We’re Doing Cars Wrong
Threats of vehicular violence hang over my head like the Sword of Damocles. Currently, I live in a city (Los Angeles) that ranks number two in the nation in car-against-pedestrian accidents and I live in the neighborhood (DTLA) where they most occur. Koreatown used to be the worst (when I lived there). Then I moved and, unfortunately, the statistics moved with me.
As a stubborn pedestrian in a city with a slowly-eroding yet still completely car-bananas culture, this wariness of mechanical monsters is just the gift of fear I reluctantly accept for survival. Now, to be fair, it’s getting better here. There are bike lanes. Two consecutive mayors have been on the forefront of pushing for more Metro track and more space to encourage bicycles. But pedestrians are still low-man on the conveyance totem pole.
And I’m honestly scared of cars. They have all the power. If a walk signal is on and there’s a car that wants to make a left turn to beat the crossing traffic, I stop. Sure, it’s my turn to go but who’s going to lose that battle of chicken? Car wants to speed up to the light? I stop. Car wants to creep into the crosswalk because I hesitated to step off the curb for a split-second? I stop.
Sometimes this ends up with the driver getting mad at me for not continuing. It’s a completely ludicrous complaint on their part. It’s my fault for stutter-stepping when you rev your engine and impatiently encroach my pedestrian bubble? Two-tons of hurtling metal is always going to make me think twice.
I think this begins with the fact that I don’t trust other people to drive. Which is why I don’t drive. Because I could do everything right but I have to put my faith in the fact that other people are also going to do everything right at 70 miles-per-hour so that we don’t all die in a fireball of metal and glass? The same people I stand behind in line who hmm-and-haw for ten minutes while deciding what they want in their short-order salad? The same people who stop dead two feet in front of me to check their phones or look up at a building? The same people who mall-walk their way through life? No. No, I don’t trust these people.
So I walk. And I get honked at while crossing the street (sometimes for laughs, sometimes because they really are that impatient). And I dance that eternal waltz where I’m on the sidewalk but it’s also crossing a driveway so who goes first oh it’s the car because if I decide it’s me and the car doesn’t I’m eating concrete. And I stop on the curb even if the do-not-cross signal only just started to blink because I’m afraid I’m going to get a jaywalking ticket, even though cars are allowed to speed right through a yellow.
You get sensitive to the advantages of cars and the slights of pedestrians when you see which direction the world tilts. The jaywalking tickets are a perfect example of how law enforcement seems more willing to wrangle slow-moving prey than try to tackle the larger, faster, more dangerous creatures. You throw your hands up when you come to yet another construction site that’s absorbed the sidewalk, posting only an unapologetic sign telling you this is where the sidewalk ends. You even start to notice that the exhaust pipes on cars point to the right, shooting their toxic gas exactly where all the walking, breathing people without the protection of sealed walls are standing.
I know that Los Angeles isn’t all as high density as DTLA (so very far from it) but I would be absolutely okay with ban on cars, at least in areas where people can walk around easily. Convert some of those yawning train yards along the river, some floors of the only-a-matter-of-time high rises along Figueroa, and some acreage around the 10 and the 101 into high density robo-parking. You know, the kind where they stack on top of each other and robots pluck the cars out of an intelligent grid. And make everyone that wants to live, work, or play in downtown park there. But once you’re inside that downtown quadrangle, you are on foot, bike, or low-powered/green-powered conveyance. Special privileges for delivery trucks and public transit, maybe for taxis, too. But, otherwise, no more cars.
Okay, so there are some kinks to work out for that plan. Nothing’s perfect. But is that such a horrible dream? Businesses would love it if people moving through downtown had to walk by storefronts instead of whizz past in cars. It might make the air quality less chokably awful so that I don’t feel like I sprinkled asphalt on my oatmeal. And, best of all, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting crushed on the sidewalk by a drunk driver while waiting for a falafel wrap. Guys. Think about the babies.
But, honestly, we need to rethink how we do cars. They provide convenience but they do everything else terribly. They’re super dangerous, terrible pollutants, and they’re hogging up all the space. And all of that is because they’re piloted by simple humans. We are but mortals and we are not perfect. How can we be expected to wield such power effectively? How can we be expected to always do the right thing when the car always gives us the upperhand? It makes no sense.
At the very least, cars need to stop being the crutch for our people-moving infrastructure. Traffic sucks, right? You know what’d stop that? If we invested in transit and it went more places and people used it more. Tired of hearing about horrible, bloody accidents on the highways? Maybe not everyone is a great driver or, at the very least, maybe not everyone should be expected to do the extremely complicated calculations it takes to operate heavy machinery at 80 mph with razor thin margins of error, and we should find a way to make sure there are fewer cars on the road.
So, in conclusion, either get better using your car or get rid of it. Because, in general, you all seem like you’re trying to kill me. And I don’t care for it.