I love my car. Not necessarily the specific car I drive now — more accurately, I love having a car available to me (two, in fact). They’re great for a quick trip to the supermarket. I also love day trips with my wife. We travel well together. And, when you have to go somewhere “with stuff,” like helping your child move into a college dorm, cars are just about indispensable. Life would be soooo inconvenient without them.
All this is a rather lengthy way of saying, I’m just like you. I’m totally hooked on owning a car and using it to get wherever I need to go. Based on the number of cars on our roads, I have to assume that most of you feel this way too.
Yes, we love our cars, but we sacrifice a lot in the name of love.
Almost 34,000 people were killed in automobile accidents in the United States in 2009, and over 2,000,000 people were injured during the same period.1
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) “The current U.S. transportation infrastructure focuses on motor vehicle travel and provides limited support for other transportation options for most Americans. [As a result] Physical activity and active transportation have declined compared to previous generations. The lack of physical activity is a major contributor to the steady rise in rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic health conditions in the United States.”
Again, according to the CDC: “Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.”2
The United States has the largest network of roadways of any country at 3,995,644 miles (2005). On average over 20% of developed land in a typical U.S. community is devoted to the automobile in the form of roads, parking lots, gas stations and garages. In some cities, such as New York, it exceeds 30%.
Streets in our communities have been redefined by the automobile from places with various uses to channels for moving the most vehicular traffic as quickly as possible, bringing new dangers, and degrading the qualities that make our communities attractive: spontaneity, locality, and human interaction.3
And cars can be just plain annoying — when you’re stuck in traffic, when you’re trying to cross a busy street, or when car horns or alarms destroy the peace of a residential neighborhood.
Are the sacrifices worth it? Maybe some are for the short term, but I suspect that the short term — from the dawn of the automobile age to the present — is rapidly coming to an end. The combined impacts of the automobile on our planet, our communities and our health have now become unsustainable.
Fortunately, strategies for making alternative forms of transit more available and more desirable already exist. Implementation of these strategies however, requires both public and private will. Government on all levels has to be willing to abandon old habits in the areas of planning and funding. At the same time, individuals — that’s you and me — will have to be willing to sacrifice some convenience.
And, we all must be prepared to challenge some very fundamental assumptions underlying our responses to questions about the future of transportation. Must congested roads always be “improved” to promote better traffic flow? How do we determine an appropriate level of service for a new road? Is it determined by traffic flow alone, or also by the needs of the pedestrians, bicyclists and shop owners along the road? In other words, is the car still king of the road, or are we ready to acknowledge that roads must be shared, and that streets are places for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and mass transit vehicles as well?
Strategies such as complete streets, smart growth, shared spaces, healthy communities, placemaking, and more offer a variety of ways in which communities can adapt in order to make it easier for individuals to regularly use more varied modes of transportation, including active choices such as walking and biking. This is part two of a multi-part series on our “car-centric” culture. In future posts I’ll talk more about these strategies and how some of them might work here in Sag Hampton.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your cars? Is the era of “Car as King” over? Are you ready to embrace mass transit, walking, biking? If not, what will it take to get you out of your car? Share you thoughts on these questions, or other concerns you may have in the comments below.
(1) Motor Vehicle Accidents–Number and Deaths
(2) CDC Transportation Recommendations
(3) The Traffic Guru by Tom Vanderbilt. The Wilson Quarterly http://www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?aid=1234