Mayor’s Office: Electric Cars Must Comply With PlaNYC Goal of Fewer Cars

Volt_Plug_In.jpgNew York City is not looking to create infrastructure for charging cars on city streets. Image: theqsqueaks via Flickr.

"Electric vehicles are here. They’re coming, and they won’t stop." Last night, DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller opened a panel discussion on electric car adoption in New York City with an implicit message: We should be prepared.

At a meeting that brought together representatives from the mayor’s office, two electric utilities, and General Motors, there were two big takeaways for livable streets: The city is working to keep electric vehicle adoption compatible with the goal of reducing personal vehicle use, and on-street space isn’t going to be given over to charging stations.

A variety of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars are expected to hit the market in the next two years, presenting both challenges and opportunities for sustainability-minded cities. Schaller began the evening by noting that, nationally, widespread adoption of plug-in hybrids could take the greenhouse gas equivalent of 82.5 million cars off the road. With numbers like that, New York can’t help but take notice.

"In 2007, electric vehicles were just a glimmer in our eye," said Neal Parikh, who leads transportation initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. "Now we think it’s a real opportunity." He believes that if New York is to meet its PlaNYC goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation 44 percent by 2030, electric cars have to be part of the solution. Parikh was the lead author of the city’s recent report on electric vehicle adoption.

While moving toward EVs will require action from the city and other players, including car companies and utilities, Parikh forcefully rejected any measure that would take away from PlaNYC’s other transportation goals. While Britta Gross, a GM manager in charge of electric and hydrogen vehicle development, repeatedly claimed that allowing EVs into carpool lanes and offering them free or dedicated parking have proven effective at speeding EV adoption, Parikh said not to expect those offers in New York City. One of his slides put parking incentives directly under the heading "Won’t Work."

Parikh’s reasoning was simple. He neither wants to give superfluous perks to those who will buy EVs anyway, nor offer incentives that will put more cars on city streets. The city will help educate drivers about EV opportunities and expedite the permitting process for installing a high-voltage charging station, for example, but not offer financial incentives to buy EVs.

"We need to balance moving people into more efficient vehicles, and into walking, transit, or bikes," said Parikh. He also reaffirmed that PlaNYC was "very clear that we wanted to reduce the single-occupancy vehicles on the street." Parikh even cited Copenhagen’s outsized EV incentives as a model for what not to do, echoing a theme Charles Komanoff recently explored on Streetsblog.

The panel also answered a common question about electric cars. Where would New Yorkers charge them? The answer: at home or at work, not on city streets. "We’re not going to adopt an extensive public charging infrastructure," said Parikh. If someone really wants to drive an EV, he added, and "they’re parking on the streets, where they won’t have access to charging, they’ll change where they park."

  • Larry Littlefield

    If New York could still afford a bus system a decade from now (questionable), electric buses might be helpful. NYCT has already started buying hybrids, and of course has plenty of experience maintaining electric motors.

  • Giving away free parking to electric vehicles blows my mind.

    If you can afford an extremely expensive concept vehicle….why cant you afford to pay the meter? Im glad NYC wont be offering giveaways like that.

  • Kudos to Parikh. while their emissions footprint may be smaller (or at least more diffuse), the still large spatial footprint of electric cars will crowd out pedestrians, bikers and surface transit as effectively as an Edsel.

  • I have a hunch that Bruce Schaller may be overstating greenhouse gas reductions from converting U.S. passenger vehicles to plug-in hybrids by employing average rather than incremental emissions from electricity generation for recharging — a concern I raised in a comment here two weeks ago.

    That aside, the city’s stated willingness to buck the worldwide tide of subsidizing EV’s with parking perks or other entitlements is yet another encouraging position from city transportation and sustainability officials. Is there any governmental agency in the U.S., at any level, that is doing as many things right and as few things wrong as NYC DOT and the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability?

  • Larry Littlefield

    This sets the stage for conflict, however. Imagine only electric cars were on sale tomorrow. New Yorkers without access to off street parking with a electric plug on a circuit with sufficient amps wouldn’t be able to buy them. I certainly wouldn’t.

    They are talking about charging stations and batteries that could charge up in minutes. Frankly I don’t see it. And how many minutes? People are impatient. Chances are off street parking locations would electrify. On street parking would not.

    Worst case scenario: the city would be remade to accommodate the electric car.

    Best case scenario — those who want private automobiles would move to places where they could be accommodated, leaving central areas of NYC to those willing to get by without them. And unlike in the 1950s to 1970s, that wouldn’t just be the poor.

  • JK

    Charlie, this is like a straight line
    “Is there any governmental agency in the U.S., at any level, that is doing as many things right and as few things wrong as NYC DOT and the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.”

    My answer on the Sustainability office as it pertains to transportation: yes, any government agency anywhere which has done away with parking minimums is doing a much bigger thing right. The amount of parking potentially dedicated to electric cars is trivial compared to the massive amounts of new parking which NYC is compelling or allowing developers to build. From the city subsidized redevelopment of brown fields, like BX Gateway or Qns Commons, to East River upzoning (tower with parking)the city is actively fostering mammoth amounts of parking. It is especially jarring given DOT’s work to reprogram street space.The amount of new parking increases dwarfs DOT’s street reclamations.

  • J:Lai

    Larry Littlefield – I disagree. The only thing you lose by not having streetside charging is the option to leave your car plugged in overnight to charge up on a normal power line.

    Rapid charging and/or battery swapping will almost surely be feasible for any of the electric cars now in development. These technologies will require some upfront investment – you can’t just run them off a standard 110V/20amp line. If electric cars gain enough market share, you will probably see 2 things. Condos, co-ops, and private home owner may begin to install rapid charging stations for use by their residents; and gas stations may offer rapid charging stations for electric vehicles.

    The nice thing is that neither of these would need any subsidies or special incentives from the city, nor would they require allocating any additional public space for automobile parking/charging.

  • It is questionable whether the grid will be able to support both electric cars and a city full of air conditioners. Chaos is likely and loss of life during a heat wave is a real possibility.

  • garyg

    New York may have no choice. If other cities provide the kind of incentives for electric cars that Neal Parikh currently opposes (cheaper parking, charging stations, carpool lane privileges, etc.) and NYC finds itself falling behind those cities in electric car adoption rates, political pressure may eventually force New York to do the same thing.

  • The amount of optimism here about the affordability of $40,000 electric cars is astounding.

  • Regarding: “We need to balance moving people into more efficient vehicles, and into walking, transit, or bikes,” said Parikh.

    Excellent post. Really sends the right message. Electric cars will not do much for NYC and is a major red herring among those groups trying to find solutions the climate change crisis. Electric cars are not a solution.

    Instead of the automobile industry being too big to fail, automobiles are just too big and will fail and the transportation industry must reinvent itself around small vehicle transit with less than 1% of the environmental footprint of transportation systems based on cars.

  • J. Mork

    Maybe in the future, instead of some pie-in-the-sky fantasy about electric cars, the country will have enough sense to put political pressure on those other cities to achieve the car-free household rate of NYC.

  • JK — Point taken (parking minima, parking in general), thanks. But the glass is way more than half full. (And remember, I was talking about NYCDOT and the Sustainability Office, not EDC.) Resisting the blandishments and fetishizing on “green” cars is outside-the-box thinking for gov’t and puts NYC on the right path of not giving away public space for EV’s. What might seem trivial now may prove 10 years hence to have been huge. Ditto Times Square. Do not underestimate the power of symbolic policies, particularly when they have a real component as well.

  • BicyclesOnly

    If a class of urban electric vehicle were being introduced that had with a very small spatial footprint, a maximum speed of 15 or maybe 20 MPH, maximim acelleration times to top speed (zero to 15 MPH in, say, 60 seconds) and proper management of carbon footprint (clean upstream electricity generation and downstream battery recycling), then I’d consider giving it an advantaged status with repsect to traffic and parking lanes, perhaps subsidize infrastructure like charging stations. Something like a golf cart or a Cushman. IMO, that would substantially ameliorate the key external costs of MV trafficn be enough of a change to justify government subsidy.

  • #14 BicyclesOnly, “If a class of urban electric vehicle . . .”

    Most likely what you are talking about exist in the form of hybrid human-electric recumbent bikes and trikes suitable for one passenger and limited freight.

    Additional modularization can accommodate additional passengers and freight.

    Weather accommodation can be in the form of on-demand faired enclosures, suitable clothing or combinations of both.

    Highest performance, hands-free ease of use, simple mechanical collision avoidance and safety can be in the form of elevated guideways and mono and multi rails with some systems that already exist such as shweeb.

  • RE: “Electric vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 75% compared with conventional gasoline-powered cars.”

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/01/17/panel-the-road-to-widespread-adoption-of-electric-vehicles/

    (and)

    #4 Komanoff, “I have a hunch that Bruce Schaller may be overstating greenhouse gas reductions . . .”

    Agreed!

    Lots of externalities are likely ignored from the 50% to 75% emissions reductions stats.

    Further, eCars might ultimately serve as just another delaying tactic to responsibly address the climate crisis, projected for 10-years hence (minimum) broad commercialization, increasing emissions because of startup costs comparable to building 50-story Leeds Triple Platinum skyscrapers like One Bryant Park.

  • I’m glad to hear NY is moving towards reducing the total number of cars. NY already has a great transit system, and hopefully they can follow the examples in Europe and eventually move to a car free city.

    http://www.selfdestructivebastards.com/2010/02/car-free-cities.html

  • re: #17 Chris Lawrence, ” . . . move to a car free city.”

    During World War II the manufacture of new cars was banned for nearly three years so that industry could support the war effort.

    This is the scale of the effort required to mitigate and adapt to global warming.

    Re-aligning industry on a massive scale to provide scale-appropriate mitigation of climate change, it will also likely help eliminate the current deep dangerous global economic recession same as what World War II did for the United States.

    Further, most mitigation and adaptation efforts will like depend on the services provided by natural systems necessary to create the scale-appropriate solutions wherein the services provided by natural systems essentially come free. This will likely encourage decreases in the cost-of-living further amplifying mitigation and adaptation efforts and economic development.

  • 52. prokaryote:

    “there is no longterm gain from denying climate change . . .”

    Yes, but there is plenty of short term gain especially with regard to insurance, finance, oil, advertising, and media industries many of which are in deep trouble such as the New York Times and must depend on whatever revenue the advertising industry can provide.

    To get a feel for the scope and current difficulties you need only look at the current health care crisis and the financial crisis as detailed in Noble Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s excellent “FreeFall”, published this year 2010.

  • The issue is not really reducing the number of cars in New York. New York City proper already has only 250 cars per 1,000 people, which is about on a par with other large transit-oriented central cities. The issue is that in the rest of the US, including New York’s own suburbs, car ownership and car use are very high. The suburban counties of New York have about the same car ownership rates as the rest of the US, and have very low transit use except for work trips to Manhattan. The other transit-oriented cities in the world are not like that: for example, Tokyo and New York both have 250 vehicles per 1,000 people, but Greater Tokyo has 350 whereas Greater New York is closer to 600-700.

    Part of this discrepancy comes from the low costs of gas in the US, but another part comes from the fact that US transit systems are not built to serve trips to destinations other than downtown. Even in New York City proper the crosstown transit connections are poor, and the subway was never built for optimal transfers.

  • garyg

    Excellent post. Really sends the right message. Electric cars will not do much for NYC and is a major red herring among those groups trying to find solutions the climate change crisis. Electric cars are not a solution.

    On the contrary, cleaner cars, including electric cars, are the only remotely feasible way of achieving large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from surface transportation. Mass transit is too small a component of our transportation system to matter. It provides less than 2 per cent of total passenger-miles of travel. In order for transit, walking and biking to effectively replace car travel on the scale that would be needed to achieve a large-scale reduction in transportation emissions would require us to destroy and rebuild at much higher density virtually the entire urban environment that we have been developing for the past 50 or 60 years. That’s just not going to happen. There’s no political will to do it, and there’s no money to do it. The best you can realistically hope for is that new development will be moderately denser on average than existing development, and that transit, biking and walking will gain a bit of transportation market share against cars as a result. But even if that were to happen, it would produce only small savings in emissions after a period of decades. There really is no realistic alternative to cleaner cars.

  • You’re concern trolling. On the one hand, you attack the political will to build mass transit; on the other hand, you declare that there’s no political will to build mass transit and hence electric cars are the only answer.

  • garyg

    You’re concern trolling.

    No I’m not. You’re a troll.

    On the one hand, you attack the political will to build mass transit; on the other hand, you declare that there’s no political will to build mass transit and hence electric cars are the only answer.

    No, I think a large-scale expansion of mass transit would be bad public policy, because there isn’t the demand to support it and because our built environment is not dense enough to make it practical or efficient, and I also think there’s no political will for a large-scale expansion of mass transit anyway.

  • No, I think a large-scale expansion of mass transit would be bad public policy, because there isn’t the demand to support it and because our built environment is not dense enough to make it practical or efficient, and I also think there’s no political will for a large-scale expansion of mass transit anyway.

    And you repeat this without even acknowledging the many arguments that we’ve made to the contrary.

    It’s like that David Spade movie where every morning he wakes up with no memory of anything that’s happened to him in the past year or so. People interact with him, tell him important facts, build relationships, and then the next day he’s forgotten it all.

    Thus it is with Garyg. He is not here to listen, he is not open to any arguments, he is here only to try and prove you wrong.

  • garyg

    And you repeat this without even acknowledging the many arguments that we’ve made to the contrary.

    I have repeatedly engaged arguments that a large-scale expansion of mass transit would be good public policy. I don’t remember seeing any arguments that the political will exists for such an expansion. In fact, most transit proponents here seem to believe that even modest expansions of transit tend to be politically difficult.

  • You remember selectively. Do you want links for every recent US ballot initiative in which people voted to tax themselves to build transit, or will a sample be enough?

    No, I think a large-scale expansion of mass transit would be bad public policy, because there isn’t the demand to support it and because our built environment is not dense enough to make it practical or efficient.

    That’s exactly the concern trolling in question. The built environment is a result of transportation policy. Decide to go with light rail, and even Calgary can get a decent transit mode share. Decide to go with cars, and suddenly density won’t work so well.

    It all boils down to “In a car-dominated society, the car is the most efficient mode of travel.” It’s tautlogically true; it’s irrelevant for policy reasons.

  • garyg

    Do you want links for every recent US ballot initiative in which people voted to tax themselves to build transit, or will a sample be enough?

    You seem to have missed the words “large-scale.” Transit “building” has barely kept up with population growth. The long-term trend has been a massive decline in transit’s market share of surface transportation. That share seems to have bottomed out at a minuscule 1-2% of passenger-miles. Right now, transit is fighting desperately just to maintain even that tiny share. Transit agencies across the country are cutting services and raising fares. Over the past year or so, ridership has fallen in almost all markets. There is no serious prospect of a large-scale expansion of transit in the foreseeable future. There’s no money to fund it, and no political support for it.

    The built environment is a result of transportation policy.

    Both the built environment and transportation policy arise from the combination of consumer preferences and political behavior. If people wanted a built environment and a transportation policy more favorable to transit, they would behave accordingly as consumers and voters. For the past 50 years or more, consumer choices and voter behavior have overwhelmingly favored car-oriented policies over transit-oriented ones. Perhaps there will be a dramatic shift back to transit in the future, but it doesn’t seem likely.

  • Aw geez, Alon, why do you encourage him?

    The long-term trend has been a massive decline in transit’s market share of surface transportation. That share seems to have bottomed out at a minuscule 1-2% of passenger-miles. Right now, transit is fighting desperately just to maintain even that tiny share. Transit agencies across the country are cutting services and raising fares. Over the past year or so, ridership has fallen in almost all markets. There is no serious prospect of a large-scale expansion of transit in the foreseeable future.

    Nice shell game there, conflating market share with ridership. Over the past year or so, vehicle-miles traveled has also fallen in almost all markets, and there is no serious prospect of a large-scale expansion of road infrastructure in the foreseeable future. Forget about ridership, where’s your data for market share?

    If people wanted a built environment and a transportation policy more favorable to transit, they would behave accordingly as consumers and voters.

    If they were asked that, maybe they would have. Instead, they were asked about cars, “mobility” and “freedom,” and in most new developments they’ve been given the choice of driving on the interstate, driving on the boulevard, or being disrespected, harassed and discriminated against if they took transit. Not exactly a free choice.

  • garyg

    Nice shell game there, conflating market share with ridership.

    I have no idea why you think I conflated them. As I’m sure you’re aware, transit market share can fall even if transit ridership rises. Ridership must normally rise just to maintain market share in the face of growing wealth and population. The long-term trend has been a decline in both market share and ridership.

    Over the past year or so, vehicle-miles traveled has also fallen in almost all markets, and there is no serious prospect of a large-scale expansion of road infrastructure in the foreseeable future.

    VMT was falling, but for the past few months has been rising again. I agree that there is no serious prospect of a large-scale expansion of road infrastructure in the foreseeable future, but I’m not sure why you think that’s relevant. Road travel is already overwhelmingly dominant.

    Forget about ridership, where’s your data for market share?

    BTS Table 1-37 Passenger-Miles

    If they were asked that, maybe they would have. Instead, they were asked about cars, “mobility” and “freedom,” and in most new developments they’ve been given the choice of driving on the interstate, driving on the boulevard, or being disrespected, harassed and discriminated against if they took transit. Not exactly a free choice.

    It’s not a matter of what they’re “asked.” It’s a matter of their choices as voters and consumers. And for decade after decade, all across the country, and in virtually every other advanced democracy too, those choices have overwhelmingly favored car-oriented policies and lifestyles over transit-oriented ones. And yet you seem to think that in all these places, for all these decades, people have been choosing the opposite of what they really want. It just doesn’t make sense.

  • #21 garyg,

    “. . . electric cars, are the only remotely feasible way of achieving large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions . . .”

    1. We do not live in a green economy and the more something costs the more it destroys the environment in most instances.

    2. Small transit vehicles have 1% the footprint of cars electric or otherwise.

    3. Small vehicle transit infrastructures are much less than 1% the footprint of automobile infrastructures.

    4. With India and China coming online and a projected global population of 8 to 10 billion people by 2050 there is not enough room and resources for cars. Right now, arable land is in short supply and climate change is accelerating this serious problem.

    5. The estimate is that it will take a minimum of 10 years for eCars to start having an impact on emissions. One estimate has the north polar ice cap gone in the summer of 2020; other estimates are both earlier and further in the future. In any case, global warming is accelerating much faster than scientists thought it was.

  • Please don’t feed the troll (#9, etc.).

  • Andrew

    Modal preferences don’t exist in a vacuum. People don’t drive to work, or ride the subway to work, or walk to work because they think driving or riding the subway or walking is superior. They do so because driving or riding the subway or walking is the most practical way for them to get to work.

    Land use policy in the U.S. has, for 70 years, been overwhelmingly suburban. In most places, housing is, by law, required to be in single-family dwellings with parking included; businesses are, by law, required to be located nowhere near the aforementioned housing, and are, by law, required to have large parking facilities, enough to absolutely guarantee parking for anyone who might possibly drive.

    Most people who live in low-density, use-segregated suburbs don’t live in low-density, use-segregated suburbs because they prefer low-density, use-segregated suburbs over their other housing options. THEY HAVE NO OTHER HOUSING OPTIONS – all other potential options are ILLEGAL.

    Transit cannot possibly be efficient in a low-density, use-segregated suburb – if there is any transit at all, it is probably a social service for the destitute, running a few buses a day on circuitous routes that nobody with any other choices would dream of riding. Walking isn’t much of an option either, since everything is so far apart. But driving? With plenty of guaranteed parking everywhere, there is little reason not to drive everywhere.

    So of course transit has a low market share. Our dominant land use policy has forced people, like it or not, to live in low-density, use-segregated suburbs, where the only practical way to get around is by car. Even for people who would prefer to use other modes cannot practically do so.

    Perhaps it’s time to change our land use policies to permit higher density housing, to permit mixed-use development, to leave parking decisions up to the developers. Let people have a real choice, and then see how they behave.

    I would note that the most expensive real estate in the U.S. is on the high-density, mixed-use, transit-rich, hard-to-find-parking island known as Manhattan. Basic economics would conclude that the ratio of supply to demand for this sort of living environment is far too low. A lot of people who would love to live in a Manhattan-style setting can’t afford it; nobody lives in Manhattan because they can’t afford to live in a suburb.

  • garyg

    gecko,

    2. Small transit vehicles have 1% the footprint of cars electric or otherwise. 3. Small vehicle transit infrastructures are much less than 1% the footprint of automobile infrastructures.

    I don’t know what this is even supposed to mean. What do you mean by “small transit vehicles?” A small bus or train has 1% of the (carbon) footprint of an electric car? Seriously? I’d love to see your evidence for this extraordinary claim. Ditto for your claim about infrastructures.

    4. With India and China coming online and a projected global population of 8 to 10 billion people by 2050 there is not enough room and resources for cars. Right now, arable land is in short supply and climate change is accelerating this serious problem.

    China and India are rapidly industrializing. Over the next few decades, hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian people are likely to become wealthy enough to afford to buy a car. The first wave of cars for these huge new markets is already appearing (The Tata Nano, etc.) This is another reason why clean cars are the only meaningful way of addressing transportation emissions. Even if by some miracle you could persuade most Americans to abandon their car-oriented lifestyles and start living like Manhattanites it would do absolutely nothing to reduce emissions from all the new drivers in China and India (and Brazil and Indonesia and all the other developing nations).

  • garyg

    Andrew,

    Yes, our built environment and transportation system is generally conducive to travel by car and not very conducive to travel by transit. That is because for at least half a century consumer choices and voting behavior have favored cars and disfavored transit. Laws and public policies are not imposed on the American people against their will by unaccountable overlords. Laws and public policies are the product of the democratic process. If people wanted laws and policies that allowed for or encouraged higher densities they’d vote accordingly. If people wanted more public spending on transit and less on highways, they’d vote for that too.

  • garyg

    I would note that the most expensive real estate in the U.S. is on the high-density, mixed-use, transit-rich, hard-to-find-parking island known as Manhattan. Basic economics would conclude that the ratio of supply to demand for this sort of living environment is far too low.

    No it doesn’t. The price of high-density housing tends to be higher than the price of low-density housing because high-density housing costs more to supply. Land costs are higher and construction costs are higher. Since high-density housing costs more to supply, the market clearing price is higher. Suppliers must charge a higher price to buyers to cover the higher cost of supply.

  • Andrew

    You have incredible faith in our voting system. But the public at large does not generally vote for policies like this. And voting produces very crude results – assuming a binary decision, the result is the same whether the preferred outcome is preferred by 99% or by 51%.

    And how is voting even an appropriate mechanism here? Say I want to live near a grocery store. That’s illegal in most places. You’d presumably argue that most people don’t want to live near a grocery store, and they voted that way. But how does it make sense to deny me the option to live in the setting I’d prefer? If you don’t want to live near a grocery store, then don’t live near a grocery store! Given that some people prefer to live far away from a grocery store, while others prefer to live nearby, a reasonable land use policy would permit both options. The same applies, for example, to parking – what’s the point of parking requirements, rather than allowing individual property owners to determine how much parking they actually need?

    If Bob lives in an area that has only low-density suburban housing, then Bob’s choice to live in a low-density setting doesn’t reveal anything about his preferences. Most people drive everywhere; that doesn’t mean they’d prefer to drive everywhere even if they had reasonable transit options.

    Your understanding of economics appears to have some holes. If high-density housing weren’t valued highly, yet prices were still high, vacancy rates would be high, since few people would be willing to pay high prices for it. The Manhattan real estate market tends to be pretty resilient.

  • garyg

    Andrew,

    You have incredible faith in our voting system.

    No, I just think the idea that, for 50 years or more, all over the country, people have been voting in favor of car-oriented land use and transportation policies that are the opposite of what they really want is so implausible it doesn’t even pass the laugh test. If people want, and are willing to pay for, more and/or bigger mass transit systems, why haven’t they created and passed ballot propositions to raise taxes and build them? Ditto for zoning laws, gas taxes, parking regulations, and every other kind of law that affects land use and transportation. In a few places, voters have passed laws more favorable to dense, mixed-use development and mass transit. Places like Portland, Oregon and Arlington, Virginia. But those places are the exceptions. People who prefer such laws are a minority. If they were the majority, we’d have lots of Portlands and Arlingtons all over the country.

    Say I want to live near a grocery store. That’s illegal in most places. You’d presumably argue that most people don’t want to live near a grocery store, and they voted that way. But how does it make sense to deny me the option to live in the setting I’d prefer?

    There are certainly places in America that have housing near grocery stores. If you want to live near a grocery store you can move to one of them. Or you can lobby your fellow citizens where you live now to change the law and allow grocery stores in residential areas. The reason people generally don’t want to mix retail development and residential development is that it tends to create problems of traffic, noise, pollution, litter, parking shortages, etc. in residential neighborhoods.

    The same applies, for example, to parking – what’s the point of parking requirements, rather than allowing individual property owners to determine how much parking they actually need?

    To reduce congestion, attract customers, and prevent businesses from exploiting each other’s parking space, among other reasons.

    If Bob lives in an area that has only low-density suburban housing, then Bob’s choice to live in a low-density setting doesn’t reveal anything about his preferences. Most people drive everywhere; that doesn’t mean they’d prefer to drive everywhere even if they had reasonable transit options.

    If Bob wants more transit options, he can vote accordingly and try to persuade others in his community to vote the same way. Or he can move to a place that already has the transit options he prefers. You seem to think it’s possible to give everyone everything they want in all places at all times. It isn’t. If you prefer a transit-oriented lifestyle, you’ll have to live in a place where enough people share your preference to create transit-oriented laws and policies and development patterns.

  • garyg

    If high-density housing weren’t valued highly, yet prices were still high, vacancy rates would be high, since few people would be willing to pay high prices for it. The Manhattan real estate market tends to be pretty resilient.

    If high-density housing were oversupplied, prices would tend to fall until supply and demand were back in equilibrium. Same as in any other market.

    I’m not sure what you think this has to do with what I wrote before. I was pointing out the fact that the price of high-density housing tends to be higher than the price of low-density housing doesn’t mean that high-density housing is undersupplied. High-density housing costs more to supply. So it has to sell at a higher price for builders to recover their costs (and make a profit).

  • Nathanael

    “The panel also answered a common question about electric cars. Where would New Yorkers charge them? The answer: at home or at work, not on city streets.”

    Um, what about people who park on the street while at home or at work?

    This is more of an issue in the “medium-density” areas, row houses and the like, not the apartment building or tract house areas. But in areas where each household has about one parking space in front of their (single-family) building, and no off-street parking, *the street is where they will charge their cars*. These are also areas which are just sufficiently lacking in density that households will probably own one car each.

  • Transit agencies across the country are cutting services and raising fares. Over the past year or so, ridership has fallen in almost all markets.

    Over the past year or so, GDP has fallen, too. Should I take it to mean that the US economy is in long-term decline because of it?

    If people want, and are willing to pay for, more and/or bigger mass transit systems, why haven’t they created and passed ballot propositions to raise taxes and build them?

    Um, they have – see Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Jose, and Salt Lake City.

  • Nathanael

    garyg:
    “No, I just think the idea that, for 50 years or more, all over the country, people have been voting in favor of car-oriented land use and transportation policies that are the opposite of what they really want is so implausible it doesn’t even pass the laugh test.”

    You’re an idiot, and I’ll explain why.

    It’s called the “paradox of collective preferences”. Each person individually may be supporting what he wants, but when you add all their votes together and attempt to determine policy based on that, you can easily end up with a policy which *nobody* wants. This comes because there are different majorities on different issues, so every coherent, rational proposal has only one random piece out of it implemented, and when you add it up it’s a disaster. An example of this would be the voters in California voting to guarantee funding for a huge bunch of programs, and to put a cap on taxes, adding up to a guaranteed unbalanced budget! You wouldn’t get most voters to vote for *everything* which was passed in California, but you can assemble majorities for *each one*.

    Another related problem is that many things only work if not everyone does them! The classic example is found in developers building cul-de-sacs developments; it seems like a good idea in each individual development, but when you add them all up, it’s miserable for everyone in all the developments.

    On top of that, most voters are not experts in any area of policy, and even most elected officials aren’t. So people may vote for free parking without even realizing the fact that it will make it harder to get a parking space! They may vote to keep “commercial” activities out of their neighborhood and not realize that that includes their local corner store (unless someone starts a publicity campaign to explain what “commercial” means, legally)!

    Stuff like *this* is why a bunch of seemingly reasonable requirements have added up to a zoning nightmare which creates neighborhoods people hate. Taken in isolation, each requirement seemed to make sense, but when you add them up, you get garbage. Overconnected road networks have similar problems — the “shortcut” for one person turns into the thing clogging the entire road network. (See Times Square before they pedestrianized it.)

    So yes, the idea that, for 50 years or more, all over the country, people have been voting in favor of car-oriented land use and transportation policies that are the opposite of what they really want is not only plausible, it’s extremely likely.

  • garyg

    Over the past year or so, GDP has fallen, too. Should I take it to mean that the US economy is in long-term decline because of it?

    No, but if GDP had been declining for a century, as transit has, you should. As I said above, transit’s decline seems to have bottomed out (for now, at least) at about 1-2% of passenger-miles.

    Um, they have – see Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Jose, and Salt Lake City.

    I meant bigger than the transit systems we actually have.

  • garyg

    Nathanael

    If the democratic process is fundamentally broken, if the outcomes it produces are “extremely likely” to be the opposite of what people really want, then land use and transportation policy should be the least of your worries. What about the economy, health care, education, defense, crime, social security and eveything else?

    And presumably, this applies to outcomes you approve of as well as outcomes you don’t. For example, the people of Denver voted in favor of building the FasTracks light rail system, and raising their sales tax to help pay for it. But, on your hypothesis, we can’t assume this means the people of Denver really want the the FasTracks light rail system. Because, according to you, it’s “extremely unlikely” that what people vote for is what they really want.

  • But in areas where each household has about one parking space in front of their (single-family) building, and no off-street parking, *the street is where they will charge their cars*.

    Not if I can help it. If they want electric charging facilities, let them pay for them. If they really want to be green, they’ll take transit.

    If the democratic process is fundamentally broken, if the outcomes it produces are “extremely likely” to be the opposite of what people really want, then land use and transportation policy should be the least of your worries. What about the economy, health care, education, defense, crime, social security and eveything else?

    I believe I asked you the same question a while back, and you gave the same answer I’m going to give: transit is what I care about. I’ll support other people in their crusades on the economy, health care, etc., and hope that they’ll support me.

    And presumably, this applies to outcomes you approve of as well as outcomes you don’t.

    Sure, why not? A stopped clock is right half the time.

  • garyg

    I’d love to see your stopped clock that is right half the time. I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say. My point is that if, as Nathanael seems to believe, it’s “extremely likely” that voters don’t really want the policies they vote for, then it’s extremely likely that the voters of Denver don’t really want FasTracks.

    Also, I’m not sure where you think you asked me the same question I asked Nathanael. I have not said, and do not believe, that the democratic process is fundamentally broken.

  • Andrew

    The democratic process isn’t broken; it just doesn’t function the way you think it does.

    No, I just think the idea that, for 50 years or more, all over the country, people have been voting in favor of car-oriented land use and transportation policies that are the opposite of what they really want is so implausible it doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

    Your reasoning is circular. You argue that we shouldn’t change our land use and transportation policies because people prefer the strongly automobile-oriented land use and transportation policies in place today. As proof of that preference, you cite current land use and transportation policies. So land use and transportation policies can’t change until a change in preference is demonstrated, and the only evidence that you’ll accept of a change in preference is a change in land use and transportation policies!

    The fact is that many people now recognize that we do need a change in transportation policy (regardless of what modes they personally use now and what modes they personally envision using in the future).

    If people want, and are willing to pay for, more and/or bigger mass transit systems, why haven’t they created and passed ballot propositions to raise taxes and build them? Ditto for zoning laws, gas taxes, parking regulations, and every other kind of law that affects land use and transportation.

    In places they have.

    But how often do people create and pass ballot propositions to raise the gas tax or institute tolls or increase parking rates to build and maintain the road system?

    In a few places, voters have passed laws more favorable to dense, mixed-use development and mass transit. Places like Portland, Oregon and Arlington, Virginia.

    That isn’t much good if I’m offered a job in, say, Indianapolis (which I’ll assume for the purposes of this discussion follows the suburban model 100% – apologies to the Indianapolisians in the room if that’s not accurate). And if I were to move to the Indianapolis area, I would presumably live in an automobile-oriented area (because that’s all that’s available) and I would presumably drive a car to the grocery store (because, by law, there’s no grocery store in walking distance) and to work (because getting to work by transit, if even possible, would take many times longer than driving; and because, by law, I know I won’t have any difficulty finding parking at either end of my trip; and because, by virtue of the grocery store issue, I obviously have a car in the first place, so the cost of the car itself doesn’t figure into my calculations of how to get to work).

    And you would see that I live in an automobile-oriented setting, and you would see that I drive to the grocery store and to work, and you would conclude that my preferred living arrangement is in an automobile-oriented setting, and you will conclude that my preferred mode of transport is the automobile. Unfortunately, that conclusion is not valid; I can only choose from among the options presented to me. So you can’t conclude anything about the setting I’d prefer to live in, since I only have one option; and you can only conclude that I prefer driving over starving and over riding a slow, bare-bones bus system. If an urban living environment were available, perhaps I’d live in it; if a grocery store were in walking distance, perhaps I’d walk to it; if there were a frequent, fast, reliable transit system, perhaps I’d use it to get to work.

    (And none of this even touches on the issue of cost. I’d actually prefer to get to work by helicopter. If somebody is willing to pay for the cost of my trip to work by helicopter, I’d take them up on the offer. But if I have to pay out of my own pocket, forget it – I’ll stick with the subway. There are plenty of external costs to suburban life. If those external costs were internalized, thereby increasing the cost of living in a suburb, some people would suddenly find themselves preferring other, cheaper options.)

    But those places are the exceptions. People who prefer such laws are a minority. If they were the majority, we’d have lots of Portlands and Arlingtons all over the country.

    Minority can mean 0.1% or 49.9% or anything in between. The voting booth makes no distinction.

    There are certainly places in America that have housing near grocery stores. If you want to live near a grocery store you can move to one of them. Or you can lobby your fellow citizens where you live now to change the law and allow grocery stores in residential areas.

    Why do they care if I live near a grocery store? I’m not telling them to live near one.

    The reason people generally don’t want to mix retail development and residential development is that it tends to create problems of traffic, noise, pollution, litter, parking shortages, etc. in residential neighborhoods.

    Nice try, but insisting that retail and residences be separate only exacerbates those problems.

    To reduce congestion, attract customers, and prevent businesses from exploiting each other’s parking space, among other reasons.

    I suggest you read some Shoup.

    (And why does the law dictate how a business owner is to attract customers? Perhaps he thinks that he can attract more customers by devoting more of his land to the business and less to parking. Or perhaps he and his neighboring business owners think that they can make a mutually attractive neighborhood by placing their businesses in close proximity to each other and to a transit hub and, by necessity, providing little or no parking. Why is it up to anyone other than the business owner himself? Why not allow parking quantities to be determined by the free market?)

    If Bob wants more transit options, he can vote accordingly and try to persuade others in his community to vote the same way. Or he can move to a place that already has the transit options he prefers. You seem to think it’s possible to give everyone everything they want in all places at all times. It isn’t. If you prefer a transit-oriented lifestyle, you’ll have to live in a place where enough people share your preference to create transit-oriented laws and policies and development patterns.

    Once again, you demonstrate your misunderstanding of the voting system. If 84% of the population of a metropolitan area prefers suburbs and 16% of prefers dense cities, the end result is not 84% suburb and 16% dense city! (And that even assumes that people vote on the question, which they most likely don’t.)

    If we (simplistically) divide the landscape into two types of housing – suburban and urban – do you really think the ratio of suburban housing to urban housing supplied matches the ratio of preferences? I’m afraid it doesn’t even come close.

  • garyg

    Andrew,

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t promote more transit-oriented land use and transportation policies if you think they’re better than the car-oriented policies we have now. I’m saying that the current policies are the result of 50 years of consumer and political preferences for cars, and that you’re not likely to be successful at producing major change in those policies unless there is a major change in preferences away from cars and in favor of transit.

    And yes, the preferences of the majority shape the choices of the minority. It’s harder to use transit if you live in an environment that’s oriented to car travel because the majority prefers car travel. Just as it’s harder to find, say, Ethiopian food if you live in an environment where most restaurants are, say, Mexican because the majority prefers Mexican food. If you want a more transit-oriented environment, you’ll either have to move somewhere where more people prefer transit, or you’ll have to persuade more people where you live now to make more transit-oriented choices as consumers and voters.

    Ditto if you want to live in an environment that allows more mixed land use. If you want to allow developers to build grocery stores in the middle of residential neighborhoods, you can lobby your fellow citizens and your elected representatives to change the law to allow that. I just don’t think you’re likely to be very successful, because there are good reasons for separating residential and commercial development.

  • garyg

    Why not allow parking quantities to be determined by the free market?

    Because of the problems I mentioned before. Businesses will try to exploit each other. Why pay for the extra land for parking if my customers can poach parking space from my competitors? Parking minimums create a more level playing field. They also help to reduce congestion, by reducing the amount of time people spend driving around looking for parking.

    Why do they care if I live near a grocery store? I’m not telling them to live near one.

    They don’t. They care about developers building grocery stores in their neighborhood because of the problems of traffic, noise, litter, pollution, privacy, etc. I mentioned before. And because it may lower their property values. Do you also object to zoning laws that prevent, say, adult book stores, or casinos, or waste treatment facilities from being built in the middle of residential neighborhoods? The fundamental purpose of zoning laws is to separate land uses that are considered to be incompatible. If you think the laws are too strict, you can lobby to relax them. But don’t be surprised if people do not find your arguments persuasive.

  • http://climateprogress.org/2010/02/18/climate-policy-and-jobs-what-economists-know/

    re:
    “China is moving aggressively to capture leadership . . . high-speed rail . . .”

    Hopefully, in the near future, common knowledge will include the distinction between large vehicle high-speed rail and small vehicle high-speed rail where the latter newer strategy provides much more favorable practical outcomes including ease-of-use, higher performance and resilience, lower cost, smaller environmental footprint, and most importantly: distributed on-demand capability since the same vehicles can be used on and off rails.

    Likened to the federal highway system, China’s $300 billion for large vehicle high-speed rail may be scaled back and will likely require ongoing subsidies for expensive transport; a burden which may be greatly mitigated or eliminated entirely with newer more effective small vehicle transit.

  • http://climateprogress.org/2010/02/20/president-obama-explains-the-science-behind-climate-change-and-extreme-weather-climatologist-kevin-trenberth-and-meteorologist-jeff-masters-on-npr/

    American industry must be re-purposed to build wind, solar, and innovate as never believed possible.

    American education must seek out and empower the most expedient and effective ways to bring the people of this country together up to speed such as leveraging the likes of MIT’s OpenCourseware originally funded by DARPA with a mass infusion of capital and even more advanced practices and distributed human capital synergies in our schools, universities, and communities.

    Great inexpensive, safe, practical, high-performance, and zero eco-footprint transit such as small vehicle transit must be designed, developed, and broadly implemented to provide the new high-mobility infrastructure for American industry to effectively beat back this crisis as well as a complete transportation solution and global replicable model for broad dissemination.

    Freeing up the vast space wasted by cars in our cities and elsewhere urban farming must go viral to lead the way for suburban farming as well and all efforts greatly decreasing the cost-of-living while increasing the quality-of-life and providing full employment for a skilled, motivated, highly energized citizenry in essentially a wartime economy.

    This will be a wartime economy not to kill but, to build a new civilization by the most benevolent means necessary and, it will be amazing!

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