Tag Archives: cars

Car Culture

I need to vent.

Today’s post isn’t about politics, or a particular public policy, or (except tangentially) my worries about the environment. It’s about the insanity of what–for lack of a better descriptor–I’ll call America’s “car culture,” and it was triggered by my recent drive from Indianapolis to a beach in South Carolina.

It isn’t as though I haven’t been concerned with driving behaviors I’ve seen locally. We have lived in downtown Indianapolis ever since 1980, and watched as more and more cars have evidently confused residential city streets with racetracks. I’ve lost track of the number of times a car has sped around me, only to come to a stop beside me at the same traffic light. (Do these speed demons think they’re saving time? They aren’t.)

But it was on our recent trip South that I witnessed a seemingly unending parade of drivers engaging in unimaginably reckless behaviors.

Now, honesty compels me to begin this rant with an admission: I have a heavy foot, and when I’m on an Interstate–especially during a very long drive–I can hit speeds of 79 or 80. But during this drive, even when I was going that fast, cars passed me as if I was standing still. Not only that–a number of them were weaving through three lanes of traffic, presumably unable to bear the thought of following some other vehicle. In at least one instance, we were slowed by a major wreck and a number of emergency vehicles involved in removing the injured and clearing the Interstate–I was actually surprised there weren’t more.

Every so often, we passed an electronic sign warning that additional efforts to catch speeders were being deployed, but I saw no evidence of those efforts.

It’s bad enough that America’s car culture contributes so heavily to the pollution driving climate change. It’s bad enough that the constant need to add lanes and reconstruct interchanges consumes untold amounts of our tax dollars, snarls traffic and triggers road rage. It’s close to unforgivable that we allocate far more resources to streets and roads than to mass transit and rail. But those are issues for a different rant.

What I don’t understand is why we don’t deploy available technologies to address an obvious and growing  problem.

When we leave Indiana for the beach by car these days, we take a new toll bridge into Kentucky. We no longer have to stop to throw quarters into little buckets—the time-honored method of paying a toll. These days, we don’t have to slow down or stop–a camera takes a picture of our license plate, and we get a bill in the mail.  Camera technologies have come a long way, and the upfront costs of installing them would easily be repaid by the ticketing they would facilitate. For that matter, if the driving I saw during this recent trip is any indication, we could repave America with the proceeds of ticketing.

I can hear the protests: cameras would invade my privacy! In my view, this is akin to the equally tone-deaf and selfish refusals to be vaccinated. In both cases, refusal clearly endangers others.

A speeding automobile is potentially a deadly weapon–a reality the law recognizes. We allow sobriety checkpoints in order to control impaired driving (an acknowledged deviation from the 4th Amendment); we require drivers’ tests as a condition to allowing people to operate a motor vehicle.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this reluctance to address the danger of speeding automobiles. This is, after all, a country that refuses to impose even the most reasonable controls on lethal weapons. But I do wonder: Where are all those “pro life” people when they might actually do some good?

The Road to Hell is Paved

Food for thought: In Amsterdam, over 50 percent of all trips are taken by bike; in Los Angeles, that percentage is under 1%.

It’s hard to believe now, but L.A. was an early pioneer in public transportation.  There evidently used to be a 9-mile dedicated bike pathway connecting LA and Pasadena that had electric lights the entire way—in 1897. That pathway became a freeway in 1940. The same thing happened to original bikeways in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Here’s a data point that should make us all stop and think: the percentage of surface area in Los Angeles dedicated to automobiles (roads, parking, gas stations, etc.) is more than 70 percent, while the percentage devoted to parks and open spaces is 5 percent.

As the article from which I took those figures asked, “Is your city designed for you, or for your car?”

Yesterday, a colleague whose opinion I value commented on a previous post about the need for public transportation by saying that it would never happen–that thanks to a combination of low density and the American love affair with the automobile, we have established a “car culture.” If he is correct, our cities will continue to be designed for, and dominated by, automobiles–and increasingly inhospitable to people and parks.

I’ve been to L.A. several times. There are nice areas, but it fails as a city. It’s not a place I’d want to live–or emulate.


Those Whom the Gods Would Destroy They First Make Mad….

The quote “Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” is often attributed to Euripedes. He was wrong–or at least incomplete. The quote should read “those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad by giving them electronics…”

I came home yesterday to a husband fuming–while holding a phone he’d been on for three hours with tech support. It was another hour until internet was once again available, and we still aren’t sure how or why.

Meanwhile, I traced a highly annoying “beep beep” sound to a smoke detector on the (vaulted) ceiling in our bedroom. Making the beeping stop required a climb to the very top (not just the top rung) of a ladder, clutching the top of a door for support. And–speaking of the gods–some prayer.

There will be no “deep thoughts” (or shallow ones) from this blogger today. I have to study the two thick manuals that came with my new car, which is now paired with my IPhone and daring me to figure out its multiple functions and displays…

Maybe I’ll just go back to bed.