Home > Cultural Movement, Public Anecdotes > Car-dependency Is Humorous When It’s Simply A State Of Mind

Car-dependency Is Humorous When It’s Simply A State Of Mind

I drove 105.1 miles last week. That was the extent of my car-dependency experiment–basically, I committed myself to driving everywhere I needed to go; like my neighbors.

105 miles is not many miles by most Michigander standards, but it was about 62 more miles than I arguably needed to drive. Without the challenge, I would have still driven to a meeting in Suttons Bay, to a photo assignment downtown and, on date night, to the movies south of the City limit (my girlfriend isn’t too hip on pedaling out past Meijers in the winter). I’m not an ideologue; in the winter, 43-miles a week is acceptable.

What Was The Point?

I already knew driving was stressful. I already knew it was wasteful and dangerous. By committing myself to a week of car-dependency, I trusted I’d gain some insight into typical driver behavior and its impact on daily life. I’m not certain I accomplished that, however, reminders into my own behavior frequently presented themselves. The following observations may or may not apply to you. You probably have observations to add about your own driving experiences; please, do.

Life is back to normal.

But first, some numbers.

What did the “extra” driving cost me?

According to AAA’s cost per mile numbers, financially it directly cost me around $45.00 (project that out to a year and it adds up quick, around $2,300, slightly more than what I spend on groceries). Now mind you, that’s $45 dollars that is discretionary. I chose to subsidize my motorized mobility.

What did me driving an extra 62 miles cost the rest of you in terms of CO2 emissions and other externalized impacts? I have no idea where to begin or the time to calculate. In my meek defense, I contributed around a whopping $1.24 in taxes related to those 62 miles to help reduce some of those issues. You’re welcome; I’m happy to help.

Personally, I missed out on burning between 3,000-6,000 3,000 calories (+/-) that I would have otherwise shed off the top. I didn’t make it up with running and I didn’t cut back on the brews. I gained a pound and a half.

The intangibles: a list of external and internal observations.

  • Road-rage: it can happen to the best of us. It was a minor case of it, but I’m holding my ground. To the punk in the white civic that weaved in and out of traffic on 8th Street on Wednesday night, you’re still a chump. (I have a bird too buddy!)
  • Navigators: It’s nice to have company. I gave several rides to friends, sometimes whether they needed it or not. “Come on, consider it quality time.Get in the car.” I noticed that most people are a little suspicious of cars pulling up next to them.
  • Pet-peeve #1: I reaffirmed a pet-peeve of mine: getting in and out of cars. Hate it. Double hate it in the winter.
  • Pet-peeve #2: stop signs and red lights are some of the most frustrating experiences. I lost count, but it was close to an hour spent waiting at red lights. Note: I spend far less time at red lights on a bicycle not because I run them, I just tend to avoid them.
  • Games:
    • Avoiding stop signs in Central Neighborhood, while not exceeding 20-mph, is fun.
    • Playing the 7th St. vs. 11th St. crossing Division lottery — not so fun.
    • Finding the right speed to avoid red lights can be fun, but is mainly annoying. (Note to self: ask the traffic engineer why it is that if I go the speed limit (25-mph) from Boardman Ave. to Woodmere along 8th St that I’m guaranteed a red at Woodmere. If you go any slower than 28, you will get a red. Dumb.
  • Driving Induces Driving: Or rather,  Driving + convenient/prioritized infrastructure = induced driving. There were several trips undertook simply because I was already out with the car. The culmination was having to drive 2-blocks to Round’s– It was just too shameful, so I created a few more errands around town. None of them necessary.
  • Shoveling: On days when I was time-crunched (another observation) I noticed that I rationalized shoveling the back-walk and driveway before the front sidewalk. In fact, noticing I was late, I further rationalized that I would, indeed, simply shovel the front when I returned. In that instant, I realized how easy it is for a city of alleyways & garages to always be behind in clearing its sidewalks. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Time: I didn’t seem to gain any by driving. For the trips where I wouldn’t have driven anyway, the riding would have been just as quick or provided more flexibility. With the car, I seemed to always be cutting things too close and was actually abnormally late to a few appointments. Of course, I shaved some commute time by not walking, but that’s not really the point of walking.
  • Anxiety/Stress: Life out of the car is simply better. There are no wasted trips, because it is all beneficial. It is more liberating to be under one’s own power.
  • Reflection: I’m fortunate. I’m open to and able to maintain a life mostly at my own pace. Car-dependency is almost humorous when it is simply a state of mind. I was fortunate to be able to see the end of the week, many people don’t, or feel that they don’t, have a choice.

I trust that this will be the last of my car-dependency. I have a 2011 pledge to shoot for that involves more transit (that Suttons Bay trip would have been perfect), even less driving, more walking, cycling and re-evaluating  what I need and where I really need to go.

Car obsession is not something I’ve ever really been attracted to, however, this experiment has me thinking about my relationship with cars; we all have one.

Next week: my history of being in and out of car-ownership.


Your Comments Matter

Comments: we welcome your comments, please don’t be shy. The more questions, perspectives and general participation we have here the better. What’s on your mind?

  1. Max
    September 7, 2011 at 10:21 am

    We share the same pet-peeves 😉

    How would you feel about not driving if the privilege and choice to drive those 43 miles a week were completely removed?

    I challenge you to join me in my current experiment of not driving any motor vehicle at all for 1 year, with the mindset that you have no choice because you don’t have and can’t get a driver license. I won’t even ask you to add in disabilities that can, at times, make it difficult or impossible to walk, bike, lift and carry things.

    I’m only 1 week into this experiment and it’s proving to be highly difficult. I still hate driving, but the psychology of transportation changes when you don’t have the privilege and choice to use a car. It’s tiring, frustrating and hard to stay positive trying to re-arrange your thinking on how you are going to move yourself, your family and the things you need.

    I guess maybe my experiment and yours are really not that different at the core. They both revolve around the fact that our car-culture is ultimately making our society more stressful and less accessible for everyone. I think some people are bearing a much greater burden for that than others, though.

    Thanks again, Gary, for helping to broaden my perspective on transportation. I appreciate all your thought experiments and facilitation of discussion.

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