Consequences of a Car-centric Culture

A few weeks ago a 16 year old was struck by a large two trailer truck on his way to school and killed near my neighborhood.  The City was aware that bike safety was poor around this area.  Accidents happen every year there so the fatality should not have been totally unexpected but it did take everyone by surprise and served as a wake-up call to the community and city that waiting any longer for a solution was no longer an option.

I heard it said that a 9/11 number of car related deaths occurs every month.  More people are killed by cars than in all our wars and gun related shootings.  Car related death is the leading cause of fatality among children.  This is probably not a big surprise to anyone but why shouldn’t we be alarmed?  Car deaths and injuries have great economic and emotional cost to those affected by it.  How many people do not know of someone who has not been injured or killed in a car accident.  I know of several, one a brain injury, and most recently the fatality of a neighborhood child.  Why are we so apathetic about such tragedies?

It’s primarily because of our total dependency upon cars.  America over the last 100 years has become a car-centric culture.  No longer are streets designed to accommodate anything but cars.  But street and road infrastructures are becoming outdated leading to traffic congestion, freeway gridlock, and inadequate parking spaces.  Pedestrians and bikers use our roadways at their own peril.  Token bike lanes strips are painted on some roads as an afterthought but otherwise bikers are on their own.  Kids no longer walk or bike to school or play in my city.  They are driven everywhere by parents because our street infrastructure has become too dangerous for such activities.  Almost 3 generations of kids have grown up not knowing that there are other options for getting around.  As soon as kids reach driving age we buy them a car.  No wonder so may are killed in or by cars.  No wonder children are suffering from obesity and diabetes in epidemic numbers for lack of diet and exercise.

When I was young I used to bike and walk everywhere.  I did not own a car until two years after starting college.  Both my children did not own a car until after 27 and they still ride their bikes to work.  I’m a retired senior who still tries to ride my bike but our streets are simply getting too dangerous.  So I walk a lot.  But even that is getting more hazardous.  I am the exception.  I learned the value of riding bike when I was young.  It is part of my values and the value I instilled in my family.

If we could only design our street equally well for bikes and pedestrians as we do for cars think of how much safer biking and walking would be.  Think of how many more people would use their low cost, no maintenance, no polluting, healthier and far less hazardous bikes instead of drive their high cost, high maintenance, polluting, unhealthy and hazardous cars.  I’m not saying totally replace cars with bikes.  What I am saying is that we should be using our bikes far more than we are, and most of us have bikes collecting dust in the garage.  There are circumstances where biking is appropriate and where driving is appropriate.  It’s just that we seem to drive everywhere.  We even waste time looking for the best place to park our car as close to our destination as possible in a crowded lot instead of parking further and walking more to get some exercise.

Biking can be convenient and enjoyable if society would encourage their use by making roads safe, biking routs convenient, and biking a pleasant experience like the Dutch have.  It is far less expensive than making our roads safer, convenient, and pleasant to drive.  For every biker we put on the road there is one less car to clutter our congested streets.  So why aren’t we trying to do this?  It is purely a cultural thing.  We are a car-centric culture so don’t think about biking as an option.  Biking remains a sport of endurance instead of a family activity to be enjoyed at all ages and a viable alternative means of transportation.  So there we are, stuck in a rut of our own making unable to make a paradigm shift to bike-centricity.

So what are our solutions?  The first thing is to admit that you are part of a problem and determined to solve the problem.  Then you must convince your neighbors and your PTA and schools and city officials that we need to get more people out biking for health, safety, cost and environmental reasons.  We need more balance in transportation.  Just depending upon cars to get around is not sustainable.  Encourage your city and schools to balance the design of road infrastructure with serious consideration to bicycles supplemented with educational programs.  Google “Bike Lanes” to see what others are doing.  Portland, Oregon is probably the most progressive city in the U.S.  Denmark has the most advanced biking road infrastructure in the world.

For examples of what cities and nations around the world and in the U.S. are doing see my post: Bike Lanes and Paths Best Practices Videos

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3 Responses to Consequences of a Car-centric Culture

  1. bribikes says:

    I was actually thinking about this at work today. People in general are so blasé about car accidents. C’mon do you really think there is no way to change our roads to make them safer? There are so many innovative ideas out there, let’s use them.

    • fgeefay says:

      I’m with you. But this is a tough egg to crack. We are so intrenched in car-centricity that we can’t make that paradigm shift. Our entire transportation infrastructure has to be retrained and their mindset changed. Most of all the oil industries and automotive industries are going to fight it tooth and nails if they sense it a threat to them. But perhaps we can start to change the culture by influencing our city leaders. We need innovation but there are plenty of ideas and examples (see Bike Lanes and Paths Best Practices Videos on this site). But most of all we need the political will of our civic leaders to make it happen. Cities such as Portland Oregon and New York City are working on it as major priorities. But unfortunately not my city, at least not yet. I’m trying to change that.

  2. bribikes says:

    Don’t worry we will crack this egg! I am a cook at a restaurant…I crack LOTS of eggs! I will do my part by continuing to live car free and promoting biking in my rural community.

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