Rethinking American Neighborhoods

part of the problem is we’re looking at 70 years of massive factors in favor of cars (public and private), and look at the outcome and decide the world is built around cars. we built it (mostly the US) around cars and we can rebuild it around mass transit and more local stuff. look at every other country. they are way denser because they pursued policies that made it that way. some (Western Europe) are re densifying after going car centric like we did. I love cars, don’t really like driving, hate traffic, and still don’t see a world where cars are gone. but I do see a world where cars are not mandatory to own for most of the US. as someone who loves mass transit, if mass transit takes longer than a car, we’ve messed up. we’ve built a car centric society at the expense of people.

My magic plan to fix the world under something like capitalism. You could also eliminate capitalism but that’s a more radical shift that I am not going to get into (ex., do we remain a global society).

natural gradients of density

  • maximum annoyance zoning like Japan (no single family home mandate “just cuz”)
  • land value tax (encourages people to re-shuffle according to their preferences. right now they are encouraged to lock in value and reap the benefits at the expense of others). helps renewal projects (such as mass transit) be cost effective. example, areas around transit stations become more dense than the surrounding areas because that land is more valuable. imagine a grocery store, probably a few floors of apartments, a laundromat, and a fast food
  • this sets the stage for Europe-style downtown renewal (pedestrian only zones), but I don’t care enough to mandate it federally. let cities figure it out.

congestion taxes

  • (pioneered in Europe/Singapore and now in NYC). restricted zone is an example. if you enter the zone during a congestion period (like 7am-7pm) you pay a tax. the genius part of this is it encourages innovation - carpooling, mass transit, shifted commutes, work from home, relocating. friend works at apple, and partially because of traffic, his team’s work day is like 10am-6pm.
  • any roadway that gets congested is restructured to 1 lane each way of normal and all other lanes of congestion taxed. the tax is dynamically calculated such that these lanes are always freely flowing, but fully used. emergency vehicles use them of course. for everyone else, two patterns will emerge - rich people and carpools / buses. as above, it encourages alternatives. some places already do something like this, but waiving the fee for HOV.

carbon tax

  • if you look into the numbers for this, carbon taxes won’t affect regular americans that much. on the order of $400 a year iirc. an easier way to get it approved is to use 100% of it for a refund- use less than the average (including industrial polluters), and it’s free money. this would still encourage more sustainable way of living, and give much needed funding to alternatives. businesses will suddenly care a lot more when they can cut their costs by $shitton or they have a captive market of shitloads of people who are all paying a carbon tax.
  • airlines are big polluters and even if you do the math on them, it’s not bad (note: I wrote this before the very recent EU study which found that airlines pollute in non-carbon ways that contribute greatly to global warming). $30-$90 carbon tax for a NYC-SF round trip ticket. I love trains, but I’m never going to mandate a certain type of transit over another. Instead I’m pricing in costs that aren’t part of the up front cost (carbon mostly) and letting the free market do the rest. Trains are very likely to be uneconomical (and slow) for medium to long trips. But they have a shot at competing (along with high quality buses) in short routes - the eastern seaboard, probably LAX-SFO, etc. It’s harder to get data for road-based city-to-city travel (you just get highway level data broken up by mile marker????) but there are probably metro areas which get frequent car trips that can be made more suitable for trains/buses. this one is about traffic jams but the principle is similar.

improve the quality of transit itself

  • give the homeless homes and the help they need. why is this here?!?!?!?! it’s inefficient to use mass transit as housing for the homeless. Some of the people I’ve encountered on mass transit were clearly out of other options - not that staying on mass transit all day was their first choice.
  • I was just in NYC last christmas and even their extremely underfunded subway system was lit. Japan’s was great too but i’m only semi joking when I say that shame keeps the 5 competing subway companies from price gouging. the network was built by the government but went broke and got privatized in 1987. wasn’t as impressed with the French subways.
  • look at a map of high speed rail in europe, holy shit
  • no cops on mass transit and no fare enforcement. just a cruel, evil system. NYPD is literally paying 49 million dollars to NOT let people jump turnstiles. if a train full of people can’t stop something bad from happening, one cop in the car isn’t going to do shit.


  • require disclosure of research that suggests particulate pollution from cars is dangerous when selling or leasing housing. the research, intuitively, suggests that the closer you live to high traffic roads, the more of the bad air you breathe and the more negative effects. the effect has not been detected passed a mile or 2 (I don’t have the data in front of me). to be completely fair, i don’t know if such research exists for trains. for buses, it should carry over - a lot of the problem is from braking.
  • all publicly funded car projects (ex. highway widening) must evaluate mass transit based options, or not doing it at all, along with climate change and the knock-on migration it is causing, and still conclude the car project is better. fun fact, induced demand exists, so there’s no such thing as building additional capacity to relieve traffic. it just bounces back to fill the gap.
  • electric car tax breaks are included in the above bullet point. an electric car is still a waste of space compared to a bus or subway, and we can fund more efficient projects than that.
  • gas car tax breaks (mostly through tax breaks of the US factories) are included too. “creating jobs” is a scourge of American politics. want someone to have money so bad? Just give them money. If you have to “create a job”, look at the Green New Deal or the original New Deal or even the Obama Stimulus. Fund infrastructure and things that everyone can use. Don’t give handouts to one industry that is destroying the planet just because it makes you feel good.
  • regulate digital taxi companies (Lyft, Uber) the same way as regular taxi companies. ride “share” was responsible for a 41% increase in traffic in SF. sure, it’s convenient, but it’s a leech on public transit - siphoning off profitable trips while leaving taxpayers in charge of getting someone 20 miles across town. right now they just robin hood from the rich to the app users, at the expense of below minimum wage drivers, in the hopes of driving taxis and public transit out of business and enjoying monopoly control.

All taxes get easier to swallow if they are spent on related issues. Example, fund better transit and parking garages with congestion taxes. America is big and a lot of it is sparse, but our congested, car-centric downtowns and suburbs are just a failure of the imagination.