17 January 2008

If car culture is fading, then why do we need a congestion tax?

We see all these trends that promote bicycling, walking, and public transportation over driving. So do we proudly declare victory and the beginning of the end of "car culture"? Or do we wake up from our dreams and realize that for most of these trends, the main purpose is to discourage people from driving in order to reduce automobile traffic congestion?

If car culture is really on its way out, then where is all this traffic coming from?

I had to ask that question when I saw this in Commute by Bike:
Nissan exec: “Car culture is fading”

"Here’s an interesting article from CNN. Thomas Lane is in charge of strategy and product planning for Nissan Motors in Japan. While car ads continue to push the idea that driving is pure pleasure that’s often done on open roads in pristine wilderness, commuters around the world and in America are finding that car ownership is expensive, time consuming and not much fun.

"Lane points to global trends that discourage automobile use: congestion pricing in city centers and young people who’d rather spend their money on electronic gadgets rather than car stuff, with many people switching to mass transit for everyday transportation and rentals or car sharing for longer trips.

"Read more at CNN Money. Props to Bike Portland, where there’s more commentary on this trend."

You don't have to answer; I just think we can't get too excited yet that The Future!(TM) of so-called alternative transportation has finally arrived.
In other news, here's my new taillight configuration, Blackburn Mars 3.0 x2:

They're at slightly different angles owing to simple gravity,* and if you look closely you can see that the one on the right is an LED short. Hence the new one on the left. But two (well, 1.8) are better than one, right?

*Actually, gravity isn't simple at all, but we can pretend it is for our purposes.


At 17 January, 2008 05:52, Blogger Georg said...

Hey Jennifer,

That taillight looks like a kind of bike supernova. Even with pitch black night sunglasses you will be seen.

Based upon my own experience, all this does not oblige car drivers to overtake you at reasonable width. In order to achieve this, I had a 1 foot safety arm fixed at the left side of the bike. I sent you a photo but did you receive this??


At 17 January, 2008 10:49, Blogger Fritz said...

g = GM / (R + h)^2

There, that's simple, isn't it? :-)

At 17 January, 2008 11:20, Blogger Jennifer said...


This is why I'm just an editor.

Georg: I don't think I did, but the Google overlords have been automatically setting my spam filter really high lately. I'll check the spam folder.

At 17 January, 2008 11:57, Blogger Fritz said...

The 'safety arm' -- just Google for "flash flag" and you'll find similar devices.

At 17 January, 2008 14:04, Blogger Georg said...

Hallo Jennifer,

I followed Fritz' advice and Googled for "flash-flag". It seems, you don't have in the US the contraption I have in mind, viz this found on the German eBay
(a plastic arm with a reflective disc to be attached to the back of a bike).

I saw real flags or looking like it but the arm seemed to be made of steel and not of plastic. I wonder if this could not cause harm to a car.

Anyway, it is efficient because when driving and seeing a biker with this device I feel compelled to give him or her a wider berth. And this in spite of the fact that I know it to be of flexible plastic.


At 17 January, 2008 14:55, Blogger Fritz said...

It's still the same idea, Georg - you have a big reflector, we have a bright orange flag (usually made of reflective material). The ones I've seen use plastic poles with a folding mechanism so they can fold out of the way against the bike when not in use.

At 17 January, 2008 17:12, Blogger David Johnsen said...

I agree with the Nissan guy about car culture, but there's a difference between culture and transportation. To me, car culture is the car as icon and recreational pastime: muscle cars, sports cars, hot rods, "Sunday driving," Route 66 (symbolically rather than as a specific road), drive-in movie theatres, car magazines, tinkering with one's car, etc. All of these things were much more popular 25 years ago. One notable exception to the decline of car culture is, of course, NASCAR.

As transportation goes, I think the Nissan guy's perspective is too urban-centric. People outside the central city are still attached to their cars, and many will be until it becomes completely unaffordable (many Chicagoans only use the CTA to go downtown, driving everywhere else). Outside the city, mass transit sometimes isn't even an option, and cycling isn't viable for people who live 40 miles from work (for one thing, it takes too long). If/when cars are no longer suitable for transportation, there will be major societal changes -- the collapse of the exurbs, for starters. That's not happening yet.


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