America’s Absurd Fascination With Cars

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 14

I was having a discussion with someone this morning and we realized that at every stage in the development of automobile infrastructure in America, other, consistently better, choices for infrastructure were available, but we continued to choose the car every time.

trafficatl

We could have built high speed rail, but we built highways.  We could have built rapid transit bus lines, but we built a snarl of traffic filled streets.  We could have built a bike and pedestrian path networks, instead we cut up neighborhoods with massive highway projects.  At every stage we took a look at all the options, and choose the worst one.

Which has lead to our current situation, where transportation spending is dominated by the needs of the automobile, and not the humans using that automobile.

Seems I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion, there is an excellent article in The Atlantic that really goes step by step in showing just how destructive American’s fascination with cars has become.

It starts off laying down some real talk:

Simply this: In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane.

Then the author Edward Humes goes on to lay our in depressing and methodical detail just how horrible the car has been for America.

On efficiency:

What are the failings of cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: More than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine. No part of daily life wastes more energy and, by extension, more money than the modern automobile.

Would you burn 8 our of every 10 dollars you made for the freedom to get in a box and get stuck in traffic?  Because you are literally burning 80% of the money you put into that car.

boston-drag-racing-crash

 

On health:

While burning through all that fuel, cars and trucks spew toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere that induce cancer, lung disease, and asthma. These emissions measurably decrease longevity—not by a matter of days, but years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution, losing 10 years of life on average compared to their lifespans in the absence of tailpipe emissions.

TEN YEARS!  Are we really so addicted to the “freedom” the car provides us that we would sacrifice ten years of our lives for them?!  Let alone the 50,000+ people who straight up die early every year.

06/12/15-Boston,MA. A car is seen flipped on its roof shortly after sunrise Friday on Causeway St. in the North End. The car hit a parked car and flipped. Unconfirmed media reports state 2 are dead.. Staff photo by Mark Garfinkel

On economy and global security:

There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national-security costs and risks of being dependent on oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel. 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

Sheesh…another way to look at it, is that if you ride a bicycle instead of driving you will be saving at least that much money.  Also if your bike sits around unused for 92 % of the time you will not be wasting nearly as much money, as your bike probably cost you a couple hundred dollars and doesn’t constantly need new oil filters and gasoline.  Not to mention you don’t need bicycle insurance.

beaconsmash2

 

On the Environment:

Then there is the matter of climate. Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines. But are cars the true culprit? Airplanes, for instance, are often singled out as the most carbon-intensive form of travel in terms of emissions per passenger-mile (or per ton of cargo), but that’s not the whole story: Total passenger miles by air are miniscule compared to cars. In any given year, 60 percent of American adults never set foot on an airplane, and the vast majority who do fly take only one round trip a year. Unfortunately, air travel is not the primary problem, contributing only 8 percent of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gases. Cars and trucks, by contrast, pump out a combined 83 percent of transportation carbon.

There is simply no doubt, our addiction to driving our cars is going to destroy the environment we need to live.  There is little point in having the “freedom to travel” if the territory you are traveling over resembles a nightmare hell-scape.  Mad Max is not an instruction manual, its a cautionary tale.

 

beaconsmash2

The unacceptable cost in lives:

Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Iraq, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution.

And that’s not even counting cars’ most dramatic cost: They waste lives. They are one of America’s leading causes of avoidable injury and death, especially among the young.

Jim McNamara, a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, where officers spend 80 percent of their time responding to car wrecks, believes such public inattention and apathy arise whenever a problem is “massive but diffuse.” Whether it’s climate change or car crashes, he says, if the problem doesn’t show itself all at once—as when an airliner goes down with dozens or hundreds of people on board—it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Very few people see what he and his colleagues witness daily and up close: what hurtling tons of metal slamming into concrete and brick and trees and one another does to the human body strapped (or, all too often, not strapped) within.

Every time you see war casualties, or terrorist attacks on the news, realize that what the news is not talking about is the thousands of deaths that month from car crashes.

If we were in a war with cars, it would be the longest and deadliest war we have ever been in. Roughly 40-50 THOUSAND people a year. Or to put it another way this is more deaths than a 9-11 scale terror attacks every month year in and year out for the last 50 years. One wonders why this isn’t the number one news story every day.

Boghosian_crash5_MET-8368

 

The article itself makes the same conclusion I have:

This disparity in attention between plane crashes and car crashes cannot be justified by their relative death tolls. Quite the contrary: In the 14 years following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there were eight crashes on American soil of passenger planes operated by regional, national, or international carriers. The death toll in those crashes totaled 442. That averages out to fewer than three fatalities a month.

The death toll on America’s streets and highways during that same period since 9/11 was more than 400,000 men, women, and children. The traffic death toll in 2015 exceeded 3,000 a month. When it comes to the number of people who die in car wrecks, America experiences the equivalent of four airliner crashes every week.

A normal day on the road, then, is a “quiet catastrophe,” as Ken Kolosh, the statistics chief for the National Safety Council, calls it.

 

eisen_crash9_061215

Car crashes take our young people from us:

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 39. They rank in the top five killers for Americans 65 and under (behind cancer, heart disease, accidental poisoning, and suicide).

And when cars don’t outright kill us they cost us a lot of money and suffering, even if you don’t drive:

And the direct economic costs alone—the medical bills and emergency-response costs reflected in taxes and insurance payments—represent a tax of $784 on every man, woman, and child living in the U.S.

And yet we have people who will fight long and hard to keep on-street parking, and keep speed limits high, and lobby for more highways, and complain that bike lanes will make it harder to drive.

WHY?!

What has lead Americans to fight so hard for something that is so bad for them?

 

160309-cody-ferari-accident-scene-jpo-625a_9d9ee4518911da2477caa4f072d0a2f5.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Is it the non-stop barrage of car commercials showing rich white people cruising empty streets while encased in luxury leather and listening to the latest hit song?

Could it be the massive amounts of money spent by auto industry lobbyists to promote cars over public transit?  Could it be the large oil companies spending millions to lower emission standards?

Could it be the joy that is the daily commute? Or the joy of traffic filled highways? The asthma, the obesity, the oil wars, the oil spills, the global warming, the road rage, the plowing under of nature for highways and roads, the constant bills, repairs, tickets, tolls, and insurance?

I simply don’t understand why the vast majority of city dwelling Americans own and operate their own car, especially when you consider there are a host of better, cheaper, healthier options available to them.


submit America’s Absurd Fascination With Cars to reddit.com Add to Reddit.


Tags: , ,
Posted in advocacy, bostonbiker | 1 Comment »
  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. May 10, 2016: Boston Biker » Blog Archive » Join The Vision Zero Movement

Post a Comment