Today’s Headlines

  • MTA Budget Hole Bigger Than Expected, Second Round of Cuts on the Horizon (NYT, News, Post)
  • State DOT Commish Astrid Glynn Resigns Her Post (Daily Politics, Times Union, WNYC)
  • Obama Boasts of 2,000 Stim-Funded Transportation Projects (WaPo)
  • TLC Mulls Split Fares, Cellphone-Blocking, and Other Tech for Cabs (Post, News)
  • Study Feeds Safety Fears of Small Cars (WSJ)
  • Ex-Rep Fossella Gets 5 Days for Drunk Driving (NYT, Bklyn Paper)
  • NY Mag Diagrams Assorted MTA Funding Scenarios
  • Readers Respond to Chelsea Now Hit Job on 8th Ave Bike Lane
  • What Makes People Afraid of Urbanism? (TOW via Streetsblog.net)
  • Detroit Pols Want to Tear Down Historic Michigan Central Station (Infrastructurist)
  • Larry Littlefield

    For those of you wondering what is going on at the MTA, I write research reports on real estate markets and regional economies around the country that include an investment transactions page, and if you think my Room 8 posts and blog comments are dull, imagine my trying to come up with new ways to say “real estate investment transactions have fallen to near (or at) zero” over and over again.

    As we unwind from the bubble, you have sellers who are either greedy and entitled and won’t sell at market, or who borrowed too much and can’t sell. And you have buyers who either won’t overpay or (because no one will lend them the money anymore) can’t overpay. Even when there is a foreclosure, banks simply “buy” the properties at the value of the mortgage and do not repay, so you get no sales at the old high prices.

    New York is where places such as California or Arizona were a year or two ago. They’ve passed through the period of standoff and are in the period of distress sales. We are just starting the standoff period. All you have to do is look at California to see where we are going.

  • RE: Detroit Pols Want to Tear Down Historic Michigan Central Station

    Wow, Detroit and Buffalo are twins again. Buffalo also built a beautiful (in this case, Art Deco), huge train station way outside downtown in hopes of further “growth”, and it’s also been vacant for decades and in danger of demolition. I don’t know about Detroit, but sadly the station in Buffalo is really of little use for anything located where it is. It’s not even on a bus route.

  • I hate to go against the grain, but is it possible that the IIHS study is “feeding safety fears of small cars” because some small cars are poorly designed/manufactured and unsafe?

  • Josh,
    No doubt some small cars are unsafe, but those mentioned in the article are just fine from an engineering/manufacturing point of view, I think. The real problem here is the usual confusion of active safety and passive safety.

    If you hit another object at high speed, basic physics tells you that you’re better off if you’re heavier than the other one. That’s passive safety, and it explains why insecure drivers favor big cars. They are simply resigned to the fact that sooner or later they’ll hit something, and when that happens, they want to come out on top. (I’m not making this up; the automobile industry has internal studies to that effect.)

    If you’re a competent driver in a responsive car, on the other hand, you’ll be able to avoid most collisions. That’s active safety. It’s where small cars shine, and it’s the main reason why studies like the one in the article are misleading at best.

  • IIHS and other business interests / Republicans scream bloody murder when any government action may curtail heavy vehicle sales, tying some scary number of deaths to the trend. But when the trend was for gigantic vehicles in the 90s, I don’t recall any tears for the dead that kept with smaller cars out of choice or circumstance, or those not in motor vehicles at all. Any drift in fleet characteristics can be blamed for deaths when your fleet is killing over 40,000 people a year, which is the real problem that our highway safety geniuses have not been able to solve.

    Test crashing Benzes into Smarts doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know from physics class. But Smarts are marketed and sold in urban environments—how about crashing a Benz into an “urban pedestrian” dummy, seeing how that goes? Would that be terribly enlightening for the Institute, make a good story (with video!) for the press? It’s sickening. The IIHS is running interference to protect the casino of death and destruction that they profit from, quite naturally. I’m not surprised the WSJ has swallowed the story but would have hoped for an ounce of critical thinking from the NYT. No such luck:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/automobiles/14crash.html

  • garyg

    Vroomfondel,

    So your argument, if I’m understanding it correctly, is that small cars are less likely to be involved in collisions than large cars, and that this lower risk of collision offsets the higher in risk of injury if a collision actually does occur. Can you cite any studies supporting this claim?

  • And in this case there isn’t even a government action (just inevitable market forces as supplies of the primary energy source for moving tons of consumer metal around expires) making the small-car complaint all the more absurd. But it’s an old saw used against fuel economy standards or (much smarter) fuel taxes, by GW Bush among others. I’ve tried to find the old Bush quote, but it’s buried by people fittingly using ‘CAFE kills’ against him after he reversed his position when “fuel economy” became politically popular.

  • garyg

    Vroomfondel,

    I just took a look at the IIHS study, and it states that insurance claims data contradicts your claim that small cars are less likely to be involved in collisions than larger ones:

    Yet another claim is that minicars are easier to maneuver, so their drivers can avoid crashes in the first place. Insurance claims experience says otherwise. The frequency of claims filed for crash damage is higher for mini 4-door cars than for midsize ones.

  • garyg,
    I merely meant to point out the fallacy behind the idea that small vehicles are unsafe because they fare poorly in a head-on collision with a heavier vehicle. The figures I have in mind were quoted in the New Yorker a few years ago: http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_a_suv.html (table about three quarters down). Granted, this article was about SUVs vs mid-size cars, but the key point applies here: Cars should not just be graded on how they hold up in head-on collisions but also on how much they help you avoid collisions in the first place.

    Regarding the figures you quote, I can think of any number of reasons why there are more insurance claims for small cars. Maybe people use them for short errands and the insurance claims are mostly about fender benders at the mall. Or maybe drivers of small cars are more accident prone because they tend to be younger and less experienced. It would be interesting to see statistics that focus on fatalities, adjusted for age and income of the driver.

    In any case, I’m rather dismayed to find myself agreeing with Mercedes-Benz: Those tests were extreme and tell us little about safety in the real world.

  • “The frequency of claims filed for crash damage is higher for mini 4-door cars than for midsize ones.”

    Is it broken down by which vehicle caused the crash?

  • garyg

    Vroomfondel,

    The point is that small cars DON’T seem to help you avoid collisions. Their collision rate seems to be, if anything, even higher than the collision rate of larger cars. So if smaller cars provide no advantage in terms of collision avoidance, and expose their occupants to greater risk of injury when a collision does occur, that’s a reason for consumers to buy larger cars instead.

  • Ian Turner

    Gary,

    The point that vroomfondel is trying to make, which is a legitmate one, is that there may be any number of reasons why insurance claims are greater for smaller cars, none of which have to do with the intrinsic merits or demerits of smaller cars. One that comes to mind is that people with low incomes are more likely to own small cars and also more likely to get into car accidents. Also, people who live out in the country are more likely to own large cars and also (I would guess) less likely to get into accidents. All this is a longwinded way of saying, “correlation does not imply causation”.

  • Obviously smaller cars perform worse in head on collisions. The issue is what should we do to be safer? Should we all keep getting larger and larger vehicles? I’d be pretty safe personally if I were driving a dump truck everywhere. Especially if it had a snow plow and a load of sand.

  • garyg

    Ian Turner,

    Unless you can produce evidence that the collision rate would be lower if more people drove small cars, there’s no reason to believe it would be. So we’re left with the risk of injury in the event of a collision. And no one seems to dispute that that risk is higher for occupants of small cars than occupants of large ones.

  • garyg,
    The raw collision rate means little. A collision could be anything, ranging from a minor fender bender in a parking lot to a head-on collision on a highway. I’m talking about the latter, and even though I don’t have any hard numbers to back this up, I figure that the shorter wheelbase and lower weight of a small car should give a competent driver better odds of avoiding a catastrophic crash.

    The NYT article that Nathan H. (#5) linked to is consistent with my hunch:
    “Complicating matters, a statistical graph included in the institute’s study indicated that per million cars registered that were one to three years old in 2007, the death rate was higher for drivers in small cars than in minis, which are even smaller. One reason might be that the smallest cars are not driven as many miles on high-speed roadways, Mr. Lund said.”

    In any case, we won’t reach a conclusion in the absence of detailed statistics (which may not even be available yet because the Smart hasn’t been around that long). I just wanted to point out that bigger is not necessarily safer.

    (And that’s just the windshield perspective; from the point of view of pedestrians, smaller is safer, but I digress…)

  • Also while bigger cars are obviously safer for the occupant of that car they are more dangerous for everyone else including someone in a large car that happens to be just not large enough compared to my dump truck.

  • J. Mork

    It’s Traffic Engineering 101. If everyone drove smaller cars, they would take up less room on the available road way, which would lead to increased capacity, which would lead to more people using the road than before, which would lead to more accidents.

  • jmc

    Boasting of 2000 funded stimulus projects is like boasting about 2000 friends on Facebook.