The Continued Dominance of the Car

2015Assembly line saw record car sales in the US, economists cited low gas prices and the economic recovery a
s the main driving forces behind the resurgence of the auto industry. While these are important factors there are also structural issues keeping the car industry humming.

One issue is the way public schools are funded through property taxes. This funding structure puts the best funded public schools in the richest neighborhoods reinforcing economic segregation. How does
that relate to a broader car culture? Suburban school systems that don’t pay into the urban public school system have a natural funding advantage. It makes sense that home buyers would look to live in the places with the best funded schools.

Car commuting allows people to take advantage of the city infrastructure without paying into the school system. So, in order to access better schools people move to the suburbs, as inner ring suburban property becomes more valuable prospective suburban folks are driven yet further out.

Another issue is infrastructure spending. When people discuss whether or not to fund infrastructure they’re usually thinking of roads and bridges first. And these both benefit the car traveler disproportionately. If infrastructure shifted toward car alternatives, like faster bus lines, sidewalks and bus travel we could make car travel less attractive.

Finally, there’s the problem of zoning. We need more building particularly in places where people want to live. Rents increased an average of 4.5% this year nationwide, and while some parts of the country, like Chicago West side, are full of abandoned building, many of our most important hubs of innovation and economy like San Francisco desperately need more building and more density.

Compare the growth of a city like Houston to that off Washington D.C. Both cities are growing, both cities have jobs that should attract young people. But in Washington D.C. developers cannot build anything taller
than the capital and the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,000 a month the same sized apartment in Houston is $ 1,250. This despite the fact that DC has only grown by 50,000 or 7.5% since 1990 while Houston has grown by 500,000 or 23%. Now, the overall growth of DC is hampered by many anti-development policies, not just the height limitation. But, it’s a perfect example of how a city with great transit and biking is held back. While a famously car bound city like Houston has exploded.

Any city growth is good news for car alternatives, and Houston is likely getting better for non-drivers in
the way LA has in recent years
. But until nimby, anti-development policies can be curbed car travel is going to continue to grow unchecked.

About Casey Brazeal

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!