possibly noteworthy wrote:
In January, I recommended a short piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg that touches on this:
Every now and then I meet someone in Manhattan who has never driven a car. Some confess it sheepishly, and some announce it proudly. For some it is just a practical matter of fact, the equivalent of not keeping a horse on West 87th Street or Avenue A. Still, I used to wonder at such people, but more and more I wonder at myself.
Driving is the cultural anomaly of our moment. Someone from the past, I think, would marvel at how much time we spend in cars and how our geographic consciousness is defined by how far we can get in a few hours’ drive and still feel as if we’re close to home. Someone from the future, I’m sure, will marvel at our blindness and at the hole we have driven ourselves into, for we are completely committed to an unsustainable technology.
I remember reading that (I read damn near everything I see on the topic of transit), though I'm not 100% sure how it applies. Frankly, I'm not particularly optimistic about the automotive era coming to an end soon. Americans are too tied to them in too many ways.
Like everything, it's complicated by a variety of issues, not least of which is politics, in which subsidy and concessions to lobbyists obscure the true cost of a *lot* of habits that are harmful to our culture or our health. Add in the view so many Americans have of taxation (i.e. a fundamental evil) in the first place, and you find it extremely hard to pay for *anything* that takes longer than an election cycle to build.
For transit and modern urban development, it's complicated by the fact that land is cheap : artificially cheap, in my opinion, as I think undeveloped land has intrinsic value for environmental (air quality, temperature, bio-diversity) and aesthetic reasons... reasons that are not, or are barely, factored into land costs.
I encourage Atlantans who haven't been to Athens in a few years to make that drive (irony!) sometime soon. I did so recently after maybe 4 or 5 years and it's astonishing how much that route has changed, and for the worse. I recall a relatively sleepy divided highway, with trees along both sides, an occasional country-looking road, and a gas station or diner here and there. Now, you can count dozens of *distinct* signs for new developments, offering housing from $100,000 to $200,000... huge tracts of land converted into cheaply built, unnecessarily large homes, with minimal tree cover (and scrubby, post-construction plantings too, many of the type that will never, and can never, grow beyond a certain height). There are new strip malls offering what the american suburbanite wants -- Applebees and Chilis, plenty of parking and no night-life. Nothing -- and I mean nothing : not the war in Iraq, not climate change, not nuclear-enabled North Korea, not the credit crisis -- depresses or demoralizes me more than to see what people in this country choose when it comes to where and how to live.
The true price of those developments is paid in full, but by everyone, in the form of CO and soot in the air, traffic, and feeling trapped in an endless suburban wasteland of 1 story developments where once there were trees.
Here, where people are *already* moving further and further from downtown because it's so cheap, i see nothing that would prevent an even more severe exodus if driving into town got pricier. The city (I'd say state, but this is Georgia... the "Atlanta, WHO NEEDS IT!" state) would have to fork over a fortune in incentives to businesses to keep them in town, I think, and I'm sure the tax-opposed populace would never stand for it.
I'm pessimistic in the short term. I think Atlanta will die again before it figures out what it needs. I can only hope that it's suffering will serve as an example to other US cities of what happens when sprawl dominates city "planning".
RE: America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform