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What If You Behaved Like an Obnoxious Road Hog at the Supermarket?

This PSA, produced by the Norwegian government, does a brilliant job reminding people that the way you act behind the wheel affects everyone around you. Wouldn’t it be nice if people observed the same decorum driving a car on city streets as they do pushing a cart in the grocery store aisles?

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Suburbs Are Out, Cities Are In — Now What?

American public policy massively subsidizes a way of life that appeals to a shrinking number of Americans. Photo: @fineplanner/Twitter

Today’s Times devotes two pieces to the “suburbs are out, cities are in” phenomenon that has taken root in much of the country over the past few decades — the great inversion, urbanologist Alan Ehrenhalt has dubbed this reversal of the suburbanization wave that swept through the U.S. in the last century. Though both pieces will pretty much be old hat to Streetsblog readers, they’re interesting nonetheless, both as signposts and for what they leave out.

Suburbs Try to Prevent Exodus as Young Adults Move to Cities and Stay,” by Times Westchester beat reporter Joseph Berger, has some startling figures on the dwindling population of young adults in iconic Northeast suburbs. Between 2000 and 2011, Berger reports, Rye had a 63 percent drop in 25- to 34-year-olds, and 16 percent fewer 35- to 44-year-olds. Outside Washington, DC, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds fell 34 percent in Chevy Chase, 19 percent in Bethesda, and 27 percent in Potomac. The same pattern holds in suburbs ringing Chicago and Boston.

Although Berger noted last month, in his trenchant article about the toll squeeze facing the new Tappan Zee Bridge, that “young Americans are not as enamored of the automobile as their parents’ generation, and are less likely to have drivers’ licenses or own a car,” his piece today largely skirts the car issue. What ails the suburbs, he suggests, are expensive housing, insufficient diversity, a lack of well-paying jobs, and not enough urban “pizzazz.” All true, as is the observation by one of his sources, Christopher Niedt at Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies, that “younger adults are becoming more drawn to denser, more compact urban environments that offer a number of amenities within walking distance of where they live.” Yet the article makes no mention of the high cost to own and operate an auto (or two) in car-dependent suburbs, the boredom of driving in a landscape of strip malls, the time lost to traffic jams.

Berger cites efforts under way in Long Beach — my home town, in Nassau County — to attract young people by “refreshing its downtown near the train station” and adding “apartments, job-rich office buildings, restaurants and attractions” like the replacement boardwalk built after Hurricane Sandy. And indeed, Long Beach’s rectangular street grid, small lot sizes, and main street shopping give it a creditable Walk Score of 64, which doubtless helps residents live affordably with 25 percent fewer cars per household than the county average (1.41 vs. 1.90, according to my calculations based on the Selected Housing Characteristics dataset in the 2012 American Community Survey).

Nevertheless, when it comes to the contest for young people’s allegiance between revived central cities and their suburbs, there are deeper forces at play than even livable streets and freedom from the auto monkey. Here’s how a recent article in Tech Crunch about the Bay Area’s housing crisis put it:

San Francisco’s younger workers derive their job security not from any single employer but instead from a large network of weak ties that lasts from one company to the next. The density of cities favors this job-hopping behavior more than the relative isolation of suburbia.

In short, as lifetime employment at the suburban office park disappears, urban connectivity isn’t just an amenity, it’s a necessity.

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Ford CEO: More Cars in Cities “Not Going to Work”

It’s the last thing you would expect to hear at the Detroit Auto Show from the CEO of Ford Motor Company. But last week, Ford’s Alan Mulally showed some ambivalence about the role of cars in major cities.

At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said he didn't think more cars could solve mobility problems in big cities. Image: ##http://www.topnews.in/files/Alan-Mulally.jpg## Top News##

At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said he doesn’t think more cars can solve mobility problems in big cities. Image: Top News

“I think the most important thing is to look at the way the world is and where the world is going and to develop a plan,” Mulally said, according to the Financial Times. “We’re going to see more and more larger cities. Personal mobility is going to be of really ever-increasing importance to livable lifestyles in big cities.”

Mulally said Ford has been trying to adapt to changing consumer preferences since the Great Recession. Americans have been trading giant SUVs for smaller cars. Young people have been purchasing fewer cars altogether, a phenomenon Mulally said might be reversed by cheaper cars.

But he also said he wasn’t sure what role Ford would play in the future of transportation in big cities. According to the Financial Times, Mulally said that adding more cars in urban environments is “not going to work” and that he was interested in developments in “personal mobility” and “quality of life.” Then he seemed to indicate Ford is interested in getting into transit, car sharing, or other models that don’t align with private car ownership.

“Maybe [our focus] will be on components; maybe it’ll be on pieces of the equipment,” Mulally said. “I don’t know.”

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The American Cities With the Most Growth in Car-Free Households

car-free_households

Source data: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Have we reached peak car in America? Research from the University of Michigan suggests the answer is “yes.”

The highest rate of vehicle ownership in America occurred in 2007, when the average household owned 2.07 vehicles, according to research by Michael Sivak for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute [PDF]. Recently, the average number of cars per household dipped below 2 — at the end of 2012, it was 1.98.

That’s in part because a growing number of American households — especially in big cities — don’t own a car at all anymore. In 2012 — the latest year in which data was available — 9.2 percent of American households lacked a motor vehicle. That’s compared to 8.7 percent in 2007, according to Sivak’s review of Census data.

The share of car-free households varies considerably among the 30 largest American cities, from 56.5 percent in New York to 5.8 percent in San Jose. But between 2007 and 2012, the proportion of car-free households grew in 21 of those 30 cities. The change was especially pronounced in cities where a lot of people were already getting by without cars. The 13 cities with the highest proportion of car-free households in 2007 all saw an increase between then and 2012, reports Sivak.

Not all cities are seeing an increase in car-free households. Denver, Dallas, El Paso, Austin, San Antonio and Columbus all bucked the trend, registering slight increases. Dallas registered no change.

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How Windshield Perspective Shapes the Way We See the World

Via Shane Phillips at Planetizen: A new study published in the Transportation Research Record confirms that windshield perspective is all-too real. Observing the world from behind the wheel, it turns out, has a powerful influence on our judgments about places and even people.

Drivers are exposed to less information about the places they travel through than walkers and bikers. Image: ##http://foodtruckroadtrip.blogspot.com/2012/09/day-3-effort-pa-and-day-4-nyc-and.html## Food Truck Road Trip##

Driving cuts people off from information about their surroundings, unlike walking and biking. Image: Food Truck Road Trip

Researchers found that people driving a car tend to view unfamiliar, less-affluent neighborhoods more negatively than people who were walking, biking or taking transit. In affluent neighborhoods, the inverse effect took hold, and drivers had a more positive view of the surrounding area than other people did.

The study found drivers, pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists even perceived the same event — two children fighting over a piece of paper — differently, reports Eric Horowitz in the Pacific Standard:

The researchers found that participants who saw the video from the perspective of a car rated the actors higher on negative characteristics (threatening, unpleasant) than participants in the other three conditions. Participants who saw the video from the perspective of the pedestrian rated the actors higher on positive characteristics (considerate, well-educated) than those in the car condition.

The research team, from the University of Surrey, also found that, compared to people who aren’t driving, motorists tend to have more negative attitudes toward young people.

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What Did UCLA Really Discover About Millennials’ Reasons for Driving Less?

Tony Dutzik is senior policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of a recent report on shifting transportation habits.

Members of the Millennial generation drive less than they did a decade ago. That much is clear. But are Millennials driving less simply because of the economy? Or are they driving less by choice, because of changing values or changing technologies?

A recent UCLA report may be underestimating the enormity of the influence mobile internet has on our daily lives -- including our transportation behavior. Photo: SF Gate

The answer to that question matters. If the factors driving the Millennials to drive less are lasting, then America can probably afford to spend far less on new highway capacity in the years to come, freeing up resources for other long-neglected transportation priorities.

A 2012 study [PDF] by researchers at UCLA that is just now making it into broader discussion (see this piece from the Atlantic Cities last week) sheds some light on the subject — though not necessarily for the reasons that are gaining the most attention.

The UCLA study analyzes data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) — which was last conducted in 2009 — to investigate how various economic, demographic and other factors influenced people’s travel behavior.

The most important finding, perhaps, is that younger Americans are indeed driving less than previous generations. “All things equal,” the study found, “younger generations appear to (a) travel fewer miles and (b) make fewer trips than was the case for previous generations at the same stage in their lives.” Specifically, they found that young people born in the 1990s traveled 18 percent fewer miles and took 4 percent fewer trips than those born in previous decades. And the data show that while the economy is one important factor, it’s not the only factor.

That finding should be interpreted with caution since it is based on only a few years’ worth of information about drivers born in the 1990s. Even with that caveat, however, the UCLA study might provide the most direct evidence to date for a generational shift in travel patterns.

The other results of the study, however, are attracting more attention — especially its conclusion that there is no link between reductions in driving among Millennials and the use of “information and communications technologies.”

That’s unfortunate, because the UCLA study uses only one metric — daily use of the Internet — to assess how technology use affected travel behavior in 2009. For young people especially, it’s a very limited and possibly outmoded measure.

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Study: Wealthier Motorists More Likely to Drive Like Reckless Jerks

You know the stereotype of the arrogant Porsche driver? Well, science says there’s some truth to it.

People driving luxury cars are more likely to fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk and to engage in other unethical, antisocial behavior, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Drivers of more expensive cars are more likely to cut off other drivers and violate pedestrians' right of way. Image: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A research team including Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner have been examining the way social status and wealth affects morality. Their findings — which are getting a lot of media attention — broadly show that wealthier, higher-status individuals are, essentially, more likely to cheat.

Piff and Keltner, working with researchers from the University of Toronto, conducted seven experiments. Two of them measured the behavior of drivers at four-way intersections and at crosswalks.

The team used vehicle make, model, and year as shorthand for the driver’s social status. In both cases, when controlling for the sex of the driver, time of day, and other factors, the research team found that higher-status drivers were more likely to cut off other drivers at the intersection or fail to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

In the first experiment, about 12.5 percent of drivers proceeded through an intersection without yield to other drivers with the right of way. The drivers of expensive cars were much more likely to engage in this illegal behavior — 30 percent of the drivers classified in the most “high-status” category cut off other drivers. In the second experiment, 35 percent of all drivers failed to yield to pedestrians, compared to 46 percent of those driving the fanciest cars.

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Car Ownership May Be Down in the U.S., But It’s Soaring Globally

The number of cars per person more than doubled in China in just four years. This BMW ad is designed for the booming Chinese market. Photo: Ads of China

Two weeks ago, transportation researcher Michael Sivak brought us the news that there are fewer cars per person in the U.S. now than there were a few years ago – and that the number isn’t expected to rise again.

But globally, the trend is in the opposite direction, and it’s alarming. The world is producing more cars than ever. A new report from the Worldwatch Institute shows that automobile production hit a new high in 2012 — and 2013 is expected to surpass that record. “According to London-based IHS Automotive, passenger-car production rose from 62.6 million in 2011 to 66.7 million in 2012, and it may reach 68.3 million in 2013,” write Worldwatch’s Michael Renner and Maaz Gardeziin. “When cars are combined with light trucks, total light vehicle production rose from 76.9 million in 2011 to 81.5 million in 2012 and is projected to total 83.3 million in 2013.”

The troubling new reality is that while the United States and other developed countries are beginning to lay off the gas, other countries are accelerating wildly. Though the U.S. still has by far the largest fleet of passenger cars, auto sales in China overtook the U.S. in 2011. In 2010, the number of cars in the world hit one billion.

Taken together, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the "BRICs") buy more cars that the United States. Image: The Economist

The number of cars per person in the U.S. has been declining since 2006. But in other countries, the trend is ever upward. According to World Bank data, there were 18 passenger cars per 1,000 Chinese in 2006 and 44 cars per 1,000 in 2010. The Arab world and Eastern Europe have seen tremendous growth in private car ownership over the same period – from 87 to 123 cars per thousand people in Jordan, 18 to 36 in Syria, 230 to 345 in Bulgaria, 351 to 451 in Poland. In the meantime, U.S. rates declined from 453 to 423 per thousand. France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also saw declines.

In 2011, the OECD’s International Transport Forum forecast that the number of cars worldwide would reach 2.5 billion by 2050, with the growth expected to be almost entirely in the developing world. At an ITF meeting, a Chinese professor dismissed the idea of bicycles as an alternative means of transportation, despite the fact that China is famous for its bicycle rush hour. The professor said, apparently without irony, that bicycle use in Beijing is declining “due to poor air quality and the danger from car traffic.”

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Has America Already Hit “Peak Car”?

Any way you cut it, Americans have fewer cars than they used to. Image: UMTRI

In 1901, there were 10,000 motor vehicles in the United States.

It took five years to multiply that number by 10. The next 10-fold increase took seven years, reaching one million vehicles by 1913. Just eight years later, it was 10 million.

From there, it took 47 years to get to the next milestone: America became a 100 million-car nation in 1968. Automobiles were everywhere.

It stands to reason that the number of cars in America eventually crept upward at a much slower pace – and then started to decline. The total number of light duty vehicles in the United States topped out in 2008 at 236.4 million, according to a recent analysis of FHWA and Census numbers by Michael Sivak, the director of the Sustainable Worldwide Transportation program at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

In his report, “Has Motorization in the U.S. Peaked?” [PDF], Sivak concludes that the dip in total vehicles coincides with the economic downturn and will probably rise again with population.

But significantly, Sivak found that the ratio of cars to people is dropping – and will likely continue to drop. Since these rates started to decline before the recession, Sivak concludes that there are other explanations for the decline.

“These rates started to decline not because of economic changes but because of other societal changes that influence the need for vehicles,” Sivak wrote. “Thus, in contrast to the absolute numbers, the recent maxima in the rates have a better chance of being long-term peaks as well.

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AAA: Hands-Free Devices Don’t Solve Distracted Driving Dangers

Researchers at the University of Utah and AAA found that using hands-free electronic devices and on-board technology can cause dangerous levels of driver distraction. Image: AAA

Distracted driving killed 3,331 people on American streets in 2011, yet car manufacturers continue to outdo each other to add more infotainment distractions in their vehicles. These systems are expected to increase five-fold by 2018, according to AAA. Carmakers seek to show their commitment to safety by making their distractions – onboard dinner reservation apps and social media, for example – hands-free. But a growing body of research indicates that there is no safe way to combine driving with tasks like dictating email or text messages.

AAA recently teamed up with experts at the University of Utah to conduct the most in-depth analysis to date of the impact of cognitive distractions on drivers’ performance. They found that some hands-free technologies, like voice-to-text email, can be far more dangerous than even handheld phone conversations. Unlike previous studies, they also found that conversations with passengers can be more distracting than those on the phone, but only if the passenger is kept unaware of what’s happening on the road.

The researchers had subjects first perform a series of eight tasks, ranging from nothing at all to usage of various electronic devices to something called OSPAN, or operation span, which sets the maximum demand the average adult brain can handle. For the OSPAN, the researchers gave subjects words and math problems to recall later, in the same order, as a way to “anchor the high end of the cognitive distraction scale developed by the research team,” according to AAA’s Jake Nelson.

The more mental energy an activity requires, the more it slows drivers' reaction time. Image: AAA

The subjects then performed these eight tasks while operating a driving simulator, and then while driving on residential streets in an “instrumented” vehicle that captures information about the driver’s eye movements and brain activity.

In each environment, researchers studied how the additional tasks added to subjects’ “cognitive workload” and diminished their eye movements. They found that as drivers devote more mental energy to other tasks in addition to driving, the less observant they become, and the more they fail to scan for roadway hazards.

This bolsters the conclusions of previous experiments: that when drivers are mentally distracted by some other task, they get tunnel vision. They keep their eyes fixed on the road in front of them to the exclusion of everything else — the rear-view mirror, side mirrors, and “safety critical roadside objects” and “cross traffic threats” — such as pedestrians.

The AAA study also found that greater “cognitive workloads” slow drivers’ reactions to events like a ball rolling in front of the car and a kid running out to catch it. (Reaction times were measured with the simulator, not the instrumented vehicle driving on real streets.)

The researchers conclude that hands-free communications can be significantly more distracting and dangerous for drivers to engage in than passive tasks like listening to music:

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