To begin with, if you driving a car in urban area, you are contributing to traffic congestion. Cars are highly inefficient, they occupy uneven space per person. Think of how many people can be packed in a bus in a rush hour? Twenty? Thirty? What if each of them had four-five meters long metal box? Add to this two meters of gaps between the cars. Why they are taking all that space? Cars don’t accelerate immediately, rather there is a delay spreading in a chain from car to car. Even worse in road junctions – time to change roads comes in fixed time turns. After four minutes it can be either forty people changing their street to continue their journey, or a single one. Why their time is more valuable? We all pay for that nice expensive road you are using as your own to place your personal, more comfortable, space on a wheels, it is only fair if you pay for it appropriately, and not to oligarchs of car-making monopolies, but to people right in front of you, sitting in a bus or an ambulance, whom you delay.
It is weird how not-weird cars are. Did you notice that all cars looks the same? How many cars have you seen with two lights on the sides and one in the middle? How many have the whole horizontal space with lights? How many lights have triangle shape? Why do you always see lightbulbs inside? It does not matter the size, price or type of a vehicle. They all look like some kind of animals. That design is intentional – if people see something big alien moving fast towards them, they will freak out. Did you notice that most of the cars have their windows tinted? You can’t see a person behind a wheel, this completes the image of the car in your mind as a single entity. The cultural footprint of this phenomena is so strong that it is not weird at all for adults and kids alike to enjoy countless movies about cars getting their own will or obtaining humanoid forms. Just look at what advertisers anchor cars with: bulls, horses, jaguars. In reality though, there is always some adult sitting inside, trying to relax from not hitting anybody in search of parking, all while being totally lost from the fact that he is inside of an overpriced metal box that looks like some futuristic tiger.
Now, putting these pricey fetishes aside, let’s consider one important implication – once you behind a tinted window, you feel separated from what is going on outside. After all, nobody can see or hear you. You are becoming anonymous, and, as with any anonymous environment, people becoming the worst of themselves. You can be as big of a jerk as you like when nobody can see you or hold you accountable. This becomes a problem. Think about a pedestrian crossing: these are protected by law designated areas for pedestrians to have priority of crossing the road. They are designed for convenience and safety of walking people. Now, imagine you are crossing the street but all of a sudden there is a huge metal box – in shape of futuristic tiger – rushing at you at 30+ km per hour; flashing bright light; loudly honk. If it hits you, you get damaged pretty badly, maybe even permanently. Your future life is at risk. But for person inside though – unlikely, besides prosecution, if somebody finds him. And even then they may get away with minimal penalties, perhaps taking away their driving license, temporarily. Your unconscious knows this too, and after it does the math, you are likely to stop and let the car pass. Now, the driver can clearly see the pedestrian crossing and knows that you should come first, yet he can just speed-up and get away with it. Nobody can honk back. Nobody will see your face or take a photo of your driver license. Even if they did, what they gonna do with it? I can only imagine what sick feedback loop it reinforces in a driver’s mind. Personal cars is a risk and accountability transfer machines poisoning city life. So what can you do?
There is one common form of action I see people taking – intentionally ignore drivers; look at the smartphone instead of the road. Don’t do that, it is dangerous and makes you look reckless. For once, whenever you feel safe on pedestrian crossing you can just go first and make car stop. There are many factors that will make it scary for you, but try to reason with logic. Cars do regular inspections and are constructed to stop quickly. Nearby to pedestrian crossings there is always maximum speed limit that is just enough for vehicle to stop, unless they are speeding. In most countries, pedestrians have priority protected by law. As long as they are a bit far and can see you – go. And while passing by, make sure to look at the driver, not the front of the car, to place where driver sits – “I see you what you did here”. For evolutionary reasons, human perception got very sensitive to anything that looks at you. However brief, even one-way eye contact breaks sense of anonymity and wakes up the conscious. One word of caution, watch-out cars that are accelerating instead of stopping. There are certain drivers who lost their mind. Try to report them to police. Even simple email can be of use. That person can be just as insane away of driving wheel as while using it. Maybe, one day your report will help investigation to fill the gaps in a more serious case. Of course, all above works if people have respect for the rule of law. If you leave in U.S., maybe you should stay away from the roads. If a person at the wheel is mentally ill or criminal with a gun, meaning they are not afraid of law due to their conditions, then, perhaps, it is wiser to stay away from that car. If that is common in place where you live, then my question for you – what are you still doing there?
But is there a better way to move around? Think about pooling money with other people to buy one big vehicle, so that you can ride with them and utilize public transport infrastructure efficiently. You setup good coverage so that you don’t have to walk too far or wait too long for vehicle to arrive. You appoint dedicated people to drive them all the time, so none of you have to worry about parking on maintenance. Due to high volume you can utilize economy of scale, meaning parts, fuel and associated costs are minimized. Sounds crazy, I know, but hold on, you can also make government to subsidize it and take care of all the operations. One step further, you move roads themselves underground, so that people never have to cross the roads and vehicles have never to wait, even in the rush hour in downtown! And why not making all of them electric by default? I am sure someone in Silicon Valley will re-invent that at some point. The net amount of monetary and time waste that comes with private transport in urban areas is incredible: overpriced vehicles; maintenance of vehicles and infrastructure; fuel. I would not be surprised if only excess of fuel was enough to power extra space program to the Moon or even Mars once a year. However, effectiveness of public transport holds on strong culture of sharing: that people are okay with sharing their space with others, at least for a short-while; that they can be civil and respectful to each other for 40 min; that they feel safe and comfortable in public spaces. Technology is not a bottleneck, it permits good transport for many decades already. You don’t need an AI for that, just a certain level of public trust and manners. This certainly does not hold in U.S., place of the worst public transport to date.
Who is to blame? The U.S. government, who is a corporate sell-out, and public, who can’t find a backbone to fight back. It gives me a bitter feeling to see San Francisco trams used primarily as a museum exhibit in sightseeing tour around this beautiful city. Similar case is in London, where Underground and, to lesser extent, two-deck busses are both museum and transport at the same time. Only example of transport that is working in the Bay Area is CalTrain – old train that goes once an hour (in Asian metropolis that would be once in 10 min) and has single line (not even a network). Sometimes, it is just as packed as trains in famous rush hour in Tokyo in the old days. In the Bay Area pro-car lobbying and trusts killed wide transportation network. If it was build, there would not be a housing crisis. Rather, new urban centers would have emerged and people would be traveling all around the Bay for work and leisure any time. Think of vibrant nightlife of London, but on the hills of San Francisco. It makes one wonder how different Bay Area would look like and what kinds of innovation people would come up here. If you live here today, you live in a strange version of the past, but I wish one day to see this area progress and bloom.