Saturday, January 29, 2011

Been thinking about cars

(Caution, this post is preachy)

As I drove home from class last night, heater blasting on my feet, 90's hits on the radio, I thought about cars. The benefits, the risks we take, the cost, the necessity.
Let's put this in perspective.
Let's, just for a second, imagine more than 70,000 people a year died from walking-related causes, and thousands more are injured, just in the US. On top of the huge risks, you actually pay on average, $7,800 a year for the privilege.  Wouldn't you avoid walking at all cost? Wouldn't you hang up your Nikes and stay in your car, only walking when it's completely unavoidable? The government would set up little workshops to help people break their nasty walking habit and we'd have moving sidewalks from parking spaces into houses and stores.

According to the NHTSA you've about a 30 percent chance of being in a serious car accident in your lifetime.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because so much of our culture is car and fear driven. We're constantly hearing people go on and on about threats to our borders, health risks from fatty foods and this season's killer flu. Yes, those are real concerns, but if we're going to get hyped up about those things, why not get hyped up over the over use of cars?

If we're going to be afraid of Americanized Africanized bees, muggings, anthrax, heights, airplanes, and public speaking, shouldn't we terrified of driving?

Here are some fun statistics (totally biased mind you, I got them off a biking website):
  • If every commuter car in the U.S. carried just one more person, we'd save eight billion gallons of gas a year. (30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Los Angeles: South California Edison, 1990, p. 11.) 
  • 90% of children who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked to school in the 1960's. Only 31% do so today. (Salon, 2004) 
  • Bicycle MPG. If we spent our gas money (at $3.72/gallon) on food to fuel our biking, that $3.72 would take us 26 miles on beef, 48 miles on potatoes, 106 miles on beans, and 109 miles on rice. 
  • It costs about $50 to build and maintain one space in a bike rack and $500 for a bike locker, yet one car parking space in a parking structure costs about $8,500. (From the Eugene/Springfield (OR) Bicycle Map (1998?), which further credits the American Lung Association, Oregon Traffic Commission, Association of Commuter Transportation, American Automobile Association, and City of Eugene.) 
  • The U.S. uses about half of the world's gasoline. (World Resources Institute. 1998-99 World Resources: A Guide to the Global Environment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among Americans 1-34 years old. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the total societal cost of crashes exceeds $230 billion annually. (
Here's something else interesting, statistics show the more cyclists on the road the less cyclists are hurt, there is power in numbers, the opposite is true of cars.  

Alcohol and Cigarettes are other huge American killers, but there are groups out there to help people quit. What about a support group to help get people off fossil fuels. Why is it OK, even laudable to drive a nice car three miles to a job every single day?

My overall point is simple - if we as Americans are going to choose to get scared out of our minds over getting on planes and the like, we need to be just as afraid if not more about getting in a car everyday. If walking was as dangerous as driving, obviously it's unavoidable sometimes, but we'd do it so rarely. Why can't we treat cars like that, to be avoided at all cost. It would clear up congestion on our roads, pollution in our air, and people would be healthier.

I advocate driving less, and more walking, biking and public transit. It's cheaper, healthier for you and the planet, and it's safer. The more people who make the switch the more government money will be poured into alternative transportation infrastructure. Yes, you might miss out on bad radio and warm feet, but it's better than being seriously injured in a car accident or destroying the planet. Right?  
Think about that while I drive to a 4.1 miles to a vegetable festival celebrating sustainable farming in my death machine. 


fashionfarmsandfreedome said...

duuude! dig this post. way-to-go!

Reporta said...

I knew it was a matter of time before you got political, ha!

As an avid street biker, walker, and mass transit enthusiast, I couldn't agree more and love the post.

But there are so many factors to consider when focusing on cultural change from cars to other modes of transport: the suburban model of residency has all but required auto transport; continued tax cuts is cuts into mass transit infrastructure that could well offer a viable and time-effective alternative to driving; age and disability make it difficult for transportation independence (nice phrase?); and mass marketing has convinced many a poor and young that buying, and owning, a car is not only a rite of passage, but a economic symbol.

Any real change will need to ultimately address the above as well. Reporta out!

Forevermelody said...

Haha, yeah John, I've been getting into cycling advocacy for a while and doing city reporting got me interested in local policy. Although I don't blog about it much.
Yes, I know there's a lot between us and Copenhagen and there's even a lot between Copenhagen and transit perfection - but I think a good solid fear campaign would be a step in the right direction - satirically of course.
Demonizing the mass marketing of car is a good place - let's pass law saying car commercials and only show still images of cars - no crazy death machines careening recklessly through mud or on tiny country roads. Also - all SUVs should be relabeled Assault Vehicles or Planet Killers. It's all marketing. Also - everyone needs to live closer to their work.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my humble little feature blog. :)

Wheelchair India said...

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Keep Posting:)


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