Many people equate car ownership and freedom. But cars are a trap for most of us.
My relatives almost all live in car dependent areas. They typically think of themselves as relatively fit. Yet when I visit them or they me, they are so out of shape that the basic daily errands of my life are exhausting to impossible for them.
Driving everywhere leaves you unable to walk anywhere.
The basic pedometer goal is 10,000 steps. Unless I’m stuck in my house with a migraine, it’s hard to NOT reach that goal just heading to the post office to grab a parcel and walking to the train to get to work. I don’t have to think about getting enough exercise – just going about my day as usual is enough.
My relatives buy fitbits and walk in circles around their living rooms or drive to a track to walk. Some don’t have nice places to walk because it’s all rushing cars and there’s not even sidewalk connectivity. Some have lost the ability to walk in the rural landscapes outside their doors – obesity and the resulting joint damage mean they can’t handle the uneven surfaces of a field or forest.
Driving has destroyed the bodies of my family. They have lost so much function that even when put in a walkable urban environment, they struggle. When my mother visits, she delights in walking to the shops – but only the ones 1 or 2 blocks away. Places 15 minutes away are too difficult, as are the shops up the hill. We can take a bus to the world-class urban park a 15 minute walk away, but can’t explore much of it together. She needs a mobility device to go further because she has used a car for so long. Her car has become her mobility device.
There are better mobility devices than a car. Walkers and scooters and wheelchairs support you while you’re in the shops and let you engage with your community. My city has more accessible infrastructure for pedestrians than most and we could actually explore more local spaces if she had a walker or a scooter than if we were in a car. She is very resistant to getting one of those – it’s an admission of disability in a way having a car isn’t, even though she’d have more freedom and enjoy herself more in many environments with a walker than with a car.
Driving doesn’t just trap us by harming our bodies, it also changes the physical landscape so that it’s hostile to other forms of transportation. If you drive someplace, you have to park, and so places get further and further apart as we build more and more space to put our cars. Then, to get between places, you have to drive or walk for miles with ugly and unpleasant parking lots on one side and dangerous rushing traffic on the other, that is, if there’s any pedestrian infrastructure at all.
In most places, cars are a blight and one that is very hard to recover from.
Driving everywhere doesn’t just leave us unable to walk anywhere, it also doesn’t leave us anywhere to walk.