Our love affair with the car

TrafficRecently a new freeway, the Hunter Expressway (M15), opened in Newcastle. Our local ABC radio station seemed to be obsessed by the advantages for the local community. I didn’t hear any reflections about the role of the car in our society or questioning if increasing car travel augurs well for our environmental future.

Besides reminding me of the saying we used in the Transition Streets Challenge workbook:

Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt

it made me reflect on our relationship with the car.

Last week I had a conversation with a first year uni student. He asked me how I found parking at uni. It seemed he assumed that, as a lecturer, I would drive to work. When I said a walked or caught a bus, he asked, “What do you do when it rains?” It was like walking or catching a bus in the rain was inconceivable. I don’t know how often he has caught public transport, but I suspect there are many young Australian adults who rarely use any form of transport besides a car (or a plane for longer distances). I wonder how many people, once they get their drivers licence and buy (or are given) a car, essentially use no other form of transport?

In my final year of high school (over 30 years ago) only a handful of students drove to school. Now, when I look at my daughter’s high school, it seems driving to school is very common for students old enough to drive (even for people within easy walking distance).

When we moved to our current address, I often did drive to uni. I thought it was too far to walk. It wasn’t until my brother lived with us for a while, and he tried walking to uni, that I considered it as a possibility. It is only a bit over 3.5 kms so it is quite reasonable to walk. It didn’t become a habit for me, however, until I took part in the program where we had to do 10,000 steps every day for three months. By walking to and from work, I was able to do my steps, get some exercise and have a nice transition between work and home. I had become aware of the possibility of walking, but needed something to help it become a habit.

For many people it is simply too convenient to hop into a car to seriously consider any alternatives. I have come to believe that we not only need to make alternative forms of transport more appealing, but we also need to explore ways of making car travel less convenient. We need something that shakes our love affair with the car and encourages us to create new habits.

If you liked this post you might want to subscribe to the blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Encouraging cycling
  2. Richard Denniss and the Curse of Affluenza
  3. Consumption and the Transition movement
  4. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  5. “We didn’t just build a garden, we built a community”

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Social change and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Our love affair with the car

  1. Thanks Loudefrog. It looks interesting, but I don’t have a clear idea of what it will involve.


  2. loudefrog says:

    Hi Graeme. We have started another initiative. May be of interset.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Graeme
    I couldn’t agree more for inner cities. The car is king and reigns supreme on our streets as well as in our imaginations. It’s taken over from the horse as the symbol of personal power and agency but it means that even the thought of walking when we can, no longer occurs to a lot of people. London transport has recently started putting these signs on our pavements https://twitter.com/UKPlay4Change/status/444405350524284928/photo/1; which puts all the emphasis for road safety onto CHILDREN and teens and NOT THE CARS. I find this acceptance of the order of things really worrying. Talking to an Eritrean friend she said ‘why don’t they just slow down – they can see there is a child there and a mother?’ our car mindset has completely dehumanised our thinking! Time for some HUMAN BALANCE, I love this video about how the dutch got their human scale transport infrastructure https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o


  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi Graeme,
    I think this is a great view for (inner) city living but not for rural or remote work…
    If community workers, like myself, didn’t have a love affair with their cars or wasn’t prepared to spend up to 10 hours driving to a rural/remote location, many communities would not benefit from professional development or community workshop opportunities that most people in the city take for granted!
    As you know, I also wouldn’t have been able to work with you for the past decade – I’m fairly sure it’s about a 6-8 hour bike ride from my house to the uni – I don’t know anyone who has walked it yet but I’ll let you know if I hear of someone… :)


    • Hi Dee
      Not denying there are many benefits to the car, but at what stage do we say that we need to take drastic action for the environment and make hard decisions? If petrol was $10/litre we would find alternatives fairly quickly. If we burn all the fossil fuel that is in currently known reserves we have NO chance of staying below 2 degrees warming. Somehow we need to wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuels. Not sure of the best way to do it, but I’m sure it will involve changes in how we use cars (or at the least a change in the types of cars we drive).
      I certainly don’t think all car travel is evil, but I do think we need to rethink our reliance on cars.
      PS – I am certainly glad I’ve had the opportunity of working with you!


      • deebrooks says:

        Hey Graeme,
        That is true! I have been considering my choice of next car – as you know, as soon as I could down size, I did, and that was based on environmental concerns plus the cost of fuel…
        I’m not sure of the best way to do this in remote areas – maybe it’s time to get my Kombi and start traveling road shows with multiple people? We could take bicycles, park at one place and cycle to different venues?
        Maybe not as crazy as it sounds…
        Using my car, or not, certainly informs my decision to work at home, some days, but as we know, there’s social/professional impacts of doing this long term…
        Then there’s air travel – that’s a whole next level can of worms…
        I will continue to ponder…
        Love your work! :D


    • It will be interesting to see what creative responses do come. Hopefully we will make them before it is too late.


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