✊🏙 NY approves congestion pricing; tech-transport’s false promises; Melbourne Apple store dead; #BlockSidewalk; overnight trains; floating cities; & more!
NYC finally agreed on congestion pricing, tech’s transport solutions have the same false promises as the automobile, Melbourne killed its planned Apple store, London Crossrail is facing more setbacks, Miami real-estate agents live in a fantasy world, and Iceland’s tourism industry might be in trouble.
Have a great week!
Congestion pricing in NYC
New York’s state budget was signed off this week, and it included a much-debated and very necessary initiative: congestion pricing. It’s expected to take effect in 2021, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made, including what the fee will actually be.
Now that it’s definitely happening, a bunch of groups are already gearing up to lobby for exemptions, but it could also serve as inspiration for other car-clogged U.S. cities. Emily Badger writes it could even, finally, change how people see the roads and make them recognize that they were never free; the cost was simply hidden.
Alissa Walker suggests using open-street festivals to get residents ready for congestion pricing and to show everyone what streets free of cars could look like. Dissent Magazine, however, reminds us that this demand is not new. It republished an essay from 1961 in which Percival Goodmanand Paul Goodman called for cars to be banned in Manhattan:
The present situation is intolerable and all other proposed solutions of it are uneconomic, disruptive, unhealthy, non-urban or impractical.
Tech-transport makes the same false promises
Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one, the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don’t have one. That is how in both conception and original purpose the car is a luxury good. And the essence of luxury is that it cannot be democratized. If everyone can have luxury, no one gets any advantages from it.
Gorz discusses how the promise of the car was that it would allow the driver to go faster than other road users, but once everyone could buy one, that advantage disappeared because it created traffic and slowed every car down. The car is thus a luxury good because it only works properly when few use it.
The essay is a great read, and I recommend it, because it immediately brought to mind the transport fantasies of the tech industry. Elon Muskpromises that his Boring tunnels will eliminate traffic, but they’ll only work as promised if they’re restricted to him and his wealthy buddies; if everyone uses them, they’ll clog up and the speed advantage will be lost.
Similarly, Uber and Lyft are only used by a small percentage of urban residents, but they’ve already created enormous problems by slowing everyone down and taking trips from transit. The solution isn’t to shift from personal ownership to on-demand when the problem is the number of cars, especially when ride-hailing trips add more travel miles because of deadheading.
I could say the same of Uber’s flying cars: if everyone is using them, the skies will be filled be quasi-helicopters, eliminating the promised benefits. Plus, do we even want our skies filled with helicopters?
Tech-transport solutions are making promises they can’t keep; promises that only work if a small (well-off) percentage of residents actually use their transport fantasies. They’re making the same promise as automakers made about cars, and we need to recognize that before it’s too late.
Around the world
😂 London’s newly approved tower, The Tulip, “will serve no particular function other than being there.” Citymetric has some other suggestions.
🚋 Toronto’s King Street pilot project increased streetcar ridership by 12,000 at a cost of just $1.5 million
🚧 London’s Crossrail could face further delays and cost overruns
🇸🇪 Sweden wants to revive overnight train services to the European mainland as a low-carbon transport alternative
🚄 Florida’s Brightline train service isn’t meeting ridership targets and is losing money, but it’s looking to the future after being acquired by Virginand planning to extend to Orlando by 2023
🛤 Rail is far more efficient than cars or airplanes — for passenger and freight transport
🇺🇸 After 50 years of trying, the U.S. still hasn’t built high-speed rail. Here’s the timeline.
🤦♀️ New UN-backed “plan” for floating cities is linked to libertarian seasteading and didn’t even consider impacts of hurricane-force winds
🏥 High housing prices are also bad for health: when people are rent burdened, they’re more stressed and put off preventative treatment
🌅 Sarah Miller pretended to shop for expensive Miami condos to ask real estate agents thought about sea level rise. They’re living in a fantasy world.
🏛 “It’s time for architects to choose ethics over aesthetics. Take responsibility, own that you are part of the problem, and do something about it.”
🇩🇪 Berliners are trying to force a mass nationalization of rental properties. What will it take to make it happen?
🇨🇦 New citizens’ group, #BlockSidewalk, wants Sidewalk Torontocanceled. The future of the project depends on the master plan due this spring.
🇦🇺 Melbourne’s controversial Apple store is dead. Heritage Victoria refused to grant permits because it would cause “an unacceptable and irreversible detrimental impact on the cultural heritage significance of [Fed] Square.”
Climate & environment
🔋 Lithium-ion battery costs are plummeting, making wind and solar even cheaper and further threatening coal and gas
🌲 Politicians love to talk about carbon-capture technologies, but ignore the best carbon-capture system on the planet: forests
😬 Last time there was this much carbon in the atmosphere, there were “trees growing near the South Pole, sea levels 20 metres higher than now, and global temperatures 3C-4C warmer.”
🇮🇸 After Wow Air’s collapse, what’s the future of tourism in Iceland?
🇪🇸 New Madrid law requires Airbnb properties to have their own private entrance, which could take 95% of listings off the website
🇮🇹 Venice is trying to address its Airbnb problem. It faced a similar issue with informal lodgings in the 16th century.
Other great reads
🇩🇰 Fashion giant Bestseller plans to build Europe’s tallest tower in a 7,000-person Danish town, and there’s surprisingly little opposition
📉 Gig-economy companies are going public, but how will a recession hit their business?
🇬🇧 A business improvement district in London is incentivizing local businesses to shift from vans to cargo bikes
🚕 An illustrated history of the electric taxi, starting in 1896