Tag Archives: cars

Quick Take: Cars ≠ Freedom

I came across this passage on BostonBiker.org.  The post addresses two main issues that author has with cars.  While coming from a cyclist’s perspective, the post raised points relevant to anybody seeking a more rational approach to our cities.

I though the second passage of the post, on the mistaken idea that cars=freedom, was worth posting in full.  If you enjoy it, and/or have comments, please leave them on the Boston Biker site.   I’m just a messenger.


Human beings have evolved over the eons to favor things that make their lives easy, and shy away from those that make them hard. We are literally wired to enjoy things like sugar, fat, and salty foods, mostly because in the stone age we could never get enough of these foods so evolution wired our brains to search out these “easy” sources of calories. We use our big ol’ frontal lobes to come up with all sorts of ideas to make our lives easy. Farming, domestication of animals, automation, computers, cars…the list goes on and on. Evolution rewards (to a point) those humans that were able to “live the good life” by getting enough food and shelter, because those people had the most kids.

Cars (and more importantly car companies) tap right into that part of us that is seeking out the easier way. Why walk for weeks when you can get in your car and drive there in a day? Why ride your bike for days when you can drive your car there in a couple hours? Why walk for an hour to the store, when you can drive in a couple minutes? And you wonder why there is an obesity crisis?

People are not lazy per-say, they are simply falling victim to the wiring in their head. People don’t get fat because they eat too much, they get fat because we live in a modern world of plenty, but their brains are identical to the stone age hunters that had a very hard time getting food. Their brains tell them to eat lots of salty, sugary, fatty foods, and their bodies are designed to store that up for the hard times, they simply had the bad luck to live in a world FULL of these kinds of food. They suffer from a common problem in modern world, our brains and bodies are not set up for the modern world we have created.

The car culture feeds into that trap. It allows us if we so choose to spend our whole lives without walking a significant distance promoting obesity, and weakness. It allows (and encourages) the development of suburbs, and exurbs, and whatever comes after that, that destroy communities and encourage loneliness. It encases us in a little metal shell that promotes road rage (you don’t feel so bad about honking at the anonymous person in the other car, but would never act that way in an elevator). These are the kinds of things they don’t talk about in car commercials.

Even if you throw out all the physical and psychological negative effects on the human body you are still forced to contend with the fact that cars take up a lot of space. Much of the area in a modern city is dedicated to roads and car parking. Much of that land was taken from things like parks, sidewalks, green space, etc. Putting one person in one car, and then doing that a couple thousand times and your nice wide four lane roads suddenly don’t seem large enough anymore. Lets tear down some buildings and build more roads! Then people see the “ease” at which you can get around, so a couple hundred more people buy cars, and low and behold your 8 lane highway isn’t big enough anymore. Lets try a 16 lane highway! Damn that filled up too, better go with 32! Before long you end up with something like this:

Cars are sold as a luxury, as a path to freedom, to something that will make your life better! But in reality you can’t democratize a luxury. What I mean, is that not everyone can have a luxury item, or else it stops being a luxury and starts being a necessity. Cars are no longer a luxury in many places of this country, in a lot of places if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to the store, or to your job, or to school. Our cities have been designed in a such a horrible way that some people are forced to spend a large part of their work week earning enough money to power the car that gets them to work. Yet car commercials still show a lone traveler speeding through the empty city streets without a hint of traffic in sight.

In short, it’s a lie. The car companies sell freedom and mobility, but in fact offer only gridlock, poor land use, health problems, and global warming.

So what?

So what are we to do? If the “one car one person”, model has failed so fully what do we do to reverse it? The answer is simple, but is going to require a lot of effort. We need to stop designing our lives around cars. That means everything from removing on-street parking, building larger sidewalks, making people pay more for parking, building dense cities, providing good public transportation, and getting more people to ride bikes!

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Quick Take: Streets Are For People, Not (Just) Cars

http://www.planetizen.com/node/38401

Key Quote: 

The domination of the street by cars in the last century is at least partially a result of an innocent tendency of pedestrians to traffic the sidewalk for various reasons, rather than a categorical forfeit of the majority of the public realm to one user-type.  In the current, thrilling campaign by planners to return urbanity to something more human scale, a photo memorializing the multiplicitous modal functionality of Scollay Square before its razing is as good a symbol as any for wisdom that must be embraced once again.

Cars and Communities

Jane Jacobs was a fierce advocate for putting communities before cars.  She spent  more than a decade of her life successfully fighting plans to run expressways into the heart of Manhattan at the expense of neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Soho and Greenwich Village.  After moving to Toronto she campaigned (again successfully)  against a proposed Spadina expressway, which would have cut through the heart of downtown Toronto.  Unfortunately not every city had a Jane Jacobs and, as a result,  have suffered the consequences of putting cars before communities.

Paul Hanley recently wrote a two part column in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on how cars can to dominate the urban landscape in North America.    It is based on an interview with Gordon Price, the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and a former 6 term city Councillor for the city of Vancouver, BC.

Part 1:  Remembering when cars took over our cities

Before the 1930s, children were free to play in the street and people could cross wherever they wanted. By the 1930s, motordom managed to convince people that the pedestrian, not the car, was the interloper and had to be restricted. The pejorative “jay walker” was introduced and public safety programs “educated” pedestrians to use signals and crosswalks.

Part 2:  Time to reimagine car culture

Photograph by: Reuters File Photo, The StarPhoeni

We don’t really like our car-dominated cities. We prefer places that are dense, lively and walkable — the places we tend to go to on vacation, such as the old centres of European cities, with interesting buildings, narrow streets, squares and public art. But because we have made our cities barely navigable without cars, we have no idea how to remake them in a more pleasing form.

(via: http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/motordom-in-saskatoon/)

Jane’s Walk Phoenix will provide an opportunity to look at how car culture has affected urban life in Phoenix.  As one of the few surviving pre-car neighborhoods in the Valley,  downtown Phoenix provides a useful backdrop to examine the impacts cars have on city life and the tenuous relationship between cars and communities.