“People Like Their Cars”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase. “People like their cars!” It’s usually followed with a inane trite like “we’re not Europe or Manhattan.”

Actually, now I remember seeing that exact thing in the comment section on a piece for Southerminn.com talking about bringing rail to Northfield:
Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 4.24.50 PM

Sidebar: I really wish people would define HSR at the beginning of their articles, because much like BRT, there are varying definitions.

Anyway, even though VMTs have been dropping for a solid nine years, the argument persists.

I saw this comment and I thought… says who? Was their a national studying done showing that people truly, honestly like their cars better in comparison to mass transit, walking or really anything? Did someone go around and ask? Did I miss it?

I’m baffled by this argument every time someone brings it up. I’m not a psychologist and I don’t study human nature, but I have to believe that we can’t truly gauge the fact that people “like” their cars.

A quick google search will give you a plethora of articles pointing to why we love our cars. There’s a pretty good one from Scientific American and even a click-bait list article from Cracked.com

Growing up in Southern Minnesota, yeah, I loved my car. It got my where I needed to go, when I needed to get there and I didn’t have to share it with anyone. I used to think “wow, it’s amazing that I can get anywhere in town with my car!” Not stopping to think that we could have designed our built environment differently.

Sidebar again: I grew up in New Ulm, MN, a town that is incredibly walkable, so I definitely had it better than others.

The problem, in my completely unprofessional opinion, is perception. Sure a car is awesome…in a city that makes you get everywhere by car… but I can’t help but think that there are so many people across the country that have never experienced anything different and that effects our transportation policy.

Madison Ave

I drive to Madison Ave because I just love my car so darn much!

And policy is the real problem. Because of this love affair (perceived or not) it’s a political gold mine to talk about better roads and bridges thus perpetuating the (again, perceived or not) love affair with the car, which leads to more auto-oriented development, which means more driving, which means more strain on infrastructure, which means it’s a political gold mine to talk about…see where I’m going?

What’s a guy to do? I “like” my car in so much as I bought it for cheap (from my parents). It always starts, gets me from A to B and it has a CD player (big deal for me, never had nothing but a tape deck growing up!). Would I rather have the option to forego it at least ONCE a week? Gosh yes–and I make an earnest effort to do it.

I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think people “love” their cars. I think it’s Stockholm syndrome. There are large swaths of the country that know nothing different, even those that live in moderate to large cities.

But the drop in VMTs, the bump in transit ridership (despite cheap gas) and the record number of people experiencing a different country leads me to believe that this “love” won’t be around forever.

If you’re going to tell me that “people like their cars” at least recognize the fact that there are people who don’t and would ditch it if they could. And please don’t write them off as sub-human or un-American for doing so.

Matthias Leyrer

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.www.keycity.co. Follow him @mjleyrer