Andrew Ross calls Phoenix the least sustainable city in the world. One of the big reasons is our sprawled-out, car-dependent, bike/ped unfriendly city planning that dates back to the post-war boom of the 50s and 60s. Sure it was an age of optimism (and really great Modern design) but it was an era that set our city up so that, even to this day, you MUST have a car to comfortably and reasonably get around.
Since the post-war boom, there have been people who simply can’t afford to own a car and they have generally been facing an uphill battle to have access to all the great things that are available to those who do own one, such as higher education and access to good jobs and upward mobility.
Our car-centric urban planning has built a wall between the car-haves and the car-have-nots.
The recent advent of the Light Rail has alleviated some of these issues, because all of a sudden people without a car are able to be connected, easily, to things like the Mesa Center for the Arts, ASU, the Small Business Administration office and a multitude of other services and destinations. And this is why it’s SO important that we continue to extend the Light Rail to other parts of the Valley, especially underserved places like South Phoenix, to make sure that everyone has access and is connected to all the wonderful things our region has to offer.
Besides people who can’t afford to have a car, I’m getting to know more and more people who refuse to buy into the I-must-have-a-car-to-live-in-Phoenix myth and that have chosen the car-free lifestyle. They have not only chosen it, but they are creating it, day by day, step by step and ride by ride. The reason behind this is that they’re sick of contributing to the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, to the coffers of big oil corporations, and to the lonely and disconnected nature of our car-centric city.
Last week I featured two such people who have chosen the create a car-free lifestyle in our full-of-cars city, Eddie Jensen and Nicole Underwood. Their stories, along with those of others who have chosen this path, inspired Paul and I to go completely car-free in our household.
We are already a one-car family, a car-lite family, if you will. But there is a big difference between being car-lite and being car-free. It’s like the difference between eating a little meat and being a full-out vegan. One takes a little bit of a commitment, the other takes a whole other level of commitment and impacts your life in a much deeper way.
Even though a week isn’t a long time, we learned a lot about what it takes to get around the city and about our own habits when it comes to car-addiction. I’ll share with you those things on the next installment of this series on What I learned from Living Without a Car for a Week in Phoenix.
Photo credit: Congestion on a Valley freeway. Photo from aznow.biz.
I can think of many cities that equal or exceed Phoenix in their car dependence and sustainability deficiencies. That’s why I find it both puzzling and distressing that so many Phoenicians with whom I otherwise agree have embraced Ross’ insultingly titled book. We can save that discussion for another day, especially if you decide to interview Ross.
Regardless, I completely agree with this statement: “But there is a big difference between being car-lite and being car-free. It’s like the difference between eating a little meat and being a full-out vegan.” It’s an excellent point, but not one that necessarily points to the intrinsic superiority of a completely car-free lifestyle, at least not for everyone.
Staying with the dietary analogy, it may be just as helpful for 50% of the population to reduce meat consumption by 50% than it is for 5% to attain absolute zero consumption of animal products. Likewise, having 50% of the population drive 50% less due to car sharing and use of park-and-rides may be just as important as 5% living entirely without a car.
None of this is meant as criticism of Eddie and Nicole, who are both friends and people I admire. Instead, it’s just an observation that it takes a spectrum of solutions to address a problem. That’s why I like your call for light rail expansion. In some cases, light rail can support car-free lifestyles by enriching the urban fabric in Central Phoenix and Tempe. In other cases, well-designed extensions that extend beyond Central Phoenix and incorporate park-and-rides will play a role. The two approaches complement each other because both help build the critical mass of ridership necessary to make light rail successful.
David, I completely agree with you that if 50% of the population went car-lite, it would make a much bigger different than if only 10% of the population went completely car free. I feel that Paul and I, however, are ideal candidates to go car-free, because we don’t have any kids and we live in a walkable neighborhood and relatively close to the Light Rail. Also, Paul’s work is easy to get to with a bus and I have a flexible schedule and can office out of anywhere. So we’re trying it out! 🙂 I think the idea is that when you try to get by on less car, you normally find that you can.
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David, agreed 100% on your comments about Ross. I’m reading the book now and so far its just beyond silly. He doesn’t even bother to try to prove PHX is the least sustainable City, he just glibly claims it as fact.
Its as if I wrote a book called “The History of Basketball: Why Michael Jordan was over rated and a jerk!” and then never tried to back up my claim.
Great article, Taz! So exciting to see more people venture out on foot and explore the city in a new way while minimizing their time in a car. What an inspiring transformation!
And valuable input, David! I agree with your sediments. As a fellow advocate for the light rail, I know we see eye-to-eye on the amazing progress the rail is doing for the community. And I recognize while it might not be readily feasible for a single mother of 3 to give up her car tomorrow, steps can still be made to support a car-lite/car-free lifestyle in any living situation.
The dependency on cars will shift when the mentality of the community adapts. If more people make simple strides like Taz, the change will be visible on the streets and more developmental progress can be made. But, there’s still a stigma that being carfree can only work in well-designed cities with people who have flexible schedules and no families. Like Taz just showed, being car-free is indeed possible.
Each step people make to release their ties to cars is a good step, and will lead to more. Soon, with the increasing demand for easier access to destinations on foot, the city will have to accommodate the pedestrian lifestyle of Phoenix citizens and notice the benefits this can have. Cities like London, New York, and San Francisco are making these changes even now. I’m excited to see this reflected in our city too. 🙂
Nicole, I love your passion and advocacy for the car-lite and car-free lifestyle! You are one of my inspirations! 🙂 Keep up the great work and keep us posted on your experiences in the world of navigating life through Phoenix without a car.
While I agree with your post (I lived in Tempe for a year, and my car was stolen the 3rd week I was there) I firmly believe that Phoenix’s most looming doom is not cars, but water and the fact it is a city in the middle of the desert, what are you going to do when the Colorado river water association stops the flow? An yes, I do agree with A. Ross, it is the most unsustainable city in the world.
Just the fact you have to “create” a lifestyle around a non-issue in most of the developed world shows that level of unsustainability
Juan, you bring up a good point. We are really behind here in Phoenix on some fronts – i.e. the fact that we are so dependent on cars! And yes, the limited resource of water is the hidden danger lurking in the background that all of us here conveniently choose to ignore. But we have to start somewhere…and like Andrew Ross says, if we can turn things around here, it can be done anywhere. And that’s what I’m committed to, to turning things around one step at a time.
I praise you for that, and I’m a friend of Kirby and really appreciate what he does for Phoenix; he knows I’m an skeptic, I just can’t imagine 4 million people being as educated, conscious, and committed as the bunch of you are, too many careless people everywhere, the ones that have everything and the ones that have nothing act just the same, me first and **** the rest.
Beyond that rant, How much people do you see in the bus these days? When I was there(2004), only 10 -15 ppl in bus route mill st, baseline, kyrene.