Dreams of a car-free city

I dream of a car-free city. One full of people who agree that cars aren’t necessary. One where people are healthy, happy and resourceful. We use trailers to transport large items. We have a delivery port for external goods that are delivered. We act, think and live locally.

The more I think about it, the more I find myself surprised that there isn’t at even one small town in the entire United States that hasn’t established itself as such. I’ve heard voices from Los Angeles express this sentiment. I’ve heard lifelong New Yorkers vocalize the same. When Hunter S. Thompson presented his bid to run for mayor of Aspen, banning cars was among his proposals as well. And that was decades ago.

Ever since cars have come into existence, the voices of dissent have always circulated. They haven’t been the majority, but the voice of reason hardly ever is.

The weekend-long closure of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, aka Carmadeggon, had the unintentional effect of demonstrating that the current car-centric status quo isn’t as efficient and adequate as most people have assumed ever since their first trip to the most hellacious place on Earth–the DMV–to obtain their cherished license to waste their life away behind the wheel.

CicLaVia has been a paradigm-shifting force ever since the proposal was uttered above the screech of car tires and obnoxious honking of impatient horns. Reacquainted with the details of the streets they had never seen before–passed through, sure, but never actually seen–masses of people began to embrace the revelation that there’s something critical and human and alive that they’ve been missing: interactions, awareness, experience. Life.

Safety and quality of life have gotten lost in an endless sea of motors; the five senses numbed inside the metal and glass bubble that has become more familiar than the drumming sensation of placing one foot in front of the other and progressing organically past the scents of charbroiled chicken and hot tortillas, the whoosh of market doors, the sounds of golden effervescent laughter of small children and the warm huff of panting dogs, and jingle of keys hanging off an old man’s belt. In a car you can miss all the prettiness and ugliness that makes life real. It all becomes a blur. Now I’ve gone and gotten romantic about something practical, but the truth is it all goes hand in hand and it’s all part of the same heap of reasons why a car-free city should be more than just a fantasy.

The Los Angeles City Council has taken another step in embracing life outside the car by passing an anti-harassment ordinance protecting cyclists from hostile motorists by instituting a $1,000 fine for harassment incidents. Now the frequent intimidation tactics such as tailgating, passing too fast or too close, swerving toward a cyclist, aggressive honking and revving an engine behind a cyclist actually hold consequence. I hope that this will hold real weight in the minds of drivers, and that the point can be driven home effectively and not simply be an ordinance of language sans action. Ideally, it would be approached much in the manner that the anti-cell phone law was, in which there was an immediate crackdown and a flurry of tickets issued when the law first was established.

What is interesting to note is that the anti-harassment ordinance has brought up the discussion of car-free areas once more. In an L.A. Times discussion on the new ordinance, commenter StatusQuoAntebellum writes: “I believe we need to remove cars from some streets. Make them bicycle and pedestrian only throughfares …  The problem with bicycles and cars, is the cars.  Bicycles don’t have problems with other bicycles and pedestrians.”

And with that last line this commenter has his the nail on the head: The problem is the cars. Creating danger, a surreal sense of entitlement, detaching people from the world around them, and robbing the population of its vitality–cars do not make people healthy, happy or whole. And there’s lots of other ways to get around.

I want that car-free city, so bad. 

 

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