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Not Just Bikes (ΒΆ)

About four months ago I discovered the youtube channel Not Just Bikes, and immediately watched the whole thing. The experience was revelatory and painful.

NJB has shown me that American urban and road design took a nosedive into the abyss during the postwar period, where the American Dream was to own a house with a yard, drive a car everywhere you go, and, for some reason, have nothing of utility around you. It's very easy to hop around a map of the US and find houses where the nearest grocery store is literally an hour's walk away.

And the parking lots. The parking lots are enormous because everybody's driving. They're so enormous, they push all the actual destinations farther and farther apart from each other, so that walking becomes even more useless and you have to do even more driving. Then the parking lots get bigger.

While visiting several small stores for a few items each is no big deal when on foot, nobody likes starting and parking their car all over the asphalt ocean. So, shopping trips are usually single-destination only, preferring the Walmarts and Targets over small, specialized, personalized, and/or informed grocers and boutiques.

The stroads are wide, straight, and multilaned, so that it's easy for us to go really really fast and crash into buildings, because those are our priorities. All other forms of transit infrastructure are designed first and foremost to avoid disrupting the fragile egos of the motorists:

Because heaven forbid we impose something like a minor pause or slowdown upon the poor motorists inside their cushy, air conditioned, noise-proof boxes, with radio and navigation and heated seats, that require no physical effort to launch at speeds higher than humanity could have dreamed of just two hundred years ago. Don't make them wait at a crossing. Life is already so hard for them.

My favorite quote:

For centuries, cities were designed such that everybody had what they needed within walking distance. Once you got where you were going, you could access everything you needed to on foot. These are the kinds of places Americans go to on vacation.

How Suburban Development Makes American Cities Poorer

He says centuries, but I think he means "since the dawn of civilization". Automobiles are less than 150 years old. You might recognize a number of beautiful, comfortable, enviable cities which are older than that. And you'll never, ever find yourself thinking "living in ancient Rome must have been so difficult without a car!", because it wasn't. The car didn't become a necessity until we intentionally stamped out all of the alternatives.

In America, young people love to say that the DMV needs to be more aggressive with re-testing and revoking drivers licenses from the elderly because they cause more danger in traffic. And while that's true and probably a good idea, it doesn't get implemented because license revocation is a prison sentence and absolutely everyone knows it. In the cities of respectable nations, children and the elderly don't have any problems going to the shop or cafe on their own because it's only five minutes away from their front door. In the States, a car is very much compulsory for all travel unless you live in the densest of areas. Without it, you're stuck.

The phrase that's been in my mind for a while is "too stupid to live". It is something of a wonder that we Americans haven't already extinguished ourselves by forgetting how to breathe or eat. You may have heard that sloths can starve to death on a full stomach because their only source of food is practically indigestible. You'd think they'd try something else.

There is a freeway near me that is currently undergoing expansion, which is proven to induce more demand. Smart people have known this for decades. The millions of dollars being used to put more cars on the road are not being used to improve walkability, bikeability, or reduce the need for driving in the first place by fixing our wack zoning and just allowing a grocery to open on more corners. We are the sloths. We are too stupid to live.

We are hellbent on keeping our heads in the sand. We'd rather challenge ourselves with the invention self-driving cars and the manufacture of unspeakable quantities of batteries for EVs [1] than consider the possibility that maybe spending thousands of hours in traffic isn't an inherent part of life around which all else must bow down.

NJB has made me ashamed to be American. I am ashamed that a country with this much flagrant disregard for sense touts itself as the best nation in the world. I am ashamed that the closest we can get to eco-friendliness is to make our cars run on massive batteries and steer themselves, because simply getting out of the car was never considered an option. I am ashamed that these are my surroundings and that I did not wake up from this Matrix sooner.

I can also recommend City Beautiful. In the meantime, try breaking traffic waves.

[1] I look forward to EVs replacing ICEs, but they are still not as good as just using fewer cars.


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