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Discussion in 'The Observation Bar' started by GHT, Mar 21, 2015.
We have a free car ride service in our town (within town limits for town residents). We are a population of 6,000.
You need to schedule the day ahead and then wait until a town employee has the time, but it is great service.
When we were under a hurricane watch (one of those places where if the aftermath tracks to us, we will have severe flooding) they expanded free rides to the city above us so people could buy supplies like water, plywood, etc. (The hurricane tracked east of us.)
"First we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us," observed Marshall MacLuhan, echoing similar utterances from others, Winston Churchill among them.
If any technology, any "tool," has shaped and defined American culture, especially in the West, for a century and more at this point, it is the personal motor vehicle. With the exception of the centers of our oldest cities, we have built our world around cars. This has been both a blessing and a curse.
So what shall we do going forward, to make the best of the cards we hold? Self-driving cars could much reduce the need for the average suburbanite (that's most of us, by the way) to have a car or two of his own. Kinda makes sense, seeing how cars spend the vast majority of the time parked. So perhaps we subscribe to a service that sends a nearby vehicle to us when we need it. (Problem is, though, that absent other changes, peak demand times would remain peak demand times, so single occupants in self-driving cars would create most of the same problems we have now, with single occupants driving their own damn cars.)
People here in greater Denver moan and groan about traffic (while largely disregarding their own contribution to it), as they do in most metropolitan areas, but it's nothing compared to what drivers in many other American cities face on a daily basis. What we do have here, though, is a pretty darned effective public transit system, operating buses and an extensive light-rail network, which has prompted what is called "transit oriented development." A quarter mile or so from our nondescript suburban rambler are about 800 recently constructed apartments on what had been 15 acres of open land when we bought this place. Those apartments are immediately adjacent to a new light-rail station, with a multi-level parking garage. This is working out almost precisely as hoped.
Around the US, really, and Canada referred to them as "radial railways."
There was a time when one could hop from one train line to another (via a less than direct route, obviously) all the way from Chicago to New York City utilizing only interurban and heavy electric trains. They hit their heyday just before the First World War, and most were gone by the 1950's.
Most were poorly capitalized, side of a country road affairs that lasted less than ten years: easy to see why the automobile won out early over those. But some were engineered to steam road standards and featured heavily ballasted rights of ways. One in my region: the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin.
It originally entered the big city over the structure of the Garfield Park elevated line, but that ended when the L structure was razed to build an expressway. Service terminated then at a near suburban locale, where riders had to transfer to L trains (which ran in some places on temporary street level trackage) to the Loop. The whole passenger operation ended quite abruptly on Saturday, July 3, 1957: courts granted the railroad termination of all passenger service, stranding many commuters (in for a half day's Saturday work) without a way home. Freight service continued for a couple years, and the right of way is now, largely, the Illinois Prairie Path bike and pedestrian trail.
But the Roarin' Elgin wasn't a "trolley" as it utilized a third rail for power for its mainline service. Overhead wire was used entering the terminal cities of Elgin and Aurora, and in the main yard at Wheaton Illinois.
I've always fantasised about doing the US coast to coast (one way via the deep South and out of the way places, the other via the busier routes). A coast to coast high speed train would be very cool, if unlikely. Whenever prcticable here in Euopre, I prefer to take the train rather than fly.
So true, but my wife and I lived in a static caravan whilst saving for our home, something that others say shouldn't be tolerated. And when we did buy our first home in Forest Gate, E7, we could only borrow on the main earner's income. It was always assumed that the wife would quit work once the babies started arriving. The amount was never more than two and a half times the main earner's income. That income excluded bonuses, commission and overtime.
To give you a perspective, in 1968, I was earning about £1,500 pa. The house cost £3,500, I borrowed £3,000. The sums seem laughable today, but just consider this. If the two and a half ratio held sway today, as a young professional I would possibly starting on, let's be generous and say, £40,000. That means at two and a half times the main earners income, I could only borrow £100,000. That house is worth about £450,000.
We baby boomers didn't replicate our parents and have big families, on the contrary, the classic two point three kids was the norm. (although I 've yet to see a third of a kid.) So why has the population risen so sharply causing the demand on housing that has pushed house prices into the Stratoshere? The answer is highly political, so best keep my own counsel on that.
I haven't owned a car in 30 years, but am fortunate that living in NYC (and Boston for 8 yrs) offered me great local mass transit (with all the usual challenges of big systems, but still, they work) and access to Amtrak's Northeast corridor service which is, I think (I'm not putting myself out there as an expert, just a rail customer and fan) the only reasonably modern, reasonably on time, reasonably comprehensive (regular schedule with many options and stations where you really want them) train service in the US.
My business has taken me up and down the Northeast coast - Washington, Philly, NYC, Stanford, Newhaven and Boston - which are all well served by Amtrak's Acela. With the time to and from the airport and airport hassle figured in, I prefer the train (but to be fair, for the longer legs - like, Washington to Boston - flying is faster). Had we maintained and upgraded our existing 1950s national passenger rail system, we could have - as you ponder - good (or better) coast-to-coast service. Heck, there were two competing trains running multiple daily service from NYC to Chicago back then.
But we went in another direction and unless the political will gets much stronger (in truth, the people who vote have to demand it and be willing to pay for it), then I doubt we'll see much major improvement in national passenger train service in the US. Sure, the light rails are great (I'm a fan), but as can be seen from the always struggling high-speed-rail efforts that are attempted here or there - the people's (and, thus, political) will is just not there.
I'd prefer a high-speed rail over flying, too, given the choice. But I don't have the choice.
We'll have it eventually, I'm guessing. Connecting the major population centers up and down the West Coast and in the Great Lakes region via high-speed rail is long overdue already.
You know, I've often wondered why static caravans aren't used more as an answer to the affordable housing shortage. I suppse they take up a lot more space (compared to a block of flats) and for some there is an image problem, but a double-wide in a nice development would be at least as big as my flat in Whitechapel, at a feaction of the cost... I remember seeing a holiday let place in Berlin; a huge, airy city warehouse with a range of caravans laid out as in a park, for hire. All thejopy of the caravan but that bit more sheltered.... I'd be tempted!
That's the biggest problem here in London - prices have far outstripped earnings. I'm now on over three times a year what I earned when I bought the flat, and there's no way I'd be able to get a mortgage on it now on my salary.
It's horrific how sexist, and how recently, mortgage rules were in the past. Yet another reason so many women stayed with abusive partners, sadly. That at least is some small measure of progress.
In Seattle and environs some thousands of people live aboard boats. And many thousands more sleep most nights on dry land in motor vehicles of one sort or another.
It's been a couple decades since I opined, in a publication that served an area including the largest of the sanctioned "liveaboard communities" (a large marina owned by the Port of Seattle), that the very legality of living aboard boats pretty well exposed the lie that banning the practice of living in vans and old motorhomes and the like was all about safety.
What it was (and is) really about is class. Living aboard a boat carries with it a certain cachet, especially in a place as water-oriented as Seattle. And it comes at no inconsiderable expense. Living aboard might have been a more bohemian lifestyle a half century and more ago, but these days, unless that boat resident is anchored or tied up at one of the islands out in the sound (good luck holding down a job in town with a commute like that), the cost of moorage and amortizing the purchase of the boat itself can easily run into more than those knocking down mere five-figure incomes can handle.
There were once several trailer parks in Seattle. They've pretty well all disappeared now. (Can any people still living there tell me if that trailer park on Martin Luther King Way is still there? Or the one on Lake City Way? The ones way out on Aurora Avenue are all long gone, ain't they?)
In the more remote places in the region are many a trailer park, most with more or less permanently planted double-wides and still a few that allow travel trailers and motorhomes. I know some folks who live in such a place down by Olympia, in a fifth-wheel trailer. It's cramped, for sure, but no more so than living aboard a 30-foot sailboat. And it's a helluva lot less expensive.
My mother bought a house in 1968. Took her three tries to find a bank that would loan to a woman.
She made $50 a week at the time. (About $2,500 a year.) Her house was $8,000. (Average house prices were about 30k). She paid her 20 year mortgage off in 8 years. She sold it in 2008 for $85k. If her house had been in a higher growth place, it would have gone for much more.
The East side of London has always been on the lower end of the housing market, there are pockets of desirable districts, and the property prices reflects that, but as the cost of properties in the sought after districts of Central London rise inexorably, even childless couples, both on six figure salaries cannot afford to live there. As a consequence, they have chosen a much cheaper option by buying in East London, in a district known as Hackney, because it is close to Central London. The result of that gentrification is that a house like mine in Forest Gate, you couldn't give away in Hackney in 1968. Nowadays, a similar property in Hackney would realise between £1.3M to £1.5M. Shame we didn't buy in Hackney.
A lot of people regret not buying in Hsckney; even at the turn of 2001 it was very chep compared to elsewhere - but also stabby, not the hipster destination it has become. Price is, of course, the problem. The notion that there isa housing sortage is a myth; it is ashortage of *affordable* housing which is the problem. I don't expect that tp change while developers are free to build expensive developments and sell to thed highest bidder. We might see some surprising changes, though, if the international money-laundering trade were to be properly dealt with, given that's one of the major reasons so many over-priced, central London properties sit empty on a permanent basis.
My mother bought hers in 1967 for just about the same price -- using a no-money-down VA loan under my father's name (the only decent thing he ever did in his life.) But it was a dumpy little place, one of those shoddy postwar houses built out of beaverboard and box wood, and she's probably had to spend ten times that over the last fifty years just holding the place together. She still owes about 30G on the last loan she had to take out, a sum she won't live to pay off.
I'm a big fan of the Downeaster -- when I go to Boston, it's far far better than trying to drive, trying to find a place to park, trying not to kill anybody out of frustration. Sixty bucks round trip. You'd spend more than that on gas.
Agreed, when we lived in Boston, we took the Downeaster to Maine several times - great experience.
How far up does it go now? Back in the early '00s, it went up to Portland, then we moved back to NYC, but I know there were plans to take it much farther North -did that happen?
Separately, it's kind of crazy that the train from NYC to Boston and from Boston to Maine don't seem to connect as the NYC one comes into South Station and the Maine one leaves from North Station. Was it one continuous line at some point - probably back in the heyday of train travel? I've read in books that in the '20s- '50s people in NYC used to take the train to their Maine houses in the summer, but I never saw the switching or not switching trains in Boston issue directly addressed.
It goes to Brunswick, but every year there's talk of extending the run to Rockland, which would suit me just fine. The big issue remains negotiating a deal with the freight line that controls the Brunswick-to-Rockland stretch of tracks, and just when we think it's all set, something happens to screw it up. But hope springs eternal.
I took the train from Portland to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina once, and as I remember it, we switched trains in either Baltimore or Washington, but that was over thirty years ago and I have no idea what the route is now. There used to be a direct run on the Boston & Maine from Bangor to New York -- skipping Boston entirely by way of Worcester, but that's long gone.
Here in London there are canal boats, but yes, far from the cheap way ot live it seems to be once you taked into account mooring fees - really a lifestyle choice for those who are wealthy but wish to adopt an alternative way to live.
Maybe that's how it was done - bypassing Boston. I can't image there were tracks between those two Boston stations once, but were since removed - that would be crazy.
We took the Downeaster to Portland several times and to Old Orchard Beach once as well. It beat all heck out of driving up there (which we had done prior to the Downeaster offering service).
Your note about the freight-train-track-sharing issue is one Amtrak faces over most of its lines, which is another reason passenger train travel is so confused and, often, behind schedule. It would take a really big "rethink" and a massive commitment of political will, resources and, of course, money to build out a national high-speed train network in the US.
My mother's house had been officer's housing on a nearby base (they always thought), was moved and added to, and then, when a major highway was built, moved again. It was 500 square feet and while it had two bedrooms, one of the bedrooms was so small it didn't count as a bedroom when she sold it due to changes in code. It did sit on two acres, though.
The base closed and the economy which was already rust belt, went down the drain. The woman who bought it from my mother did so because she worked at the medium security prison less than a mile down the road and wanted something easy for a single woman to keep up. My mother was surprised, she thought she might get $50k if lucky.
It is the same here. There are plenty of homes for sale over 450k. These homes don't sell, they can sit on the market for months. The average salary here is 40k a year. Homes under 250k sell like hot cakes; days and they are gone, new build or not. But homes under 200k are completely non-existent. Empty 2 acre lots here cost nearly that much.