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Why Drive?

Our city, much the same as any other city, loves to talk about traffic. We love to complain about how many cars are on the road, we love to complain about traffic light timing, and we especially love to complain about how terrible other drivers are.

These conversations are missing the forest for the trees.

We have to take a big step back in order to see the root cause of all our complaining. (Of course assuming we aren’t just complaining for the sake of it.) We need to understand exactly why people drive.

Now there’s a lot of nuance here that can’t be captured in a single post, but at the very base level people drive in order to get to a destination. A person will leave their house and drive to the grocery store. They leave the grocery store to drive back to their home.

Taking a step closer, we see what this hypothetical person’s house likely looks like. Our city is zoned mostly for residential single-detached housing, so we can assume they live in a detached house in a neighbourhood of other detached houses.

If we look at the grocery store now, we are painted an interesting picture of design choices. I’m going to assume you the reader have been to our local Superstore, so go ahead and picture what that looks like. (If it helps, picture instead the Walmart or Sobeys or Canadian Tire or whatever, it doesn’t matter.) What we see here is a massive building that has been set back from the road by over 150 meters to squeeze in a parking lot. If you drive here, you of course don’t see an issue with this because it was tailor-made specifically to be a welcoming place for cars.

Stepping back again now, you may notice that there aren’t really any other ways to get here. If you’re not in a car, you’re not welcome. This is a message delivered entirely by how the space was designed; you won’t see any signs that say pedestrians aren’t allowed or that cycling is discouraged. You get that by simply by being there. A parking lot that takes seconds to traverse in a car can take minutes of vulnerability on foot. This is why there’s a mad scramble to grab the closest available parking space to the front doors, people want to minimize the amount of time spent using their own two legs in an environment that tries to forbid it.

So if the design of the destination says that you must drive here, how does one decide on a method of transport when they need to go there? I mean, the decision has been made for you, if you want to go to Superstore you are going to be driving there.

If we force people to drive to get to where they want to go, we should not be shocked when we find these people driving. They are the same drivers that we love to complain about. The ones who can’t put their phone down, are half asleep, drunk or are simply just bad at driving. We do not care about your level of focus or ability; you will drive a car or be left helpless. And so these people drive.

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Photo by Golden West Broadcasting