Chapter 16
Urban Sprawl: The Suburbs

         When towns first developed, the residents lived close together because walking was about the only way to go anyplace.  People near the center of a town had to walk the least; so central land was the most desirable and its population density increased.  Urban land prices therefore rose and large lots were subdivided, further increasing central population densities.  In the larger cities people began to live literally on top of each other in multistory apartments and tenements. 

Horses, bicycles, and later the streetcars helped to prevent even greater central densities, but density reversal started in earnest when the automobile became common.  Cars allowed people to live farther from the center of things—farther from the grocery store, school, church, their work, their relatives and friends, and farther from train stations and bus depots.  Our cars make it possible for most of us to have more space, more privacy, be safer, and get back a little closer to nature. 

An article in the New York Times, December 5, 1999, informed us that the majority of all Americans now live in the suburbs.  The US Census Bureau says that 140 million of us (counting my wife and me) are suburbanites.  The article went on to note that modern suburbs are like cities in horizontal form, and that they have almost everything that one will find in high-rise cities.  It also observed that most new jobs are in the suburbs. 

Having more land to live on doesn’t necessarily mean greater cost.  I wonder how many acres, or even square miles, of land one can buy in some places for the price of one square foot of land in the center of Manhattan, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo or Paris? 

We have just examined the origins of urban sprawl.  As our urban areas sprawled out they become less dense and therefore sub-urban.  This relatively recent phenomenon developed primarily because of the affordability, convenience, effectiveness, and speed of the private automobile. 

Urban sprawl in modern civilized society is deplored by some; but whether sprawl is seen as favorable or unfavorable depends upon who is doing the looking and with what in mind.  Some suburb bashing is sour grapes from disgruntled city-dwellers, and businesses in the big-city oppose sprawl because it results in loss of urban business to stores in the suburbs.  “Cars made the sprawl possible, and more sprawl makes more cars necessary.  Then the cars become gridlocked, use up the petroleum, and pollute the atmosphere.  Cars are therefore bad, so sprawl must also be bad.”  That seems to be the mindset of many people, but that is narrow thinking.  It assumes that these current disadvantages of sprawl and excessive automobile traffic are inherent and impossible to correct without eliminating cars and the suburbs.  That assumption is wrong. 

Dualmode transportation will retain the good in automobiles and the good in sprawl, but get rid of the bad.  It will largely solve the fuel, traffic, and environmental problems without packing us back into even more dense cities.  Whether some planners like it or not, the advantages of suburban living are so great that suburbia is not going to go away, and neither is private transportation, which made suburbia possible. 

I recognize however that good farmland is being taken over by suburbs.  This is unfortunate and ultimately destructive.  Laws of various kinds and financial incentives are being and must be used to minimize the loss of agricultural land. 

We need to note that traffic jams are not due to the total number of cars in the world, but due to an excessive density of cars in local areas at certain times.  Sprawl, almost by definition, means a reduction in density, so in the suburbs traffic and parking problems are reduced.  Where is traffic congestion worse, in suburbs or in the center of large cities?  So we can argue that the suburbs are not the problem, the crowded cities and the choked highways to and from the cities are. 

Traffic frustrations are not new.  They are functions of population-density, traffic-density, and transportation-system capacity.  There were serious traffic jams and accidents in dense cities even when we had only horses and bicycles.  A horse-drawn dray in Paris killed Pierre Curie (scientist-husband of Marie) in 1906. 

The guideways will rapidly and almost completely eliminate highway traffic problems.  With automatic parking from the guideways they will also greatly reduce urban street traffic problems.  And eventually our dualmode system will further reduce street-traffic density by reducing the density of the cities.  Current single-mode transit systems, on the other hand, tend to encourage high-density living, since users want to minimize their walk to the closest transit station or bus stop.  The extensive revival and use of any conventional transit system would be like regressing to earlier times when people had to walk because there were no automobiles.  By reducing population density our universal dualmode system will further encourage the wonderful suburban living that the automobile made possible. 

With automobiles the lower the population density the fewer the parking problems.  But trips that use both autos and public transportation require intermediate parking.  In the future, with REV dualmode transportation, there will be no park-and-ride lots, fewer bus depots and passenger-train stations, and much less traffic and parking at airports.  Except for cross-country air flights and overseas trips, dualmode cars will seldom be parked at other than their final destinations. 

         Dense city cores and densely populated residential areas were necessary in earlier times, but the density of the optimal city is now lower because we can travel farther in the same length of time.  That is, we could a few decades ago before the gridlocks developed.  And better transportation is not the only factor that makes dense living obsolete: The mail system, e-mail, telephone, cell-phone, radio, TV, and Internet have all but eliminated the isolation of those living farther away.  The abandonment of large dense apartment-house areas in some major cities is further proof that high density no longer has the value that it once had. 

I leave the effects of density upon poor people to the sociologists, except to note that poor people live in the country and suburbs as well as in the cities.  Millions gradually migrated to the cities in earlier times for a hopefully better life.  Now, with dense areas crumbling, and with much more transportation and jobs available in the country and suburbs, that better life for the poor is often in the suburbs.  This will be especially true with our guideway transportation system.  These thoughts will be expanded in the next chapter. 

There will be much nostalgic defense of obsolete cities.  If, in the future, few but the nostalgic and the tourists inhabit, visit, and shop “downtown” (and trends in that direction have been evident for decades) traffic problems in city cores will largely disappear.  Also, as more people stay home and watch the game or the concert on TV, and do more of their shopping on the Internet, there will be fewer traffic problems at those events and at the malls.  Crowds of any kind are self-limiting: The joys of being there are balanced against the inconveniences of getting there and back. 

Commuters, vacationers, fans going to sporting events and concerts, shoppers, and people visiting friends and relatives will use the REV.  In urban and suburban areas trips to the local supermarket will be made in the street mode, and elementary schools will be reached largely by street mode.  Since higher-education facilities are generally more distant, many college students who live at home will use the guideways, either in private dualmode cars or by dualmode transit.  Trips to the airport will usually be on the guideways, but there will be far less domestic flying. 

As further sprawling (which the dualmode system will encourage) takes place, guideway use will increase, making them still more affordable, and more people will be able to live the good life that suburbs.

                                                    Next: CHAPTER 17
                                                     Economics of Dualmode System


Last modified: August 02, 2006