This idea that dawned on me recently feels related.

I live in a city neighborhood bisected by busy commuter routes, a couple of which date back to old Indian trails. These aren't wide, spacious streets -- but they're still major routes for people from my own and neighboring communities to reach the interstate and a couple of other major connector highways.

So things get backed up during times of heavy travel. And the impatience of drivers with the various backlogs has led to corresponding problems with people speeding on residential streets to get around them. It's a vicious circle.

I'm not immune to it -- when I'm in a car. It's hard to be stuck in traffic, even though you're part of the problem. And I realized that I *never* have this feeling when I'm on foot or on a bike. In fact, there can be a certain smug satisfaction as you reach your destination on foot faster than the people sitting in cars beside you.

Of course I have to wait at traffic lights when I'm walking but it never feels as onerous as when I'm in a car. When I get the walk light, I can walk. Cars have to wait for the cars ahead of them to get through, and that can sometimes lead to several light cycles during especially busy times.

Haven't fully thought this out yet, so not sure where it will lead me. It certainly speaks to the positive psychology of being able to navigate your environment outside of a car.

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May 13·edited May 13

I think many people confuse "crowded" with "congested." I've heard people complain that their outer suburban communities have become "crowded" when they have to wait through multiple cycles at a traffic signal or endure a long checkout line at the local big box store. Those are actually signs of congestion -- a lot of people trying to drive, many of them alone, on the same road at the same time or trying to shop in the same big store rather than distributing their spending at scattered smaller shops. In a vibrant city, one with frequent transit service and mixed use development, you can have "crowds" in terms of high population density without a lot of congestion.

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"most of the places in America that we experience as being too crowded and too full are in reality far too sparse and empty."

We need more stuff catering to smaller catchment areas so every neighborhood has a set of neighborhood stores and if a store goes out of business it doesn't feel like the whole town is suddenly underserved. Makes sense to me. I guess the real counter argument is something like "but those stores will be more expensive with more overhead and less economies of scale." But the real real counter is probably "stores in our neighborhood brings riff raff and traffic." Later I can ignore but the former... Convenience would probably win out for me but it'd be even nicer if somehow this weren't true

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Yeah, as someone scouting for places in/around NC to be closer to aging parents, it really sucks trying to find something like I have in Boston (I get my car out of the garage like once a week tops, and that's just because we couldn't get into the local swimming lessons so we have to drive to an adjacent town).

Transit obviously helps, but I love all the stuff I can get to without even having to catch a bus. Makes the place feel so lively, especially when you randomly run into friends and neighbors out at the same place.

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Yea I think that the fundamental backbone of a community isn't cars or transit but walking. The fundamentals should be able to be walked to. After that, you fill in the gaps witj transit where feasible and cars/bikes where not. Cars will always be popular because they ARE great but when you need a car they feel...crowding.

What I appreciate about this substack tho is how Addison takes that feeling - that cars should be ancillary, or the feeling that when they're ancillary it can feel uncomfortable - and explains the WHY of it. Why is it uncomfortable? Because of the cars themselves. Why should they be ancillary? Connecting an emotional narrative on that to the practical costs is something urbanists have to do a better job of. "What's wrong with driving 15 mins from my quiet neighborhood to get anywhere? Sure climate, but electric cars! Meeting people? Eh, does that beat the deals at Costco?" Answering that conversation, with vision and price, is key. And if we can't, we should admit maybe we are wrong.

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"One question I come back to from time to time at this newsletter is what we mean when we say a place feels “crowded.” I think to a great extent what we’re really saying is “there’s a lot of car traffic here.” "

I know I'm an outlier, but my reaction was "speak for yourself". As a lifelong NYC resident, cars are the last thing I think about when someone says a place is "crowded". My first impression is that there are a lot of (or too many) people. Think crowded sidewalks in midtown. And even then most of the "congestion" is from out of towners who don't understand the pedestrian equivalent of the rules of the road ("pull over if you're going to check your phone, dammit!" I want to shout, but don't).

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Well, yeah. But NYC is the only place I've ever seen pedestrian "traffic congestion" outside of special events or temporarily only. I'm more talking about these very sparsely built exurban places where traffic starts to intensify and people feel that this still mostly empty place is "filling up" or something. Still I prefer human traffic, but I don't think in the vast majority of places you'd even get that.

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My personal thought is that the perception of exurbs filling up is often driven by loss of farms, fields, and woods, rather than traffic. FWIW.

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I can think of a few district in DC, Boston and Philadelphia where I've seen pedestrian congestion, though frequently it's tourist-driven. But to me, almost anywhere else it's "you could roll a bowling ball down the sidewalk and not hit anyone" territory.

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Lived most of my life in the triangle, personally, I don't really share your impression of the area in general. I do, however, understand that there are bottleneck areas for sure. My view in general is that it is about the rapidity and scale of growth in this area. They've built some infrastructure to support it but by the time they expand things it feels like its being built on top of again. Been joking with my dad for years that by the time they add a lane to a road they'll need to have added 2... Upon moving to Westchester NY for a job for a brief time I felt kind of similarly about traffic until I got used to the roads and learned the back road cut throughs a little more. Might your experience in the triangle be improved by avoiding 40 and 15-501 a little more? (Caveat: getting in and out of Chapel Hill sucks, will always suck, and I'm at least half convinced it's by design despite all of the talk of "inclusion" one might encounter) I drive a lot for work (also flexibly, so I am able to avoid a lot of the worst of it, to be fair) and I find driving around the NC country roads with windows down this time of year to be on of the best parts of my job.

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Personally, I do not equate being crowded with having a lot of traffic. I consider a place to be crowded first and foremost when you cannot see plenty of nature like trees and the sky, and second, when it has a lot of people.

I also think it’s a bit more complex than, less density, more trips. I have always considered DC and the inner counties to be crowded and traffic to be exceptionally awful, but the less dense comparison should probably be to smaller and less dense places like Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Staunton, Bedford, Blacksburg, and Farmville, not another very large MSA.

Also, why the emphasis on big stores like Costco? How often do you go to Costco, which will ship virtually everything except perishables? Most car trips are things like groceries, school, kids’ activities, doctor or vet visits, and so on. Most of those are typically going to be less than 15 minutes by car in a less dense area. I am in an exurb and I rarely need to travel further than that for anything except specialist physician or veterinary visits.

Having multiple centers of development in different areas does not mean that daily activities are not quick and convenient for people who live in those areas. It means that people who prefer less dense living do not have to drive very far.

How you organize things matters. Less dense areas that have needed amenities nearby in a village center may generate trips, but those trips tend to be short, often combined with multiple stops, and spread out over time rather than in a rush hour. It seems like the real traffic issue then is commuting, which work from home and local business development tend to reduce.

I think for less dense places, what makes it work is having enough local stores, restaurants, and other amenities to meet the needs of the people living there, sensibly utilizing existing centers of development so people can combine trips, and making it easier to work from home or start a business to reduce rush hour traffic.

You aren’t going to get everything centralized in exurbia. The local vineyard with a tasting room and weekly music is going to be further out, not in the village center. Ditto the riding stables and riding trails and boat launches, and of course farms. But having more business development around existing village centers - while preserving the character of the community - makes sense for exurban areas, and creating village centers would probably work for traditional suburbs - both while respecting the different preferences of different people.

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