AHC: Have American cities be among the most pedestrian-friendly in the world

The challenge is as follows: prevent the rise of suburbs and urban sprawl while also making American cities walkable and developed with a heavy focus on public transportation.

If this is ASB, is it at all possible if the POD was pushed back to pre-1900?
 

DougM

Donor
I am not sure this isn’t ASB
In order to emphasis walking an public transit you need to change a lot of things.

1) eliminate cars (this is ASB)
Or 2) you need to radically change the cities.

In order to get mass transit and walking to work you need to have enough things within walking distance to be able to walk. You can not afford to have mass transit stop every 1/2 Mile if you have buildings spread out like in the suburbs. You will never get enough folks using any given stop to justify it. On top of this all the stops will make mass transit so slow no one will use it.
In order to get this kind of density you have to have a city that has no room to expand so it CANT sprawl, well that is kind of hard to do in the US. The one thing we have is space. So in most cases in the US once you get cars you are going to get sprawl.

So your other option is to build your city BEFORE the advent of cars. Problem is you can only build so many cities in the US Before 1920. And surprise surprise those cities we did build before 1920 for the most part do have mass transit and walking.

The reality that no one wants to admit is that mass transit as a concept sucks and as a practical thing is even worse. I just got back from almost three weeks in Europe in locations such as Paris and London. And the one common denominator in any city that has and uses Mass transit is. They are not designed and built to accommodate cars. So they have horrible traffic and they have absolutely no place to park. Thus people take mass transit and walk. This is the same reason they walked in the 1800 and in 800 the average person has no other real option. So they walk.
But the truth is mass transit is not all it is advertised. It is great in concept but not what you think about it. Even in London a city that generally is considered to have about as good of a mass transit system as you can get the system has its drawbacks. And from personal experience I can tell you that Paris, Munich, and Cologne as well Chicago, Boston and Washington DC to name but a few all have the same problems because these problems are inherent in the system.
In no particular order.
No mater how often the system runs you will have to schedule your plans around the system. And the less density you get (usually the farther from downtown you go) the less frequent the system is. If you get a location that has such a high frequency that you basically have constant options then odds are that it will be so busy that getting on becomes an issue.

The other big issue is that you are going to have to walk. That sounds great but what happens if you twist your ankle? Guess what. You walk. If you need to bring three boxes of cupcakes for a party? You walk. If you have bad weather? You walk. And keep in mind cities are not perfectly flat so you have to walk up hill at some point. That may not be an issue in your 40s but in your 70s or if you have bad lungs or bad heart it can be a huge issue. My elderly father was with me this year. He generally is in pretty good shape for his age but walking up hills orcsteps is an issue and as such we had to stop and rest muiltple Times on the way to (up hill) the tube station. Like I said this sounds good until you have to actually use it. And it is only worse if you are not in great or at least good shape. I would not recommend my elderly friends and family move from a car friendly city to say London. While in Paris we got caught in the unexpected rain on the way to the subway. And then of course between the subway and our hotel and my dad caught a cold. If we had a car this would not have happened.

Crowds. Let’s be honest no system is going to be designed and ran with a lot of extra compasity. So at the Peak of Rush hour the system is going to be crowded beyond full. And for a reasonable time on either side of peak rush hour it is going to be full. Add in that some routes are going to be critical to more folks and those lines will be full most of the time. And remember it is a first come first serve system so just because you work beast stop three and the train gets full at the interchange with the other line at stop three you can pretty much gaurentee that you will NEVER get a seat.

So you have to put up with someone else’s schedule. You have to walk no mater the weather or your physical condition, you have to carry everything, and you are going to get crowds and I mean standing so close together that you don’t need to hold on because you can’t actually fall over.

So picture this you break you left baby toe. You have went into the office early after a night where your neighbors cat kept you awake so you are tired You have to bring a big box of files home with you and Once again the weatherman was wrong and instead of sunny and 70 it is 45 and raining. So you have to walk several blocks uphill in the rain (good luck keeping those important files in that carboard box dry). You get to the station struggling with to get through the gate will juggling your pay card and your box then fight your way down to the platform. You wait for the train but between those on the platform and how full the train is you have to wait for the next one. You push unto the second train after waiting 5 minutes and now you have to hold the box because there is no place to set it. 15 minutes later you get to you interchange stop. Get off struggling to the next platform and miss that train as the doors close just as you get there. Well now you are farther out and you have a 12 minute wait. But at least you can set the damn box down. On the platform. Ick. After you wait you get into you next train but once again no seats so for the next 15 minutes you hold your box. Finally you get far enough out to get luck and get a seat seat so for the last 5 minutes you get to sit with the bix on your lap. As you stand up to get off you realize that the box had something on the bottom (remember setting the box on the platform?) and your new dress is a mess. After getting off and struggling through the gate doing your juggling routine with the bix and your pay card you get outside you find it raining cats and dogs. So you get the limp home on a broken toe for the next 10 minutes.

OR you walk out to your car in the parking lot spend an hour sitting in your dry heated padded comfortable car (stuck in traffic) pulli into your garage and walk into your house.

Using mass transit is frankly a pain in the but and in order to get it into use you have to make any other option a bigger pain. Good luck with that in a city built after the car was invented and that has room to grow,
 
Have a hardcore environmentalist movement sweep the nation, or at least gain enough popularity to enact some legislation in states with the largest cities, and make emission standards much higher for cars. Probably not enough in and of itself, but it's what comes to me immediately.
 

DougM

Donor
Two final thoughts.

In cities with “good” mass transit you still have a situation where anyone that can drives, those that take mass transit do so because it either saves a LOT of time, saves a LOT of money or they just plan can’t drive because of no place to park. So in general even in cities with good mass transit people prefer to drive if they can. Presumably they have a reason.

My second point is that for almost all of recorded history we walked or rode an animal. Then we invented mass transit of various forms. And last we invented the car. If walking and mass transit were such great concepts and better the the car we would not have built so many cars. It is not like we went from no cars one day to cities and suburbs that required cars the next. There was a time when most cities where not designed for cars so people who did not have cars and used alternatives chose to buy cars. Presumably they had good reasons.
 
Try to have moving walkways on all main axes of your cities as soon as possible. It is a suggestion that come back often in urbanism projects to alleviate traffic in city centres. The current cost of construction prevent those projects from going further, but if the concept had been tried early, maybe they'd be an affordable solution by now.
 
In a lot of American cities (home of the car crazy Americans), there are a lot of factors in drive versus walk/transit. What time of day is it - do you really want to drive in Manhattan during morning and evening "drive times", or try and go down 5th avenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas during the day?? How far are you going, and will your destination be someplace that has a shit at on street parking or in the core where parking costs a great deal. Naturally a relatively compact city like Boston, New York, etc is more amenable to walk/transit than LA where it is 45 minutes on the freeway to get to the bathroom in the morning :)

Taxis/Ubers/etc are an excellent solution when you need the convenience of a car ride, and the sooner we go to electric vehicles for this (as well as buses) you deal with the pollution. Political decisions were made along the way that subsidies for autos were good, subsidies for transit were bad. For low density/low population areas cars make a great deal of sense, for high density/high population that make a mess. On a personal note most people I know in NYC who do own cars, and many do not, keep them garaged most of the time and only use them for travel OUT of the city, not in the city.
 
Another thing: Prevent the bike. It was and is often the missing linke in the development of the car as main way of personal traffic.
Individual, low maintanance, a lot faster than walking and way easier to handle than a horse.
 
Two final thoughts.

In cities with “good” mass transit you still have a situation where anyone that can drives, those that take mass transit do so because it either saves a LOT of time, saves a LOT of money or they just plan can’t drive because of no place to park. So in general even in cities with good mass transit people prefer to drive if they can. Presumably they have a reason.

My second point is that for almost all of recorded history we walked or rode an animal. Then we invented mass transit of various forms. And last we invented the car. If walking and mass transit were such great concepts and better the the car we would not have built so many cars. It is not like we went from no cars one day to cities and suburbs that required cars the next. There was a time when most cities where not designed for cars so people who did not have cars and used alternatives chose to buy cars. Presumably they had good reasons.
Yes, but those reasons also were shaped by the times. Cities were gaining a questionable reputation and people moved out to the suburbs because they saw it as a good way to start a family and having a car gave people a greater sense of autonomy over traveling.

However, at least with the US, due to its relative you, culture and various other factors, cities and towns were built with the idea of everyone having a car. The amount of everything changing because of that cannot be overstated, especially with the US.

Now, a car is now a mixed blessing st best. A lot of space is reserved for parking, highways and so on while cars come with their own sets of problems and inconveniences.

The car changed Americsn culture and shaped it drastically. Even now, there’s a lot of changes and most people feel they have to get one to get anywhere, so it’s become a necessary burden for a growing amount of people.

Delaying the car by several decades if you choose not to do away with it entirely could work since cities and modern lifestyles would get used to it and cars would be forced to adapt than the other way around.
 

Art

Monthly Donor
Try to have moving walkways on all main axes of your cities as soon as possible. Quote

There was a Robert Heinlein story along those lines, "The Roads Must Roll!" But it had solar powered automated roadways like railroads.
 
Some sort of unstoppable predator or pathogen that makes it too dangerous to live outside walled cities, and everyone crammed inside is too poor to afford cars.
 
To hold back cars, you need to hold back petroleum/fuel technology. The cars that evolve might be electric ones, with the range limitations of that technology. The needs of wars and an expanding infrastructure can hold public movement to the rails.
 
To hold back cars, you need to hold back petroleum/fuel technology. The cars that evolve might be electric ones, with the range limitations of that technology. The needs of wars and an expanding infrastructure can hold public movement to the rails.
Aha: drilling for oil releases shoggoths from deep underground. They're extremely hard to kill, and have eaten all the oil anyway.
 
1) eliminate cars (this is ASB)
Or 2) you need to radically change the cities.
Location, too.

While Paris or London is 'Walkable' they have a very different climate from much of the US as well. London has a high of 74F in summer, and 40F in winter

You can have a nice Stroll in Summer or Winter in those two, but Walking in Duluth in February or in Mobile in August would not be a nice stroll.

I wish it would get a high of 40F in January. Duluth has and average high of 78F in Summer and low of 7F in Winter
 
To hold back cars, you need to hold back petroleum/fuel technology. The cars that evolve might be electric ones, with the range limitations of that technology. The needs of wars and an expanding infrastructure can hold public movement to the rails.
No Petroleum, what to do about city lighting after the Whales have been hunted to extinction? No, it will be around. First Kerosene, then later ofter IC engines for a use for the original dangerous waste, the byproduct Gasoline. present in every barrel of Crude Oil

In 1908, the cheapest Stanley Steamer cost $850, while the introductory Ford Model T cost $825

The Stanley used Kerosene for its burner
 
US suburbs are the (for the most part) the result of zoning laws that enforced quite strict segregation between residential and commercial areas. In addition, the farming areas that were purchased by developers to be turned into neighborhoods were often purchased in large blocks of several hundred acres, so it was much easier for the developers to flip the whole lot to residential use before subdividing it for houses. Maybe the farm land around European cities was more heavily subdivided or lacked the ability to be easily converted for residential use (I don't know). Finally, American housing subdivisions tend to have lots with longer frontage than other countries, so the number of people per unit length of road is significantly reduced.

What's an example of a particularly 'walkable' city? Does it have more to do with pedestrian access or public transportation?
 

DougM

Donor
Folks need to take off the rose colored glasses. There are HUGE downsides on a personal level to walking and mass transit vs driving. I find it funny how today we sit and idealize a meathod of transit that must of us have never used enough time to truly say if it worked when our ancestors who used it let it die and replaced it with much more primitive cars and roads then we have today. After all we haven’t alwas driven so ther had to be a reason we stared driving and let perfectly good street rail systems die off from lack of use. So maybe just maybe the folks back then that had the choice and chose cars new what they were doing....

Has anyone noticed that in anyplace in Europe built in the same basic time (after folks could afford to buy cars) looks pretty much like America? Roads parking lots etc? Has anyone noticed how many cars are in big cities in Europe? I mean there is a reason those roads are crowded. And they are crowded with CARS. Has anyone noticed that in big cities around the world as many people drive cars as can practicals do so based on traffic and parking? Someone has to be driving those cars, so an awful lot of folks even in commuter friendly anti car cities still think the car has advantages.
I hate to break it to you but even in London and Paris the only reason folks walk and take mass transit is because the traffic is nuts and the parking is non existent.
So it is faster and cheaper to take mass transit then to drive. So they do it is not because the WANT to take take mass transit and walk but because it is all but impossible for most folks to drive in those cities.

The US has similar situations in cities like New York and Boston and LA. Places that have either old cities build up before the car or that have restrictions that limit expansion such as limited amounts of land.

So if given a chance to build a new city and the land to do it in pretty much every city in the world built sense the car became readily available in that area has been built to accommodate the car. Any exceptions being done by the government passing rules designed to try and eliminate said car. But when left to themselves folks drive.

So in order to make mass transit and walking more common you have to make driving conditions worse as there is no known practical/affordable way to make walking and mass transit better.

And as was noted London and Paris have a lot better weather for this then say Detroit where humidity and summer heat or sleet/snow and winter cold make walking a horrible idea 280 days a year.

So you want walking and mass transit you have three options
1) cities built up before cars become affordable to most folks
2) government laws against the car
3) Find some way to make driving really suck.

Otherwise as has been demonstrated in pretty much the entire world if given a choice people will choose to drive vs walk. Think about it if we wanted to talk or if folks were not generally lazy we would not have invented a string of other options over the last many thousands of years ranging from sedan chairs to every animal we could think of to trains bikes and motorized vehicles.
But feel free to continue to speculate how we can get folks to go against a trend that has existed for as long as humans have. But anything that makes thing physically harder and more work then another optio is NOT going to be the free will choice of even a tiny percentage of folks. Humans do not do more work then they have to. And pretending otherwise is ASB level.
 
Regardless of how true all of those things are Doug, it is entirely possible to make American cities much more pedestrian-friendly.

Use of scramble intersections and timing traffic lights for them. Covered pathways for pedestrians, either above-ground (like Calgary's +15 system) or underground (like the Toronto PATH system). A strong transit system (New York does well at this already) that includes both local transit (buses, streetcars) and higher-capacity regional transit systems (subways, commuter trains, ferries where appropriate). Canopies at as many transit stops as possible. Well-maintained sidewalks. Shopping destinations that are more easily walkable, as opposed to 'power centers' that are stores arranged around a parking lot.

I think what the OP is looking for is more of the above. Fewer cities like Houston and Detroit and Los Angeles that sprawl across vast territories of land, more cities like New York and San Francisco and Seattle that recognize the value of public transportation on a human scale.
 
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