WHY REDUCE AUTOMOBILE DEPENDENCE
By Logan R. R. Perkins
[reproduced from Livable Cities #1 - November 1997]
Helena, MT - 1999
There are many reasons to reconsider our love affair with automobiles. When defining root causes of many of
our modern problems, excessive automobile dependence is often the culprit. What follows is a partial list of
categories of such problems.
- INFANT HEALTH - The leading cause of death and injury among children four and younger is traffic
- AIR QUALITY - "The fumes from automobiles, known as auto exhaust, contribute greatly to three of the
biggest pollution problems in the world today: global warming, acid rain, and dirty air." [Maxine Rock, The
Automobile and the Environment, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1992, p. 25]
- Water Quality - In 1989 the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of oil in the Prince William Sound in
Alaska. The EPA estimates "Americans improperly dispose of 90 percent of the 200 million gallons of oil they
change each year." A single oil spill makes the headlines, yet the bigger crisis remains unknown to most
citizens. [Scott Pendleton, "Industry Recycles More Motor Oil," The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 22, 1991]
MATERIALISM - Across the country thieves are killing drivers not just for their cars anymore, but for such
items as custom car wheels, the fanciest of which can cost around $5,000 per set. Nine people were killed in
Dallas in 1995 for their fancy wheels.
ADVERTISING PORTRAYAL - "Countless Americans have a romance with cars. Is it because they are,
indeed, remarkable machines? Or because they are advertised along with glamorous women and wild animals,
suggesting sex and power? It is highly ironical when commercials show automobiles amidst pristine nature, the
very settings that their presence most disturbs. Ads also promote a sense of being in control, which consumers
seem to fall for. Many people use driving as a means to ease depression or to escape from disappointment or
sagging hopes." [Valerie Harms, "Transportation," The National Audubon Society Almanac of the
Environment, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1994, p. 123]
- ELDERLY & DISABLED NEEDS - Denver Post writer Alan Katz writes: "More than 50 percent of boomers
live in suburbia, where affordable services for the elderly will be hard to deliver because of low-density housing
patterns." ["Boomers Over 50 to Need Housing," May 19, 1996]
- ACCIDENTS - There were 6.5 million motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. with 3.2 million injuries according
to the 1996 Statistical Abstract of the United States.
- DEATHS - 40,700 people died in 1994 in the U.S. due to motor vehicle accidents. Pedestrians account for
nearly 20% of such deaths. - Worldwide the situation is often much worse. "There were 272,000 traffic deaths
[in China in 1995] - six times as many as in the United States, even though China has fewer than a tenth of the
cars that America has." [Jennifer Lin, "China's Love for Cars Greater than Capacity," The Denver Post, Oct. 5,
- PHYSICAL HEALTH - Wake Forest University professor Thomas B. Clarkson states: "Epidemiological data
provide suggestive evidence that automotive emissions may e risk factors for the development of
atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease." ["Evaluation of Automotive Emissions as Risk Factors for the
Development of Atherosclerosis and Coronary Heart Disease," Air Pollution, The Automobile, and Public
Health, Editors: Ann Y. Watson, Richard R. Bates, Donalsd Kennedy, National Academy Press, Wash., D.C.,
1988, p. 620]
Denver from Falcon Park
- HEAT ISLANDS - Excessive development with associated roads and parking can cause summer humidity and temperatures to rise.
Bureau of Meteorology - Sustainable Urban Design and Climate:
- LOSS OF AGRICULTURAL LANDS - Worldwide we are losing valuable farmland at alarming rates. For example in Israel, compact development with public transportation has given way to auto-dependent suburbanization
and a 3% loss of agricultural land per year. Officials warn that eventually all the cultivated olive and pine forests will disappear in this water-scarce region and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will merge into one giant megalopolis.
[Elaine Fletcher, "Oh, Holy blight! Growth Strains biblical Sites," The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 21, 1994]
- PSYCHOLOGY OF DRIVERS/CIVILITY - "I think our society in general has an anger problem and an impulse-control problem...traffic is where it's being shown." [Quote by Stephanie Faul of the American Automobile
Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, reported by Linda Feldmann, "Mad Max Drivers Become A Major Road Hazard," The Christian Science Monitor, April 7, 1997]
- NOISE POLLUTION - To reduce highway noise in Colorado, sound barriers are constructed at a cost of $1 million per mile for each side of highway. [Michael booth, "Noisy Roads Costly to Quiet," The Denver Post, July 5,
- TRANSPORTATION MONOPOLY - "General Motors in 1949 was convicted of having conspired, mainly with Standard Oil of California and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, to replace highly efficient urban
electric-transit systems with bus operations which would contract never to buy new equipment using any fuel or means of propulsion other than petroleum." [Morton Mintz, Power Inc., 1976, excerpt by Citizens for Balanced
Transportation, Lakewood, CO]
- RACIAL SEGREGATION - Automobile dependent suburbanization has allowed the development of very exclusive racial enclaves.
- DISCRIMINATION - "While billions of taxpayer dollars are poured into road-building each year, about 80 million Americans cannot drive because they are too old, too young, disabled, or lack the economic means to own a
car. The highway lobby's agenda continues to marginalize these people." [Brent Blackwelder, "Highway Robbery: Building for the Rich and Taking from the Poor," Friends of the Earth, Spring 1997]
- EXERCISE NEEDS - What are the genetic consequences of a lifestyle with minimal exercise and excessive stress?
- EFFECTS ON DEVELOPING WORLD - Sao Paulo, Brazil, adds 1000 new cars daily, with an estimated traffic cost of $10 billion per year. [Flavia Varella, "The Car Trap," reprinted in The National Times, Feb., 1997]
- DEMOGRAPHIC PROJECTIONS & AUTOMOBILE NUMBERS - Today we have over 500 million cars. The number is expected to double by 2030. Imagine the future traffic, quantity of paved earth, and air pollution.
Aerial shot near San Francisco, 1997
- UPKEEP OF ROADS - AAA says 80,000 miles of highway are in poor condition; more than a third of our major roads need immediate repair. Author Jane Holtz Kay notes that "for all the $93 billion spent per year in
federal, state, and local funds, the nation's highway infrastructure is frayed and faltering, demanding repaving at an average $30 million a mile." [Americans and their Cars," The Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 1996]
- COSTS - "The average driver in America's 50 most congested cities and suburbs now wastes about a fifth of commuting time stuck in traffic. That adds up to 33 hours a year, according to traffic statisticians, a waste of about
60 gallons of gasoline and nearly $500...congestion now ranks second to crime in many polls of what bothers Americans." [Frank Greve, "Traffic Pushing the Panic Button for many in U.S." The Denver Post, Aug. 13, 1997]
- - Few U.S. drivers realize that, when the costs are factored in - including fuel, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and finance charges (but excluding the portion of their taxes that goes toward driving subsidies) - they pay
$34 per 100 miles of driving, or about $1,700 annually just to commute to work." [Marcia D. Lowe, "Alternatives to the Automobile: Transport for Livable Cities," Worldwatch Paper 98, October, 1990]
- ANIMAL HEALTH - Automobile based suburban sprawl results in habitat loss for migratory birds.
- FUTURE OUTLOOK - Recently, traffic has grown many times faster than new highway construction. In 1990 there were 580 million four-wheel motor vehicles; by 2010 the estimate is for over 800 million. [The World
Resources Institute, World Resources: The Urban Environment, 1996, p. 82]
Excessive automobile dependence is a root cause of all of the above problems and more, including issues of waste disposal, dependence on oil, and alienation. For positive suggestions on alternative development strategies and
designs, see: Livable Cities Description.
The Priorities Institute Home Page -- Alternative Transportation Photos
Contact: Logan Perkins, Director of The Priorities Institute
303 330-9739; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dept. Of Transportation website:
Citizens for Responsible Transportation: http://www.cfst.org/