Thursday, July 23, 2009

"We aren't going to be giving up our cars soon..."

From Randall O'Toole's blog (http://ti.org/antiplanner/):

Apocalypse ASAP

People like James Howard Kunstler, who is committed to the death of the suburbs, and this guy, who thinks gasoline will “inevitably” reach $20 a gallon, see only good coming from these futures. For example, the latter character thinks that expensive gasoline will cure American obesity. He doesn’t explain why the Netherlands, where gas is expensive and lots of people walk and cycle, has obesity rates that are only about 10 years behind those in the U.S.

The Antiplanner hates to disappoint anyone, but we aren’t going to be giving up our cars anytime soon. If the price of gas goes up, we’ll either find more oil or we will find substitutes for that oil. For example, MIT is developing an electric car with a new kind of batteries that can be recharged in 11 minutes. Then there’s the Tesla Model S, whose batteries can be switched out in five minutes.

Regarding a different mode of transportation, someone has proposed a new airport on Manhattan Island, which would be a lot more convenient for many people than the airports now serving New York City. Where would it go? Why, in the largest piece of undeveloped land in Manhattan, namely Central Park. Of course, it’s a prank; if they had wanted to be taken seriously, they should have proposed to turn the park into high-density, transit-oriented developments. (emphasis added)
http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=1617

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12 Comments:

At 10:17 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Aside from Kunstler having his own first level points, the fact that cheap gas enables sprawl has second order effects beyond that - the primary issue being water. The car has enabled the Bay Area to sprawl to the point where the water supply is stretched to the point of breaking.

Back in the day you only lived in Antioch if you needed the pastureland for your cattle. Now we built up the place and the water system is in trouble. We pump more water, destroy the delta ecosystem, destroying the fishing industry in San Francisco.

We can't switch from water to "other water".

Regardless of this, the whole red herring of the electric car is not one I buy. These things have been promised for decades and consistently end up being vaporware. And as anyone paying attention knows, electricity isn're really a "substitute" for oil. All of it is energy. If we start sucking electricity from the grid to power cars, we'll need to replace that capacity somehow.

 
At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Shawn Allen said...

That's a very ignorant perspective, Rob. Even if the fabled electric car were to roll off of the production line today, it wouldn't come anywhere close to solving our oil problem. Who can afford to replace their car in this economy? And, failing that, who's going to pay to retrofit the hundreds of millions of automobiles on the road today with rechargeable battery systems? It's simply not going to happen on the time scale at which we need to reduce our oil consumption in order to avoid much higher gas prices.

Not that it would make much of a difference anyway. In case you missed it, the Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force just released a final report which points out that our state's grid doesn't even have the capacity to support them yet (on page 53):

6.2.4 Electric cars cannot replace the current vehicle fleet.
There are alternatives to the conventional auto that do not use petroleum at all. One such automobile type is the plug-in electric car. However, there are significant infrastructure challenges in bringing electric vehicle use up to any meaningful scale. Electric vehicles require hours to fully charge, which eliminates the possibility of establishing charging stations that, like gas stations, could quickly recharge the vehicles.

Even if the City were willing to spend the necessary funds to build and maintain citywide electric-car-charging infrastructure, San Francisco does not have access to the significant electrical power that would be necessary to charge more than a fraction of the vehicles on the road: A recent study estimates that, given current capacity, California's electric grid would be unable to handle the conversion of more than 15% of the current automobile stock to electric vehicles.


Whether you "believe" in peak oil is irrelevant. Obviously, electric vehicles are going to play an important role in reducing our dependence on oil in the long term. However, until we both increase the share of renewable sources in our energy production mix and develop a transmission grid capable of serving their power needs, they're not going to even make a dent in our demand for oil.

 
At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does make sense that the guy who criticizes bicycling but doesn't know the first thing about urbanism would agree with the guy who criticizes Kunstler but doesn't know the first thing about peak oil.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger Lex said...

"Regardless of this, the whole red herring of the electric car is not one I buy. These things have been promised for decades and consistently end up being vaporware."

Just because something hasn't happened before doesn't mean it *won't* happen. Flat screen TVs were predicted since the 1960s. Eventually technology caught up with the concept and they became available.

When gas was cheap there was little incentive for development of an electric car. But things are changing. Each time the cost of a gallon of gas jumps another dollar electric cars begin to look more attractive.

This isn't something that will happen overnight. It's going to be an incremental process but it *will* happen. There are also going to be bridge technologies which will make the transition smoother. Research into fuel cells and hydrogen powered vehicles will ramp up over the next 20 years.

 
At 11:22 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

The problem with this is that the automakers have been gutted. It's a lot easier to shoot for the moon when Kennedy says "We're going to the moon, here's the money".

Even with some amount of bubble gum and bailing wire applied, the best and the brightest want to work for Google and Intel, not GM and Ford. The same tired old engineers won't produce revolutionary products. Tesla? No ability to scale.

Honestly I don't care if I am right or wrong, there are other costs beyond just the gas put into cars, that won't go away. We're not getting an electric road paver anytime soon.

 
At 9:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

But Murph, what about bikes? I thought that, when all the oil runs out, we were all going to be riding bikes, especially here in Progressive Land.

 
At 7:06 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

I think you presume that everyone who disagrees with you about bikes necessarily thinks that they are the end-all be-all of transportation.

That's called a strawman, Rob.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

But you folks act like bikes are a lot more significant than they are or ever will be. The EIR on the Bicycle Plan tells us that it's going to have "significant unavoidable impacts" on Muni and traffic in general, but the city is going to implement it anyhow. What does that tell you? Bikes uber alles.

 
At 11:36 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Significant unavoidable impacts does not translate to "cars and MUNI will come to a dead stop", and only bikes will make any progress.

Cars and MUNI will be suffer some impact, cyclists will enjoy a benefit. Given where the current state of play on the road is, the changes will bring a better balance to the modes sharing the road. This does not equate to "Bikes uber alles".

Significant unavoidable impacts is a pretty vague term, you've defined it to mean all hell is going to break loose. If that actually happens, then we won't have created a better balance, and we'll have to modify the system again. Minor traffic delay (beyond current delay) is a tradeoff that our democratically elected government has decided is worth the predicted level of impact.

The EIR is done, it gave the democratically elected government the information it needed to make the choice they believed was best. At this point if you disagree with the decision, your only remedy is the ballot box. Good luck.

 
At 10:58 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Until now, Murph, your comments have been honest and straightforward, though often uninformed. You put "cars and Muni will come to a dead stop" in quotation marks, though I've never written anything remotely like that.

"Significant unavoidable impacts is a pretty vague term, you've defined it to mean all hell is going to break loose."

No, I've never defined it that way at all. "Significant unavoidable impact" is in fact defined in the EIR on the Bicycle Plan, which of course you haven't read. It involves the amount of traffic delay caused by taking away a traffic lane to make a bike lane. The EIR tells us that some of the Bicycle Plan projects will in fact delay both Muni buses and other traffic at specific intersections. The term also means that these impacts can't be mitigated, which is why the city is invoking "overriding considerations"---the overall desiriability of implementing the Bicycle Plan to the detriment of regular city traffic.

"Minor traffic delay (beyond current delay) is a tradeoff that our democratically elected government has decided is worth the predicted level of impact."

Yes, the Board of Supervisors is elected, but the Bicycle Plan, like Critical Mass, will never appear on the ballot for reasons I think are obvious: city voters would reject it. The moral of the story: the city has no idea how people are going to react when they implement the Plan and it clearly makes traffic worse on major traffic arteries, like Second Street, Fifth Street, Masonic Ave., and Cesar Chavez. I guess we're going to find out.

"The EIR is done, it gave the democratically elected government the information it needed to make the choice they believed was best. At this point if you disagree with the decision, your only remedy is the ballot box."

Not necessarily so. There are some serious issues in the EIR that could still be litigated, like the city's cavalier attitude toward parking, which it claims is not an environmental impact, allowing it to remove or reduce street parking wherever they want to make bike lanes. The city gets away with this only because the issue has never been litigated. And there's the "overriding considerations" issue, that is what kind of evidence does the city need to invoke this justification for implementing the Plan, even though the EIR tells them it's going to have negative impacts on Muni and traffic in general?

 
At 6:41 PM, Blogger bikefridaywalter said...

Rob, you never answered my question many moons ago:

"So you mean to tell me that when the city does the study and all is hunky dory and nothing changes, you're going to suddenly be elated to know that all is well?"

Instead, in your typical elusive fashion, when someone finally gets you between a rock and a hard place and you discover a question you can't answer, you say something else.

You were actually somewhat kind back then. Now you're just insulting and mocking:

"But Murph, what about bikes? I thought that, when all the oil runs out, we were all going to be riding bikes, especially here in Progressive Land."

I doubt that's going to help convince anyone.

I'm still convinced you've got some personal vendetta against bikes. And I still (go back to that aforementioned post) wonder why. Sure, the Bicycle Plan is going to have an impact. Even if it didn't have an impact on traffic (it inevitably will-- that's the whole point) it's going to affect taxpayers. Everything has its pros and cons. It is a question of trying to determine which way to lean.

Problem is, I don't even see you considering both sides. I see no where on this blog where you say anything positive about cyclists. We're not all a bunch of Critical Massing lunatics. Hell, some of us drive, too. But you don't seem to consider that. You just seem to consider bikes bad. I see lots of cyclists who have no clue about being safe, considerate, or respectful. I also see plenty that do. But I don't see you discussing that.

Which brings me back to my question-- why? Did you fall off your bike when you were a kid? Maybe mom put you on the back of one of those God-forsaken rack-mountable kid seats and you got into an accident (trailers, by the way, are a much safer alternative).

I'm surprised that after having the EIR done, you're still complaining, in one sense, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised considering that answer you gave me long before. It seems that ultimately you're more interested in encouraging negative attitudes towards cycling.

It would be nice if, instead of complaining about people not reading the EIR, you were to elaborate. What are the details behind the delays on MUNI? I personally believe that public transportation is a high priority for any city. Despite my own personal interest in cycling, I see it as an even higher priority as it's more accessible to a larger group of people (the disabled have a bit of trouble with cycling and plenty of people don't like to get wet). I don't think that I'm alone in the cycling community with that opinion, either.

But for all this concern about traffic delays and what not, why don't we do an EIR on the impact of single-user driving. What do you think about how much more taxpayers have to pay for road construction because instead of using light transportation (anything human powered) or concentrating it with public transportation, we're seeing 4000 pounds of car pound into the roads per 166 pound person? I think a little thorn in the car traffic might be a good thing, until we start seeing smaller vehicles, at least. Europe's at least a step ahead of us on that EIR.

 
At 10:44 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

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