It seems like cars are representative of American independence, and perhaps that’s why we’re so attached to them. But I feel our reliance on them is an overall detriment, and we need to revisit the idea of more widespread public transportation, as well as making our cities more bike and pedestrian-friendly.
This used to be the norm until the automotive industry really took off. Trains and buses used to be much more widespread. But then later, people had more access to affordable cars, and our landscape changed to accommodate this shift. As public transportation became less available, then people needed cars to get around and it became a self-reinforcing loop.
Public transportation is more fuel-efficient, so it is better for the environment, which benefits us all in the long run. With fewer fossil fuels consumed, it will also reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which will also have a far-reaching positive effect.
There is a small step in this direction with the hybrid cars, and it seems many families are downsizing so that not everybody in the household has their own car. But I also see a lot of large trucks and SUVs on the road, so there is still much work to be done.
Increased public transportation would give the opportunity for better usage of space than having so many parking structures. Individual homes would not have to use up lot space for multi-car garages; those areas could be turned into gardens or play areas for kids.
Without all the cars on the road, there would be fewer traffic jams, and this would help to lessen incidents of road rage. And this could drastically reduce the temptation for individuals to drive while intoxicated, making the roadways safer for everyone.
And if people aren’t driving as much, then maybe they wouldn’t be as dependent on drive-through restaurants, with their unhealthy food, and the tendency to eat in the car or, worse yet, to eat while driving. For that matter, if people took buses and trains to work, maybe they could get caught up on all those texts that they think they have to deal with while behind the wheel.
Our society has gotten so used to rushing around from one place to another that having time to relax during a commute could be a welcome relief.
We could use that time to knit or look at the scenery or even talk to one another. This could give us a sense of community by giving us the opportunity to get to know one another that we might not otherwise have if we are alone in our cars.
Along with an increase in accessibility to public transportation, we need to make our towns more bike-friendly so as to encourage more physical activity. The rails-to-trails projects are a great step in this direction, but the paths need to enable people to use them to get from one place to another and not be located out of the way so people have to drive to in order to get exercise.
Lastly, it would be great to see more downtown areas that are closed to motorized traffic altogether.
This would encourage more walking, which would give us health benefits. And it would also would dovetail with the points mentioned above such as better use of space and creating interpersonal connections.
Think of this as a miniature Mackinac Island right in the heart of your own town — a vacation spot just a few footsteps away.
Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.