“Today’s cars are costly, dangerous, and an ecological nightmare,” opens this article in Business Week, thus earning three strikes even before the writer gets to his thesis.
Costly? The average American travels more than three times as many miles today as fifty years ago, and most of the increase is in driving. Yet we spend the same percentage of personal income on transportation as Americans did 50 years ago. That means we are getting far more utility out of each dollar spent on transportation.
Dangerous? Cars are far safer than they were 50 or even 10 years ago, and driving in cities is safer than most other forms of mechanized travel.
Ecological nightmare? Controlling toxic emissions at the tailpipe has reduce lead by 99 percent and other toxics by 90 percent per vehicle mile and more than 50 percent overall since 1970.
The lesson is that, if there is a problem with driving, look for the technological fix. Behavioral solutions don’t work. But this article in Business Week suggests that we don’t have time to wait for technological fixes. Instead, we have to have more compact cities so that people will drive less.
Excuse me? What evidence do you have that people drive less in compact cities? What evidence do you have that less driving translates to less greenhouse gases if you are in a congested city where people waste hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel just sitting in traffic?
Even if compact cities did emit less greenhouse gases, which is dubious, what makes you think that you can make cities compact any faster than it will take to come up with a technological solution to CO2 emissions?
Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, and San Jose are the three densest urban areas in America. Yet per-capita driving in all three is high and has been growing even as they have gotten denser. They also have some of the worst congestion in America and the Texas Transportation Institute estimates that drivers in those three regions waste more than 37 million gallons of fuel in traffic each year. That’s a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
For more than 30 years, urban planners have believed that people should live in denser cities. They have seized upon any excuse to promote that density: low densities cause obesity (they don’t), higher densities mean less crime (they don’t), higher densities reduce congestion (they increase it), and now higher densities are good for reducing greenhouse gases.
Planners lied to us about everything else, so I am not to inclined to believe them on this one. Is global warming happening? I don’t know. Is there anything we can do about it? I don’t know. Will compact cities help solve the problem? That one I know: they won’t.
Someone needs to tell the editors of Business Week that they need to distinguish between fact and fantasy before publishing articles like this one.