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4 views of transportation in America 6.0

Four different looks this week at the current and future issues in transportation, all from interesting and different perspectives:

Adam Geller writes about something I discuss in my Tedx talk (I promise, available soon by video) - the dying love affair with the car culture. It amazes me how few people still see this for what it is, and are either in denial or lay it all at the feet of financial concerns. Here's a quote from the piece:

After rising almost continuously since World War II, driving by U.S. households has declined nearly 10 percent since 2004, with a start before the Great Recession suggesting economics is not the only cause. "There's something more fundamental going on," says Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The average American household now owns fewer than two cars, returning to the levels of the early 1990s.

More teens and 20-somethings are waiting to get a license. Less than 70 percent of 19-year-olds now have one, down from 87 percent two decades ago.

"I wonder if they've decided that there's another, better way to be free and to be mobile," says Cotten Seiler, author of "Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America."

Meanwhile, Shea Gunther takes down what I agree is a ridiculous idea: solar roadways. Like I said the other day: any idea that relies on a massive new infrastructure investment, forget it. We can't afford it. To wit:

The main arguments against Solar Roadways boil down to:

• The panels would cost too much both as a solar panel and as a road surface.

• They won’t produce enough energy relative to conventional solar panels.

• There is no shortage of space to mount solar panels, so no need to embed them in the road.

• They are a maintenance nightmare compared to conventional road surfaces.

In short, they are a (bad) solution in search of a problem. Even if they could do everything they purport to do, there is no need for them.

David Levinson has a thoughtful, detailed look at how today's wonder-car, the Google driverless car could operate as part of our lives. It's a much more nuanced approach than what I've seen before, though I admit to the creeping feeling that this is Segway 2.0:

While I had been assuming the first market for autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles would be the relatively controlled environment of the freeway, the relatively controlled environment of low-speed places makes sense as well. These are two different types of vehicles (high speed freeway vs. low speed neighborhood), and though they may converge, there is no guarantee they will, and perhaps today’s converged multi-purpose vehicle will instead diverge.

There has long been discussion of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, ranging from golf carts to something larger, which are in use in some communities, particularly southwestern US retirement complexes. In Sun City, Arizona, for instance, people use the golf cart not just for golfing, but for going to the clubhouse or local stores.

Golf Carts in Sun City Grande, Arizona

They can do this because local streets are set with low speed limits, and there are special paths where they are not.

Related, this tweet today from Jeff Speck:

Finally, an excellent piece from Bill Fulton about the future of cars in cities, including how it is working today in places like San Diego. It ties very well to what I wrote recently about the 5 American lifestyles. Clearly what he describes works well for three of the five. He has great insight into car sharing, the integration of modes and how it works for daily life:

Cars? I have more cars than I know what to do with. I use cars all the time, in order to go all kinds of places, and I am never without access to a car.  My overall automobile cost is probably less than half of what it was when I owned a car – because I usually pay for a car only when I am traveling in it, not when it is just parked somewhere.

I’m well aware that I am on the leading edge of this whole “car-sharing” thing and that the vast majority of people don’t have the same options because of where they live and work. But the fact that I am doing just fine without owning a car in a traditionally suburban place like San Diego suggests that something important is going on, at least in modern urban neighborhoods: Our complete reliance on a “monoculture” of owner-occupied automobiles is being augmented with a much more varied ecosystem that includes not just alternatives to driving, but many different ways to use a car.

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