This is the story so far:
Almost everyone agrees with the science-based research:
Traffic congestion in urban areas is
growing steadily worse.
“Automobile” has become an oxymoron.
There is broad agreement that the lack of mobility and
access causes significant economic, social and
physical dysfunction in the urban areas where 90
percent of the citizens of the United
live, work, seek services and participate in
is also well documented that new transportation
projects and facilities do not solve the traffic
congestion problems unless they are coupled with
Fundamental Changes of the human settlement
pattern to create Balanced Communities. As
we saw in the last column, “Self
Delusion and Fraud” (June 7, 2004),
transportation/land-use dysfunction is
reinforced by the acts of transportation
planners and governance practitioners.
These facts of land-use/transportation reality can be
stated as follows:
strategies to provide transport services are
Building more facilities a without
Fundamental Change in the human settlement
pattern costs billions of dollars and makes
congestion worse. The
flawed mobility strategies are perpetuated by
fraudulent claims that new projects will solve
In this context, we examine two timeless topics as they
relate to the transportation system: death and
States and its allies have just come together to
dedicate a World War II Memorial to
celebrate the 60th anniversary of
D-Day and remember those who died in the
conflict. More than 400,000 men and women lost
their lives in service to the United
in the five years from 1941 to 1945, making the
Second World War the bloodiest in our nation’s
horrific as World War II was, it takes only 10
years of daily use of the highway system to
equal the human toll of the war in traffic
Since the close of hostilities in 1945, at the current kill
rate, the highway system has ended the lives of
six times the number of World War II deaths. It
only takes 25 years to kill as many men, women
and children on the highways as have died in all
the wars since the start of the Revolutionary
War in 1775.
would be a terrible price to pay for a mobility
and access system if it worked. It is an unthink
able toll for a system that it growing worse by
the year, all the more so considering that new
construction, under current conditions, only
intensifies congestion and dysfunction.
The problem is not that we have designed or maintained our
road system poorly; it is that this system has
spawned a human settlement pattern that requires
far more driving than would be needed with
functional patterns and densities of land use.
related deaths result from the scatteration of urban
dwellings that put young and old drivers on the
The dysfunctional distribution of the origins and
destinations of travel results in the practice
of driving at high speeds to get from where one
is to where one wants to be.
This leads to road rage.
Congestion also results in thousands of
person years wasted in automobiles.
This is termed “roadway person
slaughter” in my book, The Shape of the
Future. The Texas Transportation Institute calls
it “person hours of delay.”
Even those who are not using automobiles are killed.
The current human settlement patterns
created by least-common-denominator mobility
strategies take a high toll in pedestrian
current modus operandi is to build the roadways
for cars and let those not in cars get out of
It is not just automobiles that deal death.
Trucks are involved in accidents that
kill about 5,000 citizens each year.
There so many trucks on the roadways
because current government mobility strategies
undermine a system of shipping freight by rail
which is relatively safe and far more energy
and state mobility strategies require taxpayers
to subsidize long haul, heavy trucks and scatter
the origins and destinations of freight
policies, programs, incentives and
“education” efforts cause the rail system to
be less efficient and effective.
By subsidizing the use of trucks on
streets and roads, there is inevitable conflict
between big trucks and ever bigger automobiles.
Government action has made freight
movement more profitable for some, but it comes
at a high cost for almost all.
Similar government strategies have reinforced the
short-term economic goals of a few and
dismantled potentially efficient intra-urban
passenger systems (confusingly known as
These systems are now being reinstalled
in some regions at a cost of billions.
The same forces have also nearly
eliminated efficient long-haul ground passenger
freight, intra-urban passenger and
package-delivery systems, as well as long-haul
passenger service, the scenario is the same.
Transportation policies, programs, incentives
and "education" born of the
conventional wisdom have undermined improvable
systems. These strategies have made a few people
richer, faster, but impoverished the
nation-state and its citizen-taxpayers.
As we will explore in the next column, the public agency
response is, “We did it all for you.”
Governance practitioners say the current
system is what citizens want and what the market
is the way self-delusion and fraud come into
play, as noted in
the last column.
Deaths as a Global Problem
It is not only in the
where death is an indicator of transport
1.2 million humans die in roadway/automobility
accidents every year. With the accelerating “motorization” of the
millions more per year will die unless the
current paradigm changes. If the United States is to be a “world leader,” it needs to show
the way, and not just with slightly lower kill
The fact that there is a lower percentage of deaths in the
than in some other nation-states causes highway
advocates to hold up our transport system as a
model of “safety.” In the U.S.,
we do kill a lower percentage of the automobile
travelers per mile traveled than in Africa,
The places with the lowest rates of death from automobility,
however, include Greenland
and Western Europe. There are
almost no roads in Greenland. There are lots of big, fast
roads in Western
are the roads safer there?
The human settlement pattern in Europe
allows many more citizens to meet their daily
mobility and access needs without resorting to a
the patterns and densities of land use in Europe
make a shared-vehicle the easiest and most
intelligent option for many trips.
noted below, unnecessary and unenjoyable
are discouraged by the total cost of gasoline.
of American tourists vacation in European
urban areas precisely because they do not require the
use of an automobile. Not many visitors to the National Capital
Subregion will choose to camp out under the new
The national strategy on mobility and access is not
more facilities without Fundamental Change in
human settlement patterns makes congestion
current system conceived in the '20s, legislated
in the '50s, and dominant for the past three
decades, has killed more citizens than all of
In theory, automobility may work for up to 20 percent of a
20th century population at great
physics dictates that automobility will not work
for 70, 80, 90 much less 100 percent of an urban
a contemporary urban democracy, that is a
relationship must undergo Fundamental Change
among other things, it is killing us.
Even in the face of these facts, highway advocates and
politicians love and defend the current system.
It gives them a source of easy money and
gets them reelected.
They give every sign that they will not
change until someone pries their cold hands off
the steering wheel.
There is a force, however, that often has proven to discourage citizens from using
single-occupant vehicles and locating where the
settlement pattern requires their use.
Money. That brings us to this
week’s second topic: taxes.
This discussion of taxes is not about keeping levies low to
encourage economic growth and entrepreneurialism,
a theme frequently sounded in Bacon's
am suggesting instead that certain taxes should,
in fact, be higher in order to to conserve energy,
especially imported energy.
energy consumption also would improve health and
the environment, preserve economic prosperity
and promote social stability.
There are many ideas for comprehensive energy-related taxes
on the table that need to be considered. In a
column titled “Why Gas Prices Are Too Low,”
David Ignatius in The Washington Post outlined
the issue and its context with clarity. He noted the political history and the
current stance of pandering politicians who have
subsidized automobility and, thereby, edged the
United States toward and economic and strategic
summarized a current proposal by energy
economist Philip Verleger, who proposed a
50-cent gas tax to the Ford Administration in
later renewed this suggestion, and it became the
often scoffed at “Jimmy Carter 50-cent gas
Verleger now advocates a major gasoline tax with a specific
– to raise money to buy up gas guzzling cars
on the road and ease the transition into energy
the Verleger plan, a $2 a gallon tax would go
into effect in 2009. The tax would then escalate a dollar a
year to $5 a gallon by 2012. That would mean the total gas price would
then be at about the same level as it will be in
the European Union by that time. In the Verleger plan, the future tax
revenue stream would be leveraged to buy up gas
hogs and get them off the road. Delaying implementation to 2009 would
allow for a phasing in of the economic, social
and physical adjustments. Without a phase-in, these
“adjustments” will be dramatic, immediate
and painful when Middle
East oil (two-thirds of known reserves) runs out or
the flow is cut off. Did not someone blow up an
oil pipeline just
wants to bet that today’s Saudi regime will be
in power in 2012?
This column is not a forum to debate the right tax
strategy, but we outline one proposal to
indicate that it is time to take definitive
50-cent gasoline gas tax would have helped in
we need real, effective energy taxes that
reflect the true cost of the consumption of
imported energy resources and encourages
intelligent market and consumer responses,
especially vis a vis mobility and access.
That means Fundamental Change in
The Ignatius column has generated significant reader
5 June, The Washington Post
editors published a suite of
letters-to-the-editor in response to the column
titled “Pain At the Pump.”
The letters document the level and scope
of reader illiteracy on transportation/land-use
relationships and related topics.
The letter writers are misguided on
precisely the topics upon which we have taken The
Post to task for obfuscating
Jan, 19, 2004
Context,” Feb. 2, 2004.)
Most people do not think of human settlement patterns when
the topic of energy policy comes up.
Rather, they are concerned about the
continuing parade of record balance-of-payments
deficits and the economic and security (as in,
two wars in a decade) dependence on foreign oil
that is controlled by unstable anti-
Thanks to the transportation strategy adopted in the 20s,
oil has driven not only the domestic economy but
foreign policy. The
States and its World War I allies attempted to create
“nations” from medieval city states, scraps
of the Ottoman
and nomadic tribes. They have coddled and catered to despots,
dictators and ruling families because they
controlled oil reserves. As yesterday’s, today’s and
tomorrow’s headlines document, we have made a
hash out of their lives and ours. This is why there is a need for taxes and
other incentives to shape the energy market.
Cost- and supply-based incentives do work.
Between October 1973 and October 1974,
the percentage of those who both lived and
worked in Columbia,
increased from 17 percent to 37 percent. When oil crisis went away, so did concern
for living and working in the same (Balanced)
While the United
has seen gasoline consumption grow steadily
since the 1970s,
have cut consumption.
The gross indicators of economic
expansion have not grown as fast in Western Europe
as in the
This is because the European Union and
its member states have chosen to devote
resources to shorter workweeks, longer vacations,
better social safety nets, Fundamental Change in
governance structure and more humane settlement
things benefit all citizens, not just a few at
the top of the economic food chain who have benefited most from higher GNP growth.
It is Necessary for Citizens to Understand
We open Chapter 13 of The Shape of the Future with the
rationale for the proposition that “Transport
is a Waste.” Transport
facilities and energy are the resources used to
get from where citizens are to where they want
S/PI has argued for years that if citizens were smarter
about where they chose to live and work, they
would not have to travel as much and, thus,
waste as much time, infrastructure and energy.
They would already be at or near where
they wanted to be -– where they worked, lived
and sought services and recreation.
These well-located citizens would be smarter, have more
leisure time, have more time for their children
and be better off economically.
That's because there is more economic
value created in places people that want to be
–- think Richard Florida’s creative people.
The places people want to be have higher
value just because people want to be there, and
the market reflects this reality.
The reason these places cost more is not that they are
inherently more expensive to build or maintain;
it is because there are not enough of them. This
is a pure case of supply and demand.
The shortage of good places is due to the
fact that those who provide shelter and mobility
make more money in the short term from
building and providing shelter in cheaper and
thus dysfunctional, hard-to-get-to places.
It is also because current transportation
strategies open cheaper but more poorly located
land to development.
The “cheaper” houses, land and buildings cost less
because they are badly located.
In this case, less expensive is not a
bargain. (See “Affordable
But No Bargain”, Feb. 17, 2003. In fact,
it costs more to live in one place and work,
seek services and participate in recreational
activities in other scattered locations.
Even though the house may have initially
been cheaper or municipal taxes lower, the total
cost in time and resources is higher. These dysfunctional places are marginally
acceptable as places to live or work only as
long as there is cheap fuel and an uncongested
road to get where one needs or wants to be and
uncongested roads are disappearing and the cost
of fuel is rising. Now you can see why it is
important to understand death and taxes as they
relate to mobility, access and human settlement
As we saw in the last column, “Self
Delusion and Fraud,” to make matters
worse, transportation professionals are
reinforcing the myths that cause citizens to
make the wrong decisions in the first place.
Next time the response: We are from the government...
-- June 7, 2004
The letter by Rowland laments the impact of
her bad location decisions for which she expects
the public to subsidize her chosen lifestyle.
(She believes the Private-Vehicle
Myths that Blind Us,”
20 October 2003
Kimmel letter misunderstands the reality of
affordable and accessible housing.
but No Bargain”.).
The Schlosser letter is a form letter
that rabid anti-tax groups circulate when anyone
proposes a “tax.”
This form letter is sent without regard
to the content or the fact that the column
addresses the specific purpose of a specific
final letter is from John B. Anderson (aka,
Anderson of Illinois) who reprises a 1980
presidential campaign proposal.