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May 13, 2009

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An interesting article, but unconvincing. Although walkable places like Manhattan are expensive, that doesn't mean they have to be expensive.

[HS: There's no evidence of any decent walkable communities in the United States where you don't have to pay a significant premium in order to live there.]

Antiplanner has made a similar argument that passenger trains like Amtrak and light rail are subsidized luxury goods for the rich.

[HS: It's true. There's a cheap bus you can take from Manhattan to DC that's half the price of Amtrak, but I prefer to pay twice as much in order to not sit next to poor people. On the other hand, the NYC to DC run is quite profitable for Amtrak, it's most of the other routes which lose money.]

You address major cities and suburbs but you don't take on the small town. It's not that hard to live carless in a town of 10,000 to 50,000. Especially if your tastes are more boho than deluxe and you don't really mind getting cold or sweaty on a bicycle, or somewhat rained on. My town has 40,000 people, enough to offer very decent employment opportunities by my modest standards, and it's only about 3.5 miles in diameter; I can cycle across it in about 12 minutes at modest exertion.

Now, if I had kids, I would be sending them to school but building their intellects primarily by my own devices, and teaching them to have an unannounced yet clear and explicit elitism, so the nature of their school would not be a huge deal - but if I were more a somewhat more normal, less intellectual, and less anti-postmodern version of myself I probably wouldn't want them in any of the public schools in this town. Point being, that could add a huge cost to life in this town.

But the fact is, even in this extremely cyclable town, even the youngest and most wacko-bohemian artist type of people have a car almost invariably.

[HS: re "It's not that hard to live carless in a town of 10,000 to 50,000." Most white collar jobs would be located at some office park you could only get to conveniently by car. And some people, such as myself, don't LIKE riding bicycles, even though I don't mind walking. I knew a guy who would occasionally bicycle to work from DC to Alexandria, VA, but he wasn't crazy enough to think that just because it was doable meant that he wanted to do it every day.]

"There's a cheap bus you can take from Manhattan to DC that's half the price of Amtrak, but I prefer to pay twice as much in order to not sit next to poor people."

The last time I took the super cheap Chinatown bus from Albany, NY to NYC several years ago, the bus broke down along the highway, just outside Albany. I had to walk back to downtown Albany to take the Greyhound. The Greyhound passed right by the poor schmucks still waiting by the road for a replacement China Town bus. I've never taken the Chinatown bus since.

"On the other hand, the NYC to DC run is quite profitable for Amtrak, it's most of the other routes which lose money."

Whenever I take Amtrak, I always pay the extra $$$ for a seat in the "business class" section. It's not much better, but the extra cost insulates you a bit from the scallywags in coach class.

"HS: There's no evidence of any decent walkable communities in the United States where you don't have to pay a significant premium in order to live there."

Most older University towns pass the walkable test, and outside of the popular coasts they are not usually much more expensive. And they have university-related jobs that can provide a decent income, even for non-academics like admissions people or maintenance people. Of course not having a car is going to limit your employment options just about anywhere.

I don't think Manhattan was always so expensive relative to the rest of the country. It's probably a combination of NIMBY politics, rent control, and enormous Wall Street earnings that have made it so expensive.

[HS: You will note that it almost always costs more money to live in a college town compared to a nearby non-college town. For example, Ithaca is one of the most expensive small cities in upstate New York because Cornell is there.]

Related to this topic, Margaret Thatcher was erroneously quoted as saying this once:

"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."

But according to Wikipedia, she didn't say it:

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher

Too bad, it would be wonderful to attribute that quote to "The Iron Lady"!

A tour de force on the scale of your "why computer programming sucks" post.

My dad, and I for a short period of time, used to take the Park'n'ride bus to downtown Houston from the suburb where we lived. They were quite comfortable and allowed you to take a nap, but everyone who rode on it had a car obviously and everyone was middle class. Anyway, this doesn't change your point, just wanted to point out that middle-class will take a bus, but only if its with other middle-class people.

Forget the Nissan Versa. Being a Japanese car, and new, it is uneccesarily costly.

Try this: a lightly used 2008 Dodge Avenger. They're popular with the rental companies, and have no resale whatsoever.

Unlike the Versa, the Avenger is a midsized car. It even has Sirius.

I'm seeing them for less than $9k.

Another drawback of a car-less lifestyle involves food shopping. I do the weekly shopping, for a four-person* household, and the number of bags is far more than one person could manage when using transit. Even two people probably couldn't do it. Living without a car in Manhattan or some other SWPL-ly city would require multiple shopping trips a week, which in the case of Manhattan would be further complicated by its worse-than-dreadful supermarkets. While there are delivery services such as Fresh Direct or Peapod in some areas, they probably are more expensive than just running out to the supermarket and certainly are less convenient.

Without a car, it would be impossible for a lot of people to go to college. Even community colleges generally aren't amenable to biking or walking.

"My dad, and I for a short period of time, used to take the Park'n'ride bus to downtown Houston from the suburb where we lived. They were quite comfortable and allowed you to take a nap, but everyone who rode on it had a car obviously and everyone was middle class."

I had a similar experience for about six months a number of years ago, riding one of the suburban commuter bus lines into downtown Hartford. The fellow riders were perfectly respectable, perhaps not upscale executive types for the most part, but decent people working at office jobs.

Hartford's regular buses were another story entirely. One day, for a reason I no longer recall, I had to leave work in the middle of the day, and because the commuter buses ran only during rush hour I had to take an ordinary bus line to the suburban park & ride where my car was located. It was not a pleasant experience. Being a regular rather than express bus it of course made many stops and took much longer. Almost all of the other riders looked like, well, not the sort of people with whom I'd ever want to associate, and even though I was casually dressed I got more than a few (not friendly) looks from them.* True, it was in the middle of the day, but nonetheless I could tell that few if any of them had jobs.

Finally, when I got to my destination the "fun" wasn't over. The park & ride was in an outlying section of a large shopping mall's parking lot. You'd think that the bus route would go right up to the mall's entrance, right? Wrong. The last stop was across a very busy roadway from the mall, and crossing it on foot was a decidedly scary experience. From what I understand, mall management refused to let ordinary buses enter mall property (it had no objection to the commuter buses) because they carried the "wrong sort of people." Some time later, the policy was changed following a lawsuit against the mall, brought by the family of a bus rider who was run over by a car while trying to cross the busy road from the bus stop to the mall.

* = not to turn this into a racial discussion, but almost certainly I got stared at because I was the only rider who wasn't black or Puerto Rican

Another drawback of a car-less lifestyle involves food shopping. I do the weekly shopping, for a four-person* household, and the number of bags is far more than one person could manage when using transit.

Your solutio is using a suitcase

This was a great post and it reminds me of how Steve Sailer write about affordable family formation - a concept that deserves much more attention in the MSM.

There are virtually 0 white middle-class families that live in Manhattan (population 1.6 million). I had a coworker who was raised in Manhattan and told me he grew up middle class. Turns out his dad was a professor at NYU and his mom wrote for some magazine and they owned an apartment in the West Village. So maybe they weren't super wealthy, but that's what passes for middle class for white people in Manhattan.

Without a car, it would be impossible for a lot of people to go to college.

Kirk, the people who idealize the car-free society don't recognize that "a lot of people" *exist.* They're the type who went to four-year colleges at 18, paid for by parents, and lived on campus. They imagine that dense, car-free societies would be look like their hippie boho dorms.

I've known very few people who were anti-car who didn't grow up in wealthy areas (usually car-dependent suburbs). Therefore, they had no concept of what it's like to be stuck in close quarters with the general public. The few who weren't wealthy clearly had no hope of achieving a middle-class lifestyle anyway so they decided to act sanctimonious about their lacks.

Look at the cities in the developing world.

Let´s see how living is in Bangkok, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro.

Here in São Paulo, we have lots of cars. The city is a massive sprawl, bigger than NYC and most people can´t afford cars because they are too poor.

What happens?

Most people work in the center and live in the suburbs (the bad neighborhoods here are the suburbs). They take buses, subway and metro, that get extremely crowded for one or two hours commute, where they have to face distances of 10 to 30 kilometers in congested traffic.

Conclusion?

It is possible for people people who can´t afford high rents neither cars to live in a big urban areas without a car. People in Sao Paulo or Jakarta do it all the time.

But the result is not that pleasant: to ride a bus or subway for 3 hours every day.

Another thing that happens is that motorcycle are a far more popular mean of transportation. Who can´t afford cars purchases motorcycles and scooter, which are far more common here than the US.

Can you imagine an avenue with hundreds of motorcycles zipping between cars? Look at the photos of Mumbai, Jakarta or Bankok to see howe it takes place.

Siggy.

You are an intelligent guy. Why don´t you study non-US experiences and discusses here in comparison? A comparison between very different paradigms always gives good lessons.

Perhaps Europe has a better experience with less dependence on cars.

APH wrote: "I had a coworker who was raised in Manhattan and told me he grew up middle class. Turns out his dad was a professor at NYU and his mom wrote for some magazine and they owned an apartment in the West Village."

Oh, god, that is *so* typical of the rich. If they don't own a Gulfstream jet and are expected to work, they consider themselves middle-class.

Bruno, I shop for a *three* person household and a suitcase wouldn't do it. Maybe a steamer trunk.

You're comparing the costs of living in one of the world's most expensive cities with the cost of a completely different lifestyle in a suburb and attempting to draw from that some sort of general statement about how middle-class America can only exist with the car?

There's a continuum of car-dependence in the US, but since most of our planning since the 50's has been based on the car, supply of car-dependent housing is high. And, yet, the places we most want to live, based on market prices, are in the walkable cities. Walkable cities are a luxury not because of inherent structural problems with dense cities, but because we've been building other things for so long that the supply is limited.

I think middle-class families would be particularly well-served by walkable communities where they might still need a car, but only one, and not for every single thing that they do. The supply of these is still low unfortunately, so they command a premium for the improvement in lifestyle over the two-car isolated suburbs. But since they are inherently cheaper to build and more valuable, I suspect the market will sort this out eventually.

James wrote: "Walkable cities are a luxury not because of inherent structural problems with dense cities, but because we've been building other things for so long that the supply is limited."

There were good reasons people wanted to get out of the cities. The suburb-haters tend to conveniently overlook those reasons.

The general population hasn't gotten any more desirable to rub elbows with over the past half-century. A few communities will always be so rich they can exclude the undesirable masses from their entire area. The rest of us have to insulate on a smaller scale, like with cars, and big houses on larger lots.

HS, I think you should also take account the city planning in US and compare it to European and Asian one. If you think cities in Europe or in Asia, they are walkable and still the price of living there is not so great.

So I think short supply of walkable areas in US is part of the equation why living there is expensive.

**A one bedroom apartment costs $3000/month.**

You do realize that they have one bedroom apartments for less than that in other areas of New York City? Hell, my aunt lives in a two bedroom in a mostly white area of Brooklyn for $1100/month.

For comparison purposes, we shouldn't compare living in Manhattan with living in the midwest, but for the demographic in question (poor/working class NAM), is it cheaper for them to have a car-free lifestyle in within the urban core or to have cars at similar rents in the mostly NAM areas of the suburbs.

*On top of that, the local income tax rate is around 10%, higher than any other place in the nation. *

IIRC, NYC's property taxes are rather low when compared to surrounding suburban jurisdictions, so if you're childless with under six figures, NYC isn't too bad. Once you have two children, the savings disappears if you send your children to Catholic school.

*What will never change, no matter how walkable your neighborhood may be, is that it’s always more convenient to own a car than to not own a car.*

I'll note that while being a railfan and pro-mass transit, I'll probably still be one of those guys who happens to own a car. I'll admit that for certain trips, cars are just generally easier (i.e. supermarket runs), and my pro-denser environment friends tend to ignore or be obvious to that stuff. Mind you, I can see why they find they find their car-free lifestyles to be appealing as it works out for them.

**I think middle-class families would be particularly well-served by walkable communities where they might still need a car, but only one, and not for every single thing that they do.**

For all intents and purposes, I suspect that's probably going to be the future of some suburbs. Places that are quiet, and have some suburban charm, but have some degree of walkability and slightly more density on main roads.

Too many Americans seem to connect density to Manhattan, when it's really an outlier on a Western scale.

**Perhaps Europe has a better experience with less dependence on cars. **

For all intents and purposes, the best comparisons with the US should focus on the other Anglo-Saxon settler nations, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as they feature a heavy emphasis on suburbanization when compared to European nations. A cursory glance seems to show that cities in these nations have maintained a stronger CBD with a healthier suburbs and in some cases, functional public railway transport to the CBD.

I was the commenter that noted that more interesting people live in NYC.

I responded on my blog- http://feministx.blogspot.com/2009/05/half-baked-half-sigma.html

Actually, the difficulty is not imagining a car-free community. In europe or Asia there are lots of cities where you don´t need a car, actually because most people can´t afford one, gas is costlier and taxes on cars are high.

What happens is that the US cities were designed to have suburbanization and, as they get built, they are hard to change.

The idea of a poor urban core and most people living in suburbs actually only exists in the US and nowhere else. So, a car-free life became a liberal SWPL idea as they love to copy Europe.

But anywhere else in the world where this suburbanization is not possible, there is less dependence on cars.

For most places, people work in a rich city center, the rich neighborhoods are a few miles from the city center and most poors live in the suburbs, that are 15 to 20 miles away from the center.


Putting aside the issue of personal cost, let's look at costs to society:

Can any anti-car person figure out a cheaper (for society) way to let middle class people (1) commute to and from work; (2)shop etc.; (3) bring their children places; and (4) avoid the underclass (which includes their children's school)?

The only thing I can think of involves repealing much of the civil rights laws and reinstituting segregation.


HS is absolutely right. Cars exist because they are more efficient than walking. Certainly you could "live cheaper" in a carless society, but you would be living in an Amish commune. Cars in general provide more efficient transportation in the context of a high standard of living. If most of us walked to work/school, we would waste 2-4 hours of each day. At $15/hour this costs $30-60 per day, or around $11,000 per year on average. Basically the more your time is worth, the more the care saves you. Riding the bus also takes more time that driving, and so it still is not as efficeint as driving if your time is worth a lot.

Living in Iowa, I greatly appreciate what the car brings. Houses here are spread widely appart because we have plenty of land. There is more greenspace in Iowa City than any other city I have lived in, much of it fertilized to a beautiful ultra-green. The price of walking would be more compact and ugly settlements.

The 11,000 figure HS cited is for a new car. You can get a perfectly decent used Camry for $4,000, and gas/parking/maintainance only costs about $1000 per year, so basically walking would have to cost you less than $5,000 per year to be worth it. That means you make less than $20 per hour if your walking commute is 30 minutes, and less than $10 per hour if your walking commute is 1 hour.

Now biking...there is a much more effiecient alternative. I can actually bike to work in only a little less time than driving. However, biking is hard work and you arrive soaked in sweat and rather offensive to people.

James, biking anywhere near traffic is dangerous even with a helmet. That's why I don't do it.

In Europe using public transport is the norm, everybody rides them through most cities and even small towns. Historical factors probably contribute to this - the roads of European cities are atrocious compared to the block systems of US cities and towns. Also public transport is more subsidised in general and Europeans have less to worry about violent lower class blacks and so forth.

Curiosity question: Why the pursuit of cost as an issue when the reason most seem to be citing are issues of convenience or taste?

ie, I don't like to be around people who bother me (for whatever reason), so I am willing to pay a premium -owning a car when cheaper alternatives within where I currently live exist- for the pleasure.

To a person moving, a walkable neighborhood is almost synonymous with a safe one. People pay a premium for safety (or a heavy discount for less safety), and walkable is almost a code word for that.

Great post.
The development of U.S. infrastructure during the past 50 years has been based almost entirely on accommodating automobile traffic. Walking around the strip malls that comprise the shopping districts of most smaller cities is borderline suicidal. Sidewalks and crosswalks are in short supply and drivers not habituated to the presence of pedestrians are particularly menacing.

The only way to make America carless would be to raze the suburbs and re-engineer existing urban areas--a proposition which seems extremely unlikely. Another insurmountable obstacle I see with transforming to a car-free society is that middle and upper-middle class people would have to give up on the dream of having their own homes. Just about everyone would have to live in apartments.

I do think we could reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road during rush hours. Telecommuting and carpooling both seem underutilized. I commute (by car) 5 days a week because it's a social expectation. But I could surely do most of my work from a home office. I imagine that's the case with a great many white-collar jobs.

There are plenty of examples, including most old college towns and small industrial and farming towns laid out before 1950.

Also, not all big Western cities are NYC expensive. As someone already noted, not even NYC is that expensive outside of Manhattan. I also know someone who has a regular non-rent-controlled and quite spacious 2-bedroom apartment 30 minutes by subway from midtown for $1200.

Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Berlin are also nowhere near as expensive as NYC and owning a car in these cities is an unneeded luxury.

As for grocery shopping, the more carless middle class people, the more you get small neighborhood places. In the US these places generally sell junk food because that's what Americans like, especially poorer car-less Americans, but the dense middle-class parts of Paris has small stores selling quality meat and produce every couple blocks.

I'd still rather not have to run to the grocery store every other night for food because I can only carry two bags comfortably. I much prefer the once-a-month Sams Club/Super Walmart approach. There aren't many things I enjoy less in life than grocery shopping, no matter how "vibrant" the store might be!

I think you could simplify the argument a bit. Car-less communities have extreme price competition based on location. This increases housing costs and drives up the costs of doing business.

In a driving community, there is much less competition. Other than being in a certain school district, there is little to distinguish one home from another. Businesses can buy a tract of land and attract customers in a 10 mile radius. People can live 20 miles or more from where they work. Communities are still important, but the location premium is much less significant.

As for those who have commented about college towns, you have to realize that they are artificial communities. Tons of wealth is flowing in from outside to subsidize these areas. The students at these universities who live the car-less lifestyle are not producing enough wealth to sustain themselves

It is less expensive for ME to be car-less, as I rarely use public transportation and bike just about everywhere. I live in one of the less hip parts of Portland, Oregon, and thus don't face the higher rents of those living close-in.

That said, I don't like the fact that riding a bike has become equated with being anti-car. I understand that driving is the most convenient option for most people, and I don't take issue with that. I wish people wouldn't interpret my choice to ride a bike as a political statement. I do it because I love it, and because it is efficient, cheap and good exercise. I also don't demand that bike specific infrastructure be installed for my sake. Older cities and inner suburbs that have a grid topology (or at least a sufficient number of well-connected streets that I am am not forced to ride on six-lane arterials) are bike-friendly without any additions.

I have a car, albeit one held together mostly by baling wire and prayer. Yeah, it could get me to my day job in about fifteen minutes, but I ride the bus there instead. Rather then end up losing two-and-a-half hours per week fighting interstate traffic, I take my laptop along and use the forty-five minute commute each way to churn out freelance articles, an increasingly important source of my income. That hour-and-a-half a day that my ass stays planted in a bus seat adds up fast, and lets me get a fair amount of extra writing done.

And in the small southern city where I live just enough white people take the bus so that I don’t feel like too much of a target. Hardly ever do I get called a motherfucker by obese black women or have to rebuff the conversational advances of chatty rednecks who want to tell me about how they ended up with a steel plate in their head.

Suggestion for a Sigma post:

Ask posters to create a rap video, in screenplay format, that depicts the essence of Barack and Michelle Obama.

How funny is this? (from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education)

Why Inequality Is Bad for Whites as Well as Blacks

During the Reagan and Bush years, greed was glorified as a potent force in stimulating economic growth. Extravagance and overindulgence were the order of the day. The issue of income inequality was not a major concern. In fact it was encouraged. The open showcase of great wealth was seen as providing an incentive for others to work hard so they too could enjoy “the good life.”

But an important and perhaps revolutionary new book effectively shoots down the theory that income inequality is an effective tool for improving society. In The Spirit Level authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett present compelling evidence that the overall well-being of a society is determined not by wealth alone but, rather, through equitable distribution of wealth.

In a mammoth research effort the authors examined a wide range of social factors in 20 of the world’s wealthiest nations and compared these indices against the level of income inequality in these countries. They also conducted similar analyses for the 50 states in America. The results showed that in states and countries where there were the largest gaps in income, there were likely to be higher rates of crime, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, homicide, and teenage pregnancy. Children’s educational performance and life expectancy were lower in the states and countries that had a high level of income inequality.

The study shows that Japan and Scandinavian countries have the lowest levels of income inequality but rank high on most social indicators. Britain, the United States, and Portugal ranked high in income inequality but fared the worst on social indicators such as crime and drug abuse.

These conclusions may not come as much of a surprise. It is obvious that countries with more poor people are likely to have higher rates of crime, drug abuse, and poor health. But the most revealing finding of the Wilkinson and Pickett study is that even the well-off people in countries with high levels of income inequality do not fare as well on social indicators as well-off people in countries where there is a low level of income inequality. For example, the authors note that in countries with high levels of income inequality, mental illness rates can be five times as great at all socioeconomic levels, compared to mental illness rates in nations where there is little income inequality. Also, life expectancy for people in upper-level socioeconomic groups is higher in countries where there is less income inequality. The authors conclude, “The effects of inequality are not confined just to the least well-off; instead they affect the vast majority of the population.”

The authors speculate that societal stress plays a role. Societies with greater inequality are more stressful than egalitarian societies. Stress causes anxiety, depression, and can have a significant impact on one’s health. People exposed to significant stress are more likely to die earlier, abuse drugs, or commit suicide. Even wealthy people in unequal societies become more stressed because of political turmoil, higher crime rates, and the greater spread of disease.

One big drawback of owning a car in New York is the extortionate cost of insurance. Redlining may be illegal in mortgage lending but it's alive and well in the car insurance industry. A city resident will pay at least double the premiums of a suburbanite, everything else (driving record, vehicle type, amount of coverage etc.) being equal. In the Bronx and Brooklyn it's especially bad, with the premiums being 3X or even 4X of those paid by the equivalent suburban resident. Why this practice is legal, I cannot imagine.

"... But clearly, the reason why New York City jobs pay more is because if New York City jobs paid the same as jobs in smaller cities with low costs of living, no one would choose to live in New York City! ... "

I think this is backwards. The business advantages for certain high wage industries of being located in New York City are so great that businesses concentrate there despite higher costs. And their well paid workers bid up housing prices.

Brutus,

Gini coefficient by state:

http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/visualizations/us-gini-coefficient-by-state-2006

Least unequal state: Utah

Most unequal state: New York (right behind DC)

Unsurprisingly, inequality is the handmaiden of diversity. Obvious title for a book about contemporary progressive politics: "Equality or Diversity: Would You Please Make Up Your Fucking Minds!?

"In Europe using public transport is the norm, everybody rides them through most cities and even small towns. Historical factors probably contribute to this - the roads of European cities are atrocious compared to the block systems of US cities and towns."

Riding the bus used to the norm before the cities were flooded with immigrants. Who wants to contract tuberculosis?

Glenn Beck had a great bit on his show the other day on why liberals/SWPLers love trains.

It seems Beck took Amtrak down to the inauguration. But while and his wife paid and got on like normal people--- and because you can't reserve specific seats, they just got first class and rushed for the best ones.

The attendant stopped them when they picked out a few and told them "those seats are reserved." Beck was stunned, because he knew you couldn't reserve them; he guessed only one person could reserve them,a powerful political figure who needed Secret Security protection. He guessed Amtrak Joe Biden. which is a reasonable guess under the circumstances.

Nope. The train waited for 30 extra minutes, and who comes on for the seats (it was a 4 at a table together?

Barbara Walters, Steve Croft (60 Minutes) and Whoopi Goldberg. Three liberals. And hardly important political figures. And no secret service. Just famous rich people.

To paraphrase Beck: no wonder liberals/SWPLers love train travel. They don't actually ride the train like normal people, they get treated like the kings and queens they think they are.

David Alexander, what are NAMs?

HS makes very reasonable points in this post although pointing out irrational and innumerate aspects of liberal and SWPL manias is classic fish-in-a-barrel shoot [not that they don't need shooting!]

Still, as a practical matter virtually no one picks a place to live with the sole (or even highly weighted) goal of being able to do without a car. So HS's analysis is not very "actionable". What I find more interesting and what many of the comments at least obliquely address is the question of the possibility and relative cost of going carless _given_ where you live. In that regard, something that has gone unmentioned AFAICT are Zip Cars. They strike me as a viable solution to the monthly stocking-up trip to Costco and similar outings. Of course you still have to live in a relatively dense area to have access to one but that still means probably tens of millions of people who may want to include their existence in their calculations.

[Oh, and please no posts about how ZipCars are beloved by SWPLs or whoever. This is a completely irrelevant "criticism".]

Well, I tried Zipcar in Boston for awhile.

And here's the dirty little secret: It's very expensive for the time you use it, and there's not always one available when you need one. In fact, that happened with frustrating regularity.

So...bzzzzzzzt. Next "solution" please.

The streets of Manhattan are full of black limousines and yellow cabs. So much for being carless in New York.

My great-grandfather moved his family to Brooklyn from Manhattan a few years after the Brooklyn Bridge opened in the 1880s, in large measure because he could afford to keep his own stable and horse on the larger plots available in Brooklyn. Horses require more household infrastructure than cars, obviously, because they must be sheltered, fed, cleaned, etc. In addition to the horse, my grandfather told me the family owned a carriage and sleigh, both of which also had to be stored under shelter.

G-grandfather Charles owned a small printing house in Lower Manhattan - so he was relatively affluent by the standards of the day.

Ride a bus at your perril in Downtown Baltimore. White people get beat up all the time for that derilection of proticol.

I owned a car when I lived in Montreal, and often had other students ask about the economics of it. For me, having a car that was already "paid for" was useful and economical just for the 1000km trips between home and university. When others, particularly international students would ask about it, I would suggest that they think of all the things that they wanted to use the car for. In most cases they concluded that they could take a taxi home from the supermarket each week and rent a car with the "weekend special" for 30 weekends a year and still come out ahead of owning.

Part of the problem with your analysis is that you're leaving out the cost of maintaining infrastructure that makes auto-dependent suburban living possible. If people had to pay for roads and bridges based on their usage, rather than having it covered by tax money, the numbers may well come out differently, and more dense, walkable, mixed-use developments would likely crop up in the suburbs.

I am like Chris, I ride my bike to work, when weather permits, because it is enjoyable, saves gas, and keeps me from getting fat. Once you get in shape, you can ride a bike and not smell or be soaked when you get to work, you just have to dress appropriately for the ambient temp.

I own a pickup too. It is a necessity for the winters here and when it is raining.

I think this depends on the situation and where you live. I lived in Chicago near the lake and sold my car after 2 months of fighting for a parking spot on the street and never driving it. It was just a hassle. I used the bus and El to get to and from work. Sometimes I had to rent a car to get to the suburbs.

Then I moved to Manhattan (lived in a 1 bedroom 4th floor walk up at 9th and 52nd for $1850/month in 2002). Didn't have a car and didn't buy one because it's too expensive to park it and I also didn't need it for work or leisure. Again, if we went out of town, we rented a car or took the Greyhound.

Now I live in Denver. I have 2 cars. I don't work downtown so parking is not an issue. My commute is 10 miles, takes 20-25 minutes. My Corolla gets 30 miles to the gallon in the city. Last week my other car was in the shop so I took the bus to leave my car with my wife and 2 kids.

It costs 2 dollars each way for public transit. So $4 per day. At most my car uses 2/3 of a gallon of gas per day on my commute and gas is just over 2 dollars/gallon, so moneywise, gas would need to be about $6/gallon before it made economical sense to take it. The bus also takes 1 hour to get me to my destination after a transfer to the light rail and then to another bus, so I give up an hour a day. I'll concede the time because it is nice to relax on the bus. I thought about the whole carbon emissions impact, but couldn't get the data to see how many people had to be on the bus before the amount of carbon per person in a car was equal to the bus.

Overall the bus wasn't bad but for my personal situation in Denver, I'm going to stick with my car.

Three mornings a week I tuck the three year old in the back of the car and run her off to school. The route home runs past a body shop that does a lot of work for Zipcar.

A LOT of work for Zipcar.

Now, I'm not sure how much of the SF Bay Area's Zipcar body work that outfit does, but they're VERY busy. And seeing just how busy that place inclines one to think that the folks who use Zipcar maybe don't drive enough (or care enough) ever to get good at it, maybe don't care much about what happens to the four-wheeled appliance they're flogging around, and that if the thing's going to stay in business the cost involved in keeping all their Toyota Toasters in Bondo and paint has to come out of their customers' pockets somehow.

Interesting article.

Our family has been car-less for eight years. I'm not a fanatic on the subject - if you want a car, enjoy. But we're quite happy without one.

We live in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, an area that is well served by public transportation, particularly the elevated trains, commuter rail, and buses; and there are lots of shops, supermarkets, and restaurants within a short walk of our home. When we need a car, as we do from time to time, there's a Enterprise rental agency a half mile from our home.

One interesting sidelight is that when our two sons entered the Marines, they found that they were much better able to handle the hikes than were the recruits from rural areas. My sons were used to walking miles to get to places like movie theaters, while the rural kids drove everywhere.

I should add that when we moved into our neighborhood 25 years ago, it was a lower-middle-class area, with lots of affordable housing. In the 90s, the area heated up, prices soared, and real-estate taxes skyrocketed. So much so that older residents were literally taxed out of their homes: they had to sell out and move away because they couldn't pay the taxes. My point is that there are major cities with neighborhoods that are well served by public transportation, and in which a car-free lifestyle is possible; but people of modest income are increasingly being excluded from these areas by rapacious taxes.

And there are those of us who are constitutionally unable to live in cities or suburbs. We're called country folks. I tried a city for a while when I was in my 20s and 30s. You can't see the stars. You can't hear the frogs. You can't hang your clothes on the line. You can't plant a large garden and raise chickens. You can't plant 5000 trees on your land. I think I have more than compensated for the car I own.

There is a growing Hispanic population in the Portland Oregon area. One of the customers I visit in Beaverton (a suburb of Portland) has many Hispanic neighborhoods near by. There are few blacks, however, and I think the black population is actually shrinking.

Just wanted to point out that not all car-less cities are expensive. I live in Montreal, where most people get around by bike or public transportation. Rent is very cheap here, most people can find a nice 2 bedroom for under $1000 a month.

You have some interesting points though.

:-)

Just wanted to point out that the reason DC's office buildings aren't that high is because of a law that no building can be higher than the base of the Capitol dome. That's why the cityscape looks so cool in movies.

As soon as people can afford them, they get cars. Cairo and Istanbul are jammed with traffic. London has to use a tax to keep cars out. Being carless is not something that the average guy sees as a goal, but as a problem. Being able to get away on the weekend is a dream only truly available to those with cars. And you never have to wait at a bus stop.

The main problem with liberals living high-density cities is that they truly have no clue how big this country is.

When I visited the UK, I could have driven from the Oxford area to Scotland in about three hours. Back home, I can't even get out of my state in that time.

The carless society is simply a means for turning 90% of the country into wilderness areas, although how the liberals expect to get to these places without a car is never discussed.

Re Athenian's comment: I caught TB as a teen while attending what would now be called a magnet high school. I have always assumed that I caught it from riding city buses to and fro or from recent immigrants who were some of my classmates.

I will not allow my children to ever ride city buses. I may allow them to attend a magnet high school if the risk/reward ratio is right.

Cars and suburbs are good.

A couple of points that seem to have been missed:

1. Living in today's chaotic job market, a car gives you a lot more choice as job markets and geographical employment patterns shift. That would be a good topic for a study or graduate thesis: how much of the difference in the structural unemployment rates between Europe and the US can be accounted for by car ownership rates?

2. Point #2 follows from point #1. Having a car allows you to realize a lot of consumer surplus that that you would otherwise miss out on. Job mobility is only one contributor. Others have pointed out the ability to buy from larger stores with lower prices, and to seek cheaper housing.

I empathize with your carless in NYC status. When my brother first moved to Manhattan about 20 years ago and was parking his car at my Dad's house in NJ, we did a few quick calculations and realized that he could rent a Hertz luxury car EVERY weekend and still spend much less than having his own car in NY would cost.

Now he's rich enough to have a car and bears the expense gladly. I think he pays twice as much for his parking space as I did for my first apartment.

I've lived carless in Osaka for 10 years. Public (actually for-profit private train corporations for most local travel) transport commuting costs are usually covered by employers as a common benefit, even for part time jobs, since a round trip could cost anywhere from $8 to $20 US if you live in the suburbs. But since there's enough demand, it justifies frequent trains. I rarely have waited more than 10 minutes for a train, usually less than 5 downtown, even on weekends.

But carless is mainly cheaper because of government policies, taxes and fees designed to reduce the number of cars - driving school costs $3000US, annual car inspections (and "necessary repairs") in the hundreds, proof of having a parking space, which easily costs $150 a month, and gas prices double US prices or more.

Unfortunately, this means rush hours on trains really ARE literally packed like sardines (wonder how leftish women would appreciate being groped by "chikan"). And these days Toyota wishes there were actually a domestic market for their cars. No help from the Japanese semi-socialist government there.

I still WANT a car. Riding a bicycle to work or walking to the train station really sucks in rainy season, or winter, or hot summers. So many cheap stores and things to do can only be accessed by car. And I HATE walking or riding a bike to a doctor when I am sick.
And then there's the problem of late night transport. No public transport after midnight. Your only option is a $100 cab ride home if you miss the last train.

But if I had a family and kids, I would NEED a car. Buying 4 train tickets (even with a 50% kiddie discount) is far more expensive than gas and tolls!

However, a new trend is emerging in downtown urban living. The declining population means there is less demand for apartments, especially in urban centers, so prices are falling.

But comparing the US and Japan or Europe regarding transportation is apples and oranges. It's a problem of distances. America is too big for any kind of practical ground-based national transportation system linking everyone to everywhere at anytime, it would be ridiculously expensive and -gasp- have a huge carbon footprint. And without the ability to walk to a train station and then catch a train within an hour to anywhere in your country (as is possible in Japan), the whole thing is moot. Americans need cars. (And liberals do too, next time a liberal rails agisnt cars, ask them to show you their driver's license and prove their hypocrisy)

Having lived in Milan, Florence and Barcelona and having both had a car and been carless, I'm here to tell you that...

(1) Yes, you can live without a car but it is much better to have one available.

(2) Anyone who can afford it has one or more.

Among the few who, being able to afford a car don't have one, well, that's what taxis are for!

Lets accept the argument that walkable communities are a luxury good. That's another way of saying that there is a high willingness to pay for this good, and that supply is constrained, resulting in a high price.

A key question is whether that supply is fixed. And the answer is no. The built environment changes all the time, and developers are building more walkable communities as we speak.

So, you are wrong to say that "nothing can be done" about the fact that walkable communities are luxury goods. Markets can, and will over time, alter the economics picuture for this good by lowering the price.

Its also essential to recognize that a walkable community is not synomimous with everyone being carless, as many of the blog panelists in the piece that you cited indicated. "Carless" was just the procative hook used by NYT.

People still own cars in walkable communities. They may have lower ownership rates per household and may make fewer car trips. But the most desirable thing in the marketplace is to have a choice: the ability to use a car, and the choice to walk to something nearby.

It is true that going completely carless, while freeing up some money, comes with the price of a lack convenience. In other words, there's a tangible price to pay for carlessness - though more ins some places than others.

It is also true that at the moment, walkable communities are more expensive (because they are more desriable). Thus, what one saves in auto ownership costs are typically lost in higher real estate prices. Its a tradeoff.

Andy writes "If people had to pay for roads and bridges based on their usage, rather than having it covered by tax money, the numbers may well come out differently, and more dense, walkable, mixed-use developments would likely crop up in the suburbs."
But if you pick a state at random, (say Wisconsin...) in all likelihood the lion's share of the funding for ALL modes of transport infrastructure maintenance comes from a tax on motor fuel. The tax is a cost (to the users) that is directly related to the use of the roads.

... lived in Paris and my wife (caring for 2 pre-schoolers) hated it. Bringing food into the house was a huge PITA. It was a super inefficient use of her time to make all those trips for a few bags of groceries. The Parisians (and I suspect New Yorkers) get around this inefficiency (and others) by using tons of maids. Not a very egalitarian solution but it's an effective work-around when living in an inefficient city.

... have a friend who can't drive for medical reasons so she lives and works in a university town. It works okay to bike everywhere but it is very socially isolating to not have a car.

... New Yorkers think everything they do is brilliant and everyone else is a yokel. Of course they think subways are good and cars are bad because that describes themselves. It's just New Yorker arrogance, "We are good, everyone else is bad." They should be more tolerant.

... There is more than one way to skin a cat.

I'm not convinced. Its expensive to live in Manhattan period.

In Chicago I was able to live on $10K a year when I was single...I did that by not having a car and sharing a $550/mo apartment with a roommate.

In the burbs of Chicago a car is almost essential, especially in winter. Also, rents aren't that much less than they are in the city (unless you want to live in a suburban slum where you'll see SWAT teams regularly).

My grandfather (the last of 11 children of a Civil War veteran) told me that as a boy of 10 or so, where you could go depended on whether or not you were rich enough to own a horse. Otherwise you were limited to the distances available to Shank's Mare.

And Urbnostic, it is my experience that those pushing "carless" solutions are almost always much more interested in controlling the lifestyle choices of 'The Other' than not.

Face it, highly concentrated urban areas are not all that natural to humans. We all need (more or less) to Work, Sleep, Shop, and Recreate. While it can be convenient to do those in a single space, once that space gets relatively full of other human beings we have the problems of noise, sanitary problems, time, etc. Prior to industralization there were relatively few really big cities in the world because there were relatively few workplaces that needed large numbers of workers in close proximity.

After industrialization, the wealthy and the upper-middle classes had either enclaves that avoided the problems associated with population density or moved to 'suburbs'. The first suburb of Chicago was made possible by having horse-drawn trolleys on wooden rails that cost so much only business owners and upper level managers could afford to ride them.

The prime spot to live has just about always been 30 minutes traveling time from the centers of activity, mostly business. That allows easy access to the 'good' parts of high density populations and insulation from the 'bad' parts.

Check out Rome in AD 1 or so and see where the wealthy lived in terms of proximity to the Forum.

It appears to me that most humans have conflicting needs and desires that can most frequently be resolved by adjusting one's travel time between the locations where one Works, Plays, Sleeps, and Shops.

For those who find high-density cities fill the bill there is evidently an urge to force others to join them. I have no idea why that is, except that my observation is that the world can be divided into two types of people: those who wish to tell others how to live their lives and make it stick (by force, if necessary) and; those who don't.

I stopped reading after the second bigoted anti-liberal statement. Your comments resemble very few of the many, many liberals I know living here in San Francisco, and since you chose to start with propagandistic falsehoods rather than fact right off the bat, I didn't bother continuing to read any more of what you had to say. I'm not a liberal myself, by the way - I just hate bigots.

I live in Vancouver, BC and haven't owned a car - by choice - for nearly 7 years. But my situation is quite extra-ordinary. I work for myself at my home office and so my commute is about 15 seconds. Pretty good transit is just a few blocks away. I don't have a family and am not dating at the moment.

If ANY of those factors were to change then my need for a car would as well. Immediately!

That's why I commend the author for taking the time to bring a little common sense to the Age of Lack of Intellect.

Here on Canada's Left Coast (in more ways than one) we have some of the most arrogant (& vacuous) Kumbaya Latte Drinking Limousine Liberal environmentalists anywhere in the world. They have tried to stop the building of bridges & improvement of roads and have encouraged dramatic tax increases to gasoline to prevent working class people from driving. In a nutshell they are open to virtually anything that will force people to adhere to their world view ... without a microsecond of thought to the consequences.

I have some good friends who live in a suburb called Langley, that's about an hour's drive southeast of Vancouver. They have a daughter who's very busy in many activities. Both parents work, in different directions, one half an hour away from home and the other an hour or more away.

When the Kumbaya crowd started suggesting that people like them should get rid of their cars and start taking transit (which would mean upwards of 2 - 3 hours each way) I definitively knew I was fighting the good fight against them!

Heads up: Our Far Left City Council, in their infinite [lack of] wisdom, has decided to waste $1 Million on this experiment: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2009/05/07/bc-burrard-bike-lanes.html

In late June, go to YouTube and search for these words: Burrard Bridge bicycle. There you will find a time-lapse video shot by yours truly which will accurately show 3 packed lanes of traffic going one way, two fairly full lanes of traffic coming the other way, and one almost empty line of bicycles. Tied in with this video will be a "special" message for all potential Olympic visitors next February!

In 1960, Jane Jacobs was Bigtime wrong about the fact that, 50 years later, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, denizens of low-rise Manhattan are now above average in income & below average in kids. So, yes, low-rise Manhattan is vibrant (“edgy”?) as opposed to, say, Levittown or Larchmont, for which Jane (& the NYT) look down zee nez, & NYC’s low-rise areas are, arguably, more livable than its Stuyvesant Town or Cadman Plaza. But only unmarried, childless Seinfelds & invest-ment bankers can now afford Manhattan low-rise. Above-average size families want room, which is affordable for only the über above-average city dweller or the denizen of the ‘burbs. And so average & just above-average have mostly decamped to the ‘burbs. As a blogger noted in 2009:

“Cities abandoned by the rich look like Detroit…the Rich did not abandon NYC [after the ‘60’s]; rather, it was the middle- and working- classes who did, because they could not afford to bring their children up decently and/or because there were no jobs The scale of human misery was hideous. The murders, the drugs, the violence, the wasted lives…there was a continuous undercurrent of fear, except, of course, for the Upper East Side, which was filled with rich people who had insulated themselves off from any of this…and [those who rhapsodize about the “arts”’ in this period miss the point that] talented and dedicated artists of any sort are not dependent on the destruction of a city and the degradation of its inhabitants to create…[such writers have conflated into the arts scene] a hipster toga party, with NYC as its frat house.”


I live in a suburb of Chicago near a train line and could ALMOST survive without a car.

But in that case, I couldn't shop at Costco/Sam's Club/Wal-Mart, saving my family (conservatively) $5000 a year.

What do city dwellers pay for paper towels, spaghetti sauce, bottled water, cans of soda, orange juice, milk, peanut butter, fruit, cereal, cat litter, etc. etc. etc. compared to me, when they have to purchase it in bodegas in tiny little quantities?

Not to mention the time I save buying in bulk.

Put that in your calculations.

There's an interesting way to observe the discussed housing premium in more controlled environments.

Orthodox Jews must walk to synagogue on the Sabbath. Hence, whatever the transportation patterns of the city they are in, such communities cluster within walking distance of each other.

There is a well-known effect where houses in Orthodox neighborhoods become significantly more expensive than comparable surrounding neighborhoods—and not because the communities in question are necessarily affluent, either.

University towns are not cheap to live in. The price of real estate and property taxes are exorbitant. I've always wanted to live in Evanston IL, but property taxes are too high and town finances are a mess.

Oh I forgot, the only Grocery store in downtown Evanston, your typical university town, is of course Whole Foods aka Whole Paycheck

NYC is more expensive because denser communities grow prices geometrically. But the physical closeness grows the opportunity to make deals exponentially. This is the secret of the crossroads, and why towns exist. It costs a lot, but the profit available to be made is even higher.

Telecommuting obviously massively undercuts this which may be why its not hardly used. The PTB would be severely hurt if everyone fled the cities and real estate fell through the floor.

As to Europe, well, I think it has to do with town walls. Once upon a time you stashed everyone as close as you could because building a town wall was serious cash. The cost of cars and gas as one commenter points out just continues the situation.

Another advantage of cities is you need two skills to survive. One, to make money. Two, to survive (mostly by spending money). Can't plumb, can't drive, can't cook? Move to a city and hire people to do it for you! :) This is why immigrants like cities, in part, I suspect. Cities are the kiddy pool.

I'm surprised no one mentions Chicago, where rents are still affordable and public transportation is excellent, the bike paths are plentiful and you don't even have to be white to live there and enjoy it. Boston has many of these elements as well.

I lived for a few years in a small town in Germany. Land use is very different there from in the US, and different from most European countries. The Germans have preserved the division between farmland and town rather well. Houses are smaller and built closer to one another on smaller plots of land. Once you get out of a town, there's real farmland and woodland. (I wouldn't call the woodland wilderness though. It was very managed.)

Consequently, it's not so hard to walk to shops and workplaces. Most people, however, choose to work and shop farther afield. Despite the excellent train system, which even reaches small provincial towns, most people who can afford it drive.

In the post above, you mentioned another essay titled "The Iron Law of Wages". Unfortunately, the link leads right back here to this post.

Go ahead and delete this comment, It is just a friendly heads up.

James

[HS: I fixed the link in case anyone wants to read about the Iron Law of Wages.]

HS- sorry for posting this late, but couldn't post from work.

I have a grad degree in urban planning, and have worked several years in the field with a distinct tint toward urban economics (though I consider myself a "recovering" urban planner). Regrettably, I think you're dead on: high density has to be unaffordable.

Why? Because as people's income increases, one of the things they increase their income on, clearly, is housing. They do this for several reasons. First, it is in people's nature to want more of everything: utility curves only work because costs force a marginal decision between products. As a utility curve shifts out, our marginal propensity to consume sundry goods- including housing- shifts out as well.

Consequently, as income rises relative to costs we get bigger apartments, or bigger houses. More importantly, land is a variable to consider. Housing values fall unless capital is plugged into the house to fix the leaky roof, broken window, modern kitchen, etc. Land, however, tends to rise whether you maintain it or not. Thus, even as we expand the size of our living quarters, if we have a choice we will expand the size of our property too as a way to adjust our portfolio between commodity (land) and capital (housing). Even apartment dwellers will probably seek larger open spaces if for nothing else than amenities.

Moreover, apartments grow vastly more expensive when you switch from 2-3 floor stick and mortar style apartments, to multifloor steel and concrete apartments: eg, highrises. So even if you increase density by growing upward, the costs must increase.

Finally, housing isn't just a consumption product: it is an investment, and a levered investment at that (and a tax-favored levered investment on top of all that). Levered investments yield far greater equity returns than a standard investment, and thus in an asset allocation there is a desire to acquire more of a levered good over time.

So for all these reasons- our desire to want more as income rises, our desire to balance assets between land and capital, our desire to increase our investment returns through leverage- our housing size is going to increase. Since costs constrain upward growth, naturally a wealthier society is going to move on the whole toward more and more space.

More and more space means less and less density. Thus, one of the surest ways to maintain density is for costs to grow more swiftly than income. In other words: a dense society, one in which people can live without cars, must be a society that is more expensive to live in than a less dense, more car-dependent society, all things equal. There are of course exceptions to the rule, but by-and-large I think this is how urban economies function.

"On the other hand, the NYC to DC run is quite profitable for Amtrak, it's most of the other routes which lose money."

It's profitable on the *operating* side. On the other hand, the capital costs are humongous, since the line has the biggest capacity in the country (averages 3 tracks for 250 miles) and is electrified, which basically doubles the cost of the line. Amtrak rents the tracks they use for almost all of their other lines, and most are only used twice a day, so the capital cost is a lot lower there.

[HS: But the Northeast Corridor Line is shared with various commuter trains like New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, etc, so it's not as if Amtrak is the only entity using the tracks.]

"There's a continuum of car-dependence in the US, but since most of our planning since the 50's has been based on the car, supply of car-dependent housing is high. And, yet, the places we most want to live, based on market prices, are in the walkable cities."

This is kind of like saying that, based on market prices, guided tours of the primitive tribes in the Amazon are clearly the vacation most people want to take, despite the fact that most of the travel industry's planning since the '50s has been based on amusement parks and beach resorts.

Not to mention, there are plenty of potentially walkable communities in the US. EVERY town built before 1930 that had a significant population and whose downtown hasn't been leveled by some stupid "urban renewal" project is a potentially walkable community and could be gentrified at considerably less cost than building new. There's a reason why it hasn't happened in most places: Relatively few people want to live in that environment anymore.

You are sentenced to write 500 times on the blackboard, "In a free society, major societal changes generally DO reflect what the majority of people want." :-)

"But anywhere else in the world where this suburbanization is not possible, there is less dependence on cars.

For most places, people work in a rich city center, the rich neighborhoods are a few miles from the city center and most poors live in the suburbs, that are 15 to 20 miles away from the center."

Actually, outside of Japan and *some* European countries, it would be quite possible to have suburbanization like you do in the US. Most places don't have it because of some combination of a.) different culture, b.) different government policies, or c.) too many poor people who don't own cars and therefore must live close to work.

"I also know someone who has a regular non-rent-controlled and quite spacious 2-bedroom apartment 30 minutes by subway from midtown for $1200."

And I live in a pretty nice two-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Philly 20 minutes drive from work for $935 a month (most utilities included) and I'm STILL paying more in housing costs than most Americans. You have to keep in mind that even Brooklyn is not very typical of America.

"Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Berlin are also nowhere near as expensive as NYC and owning a car in these cities is an unneeded luxury. "

But they're all a heck of a lot more expensive than Jacksonville, Florida (to pick on a city I lived in), where a car is a absolute necessity (along with AC).

"In the Bronx and Brooklyn it's especially bad, with the premiums being 3X or even 4X of those paid by the equivalent suburban resident. Why this practice is legal, I cannot imagine."

That's easy:

a.) Cities are much more crowded and congested, and therefore the odds of getting into a accident are higher.
b.) Auto theft and vandalism is higher in cities than it is in the suburbs.
c.) Cities have a disproportionate number of poor people who don't have insurance at *all*, and therefore the odds of your insurance having to pay for your damages even when you're not at fault are much higher.
d.) At least here in Philly, people are much more likely to sue when they get into accidents, and juries are much more likely to award large sums in such lawsuits. Lawyers pursing such cases in the area will do anything they can to get the case tried in Philly rather than the suburbs. I have a friend who lives in the city. There is an enormous road in his area which has six lanes in each direction, divided into two groups of three with a median between them. Left turns are only allowed from the left set of lanes; right turns only from the right set. One night he was in the left set of lanes and ended up broadsiding someone trying to make a left turn from the right set of lanes. Not only was he sued, he ended up having to pay the other guy.

*That's* why city dwellers pay more for insurance.

"The business advantages for certain high wage industries of being located in New York City are so great that businesses concentrate there despite higher costs. And their well paid workers bid up housing prices."

Except that those advantages are becoming less meaningful every day. For instance, as it is, the back offices of most Wall Street firms are now in Jersey City; only the big shots still work in Manhattan. Even that, I suspect, has more to do with inertia and the fact that the people who run those companies are comfortable living in New York. Sooner or later, someone will realize that he can make a killing running a firm out of Wichita or some such place, and there goes Wall Street.

"And here's the dirty little secret: It's very expensive for the time you use it, and there's not always one available when you need one. In fact, that happened with frustrating regularity."

Yeah, the Philly equivalent wasn't worth it unless you were using a car every single weekend. Otherwise, standard renting made much more sense, and you got a nicer car while you were at it.

"Part of the problem with your analysis is that you're leaving out the cost of maintaining infrastructure that makes auto-dependent suburban living possible. If people had to pay for roads and bridges based on their usage, rather than having it covered by tax money, the numbers may well come out differently, and more dense, walkable, mixed-use developments would likely crop up in the suburbs."

Except that mass transit infrastructure is pretty expensive, too. To pick one admittedly extreme example, the NYC area is currently spending about $10-12 billion on the Second Avenue Subway and the Long Island RR connection to Grand Central Terminal, and if the new tunnels under the Hudson get approved, that's another $7-8 billion. That's a lot of money, particularly when you consider that the latter two projects are relatively marginal improvements, primarily for the purpose of allowing suburbanites to avoid changing trains.

The fact is that public transit users pay a much smaller percentage of their costs than road users do. Furthermore, a lot of public transit costs get paid at least partly with federal money. At least New Yorkers get to use roads. Nebraskans don't derive much benefit from subways.

"But the Northeast Corridor Line is shared with various commuter trains like New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, etc, so it's not as if Amtrak is the only entity using the tracks."

True, but Amtrak still loses a ton on the capital costs. Funny story: when Amtrak decided to go to centralized traffic control on the Northeast Corridor in the late '80's-90's, they needed someone to write software for the whole thing. They initially brought in a Japanese company, because they naturally figured, who knows more about running high-speed rail lines than them? The problem, however, is that on the Corridor, not only do you have high-speed trains, you also have slower trains that go to the rest of the country, commuter trains that serve the local metropolitan areas, and even some freight (although much less than in the old days.) In Japan, each kind of train would have a *totally separate* set of tracks to run on. They took one look at the Corridor setup and threw up their hands in horror: "You can't do this!" So Amtrak hired an American company instead. :-)

[Why people in NYC and other large cities pay more for car insurance]
"a.) Cities are much more crowded and congested, and therefore the odds of getting into a accident are higher.
b.) Auto theft and vandalism is higher in cities than it is in the suburbs.
c.) Cities have a disproportionate number of poor people who don't have insurance at *all*, and therefore the odds of your insurance having to pay for your damages even when you're not at fault are much higher.
d.) At least here in Philly, people are much more likely to sue when they get into accidents, and juries are much more likely to award large sums in such lawsuits."

Those are mainly good points, especially (d). I read a while back, though I cannot find the cite, that the likelihood that a multicar crash in Brooklyn will result in a lawsuit is at least three times greater than in the country as a whole.

That being said, however, there is one factor that works against the others, and should result in *lower* insurance rates for city dwellers: the slower speeds in congested cities mean that crashes are generally less serious than in the suburbs and rural areas, with their high speeds.

City dwellers don't own anything of significance and I am pretty sure it alters their thinking on a lot of things. By significance I mean they don't pay property taxes on it, like a house or a car. Mostly they rent and that makes the property tax an indirect or invisible tax to them. Growing up in NY and then moving to CO it makes big difference in how I think about property and how the government touches it.

If NYC spends a few billions for a new subway line, it can reasonably expect that well over a century from now, it will still be operating, and at much lower capital cost. Part of that higher price the city-dweller pays for his car-less life goes for public transport. This gives me the welcome trade-off of 50 minutes on a reliable train, vs. 75-90 minutes via unpredictably jammed highways. When ridership grows on the train line, they stick an extra car on. For the highways, they start building extra lanes, which immediately fill up, so that they need to build a new highway. I know—4 years in Orange County CA gave me my fill of highways and highway costs. I've plunked my money down for a subway token (actually, a plastic card these days) in NYC. If I have to choose between being taxed to subsidize new highways and airports or for train lines, I'm going with the trains.

http://www.roadsbridges.com/Highway-construction-spending-expected-to-show-little-growth-in-2009-NewsPiece17113

"Dr. William Buechner, ARTBA vice president of economics and research, projects the value of construction work put in place on highways and bridges will be $80.2 billion in 2009, a bare 1.5% increase over 2008’s $79 billion....

The federal highway program should provide a cushion for highway construction next year even without a stimulus bill. The $41.2 billion of highway investment enacted by Congress for FY 2008—a 5.5% increase over FY 2007—will have its biggest impact during the 2009 construction season as projects started in 2008 ramp up. Another $41.2 billion in the federal highway budget for FY 2009 helps maintain market stability."

"Furthermore, a lot of public transit costs get paid at least partly with federal money. At least New Yorkers get to use roads. Nebraskans don't derive much benefit from subways."

It is at least arguable that the reason the Nebraskans get those roads is because the New Yorkers and other urban dwellers send so much money to Washington, which then ships it off to Nebraska, so their highly-subsidized crops can make it to market.
And, of course, Nebraskans know that those financiers who help Lincoln and South Sioux City market and sell their construction and school bonds have to get down to Wall St. by train and subway

Most of this post makes a lot of sense, but the argument that the high price of Manhattan means walkable neighborhoods are a luxury good is backwards. These kind of neighborhoods just don't exist in most of the US, so the fact that new ones command a price premium - even in a down market - is a classic indicator of pent-up demand. Plenty of people want a more social lifestyle, character that sterile suburban HOAs can't provide, and especially a shorter commute.

I'm a lover of technology and I don't see the value in a walkable community. I come from a lower-middle-class background, and for me technology is freeing. I suspect that the initial impetus for a walkable community came from wealthy liberals who don't have a clue about what it's like to grow up poor. (Unfortunately, their ideal has been taken up by poorer folk, including me in an earlier phase of my life.) I spent far too much time in my younger days riding bikes and waiting for buses (when it was -20 degrees and when the bus was half an hour late). Thanks, but no thanks. Yes, I've enjoyed trains in Europe, and buses in Rio. I've also hated all the motorcycles in Taipei and the ridiculous traffic of Cairo.

Anyway, a walkable community is artificial. Walking or biking can be enjoyable when you are simply transporting yourself, but what about when you need to haul things? For that matter, where does the food come from? It comes into the city because it is hauled in from rural areas, and to grow it and haul it into the city requires either machines that are like cars (tractors and trucks), horses, or people (that is, peasants or slaves). People who are anti-car won't like the first alternative, and I bet they wouldn't like the second alternative, either, because they care more about animals than about poor people. That leaves the third alternative, peasants or slaves.

Maybe one huge difference between Europe and the US is much higher population density and extremely high gas taxes? You think those things might push people toward public transit?

I'm always amazed by people who want to put in high speed rail and cite Europe. Well, the distance from Paris to Berlin is about 500 miles. This is about the same as the distance between San Francisco and San Diego.

How many large cities are within 500 miles of Paris or Berlin? (Most of the one you could name.) And how many large cities are within 500 miles of, say, Portland, Oregon? (Only Seattle.)

And where do people in the US take trains regularly? The urban corridor from Washington D.C to NYC.

We have large cities here, but lots of empty space between them. Public transportation to get around your city is a lot more effective if it can also get you between cities. But to go between cities in the US will take days.

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