I was commuting to work for the 412th time when it his me: I’m bringing a house with me.

There are kits to turn cars into houses, and cars have long been used as shelter by those too transit or poor to afford the going rate foe actual hosing. When I was in Mumbai, I saw people living in 2 story, 9 foot tall houses for families of 3-5 that would have easily fit in the footprint of a parking space, if not a car.

The footprint of a car is not just the boundaries of its tires and bumpers, but also the space it takes up in the lane. Nearly lane is built twice as wide as the car to account for human error. If we have to fit a six foot car into a ten foot lane, we get skittish as if were driving on ancient roads in European towns. We slow down. As we slow down or speed back up, the space between us and the car in front of us must increase. It must increase because we understand the relationship between speed and death. That space is not negotiable, so long as we are within our senses.

At the national average speed of 31 miles per hour, that minimum safe distance is almost 100 feet. On an ordinary road, not a highway, a single car consumes 12*(91+15)=1,272 square feet of road space, or the average size of a home built in the 1960s. Parked, a s car consumes 9*18=162 square feet of parking, plus the space needed to get it to that parking spec, for 325 square feet. The tiny house movement or urban apartment dwellers yearn for that kind of space.

For me to drive to work, my workplace, or the owner of the building has to indulge me and all my coworkers with a paved space the size of a house. The cost of building this space, in real estate and pavement, is not insubstantial. As low as $1,000 in new farmland d at the rural/urban fringe, to over $40,000 per space for underground parking. I recently had a conversation with a planner in Atlanta who reminded me that the shallow bedrock under the historic downtown made underground parking impossible at almost any price. All this increases tone cost of the building, the rent to tenants like my employer, and reduces my pay. All because I have to bring a house to work.

Traffic is a loss leader. Businesses spend money to develop real estate to accommodate cars so that people can arrive by traffic. If they done’ t provide enough parking, people will drive elsewhere, and they will lose business. This is not just common sense, they are required to by law to build parking based on the intended land uses of their buildings.

Yet consider the even larger cost of transit vehicles.

Transit riders don’t bring their houses with them, but they demand a different kind of cost. Even bus riders demand that their bus stop near their hose and there work. Fines for the transit passengers, maddening for all the other vehicles in traffic. Transit riders also demand that their vehicles arrive in a timely fashion. If the headways between buses are much more than 15 minutes, passengers will begin to learn and expect a timetable. Every bus or train arriving on that timetable is there to serve the needs a of a different set of passengers, all of whom expect it to have a place for them and to take them where they need to go and the get them back hours later. These buses or trains have to run whether or not the passengers are there that day, or ever, for the sake of potential passenger services. A multi ton bus needs to be carrying 4 passengers to match the per mile efficiency of a single occupant car. Many buses are not this full for much of their routes, and many bus runs on the middle of the day are never this full, particularly in the suburbs. Much transit is developed with the wish “If we build it, they will come”, but there is nothing in the road network or built environment of these suburban routes to think they will ever come in the numbers needed to make the bus anything more than a loss leader.

To serve all the passengers at their starts and stops, their boardings and alightings, suburban bus transit must follow a convoluted course through a network and land use not made for transit. Rial transit routes make a little more sense, because their tracks and their vehicles cannot corner so tightly”. If transit wants to be well occupied, and therefore less efficiency and more of a help to transit passengers than a hindrance to traffic, it needs to have rich and diverse land uses next to every stop.

There is a Gentlemen’s Agreement between transportation and land use in America that transportation planners don’t monkey with land use, and land use owners return the favor. Of course, land use planners acknowledge and require all land uses to include parking, almost always for free. That’s all the help and understanding traffic needed to become the dominant form of transportation in America. Europe famously tried to adopt traffic into its cities in thee 1960s, and struggled with where to put all the houses STRIKE cars until they were forced to find a better way. America just destroyed their downtowns in the service of traffic.


Courtesy: Fine Art America
Note the Parking Decks in the skyline.

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