The History of Cars in North America

Scientists are fascinated with why our ancestors first stood on two feet. It seems to be a defining moment separating us from the apes. Well that and fire… But regardless of why we decided to repurpose two of our legs to arms instead, movement has always been important to our species. What started on two feet has evolved to include riding other animals, the invention of the wheel and being pulled on carts by animals, all the way up to the modern car.  Movement is still important to this day, whether it is getting to work, for leisure, or walking to the nearest water source. According National Household Survey on Transportation, in 2009 the average US citizen travelled 11.8 miles to get to work and 6.5 miles to go shopping.

The American Dream: A (Brief) History of Cars in the West

Yes, humans have always needed to travel, and in the Western world we mostly do this by car. North America has a long and intimate relationship with the automobile, beginning when Henry Ford implemented the moving assembly line making cars affordable for the average American.  When population began to grow after the Second World War, the availability of cars meant that new homes being built to accommodate the growth could be built further from necessary amenities. Other “western” countries saw this trend as well. England had a “suburban revolution” with 4 million new suburban homes between 1919 and 1939. But unlike European countries, in North America bicycle lanes and sidewalks are not seen as important infrastructure, and these forms of active transportation are also more dangerous, making them far less desirable.

But are cars really desirable today?

The short answer is no. And here is why:

Cars are not equally accessible
  • According to this calculator my car costs $140 a week, check out the cost of your car using this calculator, which is much more than usual transit prices
  • Cars are not an option for vulnerable populations, such as the young, the old and the physically or mentally disabled
Cars cause pollution and contribute to climate change
Cars are not a safe mode of transportation
Cars destroy our personal health
Not to mention the negative side effects of traffic!
  • By 2030, the cost of traffic congestion in the US is estimated to be $186 billion
  • Wasted time, and stress caused by congested morning commutes!

Out with the old and in with the shoe!

The good news is, since the global recession the trend seems to be moving away from cars in the West with rate of commuting by car dropping from 55.2% in 2001 to 54.2% in 2011 in England. In 2011 the rate of urban population growth was greater than suburban growth, for the first time in nearly a hundred years.

You may be getting the impression that I want you to lock up your car and throw away the key!  But I can hardly do that, since I drive to work everyday. I am a half hour drive, which is too far for walking or biking, and I work in a rural location which means public transit is out of the question (though we may be getting a bus soon!). But as the weather gets nicer, I ask you to join me in more conscious travel. And comment below with your sustainable transportation barriers, or brag about your successes!

This April…..Put a Spring in your Step

And the next time you need to go do something, use this handy-dandy chart to help choose your mode of transportation.

Happy Travels!


Transportation Hierarchy

Photo Credit: Sharon Mollerus


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