Comment of the Day: Cycling Through Traffic Jams on the Road to the American Dream

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CYCLING THROUGH TRAFFIC JAMS ON THE ROAD TO THE AMERICAN DREAM Cars in Traffic“The real crux of the issue here is that Americans are constantly sold on the idea that cars represent ultimate freedom and prosperity. That image breaks down when crowds of commuters start forming giant, slow-moving, panic-inducing trains of automobiles. The cognitive dissonance causes automobilists to latch on to the only solution they can imagine: ‘wider roads will restore that feeling of freedom.’ Of course, it never really works out that way.” [Derek, commenting on Which Came First: the Traffic or the Freeway Lanes?] Illustration: Lulu

12 Comment

  • Pfft. Another “cars are an evil trick” post, replete with big words straight out of an architecture school seminar: “cognitive dissonance.” Really? *giggles*
    The trouble with the argument, and the people who make the argument won’t like to hear this because they think they’re intellectuals – is that it’s simplistic. It ignores all of the other things that put people in cars. Sure, roads make new areas accessible for development and development follows. But that’s not all that’s going on. Old neighborhoods closer in deteriorate. Roads develop potholes. Housing and businesses become dated, then dilapidated. The schools lose their luster. Crime becomes an issue. And then, in a cruel irony, these issues get addressed but whoops, now gentrification has set in and with it – displacement: you wanted to move before; now you want to stay but you can’t. …
    What I’m saying is, People don’t just decide one day “hey there’s a new road, I’m going to move out to the suburbs and drive on it every day.” There are forces that push them out and onto that road. It’s not enough to lament the construction of freeways. The forces that drive people out of cities: urban decay on one hand and displacement on the other, need to be addressed. Then we can make a good faith argument against freeways.

  • My former co-worker in London took a car, train, and two tube connections, plus a bus to get to 80 Strand West End everyday.

    If you don’t think there are panic induced trains of “trains” out there you need to get out more.

  • ZAW, thank goodness we have you and Commonsense on here to make sure the rest of us are kept in our place. I can only imagine the stress and strain it must cause having to deal with the big words and ideas that Swamplot intellectuals throw out there on a daily basis!

  • @Roanoker the point isn’t that trains are congestion free, it’s that cars are sold with the illusion of freedom, but actually result in train-like conditions on heavy commutes, with the added horror of constant, panic-inducing near-collisions.

    I’m all for road trips, but for every day commuting, cars are a terrible idea.

  • General Motors with Washington’s blessing essentially forced cars on Americans and dismantled the commuter/local train industry.
    “A car for every purse and every purpose!” said Alfred Sloan in 1918.
    Ah capitalism.
    I don’t believe a road or lack of a road makes anyone change driving habits 0r lifestyle (except to allot more time or try alternative routes.)
    But more roads (and bigger roads) absolutely drives development.
    Ah capitalism!

  • @ sjh: ZAW is entirely correct about “cognitive dissonance” being a term that gets used loosely. It doesn’t really make any sense being used here. Yeah, obviously cars aren’t free and obviously they impose externalities. Most individuals drive them because they’re the least bad option in the American landscape that already exists, which is beyond the control of individuals. The utility that cars provide is very well understood though, and so is traffic congestion.

    A better example of cognitive dissonance would be, say, buying an expensive sports car with manual transmission, then realizing after a couple of weeks that you spend most of your time in stop and go traffic, and also that the car note basically tethers them to that kind of a lifestyle. To be sure, that happens to a lot of people. But that is an example of an individual making a decision that they themselves are responsible for, that they regret, and that they have to live with.

    I suppose that there do exist some individuals that harbor narcissistic delusions conflating their individual choices with society’s actions. They may even feel this cognitive dissonance genuinely; but that’s a symptom of mental illness (or the study of architecture, it would seem), and not merely a regrettable decision.

  • It is more like going into debt to service the old debt – the car-centric lifestyle, once committed to, is tough enough to break on a personal level, but when the entire homeownership experience is absolutely socialized through-and-through, it really does by definition become a social issue. It’s just so easy to make it seem like it’s all upside and nothing is wrong because (as I see it) the downside continues to be so efficiently propagated onto financial markets or directly up into the atmosphere.
    Ultimately, subsidy is destiny. Forces don’t impel people anywhere – most people take the path of least resistance, which seems in this country to coincide with whichever way the financial winds are blowing.

  • We didn’t buy cars to get to work, we bought them for the open road.
    American cities c. 1920 had damned good transit. Streetcars. Clean buses. Commuter rail. Interurbans. Houston has vestigial grids that cling to IH-45 near Griggs and Park Place – early “transit oriented development.”
    But we bought cars because we wanted to get out of the city. Then, once we owned them, we thought, “might as well move out to the country.” The FedGov kicked that into high gear with the FHA and VA mortgage programs and the rest is history.
    Perhaps we’re too myopic to appreciate getting out of the city anymore. When your car has a huge touchscreen that syncs with your smartphone, are you ever really gone? You’re certainly still there psychologically. If that’s your life, then yeah, maybe getting rid of the gas and the insurance and the oil changes is “freedom.” And if that makes you happy, congrats. But that ain’t my definition of freedom.

  • This comment is ridiculous. People buy cars because they need them not because of some “illusion of freedom” unless by illusion of freedom you mean the reality of being free from riding the bus, thus saving you 3 hours every day.

  • There is actually a pretty big generational shift going on with car ownership. In many major metro areas that have sufficient density to live without a car, many young people who were born in and around the turn of the century (if only we could come up with a term that unfairly piles this very diverse group of young people into a single stereotype, like “centurians” or something) are giving up on car ownership in favor of zip cars, Lyft/uber, public transportation and walking/biking. The cost of maintaining a car in a major metro area is well beyond what young people who got the short end of the economic stick after the 08 crash can handle. Parking/storage is crazy expensive. A lot of municipalities tack on huge fees for registration. And then the cost of owning a vehicle are just too high for many. So, there is a possibility that in the future this “generation century” or whatever you call them may assume the reigns of government and see little reason to invest in a mode of transportation that they see as inefficient and beyond the means of most of the masses.

  • @ Old School: I suspect that by the time that they are 1) old enough to vote, and 2) begin actually turning out to vote in large numbers, which is a function not only of age but of ethnicity and wealth, essentially that they don’t feel disenfranchised, and which is a complex issue, and 3) are wealthy enough to merit consideration from the political establishment because they control significant wealth…yeah, those people whose opinions mean something are going to want to keep their cars around no matter what. But maybe they will advocate for transit for poor people and punish those people with fees that they can’t afford…and in so doing, they will de-democratize geography even further. Yes, that sounds more Orwellian and perfectly plausible. Segregation by other means…

  • @ Purple City: Please author more blog posts.