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Conspiracy Theories

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
As much as I, who enjoys conspiracy theories, have always wanted to believe that "Automobile and tire companies destoryed mass transit," I always thought it was probably not that simple (or even true).

I thought this discussion was interesting:

Be Suspicious of Cassandra's"


If transportation planners' visions sometimes fall short due to one of the three fallacies, they are also often unjustly blamed by revisionist history, according to Mark Foster, author of From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban Transportation, and A Nation on Wheels.


Foster told the audience that none other than Lewis Mumford, the renowned architecture, urban planning and technology critic, claimed that planners and engineers, by allowing mass transit to deteriorate and by building superhighways and massive parking garages, had helped destroy the "living tissue of the city." Mumford articulated the conspiracy theory that promoted the allegation that the automobile and oil companies deliberately sabotaged public transportation companies, particularly the railways, in order to promote car ownership and increase sales of gasoline.


History, however, does not substantiate those claims, Foster noted.


"Back in 1903 mass transit companies were not considered victims, but predators," he told the audience. "Privately owned mass transit companies ruled the city streets and enjoyed close and intimate involvement with urban political machines." Graft was common as these monopolistic companies extended their routes.


Automobiles, on the other hand, were the "little guys," Foster said. Automobile manufacturers were producing only a handful of cars weekly, mostly for the wealthy, and automobile technology was far behind street rail technology—and would stay behind for a couple of decades. Meanwhile, street railway patronage continued to expand. By 1923, it reached its first peak of nearly 16 billion rides, before peaking again for what turned out to be the last time during World War Two.


Furthermore, automobiles were seen as an environmental improvement over horses, which not only left behind manure and urine, but also died and rotted on the streets frequently enough to be a nuisance.

When automobile traffic finally began to overwhelm cities, urban decision-makers relied heavily on technological fixes (fallacy number three, in Corn's analysis) beginning with mounted police, then moving to stationary police and manually operated traffic signals, and on to mechanical signals, synchronized lights, and multi-level traffic arteries, like New York's West Side Highway. Between the World Wars, these approaches were favored over subways and high-speed rail programs in large part because they could be implemented more quickly and cheaply and did not create the political resistance mass transit would encounter from politicians fearing they would be seen as bowing to the downtown business interests that would benefit from them. Street-widening and expanding the road network, on the other hand, was a quick fix that created concrete benefits in the eyes of voters, which was a boon when the next election period rolled around.


Contrary to the conspiracy theorists, Foster argues that the reason that cars took over the American landscape is a simple matter of historical forces: "The convergence of the timing of technological advances, the free enterprise system and democratic decision-making made the triumph of the automobile almost inevitable in the first half of the twentieth century."

DISCUSS! Lets hear from those who have given up "the tailpipe."
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
A better word may be collusion

Conspiracy implies wrong doing. I dont think they broke any anti-trust laws.

GM, Firestone, and the major petrochemical industries did form a lobbying group and in time did wield power.
 

bestnightmare

Cyburbian
Messages
61
Points
4
conspiracy also means that there was some secret or covert collaboration to acheive their motives.

what the car, oil, and tire companies did was relatively out in the open - of course they wanted to increase ownership and sales. at the time, this did not seem like a bad thing, although we are currently living with the consequences, both good and bad.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
That's crap.

GM WAS busted on conspiracy charges. They were hauled into court in LA and were ordered to pay damages in the industry crushing amount of $300. I might be $50 off on the number but we went over that case in my planning law class.

Same here in Philly.

People who cared recognized it as a conspiracy and as a problem. No one else cared.

The problem with that fallacious fallacy argument is that auto companies didn't start buying up the trolley companies when cars were a "new" technology. It happened several decades later when trolley's were already on their way out.

I'm not saying for a second that all of this city's trolley lines would still be around today if not for GM but they managed to dismantle quite a few of them.

Anyone who doubts GM wanted to see transit lose market share and were willing to go to almost any length should ask themselves why GM got so big into bus making or Greyhound for that matter?

When driving is more convenient than transit people with a choice will drive.
 

bestnightmare

Cyburbian
Messages
61
Points
4
oops my bad, you're right about the conspiracy charges...just seems such a shame that the government basically let it slide. they caught them breaking the law, and wished they hadn't...this must have been the time where everyone believed that anything that was good for industry must therefore be good for the country.
 

Beesball

Member
Messages
8
Points
0
bestnightmare said:
...this must have been the time where everyone believed that anything that was good for industry must therefore be good for the country.
Let's see, post-WWII, early Cold War (at least that's when the streetcars disappeared from DC)...yeah, I'd say the climate at the time allowed the feds to ignore a few minor infractions. Or a series of major ones.

And keep in mind that, bloated from war profiteerin...er...defense contracts, GM, Firestone, et al had enormous political clout, so they could, ahem, influence decisions about punishment and penalties.

Makes me proud of how independent today's politics are from corporate influence.
 

Runner

Cyburbian
Messages
566
Points
17
Beesball said:
Makes me proud of how independent today's politics are from corporate influence.
Cough, cough, I guess I missed something. Have election finance laws been changed?
 

green lizard

Member
Messages
133
Points
6
BKM said:
As much as I, who enjoys conspiracy theories, have always wanted to believe that "Automobile and tire companies destoryed mass transit," I always thought it was probably not that simple (or even true).

Good topic BKM.

Even if it was a 'plot', what of it? Companies are allways looking
to increase market share. Look at IBM, Microsoft and bellsouth.
Over the years they have all been found to been preatory in
their biss actions. So what. American free enterprise is built on
eat-or-be-eaten mentality.

For all the streetcar companies that went under, how many
horse buggy manufactures went out of biss?
Anyone crying about that?

We can yell 'ride your bike' and blame our congestion on the
car manufactures. Or you can quit pointing fingers and looking
for someone to blame. Get on with what you belive in will fix it.
Mabey it is 'ride your bike' or convert all the roads to toll roads.

But get over the consiracy crap. They teach planning students
more of this garbage than real skills. You do not have to make
it better by proving it is evil now.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
In the early 1900's the railroad and streetcar companies were so unethical that states and the feds passed laws to make them more accountable. One of the reasons mass transit has trouble now is that those laws restrict transit providers so they can't compete.

We had a bus sytem that could not cross county lines and could not provide highly desirable services like airport shuttle. The result is that a 3-county trip would take three very long transfers. And people would rent cars at the airport rather than taking the expensive and infrequent private shuttle.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
Re: Re: Conspiracy Theories

green lizard said:
Good topic BKM.

Even if it was a 'plot', what of it? Companies are allways looking
to increase market share. Look at IBM, Microsoft and bellsouth.
Over the years they have all been found to been preatory in
their biss actions. So what. American free enterprise is built on
eat-or-be-eaten mentality.

For all the streetcar companies that went under, how many
horse buggy manufactures went out of biss?
Anyone crying about that?

We can yell 'ride your bike' and blame our congestion on the
car manufactures. Or you can quit pointing fingers and looking
for someone to blame. Get on with what you belive in will fix it.
Mabey it is 'ride your bike' or convert all the roads to toll roads.

But get over the consiracy crap. They teach planning students
more of this garbage than real skills. You do not have to make
it better by proving it is evil now.
Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away and as the problem is by no means "over" there's no harm in talking about it.

There's nothing good about gouging consumers or distorting the market so that the product you provide is the only reasonable option. I think if you look around our older cities the evidence is more than ample.

p.s. - my younger brother is looking into buying his first house and he just informed me (in his own words) that the VA still has a bias towards new construction.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
gkmo62u said:
jresta:

What do you mean by "bias?"
if the house needs any amount of work they're not going to approve your loan . . . because they don't want people getting caught up in repairs to the point that they can't make their mortgage payments.

So rather than extending the mortgage to cover the cost of repairs (if the loan applicant is qualified) they tell people to move along and find something that needs less work.

If you're looking to buy something over 30 years old they're going over it with a magnifying glass.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
Both houses I've sold ended up being to VA buyers. One house was 50 yrs old, the other was 73. In both cases the VA made me, the seller, comply with their improvement requiremetns as a condition of sale. Since one house sold in 6 days and the other sold in 9, it was worth the time value to spend the money on repairs rather than wait for another buyer. In no way did the VA urge the buers to move on - just to negotiate the work.
 

green lizard

Member
Messages
133
Points
6
jresta said:
if the house needs any amount of work they're not going to approve your loan . . . because they don't want people getting caught up in repairs to the point that they can't make their mortgage payments.

.
It does not sound like bias. It sound like they are
protecting the unknowledgable buyer. A buyer that
may not have lots of cash to lose.

Once again, it is the perception of truth, not the
whole truth.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
Chet said:
Both houses I've sold ended up being to VA buyers. One house was 50 yrs old, the other was 73. In both cases the VA made me, the seller, comply with their improvement requiremetns as a condition of sale. Since one house sold in 6 days and the other sold in 9, it was worth the time value to spend the money on repairs rather than wait for another buyer. In no way did the VA urge the buers to move on - just to negotiate the work.
actually my brother did mention this but as he told me, if the seller isn't in a hurry to sell it's not always in his/her best interest to make the repairs, esp. if they are more than minor. If the seller is unwilling to do the work the VA will tell you to move along.


and remember, i didn't say that the VA pushes people into buying new houses - i said the bias was toward new construction. New houses don't get the same kind of scrutiny that older houses do. [Our board (MPO) has a definite transit bias. It doesn't mean that they only fund transit projects.]

There's nothing wrong with the VA trying to protect new buyers (but they're really trying to protect their own liability - which is also fine) The problem is when it favors houses "with fewer problems" when alternative financing schemes are available.
 
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