“Car culture is really a brief 50- or 60-year blip in history.”
— Gabe Klein, Zipcar founder.
The winter solstice is next week (December 22nd), that time of year when the days stop getting shorter and start to get longer. During this time of still waning days, it seems appropriate to take a look at the waning of the automobile. Here are ten reasons why the Age of the Automobile is in decline.
10. Online shopping reduces the need to haul goods.
You can now go shopping from the comfort of your living room. You don’t have to have a car when Amazon, Etsy, and even big box stores like Walmart will ship goods right to your door.
9. Car noise is decreasing our quality of life.
Noise pollution, with traffic being one of the largest causes, can not only lead to hearing loss, but it has also been tied to heart disease, ulcers, asthma, high blood pressure, headaches, and colitis. (From a 1978 report by the Environmental Protection Agency. For a more extensive bibliography of research on the topic, see the source notes on the Wikipedia article on Health Affects from Noise.)
“Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” — Dr. William H. Stewart, former U.S. Surgeon General
8. Automobiles are no longer the popular means of social escape they once were.
Cruising up and down College Avenue used to be one of the most popular ways young people hung out in Fort Collins. The practice was tied to a sense of independence and even rebellion. But today, with smartphones and the internet, students can be independent and rebellious from the comfort of their bedroom.
Much of the emotional meaning of the car, especially to young adults, has transferred to the smartphone, says Mark Lizewskie, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. “Instead of Ford versus Chevy, it’s Apple versus Android, and instead of customizing their ride, they customize their phones with covers and apps,” he says. “You express yourself through your phone, whereas lately, cars have become more like appliances, with 100,000-mile warranties.” — Cruising Toward Oblivion, by Marc Fisher in the Washington Post (September 2, 2015).
7. Increasing urbanism is changing how people choose to get around.
We’ve tried the suburban experiment and found it wanting. People like to congregate. But when homes are spread out, every social experience comes with a commute. The younger generation is returning to urban style living, with the coffee shop on the first floor and good friends, if not in the same building, then just down the street.
“The return of young people to city centers brings a permanent pivot in how people think about getting around, says Gabe Klein, a Zipcar founder who went on to run the city transportation departments in Chicago and Washington.” — Cruising Toward Oblivion, by Marc Fisher in the Washington Post (September 2, 2015).
“People talk about the open road, but in my experience, the road is tolls and traffic cameras.” — Regina Catipon in Cruising Toward Oblivion, by Marc Fisher in the Washington Post (September 2, 2015).
6. Cars have been unable to pay their own way.
Cars are economically unsustainable. They don’t work well in compact environments. In order to avoid traffic, people choose to move further and further out of town where there are fewer cars. But the further out people move, and the less dense the population, the fewer people there are paying for ever more expansive roads. According to the Larimer County website, “In general, those living in the cities subsidize the lifestyle of those who live in the country by making up the shortfall between the cost of services and the revenues received from rural dwellers.”
Road building, repair, and improvements are paid for through a variety of taxes, only a portion of which is covered by license plate fees or the gas tax. That means that the entire population, whether using cars or alternative means for transportation, are paying into the system so that motorists can have access to maintained roads.
5. Cars are not environmentally sustainable.
When comparing the number of miles per person that a vehicle provides to the costs it takes to create that vehicle in the first place, cars are far and away the most environmentally costly form of transportation in America — especially when, more often than not, cars are used to convey only one person at a time. And that’s not even taking into account the environmental costs resulting from the extraction and combustion of the fuel that runs those cars once they’re on the road.
Until fully-recyclable vehicles that run entirely on renewable resources are available and accessible to the general public, cars will continue to be a drain on our environmental resources.
4. Reducing our overall health as a nation.
Car exhaust and brake dust cause respiratory illnesses that raise mortality rates in America. As mentioned above, the noise from traffic leads to a host of illnesses as well. Car crashes cause injury and death. And to top it all off, even if there were no pollution, no noise, and no crashes, the very fact that using a motorized vehicle keeps people from getting regular daily exercise as they travel is a major factor in rising obesity rates and all of the illnesses that come with that.
Exercise is also a means for our body to flush toxins from our system. So not only does the car create additional pollution that our bodies have to process, but it reduces the likelihood that we’ll flush them from our system through exercise.
3. Oil is a finite resource.
Gas prices today might bely this point, but there is a finite amount of gasoline in the world and (with the exception of Saudi Arabia’s easy access oil) it’s becoming increasingly harder to reach, leading to more and more intensive extraction methods such as fracking.
We may have cheap gas prices today, but that is only because of Saudi Arabia’s desire to crush non-OPEC producers like the United States. The fact that other OPEC countries, such as Venezuela, are struggling financially because of the drop in prices only strengthens the point that Saudi Arabia is acting over-aggressively during a time when petroleum is simply not as available as the Saudis would have us believe. Their current strategy is similar to Walmart’s policy of overlapping its stores to crush opposition, then shutting one of their own stores once the mom and pop shops have been driven out. OPEC may crush, or at least do damage, to the opposition, but at what cost to member countries and to the world’s access to gasoline in the future?
2. Congestion will soon hit the tipping point.
As our population increases, more and more cars are clogging up our streets. And there’s only so much the City can do to improve traffic flows. Computerized traffic signals can ease congestion somewhat, but there comes a point when there are so many vehicles on the road that it’s simply not possible to move at the posted speeds, leading to longer travel times and higher frustration levels.
When people can get across town faster by bicycle or rapid transit, they’ll opt out of driving in order for the faster, less stressful ride.
1. There are only so many cars that will fit on a street.
Congestion is a bummer; it keeps us from traveling as smoothly or as quickly as we’d like. But at some point increased congestion leads to gridlock. Unless there’s a decrease in population or folks get better about carpooling, there simply isn’t enough room to keep adding car after car to the finite spaces we call streets. And we can’t keep widening streets without having to tear down homes and businesses. There comes a point when you just can’t widen a street any further or build a street any longer without a substantial loss of land that would be better used for other things.
I for one want to spend my life living, not driving. We need to build cities that are for people, not cars. We need to stop throwing money at our automobile culture trying to put bandaids on a system that simply isn’t sustainable. The car culture is in decline. But the solstice is coming. And as one era declines, another is rising to take its place.
Watch for next week’s post on “10 Reasons Why Alternative Transportation Is on the Rise”.