Has the U.S. Reached Peak Car?

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Yves here. This post is a workmanlike compilation of trends in the driving habits of Americans. Some of the data shows that use of public transportation has been rising faster than population growth…yet budget stresses mean those services are regularly targeted for fare increases and schedule cutbacks.

Having never owned a car, and hoping to remain in that category, I wish I saw a more concerted push towards
rethinking zoning and development to encourage more density and thus more walking (which gives you a twofer: more active citizens and less gas usage). Perhaps readers will point out some examples, but it seems that this sort of change has been relegated to the category of “environmentalist dreaming” rather than a goal to be taken seriously.

By Matt Smith, an analyst who blogs at Energy Burrito. Cross posted from OilPrice

There have been a number of recent research reports addressing the notion of ‘Peak Car’ – whether driving has peaked per person in the US. So here are a bunch of interesting tidbits and nuggets I have gleaned from the reports ‘A New Direction‘ and ‘Has Motorization in the US Peaked?’, as well as an update on miles driven….it’s all downhill from here.

Pedal to the Metal

–From the end of World War II to 2004 (known as ‘the Driving Boom’), Americans drove more miles nearly every year
–The driving boom coincided with the Baby Boom – a bubble of those born between 1946 and 1964
–By 2004, the average American was driving 85% more miles than in 1970
–Between 1980 and 2010, freeway capacity (measured in lane-miles) expanded by 35%

Hitting The Brakes

–The peak driving age group is that of 35-54 year-olds
–The total number of 35-54 year-olds is set to tail off by the end of this decade
–Meanwhile, the share of the population of those 65 and older is set to increase dramatically by 2040


–In 1980, the age group of 65 and older made up 11% of the population. By 2040 this share is expected to reach 21%
–By 1992, 90% of the driving age population could drive, but by 2011 this had fallen to 86% – the lowest level in 30 years
–In 2011, 67% of 16-34 year-olds had a license, the lowest level since at last 1963
–Inflation-adjusted gasoline prices have doubled in the last decade
–Young people aged 16 -34 drove 23% fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001
–From 2001 – 2009, the number of passenger miles travelled by those aged 16-34 on public transport increased 40%
–Americans took nearly 10% more trips via public transportation in 2011 than in 2005

Driving It Home

–The absolute number of cars peaked in 2008, at 236.4 million
–This translates to nearly 2 vehicles per household, over 1 car per licensed driver, and 0.75 vehicles per person


Although ‘The Great Recession‘ is likely to blame for the drop-off in vehicles since 2008, a growing population (increasing 11% from 2011 to 2025) means we will likely see a higher number of vehicles on the road in the future.


Although we may not have peaked in terms of total vehicles in the US, we have likely peaked in terms of ‘Peak Car’ – aka miles driven per person.

Whether this slow-down is due to telecommuting, changing demographics, higher fuel costs, online shopping, or increased use of public transport, the evidence points to a turning tide in terms of miles driven:


Thanks for playing, and keep on trucking…or don’t, as the case may be…

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    1. lakewoebegoner

      can’t come soon enough. for 99% of Americans being injured/killed by a sleepy trucker or driver on your next road trip is thousands of times more likely to happen than being involved in a plane crash or terrorism.

  1. jake chase

    It has seemed to me for at least forty years that there is little reason to drive anywhere, inasmuch as all locations inside the country are pretty much the same.

    I suspect most of the driving is commutation, fueled by the American Dream of home ownership. A failing economy, debt servitude, snarled highways, careening super trucks, ballooning gas prices, reckless SUV and pickup cowboys (and cowgirls) all conspire to keep sensible people off the roads.

    On the other hand you have advertising….

    1. Susan the other

      “…since all locations within the country are the same.” Funny because it is so true. Why bother? And something not accounted for in this post is the expense of owning a car. Forget the glossy ads. It is a big pain in the neck to own, maintain and garage a car. If anything, I would say that this overview is being very generous to cars. But the auto industry has always been used to drive the economy, pun intended – so it is almost patriotic to own and drive a car.

      1. Bruno Marr

        Well, not everyplace is the same. There are subtle, but real differences. I live 100 miles north of metropolitan LA and we get thousands of vehicles driving into town to enjoy our particular coastal scenery (people & places).

        I agree we need to move away from automobiles but the US has quadrillion$ tied up in the highway system and gazillion$ more in suburbia. And the infrastucture to handle greater population density is not in place. Not only will you need more open space (parks:passive & active), but also improved utilities/services (water treatment/sewer system upgrades/flood control).

        Maybe electric vehicles will simply be a bridge to a different living arrangement.

    2. heresy101

      The expressed perspective indicates that you should get out of New York City and see real scenery of America and meet new people. An amazingly insular comment.

      Try Yellowstone, driving the Grand Tetons, seeing the miles of corn in Iowa, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, the saguaro, Death Valley, the coasts on each of three sides, the Great Lakes, Niagra Falls, Great Salt Lake, miles and miles of nothing in Texas, any number of cities, etc, etc, etc, etc.

      You may be able to ride your bike to a few of these but as you get older, you will see less and less.

      Amazingly short sighted perspective.

      1. davidgmills

        I never did understand the alure of a big city. Hate them. Get me as far into suburbia as my wife can tolerate. I would be fine in the Unibomber’s cabin with internet. There are so many cool places to see in this country but big cities are not among them. I like my wheels.

      2. JDM

        So true, the Sbarro, GAP, and Starbucks in Wyoming is SO much nicer than the Sbarro, GAP, and Starbucks in East McKeesport.

      3. k

        A healthy proportion of the people the bf and I saw on our 350-mile bike vacation riding between DC and PIttsburg last summer along the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage were in their 60s if not older. Many of them were bike touring like us; some were out for daylong rides. If you grow up and then as an adult riding a bike (or walking or swimming or whatever) on a regular basis, getting a mild amount of exercise, you’re more likely to be able to do it later into life — that’s part of why I do it so much, in addition to fun factor– I don’t want to lose my independence any sooner than I have to. And I can’t afford the cost, in time or money or health, of car ownership.

        Bicycling is much more practical as a transportation option than many Americans give it credit for. And if we had the right infrastructure, which is bargain basement priced compared to what we pay for highways, it’d be much easier for more people to take it up.

  2. Yonatan

    Regarding motor manufacturers fear of reducing car sales, the author of the Copenhagenize website has this to say about a presentation made by Chris Bangle, former head of design for BMW at the Melbourne State of Design festival:


    What I did learn was this funky and fresh new catchphrase created by Bangle to describe the evolution of designing cars: Personal Emotional Mobility.

    Wicked! Sounds lovely and hip and modern and this was the phrase around which Bangle’s talk revolved. What does it mean? Well, um… it turns out it means that the car industry needs to rethink their design so that people can have a heightened emotional attachment to their cars. It’s a catchphrase to describe the goal of getting people to buy more cars.

    Bangle said one thing that stood out, bold black on white. He said that the number of 16-18 year olds in the US who aren’t bothering getting their driving licences is growing fast. Cars register less on their radar. Then Bangle said it:

    “We have to hook them back to the car.”

    That’s what he said. Sitting in the audience it was remarkable to see how many people turned their heads to the person next to them with quizzical looks on their faces. Silently asking each other; “Did he just say that? Really?”

    End quote:

    1. sufferinsuccotash, stupor mundi

      George F. Will on trains:

      “…the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

      Did he write that? Really?

      1. Massinissa

        If trains take us closer to a democratic socialism or at least some kind of better, less late-capitalist society, then bring on the trains baby!

        But back to the quote, I HIGHTLY doubt any kind of Democrat or whatever supports trains with that in mind… Absolutely nonsensical statement by that man.

      2. Banger

        Will, over the years, has become increasingly irrational. I’ve heard that before by the demented wing of the conservative movement. They will say things like “environmentalism is evil” because it leads to nature worship which is evil because it isn’t worship of some invisible patriarch in the sky. Or that, as I recently saw, Mr. Rogers is evil because he likes us just the way we are and that creates an entitlement culture (go figure).

        What this sort of conservatives favor is a kind of nihilism and radical reactionarism, i.e., if the cultural left favors trains or clean water or Maurice Ravel then those things are really bad.

  3. dSquib

    America more than doubled its population in the Driving Boom. It’s difficult to think of a country more shaped historically, culturally, infrastructurally by the car. Tell most people that the all-dominance of the car is of design not providence and get a blank stare or a sneer of derision.

    I can see why the industry would be terrified that the great love affair is nearing an end as they remember how much effort it took to ignite it in the first place, against popular opinion.

  4. Steve

    I see lots of evidence for non-car oriented development. I’m not thinking so much of NYC, which is booming in part because people want to live in a non-car oriented city (notwithstanding that most middle class people in the city have cars, as do not a few poorer people–we drive them less, and are usually content with one for a two adult household). I’m thinking more of some really boring cities and burbs in the region like White Plains and Stamford, which have walkable downtowns and lots of condos sprouting up closeby. The US has mastered the art of building walkable cities that still feel as sterile and free of culture as a shopping mall. How can this not spread?

  5. owenfinn

    For 60 years we have been building cities that are easy to get to and not worth arriving at.

    Good riddance to the automobile.

  6. Yearning to Learn

    I live in Minneapolis. We were one of the first cities in the world to have bicycles placed all over the city for short term use. (you rent the bike with a credit card, or can have a membership). I’ve now seen the same program pop up in places like Paris (Velib) and New York (citybike). (I know New Yorkers don’t love the program yet, but give it time).

    The bike program has been a wonderful success. partly because we have an extensive bike-only system of paved bike trails (hundreds of miles) and the trails go where you want them to go (they go downtown, along the Mississippi river, to all the various lakes, to Uptown, etc).

    We then were smart and started building high density housing along those bike trails.

    This has encouraged more and more people to live on a bike trail, and ditch the car. I ride my bike to work from March through early December. 12.3 miles to work, 16 miles home. (Different routes). the 16 mile route goes from just south of Downtown St Paul to Uptown Mnpls and is ENTIRELY on bike-only paths. No cars. no chance of being hit. Beautifully maintained. Plowed. you name it.
    I see a TON of bike commuters, and my commute is at 530am and 6pm.

    Don’t get me wrong, although we’re one of the most bike friendly cities in the US, we still have a LOT of cars. but I’m seeing major changes the last 10 years.

      1. charles sereno

        Get with it man. I got myself a recumbent tricycle. Comfortable foam seat, net back rest, enough gears to remind u of a stick shift, and optimal posture to maximize all those muscles in your legs so u can keep up with the youngsters. Best part, when u come to a stop light, u can casually scratch yourself instead of standing at attention.

    1. Jim in MN

      Also the first sity to build entirely enclosed indoor shopping malls…thanks Southdale, Rosedale etc. for all the driving and parking and driving and parking and…oh yeah thanks Mall of America too!!!

  7. Yearning to Learn

    Although I agree with the above analysis, I think it misses 2 key points.

    1) peak car will happen whether or not we want it to happen due to peak oil. Gas prices WILL go up over time faster than wage inflation. There is no question about this. This will make driving unaffordable for many Americans

    2) peak car will happen due to peak income. Future trends in American Income are not good. as we continue the relentless attack on the Middle Class they will simply not even be able to afford the car.
    Globalization and Automation are not going away.

    1. Moneta

      As I look at my driveway, I notice that I could have 4-6 cars instead of 2. And then I glance at other driveways, and notice more of the same. And it’s a middle class area.

      The reality is that in North America, the car is a reflection of our identity and there is a lot of room for cost cutting if need be.

      Something tells me we will become more frugal in our purchases before we let go of our car culture and the car industry will be forced to adapt.

      Right now, we are in the initial stages. People are realizing that cars are too expensive so they are looking at new ways to be more frugal. This includes the bike. However, our car industry which is propped up by government has not adapted and is still offering products that reflect our desire to look prosperous more than our desire to be responsible and frugal.

      Our household managed to only have one car for 2 years until it became an impediment. The year there was a bus strike and the city decided to improve the service by merging routes and cut buses, causing packed buses to pass right by us, we went back to 2 cars.

      In North America’s car culture, the forces against mass transportation will be huge.

      1. washunate

        I hear what you’re saying Moneta, but I think it’s really important to understand that what you are describing is pretty affluent. Much of the country has nothing of excess to cut out of a transportation budget.

      2. Yearning to Learn

        I agree that Americans will abandon cars only after kicking and screaming. However, in my opinion the reality is that going forward
        -a typical working class family simply won’t be able to afford 2 cars.
        -a typical middle class family won’t be able to afford 3 cars (mom’s, dad’s, kid’s)
        -a typical college student won’t be able to afford a car

        when I was younger it was pretty common in my nabe for each parent to have a car AND for each kid>16 to have a car.
        the new construction in the burbs near here all had 3-6 car garages.

        but today, a lot of the new construction has 2-3 stalls only, and a lot is condos without parking, and in my nabe the kids all SHARE a car with themselves or with a parent.

        much of this is due to $4.50 to $5 gas.
        it’ll accelerate when gas is $7.50+ per gallon.

        and not really due to the price of gas for the car. it will be due to price of energy to Heat/Cool the home.

        that said: my timeline isn’t 5-10 years.
        it’s 10-20 years.

        1. Moneta

          I guess I look at the sunk cost, the size of the country and the ideology. Big cities are inefficient… reconfiguring them to increase density and mass transit is probably more energy intensive than developing cheaper and more energy efficient cars and people staying in their already built houses in the burbs.

          Something tells me that the Western world is going to suffocate emerging markets over the next decade or 2 to preserve its consumption of energy and resources. So I am not too concerned about energy for the next few decades.

          Is the number of cars going to shrink? Probably because of the ageing of the population and some level of poverty but are we going to be much less dependent on the car over the next decade or 2. I don’t think by much.

  8. Moneta

    With boomers retiring, chances are they will increasingly go from 2-3 cars to 1-2 cars.

    However, we are so car dependant and there is such a sunk cost in suburban and exurban real estate, I would not be surprised to see a sharp change in the car fleet over the next decade or 2 before seeing a huge change in our social infrastructure.

    There are $6K cars in China. If we are forced to downsize our material lives, cars should get cheaper and smaller before we see much city densification.

    Cities are too expensive relative to the burbs… I will buy a fuel efficient cheap car before moving to a badly maintained city where households are mortgaged to the hilt.

    I believe our North American material lives need to shrink but we are still in the first stage of grief which is denial. Therefore, we are propping up what needs to shrink. My forecast is that the economy will slow again over the next couple of years, corporate profits will tank. There will be no rates to cut so for the first time in decades we will see a wave of bankruptcies and M&A. The big will only get bigger. And that’s when the secular 40 year cycle will finally end. The car industry will be forced to change its fleet with cheaper and more energy efficient cars.

    1. Moneta

      North Americans are still buying cars that are more expensive than they need to be because we are still stuck in the old paradigm.

      1. Moneta

        Only $6,800

        It only costs $6,800. That’s about what you would pay for an outboard motor to power a rowboat.
        More proof that all we need is a paradigm shift!

    2. Yearning to Learn

      I think there are a lot of moving parts to where people will migrate.
      on the one hand, some cities see people mortgaged to the hilt. On the other, it’s the exurban communities that really got slaughtered by the recent downturn. this shows that the exurban communities have many people who are overmortgaged.

      I think people would simply downsize the car and stay in the burbs if it weren’t for 2 problems
      1) the houses in the exurbs are very large. thus, they cost a lot to maintain. (heating, cooling, etc). most are not the type of homes that can be easily broken up.
      2) the price of a car does start to creep up there once you take gas prices, insurance, etc into the equation.

      I think people will stay in the cities and nearer suburbs.
      but the exurbs will have problems.

      this is what you see in other countries where the middle class lose ground.

      however: I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the nearer suburbs started building more densely. that’s what we see in the MSP metro area. (places like St Louis Park, Edina, etc are building a lot of condos/apartments now).

      1. Moneta

        Cities are full of the type of workers who skim the market, those who benefit from TBTF and the FIRE economy.

        IMO, if we restructure the banks, cities will crater. I think the bailouts and QE were to prop up the system but in the end, they will need to fix the banking system. It just does not happen on our favorite timeline.

        The pain slowly moves inwardly, from exurbs to cities. We’ll know the cycle is over when those in the city get a taste of their own medicine.

      2. Moneta

        Not necessarily, in Johannesburg, I read that many entrepreneurs have been moving to the burbs and exurbs, and the poor to the city… so they are in the center and can get to a job at the end of any spoke.

      3. Moneta

        If I were in the city right now and owned a million dollar shack, I’d move to the burbs and start a business.

      4. washunate

        Yep, in the catastrophic scenario of spiking prices, if property taxes and utilities and HOA dues start costing $600, $800, $1,000, $1,500 a month, those fixed costs of exurban McMansions become variable pretty fast.

        In less catastrophic scenarios, what’s been happening keeps happening. Younger people are gravitating toward smaller, more energy efficient housing in cities while larger suburban and exurban housing, in aggregate, falls into collective disrepair like any other durable good that depreciates in value over a fairly predictable timeline.

        1. Moneta

          In my neck of the woods, a lot of those inner city million dollar houses were insulated with sawdust 100 years ago… and you can’t pass new wiring unless you take a second mortgage.

          All the couples I know in their 40s who have bought houses downtown and have seen their place double in price have spent the same amount renovating. To make matters worse, they usually don’t follow code because then it would cost them even more or renos would take much longer.

          There are going to be a lot of energy centric changes coming our way but I’m not sure cities will necessarily win. We might just see some burbs die while other ones evolve into cities.

          1. davidgmills

            I can’t see how cities will feed themselves. It takes land to grow food. When rural people who grow the food, finally tell urban people to F off, cities will die. That may happen sooner than you think because peak fertilizer is here as well as peak oil.

            1. Nathanael

              Oh, rural areas have a survival pattern (food & what little natural resources are left), and urban areas have a survival pattern (coordination, organization, training, knowledge).

              What’s going to die is SUBURBS. We’re gonna go back to the walled city with the farms directly outside it.

            2. Dan Henry

              How many farmers grow anything anymore that is actually directly edible? You might be surprised…

  9. sleepy

    I think one factor in the decline of car use is the price of a new car.

    Back, say, in the mid-sixties, cars that were 6 or 7 yrs. old were considered ancient. It was the norm for many working families to buy a new car every 2 or 3 years with a sticker price of c. $2500.

    While cars are far more durable nowadays and last longer, they’re not 10X more durable nor have wages gone up 10X in the past 45 or 50 years.

    1. Ed S.

      Hear hear

      My first car was a 1968 Impala (bought in 1979) with 25,000 miles for $300. That’s right, $300. I was in high school and working — making (I think) $3/hr. So about 100hrs work.

      Fast forward 34 years (has it been that long?!) — high school student is making $8/hr. What’s a decent 10 year old low mile car cost? A 2002 Kia with 50k miles averages $4,000.

      And you could work on a 1968 Impala — fat chance doing that on a modern car.

  10. HotFlash

    Anecdotal, but still. My sister and her youngest daughter recently visited here (Toronto), made the 300 mile trip from Michigan in her oldest daughter’s $700 clunker. Which she needs to commute to college, that’s 50 miles. The family van is ‘not reliable’. My sister bikes to her job at MacDonald’s, weather permitting. Husb is pretty well disabled, knee problems that surgery hasn’t corrected so far, and now he has fallen off his insurance. Youngest is 16 but does not have license, family cannot afford driver training, let alone the increase in insurance.

    Back in the day (mid 60’s) I got my license at 15 1/2, driver training was free, funded by gasoline taxes and license fees. It was Gov John Engler, IIRC, who melded the various revenue streams into the General Fund, thereby axing all the license-funded programs, eg driver training, scuba and hunter safety, etc. And of course there’s the Mackinac Institute.

  11. E.L. Beck

    We are a very long distance from mass transportation becoming a viable option for most of America. Here’s why:

    1. Project developers control the state capitals and city halls: All building is local, and thus re-zoning needs by the developers will continue to be met.

    2. The further one travels from city’s center, the cheaper the housing: Too few homebuyers build the cost of personal transportation into their home buying decisions. And the further one shops for a home from a city’s center, the cheaper the prices. That original price tag is the only cost fixated upon. As far as the aggregated consequences of those myopic home-buying decisions, e.g., traffic congestion on inbound highways, well, oh well. I mean, what else can be said for those willing to burn up 4-6 hours of their daily life on traffic congestion?

    3. It is far easier at the present moment to buy new homes rather than existing homes. Developers are still cutting deals with banks to offer financing for little down. Existing homes? Better cough up that 20%+

    4. The PTB have managed to equate mass transportation to socialism. I’m not sure how in the hell one connects those two points, but it’s out there, it’s accepted conventional wisdom, and that’s that.

    While I can’t speak for other cities, in Chicago’s expansive environs, housing developments near train stations command higher prices due to their proximity to the station. It seems to be one of those dirty, (no, make that “clean”) little secrets that many understand but no one talks about.

    With that said, the future for mass transit remains dim indeed.

    1. Bruno Marr

      #1: Spot on. This is someone who has insight & experience.

      #2: More experience.

      #3: I think “clear Title” may also be a consideration.

      #4: True, but the last true mass transportation sytem is BART

    2. Banger

      Yes, this is a good analysis. All systems in the U.S. are fixed by the big players so they win and any sensible, efficient or even rational solution to any collective problem is impossible. Indeed, public transportation is not going to be something most localities will put much money into.

      Is there a way out of this dilemma? Yes, as someone mentioned above–that solution will come from driverless taxis, buses and intelligent highways that will respond directly to public needs. There will be less of a strict need for your own vehicle. It all hinges on when such vehicles will be allowed to drive commercially on the road–there will be great opposition, of course.

      1. davidgmills

        Don’t think driverless taxies will be of much use to most of America. Do you really want to wait 30 minutes or an hour for the taxi? We will find cheap motorized individual transportation first. It may be a scooter. But it will not be a taxi in most places. In Memphis where I live, taxis are nearly extinct. So are buses. We have no trains. And Memphis is typical of most second tier cities in America. And smaller cities and towns have even worse public transportation options.

  12. steve from virginia

    Pay attention and you can see the cracks in the world-wide industry that manufactures automobiles and its dependencies: the real estate industry, finance, insurance, military, fuel supply, manufacturing, construction, government management … all important media and marketing.

    The industry is a dinosaur which has had its head removed; it’s dead but it’s too stupid to realize it. In the meantime, the headless monster wreaks immense damage as it thrashes on its way toward oblivion.

    The industry is ruined by both its pointlessness and its gargantuan appetite for capital, both the money kind and the natural resource variety. The car industry and related are entirely loss-making enterprises dependent upon ever-increasing amounts of debt, massive finance establishments and equally massive governments to service said debt.

    The good being produced is not cars but traffic, the end product is waste, the countries so engaged become Greece or Syria. The endgame issue is annihilating war or annihilation without the war, there are no third choices.

    The factionalism and tendency toward violence in this country suggests the onrushing auto denouement will take the most ruinous path … after all, the Syrians are willing to absorb machine gun bullets for the chance at Toyotas, what are you willing to absorb for your car?

    Too much blame is cast toward finance, central bankers, politicians and other administrators for our onrushing economic decline, the problem resides at the end of your driveway, what is underway is markets working as they should rather than market breaking down … conservation by other means.

    Smart, trendy, hip persons recognize this along with those with elevated senses of self-preservation. How to escape if possible the car-freighted Titanic before its final, sickening slide to the bottom of the abyss.

    1. Moneta

      I tried getting rid of one car but at great pain since life in North America revolves around the car. The choice was a paid off house and cars or a 200-400K mortgage to be in the city core.

      Our friends in the city look down on us for living in the burbs, they think they are subsidizing our suburban lifestyle. I tried to explain to them that if all suburbanites lived in the city, they would not have a house with land as only the very rich could have what they have. Therefore, WE are subsidizing their lifestyle with bigger commutes. They go into a rage when we bring up that argument.

      They keep on saying how life in the city is less polluting but the reality is that with 3 kids, they now have 2 cars and a cottage!!! The cities as they are structured today are great for DINKs and a headache for parents.

      1. Susan the other

        Very interesting point Moneta. You are subsidizing city dwellers. I think it is accurate to say. Which means, bottom line, that public transportation to and from the burbs needs to be subsidized just like the cities are. And there might well be a suburb renaissance because you can grow tons of food out there.

        1. Moneta

          A large percentage of inventors live in burbs. A large percentage of entrepreneurs live in burbs. It’s hard to start a business or tinker around when you have no equity or are stuck with a 300K+ mortgage.

          Cities tend to attract bankers, lawyers and those professions that are part of our FIRE economy. If we restructure banking and promote entrepreneurship, it’s hard to believe burbs will disappear.

          1. Moneta

            I guess it could go 2 ways:

            1. Protect the too big to fail. Promote a rentier society and densification. This would probably lead to more socialism.

            2. Let the too big fail, promote entrepreneurship and let smaller cities and villages thrive.

          2. Nathanael

            Inventors do just fine in cities. Actually, what inventors need is *colleges and universities*, which are often at the center of cities.

        2. davidgmills

          Food is going to get critical real soon. There is very little ability to grow food in cities unless you have an extraordinary green thumb and most city dwellers don’t know soil from $hit. We have peak fertilizer along with peak oil. And most big-ag food is planted and harvested by gas guzzling equipment. So what will the cost of this food be? It seems to me that the much safer option is to live on enough land to grow food if necessary. That is why all the survivalist websites have exploded. People are begining to wonder how they are going to eat.

    2. Ed

      I’m not letting bankers off the hook, but you’re right in a lot of ways.

      When I met my now-wife, she and I both had cars. We downsized to one car and moved to be on public transportation. We could never afford to own a house in the neighborhoods we’re in, but I work 4 miles from home, so I bike when I can and take the bus to the subway when I cannot. How often are we both driving to a different place? almost never. Paid cash for my car last year, bought used. No payments, big insurance discount because of low miles driven. It’s given us peace. We’re not ever sitting in traffic. We’re not wasting the day.

      The sacrifice is living so close to my job means we are in a great neighborhood that we could never afford to buy in. $600k homes are the cheapest single families in our neighborhood. No thanks. We are renting for $2k a month, an entire single family, instead. We might be renters forever. But at least we’re not living in the boring exurbs, suffering for 2 or 3 hours commuting everyday, up to our eyeballs in auto loan debt.

      1. davidgmills

        Most people in the suburbs don’t commute that long. Frankly, most suburbs are now cities of their own. I never need to go downtown and I live in the suburbs. I wouldn’t be caught dead in the city now that I have no need atall to go there. Be a snob about the city all you want. But like someone else above pointed out, we are tired of subsidizing you.

        I guess we just need to cut off your food. But maybe that will happen without those of us in the burbs or rural areas having to try. It won’t be long before even big-ag can’t grow food people can afford. Peak fertilizer will be here before peak oil. Then it will be back to micro farms. Good luck getting produce to the city then.

        1. Nathanael

          You are not, in any sense whatsoever, subsidizing cities.

          If push comes to shove, cities may be in a difficult state, but *they have the numbers* and frankly they can enslave rural people if they want to. As they have for thousands of years.

  13. washunate

    Hopefully! We shouldn’t be bailing out finance companies that happen to make cars.

    Rather, we should shift workers to building subways and intercity rail and trains and wind turbines and so forth.

      1. washunate

        You seem really opposed to just about everything.

        So let me spell it out as I see it, IMO.

        IF there is a major crash, something nonlinear and massively destructive of Life As We Know It, the outer suburbs will starve. This notion you are advocating that there is something uniquely fragile about cities is completely backwards. Cities are fragile in localized disasters, not global catastrophes. In a Major Event, the network effects of cities and the land of rural communities will put them in better positions than the exurban sprawl trying to straddle the two worlds. Cities are built on rail lines and navigable waterways and have major sewer and water installations and a density and diversity of talents and skills and knowledge that can be shared more efficiently with fellow citizens and so forth.

        And wind and solar energy will become more important (again). Oil is the resource enabling suburban sprawl; cities and the countryside existed long before.

  14. Anarcissie

    I imagine that at first, cars will become smaller, lighter, and cheaper to run. Given the present behemoth design, there is a lot of room for that to happen.

    I ride a bicycle as my main form of transportation, but I’m a tough, grungy person who can bear using my muscles, can withstand the weather, doesn’t mind road dirt, and can overcome road terror. I don’t think the average citizen is up to it, which is why people like me amount to about 5% of the population. I can’t see that changing any time soon.

    1. k

      The biggest myth about cycling as a transportation option is that you need to be young, really athletic, and stoic. If you can walk, you can ride. You don’t have to ride at vehicular paces to gain the advantages. I commute by bike 10 miles each way in NYC in heels and dresses. My route has about 2 miles of hills (far upper Manhattan is more like Seattle than the comparative plains of downtown) each way, and it’s quite doable.

      My bike commute is competitive with the subway timewise (45 minutes by subway door to door, 60 by bike, with the added bonus of bike giving me a mild workout so well worth the added 30 minutes to the commute) and finance-wise (the bike and accessories pay for itself in save subway over one year’s time or less).

      And in midtown NYC where I work, even slow biking will get you crosstown faster than a cab or walking. I like to throw in these details because there are always naysayers who say biking is only for the young/fit/rich/in closer proximity to the job. Bike infrastructure is also cheaper than mass transit or road maintenance by far, and can be built quite quickly if one can get rise above the NIMBYs.

      To those claiming that city-dwellers are being subsidized by suburbanites — no.

      Just on the disproportionate costs to build roads alone (drivers do not pay the full cost of driving with their registration fees or gas taxes), let alone the per-person cost of, say, piping water in to a subdivision of a few hundred residences over a few acres compared to the cost of doing so for tens of thousands over the same acreage in the city, etc. And consider how much more energy efficient an apartment building is that a stand-along single-family home.

      Two excellent sources for learning more about transportation, cities and suburbs, and environmental impacts are sightline.org (it focuses on the Pacific Northwest but is quite good taking a broader perspective) and the streetsblog.net network of transportation policy blogs.

  15. Ignacio

    While I was living in Berkeley (i’m back to Spain) I bought a used car and for the first 6 months I felt quite dependent on it. Later, I bougth a bike and used it for commuting and moving around in the Bay Area. I almost stopped using the car except when I had to go to the supermarket, about once a week. After one year I was healthier, and felt happier. I saved some money, more that the cost of the bike. When I went back to Spain I sold the car (which I hated) and brought my beloved bicycle with me. I am still using it after several years!.

    When I think about it, buying the car was one of the most stupid things I did while in the US (and I did quite a few).

    1. jake chase

      Twenty five years ago in Manhattan I lived on the Upper West Side and shopped for groceries by bike. People getting on and off the elevator avoided eye contact. Neighbors decided I was either depressed or nuts. They, on the other hand, raced in and out wearing jogging clothes and made mad dashes around the Reservoir before work.

      1. Ignacio

        Many joggers believe that they are on the world championships while running. Competitive behaviour or plain stupidity?

  16. F. Beard

    I like walking and I like driving with my stereo playing Christmas music.

    But bankers I loath with a loath I loath yet loath them more I might.

  17. F. Beard

    I also loath puritans who don’t believe in God since they claim there’s no “pie in the sky when we die” and make sure we have none down here either!

    1. psychohistorian

      If faith breathers could be disabused of their delusion of pie in the sky after you die we might have a lot better chance of folks trying to make what we have down here work for more of us.

      1. F. Beard

        Baloney. It’s taken this* faith-breather to tell you how to implement money ethically and many of you STILL don’t get it!

        And the truth is that many would-be-Gods** are actually crueler in practice than the Old Testament One is alleged to be!

        *Actually I credit the Bible, especially the Old Testament, for the key ideas on ethical money creation.

        ** A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. Proverbs 12:10

        1. charles sereno

          F Beard, admit it, a Puritan who doesn’t believe in God is a rare bird. That confirms my belief that you’re a softie who picks out non-existent people to loathe. About the OT God, though. He’s not a rentier, but he is rich, isn’t he? Wait a minute, Isn’t a sacrifice just another name for rent? I’m confused now.

          1. F. Beard

            I’m confused now. charles sereno

            Let me help?

            “I hate, I reject your festivals,
            Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
            “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
            I will not accept them;

            And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
            “Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
            I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
            “But let justice roll down like waters
            And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
            Amos 5:21-24 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

            Oh and atheistic puritans do exist except they think they should be God.

          2. F. Beard

            Oh, and speaking of rent:

            Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor
            And exact a tribute of grain from them,
            Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone,
            Yet you will not live in them;
            You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine.
            For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great,
            You who distress the righteous and accept bribes
            And turn aside the poor in the gate.

            Therefore at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.
            Amos 5:11-13 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

            1. charles sereno

              You got me thinking about Amos. I’ll confine myself to the last passage you cited with a couple of thoughts. In the first part, the entrepreneur (house builder, landowner) who obviously had a hand in building his businesses, is punished because he is unfair to his tenants. Maybe that’s closing the barn after the horse has left. Maybe it’s the system that’s the problem. Do you think that someone who’s worked his butt off to build up something scraping corners is likely to become Mr. Nice Landlord? Of course, that would be the decent thing to do and I’ve known a few people that do that, especially those with a big heart or enough wealth to be philanthropic. Near the end of the passage (highlighted), there seems to be a distinction made between “the righteous” and “the poor,” which seems classist to me, although this may simply be an error in translation. Finally, I disagree that a “prudent person” should keep silent in an “evil time.” That bothered me. I’m sure these points can be argued but I doubt it’ll lead to much.

              1. davidgmills

                Don’t pick on the Bible’s inconsistencies. We don’t have world enough and time.

              2. F. Beard

                There is no necessary distinction between the righteous and the poor – one can be righteous and rich and one can be righteous and poor.

          3. skippy

            I’ve heard it said, that you have to – give – till it hurts.

            skippy… Love is meaningless unless pain is involved, Bankinfiend alluded too such… eh… paying for love thingy~~~

            The Belligerents – Steal Money (grow rich at your expense)


            bounus vid…

            Lucia – Silence


            Correlation ImpliesCausation 1 week ago

            Am I going to leave the people who rule the world?

            Yes! Working very hard on that and it’s going well!

            1. F. Beard

              I’ve heard it said, that you have to – give – till it hurts. skippy

              Matthew only gave away 1/2 of his stuff if I recall and the Lord had no problem with him.

  18. Quade

    I love cars. Love to own them, love to work on them and love to drive them. I understand why many people don’t like them. To most people, a car is at best an appliance and at worst a necessary evil. It costs money to own, to insure and to repair. When they break you have to take them to some place filled with high school dropouts and hope they don’t screw you over too badly on the repair.

    The hobby of “cars” is one of the last manly hobbies that remain. I love to open my car up on a stretch of empty highway and see how fast it’ll go. To take it to the local race track and run down Corvettes with it. Change it to make it faster or more reliable. Perhaps I love them because they’re not a mystery to me. There’s nothing on any car I can’t fix with my own hands. The rest of you are at your car’s mercy.

    I find it odd to be proud of not owning a car. It’s like you’re proud to be shackled. The car represents freedom and people like you seem to be saying that you don’t need to be free. At any time, any day, I can hop into my car and go anyplace I choose. It’ll be a sad day when cars go away.

    1. F. Beard

      I hear ya. I get a great deal of pleasure keeping my 2000 Subaru Forester going. My brother and I have done some serious bonding* working on it.

      *Along with occasional screaming over who’s way is best! :)

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Having a car does not make you free (we do have a police state in the US, have you missed that part?). Wherever you go, you take “you” with you. I don’t need to go places to feel a sense of liberation. I can get that just walking around. And if I want to go further, trains and planes and cabs and when I must rental cars work just fine.

      I find ownership of things to be confining. I still have things I own I am attached to because they would be hard and costly or just a nuisance to replace (you don’t want to have to buy or rent kitchenware every time you want to cook at home) and I enjoy having and using them, but that makes me somewhat hostage to objects (when they get damaged, I have to spend time and money fixing them and often get upset). How liberating is that?

      1. F. Beard

        Possessions do encumber one but like the Chinese say “Three moves equal one fire!”

      2. davidgmills

        Yves you will never understand a car guy. Some people don’t. But to those of us who love them (warts and all) we can’t see life as having much fun or freedom without them. There are many old men who quikly die, once their car keys are taken away.

        Take cars off your city streets and I bet it would not be long before you would feel like you wre in prison, even if you are in a city with good public transportation. There are so many places only a car can get you. Or a horse.

        1. Nathanael

          Pffft. The boat people (“there are so many places you can only get to with a boat”) would laugh at you. Perspective, please.

      3. k

        Exactly, Yves. Thank you for point this out. It’s hard for me not to life at the idea that car = freedom or are a prerequisite for freedom. I grew up Southern California without a car. I was young, and otherwise self-sufficient, and only later saw really how much it limited me in that very spread out geography. And having learned to get by without, I grew to see cars only as yokes, and love to be free of the dependence and expense of car ownership. No payments, gas, insurance, parking, maintenance worries. This is easier now that I live in NYC (and is one reason I chose to live here) but having also lived in cities with far less public transit and less density, that sense of freedom was true in those places as well.

        Sorry to spam you, Yves, as I mentioned this in another comment on this thread, but if you are interested in some of the real policy and cultural shifts going on with transportation and zoning, the streetsblog.net blogs are an excellent source of coverage. Transportation touches centrally on economic life, of course.

    3. heresy101

      Driving is a pleasure that some people don’t appreciate. Currently, I’m facing a dilemma of what to do with my Acura Legend – retire it or fix it. It will soon need it’s third timing belt at 270,000 miles costing $1,300 (not a do it yourself job), sell it, or part it out.

      Driving the Legend all over the west has been such a pleasure, whether it is at the 70 mph speed limit, cruising at 90, curvy mountain roads at 30, or the rare times of 130.

      Riding the Greydog or the train is not the same. You can’t just go down a road because it looks interesting or take a shortcut over the hill to Carmel or thru the Sequoia’s.

      If the costs of electric or plug-in cars come down (or I find a good used one), then that may be the solution. The problem with the current crop is that they are transportation and “fun to drive” is not an attribute.

      1. Quade

        The hardest part is probably taking the crank pulley off. It’s a struggle for me even with all the tools.

        Every car hits a point of diminishing returns when it’s better to just dump it and get something else. Maybe another, newer used car. I just picked up a cheap Lexus the other day. I love it. Probably one of the best made cars I’ve ever driven. Even better than my beloved Honda’s. I’d suggest looking into an IS or GS Lexus.

  19. Quade

    >>My Mazda truck needs a new clutch. What will you charge to put it in?

    If you were my pal, I’d do it for free. Just put a new transmission into my ex-music teacher’s truck last weekend. Ended up being a car repair death march because of a rusty exhaust system.

    I’m a computer programmer by day. Fix cars for the fun of it.

  20. Kurt Sperry

    If you live on acreage in rural flyover country–as millions of Americans do–there is no alternative. Suburbs have sufficient density to support public transit I suppose, but 99% of the US does not.

    1. davidgmills

      This is apparently a city-centric website. Ninety percent of the USA does not exist for these people. Probably most have no idea how the food they put in their mouths even got there.

      1. A Real Black Person

        I wish it were possible for all of us to become farmers but arable land, while seemingly large, is limited. The most arable land has been paved over and turned into suburbs and exurbs, or are owned by the General Mills of the world.

    2. LY

      What the hell are you talking about? Food isn’t being grown in suburban or even ex-urban areas. ~2% of US population are farmers and ranchers. >80% of the US population lives in urbanized areas (that includes suburbs).

      Cognitive dissonace: an auto centric community with half-acre plots versus farms and a denser walkable village/town/city core… which one has the food?

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