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We are the traffic: noodling about car culture

I read a toot[1] today where the author said it is ridiculous that people would drive 100km daily to go to work. Or drive 1000km per month to merely exist in 'western' society.

They are right, of course. It is ridiculous. I don't know of anyone who enjoys spending all that time in the car. I mean, we all do it, but who enjoys it? When did all this driving become normal and expected?

I had a buddy at SaskTel who lived in Balcarres and commuted into downtown Regina every day. That's 92 kilometers, one way. Back in 1996, that was an insane idea. As in, everyone thought he was nuts for doing it. But then more and more people started commuting in from Lumsden (35km), Southey (60km) or Bethune (60km). And then the Premier of Saskatchewan started commuting to the Legislature from Swift Current (250km) and this all became normal, or at least normalized.

It's no different out on the Island. I may be able to live here quite well without a car, but folks still commute in daily from Sooke (41km) or even over the Malahat pass!

But this isn't normal. This is very recent, very strange behaviour. It all changed in my lifetime.

My grandparent's farm was 11km from Moose Jaw and if they drove into town every day folks would wonder what was wrong. Driving to town took planning. You made a list. You minimized the trips, not because it was expensive (gas was cheap after all) but because it was a waste of time! There were things to do at the farm, we had everything we needed there, so we just lived. Going to town was a treat, not a daily chore.

We recently saw a film about cycling where a fellow in Ghana was building bikes out of renewable resources. The people in his community had to walk everywhere; get them cycling and it expanded their trade networks, access to food and water and other essentials. Transportation would make their lives better.

But we've taken it too far in North America and other 'developed' countries. We keep on removing trade networks, removing services, removing workplaces, and forcing people to drive further and further to get the things they need, whether it be work, services or food. We don't have corner shops, or even High Streets; we have Big Boxes on the outskirts of town. Suburbs have no sidewalks and nowhere to walk to anyway. Public transportation is woeful; deliberately underfunded, privatized, or eliminated. Good luck walking to the doctor or the grocery store, or taking a bus or train either.

Folks say we're addicted to driving. I say we've been forced into it. Hollow out all the services and force us to drive to what remains.

Better to flip it. Take the cars away and force the services to move back closer to the people.

Car dependence was created in a generation. We can reverse it just as quickly.

  1. toot, n. A post on a Mastodon server. See also tweet or Xhale or whatever they call a post on formerly-Twitter ↩︎