Cities know how to improve traffic. They keep making the same colossal mistake.

“For decades, New York City has been trying to enact an ambitious experiment to reduce traffic and pollution on some of the most congested roads in the world by charging cars a fee to drive in parts of Manhattan and using the revenue to better fund public transportation.
It’s known as congestion pricing, and after many hard-fought political and legal battles, lawmakers and transit officials had finally agreed on a plan that was set to launch later this month. Mere weeks before the new fees would go into effect, however, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul postponed the implementation of the plan indefinitely, citing economic concerns.

Supporters of the long-planned, much-discussed effort are fuming. The plan’s ultimate goals were to get cars off the road, reduce carbon emissions, and improve public transit, including the New York subway and regional rail. Congestion pricing would have, in other words, made the city safer, cleaner, and easier to get around for the people who live there.

Now, it looks like the city has no plan B.”

One change that would make cars safer for everyone

“Pedestrian deaths have increased 75 percent in the US since 2010, according to Smart Growth America’s latest report. The numbers started increasing dramatically in 2020, with pedestrian deaths reaching a 40-year high in 2022.
In the intervening years, I’ve learned a lot about the factors that make traffic fatality rates in the US 50 percent higher than they are in other comparable nations.

They include dangerous road design that makes it easy for drivers to speed, and a breakdown in traffic enforcement that allows some of the worst drivers to get away with it for so long that they eventually kill someone. I’ve also reported how drivers in the US spend more time using their phones while driving than people in other countries, and on survey data that seems to suggest that drivers in the United States have more lax attitudes toward road safety than their European counterparts.

But there’s one thing I still can’t understand.

Why has the government failed to address the fact that large, heavy vehicles are deadlier to pedestrians and cyclists than smaller cars? There is actually a way to make cars safer for everyone — and it includes changing how the government rates a “safe car.” In Europe, government regulators test new vehicles to see how dangerous they are for pedestrians and cyclists and include that information in their safety ratings. They’ve been doing it for years. The US does no such thing.

Those 5-star safety readings you see for cars? That rating is for people inside the car. So if you’ve read the news about the soaring numbers of vulnerable people being killed on roads, and thought about purchasing something that would be safer for them, you aren’t going to be able to find that information. The government currently isn’t testing for it.”

China Is Doubling Down on Electric Vehicle Subsidies

“”China spent roughly $173 billion in subsidies to support the new energy-vehicle sector, which encompasses electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, between 2009 and 2022,” write Kubota and Leong. By 2019, there were 500 E.V. manufacturers in China. But that same year, the government started paring back those incentives, and by 2023, the number of automakers had shrunk by 80 percent.
Now, though, the country is ready to throw good money after bad: “Chinese leader Xi Jinping has called on local leaders to promote ‘new productive forces’—a buzzword in Chinese policy circles for the need to promote high-value manufacturing industries.” Local leaders responded by pumping money into struggling companies—in one case, giving the equivalent of $27.5 million to a company that had sold fewer than 2,000 cars in the first quarter of 2024.

“China currently has the capacity to produce some 40 million vehicles a year, though it sells only around 22 million cars domestically,” the Journal authors warn. As a result, the country’s largesse “is adding cars to a global market that risks becoming more oversupplied.”

Of course, E.V.s are not inherently a bad idea—especially in China, whose cities have a history of such severe pollution that it lowers the nation’s life expectancy.”

“But as with anything, the advent of clean-energy technology should be driven by market forces. The Chinese government spent more than a decade subsidizing the production of electric vehicles, no matter whether consumers wanted to buy them. When the spigot of free money finally shut off, and manufacturers had to stand on their own, the country saw the rise of “E.V. graveyards,” in which entire fields were covered in unsold or abandoned vehicles.

America would do well to heed China’s example as a cautionary tale about industrial policy. China averaged 9.8 percent annual economic growth for 35 years starting in 1978; in 2013, officials pledged to keep growth at 7.5 percent—a two-decade low for the country, even if it would have been an enviable figure for any other nation.

But much of that expansion was driven by government spending, not market forces: For much of the 21st century, China embarked upon a construction binge, building residential and commercial developments as fast as possible with no regard for whether there were any tenants to fill them.

The result was China’s “ghost cities,” full of high-rise apartments and shopping centers in which nobody lived. Worried about rising debt, the Chinese government finally started drawing back its building spree in 2020. Since then, the country’s real estate market has cratered, and its debt load has only deepened.”

The reckless policies that helped fill our streets with ridiculously large cars

“What lies behind this shift? Some Americans prefer bigger cars, especially when gas prices are low, for their ample storage space, ability to see over other vehicles on the road, and perceived safety benefits (more on that later). But shifting consumer demands tell only part of the story.
For half a century, a litany of federal policies has favored large SUVs and trucks, pushing automakers and American buyers toward larger models. Instead of counteracting car bloat through regulation, policymakers have subtly encouraged it. That has been a boon for car companies, but a disaster for everyone else.”

“After the 1970s OPEC oil embargo triggered a spike in gas prices, the federal government adopted an array of policies intended to reduce energy demand.

One of Congress’s most consequential moves was creating the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which require that the average fuel economy (miles per gallon, or MPG) of a carmaker’s vehicles remain below a set threshold.

Pressed by auto lobbyists, Congress made a fateful decision when it established CAFE. Instead of setting a single fuel economy standard that applies to all cars, CAFE has two of them: one for passenger cars, such as sedans and station wagons, and a separate, more lenient standard for “light trucks,” including pickups and SUVs. In 1982, for instance, the CAFE standard for passenger cars was 24 mpg and only 17.5 mpg for light trucks.

That dual structure didn’t initially seem like a big deal, because in the 1970s SUVs and trucks together accounted for less than a quarter of new cars sold. But as gas prices fell in the 1980s, the “light truck loophole” encouraged automakers to shift away from sedans and churn out more pickups and SUVs (which were also more profitable).”

“In the early 2000s, the federal government made these distortions even worse.

During the George W. Bush administration, CAFE was revised to further loosen rules for the biggest cars by tying a car model’s efficiency standard to its physical footprint (which is basically the shadow cast by the vehicle when the sun is directly above it). President Obama then incorporated similar footprint rules into new greenhouse gas emissions standards that are overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Dan Becker, who led the Sierra Club’s global warming program from 1989 to 2007, told me that he and others warned federal lawmakers that adopting footprint-based standards was a mistake. “People like me were saying, ‘give carmakers another loophole and they’ll use it,’” he said. “But we lost.”

Those concerns proved justified. The average vehicle footprint expanded 6 percent between 2008 and 2023, a “historic high,” according to an EPA report, which also found that some carmakers, such as General Motors, actually had lower average fuel economy and higher average carbon emissions in 2022 than in 2017. To its credit, the EPA recently announced revisions to its vehicle GHG rules that would narrow (but not close) the gaps between standards for large and small cars.”

“In the early 1960s, Europe raised the ire of American officials by slapping a 50 percent tariff on chicken exported from the United States. In retaliation, the US enacted a 25 percent tax on pickup trucks imported from abroad. The dispute is long forgotten, but the “Chicken Tax” lives on.

Although the tariff was initially aimed at Germany’s immense auto industry (Volkswagen in particular), it also applies to pickups imported from newer automaking powers such as Japan and South Korea, where carmakers are often adept at building vehicles much smaller than those available to Americans.”

“In 1984, Congress stopped allowing small business owners to take a tax deduction for the purchase price of cars used for work. But the bill included a giant loophole: To protect those who need a heavy-duty vehicle (think farmers or construction workers), Congress made an exception, known as Section 179, for cars that weigh over 6,000 pounds when fully loaded with passengers and cargo. Today such behemoths are eligible for a tax deduction of up to $30,500, while business owners who opt for a smaller car can claim nothing at all.”

“Every time a car owner fills her gas tank, a portion of the bill goes into the federal Highway Trust Fund, a central source of funding for roads and mass transit. That tax rate is set at $0.184 per gallon, a level that has been frozen since 1993, when Bill Clinton was less than a year into his presidency. Congressional proposals to increase the gas tax to close a yawning highway budget gap, or at least tie it to inflation, have gone nowhere.

Over the last 31 years, consumer prices have risen 113 percent, making the real value of the gas tax less than half what it was in 1993. That decline has reduced the cost of powering a huge SUV or truck with abysmal gas mileage”

“Car safety rules are laid out in the encyclopedic Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which touches on everything from power windows to seat belts. But the FMVSS revolves around protecting a vehicle’s occupants; nothing within its 562 pages limits a car’s physical design to protect someone who might come into contact with it in a collision. That omission invites an arms race of vehicle size — precisely what the US is experiencing.”

“consider who benefits from oversized vehicles. American carmakers like Ford and GM (which are headquartered in Michigan, a crucial swing state) rely on juicy margins from big SUVs and pickups, which are more expensive and profitable than smaller models. They enjoy protection from foreign competition through tariffs like the Chicken Tax, as well as favorable policies like CAFE’s light-truck loophole.

The regulatory status quo suits domestic automakers just fine — and they act as a roadblock to even modest attempts to change it.”

“As American sales of big SUVs and trucks have surged, their owners are likely to resist policy moves they see as penalizing them. Many are likely to be unaware of the federal loopholes and policy oversights that have distorted their vehicle choices.”

Why is Biden blocking the cheapest, most popular EVs in the world?

“You can’t buy the Seagull in the US. But I bet you wish you could.
A small hatchback around the size of a Mini Cooper, the Seagull is a fast-charging electric car and claims a range of up to 250 miles (at least according to its home country’s generous tests); BYD, its Chinese manufacturer, claims it can go from 30 percent to 80 percent charged in a half-hour using a DC plug. It’s hardly a luxury car but it’s well-equipped, with a power driver’s seat and cruise control. “If I were looking for an inexpensive commuter car … this would be perfect,” veteran car journalist John McElroy said after taking a drive.

The best part? Its base model costs about $10,700 in China. That’s about a third of the cost of the cheapest EV you can buy in the US. In South America, it’s a little pricier, but still fairly affordable, at under $24,000 for a top-trim version. Even in Europe, you can get an entry-level BYD for under €30,000.

These are absolutely screaming deals — exactly the kind of products that could turbocharge our transition away from gas and toward electric vehicles.

And it’s just one of many BYD electric cars on offer, from the compact e2/e3 hatchback and sedan (think a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla) to the full-size, luxe Han EV, a more expensive option nonetheless selling for under $33,000 in China (it costs more than double that in Europe). Many of the options have an aquatic themed name: the Seal, the Dolphin, the Sea Lion.

The problem for Americans? The Biden administration is hell-bent on preventing you from buying BYD’s product, and if Donald Trump returns to office, he is likely to fight it as well.

That’s because the BYD cars are made in China, and both Biden and Trump are committed to an ultranationalist trade policy meant to keep BYD’s products out. They’ve seen what’s happened in other global markets that Chinese EV companies have entered. Shipments to Europe have increased astronomically; Chinese companies sold 0.5 percent of EVs in Europe in 2019 but they’re already over 9 percent as of last year. Companies like BYD make cheap, reasonably good-quality cars people are eager to buy.”

American drivers are now even more distracted by their phones. Pedestrian deaths are soaring.

American drivers are now even more distracted by their phones. Pedestrian deaths are soaring.

Texas Troopers Killed 74 People in Vehicle Chases Since Implementing Controversial Border Program

“Texas border enforcement cops killed 74 people and wounded almost 200 more during vehicle chases over a 29-month period, according to a report released yesterday by Human Rights Watch. The chases occurred as part of Operation Lone Star, a controversial program that has spent over $10 billion in taxpayer funds to militarize Texas’ border with Mexico.
Operation Lone Star (OLS), which was launched in March 2021 by Gov. Greg Abbot, has devoted a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars to increasing Texas’ border security, often using extreme tactics. Recently the program came under fire for using razor wire and blade-topped buoys on the Rio Grande in an attempt to keep out migrants.”

“According to the report, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers working under Operation Lone Star frequently engage in unnecessary vehicle chases and other dangerous driving maneuvers when attempting to make arrests. As a result, unnecessary police chases have increased by as much as 1,000 percent in some Texas counties.”

“In all, from March 2021 to July 2023, 74 drivers, passengers, or bystanders were killed in these chases, and 189 more were wounded. Those killed include seven bystanders, including a 7-year-old girl and her 71-year-old grandmother.”

How cars ruin wild animals’ lives

“The lives of wild animals are defined by mobility. You have all of these different scales, both spatial and temporal, in which animals are moving. They’re moving daily, as they roam around their territories looking for food. They’re moving seasonally, as they migrate between different habitats as the year turns. They have to move, in some cases, once in a lifetime, to disperse through new territory, or in search of a mate.
All of those movements are absolutely imperative to the survival of both individual animals and wildlife populations. Roads terminate or truncate those movements, by killing animals directly, as roadkill, but also by creating a barrier of traffic, what some researchers call a “moving fence” — this kind of impenetrable obstacle that prevents animals from navigating their habitats. To take a really dramatic, stark example, there are herds of mule deer and pronghorn in Wyoming that starve en masse while trying to reach low-elevation valleys to find food in winter because highways have blocked their migrations.”

“One of the really eye-opening experiences that I had working on this book was taking part in some bicycle surveys of roadkill in Montana. When you’re rolling along at 10 miles an hour and you’re much lower to the ground, rather than seated in the captain’s chair of an SUV, you see all of those small lives that you would never see at highway speeds in a car. I was struck by how many birds we saw: raptors, magpies, ravens, songbirds. The avian life along the side of the highway was really, really visible.”

“Hearing is one of the most important senses that wild animals have. It’s absolutely imperative for both predators and prey.”

“Wildlife crossings are incredibly effective, paired with roadside fencing that guides the animals to the crossings.”

“For the most part, the wildlife crossings that we’ve built are aimed at large, common animals that endanger driver safety, like deer and elk and moose: the animals that will wreck your car and maybe end your life if you hit them. We need more of those. But we also need more crossings that benefit the animals that don’t kill drivers on a regular basis, especially reptiles and amphibians, which are some of the most road- and car-endangered groups of animals in the world.

There are turtle culverts and toad tunnels out there, but they’re few and far between. There’s a lot of focus on wildlife crossings that pay for themselves, that prevent enough car crashes to recoup their own construction costs. But I think we’re also starting to see the rise of wildlife crossings that are aimed at conservation, rather than cost savings.”