As someone who walks, rides a bike, drives a car and occasionally travels by plane, I think the time has come to admit defeat and work to replace the car. I know what you are thinking, “He’s just crazy, you can’t get rid of cars..blah….blah….blah…” To some extent I agree, cars are needed but the HOW and WHEN we use them needs to be looked at. So lets discuss this matter using what I love using, FACTs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) releases their report every year and somehow each year most Americans find a way to ignore it. Because if they sat down and let the numbers soak in there would be a backlash of epic proportions. Ok, not really. A few people would probably post a link or two on some social network but the onslaught of cute animals and pinuninterests would quickly have everyone forget. (The Silence would be so jealously proud but I digress) But, if they did paid attention they would have seen some rather scary numbers.
The number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased 5.3 percent last year, jumping to 34,080 deaths, according to a preliminary estimate made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It’s the first time in seven years the number has increased.
May 7, 2013
New NHTSA Study Shows Motor Vehicle Crashes Have $871 Billion Economic and Societal Impact on U.S. Citizens
May 28, 2014
The numbers are, to put it bluntly, beyond staggering. To give you a better way to grasp these numbers, if you were to divide the numbers of deaths by 12 months you would get over 2800 deaths a month. That’s over 700 a week, or someone dying in almost half the states in the US every day. How anyone can find these numbers acceptable is beyond me. The act of going to work, driving your children to school or going on vacation should not be life threatening. But according to the data, it is, each and every day.
Making things worse, cars appear to be responsible for the deaths of over 4000 pedestrians.
For the first time in five years, the annual number of pedestrian deaths climbed. NHTSA said 4,280 pedestrians died in 2010, a 4 percent increase from the 4,109 killed in 2009. An estimated 70,000 were injured.
Aug 7, 2012
Yet each day people get in their cars and become distracted by an ever growing list of things which personally, should not be part of the driving experience. People are using cell phones, texting (which is illegal in most states), shaving, putting make-up on, eating, etc, etc all without considering what type of damage they can do with their 2-3 ton vehicles because of their distracted driving. Sadly though, we haven’t even touched on the pollution aspect of cars.
Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., scientists said that mothers who had higher exposure while pregnant to traffic pollution coming from car and truck emissions were more likely to have children who developed cancers like acute lymphoblastic leukemia and a type of eye cancer.
A new study from MIT suggests that in the US, 53,000 people a year die prematurely because of automobile pollution, compared to 34,000 people a year who die in traffic accidents.
These results more than double the number of people who die in the US every year as a result of automobiles, to nearly 100,000.
For those of you who glanced over those numbers let me repeat them. One of the most respected colleges in the world, MIT, estimates that nearly 100,000 people die EACH YEAR as a result (directly or indirectly) from the use of cars. Again to help grasp that number, here is the breakdown.
More then 8333 deaths per month
More the 2083 deaths per week
And more then 297 deaths per day OR 5 people in each state of the US.
I’m sorry but the great vehicle experiment is an utter and complete failure and it’s time to rethink how we move around our country. If we are to completely eliminate the estimated 100,000 deaths each year, alternate forms of transportation must be considered in a serious manner. We should be looking into zero pollutant public transportation that truly serves the masses, real cycling infrastructure that protects cyclists and not just some paint on the ground, and a re-think of speed limits when cars are present that protect pedestrians of all ages.
For those of you who say it can’t be done, just look at someone living in New York. There are many folks who do not own a car and use their subway system to get around. New York has also made some strides in cycling lanes and even changed some streets to public areas with great success. Not to mention a number of news stations in New York have shown how cycling is actually faster then taking a cab when getting around.
Like I said before, the facts are hard to argue with. So lets deal with the big question at hand. What is it going to take for people to let go of their cars as their primary means of transportation and start using alternatives?
To begin, you can’t expect anyone to give up anything unless they have something to replace that thing with. So before anything can move forward there needs to be a viable replacement. To be perfectly honest there really should be two, maybe even three options. In this case when replacing a car people must have access to transit options that meet all their needs AND be just as easy to use as a car. And, to be perfectly honest, there will be times when the car is the best choice for getting from point A to point B. But at present, alternatives are rarely discussed so we never move forward.
Now I know what you are thinking, “if we only had larger roads all our congestion issues would disappear.” Many car users believe adding infrastructure for things like bikes and buses should only happen AFTER all roads have been properly expanded to meet drivers needs. Unfortunately that theory is appears to have the opposite affect.
Recent studies show that building or widening highways invites more traffic, a phenomenon called “induced traffic.” Shortly after the new lanes or road is opened, public transit or carpool riders switch to driving. Motorists decide to take longer and more frequent trips or switch routes to take advantage of the new capacity on the roadway.
As the new/expanded roadway stimulates more development away from core cities and suburbs, motorists move farther from work and shopping. Often, induced traffic eats up 50 to 100 percent of the roadway’s new capacity. After a few years, the “new” roadway has once again reached full capacity, and created extra traffic on the local streets at both ends of the trip.
Please do not take this one story to be the end all, be all on this subject, do some research yourself. For me this was proven beyond a doubt by my state’s Big Dig Project. When proposed this project was going to end all of Boston’s traffic issues. At least that’s what many people thought and maybe even hoped would happen. The reality did not match because months before the official opening the new Central Artery was already full. So far I have yet to find 1 story that shows when you widen or add more lanes traffic is eased. In fact, repeating myself, the opposite appears true. But like I said, don’t believe me, take some time and read up on the subject yourself.
So where does that leave us? Well we can pull what Einstein thought was the first signs of insanity and continue to do the same thing hoping for a different result, or we can start changing how people get around. Many cities have already started to experiment with bike lanes and bus stop islands and the results are promising. But change takes time and many people oppose change so we’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.
Trust me, this will not be the last thing I have to say on the matter.