Autos

The future of cars is electric, but our future is not cars


A guest post by David Slack, who has kindly shared with Greater Auckland this subscriber-only piece from his excellent daily newsletter, More Than a Feilding

Washington DC can be a very dangerous place. My life might have ended there one afternoon if Karren hadn’t been there to save me.

We were walking across The Mall, tourists enjoying the nation’s capital. We reached the kerb and in my usual casual way I looked right but not left and went to step out. Karren lunged, grabbed my shirt, pulled me back in. A swooping bus flashed past, inches from my astonished face.

When visiting the lands where they drive on the right, never forget to look to your left.

What might I have looked like a moment later if Karren hadn’t pulled me back in? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but let’s. Or, rather: let’s look at a piece of advertising that makes the point as bluntly as it possibly can.

Crunch, eh. Just look at those huge vehicles pulverising the hell out of the puny skeletons. Mind your step, skeletons! Ranger coming through!

Many thanks to reader Cam Perkins for putting this on Twitter and giving me just what I was after by way of graphic illustration and argument. What is your city prioritising?asked Cam, with reference to the ad campaign. It’s a bloody good question.

As you come walking down the main road into our quiet seaside village, there is a side street to cross. It lies in just such a way that you could very easily forget to turn to look for a deadly flying vehicle.

Here’s what you see as you’re coming down the hill and reach the corner.

And here’s what could be coming at you, from your right.

You know that momentum you get when you come rolling down a dip and get propelled back up the other side? That’s what you get as you head your vehicle this way towards the rise that takes you up to the maunga and the primary school.

It is a fork less travelled than all the cars bound for the village but a road still much-used and typically at quite some pace. If that’s the side of the fork the car has chosen as you get ready to cross the road, that can spell trouble. They are on a downhill run, they have a mostly clear run ahead.

There’s a pedestrian crossing just up the hill and around the corner a bit and if someone should be crossing it, that will very helpfully slow the momentum of the traffic down. But absent that, those cars can be comin’ round the mountain and barrelling towards you like nobody’s business, upon you all of an instant.

If you’re coming down the hill towards the village, the angle of the crossing is oblique, so you have to look around almost over your shoulder, and as you come to a stop and turn your head it can be genuinely alarming to see how fast a vehicle can suddenly be there on top of you out of nowhere.

One false move by a person on foot and it could be deadly.

Remember I mentioned the school? Little kids come walking, scooting, skipping along here and my blood runs cold thinking about what could happen some wrong fateful morning.

Fortunately there is an AT plan to make this more safe. The full details of of it are here, but the concise version of the design is: bike lanes, raised crossings, raised tables, kerb buildouts, and bright red road markings all aimed at slowing vehicles down.

Unfortunately the plan last saw daylight in 2017.

Once car-having people got wind of it, the fertiliser just completely hit the blade. The irate car-havers got on the phone to councillors and the newspaper and the local Facebook page and demanded to know what the actual fuck the woke traffic nazis had cooked up now I mean look at this thing it might very possibly slow me down ten seconds or even twelve, you can just back way the fuck off, cycle lane Nazis.

And so the time-honoured local kick for touch was made high into the air above Devonport: Referred for Consultation, that place where time and space lose all meaning.  A good plan conceived to protect human beings from having their skeletons pulverised would have to pay due deference to the interests of Audi drivers and Men in Black Utes.

It is altogether to easy to get stuck in a rut of thinking and entirely lose sight of the walls of the rut.

There was a time before everyone had a car, there will be a time again, when they won’t.

Someone put it this way, and it’s very good:

The future of cars is electric, but our future is not cars

That might sound ludicrous, but at the turn of the last century it would have sounded ludicrous to people that inside a decade most of the horses and carts would be gone and motorcars would be in their place.

The way we accept things has a lot to do with the way something new becomes the accepted wisdom: there can be trenchant resistance right up until the crucial pivot is made and then everyone sees it working and declares, how did we ever not do things this way?

We live with so many sacrifices in the name of the car:

  • The death and maiming that we accept as the price we pay for having something so very convenient.
  • All the cost of the land and building and roads given up to accommodate vehicles that can spend 95% of their time sitting immobile
  • All that carbon going up into that atmosphere and cooking the future for our kids.

A fine solution is open to us already: a range of transport options that are accessible, enjoyable, and do none of the harm the cars and utes and SUVs are doing.

What’s holding us back?

We look on aghast, most of us adults – 95% or more according to the vaccination  figures – at the self-styled voices for freedom behaving like thugs, monstering parents and children at vaccination centres. How could someone be so misguided?

But tilt the angle a little and consider how deranged our toxic love affair with the private motor vehicle may look to people a hundred years from now. It might well bowl you over.

–David Slack, More Than a Feilding

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