In the way, or right-of-way?

Posted by on August 8th, 2006 at 2:53 pm

Has Last Thursday outgrown the sidewalk?

[NE Alberta St. during
Last Thursday ArtWalk.]

“Cars are in the way!” goes the refrain from one song by local bike-punk band The Pheramones.

The first time I heard the song this seemed pretty far out in left field, but the more I think about it the less crazy it sounds. Cars take up a lot of space, they’re loud, fast, dangerous, ubiquitous, and primarily used for tasks to which they’re patently unsuited—like short runs to the store, trips downtown, pleasure cruises, and as mobile offices.

Let’s face it, cars really are in the way.

So why does The Pheramone’s song sound so radical? Maybe because we are used to giving cars priority of place in our lives and our public space, to the extent that we see ourselves in their way.

[“Come on lady, get out of my way!”]
Photo credit: Clarence Eckerson

An 82 year-old woman in Los Angeles found this out recently when she was ticketed for taking more than seven seconds to cross the street.

Cyclists experience this attitude every day, to the tune of “Get off the road!” and “Road hog!” — even downtown, where we usually can go faster than car traffic.

At the recent Last Thursday art walk on Alberta, there was not enough room for pedestrians on the sidewalk, forcing many, including young children into the road (see photo at top of post). Still, many motorists not only chose to drive on Alberta, but gunned their engines and yelled at people to get out of their way (more photos of Last Thursday).

I could go on and on about different kinds of people who are assumed to be blocking traffic but are in fact marginalized by the precedence given to car traffic. Tourists trying to cross between shops on Hawthorne, for instance. The dozens of pick-up basketball games played in the streets. Young children running after dropped balls. Critical Mass. Joggers. Pets.

[NW 9th and Lovejoy]

Next time you leave your house, imagine a city with no private cars, or at least very few. Then imagine all the other things that could be done in all that space…

    a park,
    a playground,
    a garden,
    more shade trees to replace all the black and gray,
    a direct walking route from your house to the store,
    a few more houses,
    a couple of much-needed local businesses,
    lots more people out in public,
    quiet,
    fresh-tasting air,
    kids playing in the street.

Maybe a city without cars is not the ideal. Or maybe it is…imagining the possibilities is the only place to start.

[Elly Blue can be reached at eleanor.blue[at]gmail[dot]com]

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Dr. Mark Ross
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Dr. Mark Ross

an impractical dream. to support the businesses and houses on the street one needs to provide access to commerce — semitractors. then there are the safety issues, firetrucks, ambulances, police and of course, disabled citizens.

a city without private cars still need roads to provide access to most businesses and houses. sorry.

jami
Guest

no one i know is looking for a city without roads, doc. but i cross hawthorne on foot to get groceries, and i shouldn’t get dirty looks for it from people driving in from gresham to their favorite starbucks, who feel like stopping their cars at crosswalks is some terrible hardship.

letting cars know that driving fast is not a god-given right is reasonable i think.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Dr. Ross – I guess you’ve never visited Europe. There are thriving commercial districts in older sections of cities and towns of all sizes that have one characteristic in common – they have very narrow streets and are basically car-free. Delivery are still performed by vehicles, but in the off-hours and by much smaller vehicles than we are accostomed to. The streets are dominated by pedestrians, and the occassional bicyclist or scooter rider.

no one in particular
Guest
no one in particular

There are carless cities in Tuscany… Not major metropolitan areas, to be sure, but small towns…

Qwendolyn
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Qwendolyn

I don’t buy the “we still need roads to provide access” argument.

Fine. We still need roads for some things. But still needing roads for emergency vehicles and grocery trucks and disabled citizens is a far cry from the car culture we find ourselves in today.

An automobile is a useful tool for many reasons, most of which you listed. But it is also a death machine. Literally. It kills people, and it is killing our planet. The car culture is a death culture.

Maybe you think killing the planet and killing more people than cancer are an ok tradeoff for the benefits of driving a car, but if so at least be honest with yourself about the price you are paying for a little “convenience.”

The car is a death machine.

joe
Guest
joe

my girlfriend used to live in sienna, italy and cars there were almost non existant. unless you have deliveries, driving there is just stupid due to the fact that everyone is out walking and on their bikes and scooters

Dr. Mark Ross
Guest
Dr. Mark Ross

i’ll concede that in europe and other “old world” countries they’ve made do. but in the united states we’re a superpower as a result of commerce. if you want to stifle competion and raise costs (something that limiting to off hours and smaller trucks would do) be my guest, but you won’t be able to sell the idea to many americans.

(restricting hours/trucksizes raises cost significantly because no matter what restrictions one puts in place, “x” amount of commerce will still need to be delivered. we ain’t gonna be eating less due to delivery restrictions are we?

yes, cars are death machines, as are mopeds, the space shuttle and riding lawn mowers. Labels aren’t a way to sell me your beliefs. come up with practical and workable solutions.

beth h
Guest
beth h

Thanks for your thoughts, Elly.
A car-free world is probably not possible in this country, in my lifetime; but after nearly 17 years of living without a car of my own, the thought continues to provide daily inspiration for my bicycle travels.
Happy pedaling!

jami
Guest

doc, we’re a superpower as a result of innovation. we’re going deeply into debt as a result of commerce. it wouldn’t bother me a bit to have less plastic made-in-taiwan nonsense at the local fred meyer because the precious trucks couldn’t get through.

i’m not anti-car — they have merit. but shifting away from 1950s-era car culture makes sense, especially with the ugly junkmachines american automakers have decided to hit us with for the last thirty years. shutting down streets to cars and parking would encourage people to use public transportation, and live closer to where they work and play.

justa
Guest
justa

automobiles certainly area necessity to maintain our current model of commerce, however we absolutely do NOT need streets on the level we currently possess. paved roadways take up, i’d guess, at least 1/3 (if not more) of the space in urban areas. i’d argue that we could definitely reduce that at least by 75%, going bare-bones and keeping only major roadways, and free up an incredible amazing amount of space for the kind of things jonathan speculated on.

this is something i find myself thinking about very often as i ride through downtown, and the potential both saddens and heartens me. we’ll see how it turns out.

justa
Guest
justa

p.s. don’t forget biodiesel, cars that run on vegetable oil, and all that lovely jazz.

Dr. Mark Ross
Guest
Dr. Mark Ross

“we’re going deeply into debt as a result of commerce”

ahem, that is not correct. we’re going in debt as a result of decsisons made by one misguided individual who was, by the way, elected by (apparently) a majority of Americans. We’re all to blame. This of course is another thread in another forum.

I do enjoy, as a bike rider, the thousands of miles of paved roads available to me to ride on in this city. To do the math, less roads for cars = more bike riders + less roads for bikers to ride on.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

I am all for some BIKE ONLY roads or areas. The part of Alberta with all the galleries/shops and the Hawthorne shopping area without cars would be great. Maybe if it was closed just on the weekends, or if Alberta was closed to cars on Last Thursday. Still bike only streets would be great. The lanes could be ten feet wide with a big green space down the middle of the street.

Elly
Guest
Elly

Ah, hm, it looks like I have overspun my point somewhat. I was talking about private cars. Not trucks or ambulances or taxis or even shared cars. At that, I’m not anti-car, it just seems we have a massive excess.

And I’m a fan of roads — they get you places. But we have so many roads. And they are so overwhelmingly large. Maybe we don’t need them all, or even most of them. Ditto what the commentors above have said.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Dr. Ross – until you change the assumptions you are operating under, no one is going to be able to convince you of anything other than what you choose to believe. What you see around you in this country is not the way it has to be.

Gregg
Guest
Gregg

“… restricting hours/trucksizes raises cost significantly because no matter what restrictions one puts in place”

Substitute “child laborer”, “slave” or “minimum wage” in there for truck and you have the same tired argument that’s always been said about commerce. Some things are flat out wrong and impractical and need to change. Less private cars is something that WILL happen. The environment will simply not support it for much longer. Boohoo to the fuzzy dice manufacturer that goes out of business. Or to the doctor who has less copays once people are getting exercise and don’t keel over from heart attacks.

And to narrow the problems of the world down to one person is ludicrous. Please don’t label others with undue blame, we’re not all sitting here in complacency.

Dr. Mark Ross
Guest
Dr. Mark Ross

randy sez: “What you see around you in this country is not the way it has to be.”

agreed! I voted for the current president’s opponents each time. Indeed, I’m in total support with our former vice president about the need to save our planet. now if I can only find enough people to agree with me! :}

gregg, I’m not a real doctor, I only play one on TV. I agree about the environment, but the thing is that in order to actually get these changes done, we’re gonna have to convince a majority of Americans to see things our way. making demands won’t cut it. Do you have other better suggestions that would make people WANT to get out of their cars and ride their bike?

elly sez: “And I’m a fan of roads β€” they get you places.”

me too! πŸ™‚

Geoff Greene
Guest

I agree that you’ll never get people to drive less simply by ordering them to do so. People just hate to be told what to do. Part of the long term solution is ever-improving public transit. If it’s easy and convenient and cheap for people to get around without a car, that’s what more people will do. The bikeway system is already pretty darn good, and it’s always improving. As it gets easier and safer for people to bike around town, more people will bike around town. The SEUL Bike Buddy program is a brilliant way to get more peeps on bikes, and it gives people a chance to try communting without a car without being told to do so. And bikes themselves are becoming more comfort oriented and user friendly and commute compatible. Now bikes are being built for people who just want to ride around town, not just for spandex roadies and hard core mountain bikers. That fact alone will get countless people out on bikes. And with more part time riders comes more road courtesy when those part time riders are behind the wheel instead of behind the bars. Just my 2 cents. Cheers, Geoff

Darren Pennington
Guest
Darren Pennington

Consider the “High Cost of Free Parking” at:
http://www.raisethehammer.org/index.asp?id=072

The author estimates that the actual cost of parking cars could exceed the total cost of all roads.

Darren

jami
Guest

i was referring to the trade deficit and individual credit card debt, doc. unfortunately, our debt is not limited to bush’s icky halliburton problem.

arcellus
Guest
arcellus

a massive paradigm shift – which would be ideal and probably work for the few of us – wouldn’t work for the majority. if a change is going to take place it needs to be gradual, well planned and presented in such a way that it is acceptable to the masses. after all, that’s how we got to where we are now.

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

Dr. Ross’ comments notwithstanding, this article is basically preaching to the choir. You should see what happens on Commissioner Adams when Sam or another poster gets too visionary about alternatives to cars . . .

The European model shows us that, on designated streets and districts, it is quite possible to eliminate nearly all motorized traffic. Creating livable spaces in this way is also quite in line with the direction that Portland has already charted for itself. Car-free city . . . not going to happen any time soon I am afraid.

Molly
Guest
Molly

I agree a car-free Portland is not in the near future, but car-free streets are a definite possibility. I keep hoping that they’ll re-design Hawthorne and make it 2 lanes of car traffic with a middle turning lane and bike lanes. But after reading this thread, I’ll now be hoping for a car-free Hawthorne instead. Even if the minds & attitudes of car-centric Americans can’t be changed, we can still dream. Thanks for the post, Elly.

Randy
Guest
Randy

What’s even worse than motor vehicles hogging all the road space when they are in use, is all the public right of way devoted to the storage of motor vehicles when they are not in use.

Nick
Guest
Nick

From the article “High Cost of Free Parking”:

“Shoup concludes cities should eliminate zoning requirements for off-street parking, end free municipal parking, and charge whatever price will maintain about 15 percent vacancy – the optimal rate to ensure easy entry and exit. To balance variable demand against a fixed supply, he recommends setting different prices according to time of day and day of week.”

This would be a GREAT start. Require automobile drivers to pay certain infrastructure costs directly as a disincentive. Over time, creation of further disincentives will attract people to other forms of transportation, leaving the driving to those who really need to do it, such as emergency vehicles, handicapped folks, etc.

Lenny Anderson
Guest

There once was a mid-sized American city whose core was dying. Planners, business leaders and electeds got together and came up with a plan to revitalized the “center.” Two central N/S streets were virtually closed to auto traffic to make room for buses. The expressway along the riverfront was torn out for a park. Even a parking garage in the center of town was replaced with a pubic square. And new high capacity rail transit was built. The removal of so much roadway capacity did not cause the sky to fall; indeed some say that city’s downtown is one of most pedestrian friendly & livable in the country.
Maybe we should take that lesson to Portland’s neighborhood districts like Hawthorne, Alberta, Mississippi, Beaumont and others and make them so that every citizen can enjoy what their communities have to offer.

watergirl
Guest
watergirl

In Portland, there are few through streets (Collectors or Arterials in the parlance of transp.planners and traffic engineers). Streets that have somewhat high capacity,carry buses, and provide a straight shot between activity centers and/or bridges for motorists, commuters and commerce.

You start “calming” them or making them car free, and many of those drivers, including trucks, will find a new “path of least resistance.” That will be onto the bike boulevards like Clinton, Lincoln, Salmon.

Is this really “winning?”

Let’s be more like Europe in that we tax the heck out of driver’s licenses and car tags…that and have $5/gallon gas. Make car ownership and use less affordable.

Tiago
Guest
Tiago

We humans are really interesting. We think that, since we are the “pinnacle” of evolution, everything we do is progressive and beneficial. There are imperfections on our achievements, of course, but the only way to correct them is to wait for a future solution to come. We never admit that we actually commit mistakes and have done things completely wrong. Cars are a perfect example of failure that we insist to consider “progress” and not only necessary to sustain an imperfect way of living, but something that we depend upon in order to find better solutions to keep on going forward. It isn’t hard to find benefits that we get from using cars and other automobiles, we indeed learn really early in our lives that without such an amazing invention we would be living in isolation, away from food, health care, friends and culture. Fact is, if we analyze our reality, not only cars (and their infrastructures) contribute to create barriers between people and communities, are harmful for peoples’ and the planet’s health, and produce more garbage than prosperity, but they also are in fact the cause of many other humanistic and ecological disasters in the whole world. To look back and through human history helps us see that this is a new invention and we actually lost much more than we gained since we embraced it in our culture. Thee is, actually, no reason to be attached to it, since its absence would immediately improve our life quality and help us find more creative an sustainable solutions for the gap we could feel for not having its suppose benefits.
But we don’t want to admit that we are not so perfect and something that we tried 60 years ago and we still use should only bring us progress. If we didn’t find anything to substitute that, that means that it is still necessary. After all, we were created in the perfect image of gods. If what we do is wrong, they wouldn’t have let us create such things. There are those who question our amazing achievements, but we are very well educated to know they are nothing but radical, leftists, witches or impractical dreamers.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Does god drive an SUV?

Michael
Guest
Michael

I am a car!

Isn’t that what is implied with a driver yells “You are not a car!” at a cyclist?

What a crazy notion that one IS one’s vehicle!

“I am a Land Cruiser.”

“I am a Trek.”

I have a comeback to “You are not a car.” It is, “You are not a human being!”