I recently came across a tweet that exemplifies a mindset that is all too prevalent when it comes to electric automobiles.
Do not forget that electric vehicles are here to save the automobile industry, not the environment.
— Brent Toderian, October 10, 2022 (@BrentToderian)
I don’t want to take Toderian’s statement out of context, paint him as an EV hater, and then attack the strawman, so I won’t do that before continuing. You can discover links to a discussion where he explains that he is not wholly opposed to electric vehicles and that he believes they are at least a part of the solution if you click on that Tweet. Like many other urbanists and planners, he doesn’t necessarily want to do rid of all cars; instead, he wants to see fewer of them and better cities that focus on people rather than automobiles.
All of this is to imply that it is ESSENTIAL that we make EVERY action required at the same time (or even before/proactively), as we work toward “better automobiles,” to ensure that we are working toward FEWER cars, LESS driving, more enticing transpo alternatives, and better communities/cities! pic.twitter.com/B7DcLCbWLN
— Brent Toderian, April 20, 2022 (@BrentToderian)
But I want to address both the anti-car and the “fewer automobiles” arguments. The “no vehicles” argument is simple to refute since it is too idealistic to be taken seriously (albeit a few people actually do make it). Reality thwarts utopian notions, as it always does. However, the case in favor of fewer automobiles still makes some presumptions that aren’t as reliable as they once were. There is potential for a brighter future without those presumptions that doesn’t involve taking away people’s key fobs.
A MORE FUNDAMENTAL NEEDS TO BE QUESTIONED: COMMUTING One of the first things I considered when I read Toderian’s tweet was a sector supported by commuting: the urban commercial real estate market. If anything, we should always keep in mind that most office workers don’t commute, and that it really only exists to protect major city property owners.
Reduced commute undoubtedly appeared like a utopian concept, similar to getting rid of cars, at least before to the epidemic. Companies were compelled to figure out how to deal with closed offices and came up with innovative strategies to keep “non-essential” employees employed so that businesses could survive. However, commuting did not become as popular as it once was as a result of people’s reluctance to return and employers’ realization that they could better retain employees by not requiring them to travel back to the city during the day.
People are scared of this new reality, including the mayor of New York. Eric Adams tried in vain to command companies to bring workers back was back in February. However, this isn’t China, and the mayor has little influence over these matters beyond his or her ability to use the bully pulpit. A few businesses, probably run by traditionalists, pointlessly went back to having employees work in offices, but the majority didn’t. Adams had basically given up on the plan to use is now instead calling for business districts to have more residential space and keep the city balanced and floating as of last month.
What is this related to automobiles? Commuting is the root of many automotive issues in urban areas. The morning and evening rush hours see heavy traffic, while the middle of the day is typically light. The majority of urban and suburban motorways are almost vacant in the middle of the night since most people are asleep. Although road infrastructure must be strong enough to withstand rush hour, this additional capacity is frequently completely underused outside of rush hour.
Cities should choose a different course of action than urging people to return to work and save commuter-based industries. They might promote the construction of more housing for those who must live in urban areas and oppose the ongoing practice of bussing throngs of office workers into and out of the city every morning and afternoon.
To put it another way, we shouldn’t be debating whether kind of transportation is the greenest for moving people during rush hour. The habit of doing this at all when it’s not necessary should be questioned. The only reason to herd people into the office like cattle in 2022, given the state of telecoms, is to make money for commercial property owners. That justification, or any other, falls far short in light of the climatic problem.
CITIES WON’T NEED POINTLESS COMMUNICATION Many people will still have to go to their places of employment. Numerous jobs, including those in retail sales, manufacturing, food service, and many more, still require face-to-face interaction. However, things can be much pleasant for those who stay there when they are not forced to fight for traffic lanes, bus and train seats, and accommodation with people who don’t really need to be in the city. There is more than enough space on the roads, in travel, and everywhere.
There will be many who, while not required to do so by their work, yet choose to live in a large metropolis for a variety of reasons. They wouldn’t be harmed by discouraging commutes without a genuine need, and there would still be space for everyone else on the roads and in public transportation. Housing may be a problem for those who want to remain, but it would still be helpful if those who don’t want to be there moved elsewhere and more commercial spaces were converted to homes.
With that relief, several communities would likely preserve their current transportation systems and reserve their additional capacity for projected population expansion. Others might seek to reclaim some of the area originally used by commuters’ cars in order to promote the use of transit in place of personal vehicles in the future. Each community will need to make this choice for itself based on its own culture and what its own citizens wish to accomplish; it shouldn’t be a universal solution.
EVS PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE FUTURE WHERE LESS COMMUTING OCCURS. We now need to discuss everyone who stopped daily, needless commutes into the downtown area. Even though they no longer need to commute, they nevertheless occasionally visit the office and have certain transportation needs. There is still a strong case for people to use transit and micromobility more if they decide to reside in an urban centre (provided that the transit is electrified and not just some filthy diesel bus transporting barely anyone). As I mentioned, each city will have to make a decision on that.
People working from home won’t have the same issues with their electric automobiles in the suburbs or on the outskirts as they do in urban centers filled with stressed-out, exhausted commuters. Electric vehicles are the most economical and environmentally beneficial option in low-density locations. You simply cannot develop a transit system that offers a high level of service (a vehicle arrives every 10 minutes or fewer) without using taxpayer funds to drive a large number of empty buses throughout the majority of the day (and by polluting the air everyone breathes). Here’s a long paper that explains this issue.
THE POINTLESS COMMUTER’S DEATH MAKES ROOM FOR DECISIONS Any idea for transportation or transit that doesn’t take into account what we’ve learnt in 2020 isn’t worth taking into account. We now understand that unnecessary commuting hurts both firms and employees. It hurts the rest of us while only helping a select few. The fact that the majority of employees who can telecommute prefer not to do so is perhaps most significant. It’s just horrible in general.
Nobody loses anything when useless commuting is stopped. Nobody’s keys are taken away, and communities are not forced to live in a car-centric future. If anything, the extra breathing room we’d gain from stopping useless commuting would enable cities to alter course (and reclaim some acreage) and make life easier for those who don’t wish to live in urban areas. Just all around good.
Finally, we must be adaptable to further change. As technology advances, this balance will change more and more. Although it now appears to be fumbling, ideas like the Metaverse, telepresence, and artificial intelligence will lead to a reduction in the number of humans who are absolutely need to carry out tasks. Instead of burying their heads in the sand and whining when change inevitably occurs, cities and monetary systems need to prepare for those changes.
Screenshot of the tweet from which the featured image is taken.
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