The United States of Moloch

Moloch Commutes: Car is God, You Are Nothing

Recently on twitter, YseultCeirw said:

Fairly certain that crude oil is a genuine eldritch horror.

  • lied in wait in the Earth’s crust for literally millions of years
  • made from the dead bodies of creatures nobody in recorded history has ever seen alive
  • almost immediately granted us advanced technology
  • naturally occurring, yet has a scent incomparable to any other natural substance
  • pitch black liquid
  • kills anything it touches
  • using it to make anything kills everything it DOESN’T touch, but very slowly
  • inexplicably addictive to the money-poisoned
  • Is the cause of the mass extinction event we’re currently experiencing, and that 95% of people are completely unaware of or outright deny.

…which eerily sums up everything going on in the world.

We live surrounded from above, as below, by the elderdead controlled by 3-5 tiny petrostate economies corrupting the entire planet unabated for private gains.

But what can we do about it? What do we do about it? What is physically feasible? What is economically feasible?

Welcome to The United States of Moloch. We are a late stage instantiation of top-down and bottom-up evil marching us towards unsustainable planet practices until there’s nothing left.

This is part 3 of the 2019 moloch series:

Map’s A Matter With You?

It’s 2020 and we know a couple things about the world:

  • our living patterns are unsustainable
  • petrol cars are killing the planet
  • petrol cars won’t be phased out for another 15+ years
  • most of the world is now built around car travel
  • we can’t change our land usage built around cars without trillions of dollars in global spending

Let’s look at some maps showing how we’ve decided to build our world and what we can and can’t do about it.

Here’s a basic community with some shops, housing, roads, even with a highway down the middle:

If you wanted to walk between, say, the Party City on the left and the Home Depot on the right, it would take you 40 to 70 minutes (depending on your walking speed and how long you need to wait for walk signals at road crossings).

Most of your walking time is spent covering the linear distance of surface parking lots. Without those thousands of parking spots, shops could have been placed much closer together.

Let’s highlight how much land is wasted with flat surface parking lots:

With proper land management and city planning, all 10 blocks of these strip mall shops (which you can’t realistically walk between) could have been placed in four walkable blocks.

In addition to those unwalkable shops, let’s look at the housing in the lower left map corner. There’s a couple communities next to each other, and it looks like they could make good neighbors!

Wrong. They will never be good neighbors because:

  • the communities have outside walls preventing any entrance/exit to/from the subdivision outside of the main street entrance
  • the seven lane road (2 each direction, middle lane, 2 half bike lanes) has no crosswalks and during busy times, you can’t just walk into the road—you have to walk all the way down to a traffic light, wait for a cross signal, then walk all the way back down on the other side of the street (5+ minutes) instead of a 30 second street crossing.

Since these housing communities are immediately adjacent to shopping, it would be nice to walk to the grocery stores and restaurants next door, right? You can see the shops from your windows!

Except, no, because the city required your development be “isolated from intruders,” you can’t walk anywhere. The outside boundary of your subdivision is a high wall you can’t cross. You have to exit your community at the road, walk up a road to a traffic light, cross into the shopping center, and walk across the shopping center to do anything.

Without the walls, you could walk to the grocery store in 2 minutes. With the walls, you now need a 10 minute walk (impossible in the summer desert sun) which nobody will do. Your “use your body” walk to the store now becomes a “sit and waste away in a car” trip to the store on surface streets, spewing exhaust fumes the entire way. You feel ridiculous making a 3 minute car trip to visit a store literally abutting your property, but there’s no other reasonable way to get there and back. After a while, it becomes the new normal. Need to travel more than 200 feet? Just take your car.

A 3 minute car trip doesn’t sound bad, but it presupposes you, you know, have a car. If you don’t have a car and want to do this trip without burning 30 minutes walking time round trip, now you need:

  • a car (monthly payment? $350+ probably these days)
  • car insurance ($100+ monthly)
  • car upkeep ($20+ monthly)
  • petrol ($20+ monthly)
  • yearly tag, title, tax payments
  • inviting government oversight into your every travel decision through police traffic enforcement, ALPR, OnStar spyware
  • subconscious guilt about continuously destroying the planet

So you’re burning over $5,000 per year (after tax, so probably $10k of your pre-tax salary) because your city planners refused to fathom people without cars could possibly exist.

What about just walking across to the other strip mall block though? It’s a literal 30 second walk across some 8 lane road. Some 8 lane two-way road with no traffic controls and no crosswalks.

If you wanted to walk just across the street, it requires another 5+ minutes of walking up to the main street, waiting for traffic lights, walking from the main street back down to the shop you want, and then doing the same poor-city-planning-imposed punishment on your reverse trip back.

No wonder people would rather burn petrol exhaust for a literal 30 second across the street route instead of taking 10 minutes of effort (and full-on desert sun exposure) to navigate unnecessary street obstacles solely because city planners never considered pedestrians would want to walk across an eight lane road from one shop to another.

This is our world.

Let’s look at one more walking example from the other side. Just shop to shop.

(also note: Google Maps visually edits out cars from most roads, so even though all these roads look empty, it’s just a trick of the map and you’re missing the impact of seeing the onslaught of cars you’d have to dodge without crosswalk signals)

Looks simple, right? Two strip malls, right next to each other, but… with a 7 to 8 lane road between them and no crosswalk.

If traffic is light and it’s fully daylight outside, you can walk into the road hoping to enforce your pedestrian privilege. But if it’s night or very high traffic, your only option is to walk all the way down to the main street, wait for the traffic light, hope nobody is going to run their car into you turning right, run across the street, then walk back down to the other store.

All the extra human work and wasted time, and often just skipped trips altogether decreasing economic activity, instead of allowing a 30 second street crossing because the city is too inept to install crosswalks (or—heaven forbid—pedestrian bridges).

and what’s with all the void space? Sure, historical suburban patterns involve driving everywhere, and driving everywhere requires free parking else soccer parents faint at the sight of usage billing, but why can’t all these shops be in the same block and parking be allocated behind them? There’s no reason for these two malls to be on distinct blocks except for one reason: moloch commutes, and we all serve at the pleasure of the petrostates.

Let’s zoom out a bit to compare the shopping areas to the housing areas.

Looks like a good combination (minus the surface parking), right?

Wrong! It’s a trap! Primarily because you can’t walk anywhere except on the main intersections, and intersections are at least a 10 minute walk apart on the side streets.

One concession the city makes is to provide bike lanes. Except, they are non-barrier bike lanes you can only use while enjoying 8 lanes of car exhaust and the constant stress of pretending a painted white line on a road will stop cars from turning into you (end result: bike lanes only get used on Sunday mornings when cars are gone).

Moving on… only two more examples left. Let’s zoom in on the eight block, west-of-highway strip malls:

If we draw two walking paths, we can see how illogical, poorly planned, and anti-humanity this layout is with:

  • community walls preventing access to adjacent shops
  • 8 lane side streets with no crosswalk possibility (sorry, gotta walk 5-10 minutes up to the main street then back down)

Nobody is going to walk the above green route. Instead of going for a nice 10 minute walk to a store three blocks over, already metabolically challenged Americans will sit in their cars spewing fumes for 5 minutes to live inside their surface parking lot prisons designed by city planners who believe the goal of life is to maximize parking at the expense of human health and happiness.

For the final example, let’s compare how human-hostile a simple crosswalk intersection has become.

Notice the small shop island on the top right. It’s next to the corner crosswalk. So if you are walking across the street to visit one of those shops, you can just walk through the corner of the crosswalk into the parking lot to reach the shop, right?

hahaha no, wrong! The corner of the crosswalk has walls, rocks, and plants to prevent you from walking into the parking lot! To enter the parking lot, you have to walk down the road another minute in either direction to enter where the cars enter.

In fact, none of the four corners allow any entry-by-walking. You always have to walk down to a vehicle-cut entry point to reach the parking lot entrance/exit points.

As a double plus bonus, there are bus stops at some of these intersections and the bus stops don’t have canopies which is great when you are waiting for a bus in the 115ºF summer direct-sun heat capable of sunburns within two minutes.


oh whoop. we’ve lost it all. humanity isn’t humanity, we are car-anity. moloch commutes.

while we navigate the ruinous wake of moloch commuting we become more and more entrenched in our long distance daily suburban (and exurban!) sprawl lifestyles. nothing is getting better and no matter how much radical city planning we install over the next 10 years, we can’t magically remove the totality of melts-your-shoes-in-the-summer surface parking lots and replace them with something better.

We are just running out the clock as we get more and more accustomed to how rotten our day to day experiences have become.

We can’t even walk across the street to visit a store because cars, and over the past 5 years more and more SUVs and 5-ton murder trucks, rule everything around.

the primary concerns in communities these days are:

  • fixing traffic
  • while everybody gets to keep their cars

which just isn’t a thing we can do.

Some areas of the country are enacting traffic mitigation infrastructure plans like Atlanta’s disastrous $1 billion construction of an elevated one directional highway to/from the deep exurbs directly into the city, which they think is progressive because they charge distance-based tolls (and they have plans to extend the “build double highways” methodology through 2032 and beyond).

No. No no. No no no. Shut down the elevated highway and turn it into a giant bike lane with seasonally-appropriate shade coverings.

The only proper way forward is building medium-range pedestrian infrastructure and long range bike infrastructure.

The only way forward is to take every road and install barrier-protected bike lanes, even if it means cannibalizing existing lanes. Most roads must be transitioned from two lane two-way vehicular roads, to one lane one way for cars and one dedicated barrier-protected lane for two-way bike traffic (plus, have bike lanes instrumented with proper signals for lane entry/exit and signals for lane crossover events when vehicles may be intersecting bike lanes for turns).

anyway, happy new year. stop driving and stop everyone you know from driving too.