Antidote to Automobiles [Chapter 7].
[Note: Please see the 1996 Preface for an explanation of the unusual pagination.]
Copyright Notice: Copyright © 1972 by Bantam Books, Inc.; Copyright © 1996 by Nicholas Johnson. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any medium known now or in the future. Provided, however, that permission is hereby granted to distribute this book under the following conditions: (1) that it is distributed in its entirety, including this copyright notice and 1996 Preface, (2) that no charge is exacted, or revenue received, directly or indirectly, by anyone in connection with the transfer, and (3) as a matter of courtesy and information, that the author be informed, simultaneously with the distribution, of any distribution to more than one person or posting for availability on the Internet, Web, or publicly available directory. Any other use requires the prior permission of the author: Nicholas Johnson, email@example.com, postal: Box 1876, Iowa City IA 52244-1876, U.S.A.
# p. 110 #
We might have to slow down a little or perhaps even sit quiet occasionally to develop better taste. One can’t think very deeply at 70 miles an hour.
-C. E. Warne
My new pattern requires renting new cars at the airports as needed. I am progressively ceasing to own things, not on a political-schism basis, as for instance Henry George’s ideology, but simply on a practical basis. Possession is becoming progressively burdensome and wasteful and therefore obsolete.
-R. Buckminster Fuller
When you drive a car, you drive a reflection of your self. And, in the case of the 1971 MGB, it’s a reflection of someone very special.
-MG advertisement in Time
# # #
# p. 111 #
Antidote to Automobiles [Chapter 7]
So far, we have approached alternate life styles almost in terms of hedonism: What feels best for you? What will remove the pain of living in a corporate state — other than the drug life (whether alcohol, tranquilizers, or others) that only brings more ultimate pain? But what we so often discover is that the very products, activities, and attitudes that make you feel better also have significant social advantages: They use less of our nation’s precious natural resources, they pollute less, they make less noise, they add to the pleasure of others, they enable each of us to live in a society in which we can grow in individual worth and fulfillment, they are more aesthetically pleasing, they make for better citizenship, and they are even more economical. Take bicycles, for example.
I ride a bicycle — not because I hate General Motors but haven’t the courage to bomb an auto plant. I don’t do it as a gesture of great stoicism and personal sacrifice. I am not even engaged, necessarily, in an act of political protest over that company’s responsibility for most of the air pollution by tonnage in the United States. It’s like finally giving up cigarettes. You just wake up one morning and realize you don’t want to start the day with another automobile. Cigarette smoking is not a pleasure, it’s a business. In the same way, you finally come to realize that you don’t need General Motors, they need you. They need you to drive their cars for them. You are driving for Detroit and paying them to do it. Automobiles are just a part of your life that’s over, that’s all. No hard feelings. You’ve just moved on to something else. From now on you just use their buses, taxis, and rental cars when they suit your
# p. 112 #
The most natural form of locomotion, walking has been In use since before the Invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire. Reliable and totally non-polluting, it offers convenience — no parking, no cost. Invigorating, it promotes health and gives you the chance to think.
Automobiles insulate man not only from the environment but from human contact as well. They permit only most limited types of interaction, usually competitive, aggressive, and destructive. If people are to be brought together again, given a chance to get acquainted with each other and involved in nature, some fundamental solutions must be found to the problems posed by the automobile.
-Edward T. Hall
ANNOUNCER: Sidney spent Sundays shelling at the seashore. Then Sidney started digging the Mustang — the great original . . .. Now Sidney’s making waves all over. Last week he saved three bathing beauties. (And they all could swim better than Sidney!) Only Mustang makes it happen!
-a television commercial
# p. 113 #
convenience. You don’t keep one for them that you have to house, feed and water, insure, and care for.
You ride a bicycle because it feels good. The air feels good on your body; even the rain feels good. The blood starts moving around your body, and pretty soon it gets to your head, and, glory be, your head feels good. You start noticing things. You look until you really see. You hear things, and smell smells, you never knew were there. You start whistling nice little original tunes to suit the moment. Words start getting caught in the web of poetry in your mind. And there’s a nice feeling, too, in knowing you’re doing a fundamental life thing for yourself: transportation. You got a little bit of your life back! And the thing you use is simple, functional, and relatively cheap. You want one that fits you and rides smoothly, but with proper care and a few parts it should last almost forever. Your satisfaction comes from within you, not from the envy or jealousy of others. (Although you are entitled to feel a little smug during rush hours, knowing you are also making better time than most of the people in cars.)
On those occasions when I am not able to cycle through the parks or along the canal — because the paths are rough with ice or muddy from rain or melting snow — bicycling enables me to keep closer to the street people: folks waiting for buses or to cross streets, street sweepers, policemen, school “patrols,” men unloading trucks. Needless to say, you cannot claim any depth of understanding as a result of such momentary and chance encounters, but by the time I get to the office I do somehow have the sense that I have a much better feeling for the mood of the city that day than if I had come to my office in a chauffeur-driven government limou-
# p. 114 #
On a different speed scale, bicycles could move 2.8 times as many people per amount of space. If a bicycler can make 10 miles an hour, the car would have to exceed 28 mph to rack up more passenger miles on the same system of streets. But the New York City average speed for cars during rush hour is only 8.5 mph, 13 mph on the feeder roads. It’s a fact that today in many cities you can make better time aboard a bicycle than in a car.
Make your second car a bicycle.
Consider the advantages that the bicycle has to offer — low cost, no pollution, and convenient to park.
For under $50 you can get a bicycle fitted with enough trimmings to make it practical for going shopping and carrying a small child. The cheapest car costs about thirty times that.
A bicycle is also inexpensive to operate, maintain, and insure.
Bicycles are quieter than any form of motorized transportation, produce no pollution, and use up no fuel.
A bicycle takes up about 1/30th the parking space of a car.
In city traffic today, the bicycle is often faster than the car or bus.
Bicycles give the rider the sort of healthy exercise that many Americans usually do not get.
Riding a bicycle makes it possible to get a better appreciation of a beautiful day, or a pleasant ride through the park.
. . . The New York Times quoted a 32-year-old millionaire who pedals up Fifth Avenue to social engagements in a dinner jacket as explaining, “It’s much easier than fussing with a chauffeur.”
# p. 115 #
sine. Although I am willing to brave the traffic and exhaust, I am aware it is dangerous. I think bicycles ought to be accorded a preferred position in the city’s transportation system. At the very least, they deserve an even break.
Notice that bicycle riding also has some significant social advantages over the automobile. Cars unnecessarily kill sixty thousand people every year, permanently maim another one hundred and seventy thousand, and injure three and a half million more. The automobile accounts for at least 60 percent of the total air pollution in the United States by tonnage — as high as 85 percent in some urban areas — and 91 percent of all carbon-monoxide pollution; it creates about nine hundred pounds of pollution for every person every year. One million acres of land are paved each year; there is now a mile of road for each square mile of land. The concrete used in our Interstate Highway System would build six sidewalks to the moon. Even so, everyone is familiar with the clogged streets and parking problems — not to mention the unconscionable rates charged by the parking garages. Automobile transportation is the largest single consumer of the resources used in our nation’s total annual output of energy. It is an economic drain on consumers — in no way aided by auto companies that deliberately build bumpers weaker than they were fifty years ago in order to contribute to an unnecessary bumper-repair bill in excess of one billion dollars annually.
The bicycle is a model citizen, by comparison.
The bicycle does not kill or maim; it does not pollute; it does not deplete natural resources; it makes no noise; it takes a great deal less space; and it is very much cheaper. (You can buy a brand new bicycle for
# p. 116 #
Commuting by bicycle? Is this some kind of put-on? It may sound like a joke to motor-minded America, but in the rest of the world nobody is laughing. In countries that are willing to take it seriously, the bicycle [is] transportation. Switzerland, for example, which traditionally places a high value on peace of mind and purity of air, has more bicycles than automobiles. In Amsterdam — a national capital with roughly the same population and climatic conditions as Washington, D.C. — 150,000 people ride bikes to work every day. Hundreds of thousands more commute by bicycle in other European cities. The same is true in much of Africa and Asia.
-Thomas R. Reid, III
This year an estimated 10 million bicycles will be sold, compared to a projected 8.6 million new cars.
-Friends of the Earth
# p. 117 #
little more than what it costs to operate an automobile for two weeks.) Although the bicycle makes a direct assault on four great problems that plague the modern city — traffic, noise, parking, and pollution — urban planners have overlooked it in their search for solutions to the urban transportation crisis.
It is more than ironic that America can invest so much stock faith and rhetoric in the competitive marketplace of commerce and yet ignore the “marketplace of ideas” (to use a phrase by Mr. Justice Holmes) by tolerating the television monopoly that is used to merchandise Detroit’s peculiar dreams of the appropriate automotive life style — with all that life style’s attendant social ills. My own commission, the Federal Communications Commission, has been instrumental in encouraging broadcasters’ censoring off the airwaves the messages from ecology groups (like Friends of the Earth) that would cry out against the urban devastation being wrought by Detroit’s automobiles. (The FCC decision, fortunately, has been substantially reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.) In perhaps one of the greatest advertising overkills of all time, we Americans are being grossly oversold an automotive product and life style (bigger, faster, sexier cars) that we neither need nor may really want, and that will surely eventually kill us with its exhaust by-products and lethargy-induced heart attacks, if it does not get us first in a crash. This may serve the corporate profits of the automotive, oil, steel, cement, and road-building industries, but it is shortchanging the American people.
There are other ways to get around.