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carmatrix.jpgCycling to podcasts presents a great space for deep reflection. I especially love to hear discussion around ideas with which I have personally staked a claim. That’s what happened while I was out riding yesterday to my favourite podcast, Late Night Live with Phillip Adams. The story concerned the campaign of an engineer, Steven Burgess, who has been given the task of reviewing the design codes for streets in the Australian state of Queensland. Steven Burgess’s main angle is the degree to which the car has enthroned itself at the centre of all community, urban and related infrastructure design. Mr Burgess believes we have become so enthralled by the car that our suburbs and houses are designed around it, to the point where we cannot survive without it. He said people don’t move about the streets except in cars and kids are no longer safe because the streets have become a dangerous place.

While I have not been shy to mention my concerns about our car-blighted society in this humble blog, it’s so nice to see that someone else saying roughly the same thing seems to have the ear of a government organisation. That means that such things are at least on someone’s officially privileged planning table. Let’s hope that Steven Burgess’s thoughts can push the start button on some meaningful change; rather than just inspire yet more mutterings of officially endorsed agreement and an intent to agree to agree to yet more meetings to endorse sentiments such as these…(which all usually results in the line painting of yet more pointless cycling lanes).

What’s flagged here is the sheer monumental con that has enthralled our civilisation to its very core. Like some kind of symbiotic, yet malignant bacterial implant, cars really have taken hold of our civilisation to a degree that is truly breathtaking to behold. Absolutely everything to do with the buildings we build, the places we design and the communities we construct are contexted by our apparent need for the car.

Take the family home. As the biggest single investment most people ever make, building or buying a home is an important event. You’d think that all the angles of a purchase such as this would be pretty well considered. So why, then, do most people give up around 30% of the space they call their home to house their car?! As I ride my bike around our local urban places, I keep on noticing all the double and sometimes triple garages people insist on building to dominate their homes. The space left over once their cars are housed becomes little less than a lean-to to the alterpice given over to their cars. The homes we give our cars seem to aspire to the meaning we otherwise provide to town squares or the village church of our local urban landscapes.

Speaking of which, what were once town squares and other central meeting places are now parking spaces for cars. The car dominates here as well. We are so careful to accommodate these things that there’s usually precious little space left over for people to gather. And if they do gather, it’s usually off to the side of that core ground now given over to park their cars. Social mingling is now constrained by both the fumes cars gas through our public places and by the timing of the parking metres that celebrate the occupation we sycophants have provided to this fume belching occupier of our space, lives and regard.

I recall breathtaking walks through the ancient city of Segovia in Spain. A truly wonderful place of cobbled paths and hand made buildings with monumental stories to tell. Until, that is, some goon in a car decides to push through over laneways designed for feet, or horse drawn carts. The astonishing clash, or cultural assault, of a car proceeding through precincts such as these is an indicator and a monument to the stupidity that has taken hold of our species. This virtually universal adulation of the car must now be regarded as a generic plague.

Consider the hold cars now have over the activities with which we engage and the possibilities for community enterprise of any kind. Kids can no longer play in the streets outside their homes lest they become more at one with the road than most parents would desire. Walking is a dangerous enterprise as cars swerve around our paths, elbow us out for room and generally assert the ascendency of machines over the people who gave them birth. Cars spark rage; shrill screams of abuse and outrage are vomited from one car armoured territory to the next. The space inside our cars is ours. Our mobile territory. We have erected shields of steel and glass to make our claims clear. When once our turfs were rooted to a simple hill or a home base bog, now we carry our spaces around to more emphatically challenge the spaces others would claim. Hence the escalation of rage; road rage spite and unending warfare on any and all who dare to cross the space our cars proclaim. Be they other cars, people on foot or, most rageworthy of all, incomprehensible cyclists!

Consider the simple task of commerce. When once we might have walked a kimometre or less to the local shop or school, now we sally forth in our chariots of spite. Disconnected, territorially defensive and offensive all at the same time. Cars disconnect us from all those spaces outside our homes. We bypass local places to visit car accommodating hubs instead. The local shop is all but dead. Schools are now circled by the warfare of parent pickups and dropoffs. Nowhere is safe anymore. The car has won. We have lost. We are now the batteries that power the machinery of a higher order; the cult of the car.

So it was that the recent fuel crisis inspired so much hope. We cyclists dared to maintain our thrill that one day, soon, all this insanity might go away.

I saw a vision of the human race a million years from now. I saw the ultimate marriage of car and man. Man bloated out to occupy all the space within; now incapable of leaving the car that is now biologically connected to an anatomy that once could walk, ride and swim. Now no more. The car had won the ultimate cause; to convert people to the role of fuel; of emphatic and perpetual subservience. I saw these man-cars endlessly circling in a toxic black fog of car composite friendly nutrient baths. Baths fed by the contributions of people as their anatomy grew past the spaces defined by cars for their growth. By cars now intent on harvesting these fleshy once-human protuberances like the one time mowing of lawns. When once an elbow might have ridden out the window of a car, now it had become food to fuel future vehicular progress.

But there is an escape from this matrix world of insanity. It’s called the bicycle. The ever faithful, efficient, effective, magnificent machine that waits and waits to serve a master that seems to have forgotten this splendid monument to human ingenuity and the artistry of inspired design. The answer is right there for us all. A cycling symbiosis sounds like a vastly nicer place to be, it seems to me.

One Response to “A Serious Addiction to Cars”
  1. Tim Reynolds says:

    Nice post. Thank you for the info. Keep it up.

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