2022 has been a tumultuous year for many people, and I was not to be excluded. For a few weeks, I commuted by single-occupancy vehicle again, and the experience felt both foreign and familiar. From 2004 until 2013, I drove regularly, and even paid off a vehicle, a 2004 Nissan Sentra; when someone crashed into me and totaled my car, I decided then that I was unwilling to repeat the process of buying cars for distracted drivers to destroy. Driving to work in the opposite direction of the traffic made my commute easier, because most people were coming towards the extravagantly expensive and more affordable locations. I felt somewhat nostalgic for my past, but I was more than happy to return to active transportation at the end of my brief stint.
Very few drivers acknowledge this, but cars only offer a false sense of security. “I can go anywhere I want as fast as I want!” Well, no, because the rise of the cul-de-sac and urban sprawl mean constant dead ends, so drivers need to be intimately aware of where they need to go or they will be trapped and spend unexpected gas money trying to navigate. Families buying into the illusion that cars are safer have been confronted with the reality that a higher number of “families with cars” mean higher probabilities for child fatalities, especially with families being priced out of density and expected car ownership throughout the United States. Moreover, irrationally continuing to develop more vehicles fails to consider how to reclaim materials of unfixable cars and reduce their environmental impact, and used cars have increased in cost because of the coercion to suburbs and the lack of remove work for several jobs.
When I was driving, I felt compelled to participate in car culture based on my previous experience. Many naysayers argue that people should have more impulse control, but our understanding of how society operates is too narrow, supported by frequently being trapped in repetitive tasks. With cars come fastfood, gas stations, highway rest stops, strip malls, and all the service workers who help those operations function. I ate at multiple fastfood restaurants multiple times because when I walk, I have to enter the restaurant, and I am more reluctant to enter restaurants since people deny public health interests. Most of food of car culture is unhealthy, but unlike me, people are forced to participate because they either have longer commutes or they use their vehicles for income making deliveries or as taxis. Entire infrastructures have been developed around people driving, including businesses that deliberately locate away from public transit “for safety,” and behavioral conditioning is real.
Furthermore, because I usually walk or take the bus, I was disgusted by the number of sidewalks I saw without shade leading absolutely nowhere. The premise that people will be walking to their neighbors or kids will walk to school no longer exists because people are often working multiple jobs or pulling longer hours, so many neighbors are generally strangers to each other. I understand why sidewalks exist, but huge expanses of residential zoning mean that sidewalks barely get used, especially in Texas heat of triple digits for weeks. Employers are not helping by demanding people return to offices despite the improved environmental standards during the pandemic. I have been blessed to remain in dense locations because I know I would walk less without destinations.
Finally, I missed the energy I felt from active transportation when I drove. Most of the time, my commute includes 3-4 miles of walking, and I am always amazed at the energy I still have at the end of a day. I took up swimming again just to burn some of the energy, and I was able to swim over a mile a day and then go work for 8 hours based on the energy I had. Lifestyle changes are one thing, but what we need in the United States is an entire paradigm shift, which is working on some levels but not on transportation. Some people are still insisting that cars will always be relevant, and are still developing and purchasing based on that ideology. In truth, society needs to decide that it is simply impossible to indulge the eccentricities of everyone on the planet and start to address them instead, beginning with car keys that people should not need.