New short piece: “Fostering Micromobility: Changing A System That Compels Americans To Drive”

Something short I wrote just went up at CoMotion Mobility Perspectives. A taste:

Fostering Micromobility: Changing A System That Compels Americans To Drive

Law and Demand for Change Beyond the Pandemic

For a variety of reasons, car ownership no longer enjoys the unchallenged cultural position it once held. People want options in how they get around. Transit, scooters and bikes are all great technologies, but it’s often difficult to use them safely and reliably.

Prior to the pandemic, this was predominantly due to the fact that our streets were choked with cars. COVID-19 has changed this paradigm, however, demonstrating the clear benefits that occur when we open up streets to people. Some cities are already doing a noteworthy job of reallocating the public right of way. Oakland, for example, intends to close more than 70 miles of streets to cars in order to give people more room to walk or bike during the lockdown. Other cities aren’t quite as forward thinking. As it has in many domains of policy, the pandemic has administered an x-ray to transportation governance, and the results aren’t always pretty.

It is a choice, not a law of nature, that the bulk of the public right of way is allocated to cars. Tradeoffs among various road uses have been reevaluated in the past, and should be examined again.

Full piece.


Prof. Greg Shill Law School Urbanism AMA/Q & A

Besides a broadly shared vision, what’s something the Hon. Anthony Foxx (17th U.S. Secretary of Transportation), Janette Sadik-Khan (NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (longtime congressional leader on transportation) have in common?

They’re all lawyers by training.

In April 2020, Professor Gregory Shill of the University of Iowa College of Law hosted an ask-me-anything/Q & A for folks interested in urbanism and contemplating law school. A lightly edited compilation appears below. Those interested in the topic may enjoy Prof. Shill’s past work on transportation and urbanism, including here, here, and here. All views represent the personal opinions of Prof. Shill only.

Let’s start out by sketching a few domains of careers for those of you wondering if there are careers in legal urbanism (good news, there are!).

On the transportation side, there are a wide range of agencies that have lawyers (some of them big teams of lawyers). The big employers are US Department of Transportation and state DOTs. Some big cities have DOTs too. Then there’s transit agencies and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).

The private sector and nonprofits have law jobs in transportation too. You have car companies obviously, plus rail, shipping, insurance, aviation, and new mobility technologies. The degree of appeal to urbanists is perhaps variable. But there are opportunities.

Cities themselves also have lawyers representing them directly—perhaps tens of thousands nationwide. The New York City Law Department has around 1,000 lawyers. Iowa City, where I live and work as a law professor, has a City Attorney and four assistant City Attorneys.

Public health departments also need lawyers. There’s a growing overlap between public health and urbanism that predated COVID-19, and if you’re finding yourself more interested in public health lately there are opportunities at the intersection with law and urbanism.

Q: What areas of urbanism can a lawyer work in?

A: Housing (public, private, finance, etc.). Transportation (same). Land use. ADA and other laws concerning public spaces and accommodations. Representing cities. Policy and legislation.

Q: What do you mean by urbanism?

A: When I (and many others) use the term “urbanism,” we’re talking about people in places, not just cities. Human geography.

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“Should Law Subsidize Driving?” to be Published in NYU Law Review

I’m delighted to share that my latest article, Should Law Subsidize Driving?, will be published in the New York University Law Review. The abstract appears below. I’m very grateful for the comments I’ve received to date, and welcome additional feedback.

Should Law Subsidize Driving?


A century ago, captains of industry and their allies in government launched a social experiment in urban America: the abandonment of mass transit in favor of a new personal technology, the private automobile. Decades of public and private investment in this shift have created a car-centric landscape with Dickensian consequences.

In the United States, motor vehicles are now the leading killer of children and the top producers of greenhouse gases. They rack up trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs annually, and the most vulnerable—children, the poor, and people of color or with disabilities—pay the steepest price. The appeal of cars’ convenience and the lack of meaningful alternatives has created a public health catastrophe.

Many of the automobile’s social costs originate in the individual preferences of consumers, but an overlooked amount is encouraged—indeed enforced—by law. Yes, the U.S. is car-dependent by choice. But it is also car-dependent by law.

This Article conceptualizes this problem, and offers a way out. It begins by identifying a submerged, disconnected system of rules that furnish indirect yet extravagant subsidies to driving. These subsidies lower the price of driving by comprehensively reassigning its costs to non-drivers and society at large. They are found in every field of law, from traffic law to land use regulation to tax, tort, and environmental law. Law’s role is not primary, and at times it is even constructive. But where it is destructive, it is uniquely so: law not only inflames a public health emergency but legitimizes it, extending its longevity.

The Article urges a teardown of this regime. It also calls for a basic reorientation of relevant law towards consensus social priorities, such as health, prosperity, and equity.