Bits of Books - Books by Title

Street Smart

The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars

Samuel I. Schwartz

During the 1920's, vehicle accidents killed 20,000 people a year, two-thirds of them pedestrians.

The first improvement to old dirt roads was Macadamizing (big stones laid to a set depth, then a layer of smaller stones, then a heavy rolling). Not for cars, but for cycles and for farmers - a 2 horse team could pull same load that needed a 6 horse team on umimproved roads. The railroads were all in favour (better access meant more freight) so they sent out "Good Roads" which laid a few miles of sample macadamized roads either side of the station.

Called "highways" bc raised a foot or so above rest of ground, and so were so expensive to build that the Constitution expressly forbid the Federal Govt building them. (But they left a loophole - govt could build post offices and 'post roads' - big enough to drive through...)

The Interstate Highway System was born from Dwight Eisenhower's experience of German autobahns after WW2. Still the largest and most expensive public works project in American history. To pay for it, a gas tax of 3 cents a gallon. Feds paid 90% of cost, states 10%, but they owned them, so responsible for upkeep.

At some stage you have to put a value on a human life. At first seems cold-blooded, but although a human life is 'priceless', it doesn't have an infinite dollar value. If it did, you would soon end up with laws mandating cars built like Sherman tanks, with a similar cost and utility value.

The annual cost of being stuck in traffic in the US is currently calculated at $115 billion.

Up until 2004, Americans drove more each year. But by 2011, the average American was driving 6% less than in 2004. In the past 100 years, the only times there had been a drop in that stat was during wars, the Great Depression, or the oil crisis, and when that cause went away, the graph continues to rise. And that flows into other stats - in 2011 421 million fewer hours stuck in traffic, and, more cars retired than new cars sold.

And this doesn't correlate with changes in earning power or the debt crisis. Partly it seems that the introduction of Graduated Learning Tests for young drivers, imposing financial and time costs on teenagers, has discouraged or delayed young drivers. But mostly it's the convenience of the Internet - not just ride-sharing like Uber and Lift, but also Amazon etc which reduce need to take a trip.

For Millenials the car means something different. Whereas earlier generations saw the car as 'freedom' and 'maturity', now they're more likely to be seen as a burden - something more to be paid for and maintained.

And a new idea - Millenials the first generation to be chauffeured everywhere and the first generation to listen to their parents' cursing as they were stuck in traffic - the first to experience a lot of negatives about driving long before they were ready to take the wheel.

Peak convenience for cars was around 1970. Before then, having a car meant you could get around quicker. But, even as cars got better and faster, the roads got steadily more clogged.

People move further out to get a better, bigger house, but the gratification of that quickly fades, whereas the daily commute necessitated by that move, is a regular stress. And it's a cumulative stress - what psychologists call learned helplessness.

Manufacturers selling half a million fewer cars in 2014 than did in 2004. And they aren't making up for it in fleet sales to the new ride-share companies. Ford reckons that every car they sell to a Zipcar franchise replaces 32 cars that individuals would have bought.

Millenials are moving to transit-friendly centres. Most city planning works on the basis that today's young will repeat the processes that their parents and grandparents followed. But they aren't, and instead of questioning why, maybe should ask why the previous couple of generations broke from the usual pattern of people living in dense cities.

More books on Cars

Books by Title

Books by Author

Books by Topic

Bits of Books To Impress