This might very well be the most controversial on-topic post in Oppo’s entire history. But before you bring out the pitchforks here me out below. Let’s look at what Gizmodo’s trying to say and why we don’t really need cars where they might not best be anyway.
“Two-ton piloted missiles”
Just prior to midnight, when yesterday transitioned to today (12/21/15), an unidentified woman described as being “in her 20s” with a child in the backseat drove onto sections of sidewalk through Las Vegas’ insanely busy “Strip” resulting in dozens seriously injured and at least one death so far. Investigators are still trying to discover a malicious motive or medical/drug-induced impairment as of this writing. The Strip is perhaps one of the most famous pedestrian traffic-heavy conduits in the United States, along with other tourist, recreation and retail mega-destinations as California’s Venice Beach - where on August 3, 2013, a 37-year-old man deliberately drove his vehicle into heavy pedestrian traffic with similar deadly results. Two months ago an intoxicated 25-year-old woman drove her car into crowds celebrating an OSU football game. In 2009 a car was used in a terrorist attack against the Dutch royal family - unlike similar terrorist attacks we’re more accustomed to hearing about in the Middle East, there were no explosives onboard the car to turn it into a ground-borne kamikazie missile. The car itself was the weapon.
Cars by their very nature are deadly weapons. The average midsize to large car weighs in at above 4,000 lbs - over two tons. A car a mere 500 lbs less is considered almost exceptionally light now. A bantam-weight two-seat roadster still clocks in at over 3,000 lbs. This is to say nothing of what’s become the primary staple on roadways, the SUV, where even “subcompact” unibody FWD SUVs weigh in the same as their midsize or larger compact sedan counterparts.
Cars and pedestrians don’t mix. That shouldn’t have to be said. Areas with high pedestrian traffic present a logistical nightmare for both pedestrian and automotive traffic. In order to accommodate the other, both are compromised in efficiency. It turns into an ugly mess that makes it less attractive for either driver or pedestrian to want to visit the destination. This is even when taking generous sidewalks into consideration - pedestrians still need to cross intersections, and road-bridging “skyways” are expensive and often require a localized infrustructural revamp, so they’re rarely bothered with. Pedestrian traffic can swell to where it spills into roadways. And this says nothing about what is illustrated above, deliberate or medically/drug-induced acts of mass vehiclular homicide.
There are just certain areas where cars are obscenely inappropriate. They do not result in faster personal transporation, instead being bogged down by each other and by pedestrian or other forms of non-automotive traffic. They interfere with these other forms of traffic, further bogging down personal and mass transit. They present a danger in these situations, to the drivers and to others. It’s time to ban cars from these areas.
Cars should be banned from the Strip. Cars should be banned from Venice Beach. Instead the roadways should be completely converted to pedestrian traffic, with public transit options to facilitate people to get to these locations. Accommodations should be made for people to not just walk, but make walking an enjoyable experience and part of the recreation activity itself.
In my hometown of Denver there’s an example of how this could happen. 16th Street used to be like any of the other inspirationally-numbered streets in LoDo, or any other city, with sidewaks and flat asphault overcrowded with parking and frustrated shoppers, and quickly turning into a retail dead space. Around the time the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball club moved in to their brand new home of Coors Field, a major revitalization and gentrification effort was put in to match in order to give baseball fans a reason to stay before and after the game. This included a plethora of upscale, high-end bars to have them keep (safely) drinking away from the overpriced beer-slingers of Coors Field itself, public transportation options to safely deliver them home, and blocks and blocks of retail, dining and entertainment space including a full-blown mall known as Denver Pavillions. The centerpiece of this plan was to completely close down 16th Street and turn it into a pedestrian-only conduit - the 16th Street Mall. It’s now the crown jewel of Denver’s Lower Downtown, a gorgeous space surrounded by Denver’s best arcitectural accomplishments including the famous Daniels and Fischer Tower, Republic Plaza (the tallest building in the entire Rocky Mountain region north of Texas and Arizona), Denver Pavillions itself and capped by Denver’s iconic golden-domed capitol building at the southern end of the street and the historic Denver Union Station at its nothern end, revitalized and updated in its original mission to become a public transportation, commuter rail and long-distance rail hub. The sidewalks have been broadened greatly, and the only powered vehicle traffic allowed aside from emergency access, motorized rickshaw taxis and maintenance considerations is a “green” powered bus line that can shuttle weary shoppers or overly enthusiastic and drunk baseball fans either to Union Station or the many outdoor RTD LightRail stations that the 16th Street Mall connects to. The bus line is completely free and does not require tickets or tokens - just hop on as soon as the doors open and hop off when you reach your stop. Even patrolling cops usually do so on foot or on bike, although patrol cruisers are allowed when necessary.
I’ve been through the 16th Street Mall myself many times - up to about two years ago or less, on a near-daily basis. It’s the only part of what I quite frankly consider to be a bland, soul-crushing and soot-strewn city (a city re-engineered in the 50s and 60s when it was thought driving would supplant nearly all other forms of personal transit, including walking) to be worthy of a destination in its own right. To me, it does show that replacing swaths of city into pedestrian-friendly revenue-generating destinations is possible anywhere. The problem isn’t transporting yourself when you get there - your own two feet are adequete for that, and if not there are bus, rickshaw and mobility assistance services available. The problem is transporting yourself to there in the first place - despite the 16th Street Mall’s almost ridiculous abundance of commuter rail stops, these rail lines go to few destinations centered around actual urban or suburban living, and even then these housing districts are only capable of being home to a very fractional percentage of Denver’s population. Most commuter rail passengers’ desintations are “park-and-rides” so they can commute to their commute - nearly defeating the whole purpose. It’s an ugly reminder of Denver’s legacy of poor transit infrustructure and not an outright disregard but almost deliberate malice towards thought of public transportation when it seemed firebreathing V8s were the future of literally everything and the atmosphere too big to smog over and roads too big to overcrowd.
Banning cars doesn’t mean “banning cars”
Personal transportation isn’t just a necessity, it’s an outright basic right, even outlined as such by the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. I don’t agree with Alissa Walker’s statement that humanity will look upon this “100 year blip and shake their heads in shame” - that’s an outright ridiculous statement full of enough hubris to power a Tesla S P85D past a Challenger Hellcat. There will be some form of personal transport, in the form of a vehicle that is designed to carry one or a small number of associated passengers to singular destinations, whether that vehicle looks like our conventional conception of a car all the way up to, even more exciting, personal flying machines of some sort. Whether these machines will be piloted by their occupants or, more likely, by computers. Even if it takes the form of automated ride sharing, vehicular-based transportation will still resemble personal transportation for populations that especially live in the suburbs and rural areas. This means point-to-point on-demand transit from anywhere, to anywhere instead of sharing space with other commuters and the route being dependent on multiple shared destinations along a defined route. It may even mean individual car ownership remain a thing.
But what it also means is that a lot of the routes cars currently travel along within dense urban areas will simply no longer exist. Like Denver’s 16th Street Mall, they will be repurposed into pedestrian-friendly destinations. Cars will likely not even be banned, because they simply cannot go where they physically cannot go in the first place anyway.
This is not a paradigm shift in personal transportation, or where people are allowed to go, or whether or not people can own cars and an Orwellian redefinition of property ownership. It’s a paradigm shift of urban planning and urban engineering and where to lay roads down on a very densly congested and crowded map. In some cases it’s relatively simple - not outright simple per se, but in comparison to the benefits it reaps to its population and guiding consumers to destinations where they would wish to dispose of their money, and even hopefully make that very transit experience an act of recreation itself. Other areas may require a deep rethink of infrastructure - in ultra-sprawled out urban centers like Los Angeles, Denver, and parts of China, deliberately engineered to make the car king of all personal movement, it may involve tearing down everything and starting over.
China very clearly has a transit problem (to the extent of banning cars outright). So does LA, San Francisco and California at large, with BART being the butt of jokes throughout the 80s and 90s. LA has become the Beijing-like poster child of the necessity of smog control in the U.S. It’s a major sticking point in both Who Killed the Electric Car? and Revenge of the Electric Car. Electric cars aren’t totally green, but they do reduce air pollutant emissions significantly. Even coal-fueled power plants powering electric cars result in fewer air pollutants than internal combution engined-cars of the same number as those electric cars; that energy is still produced more efficiently through a consolidated source, and the technology to “scrub” the exhaust of coal plants has grown through leaps and bounds. That says nothing about replacing these coal plants with gas turbines that are leaps and bounds more efficient on top of coal-fed turbines, have already been powering cities for at least half a century, and can be powered from a variety of more eco-friendly sources including waste gas and other material sourced from landfills, farms and sewage treatment plants; or of solar power and other “guilt-free” power generation technologies. None of that will solve the underlying, bigger problem - it just means commuters will actually have clean air to breathe in as they’re still stuck in their cars on the I-405 parking lot.
To solve this issue, we can’t rethink the car, we need to rethink the city those cars drive in. This means building up.
Building high-density, livable highrises consolidates land - that alone relieves major sections of transportation infrustructure. More importantly, these buildings can be planned and laid out intelligently to facilitate short commutes from life-to-work and back so that the average urban dweller needs only to spend 20 minutes or less one-way walking, within the comfort of fully enclosed skyways that bridge one highrise to the other, along a network of such routes that connect an urban hub with itself mirroring the street pattern below. To ensure that urban dwellers actually are able to live near where they work, cities should consider ways to incentivize companies to headquarter within these highrises as well and either prioritize hiring from the local work pool or provide assistance for employees to co-relocate.
Open balconies and promenades can provide “hanging gardens” and other beautification opportunities to bring more of the open suburban experience to these dense urban centers. I’m sure the Biblical references aren’t going to be lost on readers, but people should also be reminded that God has yet to strike down Burj Khalifa. Parks and open spaces can also be placed directly on top of highrises.
And now for the unfortunate implications
Like it or not, cars and personal ownership may simply become unavoidably obsolete. Given how irresponsibly we’ve proven ourselves to be in guiding two-ton missiles verses the precision of a computer mind, self-driving cars may one day become highly restricted or even outright criminalized - in effect, grouping self-driving, personalized cars in the same category as deadly firearms. I’ve detailed as much a while ago, back when GM was still hot under fire with their badly engineered ignition systems.
I’m not going to debate the merits or responsibility of either car or gun ownership, but I will at least ask for your consideration the possibility of greater freedom the future may bring for personal car owners. If the government can be convinced of the hobby merits of personal car ownership, it means virtually unrestricted road use for those “hobbyists” (within conventional traffic laws, of course) along byways and interstates now largely emptied. Amateur race events such as track days will likely not become effected either.
Regardless, there will be ways for Jalops to express their hobbies, through organized racing events or other activites. Or, perhaps, time to shift focus and pick up a new hobby - like exercising, or activities that actually better oneself, rather than be merely an outword expression of oneself. Greg Howard did not do himself any favors by suggesting that gun hobbyists might best simply find a new hobby, but it may be an unavoidable future for car hobbyists too.