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garages, as they now are) was examined by the great world as a statement of a man’s wealth, standing and personality. With the nineteen-fifties, the manufacturers in Detroit decided that a car was really a sex symbol, which was very silly indeed. So silly, in fact, that it encouraged critics of the automobile to speak more forcefully. Under the spew of criticism, we discovered that the car was a gasoline guzzler, a polluter, a death trap and a sinister tool of the slicksters who were out to kill cities in order to line the pockets of concrete, cement, asphalt and rubber czars. It is obvious that the car is no longer of much use as transportation, at least in cities, and yet we cannot give it up. Why? Why do we insist on nosing our gasoline guzzlers into those barely moving streams of traffic, there to sit, dumb starers into vacant space, as the engine consumes ever more expensive fuel? The question is a puzzler. To come to grips with it, we will probably catch ourselves wandering out to our cars, turning the key, moving into traffic. A place where a man can think, traffic. Think about it a moment as we sit here, frozen almost immobile in a sluggish river of cars. With the windows rolled up, we are
a long way from the world. Ahead of us, perhaps, some fool half-mad with the need to perforate his ulcer curses the air and threatens the fenders of the harmless to gain a single car length, but for most of us these machines give peace, calm, serenity. Here, and here alone of all the places we may be this day, our long thoughts cannot be interrupted by the telephone—unless, of course, we are among the minuscule minority who have insisted that life is juiceless without a jangler on the highway. If we tune out the constant-stream-ofnews station and tune in the Mozart station on the radio, bad news cannot reach us. We are out of touch with bill collectors, deliverers of coded punch cards, children who need coaching in the multiplication tables. If we have clearly foreseen the proper function of cars when we purchased, we can adjust the interior temperature to satisfy our whims. At the touch of a button, the seat may slide back, descend and tilt—all this simultaneously— allowing us to recline in much the same position we fancy the Emperor Tiberius assumed at dinner. And there we sit, out of reach of the world, in traffic; reclining in the Romanbanquet position in the temperature of our choice; invulnerable to hateful telephonists; laved by
Mozart or, if we choose, silence. The car nowadays, in short, is everyman’s green island in the sea. The rich can flee, in their need for peace, to islands in seas of water, where telephones can be made to never ring and television to never come romping head-on into you, shouting about tooth decay. Most of us can’t get to those wonderful islands in seas of water. There are too many of us nowadays. We have had to create artificial seas of traffic, and there we put our islands, those retreats from life’s ugly press, the last places to which most of us can go and be absolutely alone. Our islands have wheels. They emit foul smells. True, all true. W know that. We they are really not very good for getting us to work, which is what we ing them for. We have to lie to ourselves about things like this; it is the Puritan tradition. We know that mass transportation is far more sensible for getting to work. But we also know, though we would not dare breathe it aloud, that there are no islands on subway lines. As the population continues its insane increase, we will eventually have to abandon the cars, of course, and take the bus, the subway, the trolley. It is probably inevitable.
vehicle [would be] limited to no part of the highway, capable of the speed of an express train, and attended by a cloud of dust and smoke, and the emission of a noisome odor. Notwithstanding these objections, automobiles have doubtless done much to earn their popularity. They have brought suburban towns within easy access from the city; they do not run upon a fixed track, and have no monopoly of any part of the highway; they do not seriously interfere with its use by other vehicles, and afford a most convenient and expeditious method of traveling between cities and outlying villages or country seats. In the form of electric runabouts, doctor’s coupés, express and delivery wagons, and other teaming, they are rapidly superseding vehicles drawn by horses. They have largely taken the place of traveling carriages with those who are desirous of speed, and are content with little more than a perfunctory view of the scenery, which, however, cannot be thoroughly “taken in” when running at a rate of over twelve miles an hour. To those who occupy or drive them, they are undoubtedly a fascinating amusement. The speed of which they are capable intoxicates and bewilders the senses, and deadens them to the dangers which surround the machine, and by a sudden mishap may turn it in the twinkling of an eye into a terrible engine of destruction. It is a fact too notorious to be ignored by the courts, that the excessive speed of automobiles costs the lives of many persons; and that scarcely a week, sometimes scarcely a day passes without chronicling from one to a
dozen deaths occasioned by the reckless driving of these machines. Fortunately, the chauffeur and his guests are the usual sufferers, and in their misfortunes as lawbreakers, the general public do not much concern themselves. Our sympathies are rather reserved for the hapless farmer whose horses are frightened, or whose wagon is wrecked, for a failure or inability to comply instantly with the chauffeur’s signal; or for the bystander who is run down and crushed by the enormous weight of these engines. The automobile lacks one of the most attractive concomitants of pleasure driving in the companionship of the horse. This is a feature which may not be considered by those who are indifferent to him, but to those who recognize an instinctive sympathy, more easily felt than described, between man and certain of the lower animals, such as the horse, the dog and the donkey, the cold and heartless mechanism of the automobile furnishes a poor substitute. The automobile is doubtless a most useful vehicle, but one is not likely to lavish upon it the fond attention he bestows upon his horse or dog. A man may admire his own carriage, but his affections are reserved for the that follows it. depends principally upon the obser of the various localities (and herein lies the main obstacle to his popularity) he may e be accorded such rights as his superior speed requires for the perfect operation of his machine; but if he persists in defying these laws, he must expect legislation more drastic than any yet attempted; for after all, those who
do not use automobiles are still a large majority and control the legislatures. It has been proposed that special roads be constructed for automobiles, upon which ordinary vehicles shall be excluded, and to which the speed laws should not apply. This might be satisfactory to the general public, but probably not to the automobilists themselves. How far the automobile is a mere whim of fashion, and how far it meets a real need of the community, time can alone determine. Judging from its rapidly increasing numbers, it seems to have made a place for itself in the hearts of the people. Whether it will take its rank as one of the favorite vehicles of pleasure and commerce, or supplant them all, we shall eventually know—but not now. The lesson of the bicycle, for years an absorbing amusement of the highest classes, now a harmless though useful vehicle for school boys and messengers, will not be lost upon us. The automobile has much to contend against in its offensive characteristics, and above all, in the arrogant disregard of the rights of others with which it is often driven; but new inventions may obviate some of these difficulties, and a few sharp lessons from the courts may inculcate more respect for the rights of others. Whatever the outcome may be, every true admirer of the horse will pray that it may not be the extinction or dethronement of the noblest of all domestic animals. The Horseless Carriage Means Trouble H. B. Brown (Reprinted by permission of the Yale Law Journal Company and the William S. Hein Company from the Yale Law Journal, vol. 17, pp. 221–231.)
as a road is available (and sometimes even if one is not). The radius of daily operations is extended manyfold, and a much richer array of possible destination points for any purpose is brought within accessible range. No rural location is completely remote; all suburban places are reachable from any other place most of the time. All job locations within a metropolitan area (save the very largest ones, where distances from one edge to another can exceed a hundred miles) are potentially available; all service nodes and entertainment/cultural centers are reachable. This is sprawl, and the automobile is in its natural environment. Freedom from Schedules Any travel for any purpose can be done at any time—at least theoretically—unconstrained by the schedules of any other transportation provider. It can be expected that most automobile 36 See, for example, AASHTO, op. cit. 37 A regular cloverleaf intersection may consume more than 30 acres of land. More elaborate modern interchanges may take up as much territory as an entire medieval walled city. Automobilestrips will consume less time than trips using any other mode because there is no waiting time, no delays due to transfers, and no stops to accommodate fellow travelers. Recreational trips to outside facilities are readily possible; extended vacation journeys are quite economical and governed only by the wishes of the participants. We all know that this does not happen all the time, but the periods of constraint and delay are mostly predictable and sometimes avoidable. When everything works, the automobile offers a nearly ideal state of mobility to those who have access to it, and this, in turn, gives accessibility to desired destination points. Privacy The car is an exclusive and private capsule that requires no sharing of space with strangers or coming in close contact with them. Privacy and security are valued benefits that people cherish since they allow each person to do things without considering the presence or preferences of others—listening to music, adjusting the thermostat, or smoking (yes, even a cigar!). In a crowded city, privacy is a significant boon. Status In a society that tends to make most features uniform, there is some value in being able to express one’s individuality or level of achievement with a tangible expression in the form of a major possession. (See the section on the status of automobiles.) Reasons to Exercise Caution The problems associated with automobiles have been reviewed at great length in numerous publications.38 It is almost a separate major branch of journalism and book publishing in the United States, and nothing has escaped the various investigators. The material has appeared in the popular media and in penetrating philosophical and technical analyses. The latter, however, are 38 Among others, J. H. Kay, Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America,
om Hayden or the y award to ’s lover. But it is traffic that controls people’s lives and is the source of jokes and daily tales of horror and heroism. Friends and neighbors trade stories and secret shortcuts. “You just have to reorient your whole way of living and doing business,” says Alison Grabell, a former Foreign Service officer who moved here six years ago from Washington. “It’s mad, almost chaos, just overwhelming.” But Ms. Grabell has made the ultimate adaptation; she works at home, commuting from bedroom to study. Few can do that, though, and Angelenos have devised elaborate adaptations. People time their breakfasts to enter the freeway at just the right minute, knowing a short delay can double their commuting time. Coffee and Toast in Car Jennifer Rodes, a graduate student and French tutor, can be seen in her Toyota Tercel on the Santa Monica Freeway, with coffee and toast, preparing her lessons in the front seat when traffic slows, sometimes changing clothes in the car. Hope J. Boonshaft-Lewis, who does public relations, says she finally “broke down” and bought a cellular phone, which she often uses to cancel appointments she cannot make because of traffic. Anyone driving from downtown Los Angeles to Orange County, about 40 miles to the south, is best advised to bring
a snack and a thermos of water. For all that, when they are clear, the freeways of Southern California are marvelous for getting around, knitting together a vast area into one metropolis. It just takes a little ingenuity, and luck. Knowing the Traffic Patterns “I have made friends with the freeways,” says Lynn Tuite, who commutes about six miles from Pasadena to the University of Southern California south of downtown. The trip can take from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the traffic and time of day. “Certain lanes move faster than others and I know where they are now. I do a lot of lane jumping. I just make up my mind it’s going to take an hour and a half to get someplace that ordinarily takes a half hour.” One man, a college teacher, uses the Santa Monica Freeway for a 12-mile commute from Westwood on the West Side of Los Angeles to downtown. He knows the traffic patterns as well as he knows his wife. “I know that if I leave anytime before 7 A.M., it takes just 20 minutes,” he says. “If I leave after 7:10, it takes 35 minutes.” He brushes his teeth and does his dental flossing in his Ford Mustang convertible. One day a car of smiling young women honked and they waved; when they passed he read their bumper sticker: “Dental hygienists do it better.” One reason the traffic is so bad is that there is little public transportation. Another is that
rising housing prices have forced thousands to live on the edge of the Mojave Desert, or deep in the “Inland Empire” near Riverside and San Bernardino, forcing commutes to Los Angeles and Orange County, where the jobs are, of 50 or 60 miles each way. Ellen Bendell lives in Lancaster in the once-barren Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. She must get up at 4 A.M. for the 62-mile commute to her job in Burbank near downtown Los Angeles. “I leave when it’s dark, and I get home when it’s dark,” she says. “I don’t remember what my house looks like.” All of this has spurred renewed efforts to find alternatives. A subway is under construction downtown. Officials from throughout the region are considering methods to move jobs closer to where people live. Gov. George Duekmejian held a meeting on traffic in Sacramento on Feb. 8. And last Wednesday the Transportation Committee of the Los Angeles City Council gave tentative approval to Mayor Tom Bradley’s proposal to limit heavy trucks on city streets during peak hours. Also, the city is offering to pay up to $5,000 per vehicle to companies that buy vans for employee van pools, and the council is considering a plan to compel all large employers to pay $15 a month to subsidize their workers’ bus passes. No one is more sensitive to commuting problems than William E. Bicker, the Mayor’s
transportation aide, who the target of what he calls “every conceivable Buck Rogers transit scheme.” He gets letters from many former New Yorkers who live here saying the solution is a subway system like New York’s. The elderly suggest a return to the streetcars that used to operate until the tracks were torn up 25 years ago. One man offered a scheme that would limit rush hour to commercial vehicles, cars with two or more occupants and single-passenger vehicles whose owners pay a $2,500 annual fee for the privilege of driving alone. Another man sent in drawings for an upside down monorail that would hang from cables, move at 300 miles an hour and carry 100 passengers in each car. But driving is such an ingrained way of life here, that few seem optimistic about improvement. “Every year it gets worse and worse,” says Arthur Groman, a lawyer who lives in Beverly Hills. “But my strong feeling is that the ‘I’ principle will prevail and people won’t cooperate. Angelenos are so married to their autos they will not ride the subway. They cannot understand they may have to park and walk three blocks or be at the mercy of someone else’s driving.” From Bad To Worse: Angelenos’ Traffic Robert Reinhold (Copyright © 1989 by the New York Times Co. Reprinted by permission.) This article was originally published in the New York Times, Sunday, February 19, 1989. Automobiles Downloaded from Digital Engineering Library @ McGraw-Hill (www.digitalengineeringlibrary.com) Copyright © 2004 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved.
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