The Happy City and our $20 Trillion Opportunity

happycity-coverOne of the joys and frustrations of being an engineer who is also a hopeless dreamer, is that you can see the beauty of what the world could be, while also feeling the burden of every single thing that is in the way of achieving that beauty.

Envisioning this potential (and sometimes even having the opportunity to design some of it) is one of the greatest joys of being alive. But slamming up against the stubborn wall of society’s inertia, all day, every day, can lead to some displays of choice language.

If only we could grasp onto even a tiny fraction of the improvements that are hanging right in front of our faces, our society could bypass decades or centuries of pain, and billions of people could lead happier lives, starting this afternoon.

We can illustrate this problem perfectly with an example from right here in my home town. Take a look at this Google Maps satellite image of where Colorado Highway 287, (also known as Main Street) crosses over the St. Vrain Creek:


Colorado Highway 287 makes a lame leap across the creek.

It’s pretty boring, right? And that is exactly my point. It’s a boring, utilitarian bridge, in a blighted, shitty area of town dominated by parking lots, used car dealerships, traffic, and noise. When you drive along that part of 287, you don’t even notice you are crossing a bridge. It’s just part of the wide, flat road. And besides, you’re busy navigating the ugly, stressful terrain of dense traffic – passing through in a rush to get to somewhere nicer.

Now, I happen to bike right under this bridge quite often, because Longmont’s excellent St. Vrain Greenway path allows you whiz along through the whole town, bypassing all the trouble that the car drivers have to deal with above. Down on the bike path it’s just you, recharging your soul and your muscles, passing a few other cyclists and watching the crystal clear water as it flows over oval multicolored granite rocks, maybe a few ducks and geese building nests along the water’s edge.

In 2013, that Main Street bridge was partially destroyed, along with quite a few other things in town, by an enormous flood. So they decided to rebuild it. And I decided to follow along with the project, because hey, I’m an engineer.

What I learned is that building even the smallest, least noteworthy road bridge is a spectacular project. The engineering calculations alone cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The machinery involved would fill a football field, and the quantity of soil, steel, and concrete you need to move around is difficult to even comprehend. They have been working on this one insignificant bridge for over three years now, and I’m still waiting for the bike path to re-open.

Here's a peek under the bridge. Although you rarely look at this stuff, you definitely pay for it. Just post and beam like this consumes between 500,000 and 1 million pounds of concrete.

Here’s a peek under the bridge. Although you rarely look at this stuff, you definitely pay for it. Just that one post-and-beam support consumes between 500,000 and 1 million pounds of concrete – releasing equivalent pollution to about 150,000 miles of driving. I would need a bigger tape measure to estimate the whole bridge, but it would be many, many times more than this. Even a small bridge is a huge thing.

The total cost was estimated at 5.6 million dollars, which puts it roughly on par with, say, this 10-bathroom waterfront megamansion compound currently for sale in Florida:



And if you want a bigger bridge, like the flyovers with cloverleafs that get built every time two highways happen to interconnect, you can spend 100 times more.

How many megamansions will this cost us?

How many megamansions will this cost us?

Do you see the problem here?

This is exactly the same stuff I talk about in personal finance, except applied on a bigger scale.

The average American gets the most expensive car he can afford, and drives it as much as he can – for virtually 100% of trips out of the house. And yet he has a net worth of nearly zero, and subpar physical health, for most of his life.

The average American city builds the largest roads and parking lots it can possibly fund, maximizing the amount of available space for vehicles, in a noble attempt to reduce traffic and serve its citizens. But the result is that cities become nothing but wide, well-engineered, fast, deadly expanses of concrete. These are terrifying places for walkers and cyclists, which builds still more demand for more cars and more roads.

Let’s be clear here: I’m a capitalist, lifelong student of economics, pro-growth techno-utopian, and basically the opposite of a luddite. Efficient transportation is a huge wealth-builder for society, so we will always need bridges and fast roads. But these valuable resources will always be very expensive, so it makes sense not to waste them.

A transport truck full of factory components or food brings great wealth to Longmont when it crosses that bridge over the creek. The problem is the 400 single-occupant personal cars and trucks cramming up the rest of that road, full of people who are only driving because they don’t realize there is a better way.

Since even the most mundane bridge costs as much as a Mega Mansion, we are effectively building millions of mega-mansions mostly to to facilitate our clunky personal transport machines that are about 95% inefficient. And the whole reason we “need” cars in the first place is because we spread everything out by making our roads so big! It’s a circular problem.

Collectively, we spend almost half of our tax dollars on paving over our living spaces, or dealing with the consequences of the lifestyle created by that pavement.

The solution in both cases is so obvious, and yet almost nobody ever talks about it. In fact, many of us are still working to perpetuate and accelerate this stupidity.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people are passionately shopping around for new, better cars, and hundreds of American cities are planning enormous expansions of their road systems – new bridges, wider lanes, bigger parking structures. Politicians whine about our “crumbling infrastructure” and vow to rebuild it with emergency packages of deficit spending. Because we obviously need to build even more of it, even faster.

To Want Something Better, You Must Understand  the Core of Our Problem

Space for cars, or for people? Two ways to use a chunk of city land. (image credit: the happy city book)

Space for cars, or for people? Two ways to use a chunk of city land. (image credit: happy city)

When you’re born into a system, you come to think of it as normal. This was even true for me, growing up in an industrialized area and lusting after nice cars and motorcycles as I passed through my teens, feeling the frustration of heavy traffic jams and the joy of the open road.

But the quest for optimization led me naturally to bicycle transportation and minimizing car commutes, which led me to the study of urban planning, and the forehead-slapping realization that we’re doing everything wrong.

What it didn’t tell me, is how we got to this bizarre place. I mean, here are all of these relatively smart, wealthy people in this incredibly rich country, but our behavior is demonstrably self-defeating. What led us to this point, and how do we fix it?

Recently, I had the joy of reading a book about exactly this subject, from an author who has put much more thought and work into fixing it than I have. To put it moderately, it blew my mind.

Happy City, by Charles Montgomery, pretends to be a book about how cities are laid out, but you very quickly realize that it’s much more – a brilliant and thoughtful book about Everything that Matters – human happiness in the past, present, and future, and just how incredibly powerful our immediate environment is, in dictating this most important thing.

As you read through the book, which I have now done twice over the past six months (something I never do), you realize that city design strongly influences everything about our lives – our health, wealth, social networks, longevity, satisfaction and our tendency towards trust or violence which in turn even dictates how we will vote*.

And yet, for over 50 years we have been designing our cities in almost the most stupid, expensive, ineffective way possible. For example, did you realize that the following stuff is studied and well-documented around the world:

  • Building in the modern North American way (wide roads, big parking lots, wide lawns and plenty of space for every car) is the most expensive way that any group of humans have ever lived. We consume more concrete, water, pipes, wire, sidewalks, sign posts, landscaping, and fuel for this privilege.
  • But we don’t get any value for these dollars: we spend more time and money getting around than ever before, which leaves us with a chronic shortage of time to enjoy any potential benefits of dispersed living.
  • People who live in suburbs are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighborhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services, and places to work. This is because they have far fewer relationships with people who live nearby. And yet the overwhelming message of happiness research is that relationships with other people have the biggest influence on our happiness.
  • if 10 percent more people thought they had someone to count on in life, it would have a greater effect on national life satisfaction than giving everyone a 50 percent raise.

So we are getting a poor value for our money.

But how can it be a poor value if this is what people chose for themselves? It’s the free market at work, right?


This is the city Houten, just South of Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. You can't get around the city by car, because the roads don't connect in the middle. You'd have to drive out to the ring road to get across town. As a result, 66% of in-town trips are by bike. Also, a central train station whisks you to other cities if desired.

This is the city of Houten, just South of Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. You can’t get around the city by car, because the roads don’t connect in the middle. A car would have to to drive out to the ring road, and then back in the other side. As a result, 66% of in-town trips are by bike or on foot. Also, a central train station whisks you to other cities if desired. One of my life goals is that we – quite literally you and me – build a city like this here in the USA.

The book goes on to explain the history of suburbia, which I had never quite learned before:

  • Originally, we had big dense cities, small towns, and agricultural areas. The small towns were where people tended to be happiest.
  • Cities expanded to meet the desires of the workers: being close to work, but also having clean air and privacy like their small town counterparts. Housing was built at the edges in “street car neighborhoods” If you have ever walked around residential San Francisco, this is the basic feel.
  • When cars joined the picture, a consortium of GM, Firestone, Phillips Oil, Shell Oil, and Standard Oil bought up street car companies and shut them down. They also lobbied the government heavily and formed “Motorist Associations” to advocate for the rights of drivers – making driving more convenient and thus boosting driving demand for their products.
  • Cars were originally thought of as dangerous intruders in the city. If a driver killed a pedestrian with his car, it was a crime.
    The motorist associations pushed to change this balance: they sought to convince people that the problem of safety involved making sure people did not get in the way of cars.
    They invented the crime of “Jaywalking”, which is crossing a street somewhere other than a controlled crossing area.
    They pushed in the current legal arrangement, where if you kill a person with your car, it’s probably just a traffic violation. In some cases, it won’t be your fault at all as long as you were obeying the rules of the road.
  • Motorist associations also continually push for car-friendly policies like highway expansion, fighting against traffic tickets and speed traps, and even write articles like “Elon’s Carbon Con“, completely misunderstanding (or deliberately misrepresenting?) the entire purpose of Tesla – currently the world’s most influential company in the areas of clean energy storage and transportation.

That last bullet point strays into politics, because you get into a battle of freedom versus regulation. I personally feel that if in doubt, you should err on the side of freedom. And in this regard, the book brought up its most stunning point:

  • Our current city planning method is not the result of free market forces at all. It’s actually an incredibly strict book of regulations which separates functions – residential, commercial, and industrial. It also defines setbacks, lot sizes, intersections, and parking requirements. It is all standardized in a group of standard, downloadable regulations that most cities purchase from Municode, while the road design comes from the Federal Highway Association’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUCTD).
  • This is a self-replicating zombie of a system: every new town simply downloads and implements the existing book of rules without thinking about it, because “This is how things work in America”
  • But that original book of rules was built from an almost comical chain of events. The oil companies and motorist associations. Special interests and racism, like a regulation in Modesto, CA which banned clothes washing facilites from the main street, which happened to be run by Chinese people. The desire of rich people to keep away poor people (which is easy to do legally if you just ban duplexes and apartment buildings, or specify a minimum lot size as many suburbs do.
  • Highway subsidies, like the way we build roads with public money, lower the perceived cost of building a dispersed city. Mortgage subsidies from the federal housing association that made it easier to buy new houses than to restore or rebuild existing more central buildings.

This sounds pretty grim, but I look at it with optimism: if we have built this relatively wealthy society even with the boat anchor of horrible living design hanging around our necks, imagine how much wealthier we will become if we shed that useless burden for the next stage of our journey?

In fact, some people are already working on the project. A group called Strong Towns, run by a fiscally conservative engineer named Chuck Marohn, teaches cities about the folly of car-based expansion. From his career as a city planner, he has learned that the honeymoon of developer dollars and easy borrowing quickly fades to become a hangover of massive maintenance costs and low tax revenue. A densely packed city puts a lot of people, business, and money close together. With a dispersed city you get lots of maintenance costs but very few businesses per square mile.

A movement called “New Urbanism” started up in 1993 to bring back some aspects of people-friendly design. There are now neighborhoods popping up with these better design principles in every major city. In Mableton, Georgia they are actually reclaiming big parking lots to build useful islands of denser development, as shown in the earlier picture.

But it has been a long battle, because in order to make a place that is pleasant for people, you literally need to change or disobey the existing suburban building codes.

Here in Longmont, there is a street called “100 Year Party Court” and another called “Tenacity”, named by some frustrated New Urban developers who were dumbfounded by how ridiculous the existing road regulations were: “Why are they forcing us to waste space for THIS MUCH PARKING on the streetside – what are they expecting, some sort of 100-year-party?”

Thus, it is time to stop the madness and start rebuilding our ridiculous infrastructure in a smarter way.

The increase to our personal wealth may be larger than any other possible change we can make. We have about 9 million lane-miles of roads in the US, and over 5,000 notable bridges. It costs about $1 million per mile to make a single lane of road, which means we have at least $9 trillion of roads and $100 billion of bridges, before we even get into 500 million parking spaces, which cost about $4,000 each! 

By Mustachian standards, at least 90% – Ninety Percent – of this pavement is wasted. It’s just there to support the other sprawl, and because we have trained our citizens refuse to walk or ride a bike, even for short distances.

How To Fix It

The good news is that this can be fixed. The reason people keep perpetuating the pointless car model is that they are unaware there is any other option.

If you live in Orlando and want to go out for dinner, you see only a choice of driving, or a long, noisy walk alongside a six-lane road on a narrow grass shoulder. I was there last month and did the walk, noting that they had not even bothered with sidewalks. I could see how Orlandans would assume that cars are superior to walking, if this were their frame of reference.

Now that you know there is a better way, there are practical steps you can take as a citizen:

  • Stop supporting car sprawl with your money. If a potential house, job, or store is in an area that doesn’t support bikes or walking, simply don’t sign the contract.
    After all, would you buy a house in an area that was impossible to reach by road? Probably not, and in fact areas like this are generally called “Wilderness”  because so many people insist on roads.
    Reverse your priorities and insist on living somewhere designed for Humans. There are now thousands of places like this. It’s worth the small effort to find one.
  • If you’re starting or expanding your own company, do it in a walkable area. If the majority of your employees will have no choice but to drive to work, that’s a bad place to start a business.
  • Start voting against any road expansions in your region. Somewhat counter-intuitively, road expansions never alleviate traffic jams – they only make them worse.
    The only solution to traffic is to get people out of their cars. Luckily, this solution also costs less and builds the wealth of your local economy rather than draining it.  Road expansion is to a city like candy and cookies are to your body. It has also been described as “trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt”
  • Channel that money you would have spent on roads – 100% of it – into bike paths, road diets, parks, central city redevelopment and “upzoning”.
  • Fight the “Not in My Back Yard” tendencies of most people, who object to new buildings or higher-density living near where they live. What these people are probably afraid of is not the presence of more people, but the car traffic they would bring. So, support more density, but only if it discourages cars.
  • Push for the removal of minimum parking requirements for new construction. Every time somebody wants to create a new building or business, our traditional building code system forces them to waste a bunch of money and precious land on parking spaces, which sit empty most of the time.
    It makes much more sense to use that extra land for more businesses and housing, eliminating the vast distances that encourage people to drive in the first place. Car parking would be a niche market, built by private companies and charged out at market rates.
  • And of course, just start walking and biking wherever you can. In a dense city, and even in US-style suburban sprawl, a bike will get you there faster than a car most of the time. Sure, there are a few spots that are truly unsafe for bikes, but even right now, with today’s infrastructure, we could eliminate at least 75% of town and city traffic overnight.
    For example, here in Longmont, biking is safe and efficient to 100% of possible destinations, at least 350 days of the year. But bikes represent less than 0.5% of the traffic I see on the roads.
    Every time you drive within a town, you destroy a bit of the feeling of community. Every single time you walk, you build the community, and advertise the idea of walking to every person who sees you.

As I learned from this book, urban planning is far from just a geeky niche topic – it’s really the foundation of most of our wealth and personal happiness.

We can improve everything about our lives, if we all understand a bit about how to arrange our living spaces. So I’ll see you out there this afternoon, as we start making some arrangements.

* (people who have weak bonds with their immediate neighbors will trust them less – and will also disproportionately vote for things like nationalist, anti-trade, anti-immigration policies and be worried about terrorism – sound familiar?)

Here’s a cool passage on this subject from the book:

“Imagine that you dropped your wallet somewhere on your street. What are the chances you would get it back if a neighbor found it? A stranger? A police officer? Your answer to that simple question is a proxy for a whole list of metrics related to the quality of your relationship with family, friends, neighbors, and the society around you. In fact, ask enough people the wallet question, and you can predict the happiness of cities.”

  • EDSMedS February 10, 2017, 2:33 pm

    The Federal Transit Administration, where I work, had a great book club on this book last year. We are one of the more-hippy modes of the DOT so it was a choir of agreement. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is one strategy that we are pushing to ensure that cities are organized around PEOPLE instead of cars, which means that we try to inject transit planners into commercial and residential development plans.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:17 pm

      Glad to hear the planners are reading this book!

      The only minor objection I have is that transit-oriented design still seems to assume the majority people cannot walk or bike at all – because they are starting with the assumption that we can’t change our current culture.

      What I really want is to convert the majority of people into Badass Mustachians who will gladly ride through a blizzard and would never think of taking any transit for trips less than 2 miles.

      Then allow our transit dollars to be amplified to better serve the people who CAN’T walk or ride, and make non-special-needs buses more of a high-speed thing for getting between more distant regions.

      • Breeze February 11, 2017, 7:10 am

        There are pockets of forward-thinkers like this in lots of federal agencies, as I can confirm as an employee in a forward-thinking pocket of the most maligned of federal agencies under the current administration….

        • lurker February 13, 2017, 3:14 pm

          last time I was in Montreal it was about -20 with windchill and I was amazed at the number of bikers I saw….we walked everywhere and it was not crowded on the sidewalks but folks were out

      • Dan February 11, 2017, 8:16 pm

        I live 8 miles from my workplace (downtown Minneapolis). I bike three seasons of the year, and could bike the fourth if I wanted to shell out for studded tires and some winter gear (and if they stopped putting so much salt on the trails, which ate one of my bicycles).

        But my chances of convincing my neighbors and coworkers to bike with me are MUCH lower than my chances of convincing them to take the bus.

        There will always be those who can’t or won’t bicycle or walk. But a large chunk of those people might take a bus or train.

      • Ryan February 23, 2017, 4:56 am

        I bought this book a couple years ago while between jobs and it’s what opened the door for me on viewing cities in a new light. My training isn’t anywhere near urban planning, but the book looked interesting… so I bought it. Certainly well-worth the money, as it opened my eyes to how we can use urban planning to maximize personal and communal happiness and he introduced me to “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” I had never heard of Jane Jacobs before, but I was so happy to find her. Her diagnosis -in the late 1950s and early 1960s! – of the problems with how American cities were being (re-)built remains so very salient.

        A city lives and breathes with, by, and through its people and vice-versa. If one begins to suffer, so does the other. Good planning should ensure neither suffers – and urban planners (and policy makers, in particular) would do well to remember primum non nocere, first do no harm.

        Thanks for the article!


        • Courtney March 4, 2017, 1:59 pm

          Thanks for the Jane Jacobs reference – she really started the new urbanism movement. I haven’t read “Happy City” but have read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” and definitely recommend “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.”

          I’m lucky to live in an inner suburb of DC – Delray Alexandria – that is a walkable community itself* and is a 7 mile door to door bike ride on paved trails to my work.

          * I’ve been living here almost ten years and one of the most disturbing changes has been the elimination of businesses serving low-income people – the local laundromat was closed a couple of years ago and converted into a Walgreens (so unless you have a car or onsite laundry, not a viable location) at the same time one of the biggest apartment buildings was closed for renovation – which forced out all of the minority tenants. It reopened with upgrades and much higher rents – so when I moved in there was a very diverse population taking advantage of walkable neighborhood services and I had a lot of pedestrians on my street, now if you can’t afford the new rents you need to find another place to live. Pedestrian traffic on my street has dropped off significantly and the pedestrians I see are young, white couples with either a stroller or a dog (or both).

      • Ash April 10, 2017, 8:38 pm

        I watched a great talk by Tony Seba recently on the self driving car technology disruption and how much better our roads could be by taking the driver and the need for parking out of the equation. It’s not everyone biking everywhere, but part of the realistic ultimate solution.

    • Sean Merron February 10, 2017, 8:22 pm

      I’m curious because of where you work, rather than expanding a road, what other options are the most effective in reducing traffic?

      • Sam February 13, 2017, 9:15 am

        Remove the road.

      • Dean February 14, 2017, 9:42 pm

        The idea is that road widening almost never actually improves traffic owing to a concept called “induced demand.” Since driving on (most) roads is free, the only real cost is the cost of traffic. So if a widening happens, there’ll briefly be a drop in congestion that will then quickly erode away as more cars pile in until traffic is as bad or worse than it was before. A better explanation is here: https://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/all/1

        The modern trend is to widen the scope of the project so that the goal is no longer “increase automotive throughput” but to instead go for “allow more people to get where they need to go.” That mixes in transit, better walking/biking, and sometimes road improvements depending on the specifics.

      • Carlita February 20, 2017, 11:11 pm

        Hi Sean, I grew up in southern California (where i learned to drive) but hadn’t been back there for more than 5 years. On my recent trip last month I noticed that many lanes of the typical 8-lane-wide highways had been converted into carpool only. Not just one lane, but like two whole lanes with their own on and off ramps. I couldn’t help but think how effective it would be to only leave two out of the eight lanes for single occupant cars and have six lanes devoted to car pools and cargo. The rush hour traffic there (San diego and Los Angeles) sucks so badly already that it wouldn’t seem worse with such a lane reasignment change–the only thing that would seem different would be how open, congestion-free and quickly moving the 6 carpool lanes would appear. Empty at first anyway because I think it would be a powerful motivation to carpool without much infrastructure change to the existing roads. I suppose that in a smaller town, changing two lane roads ( both ways so total of 4 lane widths) into single lane two way traffic with huge bike lanes and new parking spots if need be) would be a similar equivalent. I actually experienced this in my smaller home town on the fringes of San Diego during this same trip and although i had to pay more attention as a driver on these now-narrower streets AND slow down, it was an attractive, modern change to the neglected beach town I remembered as a teen.

    • Another Reader February 12, 2017, 6:19 pm

      Public transit is a joke in most areas. TOD in San Jose means building high density housing near light rail – which goes nowhere people need or want to go. As a result, thousands of new cars clog the streets and highways because the housing is the only product available in quantity, particularly at the lower end of the price range. People don’t give up their cars, they just pay more to park them.

      Rather than build high density housing, it’s time to preserve low density by putting up the “Sorry, full” sign. Otherwise we will be paying the price for these density decisions for decades to come.

      • Mr. Money Mustache February 13, 2017, 2:06 pm

        I disagree with this – the public transit in all of Silicon Valley has been great to me. That, combined with a bike, allows you to get around faster than a car. On average, people living in Transit-oriented areas do drive much less than those who live out in the suburbs. So that is a win.

        But there is definitely a problem if you increase density in a city and the new people show up expecting to drive cars around the city. Since car driving always expands to reach an equilibrium where it’s sufficiently inconvenient, I think the solution is to keep shrinking the road network to reduce the impact on the people who are actually living properly in the city – walking and biking.

        • Another Reader February 13, 2017, 8:15 pm

          Then no one will want to live here. People live here for access to nearby fun places – the beach, the mountains, sporting venues, whatever. Not to walk around a crowded neighborhood with only a community park open to anyone for their kids to play in.

          When density was much lower and cars were rare, public transportation worked. Street cars in San Francisco, trains and ferries (including the old Key system from the East Bay to San Francisco), and trains along the Peninsula were quite effective. My grandfather used to commute by train from Los Altos to his corporate controller job in San Francisco in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. He and his friends played bridge in the bar car on the way home to his acre lot next to the chicken ranches. He walked home from the station. Nice way to live.

          Once people discovered the automobile and the personal freedom it gave them, their desire to travel to other places took over. It became possible for middle class people to move out of the crowded city and live someplace more pleasant and less stressful. Public transportation evolved into marginal services for people that could not afford cars.

          Today, we have the legacy bus systems, and BART in the inner Bay Area for the wage slaves. Nobody takes public transit unless they have to. BART trains are dirty, crowded, and stink of human urine. I remember going on a school field trip to see the first BART car in the mid-60’s. The tour guide exclaimed how great it would be because everyone would have a seat. No one would stand when Bart went into service! Didn’t quite work out that way.

          People evolved living in small villages, or tribes. You propose the urban tribe as the substitute. I don’t think most people want that. They want their freedom to travel and they want to live in safe, peaceful neighborhoods , not in densely populated cities where they have no sense of community.

          You live in a fairly unique area. Longmont is a relatively low density, self contained city with easy access to goods and services. Suburban lifestyle combined with city convenience. The way you wish to live makes sense there, as it did in the Bay Area cities in my grandfather’s time. That type of city no longer exists in heavily populated places, such as LA and the Bay Area.

          In the next major downturn, all the younger high income working people that are stuck in the high density housing here will move out, as they lose their jobs and their ability to survive here. The housing will deteriorate and perhaps eventually be absorbed by lower income folks. Another ring of urban decay could easily develop. Whatever happens, I don’t think it will be pretty.

          • Kevin February 16, 2017, 4:04 pm

            In San Francisco (and other major metropolis’s) it is easy to use a getaround, rent-a-car or carpool with friends to all the wonderful places in Northern California.

            It is much easier and faster to use a combination of biking, Caltrain/Bart and Lyft/Uber in San Francisco than it is to own a vehicle. With technology such as lyft/uber the cost of ownership is being tipped in favor of the sharing economy.

            Also, what affect do you see autonomous vehicles playing in design of cities? Is there a discussion/article on MMM about this topic? I see a lot of discussion around fixing current issues with current solutions. However, we are underestimating the role of new technologies on our transportation and experience within cities. Think of the impact of GPS, Iphones, and Lyft/Uber on how people get around? This was almost unimaginable just 5-15 years ago.

          • Michelle February 16, 2017, 7:00 pm

            I don’t really get the comment that the light-rail in SJ doesn’t go anywhere people need or want to go or that people only take light rail if they ‘have to’. Says who? As I think the thousands of riders each day (including myself) that use light-rail to commute to work are living proof that it does serve a purpose and is a choice we make, not because we ‘have-to’. I could drive in but we purposely bought a home near a light-rail station so both my husband and I could rely on public transportation as much as possible. There are multiple major employers on or near light-rail (CISCO, ADOBE, PAYPAL, etc) but employees need to be willing to give up some personal freedom, walk a little, and/or plan their time around transit schedules to utilize public transportation in order to reap the benefits.

          • AH February 16, 2017, 8:25 pm

            I regret to have to bust your bubble about why people chose cars over the using the fabulous light rail system that was the Key Route. At the core was a conspiracy among Firestone, Standard Oil and General Motors to buy up small transit and streetcar systems and close them to promote auto travel.

            They were indicted for conspiracy and convicted in 1949.

            The co-conspirators appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, lost, and were forced to pay the ridiculous $5000 fine. In the meantime, the damage had been done and the Key Route and similar transit lines nationwide) was dead as a dormouse. And that is how the Key Route (and light rail systems around the country) was disbanded.

            ” The United States still bears untold scars from the American streetcar swindle. The once profitable system of privately-held independent electric-powered urban transit was destroyed, giving cities the choice between government-subsidized transit or no service at all. An economical, efficient, and non-polluting transit system has been replaced with one that is more expensive, less-efficient, and highly polluting. The American taxpayer has paid the price ever since. ”

          • Eric February 19, 2017, 3:31 am

            I wouldn’t speak for everyone by saying no one wants density. I and many other people love living in dense areas, where all my needs are a short stroll away. This is not currently well met in the current sprawl of the peninsula – the downtowns need more density, which can leave other areas less dense.

            I also would be very careful of assuming why everyone wants to live there. You didn’t even mention the wonderful weather! But also, there’s a bustling tech scene, lots of interesting work, and intelligent coworkers. There’s a great culinary scene (which is supported by the increased density and high salaries). There’s nice public works. The public transit, while terrible compared to NYC, is one of the better systems in the US.

            So, many of the things you don’t like are actually reasons other people like the area. The key (which The Happy City goes into) is offering a variety of options for people – very dense downtowns, and less dense surrounding areas, as well as a variety of transit options.

            I still ride home on the train, and walk from the station home, and it’s still a nice way to live. You’re right that we could invest in making the public transit better, I would be all for that! Making it so that Caltrain electrification doesn’t get blocked by the NIMBYs would be a great start.

          • FrugalLawyer February 19, 2017, 3:35 pm

            I live in the Bay Area (Berkeley), and just a few counterpoints. My husband and I moved here from New York and decided to hold off on buying a car to see if we could make it without one. We could afford a car; we just lost our desire to drive after living in New York. Three years in we are still car free, and it has been great. There are so many beautiful places to hike that are accessible by bike, BART, ferry, or some combination of those three. You don’t miss out on the Bay Area beauty just because you don’t have a car. If there is a place we want to go to that is farther away that requires a car, we often go with friends and carpool in one car. Or if no one in the group has a car, we share a Lyft or rent a car.

            We even went down to Monterey two years ago without a car. We used Amtrak, which brought us into downtown Monterey. From there, we biked 17-mile drive, the sand dunes (more of a bike/walk, depending on the area), and walked all over town. We did rent a car for one day to drive into Big Sur, although we saw a number of bikers on our way in. We spoke with one who was biking down to Los Angeles, and it sounded like quite an adventure.

            I BART to work, and while BART has its share of problems, it moves a tremendous number of people through the Bay Area daily. No part of me wants to drive to work, even though where I work would allow me to do that.

            It has been my experience living in both New York and in the Bay Area that your community becomes the area immediately around you in a densely populated area. We see our neighbors at our local grocery store (some of them even work there), chat with the people on our block, and regularly bike to lunch and dinners with friends who live nearby. This was also true in the Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods where we used to live (except replace biking with subway riding and walking).

            We may crack one day and buy a car, but so far a car seems like an unnecessary headache. I would be happy with less road space and more bike lanes.

            • Marcia February 21, 2017, 10:54 am

              This was a wonderful testament to attitude and figuring out what works for you. I’ve visited the Bay Area numerous times (have friends in Mountain View and Fremont and elsewhere).

              A few things that have struck me:
              – Friends who biked to work were happier. They can’t always do this, because of job changes.
              – As far as “things to do”. One of the things my friend said, as we visited, is HOW HARD it is to get out and *do* things. Because if you want to hike, or go to a park, or do some of the “free” things in the Bay Area, the parking lots fill up by 8 am.

              Now, first, that kind of sounds like hell. So many people.
              But second – if you remove yourself from the requirement to use a car, then it opens up options. If you don’t have to park, you end up with a little bit of extra freedom.

              MMM has covered that in other posts. I’m specifically remembering one where he was visiting home and parked a mile away from “wherever” for free, vs. paying for parking.

            • RR February 21, 2017, 5:56 pm

              A very long time ago, I lived for a year in the San Francisco Bay Area. No cars, but had a bike. From a transit point of view, the Bay Area was perfect. I lived close enough to be able to walk to work. Almost every weekend, I’d see what fun things I could do using public transit. Absolutely no need to worry about parking. I’d take the BART, the buses, MUNI, Caltrain. It did require planning ahead as well as extra time. I even took Amtrak + buses all the way to Truckee/Tahoe as well as Yosemite. What fun! I miss those days.

            • Courtney March 4, 2017, 2:25 pm

              Same. I lived in SF for three years and never had a car. Moved from SF to DC and didn’t get a car for the first four years I lived here. Sure, riding the metro to PetCo and riding back with XX pounds of kitty litter on your lap isn’t the most convenient thing, but it worked.

              When I lived in Dupont Circle, got a hand-me-down car and an apartment with a parking space in the back. Only ended up using it a handful of times.

              It wasn’t until I bought a house in upper Northwest that I thought I would need a car – but with parking at my workplace in Georgetown being $300+ a month – decided I didn’t need to drive. Bought a small scooter that I could park on the sidewalk and that became my main transport for the rest of the time I lived there.

          • Bennett February 22, 2017, 1:30 pm

            The most dense areas of the country are usually the most expensive. Thinking like an economist (or someone who took economics in high school), we might infer that demand for housing in dense places is greater than demand for housing in sprawl. The Lower East Side of Manhattan, Portland, Capitol Hill in Seattle, Dupont Circle in DC, San Francisco, Berkeley, even Downtown LA of late – high density, high demand.

            • TomTX February 26, 2017, 8:05 pm

              Yep. People want to live in well designed, dense, walkable areas.

        • Ethergal February 14, 2017, 10:39 am

          San Jose needs to put jobs along the light rail, not the housing. People can figure out how to get on the transit from their homes and they will have a useful destination! Seems to me they persist in doing it backwards.

        • Dean February 14, 2017, 9:50 pm

          Thanks for this. I get frustrated by the idea that crops up in many NIMBY circles that their area is “full” and so no one new should be allowed to live or work there. It’s a huge loss for society at large to deny people interesting, high paying, high skill jobs just because folks who bought houses there a few years back (when it was somehow not full) don’t like the idea of having more neighbors. Congestion concerns are valid, but its part of life that you can’t control the rest of the world around you.

          I’m a liberal person, but urbanism is a great nonpartisan field where my interest in affordable housing and economic opportunity match well with conservatives and libertarians who want to increase the freedom of individuals to live where they want and develop property how they want.

  • Chris February 10, 2017, 2:37 pm

    My wife read a great book titled Walkable Cities that had a lot of the same points. The safest, healthiest, happiest cities look at how to encourage walking and biking first.

    While I do have some concerns that the self-driving Uber fleets will encourage *more* ridership, I’m fascinated by the potential of what those cars could do in terms of increasing green space.

    With safer self-driving cars, we could do with fewer lanes and even stop building driveways. Who needs a driveway if you don’t own a car?

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:20 pm

      I agree with this too – While Uber has been a great thing for making it easier to ditch your personal car, people are still using it in an inefficient way.

      Since October 2016 I’ve been doing a secret Uber Driving experiment myself, and the majority of the rides I have provided have been ridiculous – people going a mile or two within the city, often in heavy traffic. They could have easily gotten to their destination faster and cheaper by bike.

      • Chris February 10, 2017, 8:58 pm

        We downsized to one car about a year ago – Uber has been nice for me to bridge the gap on the three exceptions in the last 12 months where we failed to make things work with the single car. In two of the cases I needed to get home quickly (from an 8 mile distance) and one was to go 20 miles away for an off-site work meeting. The $45 total I spent on Uber rides last year was well worth the savings in insurance and registration from dropping down to 1 car.

        I’m assuming your experiment will turn into a post someday – looking forward to it!

        • Pierre Riteau February 11, 2017, 9:08 am

          In addition to insurance and registration, don’t forget to include depreciation and cost of capital (that’s how much your money would earn if you sold the car and invested the proceeds of the sale). Depending on how recent and expensive the car is, these can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars every year. Enough to get a heck of a lot of Uber rides!

          All these costs are very well explained on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_costs

          • Bill February 12, 2017, 6:56 am

            Those costs can similarly be applied to a perhaps more expensive mortgage for a comparable house closer to work.

      • TNuke February 13, 2017, 5:21 pm


        Have you done a post on your Uber Driving experiment? If not, get thee to the keyboard. It sounds fascinating.

      • GingerMustache February 18, 2017, 5:52 pm

        I think it’s so great that you’ve been doing a secret Uber Diving experiment. Can’t wait to read more about it. :)

      • Ginny March 16, 2017, 9:10 am

        There are also some interesting new offerings that will likely be much better than Uber in revolutionizing traffic in cities. They are similar to Uber’s original idea of personalized pickups but more like a bus route that can pick up and move more people all at once. Uber is even now starting to expand into ‘bus’ like options.

        One new company is Loup: http://www.recode.net/2014/12/2/11633422/loup-the-love-child-of-uber-and-a-bus-service

        There are also ones focused on using actual buses and not just cars: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/09/company_says_new_app_saves_commuters_up_to_hour_a.html

        So very exciting that bus options could expand based on demand, which could help tip people to use more public transportation.

        • Mark Schreiner May 28, 2021, 9:01 am

          In the Dominican Republic 20 years ago (and probably in many other countries), the majority of cars on the road were independent personal cars (“microbuses”) (or mini-buses, or full-size buses) that took passengers as a business. Uber was not needed because if you needed a ride, you would stand on the curb and lift your hand slightly, and within a few seconds a “public car” would slow down just enough for you and the driver to figure out if you were going the same way. If so, you would squeeze into the economy-size car (unless it as a mini-bus or full-size bus). Pure libertarian “public” transport run by individual private people. Very inexpensive, although you did have to smoosh in a back seat with four to six sweaty, poor strangers (which took exactly one ride to get used to).

          What prevents that in the United States or other richer countries now? I am guessing “regulation” due to the “car industrial complex”, as well as to rich, white people’s being unwilling to use public transport and thus be in “close contact” with the poor and people of color. At least in the United States, aversion by rich whites to public transport is in no little measure due to racism and “povertyism”.

          In my US city today, the buses on main street were replaced a huge expense with a street car that–except for riding on rails–functions exactly the same as the buses it replaced. The difference between the “street-car bus” and the traditional buses running parallel routes six blocks to the east is that rich, white people are willing to get on the street car (but not the bus) to get from their midtown homes to their downtown jobs. To ice the cake of ridiculousness, the street car is free, and the traditional buses are not.

          I submit that in the United States, racism and “povertyism” was and is the main factor driving the expansion into spread-out suburbs. While changing attitudes towards walking and biking is a large part of reducing sprawl and the costs of clown-car culture and improving happiness in general, in my view the main cultural change is that rich, white people need to be big boys and girls and stop imposing very high life-prices on everyone so that they can avoid being “close” to the poor or people of color.

          I say, “Get rich by not being racist and scared of poor people.”

      • Jon March 29, 2017, 1:17 am

        Is your secret driving experiment going to be coming as a blog? I’d really like to hear MMM take on being a driver. On the surface, seems like a decent way to make some extra cash.

    • David February 10, 2017, 7:14 pm

      I watched a video on YouTube on how a typical family lives in Tokyo and I was very impressed. You can actually live in an outlying area of the city for a fairly reasonable price that is walkable to everything you need and with good transit to get to jobs anywhere in the city. There is a lot of freedom to build your house how you want and on really small lots. There is zoning but Residential can be built in almost any zone.

      • Chris February 10, 2017, 9:00 pm

        That’s really cool – I’ll have to check it out if I can find that video. One of my biggest annoyances where we live is the “minimum square footage” restrictions in our subdivisions – we love our location but would like to move out of this 1800-square-foot mansion and into something smaller – we’re thinking 900-1000 square feet for our family of 5.

        Zoning restrictions in our area mandate at least 1400 square feet unless we build out in the country. We might be taking that option if we can find a reasonable lot off the bike path…

        • Marek February 11, 2017, 9:36 am

          I believe this is the video David is talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGbC5j4pG9w&t=324s

        • MrFrugalChicago February 11, 2017, 12:33 pm

          Can you build the 1400 square feet and rent out a few rooms? Beat the man and save some cash.

          • Chris February 11, 2017, 3:35 pm

            Good thought!

            With three young kids, I’m hesitant to go that route at this point (ref the article point above about people in the suburbs not being as trusting of others), but it’s definitely intriguing for the future!

            We’ve also looked into building a multi-unit (duplex, etc), living in one and renting out the others since the square footage requirements are less for multi-unit.

            • Anne February 13, 2017, 12:12 pm

              How about a high school exchange student in your extra space? Host families usually receive a stipend and the cultural education could be terrific.

        • Technojunkie February 11, 2017, 1:06 pm

          Would building a duplex work around this restriction? Either rent the second unit or offer it to family. This can be a very good option to look after elderly parents. It doesn’t have to be a completely separate unit if it’s for family either, just enough for some privacy. Families can save a ridiculous amount of money this way.

        • Dave February 23, 2017, 4:43 pm

          I have always wanted to buy a piece of property and break it up into small lots and build realistic sized houses 500 – 1000 ish square ft that are centered around community shared amenities and spaces. I am not talking about tiny houses on trailers or shacks but some quality modern or Victorian style houses built to quality standards. It started out as something I wanted to do for my family and friends all pitching in and helping each other build a house for each other but each time I have tried to find a piece of property or a local municipality I have been shot down by regulations on square footage or building codes.

          I feel your frustration and thought with the tiny house movement that I might have more traction and tried to locate somewhere this last summer and was shot down unless I want to go way out in the boonies.

          • Heidi Alexander March 3, 2017, 7:15 am

            I want to undertake a similar project and have also hit walls. The demand for walkable, affordable cities/towns is growing. Currently I live in a lovely, walkable Denver neighborhood. My home is a whopping 1,970 s.f. Way too much for a single person. I hoped to divide it into 2-3 units, but the restrictions make it close to impossible (as intended). Cities and towns that re-think these restrictions may become the next hottest real estate markets and will benefit from a larger tax base.

          • Alyn March 22, 2020, 10:32 am

            I’ve had a similar dream. Some places have started to allow “pocket neighborhoods” as a zoning alternative. Look for Ross Chapin’s website, high quality small house plans, and books.

      • Mick February 19, 2017, 6:12 pm

        This is one thing (of very many) that I noticed and loved about Japan. Housing is fairly dense, and zoning seems to be mixed use with residential and retail mixed together pretty much everywhere. I also noticed walking/biking routes throughout most of the towns and cities. Allowing one to mostly bypass the roads in many cases. Roads and lanes are also unbelievably narrow (from my US perspective) but people generally drive smaller cars.

        Also a large percentage of people walk, bike and public transportation (mostly trains). I love seeing the Salaraymen in suit and tie, riding a bicycle to work, deliveries by bicycles that are built for transport, and mothers on “mamasan” bikes decked out to transport children, groceries, etc.

        I am also constantly amazed at the many products one finds in Japan that are aimed at space savings and efficient use of space.

        However, I think a lot of the enabling factors are based on cultural differences of respect, group-orientation and collectivism vs. individualism. Many U.S. citizens somehow equate car with freedom, and giving that up is a hard sell.

      • Miaim February 19, 2017, 6:54 pm

        You forgot how dense Tokyo is – and whether the typical American family would even consider doing something similar (besides New York). Having said that Japan is very efficient in their transport.

        • Mick February 20, 2017, 4:19 pm

          Yes, this is true. The population density does make it easier, but I see this in smaller cities and towns in Japan as well.

          I also notice huge disincentives to driving:
          -In my experience, most of the regular roads seem to have a 40 KPH limit (making the car less advantageous for short trips).
          -The expressways are quite expensive to drive. For example, toll from Tokyo to Kyoto (500 KM) is about 10,000 Yen (close to $100). Factor in the high cost of fuel and the Shinkansen starts to look pretty good.

          If tolls were this expensive in the U.S. the protests would make the anti-Trump protesters look like children.

  • Scott February 10, 2017, 2:39 pm

    When I thought it would not be possible to like this blog any more than I already do . . . you write a post about parking minimum requirements and walkable urban design–I love it!

    In addition to all the enormous costs of car-centric cities that you mentioned, another big one is air pollution. Air pollution doesn’t get the attention it deserves because only some types are visible. Other types, like ozone pollution, which is a huge problem where I live, are odorless and invisible. People don’t realize the harm they are experiencing, and there is almost no way to get away from it! Most of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that turn into ozone come from vehicle emissions and, at least where I live, most of the rest comes from oil & gas operations, which are mostly needed to feed the cars! If we built cities for people instead of for cars, then we would reap huge health benefits from cleaner air.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:24 pm

      Another great point! The exhaust from gas-powered cars adds up REALLY fast, and I am amazed that we allow them inside our cities. Driving right past our houses, schools, hospitals.

      Thinking about the health statistics and direct costs, it’s a much bigger deal (and easier for everyone to agree on) than the CO2 issue. This is why former California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger focuses his nice rants on pollution instead of climate change:


    • Mackenzie February 10, 2017, 3:33 pm

      I agree Scott – when I saw this post, my heart fluttered!

      Your comment reminded me of this article about Stockholm’s air quality (which was pretty good to begin with). When they introduced congestion pricing (to reduce unnecessary traffic in the city centre), the air quality improved so kids have fewer asthma attacks (especially over the long term).


      So walkable communities benefit us over both the short term (exercise) and the long term (fewer chronic medical conditions)!

      • Ingolf February 11, 2017, 5:23 am

        A complementary way to do this was to tax the benifit of corporate parking lots. Now as a tax-over-burdened Swede, I don’t like taxes very much, but when the employers at my former company were forced to report the benefit of the indoor parking lot to the tax authority, the nice indoor garage half emptied out and a LOT of people remembered that the subway station was less than 300 metres from the office. Since I rarely parked there I do not know the assumed value at my office, but generally it was set to the value of paid parking in the area and thus differed. More in central locations and big cities and less in places with less congestion. So it would increase the cost for cars in densely populated (or officed) areas and do little in smaller towns with less traffic. Not perfect, certainly not popular, but rather efficient since the companies offering the free parking lost nothing by reporting which workers parked or not. The individuals paid. Of course, those who took the subway instead of the car generally came out ahead financially.

  • Rob February 10, 2017, 2:42 pm

    What a great article! This will become even more important as car-sharing and driverless cars become more prevalent. City building has an inherent lag, so cities that can anticipate that and make these changes will have a huge advantage. A question for everyone – what are the cities in America that are built like this right now? Off the top of my head, I can think of Longmont and Boulder in CO, Kirkland in WA, and some of the designed Florida panhandle towns.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:27 pm

      Just to be clear Rob, Longmont is still built as a car-sprawl-topia, if you take a look on Google Earth.

      In the last 15 years, we have done a lot of development of bike paths and bike lanes, but it is still only a TINY fraction of the pavement.

      Boulder is better – I have heard (but cannot confirm) that they spend more on bike infrastructure than they do on roads, every year for the last decade. They have a beautiful setup over there, and it is music to my ears every time a car driver complains about “Boulder Traffic” – dude, there is no traffic at all in Boulder, because you should never, ever drive a car in that city. It’s always faster to bike.

      • JeninCO February 11, 2017, 9:28 pm

        It’s especially faster to ride if you count “parking” — many business places have bike parking right in front — and good luck finding car parking. It’s my near-favorite — tootle over on a bike, lock it up within (at most) a half block from the business, do my business, head off!

      • Jeff February 14, 2017, 12:48 pm

        One problem with public transportation in Boulder County is that busses stop running relatively early. The last bus to Lafayette leaves downtown Boulder at 12:15 A.M. This is not very helpful for people who are going out on the town, or working in the service industry, particularly as a lot of those heading home late have probably had a few drinks.

    • Leslie February 10, 2017, 5:46 pm

      Also Kentlands in MD, and we just moved from King Farm in MD, which is a planned smaller community that is walkable. Now we are in Lakewood, CO, where you can only walk to nowhere. I hate it.

      • mark February 23, 2017, 11:01 pm

        Lakewood is great for cycling. Get a bike and learn how to ride on roads.

    • Reepekg February 11, 2017, 8:51 pm

      A lot of those “Streetcar neighborhoods” built before cars took over have been very attractive to the younger generation. Oak Park, IL where I live now connects to Chicago via trains in the center of town and is completely walkable. Collingswood, NJ outside of Philadelphia is the same setup and has gotten a lot nicer in the last 15 years due to this.

      • Blackwood February 12, 2017, 12:21 am

        I live in Oak Park too! I am sorta new to the area, but I believe a lot of credit for the recent density push is due to our mayor, an immigrant from Gaza who decidedly didn’t grow up in sprawl-topia and sees the value of in fill development, the bike share that’s now sprung up, and the tremendous opportunity that road diets offer. Having the right leadership is critical here. I will email our mayor about Strong Towns and New Urbanism. I’m hoping somewhere in there, we can find practical resources for creating change, I.e. recommendations for a design firm experienced with implementing road diets.

      • Wen February 12, 2017, 5:53 pm

        Oak Park is fantastic example of a suburb that gets it. Having a car is completely optional. I wonder what will happen to Berwyn (just south of Oak Park for those of you not familiar with the area). Like Oak Park it is well served by mass transit, and in fact, has a higher overall density than the city of the Chicago. It is in the process of redevelopment, but it is unclear if it will follow Oak Park’s example, or fall victim to the curse of car-centric burbs. Five years from now, the town could be a premier location in the Chicago region, or just another traffic jam. I’m hopeful they will do it right. There seems to be some decent leadership and community involvement.

        • Primal Prosperity February 15, 2017, 2:48 pm

          I have a couple of rental properties in Berwyn. Really, anywhere in Chicago and the near suburbs have great transit access. I have a feeling Berwyn is going to boom in the near future.

          • Rob February 20, 2017, 9:22 am

            As a resident of Berwyn, I’m hoping so! We moved to Berwyn for a lot of the reasons discussed here. Also hoping that it follows the Oak Park model for success.

    • Steph February 13, 2017, 1:12 pm

      Lawrence, KS is a great town to walk and bike places. They have been focused on creating convenient walking/biking trails throughout the city. Part of it is the byproduct of being a college town where a large percentage of the population does not own vehicles.

      There is an “Urban Sprawl” developing, but those neighborhoods are still close to shopping and work areas. And even with the convenience of biking/walking, most people are still car-clowning around.

      Our family of five is considering going car-free for a while.

      • Katie February 14, 2017, 8:43 pm

        I love hearing about cities that do this well. We lived in Chicago for many years – loved it and found it extremely walkable, cars are most definitely optional. Unfortunately, it was not a good fit for my FIL, who is physically disabled and part of our (otherwise young) family. So, we decided to move teh family. We looked at Oak Park and Evanston (another walkable Chicago suburb). We quickly realized desired walk/bike-ability and proximity to downtown but at a lower cost of living… and found ourselves in Milwaukee. We live in an inner ring suburb (Shorewood) that is much like Chicago’s Evanston or Oak Park. We’re connected to much of the Milwaukee area by public transit (bus here) and great bike infrastructure with paths throughout the area. Plenty of people are still driving everywhere (in part b/c there’s no traffic and parking is easy… fwiw) but I also have lots of company on the bike trails and sidewalks year round (thanks to local bike shops that encourage the use of studded bike tires and hardy people who have the gear and the cajones to handle a midwestern winter). Not quite the utopia described above but we sought out a human-oriented community and feel like we found a pretty good version.

        • Primal Prosperity February 15, 2017, 2:53 pm

          Hi Katie! I live in Milwaukee also, with my husband. We both grew up in Chicago also and have been here for just under 2 years. And we love it also! It has all the amenities of Chicago without the high cost of living. Like you mentioned, I love all the trails. I gave up my car 4 years ago and I find living in Milwaukee is so easy to get around. I’m in East town and everywhere I would want to go, including the Outpost in Shorewood, is within a 3 mile radius.

          If you want to set up a ‘mustachian style’ meetup this spring, let me know. You can email me at PrimalProsperityforall@gmail.com

      • Mitch November 30, 2017, 3:23 pm

        I was doing some google searches about best walk-able/biking cities because I was thinking about relocated in the future based on that. I currently live in Chicago and lived 4 years in Lawrence, KS. I guess I didn’t realize that I have had it good by comparison to the rest of the country.

    • Joel February 13, 2017, 6:54 pm

      Another car-optional town in Washington is Bellingham. I went to college there and have many friends who live there are get around almost exclusively on bicycle.

    • daniel son February 15, 2017, 9:17 am

      Minneapolis, MN has very good bike infrastructure. I commute 16 miles round trip daily to work, even in the winter.

    • Heidi Alexander March 3, 2017, 7:37 am

      Ashland OR is excellent for those who wish to walk or bike. Asheville NC and Charlottesville VA are also well designed. All are fairly expensive given the limited job opportunities. The market is certainly there for cities and towns that re-think their zoning laws and want to attract more taxpayers.

  • Smart Provisions February 10, 2017, 2:45 pm

    I would like to see more bike lanes being built in cities as they are low-cost value adds that can promote biker safety and possibly a transition from cars to bikes. It also causes less wear and tear on streets than cars do, so that would mean a decease in maintenance fees for the municipality. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t that many though.

  • Mr Crazy Kicks February 10, 2017, 2:49 pm

    We live a mile away from a good gym, hardware store, and even a sweet beer garden. Weather permitting, I usually just walk or jog down, but we don’t have any sidewalks. The shoulder is small, and for some reason people in our area are aggressive towards walkers/joggers. Aside from the people on cell phones who regularly run stop signs, there are people who intentionally drive towards me swerving last minute and honking to show me the road is for their crappy mustang and not pedestrians. Its a shame that while some of us want to fight congestion and pollution, its infuriating to other people.

    I have talked to the mayor of my town about improving the walkability of our neighborhood with at least some signage, but didn’t get any traction. I’ve been meaning to talk to them about re-painting the crosswalks which are long faded, so I think I’ll give it another go. Thanks for the pep talk!

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:31 pm

      What city do you live in, CK?

      The first step in a transformation like this is advertising the cities that are good for people and bikes, and making sure the unfriendly ones know clearly that we will not be sending our shopping or investment dollars their way.

      There are many reports and surveys out there that state bike and pedestrian friendly design is now the #1 thing that most of the higher paid professionals look for when considering a place to live. I’d suggest digging a few of these up and sending them to your mayor.

      Mayors run on a currency of prestige and dollars, so that’s how we need to motivate them.

      • Mr Crazy Kicks February 10, 2017, 4:31 pm

        I am in Derby, CT. We have a downtown, but most of the shops are in the burbs. They are convenient enough to our neighborhood, but the main road going to them is not pedestrian friendly. I had suggested adding a sidewalk down the main road, which I think would hugely increase the number of people walking to stores and the gym. They said it was not practical, and I can understand that the expense would be large for something like that. But I’ve also seen the designations used in CA and CO and think some signage and road paint would go a long way. You make a good point that walkability would make the neighborhood more attractive to professionals, and I’ll press that point the next time I talk with the mayor.

        • Primal Prosperity February 15, 2017, 3:22 pm

          Hi Mr. Crazy Kicks, I used to live in Little Rock, AR and worked with a local bike community to help pass a “Complete Streets” Ordinance. If you google that, you will find good resources. Additionally, I am a real estate investor and walkability is the most important of location, location, location. You can attend a local real estate investing group and network those folks to help contact your mayor…. especially if you find someone with deep pockets, or a lot of community clout.

          More walkability and bikability, also lowers crime, so you can hit up those organizations. Also, you can probably find a local public health organization to help you out.

          Anyway, just some thoughts and good luck!

      • The Vigilante February 11, 2017, 5:31 pm

        Mrs. Vigilante and I are really excited to be possibly “voting with our feet” soon. We live in a rather Human-unfriendly city that is slowly improving, but mostly it is still sidewalk-less and sprawling and dangerous for walking/biking.

        Well, last year we surrendered to that and bought a house as close to my work as we could find with a reasonable deal. It’s definitely within biking distance of work, but there’s no safe path. Just windy roads with hills and no sidewalk, curb, or really anywhere to go to avoid a vehicle that might come barreling unexpectedly toward a rider. There’s potential for a future safe path connecting our neighborhood to a road with a sidewalk, but it will be years before the project that could bridge the gap for me is completed.

        But after one year in the house, there’s rumor of a new housing development going up within easy walking/biking distance of my office, our favorite grocery store, the liquor store and beer distributor (priorities), a dollar store, and a bunch of other useful businesses including my dentist. Same school district, taxes, all that jazz. We previously had no intention of selling this house. But barring any major mishaps with that project, we’re totally voting with our feet on this, and primarily voting for making our city liveable for Humans!

        • Louisa February 24, 2017, 2:21 am

          Like MMM said earlier, we need to know the name of your town. Don’t protect it!

    • Gina February 15, 2017, 2:19 pm

      That sounds a lot like my town. We have few sidewalks as well in my area and there is open hostility from many drivers towards anyone who is walking or riding a bike down our roads. As you mentioned, drivers will actually swerve towards bike riders, yell at them, and even throw things at them from open car windows. There is a prevailing attitude from drivers that the roads are for cars and no one else. When we first moved here, my husband and I took our daughter on a bike ride. We used to live in rural Japan which was actually very bike friendly so we were very used to getting around that way. However, after seeing drivers try to repeatedly force us into the brush on the side of the road, I began to worry that we were in danger and with so little room on the actual road anyway, I became convinced a distracted driver might actually kill us. Although my daughter’s elementary school is only two miles from my house, and town is just beyond that, there is no way I will ride my bike down there anymore.

      The irony is that our area is very picturesque so every weekend loads of professional bike riders come up from the cities to ride on our roads for pleasure. I honestly don’t know how they can do it without being terrified as I have seen drivers come so close to them that they must feel the wind from the cars. I even saw someone throw a slushy out of a car once and hit a rider in the back. These riders must have bravery in spades, but I don’t, and I definitely won’t have my daughter out there on her little bike either. Our town does have a nice little bike path, but we have to drive there to ride on it. I would love to have sidewalks down all of our roads because I feel that, despite being a rural area, many people would take advantage of them to get to our little downtown. I know we would!

      • Mr. Money Mustache February 15, 2017, 6:21 pm

        I’m still amazed by these stories of violent drivers. I have never experienced such a thing in 35+ years of riding in hundreds of different areas.

        My first bit of advice would be to install simple, compact front and back dashboard-style cameras on your bike. If you ever experience that illegal and dangerous type of driver aggression, report it to the police and submit the video as evidence.

        It’s probably a VERY tiny majority of criminal assholes committing that crime, and you can clear them from your local roads with a little enforcement. In general, people are kind and caring creatures, regardless of where you live.

        • Big Boots Buddha February 16, 2017, 2:34 am

          I think it might be that even though you have biked a lot of places, those places were in fact quite similar to each other. They might have been nice small towns, pleasant outdoor get-a-ways, college towns, trendy tech hubs middle sized cities, etc. Even though they are different, they are all much more similar than other places.

          I have faced nasty drivers in Midwestern cities, especially in places where the economy is bad since a factory closed. Bas weather, bad economy, people are less friendly. I have also faced nasty drivers in Northern Georgia (its hilly) and Eastern Tennessee.

          Its like asking a group of people who support Hillary if they have any friends who support Trump and the opposite. Even though I know a lot of people who seem diverse, actually we are all pretty similar in a few ways. I’m guessing its something like that.

        • Paul February 28, 2017, 8:12 am

          The whole perception of traffic is an odd thing. I’ve been bicycling in Santa Fe for thirty years, (and I now serve on the city’s Bicycling and Trails Advisory Committee.) For eight years of that time, my wife and I decided to ditch the car and bicycle everywhere with our two children, first in a trailer, then on a tandem and in a trailer, and finally, we bought a Bike Friday triple. In all the years of riding, I have had one cup of water thrown at me and no truly threatening or scary encounters. This city seems like a bicycling and walking mecca. Nevertheless, people are constantly telling me that it is terrifying, unsafe, impossible to bicycle here. I just don’t get it. Just last week someone was asking me about my handlebar bag, and then said, “I would bicycle, but it is just unsafe here.” When our kids were small, we were at one of their circus performances talking to another parent about being carfree, and she said, “it’s impossible to raise children without a car.” “Um, we haven’t had a car for the past five years,” we replied. She merely repeated, “it’s impossible to raise children without a car.” I honestly don’t know what was going on with that conversation! I think a great deal hinges on what people expect. If they expect it to be dangerous, they feel the cars are “buzzing” them aggressively. The more fearfully they become, the more erratically they bicycle, thereby becoming less safe. Drivers around an erratic bicyclist get more nervous and try to get past more quickly, and it just gets worse from there. I also see other bicyclists who just do not seem to have any sense of traffic etiquette. They go straight while in the right turn lane; they do not even make a feint at slowing down for stop signs. They pass on the right when there really isn’t much room. If they are first at a red light, they don’t get far enough into the road to allow right turning drivers to squeeze by them. I really believe that the more you integrate yourself into traffic and treat drivers as equals rather than enemies, the better off you are. Traffic is a cooperative venture, not a blood sport.

      • Louisa February 24, 2017, 2:20 am

        Once again, you should out your town! Don’t protect it with anonymity! It will never change that way. I want to know so I’ll be sure not to go there.

      • EarningAndLearning May 16, 2017, 7:26 pm

        Also for you, what town???

  • chad February 10, 2017, 2:57 pm

    I hear the point about increasing road capacity making traffic worse in most of these sorts of articles, and I always feel unconvinced. Or maybe more accurately, I always feel like I’m not understanding the point. Obviously the demand for more road capacity is finite, so it’s at least theoretically possible to build enough roads to meet demand, even where demand is itself boosted by the increase in road capacity. So the real point must be that this is too expensive or impractical or something like that. But I don’t ever hear this argument fully fleshed out. Can someone explain?

    • Mackenzie February 10, 2017, 3:19 pm

      Good question! I’ve also heard this argument before, and this is how I was convinced:

      Notwithstanding car-clown-culture, people are pretty good at figuring out the best route to get somewhere, and know the bottlenecks to avoid (within their personal threshold of “too much traffic”).

      So, let’s say you have a bridge that is always congested.

      As the congestion gets worse, people start to to find different routes / methods, to shift their trips to off-peak travel times, and (in the long run) to choose destinations that avoid that bridge (i.e. work and live on the same side as the bridge).

      If you try to relieve the congestion by adding a lane, people once again see it as a viable route, so they come back to the bridge – then you just have one more lane of congestion!

      • chad February 10, 2017, 4:02 pm

        Right, it’s clear that increasing capacity can also increase demand, as your bridge example plausibly illustrates. But possible demand is finite. So it is possible to meet demand if you’re willing to keep increasing capacity. The question is: why isn’t that the right course of action?

        • Chris I February 10, 2017, 4:37 pm

          It starts becoming a geometry problem as cities grow. Land is finite, so every time you widen a road, it costs more. It is technically possible to build your way out of congestion, but it is prohibitively expensive. Think of all the cities with the widest freeways: Houston, LA, Atlanta. They are known for insanely long commute times. And that’s another issue with our system. We measure congestion, not commute times. This penalizes dense, compact cities like Portland, and benefits sprawling cities like Phoenix.

          • chad February 10, 2017, 5:11 pm

            Seems like a good argument against just widening roads. But why think that’s the only way to increase capacity?

        • dan February 10, 2017, 4:37 pm

          If we say that the maximum possible demand would be 100% of residents and businesses trying to use a given piece of road at the same time, that value can always increase as long as residents and businesses in the area (or on its outskirts) can increase. For instance, in Portland Oregon, many people commute south across the I-5 bridge from Vancouver WA. This is a horrendous commute, and a bigger bridge has been discussed. If that bridge is built, traffic on the bridge will move substantially more quickly, commuting into Portland from suburbs further north than Vancouver will become viable, and cheap housing will be built there, with all those new residents commuting over the new bridge, until bridge traffic is once again at a standstill.

          Mind you, that new bridge was budgeted at 3 billion (with a “b”) dollars. That’s the taxpayers of OR, WA, and the USA subsidizing single occupancy vehicle commuters…not very palatable.

          • chad February 10, 2017, 5:15 pm

            I agree that it seems reasonable to ask whether the cost of increasing capacity is worth it in any given case. Maybe the bridge you mention wasn’t worth it. I don’t know how to assess that. But I suspect that increasing capacity is often a good investment.

            • Paul February 16, 2017, 1:28 pm

              Portland Oregon is known to be a compact city. This article talks about how modern cities have excessively accommodated to road/car demand vs. walkability. Just because there is demand doesn’t mean it makes sense to increase capacity. By building a bigger bridge, you area allowing more cars into the city; cars that have to be parked somewhere. This will require wider roads and more parking spaces and i think this article speaks for itself in saying that this is not the ideal “happy city.”

        • J February 10, 2017, 4:50 pm

          Because possible demand is not finite long term. The vast majority of widening occur in major metro areas where traffic stifles peripheral development. You shorten the commute, it makes the edge growth more viable, and then the road fills up to the level it was previously. You get more people stuck in the level of traffic you were trying to fix.

          • chad February 10, 2017, 6:31 pm

            Of course it’s finite. There are only so many people. The question is whether there’s a way to design a city such that one can always add capacity for a cost that makes economic sense. Maybe you can’t, but I don’t yet see why not.

            • RT February 12, 2017, 11:35 am

              Someone correct me if my numbers and assumptions are wrong, I’m not an expert. Perhaps together we can arrive at some Elon-Muskian first principles calculations

              Demand is finite. In an ideal world the peak demand of NYC is all of its 8.406 million people in a car, driving at a reasonable speed, wherever they wanted to go.

              I’m not that smart, so let’s say we want all of NYC driving in a straight line in one massive flock, on a road. This is actually easier to achieve than the real-life scenario of everyone going different places.

              Using this traffic simulator (http://www.traffic-simulation.de/), it seems like about 21 cars per km of road allows everyone to drive at something approaching the speed limit. From here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_standards), I learn that the ideal lane width for free flowing traffic is 3.7 m.

              So, I *think* each New Yorker’s car needs 1km*3.7 / 21 = 176m^2 of road as a minimum to avoid congestion at high speeds. About an Olympic 100m running track. Let’s say I’m wrong by half, and give each car 75m ^2.

              If we put three New Yorkers in each car, we need to find 210000km2 of road to meet peak finite demand.

              NYC has an area of 788.9km2. This means that if we convert the entire city to road, we need a multi-lane highway 266 stories high that covers the whole city to meet peak finite demand, at its most simple.

              I’m probably wrong, but my estimate would have to be about 400 times wrong in the too large direction for this plan to ever be workable.

              That means, that in NYC, demand for roads is *practically* infinite if everyone wants to drive, so real-world solutions need a different route than giving everyone all the road they can use.

              But don’t believe me, I’m sure there are much more accurate ways to do this–YMMV.

            • chad February 13, 2017, 7:45 pm

              This is totally the kind of calculation I was hoping for. Some relevant questions:

              1. Seems like 100% of the population on the road is an unrealistic peak demand, even given that higher capacity causes higher demand. I wonder how we might reasonably estimate the upper limit, since it’s clearly a lot lower than 100%.

              2. I’m not quite following how you calculated the 266 story step.

            • chad February 13, 2017, 8:06 pm

              Nevermind, I see how you got the 266 story step. I wonder if it might help to focus on rush hour, with the idea that other times are far more flexible for people deciding whether to drive somewhere. And I guess it’s pretty plausible that NYC can’t be made traffic free at this point, but I wonder if other places are still possible to save. Most midwestern cities don’t have much of a traffic problem, for example.

            • Nate February 15, 2017, 8:22 am

              one thing to note is that 3.7 meters wide is really generous. European road standards for highways max out at 3.7, and can go as low as 2.75.

              also, most cars are parked 95% of the time – http://www.reinventingparking.org/2013/02/cars-are-parked-95-of-time-lets-check.html

            • David February 28, 2017, 9:32 am

              Good job showing the numbers. I agree that the assumption of 100% of people traveling at the same time is too high. Let’s make it 25% (might be a little low). Of course triple occupancy is a bit optimistic, let’s make that an average of two people per car (increases your estimated demand by 50%). You already reduced your estimated space requirement from 176m^2 to 75m^2. Perhaps NYC only needs a 99 story roadway over the entire city to meet peak transportation demand. Chad and Nate are being ridiculous; you’ve clearly shown that getting around in cars does not work for a city as dense as NYC, yet they nit-pick minor details.

            • David February 28, 2017, 11:22 am

              “most cars are parked 95% of the time” – sure but about half of all car use is for commuting to work. 7 days/week * 24 hours/day = 168 hours a week. 168 hours * car in use 5% of time = 8.4 hours a week. Average commute time is 25.4 minutes * 2 ways * 5 days a week / 60 minutes per hour = 4.23 hours a week commuting.

            • Susan February 13, 2017, 6:56 am

              It may be finite, but it grows exponentially. Take a look at a population graph. It doesn’t take long to reach insurmountable expenses and waste of resources when growth is so rapid.

            • chad February 13, 2017, 7:52 am

              So a car-topia that can easily adapt to growth in population is technologically impossible for a reasonable price? I don’t see how we could know that without far more evidence and thought. I’m generally skeptical of claims that something is impossible in this way. It’s just such a strong claim.

            • Susan February 13, 2017, 12:33 pm

              I take it you’ve never visited Houston, Chad.

      • John French February 10, 2017, 5:30 pm

        The people who switch back to the bridge once a lane is added would be freeing up capacity on the alternate routes they used before the bridge was widened, so this can’t account for all of it.

        As I understand it, the demand for road space is just much more elastic than people assume. Some people will choose options other than driving (walking, bicycling, or transit) if available, but I think most of the elasticity is that people will choose where to live and work so that their commutes are bearable. If you add more road capacity, people will choose to live further from their workplaces.

        People tend to think of travel demand as fixed: “I live at point A, and I work at point B, and so obviously I have to get from A to B every day!” But they forget what caused them to choose points A and B in the first place.

    • Jamie February 10, 2017, 3:23 pm

      Agreed. I live in an area where the interstate has restricted carpool lanes during peak hours. I know MMM would never set foot on an interstate, but maybe just once…sit in stop-and-go rush hour traffic while a completely wasted open lane beckons to your left, and then tell me again how “road expansions don’t alleviate traffic jams”…

      I know, I know, if we would all just bike everywhere, this wouldn’t be a problem. That is 100% true, but it doesn’t solve the problem of reality that we all live in. Can we agree that solving traffic issues through better designed roads, while ALSO adding more bike lanes and sidewalks and people-based, high density development is a start?

      • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:47 pm

        But what would your traffic look like if that extra lane was open to the Maximum Superclown single occupant vehicles? It would rapidly reach an equilibrium at the same jammed-up state of the rest of the lanes.

        I DO think we can agree that re-designing roads could solve traffic. But it would be a redesign which involved removing most of the commuter roads, adding fairly expensive automated tolling systems for cars, and using the reclaimed land for houses and shops.

        • Kevin February 12, 2017, 3:12 pm

          And also – never discussed b/c it’s heresy – what if we just didn’t have the money to pay for road expansions? What if all of our governments were broke and simply couldn’t do it (which isn’t that far-fetched).

          The reality is that people would adjust, entrepreneurship would jump in to solve the quality of life issues, development patterns would change, and life would go on. But since we’ve been such a wealthy country for so long, we have just gotten accustomed to throwing money at these kinds of problems in the hopes that they will be “fixed.”

      • Eric February 13, 2017, 6:45 am

        Well, here’s an example of a 50 lane road experiencing a multi hour traffic jam, due to being bottlenecked to “only” 20 lanes. If 20 lanes aren’t enough, I’m not sure how many are. Maybe 21?


        The better and faster the road system is, the more people will use it, and the farther they’ll live away from work. Most people have a maximum time they’ll spend on a commute, not a distance. The faster they can go, the farther they’re comfortable living from work, and the more traffic they create. If their average speed on a highway is 20 mph during their commute, most people aren’t going to live 40 miles away (2 hours). If their average speed is 60 mph, 40 miles is now on the table (40 minutes). The more traffic there is, the less people drive, and the less traffic there is.

        You could go to every street in Austin TX and add two lanes overnight, and within a week I bet traffic would be at the exact same level it is today. A few more people would decide to drive due to the increased speeds they see due to the lanes, and before long they’d be full again.

        • Wayne February 20, 2017, 11:12 am

          It’s been a while since I lived in Austin, but I was there when they were starting the light rail system with the purpose of reducing congestion. It was mainly a line from the northern suburbs to the downtown. I moved away before it was finished, but it sounds like Austin traffic hasn’t changed. As an aside, I was surprised in the light rail planning that a connection from downtown to the Bergstrom Airport was not included (initially). It would seem that would be a no-brainer for the ease of taking the many college students, state capital lobbyists, state senators and representatives, and business men to and from the airport. But perhaps the planners felt it would be easier to convince the suburban population to use the light rail than the people coming in through the airport (or it may have disturbed some existing businesses).

          • Jeremy February 28, 2017, 10:59 am

            The light rail has been working, it took a while to ridership up. But with an average of 110 people per day added to the greater Austin area, it can’t keep up. Many people complain the rail doesn’t run long enough, but it has to share the line with Freight… because no one would allow a separate line to be made.
            They tried to pass a halfway to ABIA from downtown, for 900 million, everyone said, too expensive, which I believe has been said about everything since forever…

            To make things better… they’re building toll roads that encircle the whole city…

            On a positive note, Lamar is getting Copenhagenized lane as a trial run. The city is trying to get more people on bikes. Cap Metro is having to pull back routes to increase frequency in the city. Some people in the suburbs are complaining about the loss, but they don’t complain to their own city, they complain to capmetro.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:36 pm

      Yeah, it works like this: In a busy metro area, the roads tend to fill up until they reach a relatively horrific balance: once traffic is spectacularly inconvenient, people will start considering other options besides living far from work and commuting in alone in a car. (living close to work, getting a different job, transit, bike, whatever).

      If you expand the roads, the pain is reduced, so more people flood in. Suburban developers build more ‘burbs along the road and everybody is happy for a short time, expanding rapidly until the new road is just as full as the old one.

      Meanwhile, concrete prevails and pollution levels rise, and the city sprawls out. The lives of the residents of such a city just get worse and worse the more you repeat the cycle.

      Theoretically, you COULD probably design a car-topia with just the right ratio of speedy roads to dispersed houses, and if you locked down future development the traffic would remain light. But it would never compete with the life you could offer by just avoiding the roads in the first place, and making one of those Netherland-style cities where everyone walks through a central park to get around.

      • chad February 10, 2017, 3:46 pm

        It might well be true that no possible car-topia could ever be as attractive as the Netherland-style city. But I’m not sure how we could be convinced of that without some pretty careful thinking about what sorts of car-topias are possible. And I don’t see anyone in these sorts of discussions really thinking that through very carefully.

        • amy February 13, 2017, 2:35 pm

          Reading your questions and responses gives me the feeling that you have been thinking about this yourself. Do you have some ideas about ways to increase automobile capacity (or other modes of transport)? I would be interested in hearing them.

          • chad February 13, 2017, 7:50 pm

            Not really anything very clever. I have wondered why there aren’t more double-decker freeways. If the calculation provided by RT above is anywhere near correct, then (as RT says) the finite demand might as well be infinite in a practical sense. That would really answer my question. So I guess I was just looking for a more rigorous argument for the conventional wisdom.

            • David February 28, 2017, 9:55 am

              From a cost/benefit analysis, land has to be quite pricey to make building double-decker freeways practical. This post illustrated the costs of a simple bridge – imagine that cost multiplied by the entire length of the roadway.

              From an emotional standpoint, memory of the Loma Prieta earthquake is probably still an influence that causes some people to still completely overlook the idea.

            • The_Overdog February 28, 2017, 2:41 pm

              Nobody likes double decked freeways because they are difficult to maintain and the exits off the freeways are difficult to manage for tourists/passers-through, which increases congestion.

              In addition to the expensive cost.

      • Mike February 12, 2017, 6:26 pm

        It seems that when we grow within the hierarchical road networks that we have in suburbia, it makes the existing residents quality of life lower in the form of worse traffic, loud/high speed roads through residential neighborhoods, huge road maintenence encumbrances, etc. This should give everyone pause, because it’s not natural to build places that get worse as they grow. Nimby-ism seems like a rational response to the environment we’ve been building for the last 70 years.

        Now we’ve just got to get back to building great places that get better with age.

      • Andy March 17, 2017, 4:48 pm

        Most US cities have conducted this experiment over the last 70 years. For people who are less abstract number oriented and more visually oriented, the University of Oklahoma has some dramatic photos of before/after the car revolution. An amazing amount of space has been taken from homes, business, and parks (people stuff) and reallocated to freeways for car transportation.


    • Matt February 10, 2017, 9:12 pm

      It’s actually mathematically possible to construct proofs using a combination of game theory and graph theory to see if this will happen. If you plug in numbers, you quickly see that it’s almost always the case.

      To outline an artificially simple example, let’s say we have to locations A & B connected by a single road X. Road X is 10 miles long and has an average speed of 30 MPH if there’s no traffic. We build a new road Y of length 10 miles with an average speed of 40 MPH.

      Now let’s say the actual speed you drive at decreases by 1 MPH per 100 cars using the road in a 1 hour time period. The system will eventually reach a mixed Nash equilibrium where the two roads have the same travel time, road Y will simply have more traffic. Now if this is generalized to a large network (graph) of roads and locations, the system dynamics will eventually reach a mixed Nash equilibrium that can be calculated by the max flow/min cut algorithm of graph theory fame.

      So why are densely connected graphs problematic when we’re talking about roads in a city?

      – intersections slow things down
      – parking, pedestrians, and merging really slow things down
      – the ratio of housing to resources such as stores, workplaces, etc. trends towards a few mega resources for tons of people, roping in more and more people from further and further away to come there, so in terms of land devoted to uses, residential >>>>> resources
      – more people at each office building/store/school/hospital/etc. means more overhead in parking lots, mazes of small interconnecting roads, etc. and ultimately slower and more dangerous traffic flow
      – more people further away increases both the average distance traveled and the traffic on all of the roads between their homes and their resources
      – if you think about what the optimal network structure would look like, it’d be you have your house in the center and then directly next door you have work, school, the grocery store, best friend’s house, etc. in a circle around you for every single person. This is obviously impractical, but it should make clear that we should prefer evenly dispersed resources around the residential locations instead of moving everybody to gigantic sprawling suburbs and having them all commute into a densely packed city for resources.in the center. In other words, we want people’s lives to occur in small graphs with minimum spanning tree style connections instead of everything connected to everything else in a giant clusterfuck.

      I’m sure I missed a lot important details. It’s kind of hard to really explain all of this in a comment section, but hopefully I gave you the gist of what happens when you seriously analyze the problem.

    • Wes G February 12, 2017, 3:04 pm

      @Chad: The term for this called is “Induced Demand.”


      Research paper behind the above:

    • Max Schneider February 17, 2017, 6:17 am

      Think of the opposite: road closure instead of road widening. In my city one of two downtown bridges crossing the railway needed major repair so it had to be closed to cars for a few months. Everyone was worried sick about a carmageddon situation, especially on the bridge that was left open and its approaches.

      What happened?

      Nothing happened. Nothing at all.

      The bridge was closed, traffic disappeared and wasn’t significantly worse on the remaining bridge.

      After the bridge was finally done, traffic was back to what it was before on both bridges almost instantly…i.e. every driver readjusted to the changed situation twice without any significant delay…

      (The only thing that really bugged me was that people as well as the newspaper said that the bridge being repaired was “closed to traffic”. Actually, it was only closed to car traffic. Bicycle and foot traffic could still cross easily)

    • Natalie February 23, 2017, 1:00 pm

      Demand for road capacity is finite, but in real world settings the limit for road capacity demand is so high as to be effectively infinite, because it’s based on people’s desires.

      People make decisions about driving based on commute times & traffic stress, and these things influence the choices they make about where they want to go & where they’re willing to work and live. Say I live in the suburbs, and would like to go to my city’s zoo. It’s currently an hour away in bad traffic, so I only make that trip once a year or so, because it’s not a pleasant way to spend my free time. Instead, I take my kids to parks closer to my house. But then the city expands the roads between my home and the zoo, reducing the commute time to 30 minutes. I’m now going to go to the zoo once a month, since it’s not such a bad commute. Over time, everyone makes similar decisions about all their trips, not just the zoo, and traffic congestion increases. People buy houses farther from work, go to restaurants farther from their homes, etc. I become used to going to the zoo regularly, so I persist despite the traffic increase, and of course people who made home buying decisions based on one commute time don’t just move when traffic doubles their commute time (they’re not Mustachians). The heavy congestion eventually pushes my city to expand the roads even further. Now even more people begin to go to places that used to be “too far” for regular trips. And so on.

    • Jason August 30, 2017, 2:42 pm

      This article in general has some great points, but I strongly agree that “expanding highways never works” is oversimplified in the explanations I’ve seen, comments here included.

      First, as someone mentioned, much of the increased traffic that takes up the new lanes on a hypothetical widened highway will be composed of people (and their vehicles) that previously took different routes. At a city level, this means there wasn’t a net increase in traffic, just a redistribution of it. Theoretically, the city could then either just enjoy that reduction in traffic elsewhere, or even narrow the roads elsewhere and offset the cost of maintenance for the new lanes.

      But second, much more importantly, the other reason for the increase in traffic on the newly-widened highway – more people deciding it’s worthwhile to commute on that highway – isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the city. Some people that used to live in the city will move out and commute (why would they do this if they were happy before? Could it be they were living in a bad area of town, or that they want a yard and a garden rather than concrete? Doesn’t this at least potentially count on the ‘happiness’ side of the ledger, car-clown behavior notwithstanding?), but to a large extent, as others have mentioned, the increase will be from people that didn’t previously want to work in the city, because of commute times on the previously narrow highway, deciding that it’s now worthwhile to do so.

      MMM and its readership often discuss capitalism, the free market and its mechanics. Given this, I’m quite surprised to see no mention of the obvious reason a city (specifically, its major business leaders and upper echelons of government leadership) would be fine with a saturated highway expanding and then becoming saturated again – because it means more people working and consuming in the city, and thus more profitable activity. To put it another way, if a city goes from its main highway having two lanes each way fully saturated to having eight lanes each way fully saturated – that city will consider it a huge win, and I would wager that the city’s income will dramatically increase.

      It’s also a gross oversimplification to imply that we live in a low-trust society because we live in suburbs. Quite the contrary – we live in the suburbs because we live in a low-trust society, with high crime and dangerous inner cities. That’s an entirely different discussion that can’t be adequately hashed out in a comments section of a blog entry on city planning and car ownership, but it shouldn’t be listed as something that will go away if we just cram ourselves in a tight space together downtown or squeeze together on a train. Saying that people who live in crowded areas where they’re forced to walk because driving isn’t viable trust their neighbors more is just an inverted way of saying only people that are comfortable walking around with strangers in crowded places would live somewhere in which they have to do that.

      Finally, it costing billions of dollars to build a concrete bridge (and then occasionally having that bridge collapse because it was built ineptly or someone intentionally cheaped out on the construction) isn’t necessarily inevitable. It’s yet another topic that stands on its own and would require considerable space to discuss thoroughly, but I’m convinced that a large amount of this is because a significant portion of our society is wasteful, inefficient, corrupt, inept, and not at all meritocratic (something I imagine many here would agree with). Sometimes the solution isn’t “let’s just stop doing that thing, because people have screwed it up”, but rather, “let’s try doing it right”. After all, people can just screw up the next thing we move to.

      • Bill G August 31, 2017, 4:43 am

        The users of any expanded highway include both people switching modes and existing drivers switching routes. The induced demand will be the folk adopting car commuting.
        Some of those people will be sold by advertising that moving out of town will make their family’s life better, it will not, but that’s the power of advertising.
        For other folk it will be simply a case that it is no longer possible to cross the larger highway to the shops or school safely and conveniently, they are going to jump in their car and drive there.
        And all that sprawl has consequences, just look at what is occurring in Houston. Three major floods in a few years, natural events exacerbated by water running off concrete rather than soaking into the land.

  • Brandon February 10, 2017, 3:01 pm

    MMM for Mayor of Longmont!

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:40 pm

      I would totally take a crack at being the mayor someday!

      Just need to get enough Mustachians to move here first, to get the critical mass of votes :-)

      • dan February 10, 2017, 4:28 pm

        Found and develop a new, walking-oriented town! Mustachians will move there in droves.

        • Erin February 10, 2017, 11:39 pm

          I’ll second Dan. We are still 12 years out from our planned retirement, but we talk about where we want to settle all the time. Biking and walking are a huge priority for us.

          Since finding your blog almost two years ago, we’ve sold a fancy new Volvo station wagon and replaced it with a used Yaris. And then we sold our second car after realizing we’d only used it a handful of times in 6 months. We also moved (thanks to my husband’s job) to an apartment in a downtown location, so now I walk to the grocery store, the kindergarten, any restaurants, the park, etc. My 10-year old bikes himself to and from soccer and I can walk my 6-year old to gymnastics. I think hen the warmer weather comes my older son and I will start biking our week-daily 10k round trip. It’s an excuse, but it’s easier to start a habit when the sun is shining and the bike paths aren’t littered with frozen leaves.

          I should mention that we live in Germany and love the European mixed zoning. We live above a shop (sports betting) and see tons of buildings that utilize this model. And even though I don’t speak the language and live in an area that is densely populated with “scary” refugees and Muslims (please note this comment is dripping with sarcasm), I feel very safe and I know more of my neighbors than I ever did living four years in a single-family suburban sprawl house in CO.

          • Ms. Must-Stash February 13, 2017, 10:16 am

            YES! Can we please found a new town (or take over one that’s pretty good —Longmont is intriguing but I live in Virginia currently and prefer less winter / longer growing season for the garden).

            Anyone interested in joining forces for a Mustacheville East (say in VA or NC)? We’re about 4-5 years out from retirement and also talk a ton about where it will be.

            Also to get the creative juices flowing – check out the co-housing movement – (“Creating Co-housing: Building Sustainble Communities” is an awesome book) – these concepts are a natural fit. It’s all about building intentional, multi-generational communities that focus on relationships and connection fostered by the built environment. Cars are pushed off to the periphery where they belong.

            • MKD February 24, 2017, 9:04 am

              I’m up for a Mustacheville East!
              And thanks for the book recommendation. I’m all about multi-generational communities – they are indeed a natural fit for mustachian principles.

            • CreativeBadass April 21, 2017, 3:24 pm

              I am totally in for Mustacheville whether East, West or Midwest! I’ve been trying to recruit folks I know to create a co-housing community on a small scale, but the idea of a larger-scale community is even better!

            • Ingrid June 4, 2017, 2:49 pm

              @Ms.Must-Stash and others: YES!!! I would love to move to Colorado, but I have to be near my aging parents for another 5 or so years. I’ve been in Northern Virginia forever (or so it seems) and now with a new 100% telework job, can move (and am moving) out of here! I love my work, and am not retired yet. Eastern TN is near the top of the list bc of low cost of housing, low cost of living AND no state income tax, though TN does have a 5% “hall” tax on investment interest/dividend income.
              For me, that’s still much better than the 5.75% VA state income tax, plus the ridiculously high housing costs and property taxes (both real estate AND car, every year!) plus additional income and sales taxes tacked on by both the county and the town I’m in. Yes, I love that I can, and do, walk everywhere in my town for everything except the quarterly trip to Costco, and my previous job (horrible commute on the MetroRail), but I’m already jettisoning stuff in preparation for the move this summer!
              So what other towns look good for Mustacheville East?

        • Zach February 27, 2017, 9:24 am

          I’m a city planner married to a city attorney. It’s been a long-term fantasy of mine to do something like this. It would be relatively easy to purchase an empty quarter section somewhere, submit a new townsite plat at the county courthouse, establish a new city government, and adopt a city ordinance and zoning code that actually makes sense (instead of the garbage zombie codes that we’re all working with now). The difficult part is providing all the services (e.g. fire protection, wastewater treatment, etc.) and building a local economy from scratch (e.g. what are people going to do for income once they move there?). Is there a thread on the forum somewhere to discuss these details? I’d love to nerd out over how we would actually do it (even if it remains a fantasy.)

      • Ben February 13, 2017, 3:55 pm

        If you ever move to a small island in Hawaii…

        • Michiko February 20, 2017, 10:51 pm

          Which one? We are here on Kauai and would love to do a meet up if you’re here too!

      • frugalshrink March 7, 2017, 5:55 pm

        MMM – Similar to others, my wife and I talk ALL THE TIME about our mustachian place of final residence. As a military family serving overseas who moves every few years, the anticipation of reaching FI and settling down in a less than 5 year timeframe is a tonic to the soul when you’re away from friends and family. We’ve considered places all over the pacific north west, like the Portland and Seattle areas, but the weather just doesn’t appeal to us. We’re both from CA, but aren’t really into the ultra-consumeristic culture and high cost of living . Ultimately, the Denver/Boulder/Longmont area is actually very high on our list of possible places. If you work on your campaign strategy, we’ll meet you there, ready to organize bike-based political rallies and support you with our votes. I know you didn’t mean to start a cult, but sometimes accidents happen.

    • Katie February 10, 2017, 7:54 pm

      Not someday – this year! We need good people running. Hope you’re actually thinking about it… (obviously just a City Council spot, not even Mayor would be amazing).

  • Paul February 10, 2017, 3:22 pm

    Let me know when you pick your townsite.

  • Jay February 10, 2017, 3:33 pm

    Ironically for those ‘patriotic’ motorist associations, creating a car-centric society increases dependence on foreign oil. This is what Denmark realised in the 70s so they invested billions in bike infrastructure and are now reaping the benefits. Today, in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, over 50% of the population commutes by push-bike. (The Dutch’s path to cycling nirvana was slightly different, owing to cycling activism rising out of child traffic deaths).

    • SilverSkates February 11, 2017, 8:26 am

      I can highly recommend bicyledutch’ weblog if you want to learn more about dutch cycling and specifically the way bike infrastructure is done here. There are definitely (subtle) ways to screw it up, wasting the well intended investment and reinforcing the notion that it can’t work.

      The blog has nice articles showing what can go wrong (yes even in a bicycle valhalla like .nl) and what works and, not unimportant, why. The articles about the evolution of the infrastructure can be of interest when starting from essentially scratch (you’ll probably won’t avoid some intermediate states when building up).

      Look for the ‘infrastructure’ section at:

  • Jay February 10, 2017, 3:47 pm

    Wow, amazing, passionate post. You are right in so many ways. I just downloaded the book. Oh, are you familiar with what a Tony Hsiah has been trying to do with the DTLV – downtown Las Vegas project? If you haven’t read his book, I think you will appreciate it immensely. And lots of articles about his ideas and the project on business insider website too. Takes a lot of guts to put hundreds of millions of your own dollars to the test as he is doing….

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 3:51 pm

      Thanks Jay – I hadn’t heard of Tony Hsiah or DTLV, but I will have to read up on it now.

      I have some friends who live right there on Fremont Street, and they speak very fondly of it. They are wealthy frequent travelers and don’t even own a car.

  • Mr. Tako February 10, 2017, 3:54 pm

    Love that you pointed out at least one real world example of cities that work differently. We don’t need to be wide-eyed dreamers when better real world models already exist.

    Anyone who’s traveled the world a little bit has seen the cities that developed before the advent of the car. Yes, many of these are massive cities with people packed together as tightly as possible.

    Not everyone wants to live that way, but there ARE fantastic lower density models that do exist in this world.

    My favorite example has to be small towns in Japan outside of the mega-cities. Generally these small towns are tied to a train station with a central commercial core (office buildings, grocery stores, libraries, etc). While there are car roads through the town, the vast majority of people walk or ride bikes to and from this ‘core’ area.

    Yes, the houses in towns like this are smaller, but they’re also more efficient (lower energy costs, taxes, and maintenance). For example — front lawns just don’t exist in Japan. That space is used for housing, and eliminates the need for a lawnmower.

    • Justin February 10, 2017, 7:20 pm

      I searched the whole page for *Japan* and was glad to find your comment.

      I lived in Japan for 2 years and totally agree. In fact, I had some reverse culture shock coming back to the States. It was fascinating to me how different the roads and houses were — not to mention how much more biking there was, even in the middle of Tokyo. I thought, it’s not just culture, it must be laws and regulations at work too.

      I found a post on Japanese zoning and, yes, it’s very different to what we do in the States. http://urbankchoze.blogspot.com/2014/04/japanese-zoning.html

      • dan February 12, 2017, 7:50 am

        On a trip to Tokyo a few years ago, I was in a cab and we were stuck behind a bicycle. And not a fast bicycle – this was a grocery-getter with a basket and the rider in business attire. Where a US cabbie would have been irritated, tailgating, constantly trying to pass (probably unsafely), I was struck by the way my Japanese cabbie treated the bicycle like any other vehicle, and just waited patiently until there was room to go around safely.

        The entitled attitudes of our drivers here in the US are uniquely American and a real obstacle to meaningful change.

        • lurker February 13, 2017, 3:21 pm

          I agree…I was in New Zealand for two weeks and heard a car honk ONCE…..wow not like my sweet Brooklyn….

  • Carrie Willard February 10, 2017, 3:57 pm

    Pete, I actually live in the town you mentioned: Mableton GA. And while I heard of those plans you mention, nothing has become of it sadly, and Mableton, which was once a cute little town is becoming more ghetto and dumpy by the day. The crime rate is higher than neighboring towns and there are no walkable areas that I see. Although, we do use the nearby Silver Comet Trail and bike to the local Walmart, but we’re practically freaks for doing so.
    This quote: “people who have weak bonds with their immediate neighbors”… I know my neighbors and our kids play together, but when local thugs walk the streets asking you for a ride, when there are multiple grocery carts abandoned in yards, when your packages and bikes are stolen and the local pit bull breeder keeps letting his dogs loose, when the fresh-out-of-the-can guy with facial tats sits out on the curb smoking all day, THAT is what lowers social trust.

    I do wish more towns would design walkable areas though! Peachtree City, GA is a wonderful example. Every house’s backyard is connected to bike and walking paths that lead to the businesses.

  • sylvain February 10, 2017, 4:00 pm

    I m from France and lived in Winnipeg for 6 months last year. This city is so poorly built, it’s just terrible.I hated it. Good article MMM

    • Josh M February 23, 2017, 10:44 am

      As a life-long Winnipegger, I absolutely agree with you that much of the city is very poorly designed, But the older neighbourhoods that were once connected to the downtown with street cars are exceptional (think Wolseley, West Broadway, Osborne Village, Riverview/Fort Rouge, the West End, River Heights, and Crescentwood). I live in Wolseley on the western edge of downtown (as residents of the neighbourhood say, “it’s not heaven, it’s Wolseley”) but grew up in a suburb called North Kildonan. I’d never live anywhere else. Wolseley is an incredibly walkable neighbourhood, well connected to businesses on all sides, well connected to transit, close to downtown, and has beautiful heritage homes. It can certainly be improved, but it’s definitely not terrible! I’ll also mention that while often poorly designed, Winnipeg isn’t necessarily poorly built (assuming you’re referring to the dismal state of the roads)- Manitoba arguably has the worst conditions for road construction on earth (at least in the fairly densely populated areas of the planet). The combination of thick layers of clay, frequent freeze-thaw cycles, soil moisture, and long winters makes durable roads all but impossible to build. All the more reason not to build them in the first place, if you ask me!

  • Rose February 10, 2017, 4:04 pm

    This is a very interesting post! I’m amazing by how complex nearly all engineerings project are, even relatively small ones. Also, if I could change anything about urban design (in many, many places) it would hands down be more bike paths everywhere!!

  • Frances February 10, 2017, 4:07 pm

    A great book to read is A Pattern Language from the 1970s — design from urban down to floor plans that “works” for people. It’s a tome, but it’s amazing.

    • Sherry February 11, 2017, 8:44 pm

      Yes! “A Pattern Language” changed my life and I used it to design our current home. I believe it is a book that should be read by everyone one of us – and especially by architects and town planners.

  • dan February 10, 2017, 4:20 pm

    Portland Oregon (where I live) briefly waived parking requirements for apartment buildings on frequent service transit lines. It was found that tenants in those buildings were just as likely to have a car as tenants in buildings with parking, they just parked them in the neighborhood instead of in a designated spot on the building premises. So…I think the idea is right, but removing parking alone doesn’t necessarily reduce private car ownership.

    Are there any urban planners in the US building utopian walkable towns that discourage single occupant vehicle use? I would happily move to such a town, more or less regardless of location, as long as it was in the contiguous 48. Anyone? We could call it Mustacheville…okay, maybe we need to work on the name.

    • Chris I February 10, 2017, 4:43 pm

      But if you build enough car-free apartments, the street spots eventually reach 100% capacity. That is, at some point, you can’t add any new cars to the neighborhood. Many close-in PDX neighborhoods are already at this tipping point.

    • Bernhard February 13, 2017, 2:54 pm

      Hi Dan!

      Your totally right that reducing parking without accompagnying measures is not enough. E.g. when a car free community was established in Vienna (Austria) with only little parking space, complaints were soon raised that the inhabitants just parked their cars in the neighboring streets, although they had agreed not to maintain a car when they moved into the community.

      One way to address this would be some kind of parking space management that restricts long-term parking in an area to residents. Such residential parking permits would then not be granted to inhabitants of explicit car free buildings or communities. Of course such measures might meet severe resistance and raise discussions about over-regulation and such.

      If I may dream a little, an good solution starting from status quo would be to drastically reduce car parking in public space of densely populated areas. Long-term parking would be limited to collective garages every few blocks and through traffic limited to a grid of main roads.

      In this utopia, people would find grocery stores, opportunities for leisure and social interaction and even work opportunities closer to their homes than their cars – thus drastically reducing the need for car use. Also, one could decide whether its preferable to live close to the own car or to have the possibility to sleep with an open window.

  • arno m February 10, 2017, 4:33 pm

    im surprised you haven’t come across jan gehl yet. he’s a wicked smart danish urbanist who’s been advocating precisely this for almost 50 years. check it out!

    • kruidigmeisje March 2, 2017, 4:51 am

      I was going to suggest the same. This architect really can verbalise what to build to make human happines (on several dimensions)

    • Sean Cunningham May 15, 2017, 10:09 am

      Jan Gehl is actually one of the “stars” of Happy City (the book that kicked off this post).

  • Kea February 10, 2017, 4:41 pm

    Strong Towns staffer and long time Mustache reader, just writing to thank you for this great post and shouting us out! I’d love to see more Mustachians around Strong Towns; I think you’ll all find a lot to like :)

  • Robert February 10, 2017, 4:48 pm

    What I don’t understand is that people rave about walkable places (e.g. Europen cities or quaint beach towns) and then proceed to get in their cars and honk at someone in the crosswalk. It’s about more than economics, as you aptly pointed out, it’s about human dignity. The (present and past) Mayor of Bogotá, Columbia understands this: https://youtu.be/l2DHpYpOO14?t=18m45s

    • Chris I February 11, 2017, 2:06 pm

      Windshield mentality. Those of us who understand the big picture are the ones driving at or below the speed limit, and yielding for pedestrians and cyclists. Many transplants to Portland complain about the local drivers because we don’t speed everywhere and try to run people down.

  • PoF February 10, 2017, 4:56 pm

    I believe Frank Lloyd Wright espoused similar ideals with his Usonia — smaller homes built of the land rather than on the land. I’m a big fan on his homes and I’m told a great uncle (or great, great uncle of mine) was a builder who worked with the man.


  • Mack February 10, 2017, 4:57 pm

    I agree with almost everything here, but if I can inject just a little bit of “Devil’s Advocate”:

    You write, “Fight the “Not in My Back Yard” tendencies of most people, who object to new buildings or higher-density living near where they live.”

    Point taken. But, many folks (me included) don’t necessarily want people living and working on top of them. I do live in “suburbia hell”, but still find no trouble getting to the grocery store, shopping areas, and work by walking or biking. I think you can have some space for residents and still encourage transportation by means other than cars through things like the aforementioned parking space requirements change and bike-friendly design.

    I live in the neighborhood I do (which again, is close to everything I need – to include work) because I’d rather be adjacent to a park instead of apartment buildings. When I walk outside, I’d like to see sunshine, not concrete and steel extending toward the sky. You’re absolutely correct, MMM, cities can and need to be built more wisely. I think it’s ok, though, to have an option that doesn’t include living in a high-rise and does include some space.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 6:02 pm

      Hey, that’s an interesting challenge, and I can relate to it because I live in a place somewhat like you: a detached house on a relatively big lot with lots of green space around, within walking distance of everything.

      I still welcome density increases, because it brings more walkers and bikers to the area, and more interesting restaurants and cultural events. Sure, if they changed the zoning and the houses next door were suddenly rebuilt as apartment buildings, that could impact my quality of living.

      But in a city re-development, that would be one of the last things to happen – once the land really started to go up in value. I’m talking more about re-developing stuff like sprawl malls, large roads, and parking lot space into more shops, housing, and bike paths.

      At that point, if a developer wants to offer me top dollar for my property to add another skyscraper, I’ll happily accept – the extra money will buy me an even nicer house on the next beautiful parkside location just outside of the expanding downtown.

      • Mack February 10, 2017, 6:20 pm

        Agreed, on all counts.

      • Jake February 10, 2017, 8:11 pm

        Playing on the Devil’s Advocate theme… I think that what you just suggested is part of the problem. No one wants to live in cities. If the area gets denser and property values rise… you’ll want to sell and move away… to the suburbs.

        I read a book called “Best Laid Plans” several years ago that provided an interesting car planner friendly argument. It is a good read if only to read something from a planner that opposes mass transit and promotes cars transportation. You will not agree with it. However, it may have some arguments that you may find at least plausibly valid.

        • Lisa February 12, 2017, 7:10 pm

          You don’t want to live in a city, therefore you’ve decided no one does? And then base your argument on that assumption. How absurd. I live in a city, by choice, and I love it. I grew up in suburbia. Not everyone wants the same thing.

          • Jake February 13, 2017, 4:09 pm

            Hi Lisa, I agree completely. It is absurd to think everyone hates cities. I should have been more nuanced. Clearly many people like cities. I am one. I live in one. I’m sorry my writing did not communicate that.
            I was really calling out MMM for giving the appearance of advocating society move to higher density living, but then stating he personally prefers a lower density area and would leave if it changed to high density. Which is a perfectly fine thing to want but seemed disingenuous to me.
            I believe most people do actually want to live in suburbs. A large plurality of our nation’s population live there (I’m told)… I image because they want to. City planners are usually trying to spin things otherwise. I don’t know why.
            I suspect it is because many people are concerned of environmental impact and have a fear of some malthusian future. The book “Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future” changed my perception (somewhat) by pointing out that the growth of car culture was good for the environment in some ways. (I think it also covered some of the less than nice things lobbiest pushed that The Happy City covers). Cars require less land to be devoted to pasture (animal power) and has led to things like the east coast having the highest density of trees since pre-industrial times (probably, it is hard to ascribe causality to any one thing). Whoo hoo!
            The book is pretty libertarian (so be warned) and is by a former planner that cut his teeth in the forest service and I think Portland. It has been a couple years since I read it.
            But it convinced me that cars have their place. Car transportation allows for quick rerouting and is good for multiple forms of transportation (like bikes). Rail is only good for trains and if a train breaks down… it’s hard to reroute other trains. Cars also provide you huge economic benefits you don’t think about. Like the ability to quickly evacuate when a hurricane is coming or go to a meeting on the other side of metro area. Or to buy bulk groceries or take your elderly relative to the doctor. Or to pick up a part or buy furniture from the next town/city over. We use them too much, but I think there is a strong case for building the infrastructure to support them and for every American family to have one. I could be wrong, but I believe MMM owns multiple cars (I know there was a van and is an electric car… there may have been another small something or other?). There were other arguments for cars but those were enough for me. I thought the readers of this blog may be adventurous enough to check it out. If anything it was interesting to see arguments for the maligned (by my peers) lifestyle most Amercians appear (to me) to choose.

            • kruidigmeisje March 2, 2017, 4:57 am

              People like to live in cities in some scenarios (or some phases of their life). In other scenarios they like suburbia.
              BTW: Suburbia in NL (eg Houten) is still far less car intensive than US. I was quite flabbergasted when I visited US citiesSeattle and Portland. (not positively)
              What we call inner city has NO car entry except for hauling vehicles and medics (and very expensive parking). That is fine for singles and YUPpies, who can then hobble home from most party locations (or bike). And families live a little further off, having a bit more space (enough to have the happiest kids in the world. Just saying)

            • Gerard September 19, 2017, 5:37 am

              I don’t think we want to say that most people want to live in suburbs based on the fact that most people do live in suburbs. In Toronto, based on writing I’ve seen, an awful lot of people live in suburbs because downtown is more expensive and they can’t get financing (even though they’d be spending less because they wouldn’t need a car). So a lot of the resentment of “downtown elites” grows out of that.

        • Dean February 14, 2017, 10:05 pm

          Does everyone hate cities? Seems like prices are a good signal that people love cities and desperately want more walkable places to live. People pay astronomical fees to live in NYC/Boston/DC/London/Paris/etc. for a reason.

          It’s a valid concern that we should have a mix of places for folks with different opinions. The problem is that in almost all of America, local regulations have made density illegal and forced us into sprawl. I would never make you live in an apartment if you wanted a spacious house in the suburbs, so why would you force others into suburban houses when they want apartments in the city?

          To get out of theory: this is the big problem in the SF Bay area. Tech is booming, but since they don’t allow new housing to be built it’s a boom for landowners and not a boom for workers. Highly paid tech workers hand over $2000 a month to share a bedroom, while middle class folks get pushed out entirely. Let folks build apartments (again, don’t force anyone, just allow people who want to develop their land to do so) and those tech workers don’t have to displace anyone.

      • PH February 14, 2017, 10:56 am

        One of the things most people never think about when discussing city planning/development/re-development (and I’ve worked in the field since 1992), is the role that financing plays in projects and the fact that banks typically won’t loan money on anything except proven products. You can have the best re-development idea in the world, but not be able to finance it.

        The problem of sprawl isn’t just a result of government regulations. And, by the way MMM, it’s Municode, not Unicode, and cities really don’t just download regs and adopt them – they’re tailored to the place, really.

        Another thing to ponder in your quest for redevelopment is that most people feel the same way you do: “if they changed the zoning and the houses next door were suddenly rebuilt as apartment buildings, that could impact my quality of living.” Therefore, densification, even if done well, is always met with resistance of nearby property owners and the decision makers (politicians) tend to listen to them. Development isn’t as easy as some people seem to think it is…

        • kruidigmeisje March 2, 2017, 5:00 am

          Then all gov (city) planners should study NL and Nordic countries. There they live this model, so how did they do it? Which regulations, plans, etc did they use? I know the city of Utrecht, NL (mass biking!!) does study tours regularly….

      • Sean Cunningham May 15, 2017, 10:18 am

        One thing to make clear is that the book doesn’t advocate for high-density urban design as THE solution. It recognizes that some people want to have their single family homes on their larger lots. One solution would be to reduce or eliminate cul de sacs to improve travel options. Add more, smaller community green spaces that are easier to walk/bike to, instead of larger parks with equally large parking lots. Creating medium density, walkable centers that would be destinations for people in lower density areas to spend their time.

        Basically, how do you change the design of your suburban community to increase the number of people who are out, walking, biking, interacting with their neighbors?

  • Robert February 10, 2017, 5:02 pm

    You might want to familiarize yourself with Putnam’s work on social trust before throwing around lazy stereotypes about benighted nationalist hicks: http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/the_downside_of_diversity

    Like much of the rest of your blog, the imagined social universe in this post is one populated by people just like you: white, high-income, high-trust. A natural tendency, but it does undermine the piece’s credibility.

    • Mack February 11, 2017, 11:48 am

      I like your use of “benighted” here, and it indeed describes a nationalist mentality very well. Which, is actually counter to your “lazy stereotype” point.

      “Like much of the rest of your blog, the imagined social universe in this post is one populated by people just like you.”

      I’m not seeing “white” or “high income” as requisite for any of the advice here. I invite you to show me where it indicates so anywhere on this blog. In fact, the primary idea, is that anyone can become financially independent, whether high-income or not, freeing them up to tackle bigger things than the electricity bill (like, say, building better cities and communities).

      I think a study that indicates homogeneous communities function better is actually just a sign that we’ve got a long way to go, as people and as a country (the U.S.). An “imagined social universe” can be the first step to creating change for the better. White? No. High income? Not necessarily. High-trust? Most fucking definitely.

  • Howie February 10, 2017, 5:06 pm

    David Byrne wrote a really cool book several years ago called “The Bicycle Diaries.” It is kind of a freeform diary of his life on tour and his attempt to travel around in different countries via bicycle. It’s a good read!

    • stoaX February 13, 2017, 5:03 pm

      I’ll put my plug in for that book as well!

  • Wild Bill February 10, 2017, 5:06 pm

    Every time I grumble about this sort of thing to people, they look at me like I’m from Jupiter. It amazes me how many brilliant people are oblivious to the waste…

    • dan February 10, 2017, 5:22 pm

      Yeah! I was recently shocked to find a coworker spends $300 a month on parking. I said something to the effect that it was unaffordable, and another coworker said “how else would she get to work? Not everyone can afford to live close in, you know.” But…transit would cost half as much and suck so much less…

  • Maximizing Fitness February 10, 2017, 5:14 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on the whole Elon thing! The dude is incredible, have you been following his recent exploration into tunnel building? It actually fits in beautifully with this post. He’s sick of traffic and thinks that his team can get the tunneling machines 500-1000% faster so that we can have a 3D network of roads. Definitely a different solution to the same problem.

    Also I would love for you to post about Elon’s ventures and his mission with SpaceX and Tesla and now maybe “The Boring Company’ hah, it’s super inspiring stuff for young engineers like myself as we look to the future!

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 5:50 pm

      I haven’t read much of a detailed justification from Elon about those transportation tunnels yet, but I would certainly be interested to learn more.

      If the tunnels were used as a way to make even more room for cars, it doesn’t sound like a win to me. On the other hand, if you coupled the idea with removing most of the surface roads so the towns became walkable/bikeable, it could work. After all, underground real estate is basically free, whereas surface real estate in Coastal LA where he lives is very expensive. It’s an amazing waste to consume it for roads!

      Fundamentally though, I think tunnels might be the wrong solution: we need to reduce motorized transport and bring back the muscular outdoor living to our civic life. Spending more time deep underground sounds like the opposite of this ideal.

      • Maximizing Fitness February 10, 2017, 6:25 pm

        True. A lot of the speculation is that the tunneling technology he wants to improve could be used for hyper loop tunnels, and could perhaps be transported to mars to build settlements underneath the surface to shield humans from radiation. Regardless, his innovative solutions are sure to benefit us all.

      • Scott February 10, 2017, 11:11 pm

        This reminds me of the core of Guadalajara in Mexico. The city is 400 years old and to preserve the old city they tunneled some avenues below it and created a lot of underground parking. A little bit of the antithesis of the article above. But that said, I was extremely impressed with square miles of walking streets and plazas. It makes me think that in my perfect utopia of a city, dirty air polluting cars could be confined to underground, and we could reclaim portions of cities again for people. A lot of apartment buildings in China, where urban density is high, have a garden level where children can play. I see a lot of future possibility for putting cars underground, but its even more expensive than your bridge example.

        • Hernan February 15, 2017, 10:55 am

          I believe that you are referring to the city of Guanajuato in central Mexico. I was there in December and the tunnels are amazing! This might help ease traffic.

          • Louisa February 24, 2017, 2:36 am

            I live in Guanajuato part of the year & visit many Mexican towns. The US has much to learn from Mexico about building pedestrian-friendly cities and the generous design of public space. That will never happen, of course. What could the US ever learn from dirty, dangerous Mexico?

  • Jeffery February 10, 2017, 5:23 pm

    I remember reading about a coordinated effort by the US federal government to promote suburbs over dense cities during the 50s. Modern American suburbs are designed to survive nuclear war. The conclusion of military planners of the 1950s was that the only way to survive a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union was to spread out.

    The US was run by people who wanted the option to play nuclear chicken with the Soviet Union and survive if they went over the brink by accident. All that inefficiency you hate so much is the price we pay for the option of conducting a first strike on the Soviet Union and surviving the counter attack.

  • Jordan February 10, 2017, 5:32 pm

    Thanks to you, I’ve sold my car and now bike commute to work everyday. I’ve even started looking at commutes in the rain as a challenge instead of a letdown.

  • Nathan Suitter February 10, 2017, 5:35 pm

    Love the post, MMM!

    Long time reader, first time poster here. I’ve long been plagued by the fact that most cities aren’t designed for humans (at least in the US) and the culture definitely reflects that.

    One book I really like is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. It details all of the common design elements manifesting themselves throughout history, regardless of culture, that give a place (ranging in scale from an entire city to a sunroom) that human element. It’s a great handbook for any project that involves creating a space for people.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Joanna February 10, 2017, 5:37 pm

    Thanks for the book recommendation! I put it on hold at the library, of course.

    Since we’re calling out walkable towns/neighborhoods, I’ll throw the MidTown district of Reno, NV in the ring. We just sealed the deal on a road diet for our previously blighted main street, which should reduce car lanes, widen sidewalks to as much as 22 feet (up from 18 inches in some places!) and create more space for trees, on-street seating and public art. Aside from this street, the neighborhood is 100% walkable to restaurants, groceries, businesses, the library, schools and a large public park, and bikeable to everywhere else. We live in a single family home and we’re toying with the idea of building one or two more units in our (ample) backyard to do our part towards creating urban density. This article may have inspired me to go for it!

  • Edifi February 10, 2017, 5:38 pm

    Cars were definitely better to have before everyone had one. My office is in one of the most congested parts of concrete-car-clown Houston, and what I’ve noticed as the commute gets worse is, instead of looking for alternatives to car transport, people actually double down on more expensive cars in an attempt to make the time feel more luxurious.
    I guess for a lot of people, spending more makes them FEEL richer…

  • John French February 10, 2017, 5:38 pm

    Great article, MMM. Your posts about transportation are some of my favorites, and after reading the Car Clown article a while back, I’ve started following a lot of urban planning blogs. In addition to Strong Towns, a couple more that I like are:
    http://usa.streetsblog.org – urban planning news blog, with a few different blogs covering city, state, and national news
    http://humantransit.org – the blog of transit planner Jarret Walker

    And, if you want a more in-depth look at the history of how the motorcar came to dominate American cities, read “Fighting Traffic” by Peter D Norton.

  • Leslie February 10, 2017, 5:49 pm

    You might also enjoy reading The Geography of Nowhere which makes many of these points, and quite entertaining as well.

  • slugline February 10, 2017, 6:07 pm

    I’m a fan of the book “Happy City” and the bloggers over at “Strong Towns,” so of course I’m pleased to see the crossover with Mustachian philosophy here. As you recounted the shift in attitudes from viewing the automobiles as intruders on the American street to enthroning them as king of our roads, I was reminded of an excellent Freakonomics Radio podcast episode called “The Perfect Crime,” which describes how the car has given us a shockingly acceptable method of killing a human being and getting away with it.

  • Jackie Christianson February 10, 2017, 6:45 pm

    Agreed wholeheartedly! The biggest potential problem is weather though. I live in Wisconsin and I get a lot of “you bike IN WINTER?! Are you mad??” comments from co-workers.

    Biking to and from work is one of the best parts of my working days, it’s the best way to decompress after a stressful shift and you can’t beat the time economy of biking to work. Same commute time, very low expense, best parking spot every day, and I get a workout out of it too?! That said I can see a lot of push back during winters or inclement weather though. Some days it’s not reasonable to bike to work, like when we get freezing rain and roads turn into ice rinks. On those days it’s barely reasonable to operate a 4-wheeled vehicle. What’s the solution to places with weather that blows?

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2017, 7:08 pm

      I grew up in a climate identical to yours, and the best solution I could find was to reduce the distances involved. For example, if I were forced to move back to Ottawa, Canada, I’d live within 2 km of work (or whatever my primary activity was), so I could walk everywhere.

      Biking in sub-zero-F with deep snow or ice can be a bit of a challenge But walking is ALWAYS easy, as long as you have a few good pieces of clothing.

      As a city planner, I’d make the cities of the continental far north even more compact and completely person-friendly, to account for the fact that car driving sucks even more in winter. You could even have most of the town connected by tunnels, as they have in downtown Montreal and other places.

      And of course, if you’re stubborn like me, you can just move away. The weather in the Western US is a beautiful thing!

      • GB February 12, 2017, 10:34 am

        Hey Jackie,

        I’m from MN and bike commute year round, and get a lot of the “are you crazy?” questions, too. :) But, we have an excellent network of bike paths and a small minority of my co-workers bike commute. Employers have recognized this and two out of the three employers I interviewed when I was job searching offered bike parking and showers as employee perks. Embarrassment of the riches.

        But I would say over the entire year there may be 10-20 work days where it is too icy or frigid to bother. But those days are what transit/telecommute is for.


      • Eliot February 12, 2017, 2:25 pm

        Title for a future blog post?: “Theres no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing”

        Good clothing coupled with a workplace that provides a place to park your bike securely and have a shower makes commuting by bike more attractive…

        • Jackie Christianson February 13, 2017, 3:00 pm

          Hah! Very true! I did recently decide to invest in some more protective gear so my toes and nose don’t freeze. Those balacava things (they look kinda like a burka) they use for motocross are great!

      • Jackie Christianson February 13, 2017, 2:55 pm

        Distance reduction does work. I’m in the lovely city of Madison, WI and in this city it’s actually illegal to build a building that is higher than our state capitol building. It’s a really strange rule, but they’re strict about it; they won’t approve a building plan for a building that would end up higher than the capitol building, for example. It’s objectively a stupid rule but, in truth, it’s really nice to live in a city that still has a smaller, more community-based feel to it. Something about skyscrapers just…depersonalizes things, somehow. It’s not a rational thought, but I like the larger parcels of land per house and limit on how many people can be packed into one area.

        That said, Madison is a fabulous city for biking in. Even the Twin Cities in Minnesota couldn’t compete with the sheer number of bike paths, bike lanes in the roads, and bike-friendly areas of town. Our public transportation isn’t good, but lots and lots of people bike commute here even with the sprawl because the infrastructure is there. I’m not the only person who still bikes in sub-zero weather, but our numbers are markedly fewer in winter.

        Tunnels would be a great idea for bike commuting in bad weather! I always liked the idea of a raised bike path that’s completely separate from motor vehicles, but a tunnel would work well. I seem to recall seeing an article somewhere about the possibility of having raised bike paths with solar panels built into the walkways…

      • Katie February 14, 2017, 8:53 pm

        I’m in Wisconsin and we bike year round. We have a heavy cargo bike and put studded tires on through the winter months. I am WAY more comfortable on my bike than in my car on the icy days. I do get some comments and looks from others, but the more they’ve seen me around the more “normal” it has become, and I see other families out too.
        All of that said, we’ve also made our “world” very small – our town is 1.5 sq miles and we don’t need to leave it often in our day to day lives.

        • brad February 14, 2017, 9:24 pm

          I’m a year-rounder as well over in Stevens Point, WI. I know what you mean about the studded tires. I haul a child-filled trailer and I have a lot more confidence in my stopping power with the studded tires. Happy frozen pedaling!

        • Dave March 3, 2017, 7:57 am

          I’m excited to see that my wife and I are not the only (central) Wisconsinites! I biked about 1/2 of last year in Marshfield and loved it. My bike is ready to go again as soon as the ice melts. (Next year I’ll have studded tires!)

      • MKE February 15, 2017, 7:07 am

        It is much, much easier to ride a bike when it is single digits fahrenheit or lower than it is to walk. It’s not even close. I occasionally walk when the roads are so icy I don’t see the risk being worth it on a bike. It is freezing! No movement to stay as warm, and all the additional time.
        The only thing worse than walking when it is super-cold is being in a car. In a car you start cold and stay cold because all you do is sit there. Cars suck. PERIOD.

    • anotherengineer February 13, 2017, 12:42 pm

      Take heart. I just returned from the fifth Winter Cycling Congress in Montreal where 400 professionals and advocates from across Canada, the Upper Midwest, Scandinavia, Alaska, and Russia discussed engineering, maintenance, and encouragement to support winter cycling. There are a lot of exciting things going on in winter cities and increasing support from politicians.

      As a transportation engineer/planner, I’ve been a fan of both Strong Towns and MMM for many years and find them to be very compatible.

  • Seth On Fiddle February 10, 2017, 6:46 pm

    This is instantly one of my favorite articles dude!

    Living in Peoria, IL, a classic rustbelt Midwest city, the original layout of the city is horrendous for biking/walking. Even for cars it is horrible. Our city tends to want to build new things as far away from the heart of the city as possible. Peoria continues to expand outward and leaves behind many areas of the city. Not only is it that much more expensive to continue building brand new roads to nowhere, but doing this also adds to the costs of road maintenance, sewer maintenance, police patrol for speeders, etc. Instead of focusing on existing streets, pipe, electric lines, etc., our city continues to add to the problem by adding MORE of these things. I’m sure other metro areas do the same thing… which multiplies the cost to state and federal road funds, etc,etc. If that makes sense…. you hit the nail on the head with this article.

    • Megan February 11, 2017, 4:00 pm

      Never thought I’d see my hometown on here! I wholeheartedly agree with you. Everyone wants to live around Peoria – Dunlap, Morton, East Peoria – but no one wants to live in Peoria. There’s nothing in between downtown and War Memorial, for the most part. Tons of neighborhoods don’t have nearby grocery stores, but let’s build one out by Grand Prairie. At least they built a Schnucks off Knoxville in Dunlap. People can actually walk or ride their bikes to the store and don’t have to risk death like they would if they biked over Rt. 6.

      • Seth on Fiddle February 14, 2017, 2:41 pm

        I’m glad the city has added bike lanes to their street master plan. There are a lot of what I call , curmudgeons, in Peoria who just like things the way they are. We definitely a lot more forward thinking people involved to make things happen here. There’s some great groups doing great work on advancing the cause of common sense stuff like Bike Peoria, Peoria Park District with “the trail”, and even the streets department gets it! – adding more bike lanes to the street master plan.

        Also, it’s my goal to bike to work from Rolling Acres to Main street, but that means risking my life several times a day round trip. i.e. crossing War Drive, University, etc… Someday!

  • Tim Whelan February 10, 2017, 6:52 pm

    Bravo! Although not as funny, I like this article almost as much as the original “Curing your Clown-Like Car Habit”

    MMM for President!

  • Andrés February 10, 2017, 7:00 pm

    “So, support more density, but only if it discourages cars.”
    and, I would say, encourages intercalated green areas. I would be afraid of living in a cubicle in a jungle of concrete. High density should be accompanied by green areas where people can enjoy nature right in front of the door.

    • Susan February 13, 2017, 11:15 am

      But REAL nature! Not some manicured lawn that requires fertilizer, water, and mowing. Native plants do so much to clean water and air, prevent flooding, and protect wildlife. We have nearly wiped out all of the native vegetation and now the pollinators and birds are disappearing, too.

      • Gerard February 15, 2017, 6:30 am

        Hong Kong does this surprisingly well. The populated areas are super-populated (which means transit is great), but there are basically no suburbs. About 40% of the land is “country parks” (mostly forest), which are not manicured at all, and another 30% or so is countryside/farmland. I took a bus to a village and another bus from there to the middle of freakin’ nowhere; I saw about ten other people in three hours of hiking.

  • Fiscally Free February 10, 2017, 7:11 pm

    If you plan to build a magical, walkable, bikeable city, please do it in the southern half of California. It will probably be a bit more expensive and you will probably have to jump through more regulatory hoops, but I promise the weather is worth it.
    If you build it, I will come. Heck, I’ll even help you build it.

    • stoaX February 13, 2017, 5:07 pm

      I would suggest that Rancho Santa Margarita California, while not magical, is a walkable, bikeable city.

      • Fiscally Free February 15, 2017, 9:21 am

        It’s a nice town, but I think it’s much more car-centric than what MMM would like.

  • David February 10, 2017, 7:22 pm

    I dream of living in Piscataquis Village in Maine someday if it ever gets built. I need to sign up on the website as one of the people who will pay for a lot.

    • Susan February 13, 2017, 11:34 am

      Thank you for mentioning that. I’d never heard of it before, but it looks fascinating. Can I talk my hubbie into a $10,000 investment? Hmm….

    • Planck June 28, 2017, 3:46 pm

      I pinged them in facebook and had no response. Do you have any further info?

  • Lizzie February 10, 2017, 7:44 pm

    I’ve often marveled at the amount of concrete that seems to be required for everyday living. I think everyone would really prefer to live in a more integrated, personable community, but we all stubbornly cling to what has become normal. I admit that I am a hypocrite in this regard, barely knowing my own neighbors (granted, it is a high-turnover neighborhood with lots of renters), but you’ve inspired me to reach out a little more.

    In grad school, we truly could not afford the parking pass, and certainly could not afford the extra car on the grad school stipend, so my husband biked/bused every day. The habit has carried on to his postdoc, but I’ve got to admit, as much good as the exercise does him (and as quick as it is), it makes me nervous. He has a near miss at least once a month where someone got way too close, didn’t bother to look, or was just plain aggressive (we are in a college town). Is this normal for commuting by bike? Any thoughts?

  • Ruby February 10, 2017, 7:53 pm

    Currently live in Jacksonville, Florida – it is a really car centric town given our size – the biggest city by land area in the lower 48 states. While my husband can bike to work for most of the winter/spring/fall seasons, (we chose to live within 4 miles of our workplace), and the nearest banks/grocery stores/drugstore is within a mile from our house, we cannot physically bike there during summer (our summers can last longer, lasting between May until September). The Florida heat is scorching mainly because of the humidity, even if we are way up in the north, and is definitely uncomfortable and a bit unbearable. Oh, and during the summer we have freakish storms that burst down every single day for a couple of hours. Typical Florida weather.

    That, and well, I don’t know how to ride a bicycle so I’m stuck with walking. I don’t really have a problem walking to the store if need be (did that a few times already and back), and so I’m *trying* to learn how to ride a bicycle to at least help me get around more quickly.

    We are a one-car household, which is also “odd” in Florida terms where most people here have at least 2 per household. I used to live in Manila though – a massive mega-city which is also car centric. I took public transportation all the time back home because I can’t bear the thought of me driving alone in a car, sitting in traffic, burning fossil fuel while sitting there AND also being tired of having to deal with the clutch and brake (I drove a manual car).

    I do love New York and European countries though – the fact that even walking 80 blocks is feasible if you have the time (except in summer), and public transportation is everywhere to help you get from one place to another. Europe is still one of my most idea places to live in, but maybe when my husband and I are fully FI :)

    • Katie February 16, 2017, 6:26 pm

      Hey! I live in Jacksonville and my husband bike commutes to work everyday also. Even in the summer he would just bring a change of clothes and body wipes. He also works at a tattoo parlor though so it’s a little lax with his appearance and he can wear a hat. Jacksonville is super car centric. It also always in the top ten for bike deaths and accidents in the country. Riding here can be sketchy. We have good infrastructure in some areas but it isn’t connected to all parts of our huge city.We are moving into a house we bought next month and I’ll be able to bike to one of my jobs three days a week. I want to get rid of the car altogether but my other job is off Southside and riding 12 miles there and back is a bit daunting haha, ideally I want to save for a foldable Brompton bike. And maybe ride my bike to my other job and Uber home those two days a week. Anyways nice to meet you. Nice to a fellow frugal person whose husband commutes to work in my town :)

  • Sean Merron February 10, 2017, 8:08 pm

    So when and where are we building this city? Haha jk.. well kinda…

    Over the years of reading your great blog we’ve downsized from a 2500 sq. ft. home with BMWs to a 845 sq. ft. apartment around more happy people and have lived with only one vehicle and 2 bikes. Your inspiration has caused us to even write a book (as you know) about our transformation. However, as we get further outside of the financial trap it we are realizing the more rewarding benefit of reducing waste as we spread the word. Regulation continues to hold us back and cost us more.

  • Kyle February 10, 2017, 8:52 pm

    I thought you were going to announce a new development you were heading up in northern Colorado. I was ready to move…

  • JBar February 10, 2017, 8:56 pm

    As someone for whom walkability is paramount in choosing where to live and who never owned a car before I was 39, all I can say is: Right on, Mr. Money Mustache!

    The movement for walkable cities and against the tyranny of zoning began much earlier than the rise of New Urbanism in 1993. I’ll have to look at Happy City, but the best stuff I’ve read on the subject dates back half a century: I highly recommend Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and William Whyte’s essays on New York City street life (which can be found in the William Whyte Reader). In addition to being a great writer, Jacobs was an antagonist of the NYC planning czar Robert Moses, who wanted to place a highway through Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

    But unlike Jacobs and Whyte’s day, when much of the problem lay with city planners, now most planners are fairly enlightened about this stuff. It’s the neighborhood groups that typically are the biggest obstacle to change for the better. Meanwhile, people realize that walkable, bike-able places are great places to live, so rents are rising in those places.

    Take my neighborhood on the west side of Asheville NC, where I can reach multiple supermarkets, a public library, hardware stores, coffee shops, brew pubs, dozens of restaurants, schools and all manner of services with five minutes or less of non-threatening bike riding. Over the last decade, rental costs and housing prices have risen faster here than anywhere else in the county, precisely because of these attributes. Yet when people want to build desperately needed high-density rental housing, out come the neighbors–overwhelmingly self-described environmentalists–to rail against the developers and the “forces of gentrification.” Dudes, the price of housing in this neighborhood isn’t going to go down unless there’s more of it or, conversely, nothing gets built but the neighborhood becomes a less desirable place to live! Those are your choices!

    Sorry for venting, but it makes my blood boil.

    • Bryan February 13, 2017, 8:22 am

      I’ll second the suggestion to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Later in her career, Jacobs wrote another short book in Platonic dialogue called The Nature of Economies, which is about how things develop, including cities, and give pause to the idea that planners, however enlightened, can plan the future. In this vein, check out Bettencourt’s “The Kind of Problem a City Is” http://samoa.santafe.edu/media/workingpapers/13-03-008.pdf for a primer in complexity. The essay starts with a quote:

      “Cities are not organisms, any more than they are machines, and perhaps even less so. They do not grow or change of themselves, or reproduce or repair themselves. They are not autonomous entities, nor do they run through life cycles, or become infected. […] But it is more difficult, and more important, to see the fundamental ineptness of the metaphor and how it leads us unthinkingly to cut out slums to prevent their “infectious” spread, to search for an optimum size, to block continuous growth, to separate uses, to struggle to maintain greenbelts, to suppress competing centers, to prevent “shapeless sprawl”, and so on.”
      Kevin A. Lynch, Good City Form (1984).

    • David February 17, 2017, 8:01 pm

      One problem I have with Jane Jacobs is she did not support tall buildings. I think in some places this is another kind of NIMBYism. If the price of land is very high it makes sense to build up.

      • JBar February 19, 2017, 8:51 pm

        That was more of a reaction to the “urban renewal” of her day, where old neighborhoods of five- and six-story buildings were being razed and replaced with Corbusier-inspired “towers in a park” projects–resulting in taller buildings but often lower actual total density. She was all for very high density in major cities.

  • Tatiana February 10, 2017, 9:22 pm

    So when are we gonna build your Badass Utopia?
    what about http://www.seasteading.org? I’d love to hear what you think…

  • Andres February 10, 2017, 9:43 pm

    One thing missing from your bullet list: Run for local office and change those policies from the top.
    It matches right up with your “Do Something Ridiculously Difficult” post from a few months ago. :)

    I’m currently running against an incumbent who worked on this highway megaproject:

    • JBar February 10, 2017, 10:13 pm

      Good luck with your campaign, Andres. Flabbergasted to read that the city of Seattle spends $17,000 per curb ramp. How is that remotely possible? The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center prices them at $810 on average.
      Seattle needs to elect you!

    • Mr. Fi February 11, 2017, 12:07 pm


      This is awesome. I love Seattle and you are running on a great platform. I wish you luck!

    • Susan February 13, 2017, 11:56 am

      Good for you, Andres. I just went to your site and sent $50 your way. I live in Houston, but since the disastrous election of 2016, I have decided it is time to support great candidates wherever I can find them. Hey, fellow Mustachians – will you join me and send some support to Andres?

  • Andrew February 10, 2017, 9:57 pm

    You do make Colorado sound idyllic. Do you have recommendations for people thinking about moving to the Longmont/Boulder area?

    Longmont sounds pretty and well-priced, but is pretty far from work; I could simultaneously uproot my life to a new state _and_ start my own business from home, but that’s definitely a commitment.

    Boulder seems nice too, in a lot of the same ways, and there’s a branch of my company (Google) there…but the cost of housing there is much closer to that of Seattle, where I currently live. A bit higher, maybe, even–Zillow suggests that getting a house within a mile of work is a million plus? A couple options in the 750 range, but IDK how realistic that is.

    I assume you very much wouldn’t recommend a daily commute from Longmont to Boulder? 15 miles biking is doable, but seems a bit silly.

    • Andrew February 10, 2017, 10:02 pm

      For that matter, financially I could probably just retire right now to Longmont (not Boulder), which would solve the work problem, and sounds amazing, but there’s an issue with that: I’m currently single, and it seems like a really bad idea to move to, well, the sticks. The only reason I live in a big city now is that I have half a chance of finding a decent girlfriend to marry (and talk into moving to a cheap rural area!)

      (Not that the plan is going well, at all, but that’s another story.)

      Whenever people here or elsewhere discuss the wonders of moving to quiet, cheap, beautiful places, a voice in the back of my head keeps saying “That’ll be great, but you’ll have a wonderful retired life alone.” I sort of have to live somewhere there’s a reasonable population of single people my age, and as far as I can tell that means big cities. Which waste my money.

      • Heidi Alexander March 3, 2017, 8:18 am

        This is an excellent point. Many single people, across all age groups, pay a premium to be near other singles. Retiring to an affordable area surrounded by married couples can feel like social death.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 15, 2017, 12:46 pm

      Yeah, Boulder houses are freaky-expensive to buy, but reasonable to rent. If I were working a $150k+ software job in Boulder which required me to be in the office every day, I’d go straight to the Craigslist rentals page. A second option is Northwest Louisville (where I bought my first house). Only 8 miles from work, although still quite expensive.

      The real solution is for more people to get jobs, and start companies, here in Longmont. Boulder became unaffordable years ago, so I wish they would stop adding jobs there.

      • JBar February 16, 2017, 2:00 pm

        Wish all you want, but jobs tend to go where there is a preexisting economic and social ecosystem in place to support them. There’s only so much citizens can do on that front.

        On the other hand, voting in local governments that encourage more housing by encouraging higher density would definitely make housing more affordable (or at least moderate the price increases).

        Not surprised to see an economics professor at CU making the same point:


  • Rachel S. February 10, 2017, 10:20 pm

    I live in downtown Chicago in the West Loop. A couple of months ago I went to an Alderman Q&A for my ward and it was mostly wealthy white people in their 50s complaining about the lack of parking. They were upset that new residential buildings didn’t have enough parking built into the blue prints, and they were also upset about the tall flowers in the median planters. Why? They can’t see around the flowers while driving. When they started complaining about bountiful foliage, I knew it was time for me to head home.

  • Francisco February 10, 2017, 10:49 pm

    I have been reading your blog for two years which generated my interest in urban planning. I recently started reading the Strong Towns blog so it felt nice to see you commenting on it!

    Thank you very much for sharing your ideas!


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