Car Guy

I lived outside of town in high school so the day I got my driver’s license was the day I found my freedom. No longer forced to associate with the mouth breathers who happened to be geographically colocated near me, I branched out to expand my social circle and forever branded into my brain the idea that car ownership equaled freedom.

I spent the next ten years driving all over the country. I moved like the Devil was chasing me. From Virginia to North Carolina to Texas to California to New Orleans and back again, I became the “just throw your shit in the back and get moving” guy.

It wasn’t until I began commuting for work that my disenchantment with driving started to blossom. My first thought was, “Wow, they need more lanes. Why don’t they keep up with the traffic demands?” I also developed an unlovely attitude toward cyclists. And people with old cars that broke down and caused traffic. And bad drivers who caused traffic. And basically anyone in front of me. But in my defense, I was perfectly fine with anyone who was behind me as long as they weren’t trying to overtake.

Then they built more lanes and the problem just got worse. After that, they built even more lanes and that solved the problem 100% for about six months. Then I decided the problem was just too many people on the planet (which is true but is not the cause of traffic).

Even though I had lived and traveled widely in Europe where a car is often optional, I never quite put it together that the problem with traffic is the cars.

Then I saw a YouTube video in my feed that was called, “Why I Hate Houston.” Being from Austin, hating Houston isn’t just my hobby, it’s my passion. So I jumped right in only to find out the video was actually about the narrator’s attempt to walk two blocks from his hotel to a store. It was a risky and uncomfortable venture that sometimes turned dangerous because there were no trees and at one point no sidewalks.

As Americans we’re all used to this, but seeing it from an outsider’s point of view opened my eyes. You’re walking around in Texas with no shade, right next to a high speed stroad* that stinks of exhaust and every destination lies across a sea of hot asphalt. This is not the promised land, friends.

We all hate Houston, but this specific reason will open your eyes to why also hate all other American cities.

Watching this, I remembered the little Italian town where I had once lived. I used my car to leave and return to Carovigno. While in town, I walked everywhere. When we visited Germany, we left our cars in the hotel garage and took public transportation or taxis. In Rome, we went everywhere on scooters.

I fell down the Not Just Bikes rabbit hole on YouTube and then branched out to the general topics of “Walkable Cities” and urban planning. The reason he calls his channel “Not Just Bikes” is because he’s not an avid cyclist. He just wants to be able to get around without a car. His last resort is a bike. As mine would be.

The other terrifying thing that becomes clear as you dive into this subject is how expensive it is to be car dependent. It reminded me of times when things were tight how I would wish I didn’t have a car payment and gasoline and repairs and maintenance constantly hanging over my head.

The average cost of car ownership in Texas is around $6,000 per year. That’s $500/mo. Or 70 hours of minimum wage work. And that doesn’t include the taxes spent on building all those jam packed, traffic inducing lanes.

By the end of this journey of discovery I realized the whole car culture thing isn’t about freedom. The car is an anchor tied around your waist. It’s the universal burden. And, worst of all, it’s a scam perpetrated by car companies and tire manufacturers who bought up all the trolley lines and shut them down to be replaced with stroads so you’d be forced to buy their products.

Oh, no! Not the bus! It takes so long! Yes, it takes so long because the bus is stuck in the same traffic as the cars. Where car traffic is limited bus speeds triple. Add trolleys for local transportation, a metro for cross-city trips, and a high speed rail system for intercity travel and not only do you not need a car, you don’t need to strap your ass into a creaky Boeing 737 built out of 100% corporate greed.

And once you’ve reduced traffic by allowing all the people who don’t want a car to escape the trap, the people who need or desire to drive will have a much better time of it. Doubt me? It’s happening in Holland right now.

This is the future we could have. There are solutions. We know what to do and how to do it. Unfortunately, there are some greedy giants standing in the way and they own most of our government so you won’t be seeing many positive changes anytime soon.

*A street is a low travel with restricted auto traffic that opens directly onto businesses and should be clear of automobile traffic or at the very least cars should be heavily restricted. Think of a walkable place like a European village. A road, on the other hand is for through traffic. Ideally, you should have to exit the road onto a street, but in America we just combine the two into a “stroad”. It’s stupid, expensive and a nightmare for traffic.

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