Digital positive from celluloid negative.It took decades to move the conversation on smoking, but now it is pretty much a social faux pas to light up. Once, it was the epitome of in-crowd behaviour and carried a certain sophistication.
Will we ever get there with cars? We are, it seems to me, right in the middle of the process now.  And despite progress, the outcome remains uncertain.
An article in the Oxford Academic Journal of Public Health, published in 2011, introduces the topic this way.

Caution:  no words are minced in these paragraphs.

Results:   Private cars cause significant health harm. The impacts include physical inactivity, obesity, death and injury from crashes, cardio-respiratory disease from air pollution, noise, community severance and climate change. The car lobby resists measures that would restrict car use, using tactics similar to the tobacco industry. Decisions about location and design of neighbourhoods have created environments that reinforce and reflect car dependence. Car ownership and use has greatly increased in recent decades and there is little public support for measures that would reduce this.
Conclusions:   Car dependence is a potent example of an issue that ecological public health should address. The public health community should advocate strongly for effective policies that reduce car use and increase active travel.


  1. It makes no sense for our family to own a car. When my wife and kids travelled abroad this summer, I used the car all of three times in three months and not one of those times was essential.
    I gave the car an oil change and then let it repose in the garage.
    With them back, usage is still incredibly low.
    We live four minutes walk from Skytrain, and car share units, and in the best cycling area imaginable.
    Giving the car a nice garage is even more nonsensical. I started thinking about parking on the street (taking space back from the parking hogs across the street – they have four vehicles) and renting out the garage. It would rent for at least $400/mo – probably closer to $500/mo. In ten years that’s fifty large.
    When I mentioned it to my kids, the response from my son was visceral. Don’t!
    But I suspect if I were to share that rent with them – a hundred bucks each per month, that tune would change.
    It would make even more financial sense to dump the car altogether, but quitting it is very much like quitting smoking.

  2. I read the article and I was impressed by the following statement:
    “This vicious cycle is a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, a situation where free choice for everybody (or at least everybody who has a car) leads to what nobody wants—congested roads with no available alternative.”

  3. Is this what passes for water cooler talk over lattes at the bike cafe? It’s certainly out of touch with majority of Metro Vancouverites so I’ll chalk it up to an urban myth. Out of all my friends who live in Vancouver I’d say 5% don’t own a car.

    1. Well, there are only two bike cafés in town and any time I’ve been to them I’ve never heard anyone discuss cars at all. Someone who isn’t doing something isn’t thinking of what they’re not doing.

    2. I’d say that the ratio of my friends who don’t own cars is about the same. That’s because 95% of funding and effort on transportation everywhere has been devoted exclusively to cars. Fostering other forms of mobility in our cities equitably is still a pipe dream, though the mold is starting to crack with projects like the Burrard Bridge upgrades and the mayor’s 10-year plan.
      That comment reminds me of the criticism levelled toward supporters of renewable energy accusing them of being hypocrites for driving cars. Like there is a choice when the universe is saturated with cars and the alternatives are inadequate by design.

  4. Had a nightmare last night – very real. Usually when I have a nightmare it involves working in a restaurant. This was different.
    I bought a new Mazda 3 wagon – a red one. Put it on my debit card. Felt immediate deep regret. So real. In the nightmare, after buying, I was listening to a Mazda radio commercial – the stattaco financing inanities. Felt despair.

  5. It would make sense to apply the same regulations to car and truck advertising as now exist for the tobacco industry.
    The article in the Oxford Journal is excellent.
    It would also be interesting to consider the psychological implications of not owning – the societal pressure. Here I am, a lifelong car owner, but a cyclist to the core. Yet when I contemplate not owning a car at all, I’m uneasy.
    My dad, part-Scottish, was parsimonious in the extreme, but owned a car to the day he died – even when his annual mileage was under a thousand clicks.
    We are so brainwashed by motordom.

    1. I was uneasy too. But I thought I’d just give it a try for 3 months… I could always change my mind. That was spring 2004. Never looked back.

  6. I’ve owned my car almost 25 years. That’s a long relationship.
    Were it not for this car, I wouldn’t have hooked up with my wife and had kids. Of course, there could have been a different woman, a bicycle-loving one, different kids, a different life, but I feel a sense of obligation to this vehicle. Someone else would have trashed it long ago. If it does croak, it will not be replaced. And it is a manual with minimal hp, so it is a challenge to drive well. It’s a car that Peter Falk’s ‘Columbo’ would have related to – it creaks. It’s idiosyncratic.

  7. This article’s premise also ignores a disturbing trend I’ve seen lately of more young people smoking. Go outside of many hipster-frequented Main Street establishments and its shocking how many young smokers there seem to be 🙁

    1. Sorry, a bit off topic but this deserves a response..
      Vancouver is apparently a city in which young people can’t make a go of it. The housing costs are too high and wages too low. And yet there’s a shocking number of young people smoking in front of hipster-frequented Main Street establishments.
      Actually, it happens in Gastown and The Drive too. Increasingly in Hastings Sunrise and streets like Fraser or Victoria or West Broadway show signs of unnecessary spending. I’ve been to pubs, bars and restaurants on any night of the week to find them busy if not packed with young people. And it appears to be growing. Significantly.
      Not sayin’ it isn’t tough in Vancouver or trying to downplay those who really do struggle. But there seem to be a lot of young people who can do more than eke by. Not everyone is fleeing like we’re led to believe.

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