I was on my bicycle waiting for a red light to change and found myself reading this billboard. I thought the text was a bit lengthy for a roadside advertisement and then realized that was the entire point. Reading it was only possible if you were stuck in gridlock. It read:
These Things Used To Work Pretty Good.
There was a time when roads like these allowed people to cruise around without a care in the world. People sang, and dogs stuck their heads out the window as far as possible, because, wind. Sure things would slow down from time to time. But this… This is different. You’re literally not moving. And it seems like there’s no way out. Or maybe there is, and you just haven’t downloaded it yet.
Riding Is The New Driving. Lyft
The 1950’s elevated freeway behind the billboard was supposed to cure all traffic woes. It didn’t. It just transformed a once vital neighborhood into a place people didn’t want to live anymore. Who wants diesel trucks and rush hour traffic hovering outside your window? Who wants to shop or work on a street with miserable backed up traffic? The city sacrificed a long stretch of its territory in a failed attempt at mobility.
The majority of these cars belong to people who commute in and out of the city from distant suburbs. They won’t be making that long trip each morning and evening on Lyft. It just isn’t cost effective. And if everyone commuted by Lyft what good what that do anyway? We’d just end up with a similar amount of chauffeured traffic. Company sponsored commuter buses are better at getting cars off the road, particularly at rush hour, but the buses are stuck in the same traffic as the cars.
Here’s the same exact street a few blocks away ten minutes later. No traffic. Locals aren’t in cars and aren’t trying to squeeze on to the freeway. We live, work, shop, and go to school in a neighborhood that doesn’t require us to drive. We tend to own cars (as I do) but the car is only one of several transportation options. We drive when we need to. The rest of the time it simply isn’t necessary.
App based ride services like Lyft, Uber, and Flywheel work for short trips within in the city or occasional longer trips to nearby suburbs for special one-off occasions like going to the airport. But they do nothing to ease traffic for daily commuting in suburbia.
I’ve noticed that half the drivers for these services commute into the city to earn money. When I ask why they don’t take paying passengers in the towns they actually live in they shrug. In the suburbs they drive for miles between customers and wait too long between rides. It’s time consuming and inefficient. In the city there’s a continuous feed of short transactions with quick turn-arounds so they work and earn money more profitably.
Land use patterns determine transportation systems. Let the suburbs be the suburbs. Let people drive everywhere. Let them deal with the traffic. Let them figure out how to pay for the endless highway improvements and road widening projects with local money. Let them devote half their land area to parking lots. It’s what they want and what the built environment demands. So be it.
In the city it’s time to let go of the battle to ease traffic congestion. Instead we need to make the streets safe, pleasurable, and profitable for people. It isn’t about eliminating cars. It’s about making other options equally viable.