I don’t think this business of people not, in practice, walking anywhere even in a suburb with nice sidewalks and so forth is all that mysterious. After all, why would you walk rather than drive? Observing life among the northeastern elitists, the main reasons people might have for not taking a car on a given trip are:
- Don’t have a car.
- Planning to get drunk.
- Parking is expensive/annoying.
- Traffic is bad.
- Gas is too expensive.
Insofar as none of those factors obtain — and I take it none of them do apply in Irvine, CA except for factor five — people are naturally going to drive. Probably if Irvine were substantially more downscale, more people would be eager to reduce gasoline costs by taking a brief walk to the supermarket. But even in a town like DC that’s not all that car-oriented, people who have cars and cheap parking and not that much congestion on the route tend to drive places. And why wouldn’t you? This is part of the reason that the little-discussed topic of parking minimums is very important. Obviously, people like to park quickly and for free. And when they can park quickly and for free, they tend to drive to their destination. And for some situations, this may be an appropriate use of space. But we have a lot of places in the United States where developers are required to build vast quantities of parking.
That’s an inefficient use of space in both land and energy terms. And when it doesn’t happen, the tendency is for parking to become more expensive or more inconvenient. In which case people may start to give a second look to that sidewalk or bike lane. Which isn’t so much a good end in-and-of-itself as it is just a consequence of declining to make the car the be-all and end-all of the planning experience.
And of course if gasoline does get much more expensive in the future (which it might) then all the free parking in the world won’t make up for that fact, and people will look to switch away from driving. But nothing the urbanism-minded say should ever be taken to deny that, under optimal conditions of low-traffic roads and convenient free parking, driving is a really convenient and appealing option. But we have a lot of places where “low-traffic” is no longer a viable option and all that free parking comes at a high cost.