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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 09-02-07, 01:55 PM   #1
bpohl
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Cars, Humanity, and Community

I've been pondering this for some time now, and it's certainly not an original idea; however, I wanted to put it in writing anyway. It seems that I notice people doing things in their cars that they would not ever do as a pedestrian or a cyclist. I don't know what it is about the feeling of security and anonymity that a 3,000 pound cage affords its occupants, but it's a pretty powerful thing. I've noticed since moving into an urban neighborhood with loads of pedestrians that my neighbors seem so much more human, more real, less like items in a human filing cabinet. And somehow I think this is in direct correlation that we, as a whole, spend much less time "dehumanizing" every single day than most of our counterparts in the suburbs.

I've also noticed this same phenomenon on the bike when someone was done something really stupid in traffic to me, only to get caught at the next red light next to me. Almost invariably these people squirm when I look at them directly, since I'm no longer just an obstacle on their path. I'm now an actual human being who is looking at them face to face... someone's son... a fiance... a father... an actual person.

When this happens, I think of the larger repercussions of auto culture and how it's destroying our communities in a very profound way. As people drive more and more miles every single day, they spend more time seeing other people as simply occupants of an obstacle. It takes the human completely out of the equation, and that idea is very powerful to me, as someone who spends very little time surrounded by obstacles and much more surrounded by, well, people.

Anyway, that was just a thought I had today on the bike. Take it for what it's worth.
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Old 09-02-07, 02:02 PM   #2
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I've seen pedestrians and cyclists act less than human too. Lots of times.
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Old 09-02-07, 02:20 PM   #3
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Car culture also leads to building everything on a gigantic, non human scale. Something's wrong when you have to walk a mile just to cross the street.
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Old 09-02-07, 03:57 PM   #4
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Car culture also leads to building everything on a gigantic, non human scale. Something's wrong when you have to walk a mile just to cross the street.
Or it is a 3/4 mile hike from the store on one side of the shopping complex to the store on the other across a massive asphalt heat sink...we have one "shopping" center that is mostly big box stores. You start at one end and start driving and it is almost 1.5 miles from one end to the other and they are in a big long line

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Old 09-02-07, 04:11 PM   #5
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Almost invariably these people squirm when I look at them directly, since I'm no longer just an obstacle on their path. I'm now an actual human being who is looking at them face to face... someone's son... a fiance... a father... an actual person.
I think you've touched on something quite profound here. You're willing to make eye contact with people in a world in which that is increasingly rare. In some places, pedestrians don't even make eye contact with each other. You are making a connection with these drivers, and in doing so, you are also causing them to make a connection with you.

Do you find see motorists in a different way as a result? Do you see them not just as drivers but as actual human beings who have their own complex lives? Getting to this point, where those of us who use the roads will think of each other as people first and traffic second, can spark positive changes.
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Old 09-02-07, 06:18 PM   #6
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I think you've touched on something quite profound here. You're willing to make eye contact with people in a world in which that is increasingly rare. In some places, pedestrians don't even make eye contact with each other. You are making a connection with these drivers, and in doing so, you are also causing them to make a connection with you.

Do you find see motorists in a different way as a result? Do you see them not just as drivers but as actual human beings who have their own complex lives? Getting to this point, where those of us who use the roads will think of each other as people first and traffic second, can spark positive changes
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I don't know if you've ever lived in a big city, but it's impossible to know everybody as a human in that case. That's why we have not only laws, but also social mores, ettiquette and morality. You can't make eye contact with everybody you meet, or get to know them as your buddy, so follow the laws, treat people as you want to be treated. Whether they're on bike, foot, car or donkeyback.
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Old 09-02-07, 08:13 PM   #7
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You can't make eye contact with everybody you meet, or get to know them as your buddy, so follow the laws, treat people as you want to be treated. Whether they're on bike, foot, car or donkeyback.
I agree, Roody. But somehow we also need to remember that inside every car is a human driver, no matter how much the vehicle may insulate and isolate him or her from the rest of the world. The Golden Rule treating others as we would like to be treated is about how people behave towards each other, not about how we interact with machines.
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Old 09-02-07, 09:31 PM   #8
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bpohl, do you want to write this up as a blog entry? (for http://bikeculturetheory.wordpress.com)?

i have some thoughts on this as well, as well as some interesting sociological lit on the topic to add to it, we could make it a collaborative post. anyhow, yes, the duhaminization of modes of transport as well as many other technologies (that Marshall McLuhan points out become like so many prostheses for human action and agency) fundamentally alter our relations with one another as human beings. the car vs. bike, car vs. pedestrian dynamic is imbued with a whole host of power relationships where the auto functions as a kind of strange, de-facto impetus for sadism.

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Old 09-03-07, 03:09 AM   #9
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I agree, Roody. But somehow we also need to remember that inside every car is a human driver, no matter how much the vehicle may insulate and isolate him or her from the rest of the world. The Golden Rule treating others as we would like to be treated is about how people behave towards each other, not about how we interact with machines.
+ 1! some of the people in the "smacking a car is ok" thread should read your response
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Old 09-03-07, 03:14 AM   #10
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I've been pondering this for some time now, and it's certainly not an original idea; however, I wanted to put it in writing anyway. It seems that I notice people doing things in their cars that they would not ever do as a pedestrian or a cyclist. I don't know what it is about the feeling of security and anonymity that a 3,000 pound cage affords its occupants, but it's a pretty powerful thing. I've noticed since moving into an urban neighborhood with loads of pedestrians that my neighbors seem so much more human, more real, less like items in a human filing cabinet. And somehow I think this is in direct correlation that we, as a whole, spend much less time "dehumanizing" every single day than most of our counterparts in the suburbs.

I've also noticed this same phenomenon on the bike when someone was done something really stupid in traffic to me, only to get caught at the next red light next to me. Almost invariably these people squirm when I look at them directly, since I'm no longer just an obstacle on their path. I'm now an actual human being who is looking at them face to face... someone's son... a fiance... a father... an actual person.

When this happens, I think of the larger repercussions of auto culture and how it's destroying our communities in a very profound way. As people drive more and more miles every single day, they spend more time seeing other people as simply occupants of an obstacle. It takes the human completely out of the equation, and that idea is very powerful to me, as someone who spends very little time surrounded by obstacles and much more surrounded by, well, people.

Anyway, that was just a thought I had today on the bike. Take it for what it's worth.
I think this is a bit unfair. Car culture can be unpleasant for people who aren't in cars, true, and it does really mess up our urban public spaces, but I'm not convinced it dehumanizes the drivers of the cars. Every time a motorist yells, "Get on the sidewalk, a**hole!" I don't feel that I'm interacting with an automaton; I'm reasonably certain that it's a very human jerk behnd the wheel of that SUV. At such times, I don't blame the vehicle, I blame the driver. And let's not even pretend that bicylists are that much more connected to their surroundings than car drivers. I've seen more than my share of fellow cyclists who, when on their bikes, act like the Borg.
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Old 09-03-07, 05:46 AM   #11
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When this happens, I think of the larger repercussions of auto culture and how it's destroying our communities in a very profound way.
It's too late, the damage has already been done.

You can stare down most motorists since we live in a so called dangerous society and fear is everywhere. Road rage is a good example of this fear turned into hate.
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Old 09-03-07, 06:27 AM   #12
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I think this is a bit unfair. Car culture can be unpleasant for people who aren't in cars, true, and it does really mess up our urban public spaces, but I'm not convinced it dehumanizes the drivers of the cars. Every time a motorist yells, "Get on the sidewalk, a**hole!" I don't feel that I'm interacting with an automaton; I'm reasonably certain that it's a very human jerk behnd the wheel of that SUV. At such times, I don't blame the vehicle, I blame the driver. And let's not even pretend that bicylists are that much more connected to their surroundings than car drivers. I've seen more than my share of fellow cyclists who, when on their bikes, act like the Borg.
Maybe...they have proven that some minor mannered people that are normally calm, cool, and collected become raving maniacs behind the wheel of the car. They have also proven that stress levels on many people rise dramatically when placed in a car in rush hour traffic. Jekyll and Hyde syndrome if you will. People commit hit and run accidents all the time as well as near misses. I believe in part they subconscious believe they can get away with it. This in some cases is supported by the police. I have had things thrown at me from cars and trucks, noted the license number, reported it and been told that unless the officer sees the incident there is nothing they can do about it.

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Old 09-03-07, 04:42 PM   #13
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I've had similar thoughts about humanity in the U.S. The less time one spends with others in a public situation the easier it is to not think about the common good. A friend once said to me he wished it was the old days when it was every man for himself. I asked if he ever heard about a barn raising or a bucket brigade or saw a wagon train movie. Now it's get in a cage, go to a cage and come home to a cage with minimum interaction with other people, this makes road rage possible because the victim is not human anymore.
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Old 09-03-07, 05:32 PM   #14
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the larger repercussions of auto culture
I think there's something to this. I was driving home one day with the kid, after taking him across town to buy some shoes he couldn't find closer. It was Saturday, we had no other obligations, our car was dirty, we passed a fund-raising car-wash at a local school, where the price of a car wash would have been lower than at a commercial establishment and faster then me doing it myself. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to stop; I was in too much of a hurry to get home.

I think, personally, that car use has altered my mind a bit. I think that because I am used to using this appliance that allows me to go places fast, after a time I expect that I should go fast, and that after some more time anything that prevents me from going fast (heavy traffic, Sunday drivers) is a bad thing, and that after even more time getting places in the least possible amount of time becomes almost an end in itself.

Of course I can't prove this, but it seems that after five years of regular commuting to work by bicycle I don't think the same way that I did before about things like travel time, appropriate transportation technology, and so on.
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Old 09-03-07, 11:02 PM   #15
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I have had things thrown at me from cars and trucks, noted the license number, reported it and been told that unless the officer sees the incident there is nothing they can do about it.

Aaron
This is a bit off subject, but I just have to note: In Bremerton, WA, recently, some people in a car threw a milkshake at a pedestrian, injured the pedestrian, were tracked down based on the license plate number, and charged with assault. It sounds to me like the police in your area are either stupid or lazy.

Getting back on track: I really don't think it's the cars that make people less human. I encounter hundreds of drivers every day who actually act as though I, on the bike, am a human being who shouldn't be run over. Many of them even go out of their way to be polite, sometimes to an extent that unnecessarily screws up the flow of traffic. It's the media that dehumanizes. Especially reality TV. That stuff makes it seem okay to be a self-absorbed idiot who doesn't actually think about anything serious or give a damn about others.
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Old 09-03-07, 11:22 PM   #16
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Remember the movie "Crocodile Dundee"? When Mic was riding as a passenger in a limousine in New York City on his way to his hotel, he had his window rolled down and was talking to people on the street in a very familiar manner. One guy seemed annoyed that someone he didn't know would talk to him at all. The conversation was so out of place for him. Mic just treated everyone with kindness and respect. I really liked that series of movies.
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Old 09-06-07, 09:32 AM   #17
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Getting back on track: I really don't think it's the cars that make people less human. I encounter hundreds of drivers every day who actually act as though I, on the bike, am a human being who shouldn't be run over. Many of them even go out of their way to be polite, sometimes to an extent that unnecessarily screws up the flow of traffic.
Well... a human being gets in a car, turns on the engine, and the radio, and drives... no, this does not dehumanize. It's the needing that car, and being unable to get anywhere without it; that's what dehumanizes. We have hired our city planners to build a road system that can only be navigated by cars. We have shifted the focus of much of our world from the person to the person in the car, with the result that we're all somewhat dehumanized.
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Old 09-06-07, 09:39 AM   #18
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I agree, Roody. But somehow we also need to remember that inside every car is a human driver, no matter how much the vehicle may insulate and isolate him or her from the rest of the world. The Golden Rule treating others as we would like to be treated is about how people behave towards each other, not about how we interact with machines.
+2

We've built our own problem with the car culture. There was a thread in Commuting about how maybe, we should face reality and should build more freeways to ease congestion on surface streets.

People, all around the world, want to drive. They love their cars. They go into debt for years to buy a car. The sense of freedom, or power, or whatever it is, is unavoidable attractive to the average person.
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Old 09-06-07, 12:11 PM   #19
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I became of aware of this phenomenon years ago. People in cars will treat other people terribly in ways they would never treat people otherwise. I have observed this phenomenon in people that I know well. I amazes me how mean and aggressive people can be, who are normally very kind and gentle.

I'm sure someone will point out that there are many well-behaved drivers out there. I don't deny it.
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Old 09-06-07, 01:55 PM   #20
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it's called "cager-balls"
they're fun to crush on occasion
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Old 09-06-07, 01:58 PM   #21
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it's called "cager-balls"
they're fun to crush on occasion
Agreed...

JAM finally gets a taste of her own medicine
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Old 09-11-07, 08:32 PM   #22
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Cars are nice places to pick your nose. And I've felt bad for the two women I've seen looking deep into thier mouths at stop lights. Oh yeah there was the dude I saw using hair tweezers on his face with tremendous vigor. When I pointed it out to the other folks in the Van, we all started to laugh, the dude heard the boisterous laughter and looked up totally embarassed.

Jokes aside I think that you really are on to something about cars dehumanizing us. Ever wonder why there are so few hitch hikers anymore? When I lived in South Africa a few years back, it was common to simply stop for walkers, without regard for race or social status. I've thought about doing this at bus stops but I did not do it. It would be too wierd. Sad but just by giving strangers a ride, we could save so much as a country. It really makes you wonder how "good" do we have it?
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Old 09-11-07, 08:50 PM   #23
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...Ever wonder why there are so few hitch hikers anymore? When I lived in South Africa a few years back, it was common to simply stop for walkers, without regard for race or social status. I've thought about doing this at bus stops but I did not do it. It would be too wierd. Sad but just by giving strangers a ride, we could save so much as a country...
Here's a historical sidelight. I had an uncle, now deceased, who in the 1940s attended the same rural high school that I went to. He said the principal would issue hitch hiking permits to students if they needed to go into town. Locals who drove by knew to watch for students waiting for a ride in front of the school. I assume that would have been for occasions like job interviews, seeing the Army recruiter, etc.
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Old 09-11-07, 10:37 PM   #24
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I don't know what it is about the feeling of security and anonymity that a 3,000 pound cage affords its occupants, but it's a pretty powerful thing. I've noticed since moving into an urban neighborhood with loads of pedestrians that my neighbors seem so much more human, more real, less like items in a human filing cabinet. And somehow I think this is in direct correlation that we, as a whole, spend much less time "dehumanizing" every single day than most of our counterparts in the suburbs.
I certainly agree with the sense of anonymity cars can create. I was thinking about this a while back. My windows have very dark tint and there are no stickers or dealer badges on my car to make it stand out. It's just as plain as a car can get, and no one can see the driver. It's surreal in a way, to have no individual qualities, besides the little yellow plate on the back with three letters and three numbers to set my apart from dozens of otherwise nearly identical cars of the same make and model. I'm not sure that this makes me any less human, though, as I still percieve things and think in the same manner that I normally do.

I've felt the same anonymity walking down a busy London street, though, while wearing a plain coat and my face hidden by a black umbrella. The thing that sets people apart most from everyone else is a face. Without a face, you're pretty much anonymous, and a car is like a mask in that regard.
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Old 09-12-07, 07:13 AM   #25
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I became of aware of this phenomenon years ago. People in cars will treat other people terribly in ways they would never treat people otherwise. I have observed this phenomenon in people that I know well. I amazes me how mean and aggressive people can be, who are normally very kind and gentle.
I noticed that too. Scary, eh?

I also know some drivers who remain safe and civil on the road, but are really stressed out by driving. I'd be sitting next to them as they're driving, and they'd be displaying good road behaviour in every regard, but muttering curses under their breath about these stupid pedestrians crowding the streets and those bloody cyclists who shouldn't be on the road (they will do a full lane change to pass though) and that jerk who cut them off and the goddam traffic jams. About the only time they're relaxed is when they're driving on some depressing multilane monstrosity where there are no peds or cyclists or traffic jams. To me, driving on such roads feels so much like a videogame, and a BORING one at that. I'd much rather play the exciting videogame called "dodging traffic and streetcar tracks on your bike in downtown Toronto".
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