Declaration of Dependence

This is a guest post from Hans Noeldner, a trustee in the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, a rapidly growing bedroom community of about 8,300 near Madison, Wisconsin. Hans' first piece on the rules of downtown revitalization can be found here. Today's post, "Declaration of Dependence" can be found under the fold.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for the people to abandon civic spaces in which daily social and commercial Intercourse have, throughout history, bound neighbour with neighbour, customer with merchant, tradesman with client, manufactory with location, and citizen with community; and to indiscriminately pursue unfettered Motion and Isolation in the separate Vehicles to which their incomes entitle them; an unquestioning obeisance to the demands of motorized Movement requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all Motorists are created more equal than non-motorists; that they are endowed by Our Lord Economic Growth with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are the Right to drive wherever, whenever, and as much as they desire; and to do so in whatever size and type motor Vehicle shall please them; and that, moreover, they are entitled to as much Energy and motoring Infrastructure as shall prove needful for these purposes. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among oil Companies, motor vehicle Manufacturers, the highway Lobby, and the land development Cabal, deriving their just Powers from Consumers as evidenced by their vehicle purchases, fuel consumption, and selection of residences that make Driving a "necessity". That whenever any Form of historic municipal arrangement impedes the right to drive and park without limitation, it is the duty of departments of Transportation, acting on behalf of Motorists, to alter or to demolish it, and institute a new Master Plan, laying its foundation on an expansive Network of limited-access Highways, Streets wide enough for two ladder-type fire Trucks to pass with parked vehicles on both sides, turn Lanes, access Roads, drive Aisles, and abundant off-street Parking, as to the Motorists shall seem most likely to effect their Motoring Ease.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that city and village Designs long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that Motorists were sometimes disposed to suffer, while evils were yet sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Delays to which they had become accustomed. But when traffic Bottlenecks persist into the 21st Century, and insufficient free Parking near the front door of their every Destination continues to impede not merely the Motorist but Progress itself, it is the Motorists' right, indeed it is his duty, to condemn and pave over such confined Spaces, and to provide, moreover, abundant Capacity for future traffic Growth.

This message is brought to you as a public service by Hans Noeldner, 608-444-6190. Although I am a trustee for the Village of Oregon, the views herein are my own.

I'm moving closer to my local downtown area right now, w00t!

Closer to the train too..........

Hey fleam, where you're headed? I recently moved the other way - to the outskirts (in Smyrna) and almost started to regret it (especially after several car breakdowns, during which you find out what being helpless is all about).
Smyrna? As in Atlanta suburb?
Ahem. We the Georgians here pretty much found ourselves... post-suburbian endangered species I guess :)
Guess I would qualify as exurban - just off 400 about a mile or so south of Dawson County line.
Beechdriver, check us out at
Hah - funny.
This is fantastic. I'm going to link to this on July 4.
Very nice. Well done.

I might lose the "loa

Sorry, what I meant to write was...

Very nice. Well done.

I might lose the "lord economic growth" bit. Transit orient development (TOD) and livable walkable towns and cities have different growth patterns than sprawling suburban and exurban growth. But I think economic growth can exist in both environments, just that TOD / walkable towns have more sustainable growth given the limits of the natural world.

"sustainable growth" is an oxymoron.

Even if directed away from automobiles and their infrastructure, infinite growth means ever-faster depletion of resources.

Brought to you by a member of the Round Earth Society.

"sustainable growth" is an oxymoron.

I like it.  Short, sweet, fits on a bumper sticker.  

Those of us who mostly walk and bike and who are working toward sustainability certainly will see the humour in this.

I often feel frustrated about our convoluted car culture.  Perhaps because I grew up as a right-wing fundamentalist preacher's kid, I especially note how strange it is that the most salient feature of many churches is a huge parking lot, or even a ramp.I often think of our nation's real god as being **Car** or **Oil** when I think of how our lives are designed around, powered by, and utterly dependent on these..

We also sacrifice our environment and much blood and unspeakable human suffering in order to drive our petrol-powered car of choice.

We are now designed to fit into "Car Culture" and it is truly heresy to point that out.  It is also heresy to point out that we are destroying the very habitat that we depend on in order to live as our **Great God Car** and **Great God Oil** demand.

Obediance to these gods is relatively easy.  Compliance is rewarded. To point out the much-needed truth is still liable to inspire anger rather than creative engagement.

The critique of Car Culture has made advances, but we've got a long way to go before the false gods are toppled and some kind of sustainable culture evolves new paradigms to replace the old.

I am less sure that we will find our way through the next 20 years or so, the more I read and understand and observe.  However, I find it more difficult to become comfortably numb and compliant than to continue to try to live a sustainable life even within an urban context. The outcomes are certainly up in the air, but I try to focus on living positive change into being.

If it helps in the general discussion about cars, a bit of insight from my first couple of years in Germany - Germany has a car culture, America has a car society.

The difference is perhaps not so obvious at first, until you start making concrete comparisons.

For example, are mass transit systems torn apart so cars have an easier drive?

Would the owner of a status car (expensive) happily ride a bicycle in public?

What rights do other users of roads have? (Here, the difference between Germany and America is profound.)

Do a large number of people live without a driver's license?

Can you shop and work without a car, even in a fairly small town/sparsely populated region? Can you travel easily to any major city without a car?

Are bike paths and foot bridges always a part of road planning (and rail planning, for that matter)?

Can people imagine living without a car, regardless of how much they might hate that fact?

I could go on, but the differences are fascinating to me.

And as a final note - at some point maybe 15 years ago, I was spending some time in a Georgetown bookstore, leafing through some magazine (Harpers is possible, or just some urban planning thing - DC is one area where such things are read, by at least a few people) to spend time waiting for my then girlfriend to get done book shopping. (I may add, that as much as I hate Northern Virginia, both Georgetown and Alexandria are fine examples of how American living space was arranged - along with such places as Leesburg, Middleburg, or Harper's Ferry for a smaller town feel.) There was an article talking about how, to paraphrase, Americans won't walk anywhere, they like to live distant from one another, that their urban planning was poor, etc. - the kicker was that the text was from 1810, and was talking about how Americans used horses.

Our society and its love for mobility as a solution predates the auto, which also makes America a car society. And this is also why so many people in America still want to have some form of vehicle that will allow them to live as they do today. This is one reason that what seems like a fairly rational debate in Europe about shrinking resources becomes something like the end of the world in American eyes - and from that framework, it just might be so.

I live in a small town in England. I also spent 10 years in Germany.

Do a large number of people live without a driver's license?
I have never had a driving license or a car. The good side is that I can live very cheaply, healthily and stress-free. The bad side is fewer girlfriends.

Can you shop and work without a car, even in a fairly small town/sparsely populated region? Can you travel easily to any major city without a car?
Yes. I can buy most things in my town. I can get to London, Canterbury and most other towns by train. Many cities in UK and Germany have extensive tram and bus networks that reach out to the suburbs

Are bike paths and foot bridges always a part of road planning (and rail planning, for that matter)?
For the most part - yes

Can people imagine living without a car, regardless of how much they might hate that fact?
When I tell people here that I don't own a car they tend to regard me as afflicted with some kind of illness - even when I tell them I can get to all the places I need to.

Well, my points were directed more to the difference between society and culture, but it is interesting to see that England, as often so, lives in both worlds - that is, European from history and current EU membership, cars from American dominated marketing.

I would have honestly thought that there would a certain number of non-drivers who are proud of that fact, as in Germany. But then, the level of awareness of vegetarian eating, as taken for granted in Britain (like the labelling, or the number of good places to eat where meatless menu items are a given) is pretty much unknown in Germany. It was always a problem finding somewhere good to eat with English speakers who were vegetarians, especially British women, since in Germany, about the only acceptable places to eat were Indian or Greek.

Well for me the current US setup was and to a great extent is still a huge cultural shock. Arriving from a dense city, never needing a car and actually never wanting one, into this dehumanised craze here (I got into Atlanta), left me wondering "were these guys crazy or what to build this?" The first shock is purely aesthetical - the absence of people and the uniform design of everything around is creating the feeling that you have arrived in a city hit by a neutrone bomb. The only thing that seems to "create life" are the cars passing you by - which brought another association - that you are in a fully-automated factory in which people are transported on a conveyor.

The second shock was the realisation that you really have no other option than driving a car. From an european point of view you can easily see how vulnerable this makes the society here - we have had enough crisises in our history to know how important are the backup plans and the social cohesion in such situations. In the end I arrived to the conclusion that the problem of USA is the problem that any empire, or for example dominant species is facing at some point - being too successful. In this case this has created a gradual disengagement of the authorities, now reduced to great extent to a road constraction and energy securing company. On the other hand it is creating a society where nobody really cares for each, because nobody needs each other. Why should we care is our moto, right?

Having said all of this I must also say that I'm an optimist for the long term - this country has many good values in its grassroots and I think the coming shocks will help it revert to them. It's quite likely the transitioning period to be painful, but it will make it.

'From an european point of view you can easily see how vulnerable this makes the society here....'

And this is one of the points why both sides of the broader peak oil debate seem so extreme through an American lens.

I tend to be in the pessimistic camp for many factually based reasons, but it is also my general outlook. But part of my pessimism may be because I am an American living in Germany, and can see just how much America lacks in comparison, in part because so much of that was bulldozered away throughout my life.

America will have to undergo wrenching changes that it has spent my entire life avoiding, except for a brief phase which most Americans seem to consider a low point of their history, and quite honestly, I think America will break in the process.

But that is not the same as saying the people living there will not find good ways to live, or be unable to meet different challenges. It is just that those people will be unlikely to consider themselves Americans after they have mastered those challenges. For example, a future death of what is now considered the 'American Dream' of a large car in the suburbs while getting rich and ignoring everything in the pursuit of the happiness of personal consumption will sadly take a lot of current American values with it, possibly to the point that only a small number of people will want to be called 'American' in a generation. (I am being gentle here - there is a concrete parallel to point to, after all, of a society that sacrificed everything in attempting to achieve its vision, which was seen as horrendous by most other people, though obviously, the comparison is not possible to draw correctly, and is based on a very dark view of wars fought defending dreams, using lies and deceit and the common human desire to enjoy a good life, whatever the ignored cost for others.)

Thank you for that post-- good analysis.

I am a big fan of complexity theory (the concept of local maxima) and of evolutionary dynamics as applied to organisations.

You hinted at it in your post (more than hinted, you described it without using the word): ie that dominant forms (organisms, organisations, societies, civilisations) optimise around their local environmental conditions (the Mayans built elaborate systems to supply water, for example).

If and when those conditions change (soil salination, water depletion, energy depletion) then successful organisations will change and adapt, and unsuccessful ones die.

I keep thinking of the end of medieval civilisation.  Many of the greatest Gothic Cathedrals, among the most marvellous buildings ever built by human beings, were started in the late 1200s or early 1300s.

But by 1350 construction had stopped on many, never to be completed, or to be completed in radically changed form decades later.

Medieval civilisation was swept over by a wave of plagues, wars, starvation, soil exhaustion, trade disruption.  In part, all of this may have been due to the 'little Ice Age' although that is hotly debated.

After the Black Death, which first reached Europe in 1346, but struck again and again, the peasants were in a much stronger position to negotiate on wages-- as much as half the medieval population of Europe was dead.  This led to enormous social upheaval and turmoil (see 'The Peasants Revolt' in England, 1380s).

Contemporaries at the time thought the end of the world had come and the Second Coming was upon them.  The Turks conquered their way to Vienna, cleaving off the Balkans for another 500 years.  The Polish empire, stretching to the Black Sea, went into a sunset from which it never recovered.

Eventually, in the early 1400s, the Renaissance broke out in Italy, and spread over time to places as far flung as England and Poland, over the next 100 years or so.  The final nail in the coffin was the explosion of the Protestant Reformation: parallel religious uprisings or heresies in medieval times were decisively defeated, but not this time.

But medieval society was dead, and gone. It had adapted, and was still recognisably Christian, but it was no longer feudal.  Kingdoms had gone: Gascony was no longer a province of the English King.  Italy was a dependency of Spain, etc.

Something similar may be happening to our civilisation.  The test in the next 50 years will be to evolve from a carbon-fuelled civilisation, to something else.  I suspect the else is some amalgam of low or zero carbon technologies: nuclear, wind, solar.

But from the top of our little peak now, virtually any way we choose to go involves going downhill for a while and our political system is not equipped to deal with that.

that is the challenge we face.

I don't think the USA or any other country is uniquely well or badly positioned to deal with this.  Europe burns less energy, but it has less energy to burn (and declining demographics).  The US issues are well known.

Thanks for the interesting history reference.

You hinted at it in your post (more than hinted, you described it without using the word): ie that dominant forms (organisms, organisations, societies, civilisations) optimise around their local environmental conditions (the Mayans built elaborate systems to supply water, for example).

The extension is that successful species (in such context) are always overshooting one way or the other - due to their greater ability to acquire resources. This on the other hand makes them hardly adaptable to changes in the environment (the change in resources) and therefore such changes are always painfull and costly (where the cost may include losing the dominant status). And of course the more successful you are the more you tend to overshoot.

To quote by memory one favorite part of "Catch 22":

  • "Italy is a weak country, and therefore it will survice long after US is destroyed".
  • "Destroyed? US will never be destroyed!"
  • "Never? How do you know?"

Out of necessity weaker species or countries have developed stronger mechanisms needed to face changes in the environment. These include a certain moral regulating human relations but most of all a certain humility in front of the environment and its changes - you should be able to realise that you are not stronger than Mother Nature but rather be a part of it. Unfortunately these mechanisms degrade (if not taken care of) if the species have some advantage, which they are determined to preserve and use to dominate the environment.

Having said all of this I must disagree with the following:

I don't think the USA or any other country is uniquely well or badly positioned to deal with this.

Different societies will handle it fundamentaly differently. Roughly I expect their performance to be correlated to their experience with handling crisises and facing changes. In the short term the weaker nations are in for a huge blow by the big guys, but in the longer term the latter will exhaust their resources in fighting to preserve their status. It is  likely the West will slowly descend (lead by its Cheerleader) and the East will take its place. But maybe I'm talking about the end of the century here...

Sorry... too many typos :) Will edit next time, promise.
I originally moved to Toronto in 1997 to get into journalism and be closer to concerts, plays, and just general culture that I wanted to be around. But I realize now it's been more of an experience of "come for the culture, stay for the neighbourhoods."

It's weird how I was never conscious of much I enjoy living in an identifiable neighbourhood until I discovered Peak Oil in 2005 and later started reading Kunstler's books. But yet, looking back, it's always been there - I lived in the University of Toronto dominated neighbourhood of the Annex, I was a straight man living in the Church and Wellesley gay neighbourhood for years (as my friend calls it "The Gaybourhood") and now I'm in a primarliy Italian - Portuguese neighbourhood with a fantastic local bakery and brilliant local bar just down the street. This place went CRAZY when Italy won the World Cup this year!

In each place I've met different people from different walks of life. Each place was just that - a PLACE.

It just depresses the hell out of me now to go home to Kitchener, Ont. and see how disconnected and homogenous the whole place is. It truly IS the Geography of Nowhere, and even if we weren't staring down the demise of this hyperenergetic suburban lifestyle I still would look at it all with...a strange mix of disdain, fascination, and pity for the people who actually think THIS is the way human beings ought to live.

Hank Dittmar of the Prince's Institute for the Built Environment talks about the pint and quart test for walkable neighborhoods: a good neighborhood is one where you can buy a pint of beer and a quart of milk within ten minutes walk of your house.
I think it is more complex than that...I lived in Bakers Village in Columbus, GA.  Anyone familiar with the area is aware that this is a ghetto right out the main gates of Ft. Benning.  Within a two minute walk I could get dry cleaning, groceries, several bars, several more strip clubs and tatoo's.  Terrible place to live though, a shooting every couple weeks.

Now I live within a five minute walk of two theaters, the main campus of UNICAMP, several bars I am not afraid of sticking to the seat or table, and a host of small food shops and restaurants.  I have a bus stop 100 meters from my house, and a main station a five minute bike ride.  I gain ten pounds of fat every month on the rig and lose it again when I get back.

The milk and beer idea is a good thought, but most of the worst neighborhoods in the US qualify.

90 seconds to two minutes for me for closest
"bar & milk".

Within 10 minutes (walk or streetcar), MY GOD !

Two world-class restaurants, Commander's Palace and Emeril's Delmonico.  Eight or more places to buy groceries, and more bars/bar & food places than that !

Bank, tailor, insurance agent, dry cleaner, streetcar all within 4 minutes.

Toronto is the geography of nowhere if you get to any of the post war suburbs or outside the 416 area code.

North York actually fought quite hard to prevent any kind of multi-unit dwelling being built to disrupt the single family dwellings.  That is (slowly) changing I guess.

By my parents, (Avenue Road-- only in Canada would we create a major throughway called 'Avenue Road' ;-), the Highway 401 is 22 lanes wide (including feeders) and is still logjammed much of the day.  More people live outside Toronto (the governing area) than live in it, but they are still (mostly) in the Greater Toronto (census) Area.

My mum grew up in Barrie Ontario, which used to be a nice small town on the lake. Now it is the fastest growing city in Canada, but it's all endless faceless suburbs and big box stores.

I am guessing you live off College Street?  Great area, just being discovered.  With Little Vietnam just to the east?  The yuppies will eat it up too, have no fear.  I can remember when Harbord down by the University was a dodgy place to live (Kensington Market still is, I think).

I like Little Ukraine, down on Roncessvales, but I think it, too, is slowly going.

I agree with you re Kitchener-Waterloo, but there is so much happening there, employment and industry wise (thinking RIM/ Blackberry etc.) spinning out of the university, that you can see why the growth is happening.

Re: We hold these truths to be self-evident...

What -- you gotta problem with that?  

Well done.

Beautiful, I love it. Thanks.

Peakguy has a point, though. Pedestrian-friendly, mixed use neighborhoods can generate a ton of economic growth. In fact if you examine most cities in the U.S., it's usually a historic, walkable neighborhood that is the most valuable on a per square foot basis.

How about "Our Lord Automobility"?


Well, for every position, there really should be heard a dissenting voice, if for no other reason than to question the "orthodoxy".  After twelve hours, I have seen no such thing, yet, so, what the helll, let me perform the "dissenting voice" function, as a free service to TOD, just 'cause I like you folks....:-)

The "car". What a fascinating device.  Loved by many, hated by some, and used by many who claim to hate it.  Supposed by some to have been forced upon us by vast conspiracies, yet sought after by even the poorest peoples and nations.  The very thought and image of "the car" now brings to the surface all manner of political, sociological, aesthetic, cultural, even ethnic, racial and moral subtexts.  Next to the clothes one chooses to wear, or the type of home one chooses to live in, the "car" one chooses or refuses to choose now is seen as saying more about the person than anything else.
I recently read advice given in an advice article to men on how to date the woman of his choosing, first, you have to drive a "car" that will be impressive to the prospective mate.  The thought of luring the woman of choice without driving any car seemed out of the question.  A sociology professor once bragged that if he knew what type of car a person drove, he could pretty much tell you his income, his voting habits, and even what type of housing and neighborhood this person would live in.  No one makes such claims based on the brand of refrigerator a person owns.  Such is the deeper meaning of the "car" as it has become in America and the world.

But allow us to back up a bit.  Allow us to look not at the perception of the "car" today, but at what it actually is, was intended to be, and perhaps can become.

I hold upon my lap at this moment a book, one of my prized possessions, entitled "The Motor Car, an illustrated international history", written by the esteemed automotive historian David Burgess Wise.  This book was published in 1977, and republished in 1979, in the very darkest days of the recession and energy crisis of that period,, the greatest energy crisis yet known to the industrial world. Many were then pronouncing the "fossil fuel car culture" as dead, at the end of it's road, with no hope of future development possible.  When I bought the book, there was every possibility that the "Chronology 1690-1979", like the dates on a tombstone, would be the definitive dates of the life and final demise of the "automobile" per se.  In 1979, the informed consensus was that if the "car" was to continue, it would have to be in a radically different format, and within a new world of limits and considerations.

Notice again the "birthing" date of the "automotive idea, given by Burgess as 1690.  This is the first entry in the automotive "Chronology".  There are in fact 19 entries of import in Burgeses' chronological history of the motor car occurring before the 1886 runs of the Karl Benz 3 wheeler, "the first petrol car built as an entity and not converted from a horse drawn carriage", the 20th entry.  It is fascinating and informative to look at this "history" of the motor car idea, preceding the actual existence of the "motor car" as we know it.

Forty five years prior to the 1690 entry, we find the first mention in print of the "automotive idea", by a Parisian, Gui Putin:
"There is in this city, a certain Englishman, son of a Frenchman, who proposes to construct coaches which will go from Paris to Fontainebleau and return within the same day, without horses,  by means of wonderful springs...if the plan succeeds, it will save both hay and oats."

Could it be true, that the birth of the "automotive idea" was nothing more than a fuel switching operation, to get away from having to feed horses?

The horse.  That bane of city life!  Smelly, hard to control, and requiring constant maintenance!  Cities could never be truly civilized with so many smelly brute animals and the product of their consumption of hay and oats everywhere.  But even before the car, people had the habit, as was said by Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orleans in 1798 of the Americans, "Americans are in the habit of never walking if they can ride."

It is hard now to imagine the filth that was created by the thousands and thousands of horses and mules in a large city, but the people of that time knew it well.  But, there were no fantasies then of a walking culture.  In cold European cities, without the luxury of paved streets to make walking and later bicycling easy (people forget that the paved street is important to more than just cars....try biking or walking to the grocery in foot deep mud after a good rain)

The spring idea mentioned above must have seemed like a dream solution!  Clean, quiet, no manure left behind, and the recent developments in clockmaking must have made it seem relatively realistic.  However, it was soon discovered that except for short distance ceremonial carriages (which were actually built using springs as propulsion for the nobility), feeding and housing a crew large enough to wind or crank the springs was more consumptive than feeding the horses, thus, the first automotive confrontation with the concept of EROEI, and another tradition was born also:  The first automobiles would be for the wealthy and the nobility, and of course, the military, as the Cugnot steam wagon was built for the French military as an artillery wagon in 1769.  

Thus we come to the crux of the "automotive dilemma".  As long as the number of "cars" was limited, a "toy" of the wealthy, they were limited in number, and thus, not a real problem as far as fuel, congestion, pollution and city planning went.  The problem with personal transportation is exactly that, "personal".  Because as the revolutions swept the world, including the greatest revolution, the industrial revolution, everything became more personal.  Personal ownership of property, personal firearms, and of course, personal transportation.  The automobile was as it was developed, also democratized.  The first automobiles were "Omnibuses", that is essentially a steam powered version of the older buses, carrying passengers for pay as a train would, but no longer bound to rails.  lt didn't take long, and just a bit of technical development, for the steam omnibuses to become more compact and easier to operate and maintain.  The personal carriage would be born, able to be maintained and driven by a chauffeur, or a skilled owner: .jpg

Please take a moment to look at this automobile, shown at the 1878 Paris Exhibition, and replicas sold at 12,000 Francs.  Now forgotten, it was one of the most influential designs in history.  Except for the primitive steam engine, it is so advanced in layout, and was so influential in design that it set the design trend for the automobile for the next quarter century.  Only the engine held the design back, and it was this that Karl Benz would remedy only 6 years later.  The resulting ability to build light and small would be taken advantage of, and by 15 to 20 years later, the effect could be clearly seen in the curved dash Oldsmobile, a car for the average working class:

Thus, the car came to the middle class, and some folks have never forgiven it for that crime.  

We now must ask a few hard, fundamental questions:  
*Do Americans have a right to own a car?   This cuts to the very heart of what we think America is, in that in America, people are allowed to own private property.  Does this by implication, include a car?
*Do Americans have the right to purchase fuel?  Again, we are asking if it is the governments right to forbid Americans from purchasing fuel.  Remember, it is not the government that finds, drills and refines the fuel, but instead, private firms who do it for profit.  Is that still a viable and permitted industry?
*What obligation does the American government have to provide stable shipping lanes and defense for oil drilling and transport?  Any?  If they do not have any obligation to provide these things for the oil industry, why should they provide this governmental obligation for any other industry?

Lastly, and please think about this one very hard, is it really the automobiles impact on fuel and pollution that is seen as the central problem, or is it the very concept of "personal" ownership of transportation that is seen as somehow evil?  If the middle class are to forbidden the right to transportation, will this apply to the wealthy and powerful, those who jet around the world and preach about Peak Oil and Greenhouse Gas release?

The writer B. Bruce Briggs once pointed out that the average citizen only hungers for a few hundred horsepower, an very tiny amount compared to the amount of power the wealthy and elite hunger for.

It is to be remembered that the "elite" did not invent the automobile, they did not even think of it.  The elite did not develop it, the elite did not make it a workable compact usable device for the middle class.  The elite have done absolutely nothing to make the automobile the safest, fastest, most efficient mode of transport for the masses in world history.  This "personal" freedom of transportation is one of few developments of the industrial age that actually enhanced the freedom of the average citizen.  Most developments of technology have actually decreased freedom, and made this generation only more watched and controlled, not less.  We must now ask, why is it the "car", and not any particularly inefficient type of car, but the very concept of "the car" that is now seen as such a threat?

We must note that there are many "sacred cows" of the consumption era that are not pointed out for such attack.  Let us take for example pets:  How much energy goes to the feeding and medical care of pets?  How many apartments and homes are heated and cooled throughout the day and night, with or without people in them, to protect the health of pets?

What about lawns?  The land space, water consumption, fertilizer consumption, pest control, equipment costs and fuel for lawn care equipment, etc. must consume a huge volume of energy and resources!  Yet, there is no campaign against the idea of the "right to a green pest free lawn".

Air transport?  Boating?  Over packaging in retail foods?  In many cases, the packaging on food is purely to make the product more visible on the shelf, and to take up shelf space ("slot space") to keep out competitors!
Who will tell the office girl in Chicago who drives perhaps 4  or 5 miles a day to work and the store that she should walk in the arctic climate to work, when her once per year airline trip to Florida to vacation consumes more fuel than her car does all year?

The "car" can be made to be much, much more efficient.  It should be, and in fact, IT MUST BE made so.  But if the attack is against the very concept of personal transportation, then no amount of efficiency improvement will help.  The argument then becomes purely philosophical and aesthetic, and has nothing to with energy or "peak oil".  

There is a point at which the discussion becomes, "I will tell you where you can live, what you can own, and how you will live."  This is not a Peak oil discussion, but instead a discussion about the very nature of rights and the construction of our nation.  We should not be surprised that such an elitist program will be resisted to the fullest possible measure, even by people fully aware of our energy situation, but who will refuse to accept autocratic and absolutist rule without a fight.  The Peak aware community must think long and hard before it chooses sides in that fight.  

There must of course be limits, and price may set them before any autocratic regime has to...but...If we are to attempt to do away with "cars" let us first try to make them more efficient along the way:  In other words, let us do away with them one pound at a time!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

I think that things will change according to the nessecity.
We will drive as long as we can drive. There will be discussion about how to conserve, but I think it will just happen where it can be done and where it is needed.

I don't believe in a masterplan put in place by the government to make the transition happening. The forces needed are simply to big and to costly.

Roger from the Netherlands

Agree with you.

The only master plan is gas prices three or four times as high as today.
Since any government raising gas taxes more than marginally will be instantly voted out of office there is no hope, except for the Chinese and Indians as future buyers of oil.
In any case most of the worlds remaing oil will be burnt in ICEs, question remains whether these engines will be running in the USA and Europe, or more in Asia.

Exactly. The efforts to migitate future energy shocks are so huge and ask for so much sacrifices years before it is actually needed, that any politician who will ask this from the civilians will be put out of office right away.

So things will be done when the need is there, not any sooner. Hopefully Hirsch is not right.....


great article.

You mention the rights of people (to buy gas, to ride a car, and so on.)

What a about the right of living in a carfree environment?

Here in Germany there is an interesting history of (mostly failed) attempts of providing carfree space to those who want to try without a car. Yet it seems impossible to ban cars just from one single small town quarter.


Your right, it is not easy to find a car free environment.  There was some mention here of Amish communities, and some of them seem to have areas in which cars are not allowed, but they are essentially farm communities, so outsiders of course would not fit in...

Of course, in the U.S., one of the best known car free "zones" is ironically in Michigan, that being the resort island of Mackinac Island, where horse and bicycle are the allowed transportation:

This is a very beautiful place, and while it is at heart a resort area, there is, as the house listed above shows, the possibility of living there, but the winters are severe.  This creates the idea of other island situations as "car free developments however, as it would be most easily done in an island environment.  Perhaps some islands off the coast of Florida or Texas, on the Atlantic seaboard could be interesting to see if anyone would be interested in a car free island, and with solar assisted houses, the energy consumption per capita could be kept very low one would think....interesting.

The other idea of course would be to develop the newly popular "gated villages to be car free....but whether that would have much of a following, who knows.  I do know that "car free zones" do not seem to work well in cities...we had one in Louisville KY on the 4th street mall/Galleria and after trying to keep it afloat the better part of a decade, they finally gave up and threw it back open to was a complete flop as a "pedestrian mall".

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Do you have more details about that carfree Louisville street? Was it just a shopping zone or does a reasonable number of people live there (mixed use)?

Ulrich Nehls, Erlangen/Germany


In the late 1970's, after the energy crisis and when the idea of " restoring community" was all the rage (sound familiar...deji vu all over again huh?), the city of Louisville KY decided to create a "pedestrian mall" in the heart of it's downtown.  The map below shows, where the star is located at 821 South 4th Street, where this "Galleria" would be located:

The idea was to build a shopping mall and office towers to be followed by living space, from there, and close off this area to vehicle traffic, from that point and make 4th Street pedestrian on down to the riverfront.
A clearer map looks like this:
As you can see, the distance is not great, perhaps a half mile or so.  To understand the effect that was intended, one must understand what is at the riverfront:
This is the Louisvile Riverfront park, and one of the most beautiful waterfront areas in the U.S., there is no other way to say it.  The 4th street area would be a pedestrian link to the Riverfront, which if you look at the maps, would mean a "T " formation, reaching backward into the heart of downtown, the theatre district, the Brown and Seelbach Hotels (again, two the best in the country) and the covered Galleria:

This photo gives an impression of the area as a "pedestrian" type Galleria, and the covered area (Glass on steel covering the street between office towers, great in winter and rain, I know from experience!)  The waterfront park is now incorporating a bike and pedestrian walkway across the Ohio River into southern Indiana by using an abandoned railroad bridge called the "Big 4 bridge".  This will soon be one of the most scenic pedistrian/bikeways in the country, and further increase what is already a great bike/pedestrian network in downtown Louisville.

However, in the period of the 1970's and 1980's, shopping traffic to the mall and to the office towers dwindled to almost nothing.  All the shoppers and customers were going out to the suburbs to shop, and after many studies, only two major factors seemed to be causing the decline of the 4th street area:
(a)  The promised downtown living space had not materialized on schedule.  It is ironic that this would be coming soon, in the form of an apartment and condo high rise downtown, plus a set of apartments only one block over on 3rd Street, a very beautiful set by the way:
Plus, renovated apartments and condos right on the riverfront, financed by Humana Corp for it's office employees, (Humana's national headquarters is in Louisville right off the riverfront on 6th Street), but this was to be too late.

(b)  The prohibition on cars.  The truth is, people wanted to be able to park and drive on 4th Street, not get out of a car at one end of it and walk up the 4 or 5 blocks to get to stores.  If they bought anything to speak of, they then had to carry it about 4 blocks back to their car, or find some way to park a block over from the Galleria (never easy), plus the constant harrassment by homeless and street people, who quickly figured out the walking route needed by customers to get to stores and offices in the mall.  Frankly, the whole thing seemed pointless except as a social statement, so the area was thrown back open to traffic in the late 1990's, when it was also introduced as a "Live" entertrainment district, creating "4th Street Live".

Since the arrival of downtown housing, an evening crowd (before 4th Street Live and the arrival of apartment/condos, the city emptied out at 5:00PM) and the return of cars, the 4th Street area has flourished.

In closing, to understand why the riverfront development, the idea of the pedestrian mall, and the development of other "beautification" ideas are so popular in Louisville, one must understand what a beautiful city Louisville already is.  The parks of Frederick Law Olmstead (the designer of Central Park in New York City)  are a defining part of what is essentiallly in many ways almost a "garden and park" city:

The automobile is not seen as quite the annoyance in Louisville that it is some newer cities, simply because the city was designed before the car, and still shows it.

One can easily visualize Louisville using river ferries and reasonably short range electric cars and having transport available as conditions change in the upcoming years.  With downtown housing now finally returning, and mixed use shopping, office space and living space closely packed and near the University of Louisville, the Library, and other amenities, If I had to be in any city as peak oil arrives, I cannot think of a better one than Louisville KY.

But then, I also love the place.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Opps, left out my best map, the one that shows the darkened former pedestrian area of 4th St in Louisville, from the Galleria north, before it was reopened in the late 1990's....this map also gives an impression of how nicely compact all the "amenities in Louisville actually are....if you have not been there go, most folks are pleasantly surprised by the place, and some actually go native! :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout
My best map, I forget it in the post above, showing the 4th Street pedestrian mall, darkened area Gallaria and to the north, before it was reopened to car traffic...this map also shows how very well arranged Louisville is in relation to the really important downtown amenities....a very, very pretty town, drop by sometime, most folks say they are glad they did!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

thanks a lot for this, Roger. It will take some of my time to study it. Yet I'll not continue this issue in this thread, I think; maybe there will be some other opportunity for us.

Ulrich Nehls

Do Americans have a right to own a car?  This cuts to the very heart of what we think America is, in that in America, people are allowed to own private property.

This may be well ingrained in American culture, but that may be our downfall.  And the main flaw in this, in my view, is not private property per se, but how we as a nation have stolen (and more recently, borrowed) our wealth from others.

But a car by itself is fairly useless.  The way in which government at all levels enables and enforced the car culture is in the building of highways and other infrastructure.

This reminds me of how people buy ATVs (off-road motorized vehicles) and then ride them (against the law) on public trails (and private ones owned by others), causing enormous damage.  And then they demand that an infrastructure be created for their pursuit.  This is no different from the automobile pursuit in principle.  The public space is not private property, and even the owners of private spaces are not allowed (or shouldn't be allowed) to do as they please, when the impacts of their behavior extend far beyond their private space (pollution, noise, groundwater, etc).

There is a point at which the discussion becomes, "I will tell you where you can live, what you can own, and how you will live.

Of course, this is the standard rhetoric you see emanating from the automobile, gasoline and highway construction lobbies, their paid media flacks and their think tanks. (Not that I'm saying Roger is associated with any of that, not by any means.) According to the industry PR, smart growth is a collectivist threat aiming to rob us of our personal liberty and free-flowing traffic.

However, all professional associations that support smart growth -- such at the National Association of Realtors, the Urban Land Institute, or the Congress for the New Urbanism -- view this as a matter of expanding personal choice. If some people want to live in walkable neighborhoods, they should have that choice. If they want places where it's convenient, safe and pleasant to walk for most daily purposes, they should have that choice.

Conversely, the conventional American suburb limits freedom of choice. There is only one lifestyle available: One hundred percent dependency on automobile transport to participate in every daily activity. Walkable places are actually outlawed by zoning, trafic engineers, and a wide variety of other regulations. That's the real autocratic and absolutist rule.

Very few people want to live in a strictly car free neighborhood, but many people want to live in urban environments with carefully controlled levels of car access and traffic volumes. That type of arrangement is increasingly popular in historic European towns and city centers.

Bermuda just announced a limit on the number of cars on the island, a policy that has been in the works for several years due to traffic congestion, pollution and land scarcity. Peak Oil means we'll be bumping up against similar limits in other parts of the world, but they won't be coming from autocratic and absolutist rule -- they'll just be the consequence of geological reality. The question is, are we going to let Peak Oil whip us into running scared before the prospect of reduced automobility, possibly taking desperate, unwise action in an effort to forestall it? Or are we going to get out ahead of inevitable trends and make other arrangements that still furnish an excellent quality of life for ourselves and our children?

Some tidbits from Planning in New Orleans.

Dropping/eliminating elevated I-10 from Canal Street to Elysian Fields and replacing it with 4 lane at grade street with traffic lights is gaining traction.  I am sympathetic, know the leaders in this but I am not active with this group.

Seemed such a long shot that I worked elsewhere.

Everyone wants streetcars.  I have been asked to develop budgetary #s for the Desire and Elysian Fields Streetcar Lines by the District planning leaders.

Both moves away from the automobile expand personal choice and not limit it.

Multiuse zoning is strongly supported (we LIKE & VALUE the "non-conforming uses" that are grandfathered in.  Commander's Palace is the iconic example but is the Hubig's Pie bakery, etc.)

Roger links one issue, right to auto/Hummer ownership, with a second issue, should be continue to build (as a society) and maintain an auto-centric society.

I prefer a "back to the future" path.  Reverse the gov't supported changes from 1950 to 1970 and what followed once the ball got rolling.

I would like a "Peak Oil Risk" premium on all VA, FHA, Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae mortgages of 1/2% scaling up to 1% over time on suburban mortages.  Such premiums would decline if within 2 miles of an Urban Rail station and zero if within 1/2 mile.

And such premiums could help offset future foreclosure losses.

Zero new highways (perhaps limited HOV/bus lanes).

Gas taxes that pay for 100% of Iraq War


No loss of freedom to own a Hummer.

Best Hopes,


August, 2005

Welcome to OCT.  We are all together trying our best to give you what you want in transportation here in our town.  This is a description of our system and ways you can benefit from it

What it is-  OCT is a coopertative transportation system that is intended to allow you to go where you want to, when you want to, how you want to, and at minimum cost and maximum convenience.

This is the way it works.  With your sign-up and payment of an initial fee (or payment in kind with for example, a car, or other vehicle), you get a cell phone that connects you to a central computer along with a printed list of rules and services.  To start up, you must give that computer some basic information- your home location, where you usually travel, how often, what preferences you have, such as driving yourself, being driven, travelling alone or willing to ride with others and lots of other info allowing the computer to make smart decisions when you call for service.  But don't sweat too much about these initial instructions, you can change any instructions or decisions anytime you want.  If for example, you want to go into town right now, and drive alone, just tell the computer when you call for a car, and you will get the service you wish.

The charge will depend on what you ask for, when, and whether you have given previous notice.   For example, if you have already scheduled a morning trip to town  the night before, and if you have specified that you are not in a rush and will be willing to ride with others, and be driven, and be dropped off with no vehicle waiting, you will be charged a minimum amount.  If on the other hand, you suddenly on impulse decide that you want a limosine, right now, to be delivered to your door, to be driven by you, and you want to keep it to yourself all day, then of course, you will be charged a much higher fee.

You can choose any vehicle you want for your own particular need at the time.  If for example, you want to haul some trash from your place to the dump, you may want to schedule a delivery of an old, fully depreciated pickup truck, already so beat up that any damage you  might cause to it would be relatively inconsequential, thus assuring yourself a minimum cost for your trash haul.  And you can leave this truck at your house, at the dump or anywhere else just by using your phone to so inform the computer.  We take care of picking it up, but of course, you will be charged an amount proportional to the effort involved.

You may choose to drive or be driven.  Our drivers are carefully selected to be skilled, politic, and completely sane.  That is why you will notice that most of them are grandmothers.  They have already seen most of the things that happen to people in their lives, and are used to handling them efficiently.  You will also notice that choosing to be driven, rather than driving yourself, is often less costly.  This is because our smart computer is constantly summing the costs of everything, and it has found that when you choose to be driven, costs tend to be less, since for example, you will often also choose to release the vehicle and driver after arriving at your destination, rather than keeping it there.  Thus the vehicle and driver can do something useful elsewhere while you are going about your business.

Just like you, our computer uses common sense and experience to judge costs, so that the choices it makes to satisfy your needs are often exactly what you yourself would choose, given the same information.  The computer knows a lot!  It knows the town calender, it knows when important events happen that lots of people will go to, and it distributes cars appropriately, and so on.  And it learns from experience, so that it gets more and more adept at allocating resources.  And it learns from you!  Don't hesitate to tell it what went wrong, or better yet, what went right.

So we urge you to use our system freely as you would wish, and find out how it works for you.  And remember, by joining us, you become an owner and a voting member.  You can attend the monthly management sessions, bring up any problem you see, and suggest improvements.  In this way, we are all contributers toward the goal of making our transport club the best it can be!

And do not forget, we are constantly working on improvements- to our range of services, our fleet of vehicles, our computer and communication systems- everything.  Be with us, we promise you that you will find it far less expensive, and far more convenient and safe, than owning your own car.  A private car is a thing that costs a lot of your effort to get and keep up, that takes up space, does nothing at all most of the time, but keeps draining your pocket ALL  of the time.  In our transport club, you pay only for what you get, and you can if you want, not ask for much, and pay  very little.

How do I join?  Simple, visit our office, call or email us, fill in the forms, pay your fee, and you are in.

What if I wreck the car?  Insurance is part of the club service.  You choose your insurance just as you do with a private car, and you pay less than with a private insurance company.

Can I bring others with me who are not part of the club?  Sure, but you pay what the computer says is the additional real cost, which may be a lot depending on circumstances, such as heavy demand at the time..

Can I use your service if I am not a member?  Yes, but you pay a higher fee and have a lower priority that members- you may have to wait a lot longer.
How many people can you serve at once?    We have big vehicles for big parties, or if you need them, several big vehicles at once.

How can I be sure I am not being cheated?  You get a monthly bill, with full printout of all services and charges.  If you wish, you can  challenge this bill;  be sure to have substantive proof of your claims.

What about complaints?  Bring them to the monthly meeting, and let us hear them.  We are eager to find and correct any faults. Above all, we, like you, want our service to be convenient, fast, comfortable, safe, and cheap.

How far can I go in one of the club vehicles?  As far as you can drive.  Just remember your fee is proportional to your use.

Will you pick up my groceries for me?  Yes, and we will ask you to pay the fee, which again may be much or little depending on circumstances.  If for example, a lot of you have things to pick up at the same place, and they are waiting in a box at the curb, then the fee per person may be quite small.  If you want us to go a long distance for one little item, on the spur of the moment, and deliver it right now,  it might cost you a lot more than you might normally expect.

How about my grandchildren going to an after school functiion?  Same thing.  We will transport them, and we will charge what it costs. We also can provide any information you want on their arrival, departure, position in  journey and whatever else may be worrying you.

I happened to see John Grisham's "the Runaway Jury"(a jury being manipulated and bought in a case against a weapons manufacturer)right to bear arms  with John Cusack on TV last night and the idea of what rights we have as individuals vs. what  is morally right for the society as a whole seems somehow  to apply to automobile use  as well. The government gives us the right to have guns and cars and supports in the case of cars an enormous profit making industry through billions in subsidies for roads and zoning for suburbs. The industry in turn greases  the  wheels of govternment making it impossible to change the society to becoming less car dependent. We have seen how K-street works in the recent support of the 109th congress , which according to the Rolling Stones magazine, was arguably the most corrupt and laziest congress ever. In the movie the gun industry cares not about lives or justice in any way and the main evil character, played by Gene Hackmann, rationalizes his evildoing away, winnning being the main thing, his conscience he can ignore. This reminds all too much of the worst of current republican mind set in Washington. John Cusack playíng the good guy uses illegal subterfuge to become a juror and persuade the jury to vote against the guns lobby after 10 years earlier he and his girlfriend lost a similar case(family killed in mass murder with hand gun) with Gene Hackman then also in charge of Jury manipulation. Obviously we see in our current society that justice is not automatic. It is, for example, readily arguable that Bush is a criminal and stole the last two elections and has comitted a crime by invading illegally a foreign country without provocation. Obviously Bush is  not alone. Corruption is more acceptable all the time. Honesty and hard work is "naive and stupid"

We can sort of look at such a film or similar billion dollar lawsuits against big Tobacco or Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich(big Chemical) and say it is  obvious now who is evil. With the car this is just Perhaps the point in time when the  tide of public opinion just starts turns, then suddenly it is obvious to everyone what is  right and what is wrong. Obviously as in the John Grisham book, it  does  not do just to be an idealistic do gooder when an evil corrupt profit making industry is standing against you at every turn. You have to be good at dirty tricks and paranoid just like the evil profit  hungry corporation, even if you are a do-gooder environmentalist PO aware  guy. (similar to election -the democrats managed to beat the republicans as Rove's and republicans tricks were increasingly well known and transparent, so that another stolen election on razor thin margin of smut campaigning and dirty tricks at the  polling booths was not possible as people had wised up).

Profit is like a cancer, it has to grow, it has no morals. To cut it out saves lives, but it hurts. Global destruction is caused  by overconsumption and profit  hungriness which feeds this sickness through  advertising and envy (keeping up with Joneses). If we don't kill the beast, mainly the auto and energy industry in the most brutal fashion, we will have no future. The monster is big and smart and seductive however, and will "suffer no other gods beside it". When we voice our opposition we must therefore be careful or the industry and its supporters(MSM/housing/big oil) will make sure we are silenced as dissidents or ignored as freaks. The rest of us have bread and circus as our reward for joining the charade.      

The biggest obstacle to transformation or peaceful, positive revolution in the USA is that evil has become so diffuse and comfortable that those who do not share so much in the benefits of our corrupt culture can only dream of one day doing so.

Many poor kids in my area know before they are 10 years old that they are not invited to the Great Establishment Banquet, no matter the success stories of Tiger Woods and Barak Obama.  They never will be invited.  They can serve as low-paid slaves, go to prison, or go to war for oil.

I do not blame the general corruption on car culture (or "car society" if you prefer) but the car has certainly become a key part of the seduction of masses of people into the huge ratrace to self-destruction.  The "car" has evolved from something useful to something necessary for full participation in society.

Not only this, the car is mostly now about status and power -- not nearly as much as getting from one place to another. The automobile has taken on a layer of meaning that elevates it into a kind of religious or sexual object, posession of which elevates (or degrades) the owner or driver regardless of the qualities possessed by that person.

The car has also become a bubble of personal comfort and security in a way which seems to me to be out of proportion to its actual significance as a mode of conveyance.  Huge resources are devoted to making huge comfort bubbles the rule in our country, with great hostility expressed for the notion that resources might be better spent on common conveyances or on design for walking and biking.

I agree (with Alan from NO)that the War on Iraq ought to be fully funded by an added gasoline tax -- whatever amount that might be.  We ought to set the tax to pay for the entire cost within the next three years.  Well, it's an good idea....