Monday Roundup: Paradox of car ownership, degrowth, and more

Welcome to the week. Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers have come across in the past seven days…

This week’s roundup is sponsored by the City of Portland District Commission, who encourages you to learn more about their Draft District Plan maps and share your feedback today!

Why we need cars: This is a really good look at why, for some low-income earners, owning a car just might be worth the negative externalities. (Vox)

Woom kids bike recall: Handlebars could detach from some models of woom Bikes sold in the USA between 2018 and 2021. A recall applies to about 84,000 bikes. (CPSC)

Safer vehicles: There are several proposals from the federal government that would make U.S. cars and trucks safer, but they need to hear from you before the auto industry waters them down even more. (Streetsblog USA)

Congestion pricing timeline: We can be excited that New York City is finally moving forward relatively fast with congestion pricing, and we can also lament that it took so damn long. (Vox)

Exploding e-bikes: I feel like after the recent fire in New York City it’s only a matter of time before the federal government does something major to fight this “exploding e-transportation problem.” (The Atlantic)

Degrowth is an answer: I’m convinced that we need to stop default growth assumptions and start to seriously scale back the size and speed of our lives if we want to save the planet. (New Yorker)

Tire pollution: Particulate matter from rubber tires is a very real source of pollution — as much if not more than from tailpipe emissions — and we should promote tires from less toxic materials and hasten government regulation. (Washington Post)

Car violence in UK: Most of the text in this story is (rightfully) about the victims, but we need to talk more about the causes and consequences of dangerous driving if we want to see this type of common crash curtailed. (Guardian)

Extend and pretend: Noted freeway fighting economist Joe Cortright says, “The Rose Quarter will be a zombie project, utterly un-funded, but technically not dead, because ODOT (and its enablers) pump millions into keeping it on life support.” (City Observatory)

Bike bubble burst: A strong market for used bikes is just one reason why one bicycle industry expert thinks sales of new bikes has declined. (Bicycle Retailer)

Cone protest: Anti-car activists found a brilliant way to disable driverless cars in San Francisco. (Guardian)


Thanks to everyone who shared links this week!

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
10 months ago

“Degrowth” is the new buzzword for those who are afraid to use the words “efficiency” and “conservation” because some rich westerner might feel a tiny amount of guilt. Agency-free environmentalism has always been far more popular than environmentalism with agency (and guilt and sacrifice) in fantastically rich and narcissistic western nations.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Hey, don’t you know those hippie communist eco-terrorists are gonna take your truck and burgers away?

Dangit! That’s so Un-American! You should be able to choke the world on your exhaust and choke your arteries at the same time!

I mean, seriously dude, the manufacturers of statins and ACE inhibitors need to make a buck too!

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

+1 for anybody who knows what an ACE inhibitor is without having to look it up.

David Hampsten
10 months ago

I take a beta blocker twice a day, but I have to admit it’s nice to know about ACE inhibitors now, which I hope I never need. I also take a statin once a day along with 4 other meds for my diabetes.

Wanna avoid these drugs? Eat healthy bland food for the rest of your life – avoid donuts, butter, pop/soda, anything and everything deep-fried or high in carbs, sugars and/or salt. Otherwise, have your sweet fatty dessert and die early whenever the next covid pandemic comes along.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Maybe, but I think degrowth specifically means “shrink”, whereas “efficiency” and “conservation” seem like they’re more about just not growing as fast or at all. “Degrowth” I think emphasizes actually reversing some of the growth we’ve already done.

I suppose “conservation” taken to its logical conclusion implies degrowth though. Maybe it’s just a matter of emphasis.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  John

I suppose “conservation” taken to its logical conclusion implies degrowth

Absolutely not. Conservation does not require poor people in the global south to continue to have a crappy standard of living just because rich westerners shat all over our environmental commons and want to avoid their collective guilt and responsibility by retreating into the luddite cave of “degrowth”. Addressing the biodiversity and climate crisis with any speed requires global growth that can only be funded via redistribution from rich nations.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Yeah it does. I’m just telling you what it means. I’m not saying I agree with the concept necessarily, or someone’s misguided interpretation of it. You can degrowth without putting all or any of the responsibility on poor people. You’re making up a guy that isn’t here to argue with.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  John

You can degrowth without putting all or any of the responsibility on poor people. You’re making up a guy that isn’t here to argue with.

Another rich westerner who supports the colonial “degrowth” status quo for poor regions.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Even though that’s the literal exact opposite of what I just wrote. You’re writing both sides of this back and forth, so I’m out.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  John

It pains to have to point out that conservation not only allows but, in fact, relies on technological progress (something that is roughly equivalent with economic growth). To use a mundane example, “conservation” has allowed us to avoid burning millions of tons of coal by switching to low wattage led lighting. Degrowth would have us living in the dark or burning oil lamps.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Hey, that’s engaging with the topic!

[technological progress is] something that is roughly equivalent with economic growth

Ahh, ok, so we simply disagree on the facts. Those things are not equivalent, not even roughly. They’re barely even correlated. It just so happens that some technological progress has come at the same time as economic growth, but I don’t believe for a second the two are correlated.

“Economic growth” is a fiction made up by capitalism. Economic growth is first and foremost about extracting resources around the world. Technological progress has come largely from collective (i.e. government) investment. At the very least, publicly funded research has been proven *capable* of making technological progress, and there is no reason this needs to be bound in any way to “economic growth”.

But if you see those two things as intrinsically linked, that would for sure be the root of your distaste for the idea of “degrowth”, or any of the other synonyms you want to use for it. So agree to disagree for now.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  John

Economic growth is first and foremost about extracting resources

Degrowth is fundamentally opposed to sustainable development goals — the underpinning of any attempt to decarbonize our societies in a science-based manner. I also believe that low-income regions deserve a far higher quality of life and that this quality of life can be achieved via redistribution and sustainable development. And this is in essence the core of my disagreement with the nihilistic degrowth movement.

“Economic growth” is a fiction made up by capitalism.

Proudhon, Mill, and Marx are rolling in their graves.

If economic growth (or money) is a fiction, then it can be decoupled from extractive capitalism. It is amazing to me that degrowthers still can’t fathom that an economy based on circular production would assign more economic value/utility to these “products” than the disposable sh!t we consume and discard today. Assigning value to things that make human beings happy or more fulfilled is also, of course, compatible with non-extractive (socialist) economic systems.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I also believe that low-income regions deserve a far higher quality of life and that this quality of life can be achieved via redistribution and sustainable development

Agreed, and I don’t think that conflicts with the general idea of degrowth.

…my disagreement with the nihilistic degrowth movement…

Same here. And it’s a good thing the entire concept of “degrowth” isn’t defined by one bad tweet you saw on Twitter or misguided hippies who think you can feed the world with “natural” fertilizers. Just because hippies or fascists latched onto the idea of “degrowth” and brought their pre-conceived bad ideas to the table doesn’t mean that’s what the whole thing means. Hell, some people who would use the term “degrowth” positively have conflicting understandings of it with other de-growthers, so clearly it doesn’t mean one thing.

As a concept, it’s very simple and general, and some aspect of it could be an important tool in fighting climate change and increasing world wide standards of living. Like, I strongly suspect that we are not at some maximum carrying capacity of the planet yet. I’m sure the Earth could sustain even more people and even more “economic activity” (how it works in practice not in utopian theory). It’s just that the closer we get to extracting the maximum possible from the planet, the easier it is for one change (e.g. the climate) to cause massive damage. In other words, it just makes things more difficult on us if we keep growing. And I mean that in population as well as consumption. In the capitalist sense of growing, i.e. the fantasy of infinite growth.

I don’t think “degrowth” is a very important or central strategy for dealing with climate change and improving standards of living, only that continued growth just makes those things harder and we know it isn’t sustainable.

Proudhon, Mill, and Marx are rolling in their graves.

Yes I know, I used sloppy language there. I mean the need for infinite growth expected by capitalism (which in all of actual history means extracting more resources) is not realistic. I’m using “growth” in the way it has actually played out in real life with population increase, resource extraction and ecological destruction. But I agree that prosperity doesn’t have to come at that cost. It’s just that it will under capitalism. That’s exactly my point I guess. So when I say degrowth I mean in regards to capitalist profits and resource extraction. And I’m not a “degrowther”, I just think there is a something that has been growing and that needs to stop.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  John

so when I say degrowth I mean in regards to capitalist profits and resource extraction. And I’m not a “degrowther”, I just think there is a something that has been growing and that needs to stop.

I obviously agree with this but the use of degrowth in this context is problematic because this movement explicitly argues for austerity (e.g. a great leveling of current levels of global “growth/production”).

Branko Milanovic wrote elegantly on the fundamental inequity built into the premise of degrowth:

Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that we interpret “degrowth” as the decision to fix global GDP* at its current level (assuming for the time being that the amount of emissions is also fixed at the current level). Then, unless we change the distribution of income, we are condemning to permanent abject poverty some 15 percent of world population that currently earn less than $1.90 per day and some quarter of humankind who earn less than $2.50 per day. (All dollar amount here are in PPP terms, that is in dollars of equal purchasing power across the world, based on the 2011 International Comparison Project.)

Keeping so many people in abject poverty so that the rich can continue to enjoy their current standard of living is obviously something that the proponents of degrowth would not condone.

The “problem” is that the median after-tax income in the West (about $14,600 per person per year) is at the 91st percentile of the global income distribution. Clearly, if we let 90 percent of people increase their incomes to that level, this would “burst” our GDP envelope several times over (2.7 times to be exact). We cannot be this “generous”. Let us suppose next that we let everybody reach only the income level that is slightly higher than the Western 10th percentile, exactly that of the 13th Western percentile ($5,500 per person per year).

We could bring up all the bottom 72 percent, but we also have to reduce incomes of everybody above so that the entire world lives at the global mean.

*I’m not fan of GDP as a measurement of human flourishing but it does measure “production” — the focus of degrowth.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  John

“The illusion of “degrowth” in a poor and unequal world”
<a href="http://The illusion of “degrowth” in a poor and unequal world ” target=”_blank”>https://branko2f7.substack.com/p/the-illusion-of-degrowth-in-a-poor

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  John

““Economic growth” is a fiction made up by capitalism.”

Not at all. Economic growth is why you lead a life of what would have been unimaginable comfort, security, and marvel just a hundred years ago, and still think everything is crap, and why people in poorer parts of the world are doing better by any number of metrics than they were just a generation ago.

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

So it’s not going to happen.

Tired
Tired
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Degrowth does not suggest any of that, but rather that the global NORTH ratchet back its lifestyle so that the Global South can attain a better standard of living, but according to its own determination of what that means. Any amount of serious investigation into the subject reveals this crucial aspect behind the movement. Debt relief is also a major part of it, to remove the colonial stranglehold that keeps the South at economic bay. But do go on…

Will there have to be massive build out of renewable in order to achieve a “net zero” or “circular” economy (which is impossible according to the laws of thermodynamics in any case)? Yes, of course. And yes, the north should be on the hook for that as well.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  Tired

the global NORTH ratchet back its lifestyle so that the Global South can attain a better standard of living

These sustainable development goals would require redistribution (something that degrowthers and global green new dealers agree on) but where degrowth loses the plot is that for the global south to attain a much better standard of living (e.g. close to what many have in this fantastically rich sh!thole) will require global economic growth.

Yes, of course. And yes, the north should be on the hook for that as well.

On this we agree as I noted above.

Will there have to be massive build out of renewable in order to achieve a “net zero” or “circular” economy (which is impossible according to the laws of thermodynamics in any case)?\

And we will do this without economic growth? Give me a break. And, FWIW, I prefer the word sustainable to the nonsensical “circular”.

PS
PS
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

For what it’s worth, growth is what has lifted billions of people out of poverty in the last 60 years, provided previously inconceivable medical interventions extending the lives of nearly everyone on the planet, and created the most productive food production methods that allow many who previously dealt with hunger to be able to not have their children deal with the same.

Unfortunately, in some locations, i.e. the US and EU, it has also created a relatively expensive cost of living and that has diminished the rate of domestic population growth, so that growth will be nearly impossible to retain in the future. This is particularly evident when the realities of entitlement promises are kept at the expense of fiscal stability. The unfortunate part is that we can’t tax our way out of it, and immigration alone won’t fix it, because the last thing an economy that is 70% consumption needs is more people repatriating their incomes away.

“Degrowth” is what they’re selling to make people think this is someone’s idea and not an economic eventuality. If it is being shilled by people who still fly in commercial airplanes, own vehicles, use AC, etc. it should not be taken seriously until they are willing to show everyone else how great the degrowth lifestyle is.

PS
PS
10 months ago

Fair enough, and to me the idea this just formed organically out of the ether seems convenient and I believe people are motivated by incentives, so I wonder who could be incentivized by an ideology like this.

This used to be critical thinking, not a personal attack.

When I look at our demographics, an ideology like degrowth seems like a convenient way to sell the ostensible reduction in quality of life by making it more palatable with the sheen of virtuosity. I also think a significant portion of the population are completely incapable of looking at second order effects (see above, critical thinking and incentives), so when something like this is presented as a panacea for our issues, I am skeptical, much as you may be with capitalism.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  PS

If it is being shilled by people who still fly in commercial airplanes, own vehicles, use AC, etc. it should not be taken seriously until they are willing to show everyone else how great the degrowth lifestyle is.

It’s also being shilled for by people who are willfully scientifically illiterate. A good example of this is the “degrowth” agricultural fantasy where we address the enormous GHG pollution associated with agriculture and land use by retreating to some idyllic era where we use animal shit for fertilizer despite the fact that chemical fertilizers 1) have lifted hundreds of millions out of frequent hunger and 2) release fewer net GHG than use of manure. An approach rooted in environmental conservation (land use and resources), on the other hand, would use economic growth to replace methane-fueled fertilizer production with renewable chemical fertilizers (also slow release and fixed). A conservation-based approach would also move our food systems away from animal agriculture (transformational reform of our food systems requires economic growth, degrowthers).

They estimate that emissions of 2.6bn tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) occurred from the production and use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and manure in 2019.

The researchers find that manure applied to soils has, on average, nearly double the emissions of synthetic fertilisers. They write that, therefore, manure is “currently not an appropriate substitute for synthetic fertilisers” in terms of greenhouse-gas mitigation.

https://www.carbonbrief.org/fertiliser-emissions-could-be-cut-to-one-fifth-of-current-levels-by-2050/

PS
PS
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Yes, this is a great point about the second order effects of such an ideology/theory. Run it through energy production, medicine, transportation, etc. and the outcomes are similar.

OGB
OGB
9 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Even in BikePortland comments, I find farming myths. Methane emitted by grazing livestock is cyclical, in the long term it doesn’t add to total GHG pollution. The methane had already been in the atmosphere before it was in plants to be eaten, and will eventually become plants again.

Artificial fertilizers are produced with very intensive use of fossil fuels. There’s pollution created in mining the materials, transporting them to factories, the factories themselves, the manufacturing, packaging, transportation again to warehouses, transportation again to farms or places where farmers buy fertilizers, and the use of the products involves polluting machinery such as tractors.

Manure on pastures typically is just dropped by animals where they happen to be standing. When manure is not used on the farm where it is produced, it may just be transported in a truck to a neighboring farm. Toxic poop lakes at CAFOs are another story, this is an environmentallly-problematic way to use animals. But even CAFOs, as much as I begrudge them, serve an important purpose in feeding the human population: they convert non-human-edible byproducts (corn stalks, etc.) of growing plants for human consumption into useful nutrition for humans. The belief that we can do away with animal infrastructure is based on a collection of fallacies: that plants-only farming is sustainable, that livestock farming is more environmentally harmful, that humans do not need nutrition from animals, etc.

Nitrogen fertilizer just adds nitrogen. There are other types. The ammonia fertilizer industry, BTW, was recently found to be emitting 100 times more methane than they had estimated. The total is enormous, and significant as far as GHG effects.

100 times more pollution than reported: How new technology exposed a whole industry
https://www.edf.org/blog/2019/06/21/100-times-more-pollution-reported-how-new-technology-exposed-whole-industry
– “Methane pollution from ammonia fertilizer plants is 100 times higher than what the industry reports, and substantially above what the Environmental Protection Agency estimates for all industrial processes in the United States.”
– the data is from sensors on Google Street View cars
– study:
Estimation of methane emissions from the U.S. ammonia fertilizer industry using a mobile sensing approach
https://online.ucpress.edu/elementa/article/doi/10.1525/elementa.358/112487/Estimation-of-methane-emissions-from-the-U-S

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Just stop having kids.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago

We made the decision to no have kids a long time ago. Instead I chose to give a large fraction of my “fictional” economic value to extremely poor people in the form of direct cash payments. I’m very happy with this choice.

https://www.givedirectly.org/ubi-study/

idlebytes
idlebytes
10 months ago

ODOT needs up to $140million in additional funds just to keep the project design going

Meanwhile ODOT defers maintenance all over the state and leaves it’s dangerous orphaned highways like Powell to rot. How many more people will die because ODOT is spending money on this instead of basic safety and maintenance projects? The entire 82nd budget is $200 million this money could make Powell significantly safer.

And of course their website touts safety as the first reason for the project.

The purpose of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project is to improve safety

When they originally made that claim in 2017 everyone called them out for it because one person had died along that stretch in the last decade and it was a person trying to cross the freeway. Almost all the crashes along there are fender benders because the current design causes people to slow down and drive safer. Unironically while they wait for the next 7 years to complete this “safety” project dozens will die on their other more dangerous highways and when they’re done this stretch will be more dangerous since speed is a factor in most fatal car crashes.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

ODOT does what the legislature tells them to. Want different priorities? Talk to your state representative and senator.

David Hampsten
10 months ago

In most states there is a huge symbiotic between state legislators and state DOTs – often the legislative politicians are themselves either funded by contractors, contractor lobbyists, or are related to contractors – and so while it is true that the bureaucrats at the DOT have major control over the message and what propaganda is released, they know full well what their recipients want to see and generally that’s what they deliver. This relationship clearly works at the federal level. The strongest local resistance tends to come from those who will see no tangible benefit from highway contracts.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago

“I don’t think it’s that simple…”

No doubt you’re right about the feedback loop effect, and ODOT is a legitimate subject matter expert, so such communication is appropriate.

Nonetheless, our elected officials are the decision makers, and when the legislature takes an interest, ODOT responds.

On a purely practical level, for how many decades have we been trying to lobby ODOT directly to change their ways without much noticeable effect?

idlebytes
idlebytes
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

My representatives are against it I can’t vote for representatives in every district though now can I? Khan Pham in particular has been a great advocate for either shutting this down or changing it significantly. Before I moved in 2018 my previous representatives were also against it.

And Jonathan is right ODOT could propose a major statewide maintenance and safety project but they choose not to. My representatives can’t vote for something that doesn’t exist.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

“ODOT could propose a major statewide maintenance and safety project but they choose not to. My representatives can’t vote for something that doesn’t exist.”

It is literally Pham’s job to write legislation, so that’s not exactly an unsolvable problem. And while you are right that you cannot vote in every district, it is also her job to convince her colleagues to support her agenda.

The legislature is where the power to change ODOT lies. The governor also has some leverage via her OTC appointments.

9watts
9watts
10 months ago

The article on poor people’s dependence on cars they can’t afford highlights the central problem of inequality. But it is actually worse than the Vox article captures. Car dependent mobility also generates inequality.

Catherine Lutz has written eloquently about the ways automobility hurts the poor disproportionately. Carjacked is her book; she also has articles about this, including this one which I’ve mentioned here before:
Catherine Lutz. 2014. “The U.S. car colossus and the production of inequality.” AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 232–245.

from the abstract:
“I ask how the car-dependent mobility system of the United States not only reflects but also intensively generates the inequalities that characterize U.S. society. I propose that “compulsory consumption” and the automobile’s centrality to the current regime of accumulation can help account for this.”

and from the article itself:
“This material allows insight into the several significant pathways by which the car produces or amplifies inequality in the United States and, potentially, elsewhere. I argue that the car system not only reflects inequality but also actively produces it, massively redistributing wealth, status, well-being, and the means to mobility and its power. While declining wages, rising corporate control of the state, and rising costs of higher education and health care are also crucial to these redistributions, understanding the car system’s special and deeply consequential inequality-producing processes is key to any attempt to solve a number of problems. Prominent among the problems that the U.S. car system exacerbates are inequality of job access, rising wealth inequality, and environmental degradation and its unequal health effects.”

blumdrew
10 months ago

Car access as a means to overcome poverty is a bit of a can of worms, but I do think it’s worth having an entirely different mindset when it comes to auto lending. Subprime auto lenders are insanely predatory, often forcing people into a very expensive cycle of bad loans on bad cars that get repossessed only to be lent back out for the cycle to start again. And even conventional car dealerships operate in pretty horrendous ways to convince people to agree to terms that are horrible (longer terms, higher rates, more add-ons that they maybe don’t need) by focusing only on the monthly payment. Having much tighter regulations on lending standards in the auto industry is very much needed, and part of this could mean programs to provide more favorable lending terms to low-income people who need a car.

But I do find it somewhat difficult to be fully on board with the idea that anyone needs to own a car. Am I supposed to be on board with the idea that lower-income people ought to be working two or three jobs as car driving “independent contractors” while tech billionaires count money on their beach front estates? Or that rampant greed in the housing industry driving poorer folks out of the city and into the urban fringe is good? Approaching the milieu of social problems facing low-income Americans and saying “having better access to a car will help this” misses the mark. Ensuring better access to healthy food and close-in housing could do more than reforming the auto lending industry to help the lives of people struggling to get by, and would have a myriad of other positive benefits too

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

 Ensuring better access to healthy food and close-in housing could do more than reforming the auto lending industry to help the lives of people struggling to get by, and would have a myriad of other positive benefits too

Not trying for a “gotcha” here, I’m just curious on your thought process. Of the two solutions you mention here, better access versus reforming auto lending, which of them do you think are more likely to happen first or at all?

blumdrew
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Lots of European countries directly subsidize the cost of produce, which is part of why eating healthy is much more affordable over there. The US basically only subsidizes corn, wheat and soybeans which has (more or less) contributed to every farm growing only that, a huge surplus of corn being funneled to food processing companies and a generally bad state of health and food over here.

In terms of housing, I think it’s a bit more complicated but much more stringent regulations on Airbnb/short term rentals, rent control and generally more tenant rights, along with properly funded and humane public housing (like what exists in Austria) are things I’d like to see.

Reforming auto lending seems like the most likely of these three things to happen, since the auto lending industry isn’t nearly as politically powerful as big Ag or the various banks with institutional power in the housing industry. Plus, reforming auto lending has the benefit of being politically popular while fairly straightforward. Housing is so much more complex, and food policy is not really quite as on regular folk’s minds in the way that cars are

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I agree with you, as long as our government is subsidizing growing crops for the production of ethanol I know that no matter which political party holds power that they are not interested in using our natural resources for the benefit of a healthy population.
Auto lending is the one out of the three you mention, housing, produce and lending that the government isn’t directly involved in and will be the only one that stands a chance of actually being reformed.
When I was living in Army barracks the joke of a Camaro or Mustang on 27% interest for 6 years was a real thing. Folks would buy something like that and with the insurance payments literally couldn’t afford gas for it and it would sit in the parking lot for a month at a time. Unless they let it get reposed, a person could finish a 6 year military contract and have NOTHING to show for it other than a 6 year old car. I remember when Harley Davidson had to bring out a 7 year contract to sell it’s bikes as that was the only way they could convince their target audience that they could afford one. I believe 7 and 8 year vehicle contracts are common now, its become a crazy world. It’s hard to believe predatory auto loans and payday lenders (also a plague of the military) are still around.

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Do you need to own a bicycle. Computer or cell phone?

blumdrew
10 months ago

I could make do without a bike, though I’d be a sad little man. Probably could manage with just a smart phone (assuming I’d still have my computer that my work gave me though). Or I could manage with just a simple flip phone and a computer too.

John
John
10 months ago

In the “Why we need cars” Vox article, it was mentioned very briefly in passing as a quote, but the whole thing really just boils down to “we made it impossible to live without a car in [most of] this country” which obviously impacts the poorest people the most. Yes we need programs in the short term (like mentioned in the article) to help struggling people with car ownership, but that’s just it. A short term solution.

I struggle to be optimistic that we will ever solve this problem. Maybe others don’t, I don’t know. Other countries are not uniquely different from the US such that public transit actually works there. Density is really not the problem here, simple lack of investment is the problem. We put all our eggs in the car ownership basket and we are seemingly committed to it.

Really, we have to find ways to stop increasing car dependence. Build public transit, make it actually competitive. Before anyone brings up the EV canard, they are not a solution. Not only are they just as (if not more) dangerous to humans, but their lifetime emissions are only marginally better. I saw some analysis recently (sorry, no citation here) where they were only like 20% better than an ICE because of manufacturing, and that only grows to like 40% better if your energy source is magically zero emissions. Like, that’s “a lot” but not if we keep having more people driving, and it’s nowhere near the transformative change we need. And that’s leaving aside the other emissions and pollutants like tire and brake dust mentioned on this post too. EVs seem like a distraction to me. Like, sure lets work on that but it’s not really a solution to much that would impact our lives or the climate.

I dunno. Rant over. Put a Max down McGloughlan already and get us some more dedicated BRT lanes already!

blumdrew
10 months ago
Reply to  John

EVs are not just “marginally better” than ICE vehicles. They are an order of magnitude more efficient in a vacuum, and are only performing poorly owing to insane assumptions about battery capacity. Something like 90% of trips are less than 10 miles, yet everyone just acts like it’s totally reasonable for folks to demand 300+ miles of range for their one road trip per year.

Tighter car regulations are desperately needed – to shift people away from ridiculously heavy and pointlessly oversized pickups. EVs are also good though, but not the silver bullet policy makers seem to treat them as

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Sure, yeah, if you broaden “EV” to mean any vehicle powered by a battery, that includes e-bikes which, like regular bikes, are the most efficient vehicle ever invented. So yeah, sure. But EVs as a drop in replacement for ICE vehicles aren’t even close to an order of magnitude improvement. They’re barely double if that. And that seems to be what everyone thinks is going to be this major game changer, just replace existing ICE vehicles with electric cars that are the same or heavier, and blamo, problem solved.

Not to put words in his mouth, but Watts on here has said things to the effect of people just won’t be satisfied with anything less than the door to door convenience and comfort of driving a car, and so that requires something very much like a 2000+ pound vehicle for everyone.

And I don’t think that view is wrong, at least on some level. It’s just so easy to drive, at least in cities like Portland, as it is currently configured. Something needs to change. Our public transit needs to suck less and the idea that you must have your own car (or two per household!) needs to go away. Improving public transit is something that seems reachable but it requires funding and I don’t know why that doesn’t seem understood. Maybe because everyone has their own car and so they never take transit, they don’t see the need.

I take your point, that EVs can mean electric vehicles that are actually an order of magnitude better, but I don’t think that’s what people mean by EVs in general. They want a big car that is just like their old big car but takes the guilt off their conscience so they can stop feeling bad about climate change.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

and are only performing poorly owing to insane assumptions about battery capacity.

And vehicle size/weight.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

People want 300 mi range because on rare occasion they need it (it’s hard to drive to the trailhead in a vehicle that has a 30 mi range).

The traditional solution for that problem is to suggest that people rent a larger capacity vehicle when they need one, but this has not been a successful strategy for convincing people to downsize their vehicles. Renting feels expensive and genuinely is inconvenient.

Until we have more widespread availability and normalization of shared fleet vehicles, most people are going to want that 300 plus mile range.

I believe this is one of the problems that will be solved with the automation of driving.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I don’t know if they are an order of magnitude more efficient than the kinds of diesels that Europe gets.
https://www.carwow.co.uk/economical-cars/diesel#gref
I still don’t understand the regulatory mindset that prevents such technological wonders from being imported.
As far as 90% of trips are under 10 miles I can’t help but wonder if that is an urban bias. I agree with you that most urban folk would do very well with an electric car, barring problems with charging accessibility and the continually glossed over horrors of precuring the metals needed for the batteries. However, the entire country doesn’t live in an urban area and drive far more than 10 mile trips.

EJ transportation
EJ transportation
10 months ago

Low-income people needing a car to move up in society or even to go do things is going to be a reality until American metro areas get good suburban and regional rail that is time completive with driving.

In Japan and the Netherlands, you can pick two random suburbs and the time to get between both of them is usually only a few minutes faster by car than by transit. This is due to the fact the Japan has a lot of mainline “commuter rail” with high speeds, high frequencies, and service during hours outside of the 9-5 peak commute time. They also don’t not provide service on weekdays and holidays. It’s a similar story in the Netherlands, only difference is the country is the size of some of our CSAs, so their “national rail” network is the size of a good regional rail network. Their mainline are mostly 85mph track speeds with frequent service and large amounts of bicycle parking at every suburban (spaced about 1 miles apart) and regional (spaced about 5 mi apart) station.

Trimet, Oregon Metro and all of them could use a trip to Tokyo to inform future rail transit designs so that we can have things like elevated rail lines with 80mph above Powell Blvd, above McLoughlin Blvd, above Barbur Blvd, E Burnside, etc. , And probably under the narrower streets like 13th in Selwood, and Cesar Chavez Blvd, etc. with direct connections into a high capacity, high speed tunnel in downtown Portland, and an 80 mph connection to Vancouver so everyone, whether they own a car or not doesn’t have to participate in the terrible traffic congestion on the Interstate for 14 hours a day.

To top it all off, regional rail to Mt. Hood, all the hiking locations on the Gorge, and to Tillamook/Astoria allows people to go have fun and still not need to pay for a car and contribute to parking problems.

(And future-proof by preserving a clear straight corridor from Vancouver to Salem for the future Cascadia HSR)

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
10 months ago

Low-income people needing a car to move up in society or even to go do things is going to be a reality until American metro areas get good suburban and regional rail that is time completive with driving.

Most urbanists/YIMBYs/numtots prefer to punish car-dependent low-income people by making it more expensive to drive rather than advocating for the transformational reforms that would give low-income people (living on the periphery or in dreaded suburbs) decent, efficient, and inexpensive transportation options.
.
Why would urbanists favor classist reforms rather than transformational reform?
.
Because they are mostly members of the college-educated elite who are incentivized to oppose (or not support) redistribution that might impair their upward economic mobility.

blumdrew
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

In general, richer Americans drive more frequently and longer than poorer Americans. Owning a car makes you overwhelmingly more likely to use one in your every day life, and richer Americans own more cars than poorer ones (obviously). Here is a (fairly dated) paper from the BTS on this.

Avoiding inequitable punishment for driving by scaling price signals (tolls, congestion pricing, etc.) by income would presumably be fairly popular among urbanists, though I only speak for myself here.

rather than advocating for the transformational reforms

What sort of transformational reform do you have in mind that wouldn’t be popular in the urbanist/YIMBY/bourgeoisie/numtot sphere?

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

What sort of transformational reform do you have in mind that wouldn’t be popular in the urbanist/YIMBY/bourgeoisie/numtot sphere

Progressive income/wealth taxation (as opposed to the regressive fuel and parking taxes that urbanists unambiguously prefer) could be used to 1) provide subsidized transportation to low-income people (ranging from free transit to deeply-subsidized EVs/EV-share) and 2) build non-mixed-use public housing in urban and suburban areas that have access to resources.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Most urbanists/YIMBYs/numtots prefer to punish car-dependent low-income people by making it more expensive to drive rather than advocating for the transformational reforms that would give low-income people (living on the periphery or in dreaded suburbs) decent, efficient, and inexpensive transportation options.

Exactly! Just look at the excitement the upper middle/upper class have for congestion tolling which hits blue collar workers the hardest before there is any realistic alternative. The idea seems to be to make driving miserable and drain as much money away from those with the least to lose without any way to alleviate their suffering so essentially they just want the less well off to be miserable, apparently for the crime of not being born with a silver (or bronze) spoon in their mouth.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago

“Driving… is going to be a reality until American metro areas get good suburban and regional rail that is time completive with driving.”

Building a rail system that can largely supplant driving given the reality of where people need to travel in 2023 is probably an impossibility, and is certainly so with any sort of realistic economic and social constraints.

We’re committed to a transportation system with most of the characteristics of driving, including individualized trips on demand between arbitrary points, with the ability to carry stuff, and in most cases with mechanical propulsion. This might not be true forever, but probably will be for at least 50 years (and probably much longer) after we commit to a different direction.

Matt S.
Matt S.
10 months ago

My income increase is directly linked to having access to a car. I lived by bike for 6 years in Portland, my work radius was about 8 miles max from my home. Life got a lot easier after I purchased a car.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt S.

But that’s only b/c the car is the default in the US. If you lived in, say, Germany or France, you could get places just as easily and quickly by train, bus, and other means – and often several orders of magnitude more quickly.

The tragedy of the automobile in the US is its stranglehold on the entire system. We really don’t have any choices besides driving cars, so we think that’s the best choice.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

“If you lived in, say, Germany or France, you could get places just as easily and quickly by train, bus, and other means – and often several orders of magnitude more quickly.”

I’m just curious if you have ever lived in France or Germany. I have. Rest assured that automobile use is alive and well in both countries.

What most visitors to Europe see is what happens in the cores of large cities. Many American cities would also look pretty good from that vantage point.

I agree that in general Europeans have much better ground transportation than we do (which is facilitated by having a much more compact geography), but Europe is very very far from being some car-free Utopia.

PeeWee
PeeWee
10 months ago

Always interesting hearing the discussions about what the “poor folks” need like they somehow can’t make decisions for themselves. On that note, I do drink only fair trade coffee!