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End of suburbs ? bus systems ?

  1. Jan 17, 2008 #1
    I have read forums that talk against US suburbs and often blame the car for urban sprawl. Now, isn't there a really very simple solution to this ? Just create a well thought out public (or even private companies) transportation system throughout all the US suburbs, maybe using various sized buses, some luxury buses, some smaller, some larger according to the nodes and server stations that must be used (to use an analogy with the internet) with differing prices etc. Commute times would decrease and traffic congestion would greatly decrease.

    Actually using the internet and studying the flow of traffic, maybe signing in to the internet web pages in a given suburb to tell at what time and where you have to go etc. could make the system very efficient. You could also create local subdivisions in suburbs that have smaller stores and some office spaces, some smaller local malls etc. In other occasions you could just keep on using your own car, no problem, big deal.

    Most debates seem black or white, either suburb sprawl or inner city. Isn't there any middle ground ? Is it some kind of idiotic ideological fight ? I mean there are so many possible intermediate solutions that you can imagine, and yet the debate is either all or nothing.

    The same could be thought of for any place in the world more or less.

    Any ideas ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 17, 2008 #2


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    This is how suburbs were first invented - before the motor car.
    In London train+underground links were built to green field sites in the late 1800/early 1900s. New towns were built along the lines with fast links into the city, this was all done by the railway companies and property speculators without any govemerment planning.

    Since you had to walk from your front door to the station there was an incentive to keep the suburb compact. With cars there is a drive to make them as spread out as possible.
  4. Jan 17, 2008 #3
    But that's what I mean. It seems that people can't even imagine that there could be an INTERMEDIATE solution, not that it must be completely city, or inner city, or completely suburb. I mean we can continue to contruct the suburbs wide and large as we are currently doing, but simply create an intelligent network of public/and or private buses around them and to various points. Is this idea so complicated ?

    Companies themselves could have their own private buses that bring people from home to work in an area, with various schedules etc. I think there are a large number of possibilities without changing anything of the modern US suburbs, if people are willing to imagine them. Even private compaines could create their own bus systems and sell them to client families to get aorund an area or to the towns or cities close by.

    We don't have to go back to old london or new delhi styled cities, just keep the present suburbs and start using computers and intelligence. Is this so hard ?
  5. Jan 17, 2008 #4


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    While I agree that cars have definitely been one of the reasons for sprawl, I disagree that simply having better bus systems will be the answer. In my area, people are never going to give up their cars, at least within the present couple of generations. It just ain't gonna happen. It is too ingrained in the psyche. In my area, there are no ways to walk anywhere except in subdivisions. I think that would be a great place to start. For example, I would love to be able to run to work in the mornings. I only work about 5 miles away. However, walking along the roads I would take is definitely risky at best. When I lived in NY it was no big deal to walk anywhere because there are tons of ways for a person to walk.

    Before you start thinking of numerous bus scenarios, I'd say that you have to win the hearts and minds first. If you don't you'll have a lot of unused buses sitting around.
  6. Jan 17, 2008 #5


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    That is a fairly straightforward and ideal solution, but there are many, many pactical hurdles to overcome. Most major cites are doing just what you suggest. But it is not a magic bullet.
  7. Jan 17, 2008 #6
    All these answers seem black or white, somehow ideological. It doesn't have to be overnight, it doesn't have to be no cars, it could be gradual and sized appropriately for each subdivision. It should size itself automatically according to demand and according to private competition amongst bus owners.

    I am sure many people in many suburbs would like quick, easy, cheap bus transport (even if it is every now and then and for some particular routes) than nothing at all as it is now.

    It is not car or buses but cars and buses according to how convenient you feel it is. If it is managed with computers and internet, it could be even better. We went to the moon with 60s technology and in only 9 years of design time, a bus system in the US seems to be harder than going to mars! Are people stupid or what ? Is it really so hard ?

    Everything is black or white, no cars, generations etc. I mean honestly, they are just buses, it is no rocket science you know...

    Is this country really losing its edge, can't imagine nothing out of the box ?
  8. Jan 18, 2008 #7


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    I think you're right on there. It would have to be a gradual transformation. Give the people a taste and let it propagate out.

    I am not so sure of that. I'd be interested to see if anyone has done any kind of polls or census on this topic. I honestly think that in my area, people could care less about buses. It's an impression though, so I could be mistaken.

    What exactly do you mean by managed with computers and the internet? Bus routes don't exactly need high computing to be effective. What other features were you thinking about adding?

    One VERY large difference there is that EVERYONE in the country was on board. Everyone worked hard on that. You would not have the same scenario here. Like I mentioned, you are going to have to spend way more time trying to convince people to forget their cars and take the bus, than you would simply devising the technicalities of a bus system.

    Honestly, I get the impression that you are seeing things in black and white. Have you done any research into the many areas that have tried to introduce either a bus or train system? I can think of two failed bus ventures in my area alone.
  9. Jan 18, 2008 #8
    Fred, what area more or less are you in ? west, south, east and near big cities ? Why do you think the bus ventures failed ?

    I was thinking of a scenario like anyone in a suburb needs to get to point B from point A(his home) at a given time. He enters the request on a local web page, the bus company offers a time and price (varies according to demand, distance) etc. If the user thinks it is worth it, he asks the bus to come. More people through similar routes would mean less asking price per person, less people higher price. The system could be dynamic, companies and private people could join to offer according to profit. Just some ideas, something like a packet switching technology applied to roads and vehicles ?

    Even if the US doesn't like it, maybe some parts of the US could try something like this and mostly MANY parts of Mexico, Brazil, Russia, China, India and other developing countries could surely try it, given that the car culture is less ingrained, and it is very much more economical. That way THEY can save on gas and the US could continue to import the lions share and keep going by cars.

    Anyways, just some ideas I had about a topic, that touches both engineering, economics and politics.

    I have an impression that the limits of science and technology are more and more, "systems" limits, organizational, cultural, political. For example, on oil dependancy and pollution, science and technology can only do so much, the rest must be done by changing how the systems are organized (working from home instead of going back and forth to work a hundred miles away ?). The same in general with health care, or infrastructures getting old, water shortages, waste management etc. The US has the most advanced health care, too bad it costs more and more and fewer and fewer people can use it. A typical "systems" problem.

    Future progress can only come through changing the way systems work I think. We should realize that maybe technology can really only go so far, the great leaps forward probably are never going to happen, like fusion energy.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  10. Jan 18, 2008 #9
    Actually, much of the US had a somewhat similar system prior to the 1950s. There were streetcar lines, railroads, and buses that all created residential clusters separated by undeveloped land.
  11. Jan 18, 2008 #10


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    I suspect the Internet has the possibility of changing thing to the point where the question has become obsolete.
    Judging from traffic patterns the majority of travel is to jobs.

    Why have an office if all you do is sit in front of a computer that could be anywhere?
    But most places still want your physical presence. :rolleyes:

    Just about anything can be ordered online, even groceries. No need to go to a store or even have stores.
    In fact when I needed some new shoes a few months ago I HAD to order online, stores just don't carry my size anymore. I just wasted hours traveling around to find that out.

    Manufacturing/Lab work, Maintenance/Repair, and health care seem to be the areas which still require a physical presence, but even some of that is subject to change with advances in robotics. A lot of this work is now decentralized to the point where the normal concept of public transportation (ie: from suburb to city) doesn't apply.

    Frankly, I think the social change of cars to buses is fairly trivial to the social changes that are currently growing roots.
    In my case most of the people I work with live 1000s of miles away from me and I've never actually had face to face with any of them.
    I use my car primarily for social functions like going out to restaurants.
  12. Jan 23, 2008 #11
    City planning has to be pedistian & bicycle friendly. Bus priority lanes also work very well. Any alternative to the car has to be quick & easy.

    Design of many major facilities is not in favour of buses. For example have a look where the bus stop is in relation to the front door of your local mall.
  13. Jan 24, 2008 #12


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    What makes you think transportation is all about transportation?

    There are factors affecting the buy-in to public transport that have very little to do with actual transport - and it will be much harder to change those. eg.:

    No bus or subway will carry my groceries or my children for me. No bus or subway will carry them from the door of the store to the door of my home.

    No bus or subway will protect me from the elements all the way from door to door.

    No bus or subway will give me the privacy and protection from the unwashed masses that intrude on my morning.

    People take trips longer than within their city. Even if they don't do it often, they like to know they can.

    And finally, if you want a car to have freedom from all of the above, well then you have car don't you? You might as well drive it around town too.
  14. Jan 24, 2008 #13
    A fresh garlic bagel eaten on the way to the bus stop will help a lot.
  15. Jan 24, 2008 #14
    Depends on what you think the problem is. Is it sprawl per se, traffic, gasoline consumption, reliance on foreign oil, or something else? Most of your proposed solutions seem to be geared at reducing traffic, and so maybe also gas consumption (and so reliance on foreign oil). But as mgb_phys explained, the sprawl itself is a function of how convenient/cheap transportation is, so replacing cars with some other equally cheap and convenient mode of transit isn't going to change any of the fundamental incentives that encourage the development of suburbs like we have now.

    By the way, a great many US cities have pursued or are pursuing various hybrid solutions like you mention (commuter rail, bus systems, ridesharing, carpool lanes, bike lanes/paths, tax breaks to companies to subsidize commuters to use mass transit, etc.). But like Dave said, there's a lot of other factors that people like about cars besides the basic cost/transit considerations. In addition to the ones he named, there's also a social status factor engrained into modern US society. Many people out there wouldn't be caught dead riding public transit even if it were cheaper and easier than driving their own cars, simply because of the social stigma associated with public transit. Or walking or biking, for that matter.
  16. Jan 25, 2008 #15
    So if I want to take a walk around any American suburb, I will be labeled as bad or poor or dangerous ? People will judge me badly simply because I want to take a walk around some blocks of the suburb, with no destination in mind, but simply to take a breath of fresh air ? Is this what America has become ?

    OK, no need to use public transport, it is not the american way. By the way companies could offer their private buses to their workers to bring them from home and to work, some companies in other countries actually do this, or did it more often in the past, but I guess it is not the American way. Any possible kind of improvement seems to be always not the American way....
  17. Jan 25, 2008 #16


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  18. Jan 25, 2008 #17
    Sorry, in reference to that about walking. It is true that sometimes when I do talk strolls in suburbs sometimes it doesn't feel comfortable, or is it just my impression. Maybe ....
  19. Jan 25, 2008 #18


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    This kind of status is in the eyes of those driving the cars about themselves, not in the eyes of those on bus or bike or foot.
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