Even someone who thinks cars suck as much as I do still has to use them.

Even someone who thinks cars suck as much as I do still has to use them.

This post is part two of a series I’m doing on cars. Check out the first part in this series here.

I think we’ve established that cars are major pain in the ass, but then why are we so hooked on them? I said myself I could never fathom giving up a car, even though I hate them 90% of the time, so what gives?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s just not feasible for most of us to give up cars, even if we’d really like to. Most of the stuff that ties us to our cars are factors totally outside our control, so we can’t always address them. I can’t list all of them here, but I’ll do my best to touch on as many as I can.

Time and distance limitations

The first, and most obvious reason why many of us cannot fathom getting rid of our cars is because most of the places we need to go are too far away and we need to get to them too quickly to consider anything other than private, motorized transportation. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Mother of two must get one child to school no sooner than 7:30. She then must get her second child to daycare and get herself to work by 8:00. Her child’s school is a few blocks away, but her daycare provider is 10 miles away from her child’s school, and her work is 5 miles away from her daycare provider. What transport, besides her car, can get her and her child 15 miles, with a stop in the middle, in 30 minutes?
  • Mother of one has a 45 mile commute from her daycare provider to her work and back again. She must pick up her child from daycare by 6 pm every night, or face stiff financial penalties. She gets off work at 5. What transport, besides her car (driven like a bat out of hell through rush hour traffic), can get her 45 miles in an hour?
  • Father of two has 45 mile commute to work, most of which is highway. He must carry a large volume of tools with him to and from his job site every day. His work day begins at 6 am. What transport, besides a personal vehicle, can meet his transportation needs?

These scenarios are personal ones. They are examples from me at two different points in my life, and Jeremy now. But I could list dozens more of people I know. Given the distances we have to go for many of our trips, and the limited time in which we have to travel those distances, options like public transit and self powered transportation (walking, cycling, etc.) just aren’t practical, and in some cases straight up impossible. Not even Lance Armstrong could have made the commute I needed to make when I was in the Army and had then baby Elijah in daycare. I couldn’t even make it by car some nights. But even when our schedules aren’t restrictive, and the things we need to get to are fairly close, we can still run into issues.

Safety

Driving cars is inherently risky. Car accidents kill and injure lots of people every day. But if given the choice between being on the road in a car, or on the road not in a car, most people will choose being in a car. There are a lot of reasons for this, and there are arguments to be made about whether or not being in a car actually increases your safety (I don’t know enough about those arguments to take a firm stance either way), but I think we can all agree that choosing transport other than cars isn’t as safe as it should and reasonably could be for a lot of people.

Lots of places do not have sidewalks, bike lanes, street lights, or any of the other infrastructure that keeps non car commuters safe. Many drivers don’t know how to share the road (or don’t think they should have to), and drive distracted, aggressively, carelessly, or worse. Some neighborhoods are safer than others, some have more crime, pollution, mountain lions (yes, that is a legit problem in some places), etc. And yes, it’s totally true that you face most of these risks while in a car too, but when push comes to shove in these situations, most of us also feel safer when we’ve got the body of a car surrounding us while we’re out navigating this shit.

Car bias

Everything in our society is set up to accomodate travel by car.  Beyond how roads are designed and locations are distanced, many places do not have a place to safely park/store your non car transport once you get there. Many employers do not consider anything but a personal car to be a reliable mode of transportation to work, not to mention that showing up to work sweaty from a muscle powered commute is generally considered unprofessional, and not every workplace has a place where you can freshen up. Generally, people who do not own a car (or even own a ugly or less reliable car) are considered losers. Hell, even if you own a car that is in perfect condition, there is often a lot of judgement about your character depending on the brand or model you choose to drive, and the bias is towards bigger, more expensive cars.

Cost of alternatives

Because most of us need a car due to the aformentioned reasons, springing extra money on a form of alternative transit can be a frivolity many cannot afford. Cars are incredibly expensive! The average American spends 20% of their income on cars, and after all that, who can afford to spend more on a bicycle, bus fare, or something else? Especially if you would have to provide all of this for a whole family, which brings us to our next point.

What you’re transporting

Its all well and good to suggest that individuals ditch their car for a bike or bus ride, but what if you are needing to transport a family of four and their dog? Or what if you need to transport something big, like a new fruit tree to plant on your homestead, or a lot of little things, like groceries?  When you’re transporting more than just yourself, suddenly going by anything other than car can be very complicated.

Weather

Lots of people would prefer not to go out in bad weather, myself included, and that’s totally reasonable. I love to ride my bike and spend time outdoors, so I’m perfectly comfortable waiting at a bus stop or walking, but not if it’s raining, snowing, or excessively hot. Sorry. The levels of bad weather I’ll tolerate are even lower if I have to transport my kids. Granted, I don’t particularly like to travel by car in bad weather either, but if I have to travel in bad weather, I will usually choose to do so in a car, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.  I have a lot of admiration for those bad ass road warriors who bike to work even in freezing temperatures and snow, but I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect everyone to do that.

Okay, so cars suck.  But obviously we are stuck with them, so why bother talking about all of this at all?

If things stay exactly the same, then yes, we are stuck with cars, and all the shittiness that comes with them.  But things don’t have to stay the same, many of the reasons we need cars on this list are things that are within our control to change about society, but we can’t start working on changing things unless we identify what the problems are in the first place, which is what the first two posts in this series are all about.  As we move forward from here, we’re going to address how we might change some of these issues, and look into our options for car alternatives to see what works best for us.

What keeps you driving even if you may not want to?  What barriers to choosing alternative transport do you face?  Comment below, and lets try to work on these issues together!

 

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