The Editorial: Vroom Vroom Kaboom

The Editorial: Vroom Vroom Kaboom

August is still a month away, but it is most certainly summer. Well, except maybe in Australia. But Italy is caldissimo, and the Pimms and sparkly orange spritz have suddenly reappeared right alongside cut-offs and other summer style abominations just in time for that yearly flesh and flab fest, the World Naked Bike Ride. Pedal pedal!

Yes, it’s all skin and sunshine for the next few months. And that means you’ll soon be on holiday. Last year we advocated adventure via staycation and choked at the thought of the millions of hermetically shut-in “resort” travellers , but in the spirit of what feels like more hopeful spin around the sun, this year we feel the exact opposite. Go. Far far far and wide. And since you’ll likely be leaving the realm of tubes and tramways, it’s well worth giving your mode of transport a long hard think.

For many of us city folk, the car has become ultimately a summer splurge. An appliance only useful on that rare occasion on which urban transport and/or two wheels just can’t suffice. A hedonistic escape pod, and not as for millions of suburbanites (and urbanites, too), a semipermanent multi-ton extension of the body that must be parked, fed, maintained and insured gratuitously. Still, for all the trouble the car causes, its romance is undeniable. And so its place as both a cancer (congestion, pollution) and lifeblood (we’re basically stuck with it in the short term) of our environments is something even the Oyster-card class must consider carefully.

It somehow seems that this year is a turning point. As discourses in environmentalism and urbanism and technology and culture surrounding the car continue to collide, the car’s future looks poised to drastically change. Fisker and Tesla are on the brink of launching mainstream (and sexy) electric cars, and alternative energy car startups are mushrooming. Cities are pushing cars out to make way for bike schemes and lanes. And many governments are on the brink of mandating accident avoidance measures that will make autos generally less autonomous and also makes self-driving cars all but imminent. Will we miss the good old days?

A simple equivalency says yes: +Big Brother = –Freedom. And it’s always touchy to argue that less freedom and less choice will make us better off.

But as GM, VW, Toyota, FIAT and other auto giants look towards China, Russia and India for driving profits, the capitalist machine will once again beat a dead horse until profits run dry. Afterall, there are still a few billion people who don’t own one. And shareholders certainly won’t stand for that. But exploding Tata Nanos, greying skies and dwindling oil reserves mean that, sooner than later, the car as we know it must die.

Still, even the hardcore haters among us know that the car can’t just disappear altogether. So what’s the way forward? Marvels of engineering prowess like the Chevrolet Volt? (Its political power certainly suggests there is something to it that has sure pissed off some oil companies…) Sweeping policy changes that crush the automobile industry and reformat the built environment to be feet- and cycle-centric? Something somewhere in between? In any case, the road as Kerouac and Friedlander and Ruscha once lived it is gasping for its last breaths. It’s sad, conflicting and excellent to see it go. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

You’ll hear from me from behind the wheel in that most maligned and car crazy of super cities, Los Angeles, over the next several weeks. Happy summer!

Tag Christof – Images David Freund