So That Happened

June 21, 2013

With the rental car out back in the garage, waiting to whisk me away for weekend (a detail pertinent only as proof of, see, weekendgetawayI too on occasion drive an automobile and am not just some anti-car zealot), let me leave you with this passing thought.

In a book I am currently reading, Transport For Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age by Paul Mees, the author summarizes a consultant’s report written for the city of Los Angeles:

the region required an integrated, multi-modal public transport system comprised of high-speed rapid transit trains running on segregated rights of way, fed and linked by urban and interurban trams, with buses serving sparsely settled and recently developed areas. A single organization would need to control these services to ensure integration and eliminate wasteful duplication, and substantial public funding would be required for the capital works.

Oh right. I forgot to mention this report was written in 1925.

transportforsuburbia

Public transit planning has been with us long before the car, folks. Private automobile use is, in fact, the interloper here. Designing cities and communities around the mobility of drivers is the real radical experiment in social engineering. It’s just that for anyone under the age of, say, 75, we don’t realize it because we’ve been living it. It’s our normal but not society’s.

I don’t begrudge urban planners from 50, 60 or 70 years ago their dreams of autopia, to use Mees’s word. We were still largely a rural, small town people with a deep suspicion of big cities (although I will look askance at some likely racist sentiment behind that. urbansuburbiaCities were where wave after wave of immigrants settled.) Cities offered economic opportunity but were not places someone would choose to live given their druthers.

Cars delivered a promise of personal mobility, easy and inexpensive access to a place in the country. With wide open spaces to expand and now a means for everyone to get there, the suburbs became a way of life. Cities were transformed, designed for the convenience of personal vehicle use.

But I think it safe to say that it’s been a spectacular failure, a victim of its own success in many ways. The lure of the suburban lifestyle has drawn more and more people to it. We have grown increasingly urbanized as a society. As that has happened, it’s become apparent such a lifestyle, dependent as it is on the automobile, is not sustainable. Not economically. Not environmentally. And, most importantly, not socially.

failedexperimentSo it’s time to turn the page.

What we shouldn’t lose sight of, however, is that we’re not starting a new chapter. We don’t have to chart entirely new territory. This isn’t a blank slate.

We simply have to revert to a previous way of doing things. With a few new wrinkles for sure but we’re not re-inventing the wheel here. Remember, cars and the lifestyle they introduced are the new kids on the block. Party crashers we initially were excited about having shown up but who turned out to be drunken bores. When we asked them to leave, they trashed the place on the way out.

Car dependence was the bold new theory that looked great on paper but eventually worked out poorly in practice. Shit happens, right? As we set out to undo and repair the damage, don’t forget that. Our attempts now to deal with the fallout, like fixing traffic snarls by giving right of way access to public transit or keeping cars off streets during certain hours, shouldn’t be viewed as way out there, never been tried before plots to destroy capitalism as we know it or whatever other conspiracies the knuckleheads will try and come up with.

partycrashers

We’re simply regressing to the mean, baby. Reverting to the way things used to be before the crazy kids and their souped-up hot rods convinced us they knew better. Proponents of alternative methods of transportation, whether walking, biking or public transit, are the real conservatives in this discussion. They have nothing to be defensive about and need to start acting accordingly.

old schooly submitted by Cityslikr