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Public Transportation Tue Mar 16 2010

Cars: Smelly, Stupid, People Killers

Man. It is just not going well for cars. Cars are quickly becoming the cigarettes of this generation. More so, admittedly, in cosmopolitan places--big cities--but, hey, most humans live in cities. Just as economies like China and India seemed to be picking up the slack for Western nations that are beginning to see car ownership and the attendant dependence on foreign energy and the infrastructure costs as a nuisance, the World Health Organization has to increasingly talk about cars as a public health crisis. An interesting infographic of WHO data shows how traffic collisions will soon kill more than one million people worldwide, half of them cyclists and pedestrians. (Unlike the mafia, apparently, drivers don't just kill one another).

The American car companies took it on the chin and now Toyota, which had painstakingly built a reputation for reliability, won't stop accelerating.

Cities are increasingly looking for ways to discourage car ownership (or, more accurately, car trips), with New Urbanist planning and zoning laws basically designed to eliminate the need for a car in even modestly densely populated areas. Comparatively high oil prices (much cheaper here than Europe) are making people more aware of the cost of driving, and the absence of convenient, affordable alternatives is making those more aware people angry, which is usually a bad situation for politicians.

Maybe cars are getting a bad rap, though. First of all, cars are fun. Second, what about what cars save? Ambulances are cars. Cars are useful for big families. Also they deliver us things. Is the automobile industry doing anything doing anything to push back against this trend of car-less urban design? Where's the fighting spirit that funded think tanks to downplay acid rain?

If its the beginning of the decline of cars as the primary mode of transportation in the industrialized world, let's remember the good times.


Dennis Fritz / March 16, 2010 5:09 PM

One of the biggest problems with trying to reduce driving is that for 75 years, most cities and towns in the US have been built around cars rather than people. In a handful of older, mostly northern cities--New York, Chicago, Boston--cars are still a convenience rather than a neccesity for many people. However, most of the US isn't like that. Go to Houston, or Phoenix, or L.A. Whether you want to pick up the morning paper or buy a lawnmower, you have to drive. Pedestrian infrastructre barely exists. Whole metropolitan areas, home to tens of millions of people, would have to be radically redesigned and rebuilt. No small challenge.

tony / March 19, 2010 8:06 PM

The interesting thing about most anti-car screeds is the forgotten/disregarded fact that cars exist FOR people. If you're anti-car, you're anti-human. The car IS public transportation, especially in the US and other countries where population dispersion makes other forms unacceptably expensive and inconvenient.

Dennis Fritz / March 21, 2010 1:14 PM

Being anti-car is the same as being anti-human? What rubbish!

But statements like this highlights an interesting point. The car culture is so pervasive many people liken their "right" to drive with their right to breath air. When that right is questioned or threatened, they get angry.

Cars a form of private transportation, not public transportation. The vast sprawl of the continental US does suggest driving will always be a bit more prevelant here than in some other places. However, the population dispersion is a direct result of the car culture, not a reaction to it.

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