Car-Centric Infrastructure Needs to Go

Abigail Elperin, Staff Writer

Change is needed in America. The environment is crumbling, the economy is in a state of perpetual uneasiness, and many people do not have access to essential resources. It is a dire situation, but it is not unfixable. Many argue that the reallocation of some funds is all that it takes to fix the hole America has dug itself in. Specifically, more investment in deconstructing what is known as “car-centric infrastructure,” or the structuring of cities to accommodate a lot of cars. This can be seen in the expansion of highways, the decreasing of sidewalks and public parks to make space for them, and the intentional defunding of public transit. One of the main advocates for car-centric infrastructure are car lobbyistsJunior Isaak Blackburn says, “Human lives are not prioritized with cities. The American city model is super business oriented.” The tradition of cities being shaped by car companies, and built for cars, is a longstanding tradition in America. Sophomore Andy Fleischman says, “The car started in America. Everything just got developed around the car. Especially in Detroit where the auto industry was so huge, cars just fueled everything and everything was built around it.” In such a deeply capitalistic country as America, those who stand to benefit economically from the purchase of more cars tend to have the most influence in urban development. In an article for Fast Company, Vancouver’s former planning director Brent Toderian says, “For as long as there have been cars, car manufacturers have aggressively been seeking to shape our cities for one primary reason: To design cities where that will help them sell more cars.”  

A shift to more walkable, human-friendly infrastructure would be beneficial to everyone. If roads were smaller, there would be more space for sidewalks and public transit, which would have innumerable benefits. Sophomore Andy Fleischman says, “From fossil fuel usage to economic inequality, all these things that we are trying to stop are engrained into our city design.” Much of America’s carbon dioxide emissions can be traced back to the excessive number of cars on the road. DM Magazine says, “In 2019, more than three-quarters of American workers drove alone to work. The vast majority of their cars burn petrol, each emitting an average of 4.6 tonnes of CO2 per year – equivalent to the total yearly emissions of someone living in France.” One of the most obvious benefits of non-car-centric infrastructure is that it would simply be easier to get around places if everyone did not need to own their own car; traffic would be nonexistent and car accidents would hopefully be greatly reduced. Strong Towns says, “Car fatalities have killed far more Americans than all of our wars combined.” Stepping away from such a dependency on cars would save many lives. In an ideal world, this infrastructure would also allow people to walk around places easier, which would improve general fitness and reduce isolationism as a positive byproduct. Senior Evelynn Starkey says, “A big way to help with depression is walking because it releases endorphins. It would help physical health and aid our problem with obesity. It would benefit us in multiple ways if we could walk places or if there were bike lanes.”  

Despite the overwhelming benefits of walkable, or human-friendly infrastructure, many wonder if it is the most efficient solution to America’s problems. Freshman Ava Datta says, “One of the things we have to consider is the amount of Americans who would switch from cars. It would also take a lot of funding, and it would be hard to get that passed through senate and congress due to the sheer cost. And if American infrastructure is not properly funded, Americans may not properly utilize it, because most would obviously prefer getting in a car with their heating and environment to commute.” With car-centric infrastructure being the norm in America for so many years, legitimate concerns can be raised about a dependency for cars that extends beyond city planning, but into culture. Is car culture one of the tenets of American culture itself? Bike Portland says, “Much of American life is car-centric, that is, centered around the premise that people drive cars. Americans have cars, drive cars, like cars. If you don’t, you are abnormal and ‘counter-cultural.’” Cultural norms have power, but ultimately, the economy rules supreme in America, and as long as a handful of very wealthy people are benefitted by car-centric infrastructure, it is not unreasonable to predict that it will persist. 

So, is there any hope for a future that involves human-friendly cities? Many argue that apathy about political issues, in any capacity, is dangerous. Junior Aiden Giroux says, “If you want better cities, the people in power will never give you what you want voluntarily.” Supporting movements and voting for legislature that will advance a better world is essential to ensuring ourselves and future generations have a healthy upbringing.