I’ve been hearing a lot about self-driving cars creating this utopia of no more car ownership, end of congestion, etc. I take issue with that for purely common sense reasons.
Consider that people work and live and shop in locations scattered all over. This clearly explains why, out of 140-million workers in the US, 107-million are single-occupant drivers and only 7-million use all forms of public transit combined.
All of the self driving developments are great, and the possibility of less car ownership is wonderful too, however, if you think about it, it doesn’t mean less traffic.
The problem stems from the fact that people need to get to work. Their homes are scattered all over the place, and so are their work locations. Rarely, even if husband and wife work in the same location, do they want to travel together, as it limits their freedom to come and go as they want, and to run personal errands that the spouse may not want to go on.
Suppose that half of these people started using self-driving cars that are owned by Uber or other car share companies. True, the number of cars needed would decrease drastically, and that would solve a lot of parking problems, however, the flow of people would not change by much, except that the parking lanes might be used to increase road lanes, and therefore capacity, and the cars may be able to drive with less braking distance, as the reaction time would be reduced. There would be virtually no change in traffic as the same number of people need to go to the same number of places. The duty cycle of each car is greatly increased as they don’t sit around in parking garages, but rather go on to give the next ride. So unless they are electric, the pollution is not even diminished.
The simple solution is to have single-occupant drivers/riders in cars that are less than 40” wide. That gives the same clearance in half of a freeway lane that trucks have in a full lane. The narrow cars would stagger naturally, and this gives added safety as they are short and much more maneuverable. They are also fully electric, as it’s almost impossible to make the center of gravity low enough in a gasoline vehicle to make it stable.
I believe that the only way to combat traffic congestion and to get most commuters driving electric, is to give them something that makes commuting easier, faster, safer, and more fun.
The Tango ticks all the boxes.
• Dimensions of a motorcycle
• 0-60 3.2 seconds.
• FIA certified racecar roll cage
• Same rollover threshold as a 911 Porsche
• Fastest speed recorded by Consumer Reports through the “Emergency Lane Change Maneuver (Moose Test)
• Holds two large adults comfortably.
• Self-driving or not, solves traffic congestion.
You can’t fault Paris for ambition. After banning the most polluting vehicles from the city, pedestrianizing the Seine’s banks, and generally pushing the transformation of the French capital into one of the least car-centric major cities in Europe, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is preparing to go a step further—a very big step. The city is launching research into a plan to make the city’s public transit entirely free.
That could potentially mean passengers would pay no fee for the Metro, bus, or suburban rail system across a metropolitan area that’s home to over 11 million people, making the Paris region the largest free public transit zone in the world.
Of course, all this hinges on the results of the study, which will be delivered at the end of the year. Liberating all transit would cost the Paris region an extra €6 billion annually, according to one estimate. But the potential upsides are equally enormous: cleaner air, reduced healthcare costs, plummeting carbon emissions. There’s also the possibility that free-transit-for-all would make Paris so pleasant and easy to live in that it becomes irresistible to investors.
At the same time, this boldest of proposals emerges at a moment of political weakness for Hidalgo, as her administration faces growing resistance to its pro-transit policies (plus a series of in-house blunders). Some local media have even suggested that the proposal is really an exercise designed to distract from these problems—perhaps unfairly, as their development long predates the mayor’s current difficulties. So is the plan the shape of things to come, or a utopian pipe dream?
Right now, answering that question only opens the door to a string of further questions—a sort of inverse set of Russian dolls where the questions get bigger, not smaller, at each stage. For a start, the practicalities. What would be the limits of a public transit zone? Would free transit be given to everyone, or just particular age groups or income brackets? Would it run all day or be restricted to specific hours?
There’s a broader question beyond this. How would Paris find the extra €6 billion necessary to bankroll the scheme? Employers already contribute to public transit funds in Paris; their contribution could be enlarged, albeit not by enough to cover the entire bill. Indeed, at this early stage, a working assumption is that simply raising taxes alone wouldn’t be viable, so another method would be needed.
One possibility: congestion fees. The city could raise funds by charging tolls on all motor vehicles to enter Paris Proper, the 2.2 million-resident historic heart of the metro area. Congestion charges of this type aren’t new—London has had one since 2003—but one that covered the entirety of Paris Proper would be five times the size of that in the U.K. capital. And such a plan would certainly not be an easy sell, given that Paris will have to contend with pressure from municipalities in the wider metro area where many residents still depend on their cars.
There’s a more fundamental question here, too: Are free public transit zones on this kind of scale feasible or desirable? France is something of a leader on this front, with more than 30 cities that enjoy free public transit zones. As Henry Grabar reported for CityLab back in 2012, they’ve been largely successful in boosting ridership without bankrupting town coffers. But most towns that attempted the fare-free model are relatively small—the largest is the 120,000-citizen city of Niort. Germany’s caretaker government has also been toying with the idea, but its plan to trial such a scheme in five medium-sized cities, (including Bonn and Essen) has been shot down by local municipalities, leaving the 87,000-resident city of Tübingen as the only major German town seriously looking into a free bus ride scheme.
Scaling a scheme up from this level is no easy feat. There’s a reason why free transit programs are typically limited to university towns and lightly populated rural networks, where the costs and bother of collecting fares can outweigh their value. The Estonian capital of Tallinn, whose public transit has been free to all 430,000 residentssince 2013, is one system that’s managed it, creating a fare-free system that still retains high levels of public support. But it relies on a local funding quirk: In Estonia, when you register as a municipality’s official resident, a part of your national taxes are transferred to that municipality. Many Tallinn residents had not bothered to register as living in the city, but when given the incentive to do so by the free public transit plan, they did so in large enough numbers to boost Tallinn’s coffers by around €20 million annually, enough to pay for the scheme.
Still, going fareless in Estonia did little to increase demand, as The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker reported in 2015, raising ridership by just 1.2 percent. The number of drivers on the roads did not drop. That doesn’t invalidate the idea of making transit a fully subsidized municipal service: Many argue that public transit is a fundamental need to which access should not be limited by wealth. But if the transit being offered isn’t useful and effective, simply offering a subpar service for free is unlikely to lure many drivers away from their cars. Several U.S. cities have experimented with free public transit, including Austin, Texas. One study of the Austin program, which operated in 1990, found that ticketless bus rides increased the presence of “joy-riding youth and inebriated adults” who served to drive away regular commuters.
Such precedents may give Paris pause, but they don’t automatically presage failure. It’s one thing to give away free bus rides in a city that overwhelmingly favors drivers, like 1990s Austin, and quite another to offer up the wealth of transit options that contemporary Paris boasts. Parisian public transit users as a group are far from socially marginalized—the Metro, trains, and buses are used all the way up and down the social scale, because they are so often more convenient. At least some of the problems American cities faced would be unlikely to be replicated in France.
Tallinn’s example is another story. Their lack of a ridership spike is cause for concern, if Paris intends to push this through under the banner of pollution reduction. Bearing this in mind, Paris’ consideration of a citywide congestion charge for drivers isn’t just a funding mechanism. It would be an indispensable incentive that ensures that all those free buses, trains, and metros actually get used.
Would Paris really be in a position to implement such a policy right now? With the city struggling to fix its bikeshare system (which is already free, but for unhappy reasons) and seeing its pedestrianization plans getting shot down in court, that seems unlikely. But things can change fast in politics; at the very least, Paris might stoke the dreams of free-transit advocates in other cities by paying attention to the issue again.
¿Cual es la mas brillante, más emocionante nueva tecnología para el transporte? Bueno, ¡hay muchos candidatos! Tenemos el auto sin conductor y drones suficentemente grandes para transportar gente. Elon Musk se está preparando para perforar túneles perforar tuneles del Hyperloop . Cuando se trata de mover a los humanos, el futuro parece fusionarse con la ciencia ficción.Pero desde donde estoy parado, la más exitante tecnología de transporte tiene más de 100 años -y probablemente está parada en su cochera..Es la bicicleta. El futuro del transporte tiene dos ruedas angostas y manubrios.
La tecnología moderna ha transformado al humilde vehículo de dos ruedas, haciendo posible el modelo de bicicletas compartidas: Echa un vistazo a una bicicleta en la estación de acoplamiento, úsela por una hora más o menos, y luego regresela a cualquier otra estación de acoplamiento. El concepto fue probado en los años 60 pero falló miserablemente porque nadie podía rastrear hacia dónde iban las bicicletas.
El servicio del transporte público en la Ciudad de México, capital del país, muestra diversas facetas. En general es muy deficiente, incómodo, lento y poco confiable, afirmaron especialistas en movilidad y urbanismo.
Los recientes comentarios del CEO de Tesla sobre el transporte público provocaron una tormenta de críticas. Aqui el por qué
Como muchos emprendedores de tecnología, Elon Musk está tratando de reinventar el transporte público. Pero sus comentarios en un evento el mes pasado, según lo informa Aarian Marshall en Wired, hicieron que muchas personas se preguntaran si entiende el negocio que esta tratando de quebrantar (disrupt):
“Pienso que el transporte público es doloroso. Apesta. ¿Por qué querrias subirte en algo con mucha otra gente, que no sale donde quieres que salga, no inicia donde quieres que empiece, no termina donde quieres que termine? Y no funciona todo el tiempo”.
“Es un dolor en el culo”, continuó. “Es por eso que a nadie le gusta. Y hay muchos extraños casuales, uno de ellos podría ser un asesino en serie, bien, genial. Y es por eso que a la gente le gusta el transporte individualizado, que va a donde quieres, cuando quieres”.
Cuando alguien en el auditorio responde que en Japón el transporte público parece funcionar, Musk respondió: “¿Qué, dónde atiborran a la gente en el metro? Eso no suena bien “.
Estos comentarios provocaron una tormenta de criticas por parte de los defensores del transporte publico (yo incluido), y algunas suceptibles suceptibles respuestas de Musk. El gurú de la planificación urbana Brent Toderian rápidamente lanzo el hashtag #GreatThingsThatHappenedOnTransit, para reunir testimonios de personas de todo el mundo sobre los maravillosos encuentros que tuvieron con “un grupo de extraños al azar” en autobuses y trenes.
Pero las opiniones de Musk deben tomarse en serio, porque mucha gente influyente las comparte. Más aún, muchas personas lo ven como un experto en cualquier tema que toque. Si Musk va a liderar una revolución en el transporte urbano, debemos entender las actitudes que aporta al proyecto.
Musk expresa dos de las quejas más comunes sobre el transporte publico en las grandes ciudades:
“El transporte publico no hace exactamente lo que necesito que haga”.
“Exige compartir el espacio con extraños, lo cual es asqueroso”.
Ten en cuenta que estas no son las quejas habituales sobre “trasporte publico fallido”. En cambio, atacan el transporte publico por tener éxito. Igual que una aéreolínea, un sistema de transporte publico masivo urbano no va a tu puerta, y no te protege de la compañía de extraños, y es por eso precisamente que puede ofrecer movilidad a costo asequible para mucha gente.
El transporte publico efectivo no va a tu puerta
Musk se queja de que “el transporte publico no inicia donde quieres que comience, no termina donde quieres que finalice”. Por supuesto, todos queremos ir del punto A específico al punto B específico en un tiempo dado. Pero en un sistema de transporte publico eficiente no hay un servicio que haga exactamente eso, porque no mucha gente quiere hacer exactamente eso en un momento dado. En vez de hacer exactamente lo que tu quieres, una red de transporte publico masivo eficiente es diseñada para hacer lo maximo de lo que miles de personas quieren. Es en ser mayormente útiles para tanta gente, que buses y trenes atraen muchos pasajeros. Y transportando muchos pasajeros es como buses y trenes ofrecen tanta libertad y oportunidad a ciudadanos si bien ocupan tan poco espacio.Ser élite es ser minoría, y no hace sentido de negocios diseñar el transporte publico alrededor de gustos de élite.
Si realmente vas a reemplazar esos servicios en un entorno urbano denso, –como los inventores han intentado hacer por décadas,– necesitaras igualar esa eficiencia en usar espacio urbano escaso. El concepto “Loop” de Musk para aliviar la congestión del tráfico con una red de túneles comienza moviendo personas en pequeñas ‘vainas’ de 8 a 16 personas (o en sus propios autos, montados sobre patines eléctricos). Aún si todas de las muchas barreras técnicas y regulatorias pudieran superarse este es un mucho menos eficiente uso del espacio que el de los subterráneos hoy. Todas esas paredes a prueba de colisiones entre viajeros toman mucho espacio. Mas aún, un video de la Boring Company te muestra conduciendo tu automóvil a un espacio de estacionamiento que convierte un ascensor en un túnel, –un uso de increíble baja capacidad para terrenos urbanos valiosos. Se necesitarían nivelar manzanas completas de la ciudad para proporcionar ascensores suficientes de modo que todos puedan hacer esto en la hora punta.
El transporte publico efectivo esta lleno de extraños
Musk no quiere compartir un vehículo con “un grupo fortuito de extraños”. Pero la presencia de extraños fortuitos es lo que es una ciudad, y lo qué el transporte publico exitoso es. El único logro del transporte publico es transportar a tanta gente en tan poco espacio con tan poca mano de obra. La aglomeración, –por mucho que moleste a algunas personas,– es la esencia del éxito del transporte publico.
El abarrotamiento es otra cosa. Cuando un vehículo está tan lleno que nadie puede subir, eso causa una negación de servicio, lo cual es algo malo. Entonces los sistemas de transporte publico quieren estar llenos de gente pero no atestados. No quieren dejar parados a pasajeros, y hacen lo que pueden para evitar eso.Esto significa que si decides no viajar en transporte publico porque está demasiado abarrotado, alguien más estará encantado de tomar tu lugar allí, entregando el mismo nivel de eficiencia. Entonces, la única definición de “hacinamiento” que importa es la que prevalece en la cultura en general: la que determina cuanto espacio personal cederá la gente para adaptarse a otra persona a bordo. Esos famosos metros y trenes japoneses abarrotados que Musk odia, por ejemplo, reflejan una predominante actitud japonesa en esa cuestión que difiere de la estadounidense.
Asi que Musk puede imsinuar que hay algo malo con el transporte publico porque está demasiado lleno, –un ejemplo de la falacia de Yogi Berra,– pero ciudades y agencias de transporte publico no deberían preocuparse. ¡Si están llenos, están teniendo éxito!.
El peligro de la proyección de élite.
Por ahora, puedes estar pensando: ¿a quién le importa esta teoría? ¡El transporte publico urbano está demasiado atestado para mis estándares! O no está haciendo un trabajo lo suficientemente bueno de llevarme a donde quiero ir. Aquí es donde tienes que decidir si deseas que el transporte publico tenga el mayor beneficio posible para toda su ciudad, en términos de desplazar viajes en automóvil y fomentar prosperidad inclusiva, o si es más importante que cuide de usted.
Por ahora, puedes estar pensando: ¿a quién le importa esta teoría? ¡El transporte publico urbano está demasiado lleno para mis estándares! O no está haciendo un trabajo lo suficientemente bueno para llevarme a donde quiero ir. Aquí es donde tienes que decidir si deseas que el transporte publico tenga el mayor beneficio posible para toda tu ciudad, en términos de desplazar viajes en automóvil y fomentar la prosperidad incluyente, o si es más importante que cuide de usted. La falsedad más común sobre el transporte publico, la que subyace en la mayoría de los comentarios que reciben las agencias de tránsito y muchos de los peores errores en la planificación del tránsito, es esta: “El transporte publico sería mejor para todos si fuera mejor para mí”.
La mentira más común sobre el transporte publico, la que subyace a la mayoría de los comentarios que reciben las agencias de tránsito y muchos de los peores errores en la planificación del tránsito, es esta: “El tránsito sería mejor para todos si fuera mejor para mí”.Un peligro especial surge cuando personas relativamente ricas toman esta visión, exigiendo que los costosos sistemas de transporte publico masivo se diseñen de acuerdo con sus gustos personales. Yo llamo a este error proyección de proyeccion de élite y la exploro aqui. Muchas inversiones de tránsito deficientes han surgido de un grupo demasiado pequeño de personas afortunadas asumiendo que todos comparten sus gustos y prioridades. Olvidan que ser élite es ser una minoría, y no tiene sentido comercial diseñar un transporte publico alrededor de los gustos de la élite si lo que realmente quieres son muchos, muchos pasajeros.
Big cities don’t function without transit, and that means transit has to be allowed to succeed. That means it won’t go to your door, or protect you from the company of strangers. You don’t have to use it, or like it, but if you live in a city, you depend on its ability to attract huge numbers of people while using little space, so that there’s enough room for everyone.Urban transportation is not just an engineering problem. First, it’s a geometry problem. Cities don’t have much space per person, so space has to be used efficiently. And technology never changes geometry.
Elon Musk is a great inventor. His development of battery technology is a great contribution to transportation. The Boring Company’s work, which could make tunneling far less costly, may yield breakthroughs that will make subways cheaper to build. But if you are going to disrupt urban transit, you first need to understand how, and why, it works.
MAPC surveyed 944 ride-hailing passengers in greater Boston about their travel habits, using questionnaires administered via tablets during ride-hailing trips. More than two out of every five — 42 percent — said they would have taken transit if the ride-hailing service were not available. Another 12 percent said they would have walked or biked.
Combining those results with time-of-day data, MAPC estimates that 15 percent of ride-hailing trips are substituting for more spatially efficient modes of travel during the morning or evening peak (defined as 6-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.).
In addition, most of the trips either began or terminated in the center of the region — the area with the worst traffic congestion and the best transit access.
The findings underscore the premium regular transit riders are willing to pay for ride-hailing trips, MAPC notes. A large share of people who substituted ride-hailing for transit — 51 percent — had unlimited fare passes, and that figure didn’t change much even for ride-hail trips that cost more than $10 or $20. On average, these passengers also tended to be poorer than the ride-hailing population overall.
These trip substitution patterns are an indication of how badly MBTA needs to improve bus and train service, MAPC says. Residents should be able to rely on the transit system instead of feeling compelled to shell out for ride-hailing fares, especially for trips to the center city. And not only are streets getting more congested as riders opt out of transit, but the agency is losing fare revenue.
MAPC also recommends increasing and restructuring Massachusetts’ flat 20-cent fee on each ride-hailing trip. The current fee is so low it barely registers in the price of a trip, and doesn’t vary in accordance with congestion levels.
Big events go by unseen while we sweat the smaller stuff; things happen underground while we watch the boulevard parades. Truly underground, sometimes: in 1858, the pundits and politicians in Britain were obsessing over the British government’s takeover of India from the East India Company and the intentions of Napoleon III, yet the really big thing was the construction, with the supervisory genius of the great engineer Joseph Bazalgette, of a sewer system to protect London from its own waste, and so arrest the smelly “miasma” that had come to crisis conditions that year. This underground system, along with its visible embankments, would, both directly and by example, save countless lives in the developed world during the next century—making cholera epidemics, for instance, a thing of the distant past. But it got built in relative invisibility.
In the United States over the past three decades, while people argue about tax cuts and terrorism, the wave of social change that has most altered the shape of American life, as much as the new embankments of the Thames changed life then, has been what the N.Y.U. sociologist Patrick Sharkey calls “the great crime decline.” The term, which seems to have originated with the influential Berkeley criminologist Franklin E. Zimring, refers to the still puzzling disappearance from our big-city streets of violent crime, so long the warping force of American life—driving white flight to the suburbs and fuelling the rise of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, not to mention the career of Martin Scorsese. (“Taxi Driver” is the great poem of New York around the height of high crime, with steam coming out of the hellish manholes and violence recumbent in the back seat.) No one saw it coming, and the still odder thing is that, once it came, no one seemed adequately equipped to praise it.
Sharkey, who came of age in that safer era, intends to be its eulogist. He begins his remarkable new book, “Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence” (Norton), in the South Bronx, at a city block near Yankee Stadium, and recalls a time in the nineteen-seventies, whose climax was the fearsome blackout riots of 1977, when even the Stadium was sparsely attended. “In some years, night games drew ten thousand fewer fans than day games,” he writes; many New Yorkers were unwilling to make their way into the Bronx after dark. “Spaces that had been created to support public life, to be enjoyed by all—those that define city life in America’s greatest metropolis—were dominated by the threat of violence.” Now, he says, “the calm of Franz Sigel Park reflected the atmosphere of peace through New York City. In the city where more than 2,000 people used to be murdered each year, 328 were killed in 2014, the lowest tally since the first half of the twentieth century.” (Last year, the tally was still lower.) It wasn’t just New York. Violent crime fell in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington, and not by a little but by a lot.
More important, the quality of life changed dramatically, particularly for the most vulnerable. Sharkey, studying the crime decline in six American cities, concludes, “As the degree of violence has fallen, the gap between the neighborhoods of the poor and nonpoor has narrowed.” In Cleveland in the eighties, the level of violence in poor neighborhoods was about seventy per cent higher than in the rest of the city; by 2010, that number had dropped to twenty-four per cent. The reduction of fear allowed much else to blossom: “Subway cars, commuter lines, and buses in U.S. cities filled up, as residents and commuters became more willing to leave their cars behind and travel to and from work together. . . . Fans came back to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and just as many began to show up for night games as for day games.” The big city was revived. From Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, the transformation of America’s inner cities from wastelands to self-conscious espresso zones became the comedy of our time.
Yet little trace of this transformation troubles our art, or even much of our public discourse. Our pundits either take the great crime decline for granted or focus on the troubles it has helped create, like high housing prices in San Francisco or Brooklyn. Even when we pay attention to the comedy, we rarely look at the cause. Some of our politicians even pretend it hasn’t happened, with Donald Trump continuing to campaign against crime and carnage where it scarcely exists. (If people really thought that urban crime still flourished, of course, he wouldn’t be able to sell condos with his name on them on the far West Side of Manhattan.) Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, feels free to tell the outrageous lie that “for the first time in a long time, Americans can have hope for a safer future.”
This lack of appreciation is partly a question of media attention-deficit disorder: if there is little news value in Dog Bites Man, there is none whatever in Dog Does Not Bite Man. It is part of the neutral unseen background of events, even if there had previously been an epidemic of dog bites. But it’s hard for those who didn’t live through the great crime wave of the sixties, seventies, and eighties to fully understand the scale or the horror of it, or the improbability of its end. Every set of blocks had its detours; a new arrival in New York was told always to carry a ten-dollar bill in case of a mugging. Crime ruled Broadway comedies: Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” told the tale of people barricaded in their apartments for fear of muggings. My great-aunt and great-uncle lived on 115th and Riverside Drive; an address they boasted of in 1962 had become a neighborhood they were frightened to have company visit by 1975. For those trapped in true low-income, high-crime communities, these circumstances were even worse, with, as Sharkey shows, catastrophic effects not only on life and limb and property but on the fundamental human capacity for hope. In every way, the crime wave had effects far wider-reaching than its emergency-ward casualties. Liberal urbanists, who had been, perhaps mostly by chance, in power when the crime wave began, were discredited for a generation. The neocons gained credibility on foreign policy because they once seemed right about the Upper West Side.
Sharkey, unlike many of his peers on the left, regards the great decline as an unmediated good, benefitting everyone, and, above all, the poorest and most vulnerable. Sharkey’s book, in fact, illustrates why social science, with all its uncertainties—uncertainties built into a field in which you are studying the actions of several million autonomous agents who can alter their actions at a whim, with several thousand outliers guaranteed in advance to be bizarrely atypical—still really is science. What makes it science is what makes it social: an insistence on paying attention to the facts that other people have gathered even when they conflict with the way you want the world to be; a reluctance to tailor the facts to one’s views, instead of one’s views to the facts.
You might wonder that anyone would dispute the notion that the crime decline is a good thing for everyone, but some do, either sentimentally—what ever became of all the lively crack dealers and Forty-second Street prostitutes?—or sententiously: a “cleaned up” city dismissed as merely sanitized, with the social problems pushed to the periphery. Sharkey, a sympathizer with progressive causes, sees the position in which urban crime is taken to be a kind of political violence—an as yet insufficiently organized program of dissent—for the academic indulgence that it is. The view that violent crime is a kind of instinctive form of political protest is not a new one, or entirely outlandish. We take it for granted, thinking of the poverty-stricken thieves, hanged for stealing handkerchiefs in eighteenth-century London, that the argument of the “The Beggar’s Opera” is not wrong: even when not explicitly political, crime can have an implicit politics. But though these arguments—like the parallel ones about when terrorism becomes patriotism and patriotism terrorism—are easy to make, they are hard to use as helpful guides to the real world.
Sharkey’s own research began with a simple experiment by the neuroscientist David Diamond, of the University of South Florida. Diamond placed a cat outside a cage of rats, and found that rats raised in this condition did worse on rat-friendly cognitive tests—running complicated mazes and the like—than did rats kept away from the sight of cats. You might imagine that rats raised in the presence of a predator learn to be shrewder. But this seems not to be true of rats raised in the presence of a predator whom they can do nothing to avoid or outwit—rats that feel helpless in the face of, so to speak, a cat wave. Brains under stress get frozen.
Sharkey’s subsequent research showed that children respond to the stress of community violence in a similar way. When children take a standardized test shortly after a neighborhood murder, their scores suffer. The price of crime is paid, above all, by the trauma of kids whose parents can’t buy their way out of its presence. “Local violence does not make children less intelligent,” Sharkey says. “Rather, it occupies their minds.” Thinking about a threat leaves you less room to think about anything else. The social cost of street crime, therefore, is far higher than the price of lives lost and bodies maimed; it can maim minds, too. Conversely, Sharkey finds that, in places where violence has declined the most, kids do much better at school, and minority kids lag least. Anyone who says that the decline in crime is a white person’s prerogative and pleasure hasn’t been following the facts.
But what made the crime wave happen and what made it halt? As liberal-minded people, we want the real cause of the crime decline to be nice people doing nice things, with no role for nasty people doing nasty things to those still nastier. And Sharkey does make heroes, persuasively, of many nice people doing nice things to stop crime. He is an enthusiast of the hypothesis that local community organizing was a key factor in the crime drop: “It was hard work by residents, organized into community groups and block clubs, that transformed urban neighborhoods.” He thinks that technology—surveillance cameras, LoJack systems—played a part. But he also finds that incarceration accounted for some of the crime decline, and so did more aggressive policing. “Federalfunding paid for tens of thousands of new police officers,” he writes. “The tactics they used were sometimes oppressive and sometimes brutal but were also more effective, focusing resources on the precise locations where crime was most intense.”
Here some ambiguity arises. What’s now called stop-and-frisk policing—in which police aggressively sought out suspected minor criminals on the streets, most of them minority kids—was, he suggests, a kind of schismatic variant of what had originally been called, more benignly, “broken windows” policing. As Sharkey notes, broken-windows policing was based on a theory that was offered without any real evidentiary basis, and published in The Atlantic, not in a peer-reviewed journal. What was easily missed was that the broken-windows tactic, as first articulated by the criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982, was not an appeal to the power of policing. It was an appeal to the power of self-policing. At a time when policing had been reduced, in many American cities, to having wary patrolmen drive around in squad cars, waiting for a radio call telling them that something bad had already happened, the new theory insisted on an aggressive pursuit of petty crime, before it could get to be big crime. If the cops led the way—and this was the crucial idea—the community would follow. Blocks left intact, windows repaired by conscientious landlords, would produce the eyes on the street and the small-scale intense local engagement that had in the past assured the safety of local neighborhoods. South Philadelphia or the Bronx’s Grand Concourse in the nineteen-fifties had been largely benign places not because the police were present but because there were so many engaged passersby that the police didn’t need to be present.
This sane theory of self-policing soon became its own opposite. A new, noxious notion grew. It would be all police, all the time. If enough policemen frisked enough young minority kids, they would find enough weed and weaponry to send them away. Once sent away, the potential criminals—known to be so owing to their possession of weed and weaponry—could not be street criminals, by dint of not being on the street. By the time they were back outside, the window of opportunity for committing crimes would have largely passed, crime, like gymnastics, being an occupation of the young. It was an extraordinarily crude reduction of Wilson and Kelling’s view.
Liberal-minded people do not merely want mass incarceration to be the moral scandal it obviously is. We want it to be a practicalscandal as well—it won’t and can’t do any good. But, Sharkey reports, the facts suggest that, for some period and to some measurable degree, it did contribute to the crime decline. It’s just the most expensive, inefficient, and cruel of all ways to combat the crime wave. And the moral horror thereby incurred is intolerable to a liberal democracy that does not want to have millions of men under permanent penal restraint. The social cost of that mass incarceration is as high, in its way, as the crime wave it was meant to hamper. Sharkey’s climactic thesis is that the real challenge for the decades to come is to take advantage of the decline in crime to engineer a parallel decline in incarceration, sending noncareer criminals back to safer streets.
Sharkey, as good as he is at explaining what happened—whom it helped, what it permitted—isn’t as good at explaining why it happened. The curious truth is that the decline in crime happened across the entire Western world, in East London just as it did in the South Bronx. At the same time, the relative decline in New York was significantly bigger than elsewhere. Sharkey’s guess that the crime decline can be attributed to the uncomfortable but potent intersection of community action and coercive policing seems about as good as any. Here, he echoes Zimring’s earlier conclusion that many small walls are a better barrier to crime than any single big one. Still, the magnitude of the shift remains mystifying. A good comparison might be the contemporaneous war on drunk driving: there, too, the decline in deaths has been impressive, and there, too, there was no one solution but a host of them, ranging from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign to raised ages for legal drinking.
With the crime wave, it would seem, small measures that pushed the numbers down by some noticeable amount engendered a virtuous circle that brought the numbers further and further down. You didn’t have to change the incidence of crime a lot to make people worry less about it. What ended violent crime, in this scenario, was not an edict but a feedback system—created when less crime brought more eyes onto the streets and subways, which in turn reduced crime, leading to people feeling safer, which in turn brought more eyes out. The self-organized response of society to crime was, in effect, to outnumber the muggers on the street before they mugged someone. One has only to get on the New York City subway at 3 a.m., and recall what 3 a.m. on the New York City subway was like thirty years ago, to sense the presence of this circle.
One wonders if, among those eyes, some important ones belonged, so to speak, to George and Elaine (“Seinfeld” having begun right as the sharp slope of the crime ramp-down began). They represented the kind of people who, in the previous American dispensation, would never have stayed in the city seeking partners through their twenties but would instead have been married and living out in New Rochelle with Rob and Laura Petrie. Sex, to put it bluntly, might have had some role in saving the city. Not long after 9/11, when New York, though increasingly safe from crime, was still on edge, a real-estate tycoon told me that he had made a fortune investing in Manhattan properties since the seventies (when the city seemed doomed), and was optimistic that New York would continue to thrive, for a simple reason: the median age of first children kept going up. It still is: the average age of a mother with a first child is now twenty-eight, and rising, and among women with advanced degrees it is into the thirties. The developer’s theory was that as long as people were spending their twenties looking for mates instead of settling down, they would flock to New York, and the city would continue to flourish in the face of crime, plague, or terrorism.
Anecdotal evidence is not to be taken very seriously, but artistic evidence is the best kind we ever get—Dickens saw far more deeply into that Victorian miasma and its causes than anyone else did. And it is certainly the case that a dominant mode of American entertainment that paralleled the crime decline was comedies about young people in Manhattan looking for love: “Seinfeld” and “Friends” and then the almost too neatly named “Sex and the City.” The people who are generally thought to have merely profited from the new reality may have had something to do with making it happen. The pursuit of small pleasures helps provoke social sanity. Improbable actors perform righteous acts. This was Adam Smith’s actual insight, this time put in motion in small apartments and sofa beds.
The negative side of this change lies in the supposed reduction of once diverse neighborhoods to monotone yuppie dormitories. Sharkey’s take on the process, routinely called “gentrification,” is surprising. He reports that in New York there is “little evidence that gentrification leads to any detectable increase in displacement.” (The fear of cultural displacement is, he thinks, another story.) Research by the sociologist Lance Freeman suggests instead that much good happens for residents when “neighborhoods become more economically diverse and safer, attracting new resources for schools, new businesses and new attention from public agencies.” Sharkey’s is a story without the usual heroes, but also without the usual villains.
A real problem, going forward, is the one identified by Black Lives Matter and associated groups: police violence. As the social cost of stop-and-frisk and mass incarceration has become, rightly, intolerable, we ask if the crime decline, with its unprecedented benefits for the marginalized populations, can survive. Sharkey emphatically thinks it can, and so far there’s no evidence to counter his view. The conservative urbanists at City Journal can point to this or that bump or burp in the numbers, but since the nineties New York has kept lowering both its incarceration rate and its crime rate. The plunge continues under the supposedly soft-on-crime Bill de Blasio as much as it did during ironfisted Rudy Giuliani. Whatever is happening out there seems immune to local politics.
Effects that we don’t normally track are surely related to the crime decline, not least the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Without a general understanding that crime was no longer the real problem but that the response to crime might be, the movement could not have caught a surprisingly large, sympathetic audience. Sharkey writes, “The videos of police violence have resonated so powerfully because they come at a time when there is no crisis of crime in most of the country, when every other form of violence in society has subsided.” The acts may have been constant, but the anger can only arise in the new social field. (One element that Sharkey perhaps does not sufficiently underline is the American abundance of guns: their existence both frightens police officers and makes them overreact in minor moments, turning routine encounters potentially lethal.)
Ironically, though the urban crime wave is over, it still persists as a kind of zombified general terror, particularly in places where it was never particularly acute. Trump can continue to campaign against crime largely in places where crime never happened much but where, having long been molded to preëxisting bigotry, the spectre of violence still occupies a fetishistic role. He has completely lost the power to frighten New Yorkers with tales of crime, but in rural districts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania the symbolic depiction of crime, crafted nationally as the great wave rose, is still a bloody shirt that can be effectively waved even if the bloodstains on it are decades old.
Will they stay that way? An upturn in crime in a very few cities is probably a local bump on a bigger, encouraging graph, but no one can know this for certain. Sharkey believes in police “hot-spotting”: most violent crimes take place in a small number of venues. They also, Sharkey says, tend to involve a tiny number of people linked in a tight network. When it comes to gangs in Chicago—where gun violence afflicts a very small percentage of the population, but intensely—he likes the idea of trained “interrupters,” who intervene with members after a violent incident to prevent retaliation. He writes, “The warning is unflinching: If you continue to engage in firearm violence, you will face serious, uncompromising prosecution. But the offer must be equally sincere: If you choose a different path, you will be supported with all resources and assistance that the community and the state can muster.”
At the intersection of politics and policy, Sharkey imagines that the best path forward lies in a somewhat below-the-radar coalition that enlists right and left in a movement to accept that the end of the crime wave can lead to the end of mass incarceration. He cites a meeting at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, where he found significant agreement about dis-incarceration among otherwise opposed types. Followers of Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow” and the most prominent advocate of the view that mass incarceration is designed to “reinforce a racialized caste system in the United States,” found common ground with Grover Norquist, the government-hating founder of Americans for Tax Reform. Sharkey wants to believe that a tacit truce has been forged between these disparate types, leading toward a new era where the benefits of the crime decline will be enjoyed without mass incarceration to support them.
It seems just as likely, though, that two kinds of illiberalism have joined in an uneasy and unstable alliance. Those in Alexander’s school are inclined to believe that the system can’t be reformed short of revolutionary change—a revolutionary change that is necessarily ill-defined and, given the country’s political demography, essentially impossible. A revolutionary-minded racial politics that produces a reactionary white racial politics will always be frustrated. Meanwhile, the Norquistians don’t just want to stop spending money locking men up. They also want to stop spending money educating kids and assisting neighborhoods and helping communities rebuild. They want to stop spending money on anything. It is safe to say that people who don’t want to spend money on prisons also don’t want to spend it on social programs, let alone reparations. If pressed to a point, they will spend it on clubs and bullets. The leftists want the prisons opened because the people in them shouldn’t be there; the Norquistians want them opened because it costs too much to keep them shut. The two groups have an operational end in common, but they do not remotely share the same social picture, as will become plain when the next, presumably smaller, crime wave hits.
Sharkey ends with a curious formula. We must now fight a “war on violence,” he says, which seems to include a war against police violence, but one fought with a companion understanding that the “police play a crucial role in the effort to maintain social order” and that the most vulnerable among us are those most hurt by the loss of order. “Peace and order” is effectively his platform, as “law and order” was once that of the Republican right that capitalized on the crime wave.
He believes that peace and order—and here his vision does have something in common with that of the libertarians he would like to welcome to the cause—can only emerge from the ground up. As ways of keeping a durable social peace, he returns again and again to small community works, like those community interrupters, or what he calls “community quarterbacks,” or even systems of self-policing by Aboriginal Australians. A paradox emerges here: crime, if immune to party politics, seems enormously sensitive to something as seemingly anodyne as community policing. One thing that the crime decline may force us to do is look again at what we mean by a city. At a time when cities become ever-larger megalopolises, it seems sentimental to insist on the primacy of neighborhoods and communities as units, and yet some evidence suggests that that is where this big change began. Somewhat surprisingly, Sharkey gives a significant and welcome nod to the urban oracle Jane Jacobs, whose rhapsodic evocation of New York streets might, after so many wars, have seemed as dated as the account of Jerusalem before the fall of the Temple. But he italicizes her essential lesson: politics may not all be local—Trump is a refutation of that, winning the allegiance of localities that he can’t or won’t serve—but city life is. “Social cohesion, trust and shared commitment to the community,” Sharkey says, vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. In ones where they are strong, violence almost vanishes. It isn’t that poor neighborhoods produce violent crime. The problem is, rather, “that concentrated poverty tends to slowly tear apart the social fabric of neighborhoods.” Restore the social fabric first, and the crime ends not long after. The city was won back block by block.
How to make the social fabric stronger? Sharkey offers the immensely cheering pictures of the possibility of spending money to rebuild communities and replacing the noxious “warrior” cop with those “community quarterbacks.” It’s hard to imagine a more essential career for a young urbanist, even though such a cadre sounds at least questionable as a source of crime-stopping. But the lesson of wise public works is not, truth be told, always about the benefits of foundational analysis or fundamental change. An epidemic of violence was resolved without addressing what were thought to be its underlying disorders. We cured the crime wave without fixing “the broken black family,” that neocon bugaboo. For that matter, we cured it without greater income equality or even remotely solving the gun problem. The story of the crime decline is about the wisdom of single steps and small sanities. We could end cholera—in London, they did—without really understanding how cholera bacteria work. We have curbed crime without knowing how we did it, perhaps simply by doing it in many ways at once. It is possible to see this as a kind of humanist miracle, a lesson about the self-organizing and, sometimes, self-healing capacities of human communities that’s as humbling, in its way, as any mystery that faith can offer. ♦
Después de que compañías de bicicletas compartidas sin estaciones tapizaran ciudades Chinas con millones de bicicletas, firmas como ofo y LimeBike pusieron sus ojos en los mercados estadounidenses, respaldados por montones de capital de riesgo. Han puesto miles de bicicletas en las calles de Seattle, Dallas y Washington, y no están dispuestos a detenerse allí. Si aún no han intentado establecerse en tu ciudad, es probable que lo hagan pronto.
En Washington D.C., el gobierno de la ciudad ha adoptado un enfoque mesurado, introduciendo gradualmente flotillas de las empresas de bicis sin estacion para complementar a Capital Bikeshare empresa de gestion publica. Las nuevas bicis han sido bien recibidas, y evidencia anecdótica sugiere que estan siendo mas utilizadas en los barrios negros de la ciudad que CaBi, cuyos usuarios tienden a ser blancos y ricos.
En Dallas, donde las compañías rápidamente colocaron 20,000 bicicletas compartidas en las calles, el experimento de bicicletas sin estacion no esta funcionando tan bien. Hay quejas sobre bicicletas dejadas en aceras y todo tipo de lugares extraños han llevado a funcionarios de la ciudad a amenazar con confiscarselas a las empresas.
Es fácil descartar esta irritabilidad como un quisquilloso doble estándar que la gente nunca aplica a los autos estacionados ilegalmente sobre aceras de la ciudad, cruces peatonales y paradas de autobús. Pero hay cuestiones de mayor importancia sobre el modelo de bicicletas compartidas sin estación financiadas por capital privado que va más allá de dónde se estacionan las bicicletas correctamente.
Observadores de largo plazo de sistemas de bicicletas compartidas estadounidenses tienen serias dudas sobre la seguridad, la utilidad y la viabilidad a largo plazo de los nuevos servicios. Uno de esos veteranos de la industria de bicicletas compartidas es Alison Cohen, directora general de Bicycle Transit Systems.
Como ejecutivo de un operador de bicicletas compartidas pre existente a la era de capital riesgo, con contratos en Filadelfia, Los Ángeles y Nevada, Cohen no es imparcial. Pero hable con funcionarios públicos de las agencias de transporte de la ciudad, personas sin intereses financieros que ganen o pierdan en el mercado de bicicletas compartidas, y escuchará inquietudes similares.
Cohen dice que no hay nada tan especial acerca de la “imprudencia” de los nuevos servicios de bicicletas compartidas. “La tecnología no es revolucionaria”, dijo. “Ha habido motos de candado desde siempre”.
Lo nuevo es todo el financiamiento de riesgo respaldando a las compañías, su disposición a eludir los acuerdos oficiales con gobiernos locales, y la falta de transparencia sobre numero de usuarios y otras métricas de desempeño.
Despite the information vacuum, cities are clearly intrigued by the idea of a free lunch. In a place like Dallas, adding thousands of brightly colored bicycles overnight can produce the appearance of being a bikeable city, without putting in the legwork of building out a safe on-street bike network.
Meanwhile, local governments have essentially stopped expanding bike-share systems with city funds. “There’s no public money going to bike-share anymore,” Cohen said. “This model of [cities issuing requests for proposals] is not happening anymore.” As the government role recedes, so does public oversight of goals like integrating bike-share with transit, or ensuring the equipment is safe and well-maintained.
In Florida, a bill in the state legislature backed by a lobbyist for ofo goes so far as to pre-empt existing city contracts with bike-share companies and impose statewide safety and performance standards. The bill is opposed by the North American Bike Share Association, which sees it as power play to circumvent basic quality controls. (NABSA is a trade group encompassing city agencies, bike-share equipment makers, and system operators — including ofo and the new batch of bike-share companies, though presumably the membership isn’t unanimous in its stance on the bill.)
How are the new bike-share services performing?
Since the new companies won’t release much data on their own, Bicycle Transit Systems hired Toole Design Group to field test dockless bike-share services in D.C. and Seattle last fall and issue a report [PDF].
A significant share of the bikes — 12 percent — were diagnosed with “major defects,” like damaged brakes or missing lights, which pose safety hazards.
The testers also found that 12 percent of the bikes were parked in private spaces that might make them inaccessible to the public.
In addition, there was a mismatch between the bikes visible in Transit, the trip-planning app the testers used, and bikes on the ground. In D.C., the actual number of bikes exceeded the what the app displayed by 8 percent, and in Seattle, there were more than twice as many bikes as shown in the app. The discrepancies raise questions about trip data the companies may release.
The companies aren’t opening up ridership data
Some flaws in the new bike-share systems would be acceptable if people are making a lot of trips with them. But we don’t have a good idea how much use the bikes are getting, because the companies guard that proprietary data closely, and cities for the most part aren’t insisting on public access.
The numbers that have come out so far aren’t impressive. In Aurora, Colorado, ofo fed vastly inflated usage stats to the city’s bike-share coordinator, who passed the numbers on to Streetsblog Denver, which issued a correction and retraction after the truth came out. People were making 0.18 trips per bike each day on Aurora’s dockless systems, a very low rate and a tiny fraction of the 2.5 daily trips per bike initially claimed.
But more recent data suggests usage rates in Seattle have fallen. Between late June and the end of November, people made 347,300 trips, according to the city, with 9,388 bikes permitted to the three companies at the tail end of that timeframe. The number of permitted bikes was lower at the beginning of the pilot, and there are fewer available bikes on the street than the number of permits, so we don’t know how many bikes were available when. But Doug Trumm at the Urbanist points out that, assuming there were an average of 4,000 bikes available each day, that works out to just 0.68 daily trips per bike.
Insisting on a basic level of trip data transparency should be a core demand from any city before allowing the companies to operate.
How long will it last?
The dockless bike-share companies are riding an enormous wave of venture capital. China-based Mobike and ofo — the two largest bike-share companies — were valued at about $1 billion each late last year. A round of investment in LimeBike propelled its valuation to about $225 million less than a year after its founding, Forbes reports.
Are these companies financially viable? If so, how will they get into the black? It’s a safe bet that none of the companies are turning a profit from bike-share fees, which in China run as low as 30 cents per hour.
The business model partly relies on cheap bikes of much lower quality than the earlier generation of American bike-share systems. The venture-backed firms are putting out bikes that may cost $200 each, says Cohen, compared to about $1,200 for the sturdier models in systems like Divvy or Citi Bike. The new bikes’ cheap construction accounts for the high rate of defects and the sense of disposability that leads to China’s enormous “bicycle graveyards.”
One revenue stream for the new companies, aside from fees, is selling trip data,much like Uber does.
In China, the companies also stay afloat by collecting deposits. Each user pays around $30 U.S. to access a bike-share company’s service. Some of the companies have been sued for failing to return deposits when requested. Chinese regulators, concerned that some companies are illegally investing their pool of deposits, are reportedly moving to impose stricter oversight. That may be one reason many dockless bike-share start-ups aren’t expected to survive 2018.
It’s possible — maybe even likely — that some of the venture-backed bike-share companies will emerge as viable in the long run, providing useful urban mobility services. How much should cities bet on that?
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