Is the car's dominance insane or a logical response to circumstance?
Over on the Atlantic and Citylab, Edward Humes writes about The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life with the subhead, Considering the constant fatalities, rampant pollution, and exorbitant costs of ownership, is the car’s dominance a little insane? The article kind of made me insane, because it covered stuff that TreeHugger, Streetsblog, StrongTowns and even Citylab have been writing about for years. It's in books like Straphanger and Happy City, Traffic and so much more. It listed problems caused by the car without addressing why it is the way it is. It's not insane at all, but the predictable (and predicted) impact of planning decisions going back to the 1930s. Calling it insane in fact lets people off the hook, not guilty by reason of insanity.
Hume's article mentions all the usual problems, the carbon footprint of cars, the waste of time, the carnage and death on the roads, and the extraordinary waste of money:
As an investment, the car is a massive waste of opportunity—“the world’s most underutilized asset,” the investment firm Morgan Stanley calls it. That’s because the average car sits idle 92 percent of the time. Accounting for all costs, from fuel to insurance to depreciation, the average car owner in the U.S. pays $12,544 a year for a car that puts in a mere 14-hour workweek. Drive an SUV? Tack on another $1,908.14.
Then I wondered who Edward Humes was, and saw he was the author of Garbology, and now the author of Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, which includes a great paragraph:
The way we move ourselves and our stuff is on the brink of great change, as a new mobility revolution upends the car culture that, for better and worse, built modern America. This unfolding revolution will disrupt lives and global trade, transforming our commutes, our vehicles, our cities, our jobs, and every aspect of culture, commerce, and the environment. We are, quite literally, at a fork in the road, though whether it will lead us to Carmageddon or Carmaheaven has yet to be determined.
Richard Florida blurbs that "Door to Door is an eye-opening account of the massive physical systems that support our increasingly digital world." Seen in that context, the Citylab article, with its lack of links and references, is less annoying; No doubt they are in the footnotes of the book.
Humes is right, we are at a fork in the road. I will have to read the book to find out where he thinks it's going. And see related links below for some of the TreeHugger take on these issues: