Cars and Vicious Cycles

By Dom Nozzi

January 11, 2000

Driving cars and the land uses such travel spreads out feeds on itself.

That is, car travel is a zero-sum game in which a car trip has a ripple effect: Each trip discourages others from walking, bicycling or using transit (because such travel is less safe/pleasant), and such trips chase away land uses to remote areas (because in-town car noise is unpleasant, regional consumer-sheds can be served due to cars, and lots of cheap land is needed to provide free car parking).

This, of course, sets into motion more people traveling by car. Very quickly, the roads are filled with car drivers, who quickly become angry with other drivers because the driver is leading a busy life, is late for something, and therefore needs to drive at high speeds. Unfortunately for quality of life and safety, the car allows the driver to drive at high speeds.

The driver typically becomes enraged, because while she/he has the ability to drive fast, so does everyone else (and everyone else is now driving a car, too). The result is that roads and parking lots almost immediately become crowded with impatient car drivers, which creates road rage, because the driver is forced to have to slow down by the space-hogging motorist in front of her/him, who has made a left turn too slowly. Thus, nearly everyone ends up racing their car when they find openings on the road, to make up for the slow-downs.

Which accelerates the cycle: More people travel by car and flee to sprawlsville because it is too unsafe and unpleasant to do otherwise.

Politically, this means that nearly everyone desperately wants billions of public dollars spent for road widenings and parking (when they don’t, of course, live in the neighborhood that is proposed for degradation by the widening or parking), and are aghast when others call for traffic calming and car trip reduction strategies (such as transportation demand management – TDM) to try to reverse the insanity. It becomes a growing, mad dash to foul the nest and ruin ourselves.

And then we have conventional transportation engineers making themselves out to be “far-sighted” and “rational” and “reasonable” and “realistic” when they recommend road and intersection widenings. They trot out a bunch of red herrings and straw men: “We cannot get rid of cars!” “We cannot stop growth!”  “We cannot slow the growth in car travel!”

They even had the audacity to criticize the point that you cannot build yourself out of congestion. The engineer thinks that if we buy that, we’ll face intolerable gridlock.


And the cycle continues. What a legacy our publicly-funded engineers will be leaving us…


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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

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