Wednesday, June 08, 2005

from sprawl to shining sprawl

the other day i finally watched i ♥ huckabees (which i absolutely loved). in the film, jason schwartzman's character is an activist who tries to create a coalition called "open spaces" to combat suburban sprawl, and mark wahlberg is a firefighter who rides a bike (never a gas-burning vehicle) because he is so upset about the world's petroleum dependency.

so it's probably natural that i immediately thought of i ♥ huckabees when i read this article about a study that places indianapolis as the #7 most expensive US city to drive in.

The hit you take in your pocketbook depends at least in part on where you live -- not only because gas prices range widely, but because commuting conditions do, too. So while California's gas prices are typically the highest in the nation, Southern cities top the list of most expensive places to drive.

Experts at Sperling�s Best Places looked at 84 major cities, factoring in not only the cost of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline, but also the number of miles driven by daily commuters and the effect of rush-hour congestion.

naptown's #7 ranking places us as more expensive than even "nightmare" driving cities like san francisco/oakland and the LA/long beach areas. the reason indy is so expensive for driving? urban sprawl.

i have driven in LA (though years ago), and when in the matrix reloaded they talk about how driving on the freeway is suicide, they're talking about LA's freeways. LA freeways are just nuts: constant congestion mixed with massive speeding. and gas prices in LA are 50 cents to a dollar more expensive than in indiana. but, at least according to this study, even though LA has 3-4x more people, and despite the fact that the whole region is almost 100% (sub)urban sprawl (seriously), indy ranks higher. because we apparently have even more sprawl.

i've spent some time in SF too, recently, and gas there is about as expensive as it is anywhere in the country. but the bay area does not sprawl in the same way. buildings and houses are so close together there that you can practically hear their shrieks of claustrophobia. this is likely caused, at least in part, by the fact that san francisco is an island, and land developers can't expand outward, so they have no choice but to cram everything in as tightly as they can. this is not so in indianapolis, where the metropolitan area seeps out across the region like fungus. in san francisco, with close proximity to everything and good public transportation, you can live quite well without ever getting inside a car (connie, who will continue to live there until late july, doesn't even have a driver's license). in indy, you can barely get from your house to the bank without a car, unless you're lucky enough to live near a bus route.

but i would be remiss (especially consideriny my previous post) if i just uncritically reported on this study without asking two important questions:

#1. what is the methodolgy for the study?

This study uses measures of gas usage and economy, such as the average number of miles drivers travel in each city and the average number of gallons each driver uses and wastes in traffic congestion each day. It was assumed that a typical family had two wage-earners, each commuting in separate vehicles. The total of federal and state tax rates varied from 35% to 42%, depending on the family�s income. Statistics were derived from the following studies: 2004 Urban Mobility Study by Texas Transportation Institute, the American Automobile Association (AAA) Fuel Gauge Report, 2004 Fuel Economy data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Tax Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.

uh-huh. i have to wonder whether the study factored in the fuel efficiency of the typical vehicle in each area. places with a lot of SUVs and other gas-guzzlers will obviously spend a fuckload more on gas/driving than places with lots of hybrid or electric vehicles. (you can see more details here)

question #2: who or what is sperling's best places?

In 1985, Bert Sperling developed a software program named "Places, U.S.A." which allowed people to enter their personal preferences to find their own best place. is a natural extension of our work over the last fifteen years regarding demographics, preferences, and the selection of "Best Places" to live, work, or retire.

Sperling's concepts and methodology have been the basic of numerous studies since 1985. Today, Fast Forward, Inc. (the producer of is responsible for more "Best Places" studies and projects than any other single organization.

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