Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baby, you can't drive my car

Call it too much reading about the villainy of Robert Moses*, but I am even more down on cars than usual. Cars are lame! I am sitting here at my desk merrily reading my friendly neighborhood blog, only to discover that the fourth accident in about as many weeks has happened on my corner. I am beginning to think it is a black hole where cars go to collide. I too was almost accidented once; those cars speeding down B will stop for no car, and certainly no man.

And cars are not only my immediate local problem. Seems to me they are responsible for many woes that plague our society (as well as, specifically, me). It’s best not to get me started, for instance, about the frustrations that have lately been created for and by the MTA, regarding service cuts and fare hikes and all that delicious stuff. Many people advocate putting tolls on the East River bridges or implementing a congestion pricing procedure in order to raise revenue for 24-HOUR PUBLIC TRANSIT used by MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. But are we allowed to do this to our precious drivers? Nooo! Heaven forbid.

And how about the health benefits that one may derive from not having a car? I read a study recently that said that only some horrifically small percentage of Americans actually walks anywhere. I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for basically all of that percentage fraction, ’cause I hardly ever met a walk I didn’t like. Someone told me about an exercise group that drives to malls to walk around them, for God’s sake! What is up with that.

And of course there are the more global concerns about what cars do to the environment, and the price of oil, and and and! Perhaps there are other alternatives to oil, but I don't know how I feel about that! Meanwhile when I go home tonight I will probably get run over by that stupid SUV driver who can’t be bothered to read a stop sign. It was nice knowing y’all.

(Full (and obvious to probably all of you) disclosure: I can’t drive. I am not morally opposed to learning how or anything, but during the times when I might’ve learned I was, y’know, having a job or immobilized by knee surgery or stricken by some other inconvenient life event. And, okay, I would like to pilot something other than a golf cart, and I get that it is a “life skill” that is good to have (though I have yet to experience any real-life situation where this was the case). Also, my sister has been gunning to get her own car ever since she learned how to drive at the ripe old age of 16 or whatever. So I know any vote of mine for a grand carless-world scheme will be canceled out. Grumble.)

O, tell me, driving public (as surely 99.3% of you are): What is so great about cars? Do you really need one? Should I learn to drive one? Will you buy me a nice one?

*Seriously, RM: Who wants to speed through Manhattan to get from New Jersey to Long Island, or vice versa? Aren’t you missing the point here? I know that you are dead and cannot answer me. But that’s no excuse!


  1. Someone told me about an exercise group that drives to malls to walk around them, for God’s sake! What is up with that.

    That is...a very suburban phenomenon. (North Jersey represent!) Basically, what the modern suburb does is put out sanitized, lifeless, and most importantly, privitized versions of things you see in cities. Shopping streets become malls, which are like city streets but without things suburbanites don't want to see, like homeless people or un-shiny pavement. Or weather. Or any possibility of surprise or change. (The landlords wouldn't want that.)

    So instead of, y'know, jogging around their neighborhoods (some of them do have sidewalks!), some suburbanites take their Suburbans to the mall, where they can walk in immaculate cleanliness. Sure, it's shut off from anything resembling the actual world, but that's what they want.

    Or at least what they thought they wanted. Now there's a movement to give suburbs actual walkable downtown centers where people won't fight over parking spaces and can stroll for its own sake instead of solely to be herded from one store to another. Craziness, I know.

  2. This echoes many recent thoughts of mine, as I drive around places all the time and wish there were public transit. And yes, Robert Moses is the bane of new (old) urbanists such as ourselves; have you read any Jane Jacobs?

  3. I totally agree with you about the congestion pricing and all that. They should make it much more difficult to bring private cars into Midtown and Lower Manhattan during rush hours, and expand MTA accordingly.
    I've also almost been tigged (is this a word anywhere except where I'm from?) by cars multiple times, and I've happily adopted the aggressive stare, irritated hand-waving, and muttering that are the only response. So, according to my math, fewer cars = more civility.

  4. SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC PART: I know the suburb I grew up in intentionally didn't have sidewalks in what common knowledge said (if not necessarily truthfully?) to keep out people who can't afford cars. Weirdly enough, this has proven inconvenient in that particular neighborhood as it has become peopled almost entirely by Orthodox Jewish people, who don't drive Friday night or Saturday. This seems bad for them and for those of us who do drive at those times.

    As for me, driving makes a big difference in my life. Driving gave me a wider choice of neighborhoods with respect to my school; I'd otherwise have had to live somewhere more accessible to the school by public transportation. Combining that with concerns of price (in one direction) and safety (in the other direction) of various neighborhoods, I would have been in one of a few situations: living in the dorms (paying almost as much as I do now for a very run-down room in a scary neighborhood -- they just put bullet-proof glass in the dorm windows), living in a not-super-great-but-less-scary-and-affordable neighborhood, or living multiple subway transfers from school.

    As things are, I live in a neighborhood I love and can get to and from school in 10-30 minutes (I allow 45 minutes at the busiest times of day). A school friend who lives not terribly far from me who takes public transit needs to allow 45 minutes - 1.5 hours to get to and from school.

    All of that doesn't take into account the fact that I have to go to various different hospitals for clinical rotations without knowing them in advance of the clinical year, making it totally impossible to plan to live a reasonable distance by public transportation. Since some of these rotations barely leave enough time to sleep between shifts if you could teleport home, every minute I save is priceless.

    All of this said, I think every other driver in this county is completely irretrievably insane and a danger to themselves and others. ;) Seriously, though, I think a serious crackdown is in order. There is a lot of extremely reckless driving and I'd be happy to see it curtailed. And I'm also totally for congestion taxes. Public transit (particularly in Manhattan!) is a very sensible option and I think we're societally being a huge doofus to be cutting it back instead of expanding it to be more comprehensive.

  5. Although, I have to add that cars are a pretty vital element of life where I grew up. The nearest town to my house was fifteen miles away, so I wasn't going to be walking there. (Even if I had, the town didn't have much to offer to reward my diligence.) It's a big deal to get your license and your car there as a teen, because then you're free, you don't have to wait for people to pick you up or take you somewhere. It actually becomes kind of a class thing--most of the kids who played sports or did activities were those who had enough money to have a car, or who lived close enough to school that they could easily get a ride. Poor kids with an hour and a half bus ride each way couldn't do as much.

  6. Owning a car, and driving it everywhere even when the store is only two blocks away, is as American as Mom, apple pie, and invading Iraq under false pretenses! Why do you hate America?

    P.S. Did you know sidewalks were invented in Soviet Russia to destroy our way of life. True story.

  7. Wow, cars spur more comment than anything else I have ever posted!

    S: Suburbs are scary! Even though I live in what resembles one, it is still surrounded by glorious, walkable CITY. I have heard about the movement towards walkable downtowns; as you can imagine, I am In Favor.

    K: I have not yet read Jacobs, but recently bought Death and Life from Strand, so I'm a-workin' on it.

    El: I remember you telling me how you had to drive for miles to get to a bookstore growing up and it always made me feel sad for you. Also, you put me in mind of the time we all googlemapped where we lived and yours was just sort of this sparse triangle of roads. Glad you have crossed over to the dark (city) side now.

    Mira: That's crazy about the Orthodox Jews and the sidewalks. I concede that it makes much sense for you to have a car (and live in your lovely neighborhood)! I do wish we had better public transit that could, like, take you to school/hospitals and across Brooklyn in a more useful manner than the G...

    C: My 5 hummers glare at me whenever I don't let them come to the store, so rest assured the complaint that I hate America has been lodged. And in Soviet Russia, sides walk you. Or something.

  8. On the one hand, I have never owned a car of my own and hope to never own a car. And often, when cities have places (especially hospitals) that are not accessible by foot, I get very mad. Because I should be able to walk to see my friend recovering in the hospital or to donate blood without too much trouble (or like signs designed for cars and not for walkers).

    Also in suburbs people need to get over the idea that people walking are dangerous people. Also the idea that the CITY COULD COME ANY MINUTE AND EAT THEIR CHILDREN!!!!!!!!! My dad got stopped by the police the other day because he was walking down the sidewalk (on his way home from work) and someone saw him and thought it was suspicious.

    On the other hand, I'm hearing here a lot of people who have grown up and lived all their lives in cities where it is possible to get around by walking. That's not true in a) any suburb, b) any rural area, or c) most American cities outside of the northeast. I think all of the people in those areas need to be working on public transport and walking and biking, but some driving is going to be involved in their lives. Like Elemoh, but also in an entirely different way, I grew up in a place where cars are inevitable under current circumstances. There is no way to build a subway in Miami (limestone prevents digging down). There is a pathetically limited single line above ground train, one which needs to expand. There is also a bus system which DRASTICALLY needs to expand. And the people in Miami need to complain and get better public transport. But they also need to drive; there is no walking during the day in that city for much of the year and for excellent reason.

  9. Elenlin: I agree with you about hospitals, which are often really difficult to get to. (As per Mira's post above, where she talks about working at one.)

    I have heard rumors of people getting stopped because they looked suspicious walking, but never knew anyone who has. Wow. Your dad is so not a shady-looking character, either.

    I do agree there are places where cars are necessary, for sure. Just feel like downtown Manhattan and my suicidal corner (to name a couple) are not good ones. And those are all reasonable points about Miami (goodness knows *I* wouldn't want to be walking around outside in that heat!).

    PS: My city is totally coming to eat your children. Prepare!