Thursday here was a day different than most- I had to commute a long distance.
This post could easily be a complaint or rant about the experience- I went through atrocious construction and traffic, and encountered any number of terrible drivers, people texting, etc., but I'd rather reflect on why so many Americans hold to this way of life when there are so many better models out there.
We live in the city. This is a choice that allows both Joe and I really short commute times and distances. On any given day neither of us drives more than 20 minutes one way- and this is significantly longer now that his job has moved locations. This also gives us public transportation options, and allows us to walk to a variety of local businesses (the gym, coffee shops, a variety of restaurants, CVS, Walgreens, etc. are within a few blocks of our house). Honestly, I can't imagine living in a place where driving is required, and I don't understand why people make the choice to live in such places (I know many low-income people don't have a choice, that is a separate issue). After spending time doing a "normal" American commute yesterday I came home both physically and mentally tired, irritable, and significantly poorer, as I spent so much on gas. The physical and mental exhaustion was what really shocked me.
This is not how people in other countries live. There are amazing public transport systems in Europe and Japan, and we could do this as a nation if we so desired. Yet, for some reason people cling to their cars. A car culture is wasteful, bad for the environment, bad for your health, expensive, and inconvenient. It promotes no sense of community. It makes social mobility increasingly difficult. I had to run an errand in the suburbs yesterday- it was a nightmare. When I had to run errands or do some shopping while living in Japan, it was much easier, more convenient, and more relaxed. People can sleep, text, play games, read a book, stand up, and do all manner of pleasant things while riding a train. There simply is no benefit to the people from a car culture, yet our pervasive give-everything-to-corporations way of governing gives huge benefits to oil companies at the detriment of a true public transportation system. Most of my Japanese and European friends still own a car (one for the family), and use it for family outings to the country, or to haul large items, etc. The difference is that the car is not required or necessary. So, why do we allow ourselves to be martyrs to oil companies, forced into the inconvenience of car-centric communities when we could be living healthier, better lives? Why do Americans convince themselves that they like their cars to much? Surely we are smarter than the car-maker and oil company propaganda. Surely we can see beyond our current predicament to a better way. There is some hope in the generations under age 30, who repeatedly report that they don't care about cars and who are moving back into the urban core at high rates. Hopefully that means that we can look forward to a more urban, convenient future, free of cars and strip malls, and full of trains and walkability.
PS- Kansas City is starting to invest in the future with the current streetcar project, something that I'm very excited about. There is a good deal of outside money fighting the project (!), but I'm hopeful that we can expand the routes, and I know that this will be a great addition to the city.