Column: A farewell to cars

In the modern world, breaking our dependence on cars is essential, and public transportation is the only way forward for American cities.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Cars are the worst. American society has been built around these expensive, fossil-fuel burning death cages. However, since the industrial revolution, the car has been a symbol of freedom and independence. The American dream invariably includes a shining auto in the driveway, maybe even connected to a cul-de-sac for good measure. However, we must break this dependence. It’s time to end the era of the car.

Since its inception, death tolls have piled up. While the violence of the modern car doesn’t hold a candle to the destructive behemoths that were early models, cars are still much more dangerous than comparable modes of transportation.

For every billion miles driven, 5.75 people died in cars and trucks in 2013. By the same metric, trains accounted for 0.47 deaths and subways only had 0.24 deaths. Busses were a staggering 41.07 times less deadly than cars, accounting for just 0.14 deaths for every billion miles traveled. The data is clear; if you’d rather not die, choose public transport.

Cars also pollute more than public options. Each American car emits 0.96 pounds of carbon for a single-occupancy trip, compared to 0.65 pounds for busses, 0.41 pounds for light rail and 0.24 pounds for heavy rail. For light rail, think St. Louis’ Metrolink or Kansas City’s Streetcars. For heavy, think the bustling metro systems of New York City and Chicago. It’s worth noting that as more use public services, the overall footprint decreases.

Public transport in the U.S., however, is not always accommodating. Whether it be prohibitively expensive or inefficient, many Americans have insufficient choices for public transportation. While metropolises like New York City and San Francisco have well funded, utilized metro systems, the smaller cities in between have little in the way of efficient transportation. Small, for-profit bussing or commuter rail lines do little to incentivize people to use them. The lack of service in disadvantaged neighborhoods of cities is even worse. One truly effective measure in lifting low-income areas out of poverty is access to reliable transportation. Until we fully fund public transportation, we can’t pretend we’re doing anything to relieve poverty.

To truly modernize cities like Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City, these services need overhauls in access and efficiency. Public transport should be free.

Still to be mentioned, however, is local transportation. While busses and metros are great solutions, cars have left a scar on pedestrian life in America.

Our society is built to satisfy the car. Sidewalks shrank to accommodate cars and cities sprawled because of them. Americans began to favor low density suburbia over compact cityscapes in a phenomenon known as “urban sprawl.” This sprawl is well documented as pedestrian-phobic suburbs boomed in the postwar economy. No longer could pedestrians stroll street blocks to run their neighborhood errands. Escaping the long and winding roads of suburbia became impossible on foot. In the modern American city, cars are king.

Sprawl also brings up safety concerns. Traffic fatalities are worst in the cities with the most sprawl. Cities with infrastructure to support large-scale public transportation, like Stockholm and Tokyo, have reduced fatalities compared to sprawling cities like Los Angeles.

Cars simply aren’t needed to run trips that could take minutes on foot. Bicycles and electric scooter services, such as Bird, provide a great alternative for those wanting wheels. Bird does so well on MU’s campus because it offers undeniable utility. Making the trip on foot pales in comparison to zipping around streets. Doing away with electric scooters would be doing MU a disservice and could convince more to drive, clogging already congested streets.

College campuses could show the way forward for cities. Having everything in a condensed area is truly the only way to kill the car. On a college campus, as is true with the densest cities in America, nothing you need is very far away.

Americans live further apart than they used to, passing one another at highway speeds, not at leisurely strolls. A disconnection with one’s community is palpable. When you’re only in your neighborhood long enough to get to your car, why talk to the neighbors?

Alternate modes of transportation allow for diverse interaction in our increasingly segregated societies. Breaking down barriers can start with just a leisurely walk, or an eco-friendly bus ride.

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