Friday, February 29, 2008

Ray Bradbury's "The Pedestrian"

Life, as forecast by art. Almost 20 years ago, a friend and editor and I deliberately chose to make our way, via public transportation, to an anti-sprawl conference set in the remote western suburbs of Chicago. (We made it; no one else even tried.) In a slightly more serious and more recent vein, Arnold Tukker of Delft in the Netherlands, writes in the fall issue of the e-journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy:
As a cosmopolitan European, I am stunned every time I visit the United States and witness the extent to which primary transportation is organized around the automobile and the airplane. ...Indeed, the small minority of Americans that forsakes automobile ownership carries a heavy stigma.

A few years ago, I had occasion to cross the border between Windsor (Ontario) and Detroit. The customs agents were astonished that a well-dressed man, claiming to be a scientist en route to a conference in nearby Ann Arbor, wanted to walk with a luggage cart into the United States. It jarred their mental picture, and they cross-examined me with disdain for over half an hour before finally letting me proceed. "He’s clean!” the customs agents told the border officer, a sure expression of my suspected criminal status—or worse.


Tim said...

As a "cosmopolitan European," Mr. Tukker might do well to learn a bit of the history of development here in the Colonies.

A small amount of study would reveal to him that many of the population centers in the US sprang up (or grew substantially) during the age of the automobile. They were designed with that mode of transport in mind.

Conversely, much of Europe's population density patterns were already set when the automobile began to come into common use. This explains Europe's penchant for decent public transportation, as well as the number of streets that are nearly impassable for autos.

Harold said...

Sure, and Americans could learn to tolerate other modes of transport!

More to the point, history ain't destiny. New conditions may push us in the direction of de-emphasizing the automobile when possible.

Mr Downtown said...

One of my railfan friends had pretty much the same experience when he rode a Swiss interurban to the end of the line and appeared at the French border on foot. Sometimes an unusual occurrence is just an unusual occurrence, rather than a metaphor for an entire society.

Paul Botts said...

It's also worth pointing out that automobile ownership in Europe is currently zooming upward at precisely the rate of increase which occurred in this country a quarter-century ago, and that Europe's largest metro areas are actually no denser overall than are those of the United States.

JB Powers said...

I was involved with a committee in Evanston, that went to Montpellier France to evaluate and benchmark mass transit systems.

After investigating a while, I noted that the City of Montpellier had come to Chicago/Evanston to benchmark, and in fact copied, the El vs. the transit system they were developed, in 1947 or so. The Montpellier system was pretty good, by the way.

Perhaps the US/Chicago system was not so bad, till the CTA, Conrail, Amtrak, started frigging with the rigging.