Monday, March 22, 2010

Myth of Choice, Continued

I have written a few times about the falsehood that is propagated as "choice" in the American Marketplace. Here, in the original post titled "Myth and Necessity of Choice in the American Scene":
The illusion of choice in the market dictating a suburban world is as innaccurate as the misunderstanding of the American dream, and libertarianism for that matter. The cities we've constructed has created a homogenous world that forces elderly and children to be at the mercy of the car, whereas in more walkable communities all are empowered.
In it, I compared cereal to housing choice and the reality that there is no difference nutritionally between fruity pebbles and honey nut cheerios. It is all an illusion. The cereal and the picket-fenced encased single-family home as American Dream, simulacra.

And in this post Traffic: Not the Movie, regarding transportation patterns and mobility:
Cars promised freedom. But is that freedom real or imaginary? There is typically only one way to the store or to school or to work. The only real freedom we have is the choice between the perceived faster lane and the lane we currently occupy. Does that help or is that just another extra couple of million that we spent on what was thought to be a luxury, more lanes, more flow, hooray!

I would argue that for the sake of an improved city, improved quality of life, AND improved traffic flow that we actually have to limit choice where it is inappropriate, ineffectual, and downright hazardous: the choice of multiple lanes and the fruitless, constant changing of those lanes, despite having no (or limited) choice in route.

Rather, we should replace false choice with increased freedom in areas where the impact is more positive: choice of transportation mode (and the accessibility/provision/and increased safety in all forms of that choice) and the choice of route. Choice of route is only possible with a less dendritic, less hierarchical, gridded system of smaller streets (but more lanes in sum) that is far more resilient to traffic backups.
It seems this idea is picking up steam, as StreetsBlog has picked up an argument made by a blog called Psystenance, echoing the very same idea:
Thus, the fundamental attribution error in transportation choice: You choose driving over transit because transit serves your needs poorly, but Joe Straphanger takes transit because he’s the kind of person who takes transit. This is the sort of trap we find ourselves in when considering how to fund transportation, be it transit, cycling, walking or driving.
It is worth the read if you are into the social science and economics behind cities.