Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on August 8th, 2006 at 2:53 pm
“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.
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.
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,
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,
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]
Elly Blue has been writing about bicycling and carfree issues for BikePortland.org since 2006. Find her at http://takingthelane.com