A vintage Ford in Portland, Oregon by drburtoni licensed under Creative Commons.

Despite our love affair with cars, the auto industry has been a heavy burden on society. Large and slow-moving storms can be deadlier in areas with sprawl. Can vacancy taxes bring down the costs of homes in some areas?

Were cars a terrible mistake?: In the US today, there are more cars than drivers. More than 3.6 million people have died in traffic crashes since 1899, and over 80 million have been injured. Nathan Heller writes about the impact and consequences of the automobile industry on our culture, society, and planet. (Nathan Heller | The New Yorker)

How sprawl makes storms more deadly: Historically, fatalities in storms have largely been attributed to storm surges, but in the past three years, 75% of the more than 160 deaths have been from flooding rather than surging seas. Larger and slower-moving storms hover over sprawling developments, where asphalt and concrete surfaces exacerbate the dangers of urban flooding. In Houston, a Texas A&M study found that Harris County, including central Houston and some suburbs, lost 29% of its wetlands to urban sprawl. (Peter Aldhous | BuzzFeed News)

Could vacancy taxes bring down housing prices?: In Oakland, California, an “empty homes penalty” or vacant-property tax was passed with the hope preventing speculators from sitting on properties until they can rent them for a higher rate, or selling them at a greater profit when prices inevitably rise. The tax penalty could be up to $6,000 per parcel and $3,000 per condo on properties occupied fewer than 50 days per year. Vancouver enacted a similar tax in 2017, and Los Angeles is considering vacant-property taxes. (Larry Buhl | The American Prospect)

How algorithms ‘see’ urban environments: A recent study from Silvio Carta aims to help city dwellers look past the human senses and understand how artificial intelligence acquires data to ‘see’ cities. Various other tech startups are also trying to translate algorithms into a human perspective, in order to give urban residents a better idea of just how much and which of their data is being tracked by various sensors throughout cities. (Silvio Carta | The Conversation)

A high-stakes fight over digital twins: Digital twins refer to virtual simulations of real cities that are smart enough to realistically model possible traffic scenarios. A new organization called The Open Mobility Foundation aims to assist local governments with using the real-world replicas of digital twins to redirect vehicles, like ride-hail vehicles or drones, but private companies are skeptical of giving cities that much control over their vehicles. (Laura Bliss | CityLab)

Quote of the Week

“This agreement represents a feasible and acceptable path to accomplishing the goals of California and the automobile industry. If the White House does not agree, we will move forward with our current standards but work with individual carmakers to implement these principles.”

California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chair Mary D. Nichols on the deal that the state made with four major auto makers this week.

This week on the podcast, Amy Silbermann of the Port Authority in Pittsburgh and Mary Buchanan and Stephen Higashide of TransitCenter talk about improving transit ridership.