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Inveterate bike enthusiasts have successfully lobbied local authorities into establishing bike lanes throughout the city and even building a special light rail, bike or pedestrian bridge where no cars are allowed. But America’s pure, passionate love of cars is here to stay.

Mary Foran’s Blog

 

Living in Madrid one has the advantage of the Metro, busses and easy-to-find taxis, as well as everything of interest within walking distance. The only time I rode in a car during my ten-year stay in Spain was when I was a passenger in a borrowed SEAT to travel around Spain and see the sights. I didn’t seem to have any need of my international driver’s license, and trains took me to other cities I wanted to visit.

A Seat, launched in Spain in the 1960s and reached the height of its popularity in the 1970s

A Seat, launched in Spain in the 1960s and reached the height of its popularity in the 70s. Photo by Xavigivax, used here under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 license.

But coming back to the States it is a different story. Here a vehicle is vital. Your driver’s license is your identification for everything, unless you take out a special identity card provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles, practically the most powerful government agency in the people’s everyday lives. Insurance is mandatory and so are Department of Environmental Quality inspections and stickers.

America’s car culture is everywhere: the pure, passionate love of cars. That’s what a visitor from Mars would first notice about the country: their speed, their style, their utter usefulness in a land that streches from sea to shining sea. It’s a country where distances are great and public transportation struggles to survive. Bicycle and bus riders, and of course, pedestrians, are considered a bit different and oh-so-brave. Freeways confuse and twist and turn, then straighten out to terrifying speeds.

Hollywood Freeway, 1972,  by Gene Daniels for the Environmental Protection Agency, filed in the National Archives Records Administration.

Hollywood Freeway, 1972, by Gene Daniels for the Environmental Protection Agency, filed in the National Archives Records Administration.

Cloggging the cities in tremendous traffic jams at peak hours are cars and trucks of all sizes; most freight is moved by road. Dealership lots are full of next year’s model and used car dealers slash prices to get rid of an overwhelming inventory. Ships dock with constant streams of imports until one wonders how can so many cars ever be sold?

But sell they do, and Americans buy, with cash, credit card or check, or somehow financed. Owning a car is your persona.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, Las Vegas, 2005

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, Las Vegas, 2005

Naturally, mechanics are demi-gods and ubiquitous in this country. And NASCAR speed racing is one of America’s favorite sports live and on television. Programs in which cars are “done-over” in technicolor and chrome by skilled technicians are very popular too. Repossession shows and all kinds of international races are common fare.

Although motorcycles are popular, most people stick to fuel-saving cars and hybrids, and electric cars are finding a market too. The reason? The price of gasoline only continues to rise.

Bikers waiting for Go sign at 32nd Street to proceed up 10 Ave. Photo by Jim Henderson

Bikers waiting for Go sign at 32nd Street to proceed up 10th Ave., NYC. Photo by Jim Henderson.

At least 50% of advertising on TV is for some kind of automobile, but this car culture is getting a lot of flak from inveterate bike enthusiasts who have successfully lobbied local authorities into establishing bike lanes throughout the city and even building a special light rail, bike or pedestrian bridge where no cars are allowed. It’s a dangerous commute on streets busy with traffic, but some are willing to take the chance and “help save the planet” and the atmosphere.

However, if you have to bring back two bags full of groceries from a store far away, only a car or truck will do. America’s car culture is here to stay.

 

Topmost photo: 1957 pink Ford Thunderbird at the Clinton (Michigan) Fall festival Car Show 2012, by FD Richards. (Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 license)