Good ReadsOn the Road

Link: The Coming (Carfree) Artistic Revolution

http://www.friendlyanarchist.com/wp-content/uploads/hey-thats-my-car.jpg

I’ve been holding a driver’s license since 1999, but rarely ever used it. If I’ve driven more than 7.000 kilometers since then I’d be surprised, and this includes 3.000+ kilometres on one single trip to France back in 2000, and another 2.000 kilometres just three weeks ago, from the most-Northern part of Germany all the way down to the South, 30 kilometres from the Austrian border.

The trip was wonderful – but, once again, it also confirmed to me the surprising stupidity of Germany’s favorite hobby.

Sure: Even with a pretty standard car, you can – in theory – travel at 180 km/h on our autobahn. In practice, this only works if there aren’t too many trucks on the road, no general speed limits imposed, no construction sites to stop you, or simply slow-moving traffic. But even then, your driving experience will vary widely, depending on the weather (Rain? Snow? Hail?), lighting (Night? Annoying headlights. Day? Too much sun in your face!), and road conditions. And when all these conditions are perfect, it’s still tiresome and stressful to drive at these speeds for hours. Not to mention the danger of being among thousands of tired, angry or distracted people who are driving at 180 km/h themselves while making salary negotiations on their phones.

That’s why I prefer trains.

On a modern train, I can pee standing up while traveling at 200+ km/h. Excuse my example, but the running smoothness of an ICE high speed train really is astounding. You can read, chat, eat, work, sit at the bar, walk around or, yes, use the bathroom, and you almost won’t notice any movement (or noise) at all. I have a hard time figuring out why anybody would prefer driving on their own, when they can have all this comfort and quietness at a very competitive price.

With this introduction, an interesting article on why L.A. should get rid of the car, how achieving it could spur an artistic revolution, and in which sense all this may already be happening. Be warned: The article is a bit long-winded. But there’s a nice pay-off, including stats like these:

For every 30 years LA continues to spend money on cars, we could build out […] 1,800 miles of subway. This is the equivalent of building a subway under every freeway in LA County (527 miles), The NYC Subway (223 miles), The London Tube (250 miles), The Tokyo Subway (121 miles), Shanghai Metro (287 miles), and Seoul Metropolitan (327 miles) combined.

If you’re an artist and believe that a car is necessary for a happy life, I recommend you to read it, pay close attention, and ask some questions, for example: How much work, money and energy do we dedicate to our cars and how much would be used better for our art?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg December 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I love train travel! My fondest travel memories were of traversing Japan on Japan Rail (JR) limited and super express trains. I never needed a car. With JR, private lines, buses, and the occasional taxi or shuttle, I could go anywhere in the country. I’ve heard that the ICE trains are comparable to the bullet trains.

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Fabian December 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

Greg, the Japanese train system seems to be very efficient. Would be fun to do a trip there one day. As for the way you describe your travels there, it’s very similar to how I move around Germany, my main addition to your list being a bike. Pretty essential in most cities here.

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ben_ December 2, 2013 at 9:44 am

If read “The Coming (Carefree) Artistic Revolution”. :)

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ben_ December 2, 2013 at 9:45 am

Ah. Uhm. That should have been “I’ve” instead of “If”. Too less Coffee, yet. Sorry.

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Fabian December 3, 2013 at 11:41 am

Too little coffee for sure, ben_! :)

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Radhika December 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

I come from LA and actually just came back from a 400 mile roadtrip. Most people in LA want car use to be minimized, but it just isn’t convenient or safe enough. My mom would drive me to school every morning–less than a 15 minute walk–because she was scared that something might happen. Subways or Elon Musk’s new hyperloop are quite well received by the public. The problem is lobbying and other underlying problems, honestly.

People can easily say LA is the car-loving city and that we’re all entitled, but there’s heavily politics under it that’s stopping us from real success with public transport.

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Fabian December 3, 2013 at 11:53 am

Sure thing, Radhika, politics and lobbying matter a lot. But we’re the ones at the proverbial sterring wheel, aren’t we? Critical Mass and similar movements are showing one of many ways to strt working this issue – if we want to.

The convenience part is covered neatly in the article I linked to: It’s a matter of weighing things up, i.e.: Extra time spent working to afford your car versus extra time spent sitting on public transport. Here in Europe, where cars are even more expensive (taxes, specifically), many younger people opt for the latter and feel they are making a better deal. (Also, there’s probably a stronger focus on the convenience of less pollution, less noise, less traffic jams, more parks, et cetera.)

Safety is an interesting topic. It’s hard for me to discuss this as an outsider. I know there are parts in LA that I probably wouldn’t want to walk around alone at night. Maybe even at day. On the other hand, how many of our fears are mere products of lobbying as well? (The younger history of countries like Colombia and El Salvador has interesting stories to tell here.)

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Radhika December 3, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I definitely agree. But until the alternatives are presented, there’s not much hope, it’s just not as convenient.

Whether or not we get Elon Musk’s hyperloop or our own subway system, there’s not much hope until then.

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nancy power December 3, 2013 at 11:20 am

“On a modern train, I can pee standing up while traveling at 200+ km/h”

This made me laugh!!!! I like the way that this is your first example of what is good about trains. Essential information I say.

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Fabian December 3, 2013 at 11:56 am

Haha, I’ll tell you where the connection comes from: When you leave the bathroom on a German train and go back to your seat, you pass along some displays. And these displays not only cover stuff like your upcoming destinations and travel times, but also the speed of the train. The first time I saw we were moving at almost 250km/h I was flabbergasted! ;)

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Paul December 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm

I used to enjoy a long journey in the car, and I still think there’s a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from driving at particular times of the day (i.e. when there are very few other people on the roads!). But overwhelmingly, I prefer the train these days.

Yes, even trains in the UK! Admittedly, that also relies a certain amount on travelling at the right times of the day or week, but it is much less mundane and tiring than having to worry about what everyone else is doing on the road around you. Although I still prefer to not use the train toilet if I can help it. Like Christmas markets, I assume train toilets are simply something that are done better in Germany than the UK!

Interestingly, I read this the other day, so your post makes a wonderful counterpoint to it. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with either viewpoint, but I’m more inclined to agree with you. Maybe it’s different on long, straight, empty American roads.

http://www.theminimalists.com/now/

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Fabian December 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Haha, interesting argument for driving a car in that “minimalist” article! Thanks for sharing, Paul… there’s definitely something to it.

Train toilets can be awful here as well, but they are generally fine on the high-speed trains. And you’re right that it all depends a bit on timing as well… yesterday, train travels went veeeeery slowly, after us being hit by the next winter storm.

As for trains in the UK, I’ve heard bad things. Hope it’s not all that bad in reality?!

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Paul December 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Honestly, I find train travel in the UK very pleasant most of the time, but then I don’t need to do it as a commute in peak hours.

There isn’t a big distinction here between different services – arguably the cross country trains are a little more comfortable than the commuter services that serve every small station along the way, and obviously quicker.

But we have nothing to rival the speed and efficiency of the wonderful Shinkansen in Japan, nor anything as interesting as a Swiss double decker train (where there are signs for a bar upstairs!).

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