In 2013 Is the Car Still Part of the American Dream?

Charlie Parke May 27, 2013 1
In 2013 Is the Car Still Part of the American Dream?

By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press |

Urban sprawl seems unending as roads and parking lots stretch further. The Phoenix metro area is a prime example, with daily commutes to work or school within the city often requiring an hour per day.  Traffic jams, accidents and construction commonly add further delays. With the light rail and increased bike lanes it seems more people are attempting to use less of or completely giving up using their car. Is a bike and mass transit the wave of the future for Arizona?

Since WWII Phoenix’s population has exploded in all directions. The Phoenix-Casa Grande-Tucson corridor promises to be a hot spot for expansion in the decades to come.  Continuing expansion using our current city planning paradigm will only accelerate and magnify the problems we are currently facing.



Let’s not forget that having a car is empowering and, like the road, is associated closely with freedom. American culture features car races, car chases, car gadgets, and car trips. Car stories are a common entertainment like the following about President Lydon B. Johnson, “The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back, was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The President shouted, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!” The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled and I realized we were in a Amphicar. The President laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” –Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

For all of the joy tied to owning a car, commute times are increasing along with suburban sprawl. A cycle has formed where you needed a car because the distance wasn’t walkable, but now it is common to hear people complain about places being too far to drive to. Perhaps one answer to the future comes from a new group called Ecocity Phoenix.  Organizer Brad Clark says he loves cities like Phoenix. “Cities are mankind’s largest creation by far. They have allowed for immense progress in all aspects of civilization because it allowed humans to come together and share ideas, resources, culture, etc.” However, Brad also sees a growing number of problems for Phoenix resulting in a need to “redesign our cities for humans, not cars. We need three dimensional, diverse, walkable cities that embrace each regions’ climate and culture.” The Ecocity view of future development suggests an urban sprawl diet for a future where local means bringing home jobs and services closer together to reduce fuel use, pollution and commute time. “It’s time we recognize the city for what it really is, an organism. A living breathing organism with many cells and organs working together for the benefit of the whole. Our current cities are unhealthy. Spread out, inaccesible, dirty… We need a new plan, a new way of designing cities that are walkable and accessible to all, not just people with cars.” Brad says.

In order to create a plan, we first need a map. An Ecocity zoning map shows us how and where to build. It re-writes zoning laws to promote more sustainable cities by building around centers and rolling back sprawl. Ecocity Phoenix aims to create the first Ecocity zoning map of Phoenix as well as aggressively moving to change zoning and development policies and laws. What can the average person do? Educate yourself and take action. Learn how to be more sustainable, but don’t stop at recycling, driving a more efficient car, and growing your own food. Those are all things that help, but always look for the next thing you can do to become even more sustainable. Don’t become content. Get involved with groups and organizations that share your interests.


bike love

Another group seeking increased opportunity for alternate transit is the Phoenix Spokes People . The Spokes people are asking for more bike lanes and bike racks to make it easier for those who prefer to travel by bicycle. The group made regular appearances at city of Phoenix budget meetings in April with dozens of residents in attendance to support cycling such as seen at this Burton Barr budget meeting.  According to member Anna Kristina, moving the city forward “will require continued cooperation with the city council, manager and planners. Also, open communication from local businesses that want to become more bicycle friendly. We believe a safer cycling city means more dollars spent locally which is an economic win-win.” Member Lisa Parks commented, “We have so many cities that are ahead of us in terms of bicycle infrastructure such as Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Denver and we need to catch up. This is especially important as we implement a bike share program by the end of the year. Bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users are just as important as those that drive a car. Phoenicians are begging for complete streets that accommodate everyone safely.”

Phoenix is seeing an increase in bike-themed businesses that seem to support the move to transit. The Spoke & Wheel opened a bicycle themed concept bar at the end of the Central Avenue trail with an all-day happy hour offered as a perks for bike riders. Scratch, a Scottsdale café, has opened a second location on Roosevelt row with decorative bikes surrounding it and spots for 60 bike riders to park and eat.  Phoenix bike lab is a new downtown Phoenix bicycling hub offering bike showers, repair facilities, supplies and space to other bike projects like We-Cycle-USA (bike recycling).

With the light rail extending further north and east, as well as the new Skytrain connecting it to Sky Harbor Airport, alternate modes of transport seem to be gaining in the greater Phoenix Area. Pedalcraft will have their 3rd annual event highlighting bikes and bike-racks this October celebrating bike culture and seeming to grow each year.  A recent petition drive to add bicycle lanes to Roosevelt row drew 445 signatures online. This May, a number of valley residents joined together for Bike to work day, which emphasizes giving up your car for a day for the healthy exercise of pedaling with a group.  Is the future for Arizona bicycles and mass transit, a walkable city, or will the car remain a cause of growth ever outward?