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Misconceptions about traffic and congestion

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  • Erik Rauch
    This article debunks some misconceptions about traffic and congestion in cities. Gas Prices, Transit, Car Use and Europe by Dom Nozzi
    Message 1 of 14 , Jul 8, 2004
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      This article debunks some misconceptions about traffic and congestion in
      cities.

      Gas Prices, Transit, Car Use and Europe
      by Dom Nozzi
      http://user.gru.net/domz/gas.htm

      "...It is often said that there is 'lots of traffic' in European cities
      and in places like Hong Kong. An interesting observation, given the fact
      that all the (credible) studies show that per capita driving is
      significantly lower in Europe and Asia than in the US. My guess is that
      what is being observed are cities that have not spent 50 years pouring
      trillions into making room for cars or otherwise doing everything possible
      to make cars happy."

      "...You also hear it said that 'everywhere you go you find a line of
      traffic' in Europe. That is very good news for Europe. Congestion is very
      helpful, in a huge number of ways, for a city. It promotes more compact
      development, mixes uses, shortens travel distances, reduces air pollution
      and gas consumption, creates better transit service (and more
      transportation choice overall), improves conditions for street-fronting
      retail, and slows down speeding cars. 'Free-flowing traffic', conversely,
      is the worst thing that a city could have, primarily because it disperses
      the city and encourages excessive driving. And those are the last things a
      city wants."
    • Karen Sandness
      Very true. Take Tokyo as an example. At times, the arterial streets and freeways of Tokyo can resemble parking lots, so car fanatics point to the congestion
      Message 2 of 14 , Jul 8, 2004
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        Very true. Take Tokyo as an example. At times, the arterial streets and
        freeways of Tokyo can resemble parking lots, so car fanatics point to
        the congestion and say, "See, transit does NOT reduce congestion!"

        But what they fail to mention is that those traffic jams represent
        fewer than 20% of all trips in Tokyo, and that a noticeable percentage
        of that 20% is made up of taxis. The other 80% are on public transit,
        foot, or bicycle. If Tokyo ever went completely to automobile-based
        transportation, it would have to tear down a large percentage of its
        buildings to accommodate all the cars.

        In transit,
        Karen Sandness

        On Thursday, Jul 8, 2004, at 17:22 US/Central,
        carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com wrote:

        > "...It is often said that there is 'lots of traffic' in European cities
        > and in places like Hong Kong. An interesting observation, given the
        > fact
        > that all the (credible) studies show that per capita driving is
        > significantly lower in Europe and Asia than in the US. My guess is that
        > what is being observed are cities that have not spent 50 years pouring
        > trillions into making room for cars or otherwise doing everything
        > possible
        > to make cars happy."
      • Korn, Dan
        I think the more salient point is that the focus of urban design and infrastructure planning should not be simply to reduce automobile traffic congestion. But
        Message 3 of 14 , Jul 8, 2004
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          I think the more salient point is that the focus of urban design and infrastructure planning should not be simply to reduce automobile traffic congestion. But try telling that to almost anyone here in the U.S. and they'll think you're crazy. "Congestion is good" doesn't make a good bumper sticker, but it's the truth.

          Of course, nobody wants to see lines of cars sitting there stewing in their own exhaust. But the solution should be fewer cars, not more roads, because more roads lead to more cars, which lead to more roads, and down the rabbit hole we go.

          Dan
          Chicago
        • Steve Geller
          ... This is true. Congestion is caused by too many cars on the road. Congestion discourages some number of people from driving, but the reason why nothing
          Message 4 of 14 , Jul 10, 2004
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            >Very true. Take Tokyo as an example. At times, the arterial streets and
            >freeways of Tokyo can resemble parking lots, so car fanatics point to
            >the congestion and say, "See, transit does NOT reduce congestion!"
            >
            >But what they fail to mention is that those traffic jams represent
            >fewer than 20% of all trips in Tokyo, and that a noticeable percentage
            >of that 20% is made up of taxis. The other 80% are on public transit,
            >foot, or bicycle. If Tokyo ever went completely to automobile-based
            >transportation, it would have to tear down a large percentage of its
            >buildings to accommodate all the cars.

            This is true. Congestion is caused by too many cars on the road.
            Congestion discourages some number of people from driving,
            but the reason why nothing much fixes congestion is that if there's
            room on the roads, there will be cars to fill the space.

            The fact is that there are more people who prefer to drive a
            personal car than take transit. Most of us take transit because
            we don't like congestion.

            Here's a thought experiment. Suppose I could go wherever I want
            by entering a thing like a phone booth, pushing a destination
            button, and being "transported" (details omitted).
            If such a facility were available, would I ride the bus?
            Probably not.

            Well, it depends on the details. How often does this thing run?
            What's the cost per trip? Are the arrival/departure points
            available in enough places?

            This thought experiment helps me to understand how convenience
            and cost affect transportation choices. A big part of the reason
            that there are all those cars ready to fill the roads is that
            the cars are convenient and the parking spaces are available.

            I think that congestion would go away if parking were not
            as available.

            Every city, no matter how great its public transit,
            has congestion.

            Is this really true? Is there congestion in Curitiba?
          • billt44hk
            ... Oddly enough I ve just come across this site :- ADVANCED TRANSPORT GROUP Transport for the Future NEW! Advanced Transport Systems Website. They happen to
            Message 5 of 14 , Jul 12, 2004
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              --- In carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com, Steve Geller <stgeller@c...>
              wrote:
              > The fact is that there are more people who prefer to drive a
              > personal car than take transit. Most of us take transit because
              > we don't like congestion.
              >
              > Here's a thought experiment. Suppose I could go wherever I want
              > by entering a thing like a phone booth, pushing a destination
              > button, and being "transported" (details omitted).
              > If such a facility were available, would I ride the bus?
              > Probably not.
              Oddly enough I've just come across this site :- ADVANCED TRANSPORT
              GROUP Transport for the Future NEW! Advanced Transport Systems'
              Website. They happen to be based in my city, Bristol. see
              http://www.aer.bris.ac.uk/atg/ultra.html
              Seems to be basically a monorail or urban light rail concept but
              with car-sized cabins rather than multi-person compartments. A big
              selling point they claim is that 'No-one is required to travel with
              another passenger.... '. Could this really be sustainable
              technically -apart from its pandering to social isolation and
              individual encapsulement,- they make claims of having measuired
              its energy-efficiency etc.
              '...Analysis shows that the optimum form of transportation must be
              personal and meet individual travel needs. This means using small
              vehicles which must be automated to avoid the chaos of congestion
              caused by human interaction. Automated vehicles able to be
              recirculated would provide a more efficient use of vehicles. The
              network for the system must be dense enough that people do not have
              to walk far to join the system and at the same time it should be
              segregated from existing transport networks to avoid unwanted
              conflicts.. Click here to view a notional network diagram.

              This forms the basis of the ULTRA, (Urban Light Transport) system.
              The system can best be described as an automatically controlled
              personal taxi system running on its own guideway network. Access to
              vehicles is at frequent stations located around the city. At these
              stops passengers would request a vehicle, if one were not already
              waiting, and select a destination which would be recorded on a smart-
              card. They would then board their own ULTRAcab, swiping the smart-
              card through a reader to let the central computer know their desired
              station and that they were ready to leave. The passengers could then
              sit back and enjoy the ride as the ULTRA system takes them to their
              destination by the quickest available route...'

              I'd be interested in seeing an appraisal of this by Joel or other
              carfree_city professionals.

              Bill
            • J.H. Crawford
              Hi All, ... Basically I m opposed to overhead systems because they re ugly and intrusive, and probably noisy as well. ... Everybody who s every drawn one of
              Message 6 of 14 , Jul 12, 2004
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                Hi All,

                Bill said:

                >This forms the basis of the ULTRA, (Urban Light Transport) system.
                >The system can best be described as an automatically controlled
                >personal taxi system running on its own guideway network. Access to
                >vehicles is at frequent stations located around the city. At these
                >stops passengers would request a vehicle, if one were not already
                >waiting, and select a destination which would be recorded on a smart-
                >card. They would then board their own ULTRAcab, swiping the smart-
                >card through a reader to let the central computer know their desired
                >station and that they were ready to leave. The passengers could then
                >sit back and enjoy the ride as the ULTRA system takes them to their
                >destination by the quickest available route...'
                >
                >I'd be interested in seeing an appraisal of this by Joel or other
                >carfree_city professionals.

                Basically I'm opposed to overhead systems because they're ugly
                and intrusive, and probably noisy as well.

                On the site, they say:

                >Surely the visual intrusion of overhead tracks will be significant? - Visual intrusion is very significantly reduced compared to all past and present systems, but remains one of the single most significant issue associated with the system. We are proposing the use of a single 1.5 metre track, less than half the width of a single lane of road, and thus of considerably reduced scale.

                Everybody who's every drawn one of these things has underestimated
                the width of right of way that is required. How do people get out
                when they break down? Can they really span the proposed distances
                with such slender beams?

                >Present estimates indicate that only about one single lane track for every six current roads would be required to serve an urban area, and that each of these tracks would be of the order of one-sixth of the cost of the equivalent road.

                This is very sophisticated technology. I simply can't imagine
                it costing less than a road to build. The capacities claimed
                are based on technologies that have yet to be demonstrated.
                Very short headways (around a second) are required, and the
                difficulties with buffering, crash avoidance, merges, etc.,
                are major. While it is possible that this can all be made to
                work safely, I don't think it will be done at costs below
                conventional rail, and it will have neither the capacity nor
                the efficiency of rail. Also, handicapped access to the stations
                will require expensive elevators that are also obtrusive.

                Also, interchanges are rarely depicted, but if a full-way
                junction is required, the sky is going to be full of concrete
                for a long way around (think of a highway interchange, albeit
                with only one lane per direction). I see that the ULTRA proposal
                is based on partial interchanges, which helps a lot, but then
                routing becomes more complex and a fair bit of wrong-way travel
                will commonly be required and will also tax system capacity.

                >The use of existing transport rights of way for the infrastructure is an important contributor to minimising visual intrusion.

                They basically want to run these down existing streets, for
                the most part. The stations will be much larger than usually
                claimed, as there has to be room somewhere to buffer empty
                vehicles, and stations are where you need the empties.

                The claimed factor-of-ten reduction in pollution and
                energy consumption is very hard to believe, as these appear
                to be rubber-tired and have greater frontal area than a car.

                Some of these system (I don't know if this includes ULTRA)
                have claimed very high operating speeds and accelerations
                on the order of 0.5 G, which is high enough that people
                probably have to be strapped in. Unless acceleration is
                very high, acceleration and deceleration distances are
                long except for quite slow speeds, which basically means
                doubling the track for quite a distance either side of a
                station.

                They claim:

                >The system will be designed to cope with normal levels of rain, snow and ice.

                In Bristol, the "normal level of snow" would be about zero.
                What happens when a foot of snow falls on one of these
                systems?

                Finally, some of the cost savings appear to be based on the
                assumption that some of the distance will be travelled at grade,
                not on elevated right of way. I do not believe that automated
                vehicles can be operated on accessible tracks except at low
                speeds due to safety reasons. Either the track would have to
                be fenced off, blocking off pedestrian access to a huge degree,
                or operating speeds would have to be kept very low. (There is
                also the concern about access to the relatively high voltages
                that are used for propulsion.)

                In short, I have always thought that this is a technology that
                will be much less desirable than people think and that will cost
                a lot more than expected. I don't see any compelling advantages.

                Regards,








                -- ### --

                J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
                mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
              • Steve Geller
                ... This is another of the popular reasons why people avoid riding transit if they have any choice. We just don t like to sit close to strangers. It s not
                Message 7 of 14 , Jul 12, 2004
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                  >Oddly enough I've just come across this site :- ADVANCED TRANSPORT
                  >GROUP Transport for the Future NEW! Advanced Transport Systems'
                  >Website. They happen to be based in my city, Bristol. see
                  >http://www.aer.bris.ac.uk/atg/ultra.html
                  >Seems to be basically a monorail or urban light rail concept but
                  >with car-sized cabins rather than multi-person compartments. A big
                  >selling point they claim is that 'No-one is required to travel with
                  >another passenger.... '.

                  This is another of the popular reasons why people avoid riding transit
                  if they have any choice. We just don't like to sit close to strangers.
                  It's not "pandering" to accomodate this; city people don't live
                  in large vilage-like groups.

                  There's a vehicle similar to the ULTRA being developed in
                  the San Francisco area. It's called the Cybertran, with about 20
                  people per car. It too will operate like a self-service elevator/lift.
                  One pushes a button for the destination and software
                  decides where the intermediate stop will happen.
                  It's a very good idea.

                  Some of the transit vehicles in San Francisco have single seats
                  in a few places. The commuter train going south has single seats
                  in the upper level.

                  I wonder if transit would get a whole lot more popular if most of the
                  seats were singles?
                • T. J. Binkley
                  ... I m always baffled when I hear comments like this. Those who don t like to sit next to strangers would do themselves a tremendous service to get out of
                  Message 8 of 14 , Jul 12, 2004
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                    >This is another of the popular reasons why people avoid riding transit
                    >if they have any choice. We just don't like to sit close to strangers.
                    >It's not "pandering" to accomodate this; city people don't live
                    >in large vilage-like groups.
                    >
                    >...I wonder if transit would get a whole lot more popular if most of the
                    >seats were singles?

                    I'm always baffled when I hear comments like this. Those who "don't like
                    to sit next to strangers" would do themselves a tremendous service to get
                    out of their comfort zones and rub shoulders with the "other" once in a
                    while. After experiencing this sort of thing for a while, many people
                    choose it.

                    Reading a book on an empty train car is a delightful experience, but a car
                    full of people is usually much more interesting. Those who like to "people
                    watch" from a distance are shortchanging themselves.

                    -TJB
                  • Steve Geller
                    ... I ride buses a lot, but I can t say I choose being close to strangers. I just put up with it as part of bus riding. The aversion to strangers is very
                    Message 9 of 14 , Jul 13, 2004
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                      > >...I wonder if transit would get a whole lot more popular if most of the
                      > >seats were singles?
                      >
                      >I'm always baffled when I hear comments like this. Those who "don't like
                      >to sit next to strangers" would do themselves a tremendous service to get
                      >out of their comfort zones and rub shoulders with the "other" once in a
                      >while. After experiencing this sort of thing for a while, many people
                      >choose it.

                      I ride buses a lot, but I can't say I "choose" being close to strangers.
                      I just put up with it as part of bus riding.

                      The aversion to strangers is very real. You must have seen people who
                      will sit in the outer of a pair of seats, making it difficult for
                      someone to get into the other seat.

                      I do enjoy "people watching". It's one of the big upsides
                      of transit riding.
                    • Doug Salzmann
                      ... Amen. Ditto, etc. I think the stranger avoidance tendency is a behavior based upon learned attitudes and expectations ( people you don t know are
                      Message 10 of 14 , Jul 13, 2004
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                        On Mon, 12 Jul 2004, T. J. Binkley wrote:

                        >
                        > >This is another of the popular reasons why people avoid riding transit
                        > >if they have any choice. We just don't like to sit close to strangers.
                        > >It's not "pandering" to accomodate this; city people don't live
                        > >in large vilage-like groups.
                        > >
                        > >...I wonder if transit would get a whole lot more popular if most of the
                        > >seats were singles?
                        >
                        > I'm always baffled when I hear comments like this. Those who "don't like
                        > to sit next to strangers" would do themselves a tremendous service to get
                        > out of their comfort zones and rub shoulders with the "other" once in a
                        > while. After experiencing this sort of thing for a while, many people
                        > choose it.

                        Amen. Ditto, etc.

                        I think the "stranger avoidance" tendency is a behavior based upon
                        learned attitudes and expectations ("people you don't know are
                        dangerous"). It had better be -- six-headed-for-ten billion humans
                        are not gonna be able to live in private bubbles.


                        -Doug



                        ---
                        Doug Salzmann
                        Kalliergo
                        Post Office Box 307
                        Corte Madera, CA 94976 USA

                        <doug@...>
                      • gregb88@comcast.net
                        ... But aren t we always forced to encounter strangers anyhow? In supermarkets there s people behind you and in front you lined up for the cash register. In
                        Message 11 of 14 , Jul 13, 2004
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                          Doug Salzmann wrote:

                          >On Mon, 12 Jul 2004, T. J. Binkley wrote:
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >>>This is another of the popular reasons why people avoid riding transit
                          >>>if they have any choice. We just don't like to sit close to strangers.
                          >>>It's not "pandering" to accomodate this; city people don't live
                          >>>in large vilage-like groups.
                          >>>
                          >>>...I wonder if transit would get a whole lot more popular if most of the
                          >>>seats were singles?
                          >>>
                          >>>
                          >>I'm always baffled when I hear comments like this. Those who "don't like
                          >>to sit next to strangers" would do themselves a tremendous service to get
                          >>out of their comfort zones and rub shoulders with the "other" once in a
                          >>while. After experiencing this sort of thing for a while, many people
                          >>choose it.
                          >>
                          But aren't we always forced to encounter strangers anyhow? In
                          supermarkets there's people
                          behind you and in front you lined up for the cash register. In classes
                          at school and college, meetings at work, large social functions, it's
                          likely you'll have to sit next to a stranger... Not to mention
                          restaurants and bars....

                          >>
                          >>
                          >
                          >Amen. Ditto, etc.
                          >
                          >I think the "stranger avoidance" tendency is a behavior based upon
                          >learned attitudes and expectations ("people you don't know are
                          >dangerous"). It had better be -- six-headed-for-ten billion humans
                          >are not gonna be able to live in private bubbles.
                          >
                          >
                          > -Doug
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >---
                          > Doug Salzmann
                          > Kalliergo
                          > Post Office Box 307
                          > Corte Madera, CA 94976 USA
                          >
                          > <doug@...>
                          >
                          >
                          >
                          >To Post a message, send it to: carfree_cities@...
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                          >
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                        • Erik Rauch
                          That cars are the most inefficient form of transport is hardly disputed, but what is seldom appreciated is how little driving it takes to bring the downsides
                          Message 12 of 14 , Jul 13, 2004
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                            That cars are the most inefficient form of transport is hardly disputed,
                            but what is seldom appreciated is how little driving it takes to bring the
                            downsides of car transport. The statistics on gasoline consumption per
                            capita in different countries
                            (http://swiss.csail.mit.edu/~rauch/misc/gas_gdp.html) are revealing in
                            this regard.

                            Hong Kong has the lowest per capita gas consumption among rich countries
                            -- a factor of 25 lower than the U.S. Yet Hong Kong is anything but a
                            carfree paradise. Residents of have to put up with much of the noise and
                            physical degradation that cars cause in urban areas, even though hardly
                            any of the residents get around by car -- and Hong Kong has chronic
                            traffic congestion.

                            http://www.bennenk.com/Maleisie/images/Thumbnails/19960822-28_Hong_Kong_Victoria_small.jpg
                            http://desires.com/2.0b3/Travel/Hong_Kong/Images/traffic.gif
                            http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/mag/2003/02/16/images/2003021600680801.jpg

                            Even cities in Bangladesh, which has the lowest level of driving of 122
                            countries, have to put up with a significant amount of annoyance from
                            cars, even though driving is a factor of 900 (!) lower than the U.S. In
                            the capital, Dhaka, only 5.9% of trips are by motorized transport of any
                            kind including buses. An aerial photograph of its downtown is revealing
                            (http://www.cs.ndsu.nodak.edu/~farooq/dhaka.jpg). It has wide streets
                            filled with what look like cars, but on inspection most of the
                            "vehicles" turn out to be bicycle rickshaws and pedestrians:

                            http://www.pat.hi-ho.ne.jp/paku/tabi/castella/pic/bangladesh/dhaka.jpg

                            But still, the bicyclists and pedestrians have to put up with the noise,
                            wide streets and lower quality urban design caused by designing for
                            universal automobile access.

                            And yes, Dhaka has congestion, too:
                            http://www.hellobondoo.com/pic/contents/bigjam.htm

                            The lesson, of course, is that it is foolhardy to permit cars in dense
                            urban areas. You get much of the downside of car transport with almost
                            none of the benefit.


                            (data on Dhaka from http://www.eng-consult.com/pub/dstar.htm)

                            On Thu, 8 Jul 2004, Karen Sandness wrote:

                            > Very true. Take Tokyo as an example. At times, the arterial streets and
                            > freeways of Tokyo can resemble parking lots, so car fanatics point to
                            > the congestion and say, "See, transit does NOT reduce congestion!"
                          • hcfdave
                            Another aspect of this is that autoholics enter a completely altered state of conciousness when ... behind the wheel ... They can forget about everything
                            Message 13 of 14 , Jul 15, 2004
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                              Another aspect of this is that autoholics enter a completely
                              altered state of conciousness when ...'behind the wheel'...
                              They can forget about everything except their immediate
                              vdeo-game mentakity, which the various fad technologies in
                              newer cars accentuates. Often you hear autoholics say. "Yeah,
                              my commute is therapeutic!"
                              No matter that this ...'therapy'... all too often ends in murder and
                              suicide, spews incredible amounts of deadly poisons into the
                              air, and makes thae city virtually unlivable for everyone else! (as
                              well as causing global warming and sucking the earth dry of
                              ever-scarcer resources.
                              Cars indeed ...ssssSUCK!! (the lifeblood of the earth, as well
                              as ssSPEW!! poisons into it!...)
                              DaveS (nocarsdave@...)

                              (written in reply to the following and others...:
                              > >>>This is another of the popular reasons why people avoid
                              riding transit
                              > >>>if they have any choice. We just don't like to sit close to
                              strangers.
                              > >>>It's not "pandering" to accomodate this; city people don't
                              live
                              > >>>in large vilage-like groups.
                              > >>>
                              > >>>...I wonder if transit would get a whole lot more popular if
                              most of the
                              > >>>seats were singles?
                              > >>>
                              > >>>
                              > >>I'm always baffled when I hear comments like this. Those
                              who "don't like
                              > >>to sit next to strangers" would do themselves a tremendous
                              service to get
                              > >>out of their comfort zones and rub shoulders with the "other"
                              once in a
                              > >>while. After experiencing this sort of thing for a while, many
                              people
                              > >>choose it.
                              > >>
                              > But aren't we always forced to encounter strangers anyhow? In
                              > supermarkets there's people
                              > behind you and in front you lined up for the cash register. In
                              classes
                              > at school and college, meetings at work, large social functions,
                              it's
                              > likely you'll have to sit next to a stranger... Not to mention
                              > restaurants and bars....
                              > >
                              > >Amen. Ditto, etc.
                              > >
                              > >I think the "stranger avoidance" tendency is a behavior based
                              upon
                              > >learned attitudes and expectations ("people you don't know
                              are
                              > >dangerous"). It had better be -- six-headed-for-ten billion
                              humans
                              > >are not gonna be able to live in private bubbles.
                              > >
                              > >
                              > > -Doug
                              > >---
                              > > Doug Salzmann
                              > > Kalliergo
                              > > Post Office Box 307
                              > > Corte Madera, CA 94976 USA
                            • T. J. Binkley
                              ... Real, yes. Misguided, sad and ultimately pathological too.
                              Message 14 of 14 , Jul 15, 2004
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                                >The aversion to strangers is very real.

                                Real, yes. Misguided, sad and ultimately pathological too.
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