Rites of passage – Ceremonies that mark important transitional periods in a person’s life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, having children, and death.
Passing the driver’s test is an American rite of passage. It’s an important step in the life of a youth. It means freedom, and freedom for the parents, who don’t have to drive their child all over the place. It’s a necessity in many towns and cities to own a car and driver’s license to be able to get a job. A job, a car, and a child becomes an adult in our society. Transformation complete.
We quickly become accustomed to the convenience of the car. Any time we need anything, want to go anywhere, vroom vrrrooom.
It’s also an unseen umbilica cord that links us to a car, to gas pumps, to companies like Shell, Exxon, BP, and whatever it is they do to bring our thirsty vehicle a drink.
I had the exceptional experience of cycling my way across 8 countries this past year. If I needed to get there, it was by bicycle. Since returning to the USA mid-April, I’ve been in a car almost every, single day. This is in stark contrast to weeks, sometimes a month that I wouldn’t even step into a car while cycle touring.
Why do Americans drive so much?
For an average American, you and me, cars carry us an average 798,000 miles (1,284,256 kilometers) in our lifetime ( this is according to a study done by the Harvard Health Watch.). Even though the first gasoline engine car was invented by Karl Benz in 1886, a car was a luxury item, unavailable to most. The Model T, invented by Henry Ford in the 1920’s, changed everything for Americans, making cars affordable for the common man.
During that same decade, the 1920’s, a group called National City Lines, made up of several companies — including General Motors, Firestone, Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum — bought up streetcar systems (which run on electricity) around the USA and converted them to bus lines, making auto travel powered by gasoline the only available option.
25 years later, National City Lines was found guilty of conspiracy to monopolize public transit.
By 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act, creating more than 42,500 miles of highway across the nation, while spending less than 1% on public transportation. Soon, the U.S. government would be spending 75% of its transportation funding on building and repairing roads; less than 1% would be dedicated to mass transit for urban locations (source http://auto.howstuffworks.com/cars-dominant-form-transportation.htm)
One-third of all the land in the city of Los Angeles is paved for automobile travel.
So What Now?
After only 90 years since the Model T, it has become nearly impossible not to drive. Our towns, cities, and inter-city infrastructure is set for automobiles.
Vehicles take energy from us. From purchasing a car, to repairing it, paying for insurance, registration, and driver’s license. we have to buy fuel, no matter what the price. We have to buy fuel, no matter what the politics, no matter that we go to war for this resource, that we destroy pieces of our fragile planet.
Is there a way to turn the American tide?
Sure, a bicycle. I made a point of cycling the roundtrip 21 miles while working this summer, at least 3x a week. It was rejuvenating and fun most mornings. Other times, after work, I was so tired, I turned my head down, and pushed the pedals, all the while imagining watermelon juice running down my chin and relaxing on a couch.
I challenged myself to, at the very least, not to even get into a car once a week.
Once a week, a car-free day.
There’s a solution that is growing in popularity and is used in 22 countries, including France, UK, Mexico, India and Russia.
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