May 1 marks the start of Bike to Work Month, the local and national bicycle commuting challenges, and is a great day to remind everyone to travel with compassion. People for Bikes and Volkswagen have teamed up to create this humorous PSA video to remind everyone that we all roll together. Bike safe, drive safe, and travel with compassion!
Jay Leighter, Creighton professor, is still blogging about riding his bike to work. He recently added a post called “Impact in the Aggregate.” In it, he discusses how his view of cars has changed. On the one hand, he’s noticed that he feels confined in cars, limited. But on the other, he has come to appreciate the comforts of owning and using a car. For most trips, we don’t really need a car (depending, probably, on where you live). Taking a utilitarian approach to driving frees up the options for other forms of transportation.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Creighton basketball game with a friend. When she turned to go into a parking lot charging $8, I yelled, “No! Stop!” I assured her we could find street parking for free. A few blocks a way, she parked her car, and we walked over to the game without paying anything. In Omaha, I’ve heard a lot of people complain about paying for parking. Many people will patiently explain that if the Old Market had more (free!) parking, more people would go there. As a person who rarely pays for parking, I can’t say if this is accurate or not. What I do know is that these perceived problems with parking challenge our shared concept of automobility .
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of automobility, have a look at a post from last year. There I defined automobility as, “the expectation that personal transportation, especially a car, is normal.” Olle Hagman addresses some of these issues in his article in Mobilities, titled, “Morning Queues and Parking Problems. On the Broken Promises of the Automobile.” He focuses on waiting in lines (e.g., in traffic) and parking problems to ground his claim that “we have never been auto-mobile.” I think his ideas about congestion are informative, given our interest in conceptualizing different modes of transportation in Omaha:
“Both queues and parking problems are consequences of the success of the car. They are the results of congestion, which in its turn is an unintended side effect of a car-based transport system. The private car is one of the most significant objects of wealth in modern societies. As a commodity, a convenience, and the base for the modern transportation system, it epitomizes both the ‘goods’ and the ‘bads’ of modernity (Hagman, 2000). It is a sign of wealth, on a personal as well as on a national level. It signifies the modern human ability to turn natural resources into wealth and conveniences. But, it also signifies some typically modern risks (Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1991). Most debated, perhaps, are the risks of environmental degradation or health problems caused by (air) pollution and the (almost ‘industrial production’ of) deaths and injuries in road accidents, but there are other consequences too, such as congestion. Congestion, then, is just as much an inevitable ‘modernity risk’ as air pollution is. It is an unintended side effect, an inescapable consequence of car use, which is reflected in society through the ‘boomerang effect’ of modernity. Congestion does not share all of the fundamental characteristics of the most typical modernity risks, which are invisible to the senses and dependent on scientific knowledge and definition (Beck, 1992). Congestion is visible. To understand the effect of congestion one does not need scientific interpretation.” (64)
Hagman’s argument hinges on the production of congestion that accompanies increased car use. Using a sociological approach, Hagman reports that people like having cars because they experience freedom of movement (reminds me of another post relating to the idea that transportation is freedom). The freedom to go where they want when they want. However, as the number of people who use personal vehicles increases, so does congestion. Hagman states, “In some senses parking problems and morning queues are the equivalents of each other. They both indicate imperfections within the system of automobility. Both of them are consequences of congestion, which, in turn, is a consequence of the desirability of fast and free movement” (69). These modern technologies make moving great distances (and even moderate distances quickly) attainable and expected, adding to the perception that we are auto-mobile. However, Hagman’s conclusion explains why an intermodal approach to transportation is appropriate.
“The promise of the automobile was to give its user both autonomy and mobility, that is, to be both ‘auto’ and ‘mobile’. One of the fundamental differences between the queue and the parking problem is that the queue only restricts the freedom to be ‘mobile’. It still allows drivers to be autonomous subjects within their cars, or ‘auto’. In contrast, parking problems restrict the ‘auto’ function of the drivers while forcing them to be ‘mobile’ when they really want to stop and get out of their cars. This, perhaps, may help us understand why queues are more tolerable than parking problems.” (70)
He suggests that the personal vehicle does not allow us both autonomy and mobility. To have both would mean that we would need a car that disappears after we are where we want to go so that we didn’t have to find a place to park. This is an excellent point! It also highlights the role that public transportation can play in helping people be mobile. After one disembarks the bus, it goes away. We don’t have to worry where it goes, but think only about if/when it will return. Similarly, a bike helps us be auto-mobile. As a bike rider, I love not having to pay for parking, going where I want to go, and leaving when I want to leave.
As my friend and I drove around that night of the basketball game, looking for a parking spot, I grumbled a little to myself, thinking that if we had just ridden our bikes, we wouldn’t be having this problem.
Source: Olle Hagman, “Morning Queues and Parking Problems. On the Broken Promises of the Automobile,” Mobilities 1, no. 1 (2006): 63-74.
I haven’t owned a car for more than five years. So, it might surprise you to learn that a week or so ago I had a “what-if” emergency about it. A what-if emergency is when you feel a sudden upsurge of panic about some what-if that could happen to you. I did not have a real emergency; I did have an upsurge of panic about a somewhat reasonable what-if. As I was heading home, my felt my pulse increase and my stomach go all jelly on me, as a thought struck me: What if I have to get to the hospital?
This is usually one of the first things that crosses people’s minds as they contemplate life without a car. One of those questions that reveals the true inculcation of what some scholars call “automobility.” This refers to the expectation that personal transportation, especially a car, is normal. Zack Furness, author of One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, explains that automobility leads us to ask questions like: “How will I get to work? How will we get people to the hospital? How will my kids get to school?” (212). He states, “By relying on the automobile to solve each of these problems, we perpetually avoid asking an entirely different, and ultimately more productive, set of questions: Why are there no safe cycling routes or efficient forms of mass transit where I live? Why are there no doctors, schools, or grocery stores in my neighborhood? Why should my kids not be able to walk to school?” (212). Automobility “normalizes the process of thinking like an individual driver, instead of a social citizen with basic needs, requirements, and democratic rights” (213). It discourages questions of why in favor of questions of how or, in my case, what if?
Of course, a moment after the question manifested in my mind, “What if I have to get to the hospital?” I answered it with, “I’ll call an ambulance or taxi or I’ll walk or bike, depending on how severely I’m injured.” I calmed down immediately and laughed at myself. For anyone who knows where I live (just a few blocks from a hospital), it is especially funny. So, although I am not sure why that question popped into my head and made my heart sink, I can guess that it is probably due, at least in part, to living in an automobility society. Personal transportation is a strong impulse (as I recently posted about following Jarrett Walker’s presentation at HATS). This is one reason I prefer to biking or walking to taking the bus sometimes. But it is important for me to remember that these what-if emergencies should not prevent me from asking “why not?”