Cars Feel Like the Future

For you, what’s the most obvious sign that time is passing and has passed? Like when you look around at the average scene in your everyday environment, and you’re able to determine that it’s not the same as five years ago, or a decade ago, or twenty years ago? With one notable exception, I’d have to say that for me, it’s gotta be cars. Cars!

I do not have a car. I also, unfortunately, do not have an extensive personal memory of my own everyday landscape–I was a military kid and moved every few years before getting to the University of Minnesota. I’ve been in Loring Park for a little over three years, which is the longest I’ve ever been in one ZIP code. Many people have somewhat similar experiences, at least starting after high school. Anywho, never leaving Minneapolis.

Looking around while moseying down city streets, you see changes, but a lot of continuity and history. Most of the brick apartment buildings in my neighborhood are a bit under 100 years old, though some are older and some are younger. Some are gone now, turned into parking lots (see below). Friends in South Minneapolis live on tree-lined streets that, other than the trees being taller, haven’t changed in 50 years. There have been great changes in some specific areas like along the Midtown Greenway and in the Mill District, but in general, if you were to pick a Minneapolis or St. Paul streetscape at random, the scene probably hasn’t changed much in a few generations. Due to various market forces, the skyline hasn’t even changed much in a decade, and the Capella Tower, the most recent of the big three skyscrapers in Downtown Minneapolis, broke ground before I was born. Out in the burbs, where most people live, many tract houses and strip malls are intentionally built to look ye olde, with varied success.

Notably, we do not yet have jetpacks and robot butlers and most notably, I’m not writing this from a colony on Mars. My grandma, who is fantastic and lives on Long Island, has complained about how disappointing the future has turned out to be: “Where are the video phones? We were supposed to have video phones.”

Cars though, there are new cars on the road every year, and there don’t seem to be too many that stay on the road for longer than a decade. And lately, they’re starting to look like spaceships!

A 2011 Honda Odyssey (Source: Honda.com)

A 2011 Honda Odyssey (Source: Honda.com)

Look at that! I somehow remember the first time I saw that model Honda Odyssey–I was walking along Como Avenue near 15th Avenue Southeast north of Dinkytown. Looks like a spaceship.

2014 Jeep Cherokee (Source: Jeep.com)

2014 Jeep Cherokee (Source: Jeep.com)

Saw one of these on Monday in Downtown Minneapolis, and it also looks like a spaceship. That hue of blue is, I assume, spaceship blue.

Cars now have all kinds of crazy B.S., including, somehow, legally, literally, wi-fi. You’ve got your navigation systems, the ability to sync with phones, rear view cameras, TVs to keep your kids from seeing where they live, and, I guess, a whole set up in the new Infiniti Q50 for people who actually don’t want to drive. The commercial for that is insane. The distinct lack of people pointing out the insanity of that commercial is alarming. Fully self-driving cars are a hot topic on streets.mn and elsewhere, and are probably just over the horizon, jumping rope with fusion power.

There are new buses with newly padded seats, though they don’t have as much crazy crap as your average 2014 Ford Explorer. Some Northstar trains have wi-fi, but more than ten years after the opening of the Blue Line, we still do not have NexTrip at light rail stations. The message “Please Check Schedules” runs on a loop. The word on the street last year is that we’d get station NexTrip information this year. Anecdotally, there have been issues with station announcements and such things along the Green Line. One thing I’ve seen is the announcement for, say, Nicollet Mall Station, followed by the train hitting a red light at Marquette, and people trying to open the doors of the light rail vehicle when we’re not actually at a station. The other day, I saw a picture of the display on an eastbound Green Line train reading “Target Field”. But it’s not all bad. Metro Transit has released lots of data to developers who have in turn made lots of useful things. Also, the Siemens S70s we ordered for the Green Line look a little snazzier than the ten year old Bombardier Flexity Swifts we ordered for the Blue Line.

It is weird, though, that the rims on the Subaru Crosstrek seem like the clearest visible sign that it is, in fact, 2014. We’ve got lots of brand new, shiny, spaceship-looking cars, driven on potholed roads to cartoon-ey looking strip malls, past desolate-looking parking facilities and, of course, crush loaded buses. Other than maybe Frank Lloyd Wright, I can’t think of too many people who envisioned a happy, healthy future society that arranges itself in its environment the way we do now. Are we forever stuck with sad cul-de-sacs?

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12 Responses to Cars Feel Like the Future

  1. Dave DuJour September 17, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Tell your grandmother we have video phones: Apple Facetime and Google Hangouts. I make video calls on a regular basis from both my cell phone & my computer.

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino September 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

      I have told her! You tell her!

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke September 17, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    Having wi-fi in a car should be illegal. Hell, it should be illegal to talk on a phone while driving, hands-free or no. (The science is pretty solid on this one.)

    • Adam Froehlig
      Adam Froehlig September 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      Talking on a phone is classified as a distraction, much like having a drink of water or even talking to a passenger are distractions. What are we going to do next, ban talking in a car?

      I understand the concern, but I think a better idea than a ban would be twofold: 1) more rigorous driver training, licensing, and re-licensing; 2) stiffer penalties for drivers who cause crashes while driving distracted. As we’ve seen with 50+ years of combating drunk driving, trying to enforce a ban just doesn’t cut it.

      • Nick Magrino
        Nick Magrino September 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

        I’ve got a data request out to the Department of Public Safety for some numbers right now, and a post about licenses is on the way.

  3. Phil September 17, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    New cars look really mean and angry too.

    • Keith September 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

      That’s so everything else will stay out of its way.

  4. Tony Hunt
    Tony Hunt September 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    I love Frank Lloyd Wright in a big way but his vision for towns seem awful suburban. Wonder how to rethink his creative work for density.

    • TG September 21, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

      When looking at the body of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, it’s clear that he wasn’t a fan of density. Most of his structures enhance the beautiful environment around them in an artistic way. Trying to “improve” his ideas to cram more people in would no longer make them his ideas.

      • Tony Hunt
        Tony Hunt September 21, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

        It would take a revisionist rendering to be sure, but that wouldn’t erase the intellectual debt.

        • Timmy Poven September 23, 2014 at 12:18 am #

          You cannot eat your cake and have it too. I’m not convinced mixing higher densities with Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas are even possible. It is called the PRAIRIE School of Architecture …

          …prairies are known for their complete lack of density…

  5. Minneapolisite September 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    I saw a car parked on…Nicollet…in Whittier (I think?). Had bloody shark teeth painted on the front bumper. Ahh, car culture: a culture of death and destruction. Forget about banning things: people will still text in cars.

    We need a city-wide 20 MPH speed limit and speed humps, bump-out, and chicanes, everywhere. Knowing your audience (American) is key and in this context the only thing that slows down cars are objects that will physically harm them if they don’t slow down and drive carefully.

    I find it so funny that the burbs know how to do this and the city only manages it on Nicollet Mall. I’m sure Rosedale Mall is only one example that put our urban streets to shame. The “urban” sections lined with cafes and pedestrians walking is a narrow two lane street with multiple crosswalks along each “block” and guess what? Motorists here, the same ones not paying attention to pedestrians on their way there from County Rd B or C and honking at cyclists are the same ones who drive way slower than 20 MPH, yield to pedestrians and never honk at me when I’m on my bike here (unlike the aforementioned suburban arterials).

    And guess what? Have people deserted Rosedale Mall because they have to drive “too slowly”, even slow for cyclists (hello, me again) on these streets and have to pay attention and put down their phones (which they do)? Hennepin, Lyndale, et al should look like this, but instead we have suburban speeds, less pedestrian access via mid-block crosswalks, wider lanes, more lanes, traffic calming features,and it’s the suburban malls which have urban speeds “mid-block” crosswalks, narrowed streets,less lanes, and traffic calming features to force motorists to pay attention (curving streets in the case of Rosedale Mall). No matter what cars look like, urban streets will never look appealing for pedestrians and cyclists if pictures of them are always full of speeding cars.

    Until our urban streets can match the faux-urban “streets” of malls in suburbia, which actually are much more pleasant and safe for pedestrians and cyclists and so painfully ironic is the case, then yes, more cul-de-sacs will prevail because the suburbs are beating us at our own game.

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