Automobiles

Running Around

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Media reports inform us that transit planners have "only recently recognized as important" the fact that people do not drive straight home from work: They do errands, drop off the cleaning, pick up the kids, buy groceries, and so on. This is especially true of women, two-thirds of whom make stops. Men, the pigs, do so less than half the time, dumping the chores on their wives. But men, say the planners, are more than twice as likely to detour into a bar.

Such news has profound implications for the ongoing crusade to force everyone into car pools or onto mass transit. Car pools don't work when everyone must go somewhere different. And it's already difficult to make public transit work for direct shots between home and work, except in cities such as New York that have high densities at both ends of the trip. It becomes virtually impossible when you factor in side trips. After all, hopping on and off a transit system already eats that most valuable of commodities: time. The prospect of juggling a couple of toddlers and three bags of groceries on the way only makes it less attractive still.

The recognition of errand running raises disturbing questions about the planners' claims to knowledge. How could they not have known all along such an elemental fact about our behavior? What else have they failed to notice? One can hardly wait for the next revelation. Perhaps they will learn that people value time, comfort, predictability, autonomy, and control.

Indeed, this most recent discovery underscores planners' divorce from reality and highlights the basic problem with the current "smart growth" hype: It expects people to redesign their lives around politically correct transportation systems, rather than demanding that those systems adapt to users' needs.

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