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Making Sure Nobody Walks or Bikes 30

MakingSureNobodyWalksInLA

Photo courtesy of Who Killed the Electric Car

I spotted this billboard while watching Who Killed the Electric Car the other day. I couldn’t find a better quality photo of it, so I captured a screenshot from the movie. The tongue-in-cheek billboard reads “Making sure nobody walks in L.A.”.

Although catchy and probably effective for marketing this particular oil change company, this billboard reveals a dark truth about our society. We have essentially built cities that require automobiles for survival – cities that are designed so nobody can walk or bike to their destination.

The “making sure nobody walks or bikes” phenomenon can be attributed to several different industries and entities:

  • The car manufacturers:

    • For selling people on the idea that everybody needs their own automobile and that they need to refresh their cars every few years
    • For shutting down electric streetcars and attempting to ensure people have little choice but to drive automobiles
  • The government:

    • For subsidizing car manufacturers and oil exploration to ensure that the cost of car ownership is artificially low compared to its real cost to our society
    • For constructing roads that only accommodate motor vehicles and largely ignore pedestrians and bicyclists
  • The developers:

    • For designing residential developments in remote areas that require substantial driving even to buy a carton of milk
  • The oil companies:

    • For drilling in far-reaching and sensitive areas in order to ensure gas prices stay artificially low
  • Ourselves:

    • For falling prey to the “American Dream” (aka excessive consumerism) and contributing to our lack of transportation options by supporting the developers, car manufacturers and government
    • For constantly demanding more road space at the detriment to better public transportation and safe bicycling/walking facilities

 

We can blame the oil companies, developers, car manufacturers and the government for “making sure nobody walks or bikes”, and it is well deserved criticism. But at the end of the day it is us who bought into their propaganda and effectively dug our own graves.

We can contribute to changing the direction we are headed and make our cities more liveable. Here are a few ideas on how we can effect change in our society:

  • Support developers who invest in creating liveable communities with transportation options aside from just automobiles (public transit, bike infrastructure, mixed residential/business areas).

  • Try to live closer to work when buying/renting a home

  • Don’t look purely at the rent or the cost of the home. Look at the hard costs of automobile ownership vs. living in the city and living car free, as well as the “soft” costs of the time/stress that you will endure while commuting from your home to work.

  • Celebrate higher gas prices. Higher gas prices will lead to better alternative options, because more people (including yourself) will demand better alternatives when gas inevitably becomes unaffordable.

  • Don’t be afraid to live in a smaller space. It will encourage you to buy less (because you have less space to put things) and you will probably end up closer to work as a result.

  • Support politicians who are forward thinking and who support alternative transportation options. Don’t vote for politicians who employ short-sighted policies such as reducing gas prices.

  • If you can, try to boycott the oil companies simply by driving less.

TorontoBicycles

Photo of Toronto bicyclists by Abram / RateMyVelo.com

These are just a few things we can all try to do to ensure our cities are more liveable so our children won’t have to live in a society where industries and organizations are “making sure nobody walks or bikes”.

Our failed policies of the past can be reversed to make a better world for our children in the future.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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30 thoughts on “Making Sure Nobody Walks or Bikes

  1. Severin May 18, 2011 11:38 pm

    It’s just as bad as the car ads at bus stops that suggest transit users are losers. I couldn’t believe when I was waiting at a stop in LA and some idiot drove by and yelled “haha waiting for the bus” at all of us waiting.

    On a billboard related note, I recently saw a 76 Gas billboard ad that read “We made this ad boring so you’ll keep your eyes on the road”. Of course, if safety was the true concern all it would read is “keep your eyes on the road” or not be there at all. Or maybe the ad was mocking street safety? Anyway, that’s my billboard story.

    What you write reminds me of the famous Copenhagen story of citizens demanding better bicycle infrastructure.

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2011/02/return-of-bicycle-for-citizen-cyclists.html

    I wonder what it will take for people to embrace car-free lives and demand choices.

    • Empressofengland Jun 9, 2011 10:09 am

      Severin – people in Copenhagen had no choice but to demand better bike lanes as the government there levies outrageously high taxes on cars. Anytime the government has to tax you into acting a certain way is a sure sign government is intruding too far into an individual’s choices.

      • Tallycyclist Apr 9, 2012 9:14 pm

        The high tax certainly may be enough to convince some people not to buy a car, but the cost is really not the main issue. Cph still had decent transit so it’s not like the choice was to drive, bike or get nowhere. Most people who don’t own one simply don’t need it, like my good friends in Denmark who can easily afford one or two but have none. Instead they travel around the world every year. They live in the suburbs of Cph, but between cycling and the train, they can get anywhere they want to go.

  2. Severin May 19, 2011 4:38 am

    It’s just as bad as the car ads at bus stops that suggest transit users are losers. I couldn’t believe when I was waiting at a stop in LA and some idiot drove by and yelled “haha waiting for the bus” at all of us waiting.

    On a billboard related note, I recently saw a 76 Gas billboard ad that read “We made this ad boring so you’ll keep your eyes on the road”. Of course, if safety was the true concern all it would read is “keep your eyes on the road” or not be there at all. Or maybe the ad was mocking street safety? Anyway, that’s my billboard story.

    What you write reminds me of the famous Copenhagen story of citizens demanding better bicycle infrastructure.

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2011/02/return-of-bicycle-for-citizen-cyclists.html

    I wonder what it will take for people to embrace car-free lives and demand choices.

  3. Brent May 19, 2011 11:57 pm

    Funny. I’ve seen this ad any number of times here in L.A. and never really “saw” it…

  4. Brent May 20, 2011 4:57 am

    Funny. I’ve seen this ad any number of times here in L.A. and never really “saw” it…

  5. Green_Idea_Factory May 20, 2011 9:35 am

    Related, my Flickr on self-harming (anti-public transportation) adverts on public transportation: http://www.flickr.com/groups/self-harming_pt_ads/

  6. Green_Idea_Factory May 20, 2011 2:35 pm

    Related, my Flickr on Self-Harming advert on public transportation: http://www.flickr.com/groups/self-harming_pt_ads/

  7. James Schwartz May 20, 2011 2:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing this – it’s very interesting, and perhaps it should be the subject of an upcoming article 😉

  8. Ryan May 20, 2011 12:39 pm

    James, I so agree. I have been a bike commuter for years, but just recently completely simplified my life- sold my car, tossed the TV, and moved into a smaller house in an eclectic little neighborhood that a) is less than three miles from my work and b) has all kinds of restaurants, bars, shops, and amenities all within 8 blocks of my home. My life is so much simpler now- my commute is a pleasant fifteen-minute ride, and everything I need for day-to-day life (and more!) is within a short walk of my house. My coworkers often tell me that they admire my lifestyle and choices, but that they “just couldn’t make that sacrifice of not having a car or a TV.” I tell them, quite sincerely that the sacrifice is actually having them- that getting rid of those two items gives me back the time, money, and health that having them takes from me. Not to mention all the other benefits that come from a simpler lifestyle.

    Thanks for you excellent blog!

    • pia louise May 20, 2011 2:12 pm

      that’s my current goal – now researching towns: warmth and water. i already tossed my t.v. use public internet and car free. i have my life back! cheers! pia

  9. Ryan May 20, 2011 5:39 pm

    James, I so agree. I have been a bike commuter for years, but just recently completely simplified my life- sold my car, tossed the TV, and moved into a smaller house in an eclectic little neighborhood that a) is less than three miles from my work and b) has all kinds of restaurants, bars, shops, and amenities all within 8 blocks of my home. My life is so much simpler now- my commute is a pleasant fifteen-minute ride, and everything I need for day-to-day life (and more!) is within a short walk of my house. My coworkers often tell me that they admire my lifestyle and choices, but that they “just couldn’t make that sacrifice of not having a car or a TV.” I tell them, quite sincerely that the sacrifice is actually having them- that getting rid of those two items gives me back the time, money, and health that having them takes from me. Not to mention all the other benefits that come from a simpler lifestyle.

    Thanks for you excellent blog!

  10. Darryl is Loving the Bike May 20, 2011 1:32 pm

    This is a fantastic post. Man, I can’t believe that our advertising has come to this…what the heck is going on with our society?

    Thanks for putting this together and I totally agree with what you’re laying down. Good Stuff.

    Darryl

  11. Darryl May 20, 2011 6:41 pm

    This is a fantastic post. Man, I can’t believe that our advertising has come to this…what the heck is going on with our society?

    Thanks for putting this together and I totally agree with what you’re laying down. Good Stuff.

    Darryl

  12. pia louise May 20, 2011 7:12 pm

    that’s my current goal – now researching towns: warmth and water. i already tossed my t.v. use public internet and car free. i have my life back! cheers! pia

  13. Geoff May 20, 2011 2:46 pm

    I’d add to the “Ourselves” list imposing limitations on ourselves of what we can and cannot do. I am always surprised with how surprised people are that I walked or biked to a nearby location. Even if it’s just a few miles they somehow have convinced themselves that they couldn’t walk or bike that far or they don’t have enough time!

  14. Geoff Armstrong May 20, 2011 7:46 pm

    I’d add to the “Ourselves” list imposing limitations on ourselves of what we can and cannot do. I am always surprised with how surprised people are that I walked or biked to a nearby location. Even if it’s just a few miles they somehow have convinced themselves that they couldn’t walk or bike that far or they don’t have enough time!

  15. Karen May 20, 2011 5:44 pm

    I’ve been putting most of your suggestions into practice all my adult life, starting with choosing to live close to work and in a smaller space. Living close to downtown, where I worked allowed me to eventually start using public transit and do more walking to the places I wanted to go rather than just hopping in the car. All small steps I took over many years that added up to some significant changes in lifestyle and thinking. And I have to say, the rebellious art school graduate in me really likes “sticking it to the man”.

  16. Karen May 20, 2011 10:44 pm

    I’ve been putting most of your suggestions into practice all my adult life, starting with choosing to live close to work and in a smaller space. Living close to downtown, where I worked allowed me to eventually start using public transit and do more walking to the places I wanted to go rather than just hopping in the car. All small steps I took over many years that added up to some significant changes in lifestyle and thinking. And I have to say, the rebellious art school graduate in me really likes “sticking it to the man”.

  17. 'Xander May 24, 2011 2:50 pm

    great post! I’ve always found the best way to avoid using the car is to get to know your neighbourhood and then say hello to everyone you can. I’ve lived in all parts of the city from the core to the outer layers and even though I am not completely car free, I am not dependant on the car to make my existence within my city liveable. Key learnings from those who live in the city core can be transferred to those who live outside the core. For those who live in Toronto, the city is a lot smaller than it seems. Figure out the back alleys and short cuts to adventures. Explore your immediate surroundings where ever you are. You just may find what you need is closer than you think.

  18. 'Xander May 24, 2011 7:50 pm

    great post! I’ve always found the best way to avoid using the car is to get to know your neighbourhood and then say hello to everyone you can. I’ve lived in all parts of the city from the core to the outer layers and even though I am not completely car free, I am not dependant on the car to make my existence within my city liveable. Key learnings from those who live in the city core can be transferred to those who live outside the core. For those who live in Toronto, the city is a lot smaller than it seems. Figure out the back alleys and short cuts to adventures. Explore your immediate surroundings where ever you are. You just may find what you need is closer than you think.

  19. Rojoreno May 27, 2011 7:50 am

    Excellent article James.
    Ultimately it is we that are to blame for the state of commuting/traveling locally. Auto manufacturers aren’t forcing anyone to drive a Land criusing Escalade to drive little bobby to soccer practice. Let’s take responsibility and stop blaming someone else.

  20. Rojoreno May 27, 2011 12:50 pm

    Excellent article James.
    Ultimately it is we that are to blame for the state of commuting/traveling locally. Auto manufacturers aren’t forcing anyone to drive a Land criusing Escalade to drive little bobby to soccer practice. Let’s take responsibility and stop blaming someone else.

  21. Empressofengland Jun 9, 2011 3:09 pm

    Severin – people in Copenhagen had no choice but to demand better bike lanes as the government there levies outrageously high taxes on cars. Anytime the government has to tax you into acting a certain way is a sure sign government is intruding too far into an individual’s choices.

  22. Bike Hermit Nov 3, 2011 7:55 am

    “The developers:

    For designing residential developments in remote areas that require substantial driving even to buy a carton of milk”

    You’ve watched too many Disney movies. Developers don’t make the rules about where to build. I was a developer and builder for 15 years and infill development can be difficult and expensive due to the planning and zoning
    laws and the resistance of neighbors who don’t want higher density.

  23. Bike Hermit Nov 3, 2011 12:55 pm

    “The developers:

    For designing residential developments in remote areas that require substantial driving even to buy a carton of milk”

    You’ve watched too many Disney movies. Developers don’t make the rules about where to build. I was a developer and builder for 15 years and infill development can be difficult and expensive due to the planning and zoning
    laws and the resistance of neighbors who don’t want higher density.

  24. Tallycyclist Apr 10, 2012 2:14 am

    The high tax certainly may be enough to convince some people not to buy a car, but the cost is really not the main issue. Cph still had decent transit so it’s not like the choice was to drive, bike or get nowhere. Most people who don’t own one simply don’t need it, like my good friends in Denmark who can easily afford one or two but have none. Instead they travel around the world every year. They live in the suburbs of Cph, but between cycling and the train, they can get anywhere they want to go.

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