Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why cars suck.

The immediate impulse to write this post issues from the mind-numbing disturbance caused by some asshole's car alarm on my street, (its been going off steadily for 3 whole minutes now).

In no particular order, here is an elaboration of why cars suck:

1. Cars magnify the worst aspects of capitalist social relations and streamline the alienation of driver from actual, lived interaction with fellow human beings. Cut off from immediate contact and enclosed in a climate-controlled, steel/glass bubble... many drivers behave as though the world outside them is at best decoration, at worst a series of conspiring inconveniences plotting to sabotage their delusional mission to proceed unhampered by anything. Drivers treat other people in ways that they would never treat them were they walking next to them on the street.

2. In a closely related fashion: cars are selfish. It's all "me, me, me" with cars. Moving down a major thoroughfare in a massive city, a car with one passenger takes up roughly 1/4 of the space of a city bus, some disproportionate fraction of the fuel resources compared to their bus-riding counterparts, and on top of that adds to congestion which impedes the ability of buses to travel more smoothly and quickly. They also crowd streets that would otherwise be excellent bike routes. The reality is that city-life is a profound testament to the sense in which everyone is bound up in relations of dependency and made to cohabit a space on terms that no individual sets themselves. Yet, the logic of city-dwelling frequent car drivers seems to try to ignore (or even abjure) this reality in favor of a narrow individualism: I am free to the extent that I can drive my care where I want when I want however fast I want and not have to live by train schedules or interact with other city dwellers. This notion of heroic individualistic escape from social imperatives is a Romantic fantasy at best, pathological at worst.

3. Cars make cities less safe. Especially if you are biker or a pedestrian (god forbid). Some drivers get so caught up in their own quest to quickly make an unprotected left turn at an intersection, quickly sneak in front of pedestrians to make a right on red, etc. that they simply forget that they are inside a climate controlled, metal/glass bubble which moves at the touch of a button on the floor of the car cockpit. Meanwhile, the people they almost mow down or intimidate or whiz in front of are walking on their own two feet in conditions which are usually cold, icy, windy, etc. Or if you're biking hard, you're expending a great deal of energy. Nonetheless, the distorted relation that drivers stand with respect to the outside world enables them to take for granted all of these facts, thus they tend to focus intensely on whether they might have to wait 0.5 seconds or 7 seconds to turn left (as the case may be). The person trying to walk down the street is therefore the enemy. Must get home quickly, must get to Grocery Store, must get to TV, must get to work, must get... Its barbaric.

4. Cars are ugly. Sorry, but they are. Particularly in salty, snowy conditions where they are all covered with snowy/dirty crud. There are strong aesthetic grounds, it seems to me, to purge the heavy presence of cars from the urban landscape. At the very least, I think we can all agree that parking lots are the perfect exemplification of this thought, or at minimum, that parking lots are an atrocious eyesore in every instance. I advocate the immediate expropriation of all property holdings on which there are parking lots, in order that the public might re-develop the space for affordable housing, urban agricultural efforts and other activities that are the manifest opposite of parking lots.

5. Cars pollute city air and water. Set aside their role in climate change for the moment. From a more local perspective, the heavy use of cars by individuals in cities creates unnecessary smog and air pollution that is something you can smell, taste and sense on days when its particularly bad. Why should we put up with this when everything else about cars suck as well?

6. Cars are a misallocation of resources. This is true from the perspective of production as well as of consumption. In terms of consumption, cars are a terrible investment: they require maintence and upkeep costs, insurance costs, financing/payment costs, repair costs (when things inevitably break), parking costs, fuel costs, ticket-costs (for when you inevitably park in the wrong spot or get caught going 5 over). Moreover, cars do not hold their value. They are not necessary in the broad sense that there are tons of conveivable, more egalitarian, progressive, environmentally sustainable and practical ways for people to get around. Yet, it is a unfortunate fact of the infrastructural design of much of the USA that cars are in some sense all but required. But this is not so in a major city like Chicago. Cars are not necessary, anything but. So, this is a misallocation in the sense that consumer resources could be put into something more worthwhile. From the stand point of production, personal cars are a waste of labor power, capital and energy resources. They should never be built in the first place; there are, however, a lot of vehicles that society does need: A shit-ton more buses that we currently have, trucks and vans appropriate to certain tasks of building infrastructure, etc.

7. Car horns and alarms are noise pollution.

8. As a friend of mine points out in the comments, "cars make gyms make sense".

9. etc.


Arvilla said...

I truly hope that car alarm had stopped at some point before you finished this post. :)

But I agree with you on every point, and hate that I don't have the practical freedom to turn away from my automobile here in suburbia...

ln said...

I'm cracking up about this post. Especially item 8, which humbly submits its 'etc.' to the world. Arvilla, don't despair!

TB said...

9. Or, perhaps more appropriately, an addendum for 1. Cars alter the relationship between person and environment, such that traveling by any other means during even slightly less than ideal weather conditions (ie not 70 degrees and sunny) prompt incredulous stares and wonderment.
10. Cars make gym memberships make sense.