Why Do We Worship Wheels?

Posted on July 2, 2011

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Americans are obsessed with cars.

There are almost as many cars as people.

246 million to 300 million

Well, that’s close.

Fuzzy math?

Anyway.

I’ve been guilty in the past of being car obsessed.

Almost every American boy goes through some sort of obsession with car magazines.

It begins at a fairly young age when you get your first glimpse of a car that is just a bit more aesthetically beautiful than the family car you roam around in on a daily basis.

For some boys it is the newest sports car, for others it is the classic muscle car.

For me, it was a cherry red 1957 Chevrolet convertible driving through a small California town when I was in 4th grade.

This is why we’re obsessed.  Cars are everywhere.  And the variables are seemingly endless.

There are about a dozen “major” car companies selling in America today.

Each company has several “brand” variables (Ford, Lincoln, Mercury).

Each company has at least a dozen different models.

Each different model comes in three different “trim” levels, from a dozen different colors, and with a dozen different “options.”

This endless variety of choices gives the buyer the idea that they have some “power of control” in their life.

Add onto this variety and the feeling of control a third variable of image.

Now you have reached the very primal part of man’s brain (and let’s admit it, most car obsessed people are men).

Cars themselves have their own inherent image by the lines and colors and overall composition.

Yet, cars then have image associated by the millions spent on advertising.

Studies have shown that advertising doesn’t sell product as much as it sells image.

Americans are thus obsessed with the associated image of the car.

Yet, our obsession with the car goes beyond the image and brand.  We also identify with the idea that owning a car is a symbol of freedom.

The car gives us the power to move, and in America, freedom of movement has been our driving force ever since we created the notion of Manifest Destiny.

Now, there are over 4 million miles of public roads and highways in America.  One can travel everywhere and anywhere using this network of roads and highways.

Go west, young man (ok, but i’m not young anymore).

We Americans value this freedom of movement.  We h0ld it dear to our hearts.  It is almost as important as bear arms (Rroaaarrrrrr).  It borders on religion.

And you know how Americans are about religion.

Yet, are we in need of all these cars and all these roads?

Yes.

We need the cars to traverse our ridiculously large country.  We need cars to commute to work.  We need cars to transport our families to weekend outings.

We need roads to transport goods.  We need roads to handle 246 million cars.  We need roads to traverse our ridiculously large country.

Yet, do we really need them in our major cities?

No.

In fact, while living in the DC suburbs I could have probably gone without a car.  I lived two blocks to the Metro.  I lived one block away from an organic grocery store.  I lived three blocks away from a cleaners, a restaurant, a bookstore, a hair place, and a park.

So, in reality, I didn’t need a car for my basic living.

Except that I worked in Baltimore.

Trust me, I tried to find a job in DC.  But, teaching jobs at quality schools in DC are highly competitive and hard to come by.

Even then, very few of the schools are within walking distance to Metro stations.

But, there are buses and bikes.  Metro allows you to bring bikes on board.

So again, no car is needed.

What about things like house repairs?

We are a DIY nation (or at least Home Depot and Lowes want us to be).  So, how are we going to get that toilet repaired?

Let’s think about this.  In all honesty, I don’t want to replace my own toilet.  It’s heavy, it’s messy, and I’ve pooped in it.  Why would I want to play with that?

Because I’ll save money!

Really?

If I no longer have a car, I’ll have saved the monthly gas, monthly insurance, and monthly car payment.  Let’s imagine that’s $500 a month.  How many times am I going to need to hire someone to come and fix something in my house?  Not $6000 worth of repairs.

Wouldn’t that justify eliminating owning a car?

Personally speaking, we’ve downsized to a one-car family.  We’re not going to need one considering we’ll be living and working in one place.  The car is big enough to hold two kids, a dog, and both of us.

We are the exception to the rule.  I know that.  Most people don’t have the option to have both people living and working in a single place without the need for a car to get to work.

Yet, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage localism.

And that’s what Europe is doing.

Cities like Zurich are deliberately encouraging local community development and pedestrian lifestyle by making driving cars completely unworthwhile.

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic.

I think this is a fantastic idea.  Why? Because not only would we be healthier by walking more, we’d also be healthier by eliminating the excessive car pollution our major cities have.

We could start small.  Create communities where cars are unwelcome like the original intent of the Disney community, Celebration, FL.  Create campuses where cars are completely not allowed, or at least discouraged.

This is already happening across the land.

In 2008, Boston University students suddenly started riding to campus thanks to a new bike lane along Commonwealth Avenue, the heavily trafficked main road bordering the rectangular campus. (The bike lane was part of a broader city- and university-funded project to beautify that street.) “We quickly realized we were going to have to get ahead of that from a safety perspective,” said Webb Lancaster, who oversees bike programs at the university. “Just by walking the campus, you realize there are so many more cyclists, and we realized we needed to go beyond the installation of bike racks and bike lanes.”

If it can be done at BU, then it can be done in many other college campuses (and it should be encouraged).

So why should we discourage the use of cars in our cities (besides all the reasons I’ve already given)?

Because we need to stop our reliance on fossil fuels.  We continue to do so despite all signs pointing to the complete destruction of our planet.  Even our “green” president Obama has continued to support the planet’s desire for fuel.

In March, the Administration announced that it would be opening up new public lands in Wyoming for coal mining. In April, the White House delayed plans to impose stricter controls on the mining technique known as mountaintop removal. In May, the Administration put on hold rules aimed at cutting pollution from power plants at places like paper mills and refineries. Also in May, the President announced plans to increase domestic oil production by speeding up permits to drill off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Surely following the European model will be met with criticism of socialism and communism.  Not a way to win the right.  But, when will we stop resisting anything remotely European just because we think Americans are better and can do things better?

The evidence points to the exact opposite.

If we’re so smart, then why do we obsess and protect our rights to destroy the environment?

Yet, how am I to enjoy the wilderness that is at the edges of society if I don’t have my Ford to get me there?

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Posted in: Life, Politics, Random