5. Bridges

Want to read something scary? Click over to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory site and do a little reading on the state of America’s bridges.

The good news is that most of them are in pretty good shape. More than half. The bad news is that some of our bridges are in pretty bad shape. How many? Try 149,647 rated structurally deficient. And most of those are still in use.

Drive for a half an hour and you’ll probably go over one. Or under one. Which is where the scary part comes in. Reassure yourself that the concrete under your car or over your head is probably only a little bit structurally deficient. It may be “equal to present minimum criteria,” or, better yet, “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

Or it may be “basically intolerable requiring high priority of replacement.”

You can search for specific bridges on your commute in the conveniently disturbing database at nationalbridges.com. That’s where I learned that my commute includes passage of only one “basically intolerable” bridge near West Chester, Pa. The good news there is PennDOT is repairing that bridge right now, using Recovery Act funding. The less good news is that the bridge was never closed. The rest of my commute involves several bridges that are in fine shape and several more of “minimum adequacy.”

Try saying that out loud in a reassuring sentence: “Don’t worry kids, this bridge is structurally deficient, but it has the minimum tolerable adequacy.” Not very reassuring, is it?

America has 149,647 such bridges.

So America has a lot of work to do on its bridges. As it just so happens, we also have 14.6 million people unable to find a job. So having a lot of work to do just now is a Good Thing.

As mentioned above, the Recovery Act did put thousands of Americans to work rebuilding bridges (among other things). Without that stimulus, according to the best estimate so far — from Alan S. Blinder and Mark Zandi (.pdf) — the Recovery Act and the steps taken by the Fed and through TARP probably added around 2.7 million jobs and prevented the loss of 8.5 million. That’s awesome. Yay for that.

But, not to seem ungrateful, we’re not done yet. We still have, as noted, 14.6 million people in need of work. And we still have a great deal of urgently needed work for them to do. So while I very much appreciate that we’re not mired in what Blinder and Zandi say would otherwise have been “Great Depression 2.0,” and the Obama administration deserves high praise for that, we shouldn’t yet be satisfied because we’re not yet done.

(Think of it this way: Blinder & Zandi paint a portrait of the Obama administration as a heroic fireman who rescued 40 children from a burning school. True enough, but what B&Z don’t mention is that the school is still burning and there are still dozens more children trapped inside. So maybe we should be addressing that before we head off to the parade and the key-to-the-city ceremony.)

So the experience of the Recovery Act proves this isn’t just theory. Spend billions on needed bridge repair and we could easily create many, many more jobs. Tens of thousands certainly. Hundreds of thousands possibly. Perhaps millions.

The scope and scale of the work needed — 149,647 structurally deficient bridges — aligns with the scope and scale of our current need for work. If we chose to do so, we could fix all of these bridges in 2011 — every single one — by putting our army of otherwise unemployed Americans to work on the project.

Again of course it’s not quite that simple — unemployed teachers, policemen, salesmen and Web designers don’t have the skills that would easily translate into bridge-building. That would require a great deal of training. Hiring, say, a former car dealer to rebuild bridges might not be the most efficient way to get bridges rebuilt. But it would still be infinitely more efficient than the current non-plan of not hiring that former car dealer to do anything.

That’s a huge point, central to this whole discussion. Massive unemployment is an inefficient and expensive waste. It’s a waste of money, time and human capacity. Getting the unemployed off the sidelines to do anything of real use can never be as inefficient or unproductive as leaving those millions of people idle.

Let’s consider again the objection of deficit spending. The so-called deficit hawks object to repairing structurally deficient bridges because they say the government cannot afford to borrow money to do so — even at the low, low rates at which the government can now borrow it. Maintenance on these bridges must therefore, in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” be deferred indefinitely. This is nonsense — a dishonest trick that pretends to balance budgets by pretending that the cost of maintenance can be ignored, and that the cost of ignoring it can further be ignored, and so on. It’s a gimmick, a scam, a lie.

Deferred maintenance on these bridges is a liability, an expense that must be accounted for. It means we owe money to the infrastructure we are allowing to languish in disrepair — with interest on that debt ballooning the longer we put it off. Actually fixing the bridges pays that debt.

I am here suggesting that — let’s pick a big, round number — $300 billion be spent, immediately, on repairing America’s 149,647 deficient bridges.

That money will come from future tax revenue to repay current bonds. Rational citizens and shareholders have always respected, supported and relied on this form of borrowing — bonds for capital improvements. It has always been viewed as a responsible and necessary measure to ensure future health and growth.

But the so-called deficit hawks are pretending that bonds for capital improvements are unprecedented and unheard of. They claim that spending this $300 billion to repair crumbling bridges and put people back to work would entail “saddling our grandchildren with more debt.” They seem to think that “our grandchildren” will be far more grateful if we, instead, saddle them with crumbling bridges and the inability to travel 20 miles in any direction safely.

These supposed deficit hawks are also ignoring the erupting volcano in the room — the fact that 14.6 million Americans currently are not paying taxes due to being unable to find work. That unpaid revenue is a debt that really will be passed along to our grandchildren and that cost in current and future debt far exceeds the price tag for putting these millions back to work, immediately. It’s also an expense that — unlike money spent on bridges or sewers or water mains — buys nothing in return. The deficit hawks seem to prefer losing money to spending money. That’s no way to pay the bills or to balance the budget.

In other words, if we don’t get busy committing current and future tax revenues to putting people back to work and repairing our derelict infrastructure, then there won’t be any current or future tax revenues to argue about.

Future generations will be grateful to inherit a functioning infrastructure and a functioning economy, even if that also means inheriting their share of what that costs. The alternative — bequeathing them massive unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and the lingering austerity of a lost decade — is something future generations would be unlikely to forgive.

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  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    You know…
    I’m a big fan of zombie eschaton stories. It’s less about the zombies per se though, and more about having kind of a thing for collapsed civilizations, and about things-that-were-once-quite-grand-but-have-fallen-into-disrepair.
    It occurs to me now that we don’t actually need zombies (or a plague or meteors or locusts or killer mosquitos or whatever other syfy channel movie disaster is used to predicate the collapse). Power. Water. Roads. Bridges. You could just hop ten years into the future and have civilization have collapsed on account of tax cuts and deficit hawks.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jpc101280 Jason

    I’m a big fan of zombie eschaton stories. It’s less about the zombies per se though, and more about having kind of a thing for collapsed civilizations, and about things-that-were-once-quite-grand-but-have-fallen-into-disrepair.
    No for me its totally about the zombies. There are very very few things that creep me out more than the idea of a rotting corpse walking around that wants to eat you. The creepiness factor is enhanced when the dead person is someone you knew……..
    or possibly you if you don’t run fast enough.
    I’m playing the Wii remake of Resident Evil and honestly don’t know if I can make it all the way through it because my nerves are shot after an hour of gameplay. I’m a third of the way through now.

  • Albanaeon

    If we add a stipend along with tuition like the current GI Bill, a lot of the arguments about economic hardships during college also go away, or at least are reduced. And I really don’t buy the “too old to go to college” thing either. Considering how many “old” service members go out and use their benefits (like myself and I even have a kid), its clearly doable. Or again add an option to transfer it to kids and give them a leg up instead. And given the option of not having any work or any more education or four or so years of work and four of education with stipend.

  • Bryan Feir

    @Tom:

    To the socially minded, unemployed workers are thus extant resources going to waste, a loss; to the private company, they do not exist and are thus not a loss and, if demand for production falls below current capacity, firing a few is actually a gain; especially when there are so many out of work that you needn’t worry about hiring again at any time.

    Until, of course, you have the problem that there are so many people unemployed and so few making significant amounts of money that the private company no longer has enough customers to stay in business.
    Then the externality is no longer an externality.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    @Bryan Feir: That never quite comes, because the government usually ends up being forced to sponsor public works of some kind just to keep the revolution from coming.
    Even in the 1800s I seem to recall people pushing through public-works for one reason or another and managing to take some of the edge off the Panics of 18xx (pick your year, there seems to have been one :P )

  • Isaac

    I’ve glanced through most of the posts in this thread and found it surprising that neither Fred, nor anyone else for that matter except one poster, has made a strong point that bridges have already collasped causing LOSS OF LIFE.
    Mainly, the collaspe of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota. I’d have thought that collaspe would’ve raised a state of national alarm on the condition of our bridges and transportation blood lines. The effect on the local economy was devastating for those whose customers sole route to the businesses was via that bridge.
    The entire state of our infrastructure, something that has been a subject of Fred’s blogs for the last few weeks, is a crucial part of the plot of the novel Atlas Shrugged.
    I think its an excellent treatise on the mentality of politicians who are deliberately downplaying the imminent necessity for affordable and efficient transportation.
    Indeed, its disturbing that many civil engineering disasters caused by neglect and willful ignorance are dramatized in such a chilling way in that book; such as the Taggart Tunnel Collaspe, the decay of the Rio Norte Line, oil disasters and the destruction of America’s last railway bridge across the Mississippi.

  • http://falconsgyre.blogspot.com Falconer

    @Isaac,
    The problem with Atlas Shrugged is that the solution the book puts forth is for the rich people to go on strike. Now, I haven’t read the book, but I’m not sure how that is supposed to work out for the crumbling infrastructure.
    Rand does not allow for governmental intervention because her philosophy cannot allow that government, that is, a group of people working together, is the solution to any problems.
    The irony of the text is that a group of the richest folks in the country organize a strike in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of collective actions.
    The rich won’t act to spend scads of money on our infrastructure because there’s little dividend in it. Spending scads of money on public works leads to you not having said scads of money anymore. Such spending is better left to the government, which can raise more revenue through taxes and does not have to turn a profit. The only way the rich could plausibly act on this problem and remain rich is to turn every single part of our infrastructure into a toll structure.
    Oh, and 80-page filibusters by John Galt don’t actually accomplish anything.

  • Randomosity

    Isaac, you got that right. “The effect on the local economy was devastating for those whose customers sole route to the businesses was via that bridge.”
    There is a strip mall about 3/4 of a mile away from the 35W bridge that was built to make it easy to drop off 35W. Getting there was way easier for the people coming from the freeway than for the people in the neighborhood. The stores took about a 30% hit for the year that bridge was out.
    Other costs include everyone who had to cross the bridge to get to work congesting all other routes for a year. Wasted time, wasted gas, frayed nerves, and nowhere to pull off to change a flat tire. They also shut down two other bridges across the Mississippi for a couple months during the same time frame, so all other bridges were even more jammed.
    Good times.

  • Vermic

    Mainly, the collaspe of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota. I’d have thought that collaspe would’ve raised a state of national alarm on the condition of our bridges and transportation blood lines.
    At the time, one of my co-workers opined that the collapse was God’s punishment against Minnesotans for electing a Muslim to Congress the previous year. People can be depressingly stupid sometimes — not that I’m suggesting extreme beliefs like his are typical of the American electorate, and I hope they never become so.
    It occurs to me now that we don’t actually need zombies (or a plague or meteors or locusts or killer mosquitos or whatever other syfy channel movie disaster is used to predicate the collapse). Power. Water. Roads. Bridges.
    Although Land of the Dead is not my favorite George Romero film, it does seem relevant to both the zombie and infrastructure aspects of this discussion, presenting as it does a world where even in one of the few (only?) remaining fortress towns, with the rest of the the planet given over to the walking dead, the upper classes still manage to enjoy fresh water, electricity and all the usual opulence. It would appear that there is no degree of societal collapse — not even a zombie apocalypse — so great that the sufficiently wealthy can’t find a way to insulate themselves from it and stay perfectly comfortable. At least, as long as someone’s around to keep the zombies out.

  • Randomosity

    Falconer: Love this: “The irony of the text is that a group of the richest folks in the country organize a strike in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of collective actions.”
    The people who would be invited to the Galt’s Gulch Executive Retreat are the kind of people who wouldn’t know how to do basic back-to-the-earth survival tasks. I doubt many would miss the absence of the executives. Their admin assistants would take over the day to day running of the company and do a good job of it.

  • Mink, Not A Kitty-Arsonist

    @Randomosity: While I’m pretty sure it might take more than the absent execs’ admin assistants to run things, I’m nevertheless in agreement that those “Going Galt” will with one harsh winter end up reverting to that most quintessential of Objectivist precepts: cannibalism.

  • Lee Ratner

    Pius: Pushing for public works during the various panics of the 19th did occur but the pushes were more often than not failure. The opponents of public works, often conservative Christians, argued that spending on public works, would discourage the unemployed from finding a “real job” and would encourage laziness. In NYC, the opponents of public works managed to defeat the public works proponents during every panic of the 19th century except the last panic of 1893 and even then were able to make the pay meaningless. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
    The Great Depression was the only time in the United States when vast public works was really used to ease unemployment and improve infrastructure.

  • Field Marshall Stack

    The obligatory thing to mention in any discussion of Ayn Rand is the Bob the Angry Flower strip titled Atlas Shrugged 2: One Hour Later”

  • Hawker Hurricane

    If we add a stipend along with tuition like the current GI Bill, a lot of the arguments about economic hardships during college also go away, or at least are reduced. And I really don’t buy the “too old to go to college” thing either. Considering how many “old” service members go out and use their benefits (like myself and I even have a kid), its clearly doable. Or again add an option to transfer it to kids and give them a leg up instead. And given the option of not having any work or any more education or four or so years of work and four of education with stipend.
    Posted by: Albanaeon
    ———————
    Actually, it does have a stipend: while attending school full time on the post 9/11 GI bill, you get the equivelent of an single E-5 housing allowance, plus full tuition, plus $1000 per year in books… if you’re going to school ‘full time’ (at least 12 units) assuming you spent 36 months in the military after 9/11/2001. Every six months less than 36 months reduces the amount paid by 10%.
    When I applied, I was offered 80% of tuition, $800 per year, and just under $1600 per month (80% of E-5 housing allowance for San Diego County). However, I finally found full time work instead, so I’m only taking one course (English 115 this semester) and not using my GI bill.

  • Ryan

    No for me its totally about the zombies. There are very very few things that creep me out more than the idea of a rotting corpse walking around that wants to eat you. The creepiness factor is enhanced when the dead person is someone you knew…….. or possibly you if you don’t run fast enough.
    Hey, look on the bright side: At least the existence of walking corpses means that death isn’t COMPLETELY permanent.

  • LeGal

    Faaaaaaaaantastic. Now I get to worry about the fact that every day, my fiance drives to work on a bridge that is “Somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is” — and the fact that I drive over this bridge at least a couple times a week myself. Well awesome.

  • truth is life

    I’m not feelin’ the love– but maybe if you’re up to writing the fiction, you can sell me on it! With any luck, you won’t succumb to the OTHER pitfall of fanfiction (Sturgeon’s Law. If you succumb to Rule 34 I will probably smile and nod while trying not to obviously eye any available exit).

    Rule 34…no. I might be odd, but I’m not THAT kind of odd. Sturgeon’s Law…maybe, which is (part of) why I haven’t actually written it (that, and a limited amount of time due to schoolwork).

    Here’s the question: Do we need to have an overhaul of infrastructure in America or not? If the answer is yes then let’s get on it instead of waiting for some theoretical future point when we may be able to do it more efficiently.

    I think the answer at this point is pretty unquestionably yes. You have the things Fred’s been talking about…then you have things like passenger rail, which the US hasn’t done well in 60+ years[1]; telecoms, where we have often pretty crappy “end-user” connections, even in dense urban areas, compared to other advanced countries; types of renewable energy aside from wind, which we also have a great abundance of; educational infrastructure (universities, colleges, schools), which has often been drastically underfunded, particularly the public versions (community colleges, vocational institutes, public universities/colleges) which are getting ever more expensive; research infrastructure (closely tied to the previous), where research in many fields, especially those not traditionally thought of as conducting research (English, the arts, other languages, and so on) is badly underfunded[2]; and I am sure many, many more remain unstated. Obviously I am defining infrastructure a bit more broadly than simply the physical underpinnings of our lives here, also including certain social elements (the presence of adequate numbers and qualities of teachers at all levels and of dedicated researchers in all fields), but I feel those areas are just as vital to a modern society as, say, the plumbing.
    [1]: OTOH, we have a *great* freight rail system, which is going to come in really handy. Probably because our rail system was set up by private companies, unlike Britain we never nationalized it, and rail freight has a number of significant competitive advantages compared to trucks or airplanes that make it comparatively easy to make a profit on. I don’t know of *any* passenger railroad designed to actually transport people from place to place (as opposed to tourist/heritage lines, where the point is to experience rail history or some beautiful scenery etc.) that’s made money since at least jet airliners showed up.
    [2]: These last two combine to give often-bleak prospects to Ph.Ds in the relevant fields; for all the bleating about the shortage of STEM Ph.Ds and majors in this country, job prospects and salary positions for those are often quite remarkably bad. It’s even worse for “humanities” people, like historians or English Ph.Ds, who can often find no jobs at all which require their education after several years of searching. And unlike “science” people, “humanities” Ph.Ds don’t usually have (effectively) full-ride scholarships + stipends (from what I’ve heard/read).

  • truth is life

    Actually, it does have a stipend: while attending school full time on the post 9/11 GI bill, you get the equivelent of an single E-5 housing allowance, plus full tuition, plus $1000 per year in books… if you’re going to school ‘full time’ (at least 12 units) assuming you spent 36 months in the military after 9/11/2001. Every six months less than 36 months reduces the amount paid by 10%.

    Plus there’s Chapter 35 for the kids: If you’re the dependent of a veteran, you can get a stipend (of a fairly big amount of money, considering) merely for certifying that you’re enrolled and progressing towards a degree. Veeery helpful, let me tell you. You could do something like that for your WPA 2, perhaps making it a general “dependents” stipend on top of the basic pay.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    No for me its totally about the zombies. There are very very few things that creep me out more than the idea of a rotting corpse walking around that wants to eat you. The creepiness factor is enhanced when the dead person is someone you knew……..
    I know jenk has recommended it a couple of times here, but dude, go read Feed by Mira Grant. Ross may want to skip it, because the premise is that the zombie apocalypse came, but wasn’t so apocalyptic after all, and twenty years later both living people and zombies are still around. But it’s an awesome novel. I didn’t expect to enjoy it all that much, because I’m not into political thrillers or zombies, but it turned out to be an excellent novel. Made me cry, which I maintain ought not be possible for a zombie political thriller to do. (It’s not generally a tear-jerker, it just hit me that way.)
    Feed totally hits the dead-person-is-someone-you-knew-or-possibly-you button. Also the someone-you-care-about-is-about-to-turn-into-a-zombie-what-do-you-do button.
    My endorsement of this novel is in no way influenced by the fact that the author occasionally eats at my restaurant.
    In Seattle, the famous bridge problem is the Alaskas Way Viaduct, which runs right through downtown and is falling apart, having been damaged in the quake in 2001. We have regular closures of the thing. They’ve decided to replace it with a tunnel, which is supposed to start construction next year, but there’s no timetable for when it’s supposed to be completed. I’m rather expecting it to turn into Seattle’s Big Dig. There’s still a lot of argument over what we ought to do about the Viaduct, despite the fact that we have a solution. There’s even a contingent that insists we should get rid of it and NOT replace it, and dump all that traffic onto the surface streets in downtown, because supposedly it will encourage people to drive less. But a lot of the traffic on the viaduct is semis (because Highway 99 goes through Port of Seattle), which have a very hard time getting around downtown and would have to go through it to get to I-5. I get very frustrated with these people, who mostly live and work downtown and don’t drive and think nobody else should, either.

  • truth is life

    I get very frustrated with these people, who mostly live and work downtown and don’t drive and think nobody else should, either.

    To be fair, probably no one should (cars are probably one of the worst devices ever invented, in terms of combined body count/environmental damage), but since we’ve had a car-favoring policy in this country for about the last 60 years (it’s that date again!), many people have to. So we ought to go ahead and fix that, first.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Yeah, these people miss the second half of that statement, truth is life. Live out in the ‘burbs? You should move downtown, even if you can’t afford it. Not moving downtown? You should double or triple your commute time by taking the bus. Work hours that mean no bus runs to your home when you need to be traveling? Move downtown and walk. Ugh.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    @MG: That commute time issue is why I ended up just laying out for a car. It’s impossible to live on the West Side of Vancouver unless you make a gazillion bucks a year, and public transit round-trip to where I spend most of my time doing physics-y things can add up to nearly 3.5 hours total, when you factor in bus changes, wait times, etc etc etc.
    Under ideal conditions my commute time gets slashed to 2 hours total in a car. That’s even with a car that isn’t tooo great on mileage.
    And yet some dorkus will insist that if I just moved to the West Side, I could be environmentally friendly even though my rent would skyrocket to $1500-$2000 a month.
    No thanks, I’ll take my $700 combined rent and utilities, and factor in my $300 a month in depreciation, maintenance, car insurance and gas.

  • Consumer Unit 5012 tells you IT WAS HIS SLED!

    Mink, Not A Kitty-Arsonist: While I’m pretty sure it might take more than the absent execs’ admin assistants to run things, I’m nevertheless in agreement that those “Going Galt” will with one harsh winter end up reverting to that most quintessential of Objectivist precepts: cannibalism.
    Heh. A friend of mine (who I believe occasionally reads this blog) says that if she ever wins the lottery, she’ll buy an island somewhere, rig it with mini-cameras, and then sell it to Libertarians to set up their Utopia.
    The resulting decline and fall will be sold as a reality TV show.
    I don’t have much to add except this cartoon: “Lost Secrets of the Ancient Americans”.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/suew0 Sue W

    Power. Water. Roads. Bridges.
    I think we have a title for the movie right there.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/suew0 Sue W

    There are very very few things that creep me out more than the idea of a rotting corpse walking around that wants to eat you.
    What about living things that want to eat you? What about fleas?? Those are real! They could be in your house right now!! Well, they’re in mine, anyway. *grump*

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Ticks are creepier than fleas. And toxoplasma gondii are even creepier.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/suew0 Sue W

    Ticks are creepier than fleas.
    *runs away screaming*

  • hapax

    MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all
    Now THAT is a handle I am delighted to see…

  • http://profile.typepad.com/suew0 Sue W

    Now THAT is a handle I am delighted to see…
    I was thinking the same thing.

  • Lori

    I’m not going to play the “icky things that might be in your house” game because I know if freaks a lot of people out. I will say that World War Z was the first time I found zombies truly creepy. They’re traditionally so slow and so dumb that it was hard for me to find them very scary even though I understood why they should be. Something about the way that Brooks described their relentlessness succeeded in giving me a major wiggins where so many others hadn’t.

  • P J Evans

    Power. Water. Roads. Bridges.
    I think we have a title for the movie right there.

    Add in natural gas, because that’s what a lot of power plants in the western US run on (as well as water treatment plants and some buses and trucks), and you have it pretty well covered.
    I’ve been told that internal inspection (‘pigging’) of a gas transmission line can run about a million dollars a mile.

  • http://www.tvshowboards.com/stargate/ Erik Bloodaxe

    Speaking of zombies, this might make you no longer find them scary. ;)

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Now THAT is a handle I am delighted to see…
    Hee. When I put it in, it was somewhat sarcastic, as I’d been up for 27 hours or so, and not feeling tired was becoming a problem. Since then, fortunately, I’ve slept 14 hours or so, and am feeling a very great deal better, and am genuinely not tired. :D

  • Brad

    Don’t panic, Sue! The translucent green ninjas will save you!

  • ajay

    Yeah, these people miss the second half of that statement, truth is life. Live out in the ‘burbs? You should move downtown, even if you can’t afford it. Not moving downtown? You should double or triple your commute time by taking the bus. Work hours that mean no bus runs to your home when you need to be traveling? Move downtown and walk. Ugh.

    All this is true, but…
    if there were fewer cars on the road, your bus into town would go faster; if more people took the bus, there’d be the money and political pressure to create a better bus service with more, more frequent and later-running services, or even, longer-term, something else like a tramline or a light rail line; if fewer people used cars, you’d need less parking spaces downtown, so there’d be more room to build more housing, so housing downtown wouldn’t be so expensive…
    It’s true that right now it doesn’t make sense for absolutely everyone. But it’s a process, not a sudden Great Leap Busward.

  • Amaryllis

    It still assumes that the jobs are “downtown,” though, which is less and less the case. At least here in the East Coast megalopolis, where there are a lot of people commuting out of the city into the suburban sprawl. And even more commonly, from one suburb or exurb (getting hard to tell the difference) to another.
    I live on the border of a medium-size city, near the entrance to a highway. I work “out in the county,” as we say around here, near another interchange of the same highway. To get to my job, I could walk two blocks to the light rail, take the light rail to the airport, take the shuttle bus from the airport to the commuter train, take the train to the station closest to my job, take a private shuttle from the station to the main building, and take another shuttle to my office. Total time, at least two hours.
    Or, I could get in my car and drive there. Average time, twenty minutes.
    I really wish there was a bus that simply went up and down the freakin’ highway.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    It still assumes that the jobs are “downtown,” though, which is less and less the case.
    Of course, now my job IS downtown. It wasn’t the last time I had that conversation, though. (I’ve been avoiding that topic for a year and a half, because it infuriates me so.) But by the time I actually had a job downtown, I already owned a house on the outskirts of the city. Not that I’d either be able to afford nor would want to live downtown, and the same is true for every neighborhood I’m thinking of opening a restaurant in any time in the next ten or fifteen years. I don’t much like living in highly urban areas, and especially not in apartments. I also don’t like renting.
    What bugs me most about the idea is that these people basically believe that everybody should live like them, and that there are no good reasons not to do so. This belief always bugs me, in any form.

  • ajay

    Well, if there’s no way you could or would live anywhere near anywhere you might want to work, you have pretty much doomed yourself as a permanent commuter. :)

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Ross: Power. Water. Roads. Bridges. You could just hop ten years into the future and have civilization have collapsed on account of tax cuts and deficit hawks.
    I’m writing that. RL is giving me half of the world building I need. I’d prefer that it wouldn’t.
    Isaac: The entire state of our infrastructure, something that has been a subject of Fred’s blogs for the last few weeks, is a crucial part of the plot of the novel Atlas Shrugged.
    Rand, however, being from a glorified industrial age, imagines this happening when tycoons go on strike. While in the current situation, tycoons being in a business instead of an industry are a significant part of the problem, and if they removed themselves to their tropical islands to drink rum and grow papayas, things would become *more* managable, not less so.
    Lori: Something about the way that Brooks described their relentlessness succeeded in giving me a major wiggins where so many others hadn’t.
    It’s the narrative style, I think. This is *not* a cozy catastrophe that our heroes have to manage somehow. It’s global, apocalyptic, and written in a style associated with news, not fiction.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    MadG: But by the time I actually had a job downtown, I already owned a house on the outskirts of the city.
    The company where I work loves to do that to people. You work south of the city, long enough to buy a house in one of the exurbs further south for a 20 minute commute, then your job gets moved to the north of the city, and your communte beomces two hours. (Doesn’t matter if by car or by public transport.) Or the other way round.

  • ajay

    inge: I think it’s also that it’s narrated from ten years after the end of the war. The final bit of narration in the book is a cliche’d end-of-novel moment: the exhausted but victorious GIs looking out onto the sea from the shores of the Hero City. But the book’s full of reminders that that wasn’t the end of the story; that the next ten years have been a hard, ceaseless slog as the world rebuilds itself. That’s really what makes the war realistic in retrospect.
    IIRC there was a novelisation of the awful “Independence Day” that actually started after the end of the film. I haven’t read it, but that actually sounded like a much more interesting story than the one the film had. Every major city on earth has had its heart burned out, there’s derelict alien technology lying around all over the place, we’ve got a hundred million wounded and five times that many refugees to handle, and for all we know there’s another eight motherships on their way here right now…

  • Hawker Hurricane

    @ajay: After watching “Independence Day”, me and my friends discussed it. I don’t remember which one of us said (in deadly seriousness)…
    “Now that Earth has defeated the Scouting Force, here comes the Invasion Force”.
    “You mean the First Wave of the Invasion Force!”
    The discussion from there invoked the first Roanoke colony, and how it slowed the European/English colonization down for about a whole year…

  • Robyrt

    I wanted to bus to work. There’s a bus stop a block from my house, after all. Unfortunately, it only goes one way – downtown, where it connects to the line that takes me to my job in the suburbs. At that point, no amount of extra buses, decreased traffic, etc. matters.

  • ajay

    The quote I’m trying to remember is from Wavell, “Other Men’s Flowers” – he has a phrase about how impressed he is that the 40s generation hasn’t lost heart during the war (he’s writing in 1943), and he hopes they keep it up when the war is over “and we embark on a far greater adventure: to rebuild a shattered world”.

  • http://falconsgyre.blogspot.com Falconer

    @Ranodomosity:”Falconer: Love this: “The irony of the text is that a group of the richest folks in the country organize a strike in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of collective actions.””
    Oh crap, did I write that? It’s wrong. Strike the bit in italics and replace it with “protest the collective actions of the unions.”
    Rand spends a lot of time excoriating the working class, or the “leeches,” as she would have them, for ganging up on the owners of society. When the owners of society gang up on everyone else, of course, it’s peachy keen.

  • Francis D

    Rand spends a lot of time excoriating the working class, or the “leeches,” as she would have them, for ganging up on the owners of society. When the owners of society gang up on everyone else, of course, it’s peachy keen.
    It’s only class war when the lower classes start shooting back.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    It’s only class war when the lower classes start shooting back.
    Posted by: Francis D
    ———————
    I’ve been saying that for years. Now I must google, to find out who said it first…

  • renniejoy

    An Interesting Thing I noticed last night:
    When we moved halfway across the US, our old ZIP code and our new ZIP code end in the same two-digit number, which is also the same as the abbreviation of my birth year. And the old ZIP code had the number 1, while the new ZIP code has the number 9.
    Coincidence? DUN, DUN, DUUUUN.

  • Dav

    I totally get why people drive. I could maybe swing payments, if I lived in a much scarier neighborhood, and gave up every other bit of recreational spending in my life, but I still couldn’t afford $1000/year to park at work.
    “Poverty” (not that I’m “real” poor, just faux poor) looks different in different places, of course, and I’m lucky to have public transit. I don’t blame people for making different choices than me, although I find it frustrating that so many people who live essentially next door won’t even try public transit, and won’t support public transportation for those of us who do need it. I also find the assumption of cars frustrating, the way people assume you own a house, have a garage to store stuff and an extra freezer to freeze stuff, space where you’re allowed to grow a garden, replace windows, etc.
    I’m generally the first to come down on people like No Impact Man who literally does not think about what it means to advocate universal abandonment of cars, but there’s just as many car owners who assume anyone can be expected to show up to dinner in a neighboring town with no advance notice. So it cuts both ways.

  • Mary Kaye

    Seattle is slowly improving its bus system. Twenty years ago you could not go east or west in most parts of the city unless you went downtown and doubled back. That’s much less true. It’s also much harder to get stranded by an early last-bus-of-the-day than it was. But there are still many people for whom the bus commute is not feasible. I am lucky to live where I do.
    I don’t think ragging on people for their choices, without detailed knowledge of the situation behind those choices, is a good strategy in almost any circumstance. But we could work on two things: (1) making the transit system more responsive to where people actually live and work, and (2) raising awareness of the idea that car dependancy is not a law of nature.
    I had a lot of trouble convincing our first social worker that my family could adopt, and one of the big sticking points was the lack of a car. Two years in, we are comfortable that we can be an adoptive family with no car (we do subscribe to a car-share service which we use about once a month).
    The University of Washington managed to cut car trips to UW by 11% by instituting a very high quality bus pass system, with heavy subsidies, for its students, faculty and staff (about 40K people). We could press other employers to do the same. (I believe some of the big ones already do, such as Starbucks.)
    But the whole “tear down the bridge, don’t replace it, discourage driving” system just makes greens out to be evil folks who want others to suffer. It doesn’t work, because in the short term the easiest way to reduce your misery is to vote out the greens. Severe traffic carries a very high cost in lost time and productivity, pollution, and overall misery. And it doesn’t go away just because people are miserable; it becomes a permanent source of misery.
    Ragging on people is cheap, but it doesn’t work. Bus passes and better bus services are not cheap, and right now the state and city have no money. I’m not sure what private citizens can do at this point, other than push for the best priorities we can with the limited money.