Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Retrofit" the suburbs?

The anti-car folks---especially the bike people---are so gleeful about the spike in gas prices they are ready to dismantle and reorganize American society on the assumption that cars are becoming obsolete.

Reality check: The end of the age of oil is just beginning, and American society is already beginning to adapt. The auto industry will make a relatively quick adjustment, since their very survival depends on their doing so. If cars can be designed to run on the grease from deep-fat fryers, why does anyone think the automobile itself will become obsolete?

The bike people are nevertheless ready to abandon the suburbs and crowd us into highrises in cities---along "transit corridors," of course---in anticipation of that great day when people will no longer drive cars and will turn to---guess what?---bicycles!

Bike guy Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the anti-car SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association): "We built the Bay Area in a car-oriented, suburban pattern so that almost everyone is forced to drive...Now we have to go back and retrofit it." No we don't, since engines that run only on oil will be replaced with electric, hybrid and other technologies. In fact, it's already happening.

Like all progressives, SPUR thinks government action is what will save us, but for once we should count on the free market rather than heavy-handed government programs or mandates, as the price of gas will by itself do more to replace the old technology than any government mandate.

SPUR's transportation director, by the way, is former SF Bicycle Coalition director, Dave Snyder. Readers of this blog will recall that Snyder formulated the city's devious---and, fortunately, unsuccessful---strategy to sneak the Bicycle Plan through the process without any environmental review.

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At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are 200 million cars and trucks on the road in this country alone. What alt-fuel technology is going to quickly scale up to that level? If the economy is in recession, who will buy the newfangled machines, anyway?

Or maybe you are thinking that Santa's elves will come redesign our cars to run on happy thoughs while we sleep?

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody is arguing that cars will become obsolete.

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, I would suggest you read a little about cities before you make assumptions like that. High0rises are not the answer. Traditional suburbs are fine - like berkely or albany for example. In those suburbs you are not a slave to your car, though you can still own one as you like (unlike SF). The problems are in the fringes of Contra Costa country, and elswhere (like vegas and phoenix) where you are 100% dependant on the car to so much as blow your nose.

Those are the places that will need to change (and rightfully so). High rises are not needed, and I would suggest you stop encouraging them as we could easily lose San Francisco if too much of that kind of development happens here.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There are 200 million cars and trucks on the road in this country alone. What alt-fuel technology is going to quickly scale up to that level?"

I didn't write "quickly" in the post; all I'm saying is that it's already beginning to happen, regardless of the technology that ultimately becomes dominant for car engines. And people are already driving less because of the cost of gas.

Dale Shires: Perhaps I phrased the post with the assumption that readers would know that I oppose the highrise fad in San Francisco that is supported by so many progressives, including Supervisors Daly, Peskin, and Mirkarimi. The reigning orthodoxy in our Planning Dept. and at the BOS is that we can encourage more population density in city neighborhoods that are near a major transit corridor. I think this is false for a number of reasons, which means we agree on that issue. City progressives and planners are encouraging the city to build residential highrises to prevent suburban sprawl.

The car culture is nowhere near dead for the distant suburbs like those you mention, since my assumption is that cars are here to stay, with the only difference being the engines that power them. The big question now is how long and/or difficult the transition from engines powered by fossil fuel to engines that are powered differently.

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hybrid - uses gas; on the highway, hybrids don't use much less gas that regular engines. Also, the batteries use metals we have a limited supply of, they wear out, and we have limited ways to recycle them.

Pollution D
Resources use C-
infrastructure use A-
human health promotion D-

Electric cars - would double the need for generating and transmission facilities. In the Bay area, this means the construction of at least 10,000 windmills, with the associated transmission lines. Reduces pollution (if you use non-polluting generators), but still promotes a sedentary lifestyle.

Pollution A
Resources use A
infrastructure use F
human health promotion C-

Waste (including waste oil) - availability unpredictable, requires significant vehicle modification.

Pollution C
Resources use A
infrastructure use F
human health promotion D

Bicycle - promotes fitness and healthy lifestyles, provides significant mobility, particularly when combined with and supporting public transit.

Pollution B
Resources use A
infrastructure use A
human health promotion A


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