Here is a speaks-for-itself map of Ireland’s railroad network, first in 1920, and then again in 2020:
According to Apple’s cell phone tracking data, driving automobiles in the United States is down from normal by about 1/3. [Note: See line 148 of the underlying spreadsheet.]
As a result of this one-third reduction, U.S. freeways and streets are now, in the experience of your humble DbC editor, operating roughly like they are supposed to operate. Traffic jams have become truly rare, and travel times pretty reliably approximate what distances and speed limits together suggest they should.
The obvious conclusion from this natural-experimental result is that our existing automobile facilities are under-built by some factor that explains all the headaches and waste of normal automobile travel. That factor has to be at least 1/3 — and might be higher, since there are probably issues of greater-than-1:1 scaling in the infrastructures that would have to exist in order to allow the now-missing 1/3 of normal automobile traffic to enjoy the optimal results now occurring in these abnormal, reduced-use conditions.
So, in order to allow today’s stock of automobiles to work as advertised, we would need to have about twice as much roadway capacity as we now do.
Likewise, if we were to try to sustain this level of functionality, all future accommodation of still-more automobiles (i.e. the normal plan and assumption) would have to be roughly twice as big as we are accustomed to such projects being.
The fact that we don’t (and won’t, and could not) provide such accommodation speaks not just to the material and geo-spatial insanity of cars-first transportation, but also to the gargantuan time-theft that inheres in it, under corporate capitalist normalcy — something, btw, that our overclass is positively quivering to reopen/re-impose.
Almost invariably, even lefties who worry about cars-first transportation fall into talking about the “love affair with the automobile” that supposedly grips the great American masses.
The other massive problem with the love affair trope is that it — sometimes rather blatantly — diverts attention from what I call the shove affair story.
The corporate economy that dominates our lives exists to serve the interests of its primary beneficiaries, the elite households holding large tranches of claims on corporations’ net cash flows. Both these households and the big business economy that fuels their privilege are literally addicted to the continued existence of cars-first transportation in the United States, come Hell or high water.
As a result of this institutional addiction, at no time in automotive-epoch American history has basic transportation policy been permitted to become a major topic in a national election. Cars-first outcomes are simply too important to TPTB to be put at any risk of discontinuation.
Astoundingly, to date, nobody has ever told the shove affair story in anything approaching a proper form. In his great, flawed, now out-of-print classic, Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader promised, but failed, to do so. American sociology, a natural home to such a thing, has never mentioned the topic, which exists in a different universe than the abstracted empiricist one that, C. Wright Mills notwithstanding, long ago swallowed that discipline. Marxists, meanwhile, have remained too self-stultified to get there, as the overclass automotive shove affair has little to do with falling rates of profit or class boundaries, whatever those are.
Speaking of meanwhile, the time is beyond ripe…
It figures that the inevitable catastrophic idea has arrived under the fetid banner of the dishonorable Senator Charles E. Schumer. Here it is, as just announced in The New York Times:
I am announcing a new proposal designed to rapidly phase out gas-powered vehicles and replace them with zero-emission, or “clean,” vehicles like electric cars. The goal of the plan, which also aims to spur a transformation in American manufacturing, is that by 2040 all vehicles on the road should be clean.
Given that the United States is the flagship and proving ground of corporate capitalism — the veritable paradise for aspiring rentiers — cars-first transportation has always been imposed by fiat here. That has always been because nothing else can or could have sustained the Big Business system, which is institutionally addicted to massive and unending socio-economic waste.
More importantly for us now, nothing other than cars-first transportation can be discussed here in this money-makers’ Nirvana, because the waste must go on, come Hell or high water, if the cash is to continue to flow uphill.
Schumer explains, backhandedly, the continuity he and his sponsors seek, despite the times:
Critics have long said that bold action on climate change would cost America money and jobs. This is not true. My plan is estimated to create tens of thousands of new, good-paying jobs in this country and should re-establish the United States as the world leader in auto manufacturing. Much as America experienced a revolution in auto manufacturing at the outset of the 20th century, America under this plan should experience a revolution in clean auto manufacturing at the beginning of this century.
See? The 21st century will be just like the 20th! Only it will be “electric.”
The unmentionable problem, of course, is that relying on a quarter-billion personally-owned, independently steered 3,000-pound machines as the main way of accomplishing everyday intra- and inter-urban locomotion is, whatever the fuel source, a patently suicidal idea.
Oh, and by the way, Schumer is proposing to spend $45 billion a year to subsidize the sale of new EVs, in order to get something like 1/4 of the total US vehicle fleet (“63 million fewer gas-powered cars on the road by 2030”) to be “electric.” Total US spending on all public transportation everywhere is now barely more that this sum.
Such is the way Carmageddon arrives…
Kara Swisher credits herself with being “pretty good at this guessing game.” She says, in today’s New York Times, that owning a car will soon be a quaint thing of the past. DbC hereby offers to wager Ms. Swisher on that one — our entire gross monthly revenues versus one-tenth of yours. The proposed bet: Ten years hence, neo-taxi hiring will indeed be more popular among yuppies like Swisher, but — barring the arrival of the ecological catastrophe we are so obviously courting but not confronting — overall car-ownership rates will not have dropped by even 10 percent in these United States of America.
The problem for Swisher is that she does not understand corporate capitalism, which literally, institutionally requires the perpetuation of cars-first transportation in the United States, come Hell and/or high water. Unlike the transition from land phones to cell phones — the “guess” that Swisher imagines herself as having oracularly foreseen for us, selling fewer cars would constitute a reduction in net effective demand/commodification/commercialism/waste. As such, it is anathema to our socio-economic order and the elite privilege it exists to serve.
Funny how you can become a wealthy pundit in this society and be utterly oblivious to such elementary facts.
Meanwhile, the trend Swisher thinks she sees is not even happening.
California aspires to obtain all its electricity from renewable sources, 27 years hence. The great fly in the ointment? As always, corporate capitalism’s lifeblood commodity, the private automobile.
The reality is that the U.S. automotive fleet is now the nation’s #1 domestic GHG emitter, out-GHG-polluting not just each of the economy’s other four end-use sectors (farms, retailers, factories, households), but also the entire electricity-generation industry. And the gulf will only widen.
All unmentioned and unmentionable, of course…
Massive personal and collective harm are features, nut bugs, in cars-first transportation. Basing everyday locomotion on heavy, complex, independently-steered boxes traveling at high speeds is never going to become compatible with anything like maximum personal safety and overall ecological sustainability. The laws of physics are, as Billy Bragg once observed, very, very strict.
None of this prevents those who prosper from the sociopathic reign of the automobile from pushing, with the help (or at least the non-resistance) of those who should know better, the delusion that better roads and cars are somehow, someway going to be enough.
Witness the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility, which expresses legitimate alarm over the fact that 90 percent of the “1.25 million people killed on the world’s roads each year and another 20-50 million seriously injured” are residents of the Third World, but proposes to solve this problem by massively deepening the world’s reliance on automobiles.
According to the World Bank, what is needed in the Third World is more conventional development (“integration” in WB lingo), so that the Third World can become like the First World, where the level of “traffic safety” is, it says, just fine and dandy.
Should we somehow manage to transcend it and pass on the basis for further human progress, our grandchildren will want to laugh and vomit over such high-minded nonsense, which would be hugely obvious and repulsive in any age not utterly lobotomized by its own ruling ideas.
Decrepit ruling classes only know how to intensify the tactics that enriched them. In that vein, get a load of this contraption, which enables the “self-driving” of experimental Apple cars:
What do you think the repair bill would be on that in the case of a collision with a bus, dump truck, or lamppost?
The automobile dominates the United States because it is the best possible platform for advancing the cause of sellable waste, which is itself a systemic requirement for the perpetuation of corporate capitalism.
The SUV/pickup breakthrough of the 1990s was a huge advance in the history of car-marketing, as we all know, but never properly discuss.
A socio-economic system addicted to unending expansion of sellable waste also implies the radical, unending commodification and commercialization of host societies.
Tracking and elucidating all this is, of course, one purpose of Death by Car.
Having been reminded of this, contemplate one of the latest logical manifestations of the whole shebang: the “Will it Fit?” feature of edmunds.com’s mobile device app:
Does that speak volumes, or what?
Seems like the new boss is pretty much the same as the old boss:
The corporate technocrats’ big open secret is that they, being worshippers of money, computers, and bossing, insist on underestimating the complexity of human reason, especially the reality of tacit knowledge.