Change the Name to Anti-Business Week

“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.

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23 thoughts on “Change the Name to Anti-Business Week

  1. Close Observer

    Business Week has always run head-scratchers for articles. This is in that vein.

    A simple rule for anti-car enthusiasts should be . . . realism. Okay, we get it, you hate the car and you want to force your will on everyone else. Gotcha.

    Now, tell us *realistically* 1) what you believe is achievable and 2) what it would look like?

    Does the author mean a city where only 88% of commuters drive autos instead of 92%? Or is he seriously suggesting a future city where only, say, 10% drive cars? How does that happen? What does such a city look like? (I think we might have some satellite photos of Pyongyang in North Korea – a completely planned community, I might add.)

    Furthermore, wouldn’t it be refreshing if the anti-car enthusiasts told us *honestly* what policies would be needed to bring about this change and whether this could be achieved through incentives or through government force? (I know the answer to that one, but I’d like to see the anti-auto enthusiasts own up to it.) And at what cost should it come? Come on – go holistic on us! Not just the cost in your wallet but the cost of diminished job opportunities, the cost of extremely high densities and their attendant problems like crime, etc.

    Gosh, that sure would be nice to see it laid out there for us to evaluate. But we won’t see that. It’s much easier to harangue free people about their choices and take refuge in your moral superiority than it is to do any (intellectual) heavy lifting.

    But we get it – you hate cars!

  2. werdnagreb

    I don’t have time to respond to all of this post, but I do have a few quick things to say.

    Randal seems to be implying that planners are urging density and nothing else to solve our problems.

    Take a look at cities like New York, Boston, Vancouver and many European cities where density enables a good public transit system and walkable neighborhoods, which in turn enable people to drive less.

    Higher densities reduce congestion if people don’t have to drive. That is why downtown Vancouver has less congestion than many of the downtowns of the suburbs surrounding it (eg- Langley and Surrey, and of course driving over the highway).

    So, by talking about density only, you are constructing a straw man that everyone knows does not work, but is merely one piece of a much larger puzzle.

  3. D4P

    “Density” also doesn’t distinguish between single-use and mixed-use development. Dense housing alone doesn’t necessarily reduce the need to drive if shopping and employment aren’t close by.

  4. StevePlunk

    Looks pretty clear ‘Business Week’ is written by journalists rather than business people. Why would any self respecting businessman read such garbage reporting? It upsets me to think some people take this seriously.

  5. Close Observer

    I love what werdnagreb says: “Higher densities reduce congestion if people don’t have to drive.”

    The operative word here is IF. I could say, people don’t have to drive IF they don’t have to work. So let’s expand the welfare state.

    People don’t have to drive IF government delivers food stuffs to their homes. People don’t have to drive IF they withdraw from churches, civic organizations, and other cultural things that entice them into participation. People don’t have to drive IF everyone agrees to watch sporting events on TV instead of traveling to the arenas. The conditional IF allows for a host of absurdities, which to me is on equal par with the claim that IF only we all had New York-level densities.

    The fact is no one has to drive right now. Anyone can choose a different mode of transport if they want to. The reason they don’t is because the cost of alternative travel is much, much higher than the cost of driving automobiles; the benefits of alternative travel are much, much smaller than the benefits of auto travel. And despite planner’s best efforts, that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

    Anyone at anytime can abandon the automobile if that is what he chooses to do. You are not enslaved to the automobile. You’ve been liberated by it.

  6. Dan

    Costly? 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.

    I wonder why Randal doesn’t compare…I wonder why…I wonder why Randal doesn’t mention fraction of income…hmmm…

    Dangerous? Cars are far safer than they were 50 or even 10 years ago

    I wonder why Randal doesn’t give overall mortality or crash cost numbers…I wonder…I wonnnnnder what he’s hiding…

    Ecological nightmare? Controlling toxic emissions at the tailpipe has reduce lead by 99 percent and other toxics

    Admittedly, ‘nightmare’ is hyperbole, but I wonder why Randal neglects to mention PMx and asthma exacerbations or CO2 and man-made climate change. I wonder. I wonnnnder.

    What evidence do you have that people drive less in compact cities?

    You’re some scholar, Randal:

    http://www.buildinggreen.com/cgi-bin/scale.cgi? idth=250&src=/articles/images/1609/density.jpg

    Of course, work trips are only about 1/4 of all trips: http://www.theoildrum.com/uploads/12/vmt_by_purpose.png

    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),

    Um, they sure do help. Your self-referential link, BTW, has numerous comments refuting your false assertion.

    higher densities mean less crime (they don’t)

    http://www.densitybydesign.com/report/image/crime.jpg

    Um, despite the evidence on the chart above that disagrees with your incorrect assertion, overall it depends. Poverty is a much better correlate of crime. But you know that already, being an “economist” and all. Why do you mislead your readers, one wonders.

    Social “ill health”…has also been linked to density, yet there is no consistent evidence to support this. We analyzed crime rates and density (Newman and Kenworthy 1989a) and found that the data showing how low density reduces crime…are very difficult to find.

    […]

    At the very least, the data show that there is no inherent relationship between higher density and crime and that the common fear about increased densities leading to increases in violent crime is unfounded. [emphases added, citations omitted]

    higher densities reduce congestion (they increase it)

    Um, no. Not overall. And of course TPD and VMT are lower in denser areas, (esp. mixed-use, as mentioned above) than in less-dense areas.

    and now higher densities are good for reducing greenhouse gases.

    Obviously, lower VMT and TPD reduce greenhouse emissions.

    But keep up your fact-free “analyses” Randal. It’s good to see that’s all you have. Plus, they’re a good laugh.

    DS

  7. TexanOkie

    I’ll go ahead and echo D4P’s statement that higher density isn’t as important (and doesn’t really work correctly) without mixed land uses. Otherwise it just created more congestion.

  8. Unowho

    AP:

    I never would have thought it possible that a national publication would run an article consisting solely of conclusions, but BusinessWeak and Alex Steffen have proven me wrong. The author could have saved us the hectoring by simply quoting the late great Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    Arguing with a phil major from a freshwater college is like the proverbial beating with a feather pillow. However, in view of all the wonders that density brings us, perhaps Mr. Steffen (or his equally adept cohort in fiction writing, Bruce Stirling) can answer this question: why is the average commuting time for a resident of Manhattan (NY) nearly 20% longer than that of a resident of Dallas County, Texas?

  9. Dan

    why is the average commuting time for a resident of Manhattan (NY) nearly 20% longer than that of a resident of Dallas County, Texas?

    Attempts at highbrow commenting aside, do tell us your testable hypothesis that omits phrasie-phrases from small-minority ideological publications.

    Is it spatial mismatch? Is it polycentrism? Is it job sprawl in Capitalist economies to places with lower Ricardian rents? Aside from cities 1-5, what does your ever-so-important commute times tell us when you tell us about central city demographics, transportation, proximity to amenities as locational choice?

    DS

  10. sustainibertarian

    A previous comment made by Unowho in another one of AP’s posts:

    Pulling numbers out of context can result in some interesting conclusions.

    hmmm…I guess pulling numbers out of context is okay when it is being used against planners. Or maybe Unowho just likes hypocrisy.

  11. Ettinger

    This discussion actually reminds me of the times when I used to express skepticism to the claim that biking to work (uasually an “earth day” fad), constituted, so called, enviromentally responsible behavior.

    My commute was 32 miles roundtrip, that is, 1 gallon of gas. If I cycled to work then no gas but I would burn 2000 extra human calories (cycling at 14mph for a 200lb man burns about 950 calories per hour). These calories would all have to be replenished sooner or later unless I claimed to be the first instance in the universe where conservation of energy does not apply.

    So, does it take less than 1 gallon of gas to grow 2000 extra calories of human food and bringing it to the table? To be honest, I do not know the anwser to this question but trying to immagine how much food is 2000 calories (the total daily intake for a small framed woman) in balanced meals, I would not be surprised if the environmental impact of cycling to work turned out to be grater than burning 1 gallon of gas.

    That being said, I do lead an athletic lifestyle and often cycled the 32 roundtrip miles to work.

    Of course, technicalities aside aside, I do not think that whether we bike, walk, run, or drive to work should be a collective decision.

  12. Ettinger

    As far as the Europeans go, most of them would rather live in American style cities with big lots and 3 cars. The majority of Europeans would immigrate to America if they could. I did !

    Americans who propose European style living should first go there, but not just as turists. They should go, live and work for 5 years and perhaps try to open a business. I can guarantee you that they would then change their minds about the advantages of collectivism.

    Copy a society that in spite of its superior human capital (the average European is a rocket scientist compared to the average American) does not manage to even keep up with the US?

    As a European who moved to America, it honestly saddens me when I hear Americans make such propositions.

  13. D4P

    If I cycled to work then no gas but I would burn 2000 extra human calories (cycling at 14mph for a 200lb man burns about 950 calories per hour). These calories would all have to be replenished sooner or later

    I would guess that the “typical” American has plenty of excess energy capacity from the amount of calories s/he already consumes. Burning more calories from biking or walking to work doesn’t have to mean that those calories have to be replenished: it can mean losing weight, which would probably be a good thing for the “typical” American.

  14. Dan

    it can mean losing weight, which would probably be a good thing for the “typical” American.

    …and that’s health care savings for all of us, as our insurance pays for the majority of Murrican’s obesity bills. Lowering obesity lowers the premium theft brought about by our society.

    BTW, at 200 lb and 15mph, one burns 960 cal/hr.. I figure I burn 14 cal/min when I average 16 mph.

    DS

  15. Ettinger

    “…doesn’t have to mean that those calories have to be replenished…”

    Over a lifetime, energy expenditures must equal energy intake.

    A person who burns 4000 calories a day and only replenishes 2500 has a 1500 cal deficit and thus would be losing about 3lbs per week (roughly 3500cals per pound). So even if he were 50lbs overweight he would loose all the extra weight in about 17 weeks. Then what? He must inevitably return to caloric balance. There are no perpetual motion machines.

    Thus, the caloric imbalances that lead to weight gain and loss are, and must ivevitably be, for the most part temporary.

    In other words, once you become overweight you consume about the same amount of calories as a more slender person. Otherwise you would keep geining weight and obviously that cannot go on indefinitely.

    That being said, I do recognize that things are not completely linear since the body of the overweight person often senses that s/he is overweight and starts rejecting, unprocessed, a small portion of the excess calories.

    But the bottom line is that over any significant amount of time energy intake must more or less equal energy expenditure. I am actually a long distance runner. I run about 60 miles per week which makes my daily caloric intake about 4000cal per day. If you apply regulatory social engineering to this fact you would say that 2 people could live on this planet in my place.

  16. Ettinger

    “…and that’s health care savings for all of us,…”

    I find it morally wrong to try to regulate individual lives based on the savings of a coercive nationalized, or otherwise collectivist and mandatory, medical system.

    But even if I did support such regulatory society, I suspect that the belief that healthy people save money must be a great myth.

    Healthy people will over a lifetime have as many health problems (on average) as healthy people. The difference is that they will eventually get these problems in their 90s instead of their 50s and 60s. Also, unhealthy people tend to leave this world before they can collect any substantial amounts of social security (30 years of social security is $700,000) and people who live into their 90s only consume for the 30years of their retirement, without having to offer much to those who find social engineering appealing.

    Having said that, I wish everybody that they live 100 years burning 4000 calories per day.

  17. Ettinger

    One solution to the “the premium theft” is to allow insurance companies to charge different premiums to people whom their actuaries find that they represent a lower risk. Therefore if you are healthy you can pool your insurance premiums with other low risk people.

    There are also many other solutions that do not ripple into control over one’s life(style).

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  19. Unowho

    “Attempts at highbrow commenting aside, do tell us your testable hypothesis that omits phrasie-phrases from small-minority ideological publications.”
    Naw, that’s your specialty. I’ve got my own act, thanks.

    “Or maybe Unowho just likes hypocrisy.”
    This is getting embarrassing. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.

    That out of the way, my question was not rhetorical; the gist of Mr. Steffen’s article is that the automobile is killing us (really?) and that the only way out is the to make people live closer together. If density is the goal of efficient urban design, New York City should be the ideal. By any measure it is the densest urban area in the US, with over half the public transit usage in the country. And it’s small; the very definition of a “walkable” city. Yet commuting times in Manhattan (where 2/3rds of its residents don’t even own a car) are worse than those two poster children for sprawl, Los Angeles and Dallas. Residents of the other four boroughs endure the longest commuting times in the country (see ACS rankings by county). There’s a basis to question the denseheads’ premise.

  20. rotten

    The biggest and conclusive argument against density? People don’t want to live in high density areas for the most. Not only that but they don’t want high density developments. Here in Boston people in the NE shat bricks when they wanted to build a building over 10 stories! This is in Boston, mind you, not some rural Hamlet in Iowa. If the planner actually think they can force density on people, they’re sadly mistaken.

  21. sustainibertarian

    Here’s the full article from Alex Steffen at Wordchanging. It was linked at the bottom of the article, if anyone got that far in the Business Week article, that is – “I cant read on! he disgusts me too much, gag, CENTRAL planner, gag, get him away before I end up buying a che guevara tee shirt” 🙂

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  23. the highwayman

    Some one above wrote:

    “Anyone at anytime can abandon the automobile if that is what he chooses to do. You are not enslaved to the automobile. You’ve been liberated by it.”

    Well that’s kind of a catch 22 statement. If your only viable travel option is by car, then you don’t really have a choice do you.

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