Streets Are A Public Utility Designed To Move People (Not Cars)

Written by Boston Biker on Feb 15

The title of this post comes from the parting lines of a police training video from florida.

Those words have been swimming around in my head for a couple days now. I had always thought something similar but “Public utility designed to move people” really crystallized my ideas. Roads are for people, and those roads work better or worse depending on how those people choose to use those roads.

For instance Latron sent in this lovely picture.


I really noticed this during the storm. People had reclaimed the streets, and were almost universally happy about it. It was only when the cars came back that things started to get nasty.

Being a public utility, roads are a shared but limited resource. We only have so much space, and we have to move everyone around. Like public water infrastructure, the size of our “pipe” is only so big.


Why is it then that we seem to prioritize the most inefficient user of our roads, single occupancy automobiles? As I have written about before, cars are way too big for the job they do. Using many more square feet of our roads to move the same number of people around that a bicycle or a pair of shoes could do much faster, and cheaper.

It would seem that we have convinced ourselves to do something that is foolish. When you see a lot of people doing something foolish, its often helpful to follow the money. Who makes money from a foolish act, and what is their motivation for having people continue to do said foolish act. In this case you will easily follow the money back to a whole host of very large companies (car/oil/construction).

Then its just a matter of looking at how they have convinced people that this foolish act is a good idea, and before too long you have it pretty much figured out. Some small number of people make a very large amount of money if everyone continues to drive cars, they convince us we need to drive cars with billions of dollars in advertisement, and secure their money flow with lobbying of our elected officials.

This is basically how capitalism works in america. For better or worse we live in a system where often making money for a few outweighs the benefits for the many. Not only would our roads be much more effective at moving people around if they were not clogged with single occupancy motor vehicles, the air would be cleaner, people would be healthier, local economies would have more money in them, it would even be quieter and more pleasant to live in this city.

It is very hard to defend the continued use of cars as a major transportation option for city dwellers. They are expensive, loud, inefficiency, unhealthy, politically dangerous (oil wars, and money spent to protect oil over seas), bad for the environment, dangerous to children, dangerous to the operators, make motorists unhappy, and make our shred public roads operate poorly.

Its time to abandon the single occupancy automobile in favor of better and easier options. We need to move to better and more efficient public transportation, walking, shared car use (zip car), bike share programs, denser and more innovative city planning, and yes cycling.

Cars are killing us in a 100 different ways, and making us miserable in the process. Lets stop this madness, get on your bike, and get out there!

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Posted in advocacy | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Streets Are A Public Utility Designed To Move People (Not Cars)”

  1. By brad on Feb 15, 2013 | Reply

    Cars may still have a place in the world but the knowledge that their role in the city needs to be curtailed, has often been considered.What’s nice to think about is we can effectively act on that knowledge.

    “The main issue is that the right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age where everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.”

    Lewis Mumford 1957

    Even Henry Ford could not stand to think about what was happening to his vision of the idyllic world as a result of the growing profits in selling cars.

    Two weeks ago I Noticed what could be a good book at the MAPC titled “Rethinking Lots”. So much space is taken up in parking those cars once in the city.

    We don’t have to be Haters of cars but It would be good to understand and act on taking back on-street-parking space FOR PEOPLE.

  2. By Rebecca on Feb 18, 2013 | Reply

    After the the blizzard, the snow was cleared from the traffic lanes on Commonwealth Avenue and here and there in a somewhat desultory fashion from the bike lanes. The snow was not removed from the parking lanes. Even so, when the parking ban was lifted days later, parked cars filled up the bike lanes. One car parker getting into her car pointed out the fact that the parking lane was filled with snow, so of course she couldn’t park there. Here is an instance of not prioritizing all modes of moving traffic, but of prioritizing all uses of the car over every other user of the road. Historically, the streets were used as a public commons and not just a“Public utility designed to move people” The car is still “king in Boston”. It seems to me, that the biggest problem for cyclists traveling on our major thoroughfares is the parked cars and the potential for dooring each car presents.

  3. By Kate on Feb 19, 2013 | Reply

    This is a great point, but since we’ve spent 100 yrs designing streets for cars, and people have built their lives around being ABLE to commute 40 miles to work in a car, it needs to be a gradual “pull” transition, which is what I feel is happening right now.

    Pushing motorists off the road is a recipe for disaster. As an avid cyclist who does need to drive to work at least a few times a month due to health issues, I am very grateful for the infrastructure on both sides.

    I only began riding 3 yrs ago, and have since that time, we’ve had to add rows of bike racks at work to accomodate all the new cyclists. Even in the dead of winter, you can sit at almost any intersection in the city for less than 5 minutes before you see a cyclist pass through. More people are getting on bikes by choice, which is exactly what I want to happen. It doesn’t mean you take anything AWAY from motorists, (which adds to the “war on..” animosity) but you add infrastructure to support cycling and then more people will choose it and it just keeps building like that. Eventually, once you reach a critical mass, you’ve got a real voice in the urban planning department.

    We’re not at that critical mass yet, but the city is doing a lot to help us get there and I am very grateful for their efforts…

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