Cities Built For Cars?

We take it for granted that cities are built for cars, especially in the US and the reasoning behind this originated not long after the automobile. It seems strange that an old English law held sway right up to 1924 that a person on foot or driving was equal in the eyes of the law. However, when you think about it most US laws were patterned after the old world until there was a reason to change them. The goal behind the English law had to do with policeman on a horse trying to own the road.

The entire topic is made up of the stuff that creates arguments. On the one side, you have to obey traffic laws if you’re going to use roads made for cars or you lose your licence to drive on them. It’s common sense that cars need a way to navigate around each other. However, pedestrians have been avoiding each other for centuries without incident or formal laws governing who can walk where. Who is it that thinks its okay to tell an American where they can put there feet?

Well, if you’re feet are in the road meant for vehicles then you’d best abide by the laws of the road. For that matter, it’s a new era with new ways of getting around so it’s common sense that the laws be upgraded to a keep everyone safe.

The History of the New Laws:

It seems that the LA traffic commission were one of the first authorities to question this ruling – after all in a busy city why should everyone slow down to accommodate the slowest moving individuals? It’s one thing to stop at a red light, another not to be able to move at all wile someone toddles across a thoroughfare.

But why did the car become the preferred mode of transport? It would seem strange to us if we still had horse and carriages but why did it become so preferred so quickly? There are two schools of thought, one that those in cities just preferred using cars than travelling on foot or using other vehicles; the other that it was all down to marketing and advertising (ultimately the car industry itself) which made the car such a popular form of travel.

Whether we are free to continue in our own fashion or whether we have to surrender to the mores of technology is not something we have to think about generally. But with possible changes in climate we might just be heading that way.

The idea of an automotive city had its origins in the 1920s but didn’t really take over until about the 1950s, many no doubt felt cars were just a fad that wouldn’t last. But since new cities such as Melbourne, Detroit and LA were built on a grid system which made them easier to travel through in a car it did seem that there was a bundle of money around ensuring that the car would be the ideal way to travel.

It may come down to logistics really, getting things to a certain point before you realised you needed them. In that, the car was supreme – at least at the beginning. Horse drawn vehicles never stood a chance in that basis. The use of trains might be better logistically but even then you don’t have that much choice as a tourist or businessman where you have to go and what time you get there. The car is so much better.

So the car got the privilege of being the master of the road. And pedestrians and to some extent, trains had to follow the path they took (not literally, but trains took on “transport corridors” which travel in the same direction of the road, almost as if the train is a substitute car). It’s one of the little ways that cars rule that we don’t even notice.

In Europe and places that didn’t grow up with the age of cars many roads exist that are too small for cars. These generally become pedestrian walkways or alleyways. Cities have to be retrofitted to accommodate cars, so pedestrians and mass transit hold more sway. But in America were the city grew alongside the auto industry the city accommodated the car.

Nowadays it is harder to design a city for cars, there are just too many of them. And why not look at other transport systems, just to make other ways to travel around?

The pedestrian controversy has reignited, in LA of all places, where octogenarian received a gash to his noggin battling police who were trying to site him for “jay-walking.” The very term Jaywalking has come under fire as it’s become more well known that the term used to be an insult to country bumpkins. The auto industry felt the best way to curb this random walk where you want tradition was to associate it with people who weren’t urban and sophisticated. It seems to have worked. But lets take a step back and ask ourselves how offensive it is these days to call someone a “Jay?” To shun the term is pretty ridiculous.

The auto industry employed boy scouts to hand out pamphlets to people caught Jaywalking, which is probably where we got the imagery of boy scouts helping old ladies across the street.

At the end of the day there is one factor that should weigh heavy in the argument over who gets the right of way—the laws not of man, but of physics. In Portland, OR. Citizens are given right of way over cars, as are bicycles. As a result, a pedestrian could stumble out from behind a random white panel van, mere feet in front of a car that’s traveling 20 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. The results are that the pedestrian who believes him/herself to be anointed by God and the City of Portland as impervious to several tons of steel learns too late that being “right” doesn’t replace common sense, and the driver of the vehicle get arrested for manslaughter. Is this good governance? You decide.

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