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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Cars: Loud, Ugly, Expensive, and Fattening

In a study of 10,500 metropolitan Atlanta residents published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 91 percent of all respondents said that they didn’t walk to any destinations. For every extra 30 minutes people spent in their cars each day, the risk of obesity went up 3 percent. The typical white male living in the suburbs is 10 pounds heavier than his urban counterpart. The study was done by Lawrence Frank, an associate professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

I live on the flip side of this life model. I walk or ride my bike to well over 91% of my destinations. The only brush I have with the horrible congestion that is supposed to exist in the Seattle metropolitan area is when I listen to traffic reports on the radio. When they talk about back-ups on the 5-10 they may as well be talking about Iraq as far as it concerns me.

I was driving out to the Cascades to go hiking last weekend and I needed to get gas. Iraqi SUV juice in Seattle was $2.50 a gallon. I ended up paying $2.38 a gallon at a station in North Bend. It was the most I have ever paid to fill my tank (in the USA), something like $28. I have a fuel efficient car (VW Jetta) and I drive so little that I wouldn’t care if gas went to $10 a gallon. My car is almost exclusively a recreational vehicle; it’s like a boat or a snowmobile or something.

I was out the other night with a friend who doesn’t live downtown. She was driving and picked me up at my apartment. We were going to a restaurant and we needed to park. I told her to pull over at an open spot ahead. She protested that we were still three or four blocks from our destination. I know how bad parking can be and I convinced her to take this spot while the going was good. For people who live in town a 3-4 block walk is nothing.

I was trying to have a phone conversation with my brother as I was walking down First Avenue in Seattle yesterday afternoon. I had to duck into a doorway to escape the constant barrage of noise emitted by the automobiles along the street. I rarely notice just how much noise pollution vehicles add to the urban cityscape. I finally walked down into the Pike Place Market where there are few cars. The noise level decreased dramatically even though there were hundreds more pedestrians than on the street above.

In my final criticism of automobiles I refer once again to the construction project in front of my building (Picture somewhere below). Parking isn’t allowed on the street until construction is finished. The street looks beautiful without the litter of automobiles on both sides of the tree-lined avenue.

We rarely consider the full expense we are paying as a culture for the privilege of using cars as our primary means of transportation.

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