“Why can’t we have this at home?” Amber asked me as we criss-crossed Royal Street in the French Quarter. Royal isn’t closed to cars, but traffic is slow enough and pedestrians are abundant enough, that the prospect of stepping off the curb, doesn’t induce panic.
“We can’t have this at home, because long ago, we decided that cars are king and pedestrians are second class citizens” was my response. “Walkers get the scraps of the public right of way- whatever is left after the cars are done.”
To spend time in a district that doesn’t give deference to cars is an eye-opening experience. It’s also a pleasure. There is something liberating about using a whole street and the excitement it adds to a neighborhood. Amber and I spent a wonderful Easter Weekend eating, drinking and shopping our way through The Quarter. It is a testament to how the design of a neighborhood can shape an experience and no experience I have found is quite like that of the French Quarter.
Back home from the trip, we shuffled kids off to school and headed down the street for some coffee. Stepping off the curb without much thought, we were quickly reminded of the constant danger we subject ourselves too, just in navigating our own neighborhood. We are in a very residential neighborhood, and only a couple of blocks from the elementary school, yet nearly every car is traveling at speeds that would kill a person on impact. It was startling. When we host a block party, it’s a reminder, when we attend Open Streets downtown, it’s a reminder and in visiting walkable districts, it’s such a stark reminder of what life could be like. For one weekend, we got to experience streets as how they were intended- for the public. It was a great reminder of this somewhat taboo subject- it’s okay to hate cars.
Yes, I own a car. I like my car. I like the way it looks, it can be fun to drive, it’s convenient for moving my people from place to place. I also like being able to use it to go and visit family or run out to pick up groceries and whatever else we need. I also hate cars.
I like my car, but I hate that I have to own one. My neighborhood is better than most for this and my family can get by with just one car, but I would prefer to live in a place where we didn’t need a car at all. My car is only convenient, because as a nation, we spent trillions of dollars in making it that way. A car should be an inconvenience in any place that prioritizes people, and those are the places we are all drawn to. The only upside to my car is the occasional convenience, but the downside is extensive.
– Cars are expensive. On average they cost a family nearly $10,000 a year, but only get used 5% of the time. There are so many better things to spend $10,000 on than something that sits unused in your driveway 95% of the time.
– They are incredibly dangerous and can attribute to over 38,000 deaths annually. If shoes caused 38,000 deaths a year, no one would ever wear shoes again.
– Roads are ugly and have ruined nearly every landscape. Roads have destroyed the countryside and the city alike. Too much space is given over to cars and parking that could be used for such better purposes.
– They are fiscally irresponsible. Consider the trillions of dollars we have spent in the United States in completely transforming our environment around cars. Cities can barely afford the cost of maintaining roads and on-street car storage.
– They increase inequality. If you must have a car to get to work or to the store or anywhere, yet they cost on average of $10,000 annually, that is going to cause a lot of people a lot of problems.
This is just the tip of the overpass. There are so many problems with having completely transformed our environment around the automobile, and it is this investment that has made the car so entrenched in our culture. No one wants to give up their car and people flip the shit out when you even talk about reducing parking or adding bike lanes, but I get it. If I lived in a place where I was stranded and couldn’t get to work or the store or to get half-off Appeteasers at TGI Friday’s without a car, I would feel pretty upset too. We have built our places in a manner that makes car ownership mandatory for nearly everyone.
All the while, everyone loves visiting car free places. Everyone loves the French Quarter and the East Village and Key West and Savannah and the old cities of Europe. Pedestrian centered places are amazing and we like them for good reason. It’s nice not to fear for your life when you step off a curb. Being surrounded by other people on the street makes us feel alive. Stores that are oriented to walkers are fun and typically small and interesting. You can get boozy if you want and not put anyone in danger. People aren’t seeking out car-centric places, because they love cars, but because there are so few pedestrian oriented places and most are unaffordable or far away.
It is okay to drive a car, it is okay to appreciate cars, it is okay to feel a connection to your car, it is also okay to hate cars and hate what they have done to our communities. It’s okay to hate their cost, it’s okay to hate our dependence on them, it’s okay to hate how loud they are, it’s okay to hate how ugly roads are, it’s okay to hate how unsafe they make our neighborhoods. Not only is it okay, it actually makes sense, and it is the most reasonable response.
It is completely okay to hate cars, it doesn’t mean you hate all drivers. It just means you are a reasonable person that wishes we could do better. It also doesn’t mean that you want cars to go away, but maybe just be less of a focus for our cities. Cars have a part to play, but they don’t need to be center stage to our places.