Thursday, April 11, 2013

Car Culture Debunk

Do we not ride trains because we are obsessed with cars?

On the road to Ann Arbor at sunset

I can't tell you how many times, during public meetings for the transit initiative I worked on last year, some curmudgeonly man or woman in a semi-rural satellite community raised his or her voice and declared that it couldn't work, because unfortunately we live in a car culture, and our love for automobiles trumps all else. No self-respecting Michigander would be caught on a bus, so we shouldn't even try.

I think this is a myth. I think it's a myth that we have a macho dirty-oil-engine complex. And it's both illogical and irresponsible to use that argument to excuse inaction on transit.

Everyone wants independence, obviously. Particularly in this country, we're pretty attached to the idea. The difference is that some people can get it on a train. I lived in New York City and in Madrid, and I know the feeling of complete independence granted by a magically complex grid of tubes in the ground.

Grand Army Plaza subway stop, just north of Prospect Park, Brooklyn

 Michigan could get on board with something like that, were it provided. I present as evidence the fact that Amtrak ridership between here and Chicago just keeps going up, correlated with the transfer of rail from Norfolk Southern to MDOT and the promise of faster and more reliable service. People don't drive to Chicago because they like the sound of their transmission. They drive there because they don't want to spend eight hours watching cornfields roll by at 40 mph.

And certainly there are many metro Detroiters whose loyalty and family ties to the automakers keep them coming back for more.

But do we really love cars just 'cause? Just 'cause they're cool and shiny and go vroom?

Maybe my five year old cousin does. But for most responsible adults that I know, the primary concern is getting where they need to go. We just need to give them a reasonable alternative.

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