Divorce Your Car
Ending The Love Affair With The Automobile
By Katie Alvord, New Society Publishing (www.newsociety.com), 2000.
A new book, “Divorce Your Car” by Katie Alvord, argues that our relationship with automobiles requires intensive therapy. Like other self-help guides, it helps readers understand the dynamics of their unhealthy affiliations. Some drivers may find that it provides the encouragement they need to dump their attractive, but sometimes abusive, mechanical partners.
Alvord is a clear and witty writer who combines history, social commentary, interesting stories, and practical advice for developing a “car-free” or “car-lite” lifestyle. She speaks from her own personal experience, and the experience of many other people who have found ways to rely on alternative transportation. The book is stuffed with helpful information for anybody who wonders whether their liaison with a car is a love affair or a shotgun wedding.
Alvord is a bike enthusiast. She cycles for transportation and recreation, installs snow tires on her bike in winter, and hauls bikes on a kayak in summer in Upper Michigan where she and her husband live “car-lite”. But the book is not monogamous. It covers a variety of travel options, including walking, cycling, transit, alternative fuel vehicles (including electric bikes) telecommuting, and “playing the field” (using a combination of travel modes).
There is a lot of common-sense advice, some rather obvious. For example, her suggestions for cycling include: educate yourself; wear a helmet; use lights and reflectors; ride with, not against traffic; wear comfortable clothes.
But even experienced cyclists will find useful information and inspiring ideas. She describes creative ways to make cycling easier, such as the Buttemer family in the Comox Valley, who only insure their car during the rainy season, and a firefighter in suburban Maryland who commutes using a foldable bike and public transit.
Here’s an exercise Alvord recommends for people just starting to rely on cycling for transportation: Take a few test rides to determine how far you can comfortably ride. Then, on a local map draw a circle of that distance around your home. For example, if you can comfortably cycle 2 kilometres, draw a circle with a radius of 2 kms with your home in the center. Now, list the places that you might visit within that circle. Whenever you plan to go to one of those destinations, “don’t think car, think bike”.
There are also suggestions for improving transportation choices in a community, or as one section is titled, “Visions of Less Auto Dominance.” This section describes how a transportation system could evolve to be more balanced, and how that could improve residents’ quality of life. The book includes specific suggestions for making streets safer and more attractive for walking and cycling, and examples of successful pedestrian and bicycle advocacy organizations.
Being a professional librarian, Alvord is a stickler for detailed references: there are twenty pages listing books and organizations that support alternative transportation. Many of these resources have Internet links, making the information easy to obtain.
1: Falling Head Over Wheels: The Advent of Cars
2: Other Suitors Drop by the Wayside: The Decline of Non-Car Transport
3: The Possessive Auto Takes Over the Landscape: The Proliferation of Roads and Suburbs
4: Keeping the Romance Alive: The Role of Marketing and Advertising
5: This isn't Love, This is Addiction! The Relationship Today
6: Smoke Gets in our Eyes: The Damage Done to Air
7: Cleaning Up After the Car: Oil Spills and Other Environmental Messes
8: The Little Bad Habits that Drive us Crazy: Miscellaneous Drawbacks of Living with Cars
9: Not a Cheap Date: The Real Cost of Cars
10: The Greatest Cost: The Toll from Car Crashes
11: Just Walk Out! Using Your Feet Instead of Your Car
12: You'll Look Sweet Upon the Seat: Bicycles for Transportation
13: Let Someone Else Take You for a Ride: Transit and Other Shared Transportation
14: On the Rebound: Alternative Fuels
15: Long Distance Relationships: Telecommunications
16: Get Support: Social and Political Strategies for Ending Car Addiction
17: Play the Field: The Spice of Transportation Variety
18: Car-Dependent No More: Ending Auto Dominance
Our romance with cars, begun with enthusiasm more than 100 years ago, has in fact become a very troubled entanglement. Today´s relationship with the automobile inflicts upon us pollution, noise, congestion, sprawl, big expenses, injury, and even death. Yet we continue to live with cars at a growing cost to ourselves and the environment.
What can people do about this souring affair?--Divorce your car! Re-meet your feet, board a bike, take a train, pull out of this dysfunctional relationship with the automobile! Divorcing your car can take many forms, from simply using it less to not owning one at all. This practical guide shows how divorcing a car can be fun, healthy, money-saving, and helpful to the planet in the process.
Most other transportation reform books emphasize long-range political and economic policy. Divorce Your Car! speaks less about policy and more about realistic actions that individuals can take now to reduce their car-dependence. It encourages readers to change their own driving behavior without waiting for broader social change, stressing that individual action can drive social change.
Car-dependency is a serious problem, but Divorce Your Car! is leavened with love-affair and self-help analogies in the text as well as cartoon illustrations. From commuters crazed by congestion and soccer moms sick of chauffeuring, to environmentalists looking for auto alternatives--Divorce Your Car! provides all the reasons not to drive and the many alternative ways we can all get around without our cars.