A pair of interesting articles about transportation

The topic of transportation often interests me. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t have a car, or because of a childhood spent playing SimCity – but I suspect the latter! There were a couple of articles in the October 2012 issue of Reason Magazine that I wanted to pass along.

The first is longer article called “The streetcar swindle“, by Samuel Scheib. The main idea of the article is – Americans have lately become fascinated once again by a transit technology from the early 20th century, the streetcar or trolley. But streetcars are a bad idea almost everywhere – in short, because they act basically like buses, except that they’re slower, and cost a lot more money to build and to operate. There are a few places they make sense – in some French cities, for example, streetcars can navigate into areas not accessible by any other form of public transit. To my surprise Lansing, where I now live, was mentioned as one city where a streetcar system might actually work.

To be fair, I will say that there is one argument I have heard in favor of streetcars not addressed by this article, and that is that because they seem more permanent, they are more likely to stimulate development (versus a bus line, for example). If you take the time and money to actually lay track in the street, the transit line is not going to up and disappear tomorrow. (But, the Reason article does give examples of streetcar lines that have disappeared.)

The second article is called “Bike to the Future“, and is mainly about electric bikes. I thought one interesting point this article made was that we use our cars quite inefficiently – they have room for four or five people and plenty of cargo, and we drive them around with an average of 1.67 persons. Bikes can be a good deal more efficient, but they have obvious drawbacks – they’re slower (though only a little slower in cities), they have a smaller range for most people, they carry less stuff, and they require physical exertion resulting in possible sweating and dishevelment! Electric bikes eliminate some of these drawbacks.

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