted in the Suburban Experiment makes projections -- as ridiculously flawed as they may be -- a necessary part of the process. Our hierarchical pattern of development forces a city into making one of two flawed choices: over sizing trunk infrastructure in anticipation of future growth or risk being inundated with crippling levels of congestion. Projections derived from modeling are the opiate that allows the masses to continue down this path, despite the horrible track record. 

I ended these posts with this insight:

America needs to abandon the failed Suburban Experiment and adopt a different model of local development.

So what would a different model look like? First, it would not require modeling or projections. In that sense, it would be resilient to human error. Its development would be incremental, again making it resilient in the face of future uncertainty. The upside of doing things right would be great success while the downside would be localized stress, not widespread decline or system failure. It would be implemented at the local scale without the need for massive subsidy, expert intervention or an exchange that sells out future generations

What I've just described is the traditional development pattern, the historical framework of development that was ubiquitous across the world up until the Suburban Experiment. Here's how it worked:

A town is formed with one street. There is no traffic to speak of. The thought of congestion is a distant dream of everyone who fantasizes about the place growing. Whatever mode of travel one wants to use here -- automobile, bike, walk, horse and buggy -- the modest street is going to be just fine.

Over time, the town grows. More streets are added in a grid pattern as neighborhoods emerge. The proximity of these neighborhoods gives people a lot of mobility options -- they can drive or walk just as easily -- and so the notion of congestion becomes, in a sense, a self-regulating phenomenon. 

As the town continues to grow, neighborhood centers start to form to supplement the original downtown, which itself continues to mature and intensify. Traffic in all forms starts to buzz around these centers like bees at so many hives. At this point, it becomes self evident -- not because of a projection by an expert but because of what any observer can see happening -- that a higher speed connection between neighborhood centers would be a benefit.

Now you have a streetcar. Or a bus. It runs between the neighborhood center and downtown or, in time, between neighborhood centers. Of course it pays for itself. Not only is the ridership there and essentially guaranteed, but the line makes each neighborhood that much more valuable, an increment in valuation that is captured through a land tax to pay for the construction of the line. People can still drive but, because there are options, congestion is, again, self-regulating.

Things continue to grow to the point where, despite adding more street cars/buses and increasing service, the trolley or bus lines just can't keep up. Each of the neighborhood centers are growing, the surrounding neighborhoods are maturing and intensifying and the place is really happening. New, incremental growth on the periphery is creating additional neighborhoods and new centers are forming. Using the same grid system, what can be done?

Well, at that point, build a subway or some other type of high-capacity rail service. If the ridership is there, the land value is there and the demand is there, this is another self-evident investment. Experts will be needed to design and construct the system, but not justify its existence. Outside subsidy won't be needed to "juice" the growth; the demand for intense infrastructure emerges from the success of the place.

The grid system of the historical development pattern can accommodate enormous amounts of traffic without needing massive up-front investment, without ever becoming so congested as to be unworkable and without needing any projections on future growth.

In fact, at any point in time -- at any point in the evolution from one block village to Manhattan -- if growth stops, nothing terrible happens. The city does not collapse or fall apart. Neighborhoods on the periphery, where there has been modest speculation, may experience distress, but a no growth scenario brings stagnation -- a lack of progress -- but not collapse.

Okay, if this makes sense within a place, what happens between cities? Once again, if we focus on building connections between places and not corridors of strip development, the need for projections simply melts away. It is relatively easy to add capacity to a road between two successful places in response to their success, particularly if that road is not required to serve a new batch of strip malls, suburban subdivisions and big box stores every mile or two. More lanes can be added, a bus or HOV lane designated or a rail line justified by the growing success of the two cities being connected.

I know this is difficult for many of you to get your mind around because you perceive expanding infrastructure as being a catalyst for growth, not the result of growth. And while I know I need to spend some time in a future post explaining how we transition from our current system to this new (old) approach, it all begins with that insight: infrastructure spending should never be in anticipation of growth, but only in support of places that have been successful. 

If we made that one change -- reserved our limited infrastructure dollars for the places that have proven to be successful -- it would dramatically alter the nation's economic trajectory in a positive direction.

I realize I'm going to get a lot of pushback on this, especially from our many new readers that may not understand what I mean by a "successful" place. Without rehashing old conversations, I measure success based on financial productivity and a set of long term objectives. In the United States today, the most financially productive neighborhoods are those utilizing the traditional development pattern (see Minicozzi, Joe). Oh, and gated communities are not "successful" any more than my children and I splitting a pizza where I had seven pieces and they shared one would be successful, particularly if I used money from their piggy bank to pay for the pizza. 

And my transit friends, once again I leave you in the cold. Your current strategy of increasing federal transportation spending so there are more table scraps for your wishes is simply not a Strong Towns approach. I'm totally with you -- the answer is transit -- but successful transit systems are a byproduct of a successful place, not a proxy for one. Focus on building Strong Towns and the demand for your passion will emerge with full public support and all the funding you need.

We don't need better projections to build a nation of Strong Towns. All we need is a clear understanding of the relationship between infrastructure spending and growth. Good infrastructure spending is not designed to induce growth but is the proper response to successful patterns of development. This is not a chicken and egg argument; it is the difference between gambling and investing.

Let's stop gambling, start investing wisely and build Strong Towns.


If you would like more from Chuck Marohn, check out his new book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1)

 You can also chat with Chuck and many others about implementing a Strong Towns approach in your community by joining the Strong Towns Network. The Strong Towns Network is a social platform for those working to make their community a strong town.


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Reader Comments (29)

I agree with you totally (maybe for the first time); as a European I live and work in a completely different model, one that has been allowed to emerge more organically for hundred of years and sometimes I find puzzling that you have to go on and on belaboring what I perceive as obvious. But in this post you really hit the spot and allowed me to see things more clearly; you see for me it is obvious that you build infrastructure between places and not the other way around.

I believe that this depends on the different way railroads were developed; in Europe the main places were already there, so it was only natural to connect them. In the States the railroads were going to nowhere and through nowhere, so it was normal to perceive them as a vehicle for growth. In retrospect of course we see that it was rather an exception than the rule.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkantor

Charles -

I don't even know where to start. Your 10,000 foot view is great, until you have to actually implement it. Then your whole theory of being completely reactionary and not planning for the future falls flat on its face. I can't tell you how many times I come into a "broken" situation that with just a tiny bit of planning could have been easy and cheap to correct. And, how refreshing it is on the few occasions you do come across a well planned section of infrastructure that lends itself to easy modification.

You and I will never agree on modeling, so I'm saving my breath. Let's just go with your model. You are proposing some kind of one-size fits all street standard that will be the capacity limiter. Who decides what that capacity is? One lane? Two lanes? Three lanes? Whoever is making that decision by default is making a projection. Are you going to reserve space for the future streetcar line or would that be making a projection as well? Right-of-way is very expensive. How would you ever justify that cost? Do you just tear down buildings to make space for the street car when the time comes? The list of planning questions along this similar line goes on and on. But at the end of the day you are still making projections, you are just not admitting it.

Finally, transit is not the answer. There are almost no transit systems in this country that operate in the black. They are all heavily subsidized by tax dollars because we have such good automobile infrastructure already in place. Every city needs to have some minimum amount of transit. That is just a cost of doing business. Trying to force the numbers of people you need to create a self-sustaining ridership onto transit is futile. Transit systems that operate in the black do so because there is pretty much no other practical alternative, at which point you gain riders. It is too easy (and liberating) to get into your car and go where you want whenever you want. Even in most downtown urban areas which I am assuming you consider successful places. That's why transit fails.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Morrow

You'll probably get some pushback from people who say, "if we wait for a place to be successful before investing in infrastructure, then we'll be living with traffic congestion and its associated problems until the investment is made."

But this is easily fixed by eliminating price ceilings on the use of infrastructure. For example, by converting existing freeway lanes to managed express lanes, which use prices that fluctuate throughout the day to maintain a constant, uncongested stream of traffic without overcharging anyone. And as a bonus, it provides a revenue source not only to maintain the freeway but also to expand it when the revenue justifies the cost.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

Congestion in a neighborhood is simply another way to say local business opportunity. Free the market instead of picking winners (WalMart) and losers.

Jeff, I don't have a one size fits all section. I'm simply saying that over the decades of evolution that a successful place will go through one can accommodate many different volumes of "mobility" by many different methods, especially on an urban grid where place to place mobility options abound. You can't fully understand what I'm saying unless you start with land use and then add the car instead of starting with the car and then adding land use.

October 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterCharles Marohn

Charles -

I agree there is an evolution of place that occurs over decades. But there needs to be some minimum of planning to shape that evolution. Left to its own devices, development wants to be like what you see along Stroads. Ugly, cheap, eyesore. I wouldn't even call it automobile centric because it evolved without regard to how you get there. Which is why Stroads operate so poorly. They are congested, driveways that are too closely spaced for safety, and often have development that has been allowed to encroach so closely to the roadway you have almost no improvement options without majorly disrupting the businesses.

So, I can pick a land use and then provide for the cars, but I end up at the same place: there has to be rules guiding the development (zoning, overlay districts, driveway restrictions, setbacks, etc) and someone has to decide what the roadway template is going to look like, whether it is selected to meet automobile capacity requirements or not.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Morrow

I have two disagreements with Mr. Morrow's comments. First, driving in an urban environment is not liberating. There is no freedom in driving automobiles within an urban setting.

Second, we do not have great infrastructure for automobiles. We have failing infrastructure for automobiles all over the United States. Also, automobile infrastructure does not operate in the black. Automobile infrastructure is expensive and requires endless amounts of taxpayer subsidy.

Beyond that, Economics 101 teaches us about "Marginal Propensity to Consume," which means people spend money on consumer goods when they have money. Automobile dependence makes families operate in the red. People that don't have cars and the endless amount of costs involved with automobiles have some free money they can spend on consumer items. That seems to help the economy, doesn't it? A living wage is less without cars and endless car expenses. Cars are neither liberating nor a source of freedom.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter"T"

Jeff said "Left to its own devices, development wants to be like what you see along Stroads."

I don't think that's right at all. The development of "stroads" and what you see along "stroads" was not development left to its own devices. That style of development is codified in the zoning and land use rules of county and municipality in this country.

And yes, now that "stroads" are the new baseline of the last 50 years, if we removed all of this auto-oriented regulations, some (even most) development would continue to be auto-oriented. But simply providing the option of traditional development is the first step in reversing some of the damage.

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

Mr. Morrow's position makes some sense only if you consider the United State the ONLY place in the world; I understand that this point of view in still quite popular there, but it is false for logical and geometrical reasons.

There is no more subsidized mean of transportation in the USA than the private car; to realize that. it is enough to look at what happens where it is NOT subsidized (but rather taxed) i.e. in Europe; here we pay the gas 8$ a gallon and all our highways are toll roads (and ain't cheap either). Despite this, we do not recover the total cost of maintaining them.

Really, thinking that private transportation is in the black is delusional.

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkantor

Wow. I'm getting a following.

@ T - Explain how cars are not freedom to elderly people who are no longer allowed to drive. Good luck with that. Second, we do have the greatest transportation infrastructure in the world. That's what separated this country from all the others from the 1950's through the 1980's (about the end of the new interstate program) through investment in interstates and national defense highways. Of course, at the time, Congress never envisioned the economic boom surrounding that initial capital outlay. And I keep hearing there is all this "endless taxpayer outlay" to support the driving infrastructure. That is just not so. The amount we spend on roadway maintenance is criminal. We build it and then we don't spend the money to maintain it. If money were spent at the proper time in a roadway life cycle, the maintenance cost would be about 1/5 to 1/7 the cost of how we currently take care of our infrastructure. Finally, spending money on consumer products produces nothing and has not helped our economy out of this recession in spite of the TONS of Federal money poured down that hole. It doesn't work.

@ Liam - Go to any small to medium size town with a highway through it. You will see example after example of uncontrolled development and the larval stage of a Stroad. It's cheap and easy for the developer and these towns are duped into it because they perceive that as growth and development. They fear if they impose any kind of restrictions on the developer the "growth" will go somewhere else.

@ Kantor - True, my comments are US focused because this is where I am and where I work. However, I have been to Europe several times. You know what I have observed? In spite of $8/gallon gas and expensive tolls, the place is jammed with cars. Every street and nook and cranny. The cars are smaller (because who wants to coddle a gas guzzler at $8/gallon). But the fact is Europeans are just as enamored with their cars as we are. I have done driving vacations through Switzerland, France, Italy, England, and Ireland (several different trips). So I don't think a US view or European view (or whatever you want to call it) are very far apart after all. People love their cars regardless of the taxation you put on them. All that accomplishes is making the cars smaller.

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Morrow

Jeff, I don't disagree with you. I think plenty of small towns and suburban municipalities are slow to realize that if they removed their restriction on traditional mixed-use development patterns, they would see some of that more efficient, more productive growth. They don't need to *add* any restrictions on auto-oriented develop, just *allow* for the mixing of uses and higher densities. It won't be instantaneous, but it will start to shift. A sudden restriction in auto-oriented development would be destructive to many small municipalities who would lose out to their neighbors, but relaxing the current rules would allow the balance to gradually change.

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

Jeff - If I remember correctly we've had the "Europeans love to drive just as much as Americans" conversation before. It's simply not true. You encountered traffic everywhere you went - obviously: automobile traffic is an essential component to a multi-modal transportation system. The difference here is that the traffic you encountered involves a much smaller percentage of the overall populations of each of the countries you listed and probably any town you visited than practically anywhere in the U.S. Traffic happens wherever there is economic vitality (and in many cases wherever economic vitality is in the process of drying up), but this does not mean that because they have the same experienced traffic that the population takes to automobiles at the same or even similar rate of their American (or worse, Canadian) counterparts. In fact, traffic is the key component in shifting transportation modes further towards mass transit or human-powered transportation. Your argument that people just love the mobility that automobiles provide is absolutely based on people that live in places with limited walkability, low-quality/infrequent transit, or that just lack amenities near where they spend time. In economic terms, there is no substitution good for driving in those environments; other options are only available at massive increases to time or discomfort.

By the way, this is coming from someone who lived in one of the more car-centric Swiss towns for 4 years and then London, the original poster-child for reducing density by building transit-oriented development on the outskirts, for 1 year. As much as people did drive cars in both of these places, I knew so many more people that relied solely on mass transit or walking/biking than I've met anywhere in the states, including NYC. I've never felt anything more liberating than being able to leave for a trip with nothing to worry about other than my backpack, not needing to find parking, constantly think about driving amongst psychopaths, or whether the street signs will be understandable (Italy's autostrada suck for that one...try using EXIT NUMBERS!!!!).

If you want to experience a city where people are actively choosing to get around without their cars because the environment to do so (mass transit, bicycling, and walking) is up to the Mercedes standard (as enjoyable as driving in a Benz), go visit Zurich. Their city is able to maintain itself at a much lower cost than car-oriented cities with a much higher quality of life for everyone - even some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSkyler Yost

@Jeff Morrow
your time as a tourist means nothing, since you did not experience real life (before you ask, I lived and worked in the USA for four years); it is true that in Europe there are lots of cars and it also true that driving a car be a lovely experience, I'm not an anti-car radical. On the other hand it is also true that at least in Western Europe there are much less cars on the streets than 10 or 15 years ago. This because being stuck in traffic is in general a much less enjoyable experience. And, even more important, cars are almost never used for long distance commuting. I do not have the statistics but I do not know ANYBODY (and I've been around) who would commute 20 miles a day by car if a normal public transit option is available.

My impression is that you're acting the classic cliche: since you have only a hammer, everything else must be a nail. In other words, the car culture you live in is so grating and pervasive that you have no option but superimposing it on a society that has a totally different set of values. Admittedly this is very American... and imho very, very wrong,

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkantor

@Skyler and Kantor

I can't match either of your credentials in European transportation preferences. So, I will have to concede on that.

So, guys, answer this: Why would the average person prefer to plan a commute to a collection point with enough spare time to make sure you meet your bus/train, whatever; then you ride that transit, not to your destination but to another collection point or transfer point and make that connection; then you arrange for transportation from your last collection point to your actual destination? Do they not value their personal time? Do they really like getting on a packed subway car standing next to who knows what? They accept it, but do they really prefer it?

Hint: The answer is not that transit is quicker than driving because, as I stated before, transit is a forced situation that only works when driving is impractical (either because of congestion or imposed policies - look at my first comment to Charles article about who would choose the allowed street capacity). If travel times were the same and parking was not an issue, would people still prefer to use transit given you get to choose when you leave and come back with your car instead of being a slave to a transit schedule and connections, etc? There seems to be enough car capacity in the US that people don't prefer transit. I won't even bring up the little inconveniences like transit strikes, terrorist threat, etc.

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Morrow

Mr Morrow,

A lot of senior citizens move to urban high rises so they can maintain their freedom minus cars. Later in this conversation you mentioned terrorism. I am unafraid of terrorists. Simply put, I have far greater statistical probability of being killed by an automobile. I have almost no statistical probability of being killed by a terrorist. Cars kill people. Subsequently, cars and car dependence seems to help create terrorists. Also, Charles pointed out before how cars seem to divide our neighborhoods and don't allow us to build positive relationships with our neighbors.

As far as the economics are concerned, I am 100% positive that eliminating automobile dependence from the lives of people helps families achieve much more financial independence. We do live in a consumer society, as much as I hate to deal with that. Transit centered people are able to spread their would be car payments, gas money, maintenance money, and insurance money around to local businesses.

Transit frees people both financially, and in terms of travel. Bill Lendeke at TC Sidewalks recently wrote a great article of the difference between freedom and cars. I'm not going to explain it all here. He explained the feelings of people quite well.

I appreciate the polite debate here. Thanks for helping to keep the conversation civil. Often times our ability to argue in a positive manner is more important than our differences in any debate. Have a good day...

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter"T"


True about seniors moving to reduce their maintenance obligations of whatever kind. However, there is the day that will come in all of our lives when each of us will be told "You can't drive, you can't live alone, you can't do this or that." It's a very hard message because it's a loss of freedom. You are being managed. As an older person you understand it and eventually accept it, but it doesn't mean you're happy about it. The whole point is about giving up freedom. I'm not on board with arbitrarily limiting peoples' mobility (as suggested in this article) and thereby their freedom. The elderly was just a quick illustration.

My only point about terrorists and transit strikes is to highlight the huge vulnerability transit (and thereby an entire city's transportation system) has to very small groups of people, which is not present with a dispersed system like cars. There was a transit strike in New York City about a year ago that brought the welfare of the City to a standstill for the benefit of a very few. I don't like that. However, this is a very minor point.

I don't buy the argument that cars divide neighborhoods and prevent building social relationships. We do that on our own. Rather than talk to each other, we text. Rather than go to some event, we blog or facebook. We have home theater, satellite coverage of every single possible event. Rather than leave our houses, we order things off the internet. It's very easy to order a pizza, groceries, or anything you can imagine on-line without ever having to speak to a live individual. There used to be numerous social charitable organizations such as Elks Club, Lions Club, Masonic Lodge, etc., etc. Those are all but gone. You can't drag people to those social events anymore. That's not the fault of cars. That's the ugly side of our culture.

I also greatly appreciate the civil tone of the debate. It's the forging fire that tests the strengths and exposes the weaknesses. Ideally, we learn from each other and either strengthen our position or admit we were wrong. I can't stand name calling or condescension. It's intellectually weak and bullying, respectively.

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Morrow


I wrote a wrong reply to you about 20 minutes after you posted your question, but unfortunately I seem to have messed up when posting it. I'll get back to this soon.

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSkyler Yost

Jeff, I think you are missing the point of the strong towns message here. The issue is not whether cars or transit is more convenient, its not suggesting that cars can never be a viable option for certain transportation needs, and I don't recall ever reading anything on StrongTowns that suggests "arbitrarily limiting peoples' mobility" or freedom. In fact quite the opposite.

The main problem discussed here, is that in a vain attempt to maximize the speed and efficiency of car based travel at all costs, we have destroyed the value of older places while building new places that are very spread out, with excessive parking, overly built roads and a myriad of traffic control devices, to such an extent that the per capita cost of maintaining this infrastructure is at such a high level that many localities are no longer fiscally solvent in the long term.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

@Jeff Morrow,

"I don't buy the argument that cars divide neighborhoods and prevent building social relationships"

You don't have to buy the argument, you should understand the findings of Donald Appleyards' (and subsequent studies) Livable Streets research into the effects of automobile speed and volumes on the social lives of city residents.

Cars do have a measurable effect in the city on social networks, community life, and perceived safety. In rural areas and automobile can be what allows neighbors to stay closer than they otherwise might. In an urban area, high volumes of automobile traffic suppress property values as much as they suppress life on the street.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJosef Bray-Ali


I think the key element where we have different understandings are how preferences are expressed and what goods are equivalent substitutes. In your view, transit requires traveling to a collection point, waiting for the transit vehicle, experiencing poor conditions on the transit vehicle while traveling, and then traveling from the collection point to your final destination, while driving involves a short walk to your car, and nice gentle drive to another parking location right by your final destination. As you are expressing it, people choose to drive because they prefer driving. The problem with this argument is, I think, a symptom of having never lived somewhere where the transit system is actually an equivalent substitution to driving. If you go to Zurich, the entire walking, biking, and transit experience is as nice and convenient as driving a Mercedes in relatively minimal traffic. As driving is no longer obviously the more enjoyable option (aka they are equivalent substitution goods instead of poor substitutions for each other), this is an environment in which it is possible to observe actual preferences instead of rational choices between two unequal options.

I've spent a lot of time in Zurich with a car and without a car, and I can tell you it is much more liberating not to have to worry about where the car is parked every time to you want to change locations. When I'm 3 minutes away from where I parked and the people I'm with want to walk to another location a little more than 5 minutes in the other direction, I have to choose whether to pick up my car, find a new place to park near the new location, and possibly do it all over again if we move to another location, or leave my car and eventually walk a much longer distance back to it (and potentially have to adjust my schedule to fit the parking meter). If I don't have a car in Zurich, I'm never further than 3-5 minutes away from a transit stop at which I would only have to wait 5 minutes or less and would be extremely comfortable to ride during which I could read, catch up with emails, play a game on my phone, or have some awesome people-watching, all while costing a similar price to parking. In this situation, I much prefer not having a car and the ridership of transit (and amount of people that simply walk) in Zurich suggests that the average person does as well.

Also, transit, driving, walking, or biking do not have a monopoly on which mode is fastest. That is why all modes of transportation are important to consider in an urban environment, so that all travel can be maximized without any one dominating all the others. In a car-centric city, private automobiles take over to such a degree that having dedicated bus or bike lanes are seen as an attack on the entirely dominant mode of transportation instead of helping provide alternatives. It is informative that you reference terrorism or transit strikes as "little inconveniences" and then describe how NYC was shut down by a transit strike. NYC is the best example we have in America of a city that isn't wholly car-centric. NYC, however, is actually dual subway & car-centric, and therefore is hardly a great example of a city that provides its citizens with the greatest mobility options possible.

On the "little inconveniences" bit - you're forgetting that we do not live in a perfect world and automobile traffic is filled with "little inconveniences" like traffic jams, accidents, heavy rain, snow, fog, one-way streets, grandmothers driving, and school buses. As I stated before, in order to properly compare options to see preference, it is important to start with equivalent substitutions. There are inconveniences with each mode of transportation and they must be recognized to have a full understanding.

FInally, I'd just like to say that I absolutely LOVE driving, as long as my decisions have an affect on how quickly I get to my destination. That means when I'm in heavy traffic or am on a system that has minimal options for how to get to a location (aka our hierarchical model that has been so effectively shown to be financially untenable in the long run on this site), I am absolutely miserable. I also hate NEEDING to take a car somewhere when it is my only option in almost a toddler-esque "Don't tell me what to do!" sort of way. I dislike having to plan around either how much a cab costs or how many people can fit in a designated driver's car if I want to enjoy a night out with friends. And, as mentioned before, I really really dislike having my vehicle be an anchor to a specific spot in an urban environment when I could otherwise meander or location-hop all the way across town.

I hope this helps explain where, I have a feeling, the majority of people on this site are coming from as far as cars ≠ freedom. Also, I'm not sure if this specifically addresses your queries, but something about your posts made me think "He should really read this." http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/2012/08/dendritic-vs-reticulated-study-in.html

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSkyler Yost

@ Ryan - Charles just wrote an article on downtown Kansas City and how the street system is way overbuilt. It may be. However, he was suggesting reducing all the streets to two lanes (one lane each way) and somehow that would generate new urban life. So, he is arbitrarily limiting the capacity of the roadway to whatever he decided was best. I don't doubt it would be more pedestrian friendly, but there doesn't seem to be any balance in the Strong Town arguments. They are written (or at least convey to me) that it's all or nothing. No middle ground. Making everything the same will not generate "Places" in every location. There is a market limit. Also, read my third post, response to "T" regarding how much we spend on our infrastructure. We let it collapse until we do anything. If we would actually maintain our infrastructure, the price tag would be almost an order of magnitude less. I can provide numbers and references if you would like.

@ Josef - The effects cars have on neighborhoods tend to be at their edges or at isolated locations. I have not read Mr. Appleyards work, but I will. Thanks for the reference.

@ Skyler - I have not lived in Zurich. I did do a little research. Check this out: http://www.uitp-bhls.eu/IMG/pdf/Zurich_-_2011_Strategies_for_successful_urban_transport_delivery.pdf Basically it says Zurich has imposed restrictions and disincentives on driving since about the mid-1970's. It also says the vast majority of people are satisfied with mass transportation, but what other choice do they really have? If you take away almost all the parking, and do whatever you can to limit driving, how would people be satisfied with driving? Zurich is also one of the most expensive places to live in the world.

Here is another link: http://www.expatarrivals.com/switzerland/zurich/cost-of-living-in-zurich This is an article for Ex-Pats moving to Zurich. It says live close to where you work because even a 30 minute commute will cost you an arm and a leg (around $20-$25). Again, policies imposed on a captive population to limit choice.

I will read the article you recommend.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Morrow
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