After the first highways were built, the idea of being able to walk to place to place became forgotten. Infrastructure matched the new roads, building superstores with large parking lots bigger than football fields. American families reflect the need for cars in their ownership, as we see families owning more cars now than ever. Looking at data from the past 60 years, Jean-Paul Rodrigue, author of The Geography of Transport Systems, found single-car household switched from being the majority to the minority, as 59% of households owning two or more cars. It’s not a surprise that by giving cars this much power, it eventually sacrifices the ability to walk places. However, losing the baseline mode of transportation and putting it in the hands of a product can be risky. The everly increasing unwalkbality of communities combined with the increased cost of car ownership may bring on a mass transportation crisis.
As anyone in New Jersey can tell you, developers often choose to build communities alongside large highway projects as a way to connect them by car. Rather than building communities with built in places of work, they are solely meant to house people, relying on highways for the extra amenities. To achieve this, these communities often utilize large wide streets and large multi-car driveways for their residents. Areas like these are very difficult to traverse without a car due to the massive gaps between buildings, much of which designed to better accommodate cars than their residents. Not only are singular communities built to be dispersed internally, but developments are often separated from other communities, as a result of being planned separately by different developers. The negative effects of using this unplanned development strategy become amplified on a larger scale, as the residential communities in the same region are left isolated from each other, and from their goods and services. As a result, the residents living in these communities become extremely dependant on cars, and can only walk to other houses within their neighborhood (given that their neighborhood has walking space at all.)
Living in areas like these, it is a lot more common for families to have multiple cars, as they are really given no other options for necessities like groceries. On a larger scale, this significantly increases the car activity in the areas highways and neighborhoods. The two choices the government generally provides are keeping it as is, or constructing more lanes to free up traffic. Unbeknownst to the government employees, this approach has proven to be ineffective at decreasing congestion in the long term, and has actually proven to increase commuting times. effectively restarts the cycle, cursing future developments to be constructed even further apart. Road services become the backbone of peoples livelihoods, requiring cars as an entry requirement. But when access to cars are jeopardized, the absence of alternatives really stands out.
At a time like right now, the paywall behind vehicle ownership is getting a stronger hold on our access to transportation. Whether buying new or used, cars are generally running unproportionally higher than they were going back a few years. NPR‘s Camila Domonoske, a writer who focuses on transport and energy, found that used cars are averaging $28,000 on the market, an unprecedented price similar to the cost of a new car a few years ago. New cars follow the same pattern, sitting around $48,000 on average, nearly double the price of a used car. This is due partly to supply chain issues, but can also be attributed to the increased quality and longevity modern cars have garnered in the past 20 years. People often don’t buy new cars as often anymore, and as a result there are less cars on the market. Many people don’t buy new cars until they absolutely need to. Combined with the increased costs of repairs due to better labor wages, car ownership could become a much larger factor in the average cost of living than before. The same NPR article addresses the relationship between repairs and new cars, arguing, “Faced with high repair costs a few years ago, drivers might have looked for a replacement vehicle instead. But now cheap rides are extremely hard to find in the used car market.” The car market has changed so rapidly that the strategy the industry staked itself on no longers works, which over time could spell disaster for it’s customers. Depending on how much the cost of car ownership hikes, it possible that many drivers would be off the road entirely, unable to afford to get back on.
While this issue seems like it could have the positive side effect of getting drivers off the road, ultimately it would uphold highways as a mode of transportation only for those who can afford, limiting the “freedom” that cars aim to guarantee. This foreseeable outcome could lead to a potential transportation crisis in the aforementioned unwalkable communities. To many Americans, car ownership is the sole Jenga brick supporting the tower. As 2018 Pew Research study on American demographic shifts found, rural and suburban communities house 46 million and 175 million Americans respectively, combining to make up ⅔ of the population. Many of these areas lack public transportation and walkability, making them at the mercy of any issues in the car supply chain. People who cannot afford to purchase or fix their vehicles might find themselves losing their jobs, ultimately leaving them stranded without hope of fixing the issue.
While a transportation crisis would certainly be disastrous, the United States is in prime position to implement dramatic change to it’s infrastructure.With the climate crisis constantly looming over the countries head, many lawmakers are opting to stop selling gasoline cars in X amount of years. The subsidies, infrastructure, and political energy necessary to pull off a plan like this could be reallocated to invest in public transport, which could both reduce emissions on a large scale and challenge the inequality in personal transport. In addition to this, it would still follow the same tenants as highway widening, freeing up roads while providing people with an alternative to driving.
Domonoske, C. (2022, November 4). It’s not just buying a car – owning one is getting pricier, too. NPR. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from https://www.npr.org/2022/11/04/1133678811/used-cars-new-prices-price-costs-maintenance-inflation-expensive
Mitchell, T. (2020, May 30). 1. demographic and economic trends in urban, suburban and rural communities. Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/05/22/demographic-and-economic-trends-in-urban-suburban-and-rural-communities/
Rodrigue, J.P. (2020) Percentage of households by number of vehicles, 1960-2020: The Geography of Transport Systems. The Geography of Transport Systems | The spatial organization of transportation and mobility. (2022, November 9). Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://transportgeography.org/contents/chapter8/urban-transport-challenges/household-vehicles-united-states/
Sparre-Enger, H. (2020, May 13). Expanding road capacity in urban areas resulted in urban sprawl, more traffic and more motorists. Nordic Road and Transport Research. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://nordicroads.com/expanding-road-capacity-urban-areas-resulted-urban-sprawl-traffic-motorists/
Hey professor, I switched my argument a little to focus on the relationship between car prices in addition to the cycle of expanding roads. I would like feedback on how readable my essay is, I don’t want to overuse jargony words.
Please move this comment to your Causal Rewrite post, Tristan. All feedback and revisions are conducted there.