The End of the Automobile

I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in central Indiana people simply aren’t maintaining their cars as they have in the past.  This point was driven home yet again this morning.

Indy's abandoned Bush Stadium was an auto graveyard during the

Indy’s abandoned Bush Stadium was an auto graveyard during the “Cash for Clunkers” program. Photo-Wired

Since selling our home in anticipation of our move to Ogden, we’ve taken up temporary residence in a relatively upscale apartment complex. It’s not inexpensive to live here, so people are pretty solidly middle class.  Because we now literally live on top of our neighbors, we see and hear things we didn’t notice on the suburban quarter acre.

One of those things is just how many cars sound like they’re about to explode when started in the morning.  The cars look nice enough, but mechanically they’re falling apart.

There are a couple of reasons why this might be, but here at the epicenter of car culture I suspect it’s a mostly a matter of money available for maintenance.  We Americans love our cars, yet more and more of us are doing less and less to keep them running.

Taken alone, this might just be an anomoly, but when you also consider that more young people are eschewing driving and choosing to set up house in walkable, higher density areas, it suggests that we are in the midst of rather remarkable change.  I’m not sure everyone understands just how significant it is.

This isn’t just me talking nor is it merely anecdotal.   USDOT numbers back it up.  People really are driving less for the first time since the advent of the automobile and they’ve now been driving less for a long enough period of time to suggest that it isn’t just a cyclical anomoly.  The times they are a changing.

I’m not suggesting that the car is going to disappear from the American landscape anytime soon.  I think they’ll be around for a long time to come, but we will use them differently.  We will use them less.  We already are.

Our drop in miles driven since 2007 is unprecedented. Chart-Business Insider

Our drop in miles driven since 2007 is unprecedented. Chart-Business Insider

And we are using other forms of transporation more.  We are walking more.  We are bicycling more.  We are choosing to support businesses closer to home…not always because we want to but rather because our cars have become very unreliable.

So cities and towns that invest in bicycle infrastructure are not “wasting money” as some old dinosaurs contend.  They are looking at the future with an understanding that the old ways no longer work and that new solutions are required.  They are giving their constituents a practical solution to the “not enough money for maintenance” challenge.

What can you do to speed the process along?  Every time you choose to bicycle to your destination instead of car to it,  you are encouraging someone else to saddle up and ride.  In doing so, you are helping to hasten the arrival of America’s new transportation normal, one where bicycles are as common on our streets as cars.

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