The love affair is over : Columbia Journalism Review

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Toyota Street Affair

Cover Story

The love is over

America’s relationship the automobile is changing. The transportation has to catch up.

Pedal power New Citi Bike system hit million miles traveled in less than four after it started. (Reuters / Hershorn)

In January 2013, than 5,000 journalists 62 countries poured into Convention Center in Detroit, as do every year, for the North International Auto Show. rubbed shoulders with from Car and Driver . which 1.2 million copies a month, by its nearly 10 million readers .

among them were of the 19 editors, writers, and reviewers The New York Times ’ Wheels and the 25 who cover the industry worldwide for News, including seven in Detroit. Based on the media it might have been when America’s Big Three dominated the industry with a market share. And four after his administration’s $82-billion of General Motors and Chrysler, Obama is still touting the as a signature economic accomplishment. “We the American auto industry,” declared in a speech in September .

But the that Obama saved, and all those journalists cover, has shrinking from its dominant in American life for nearly a even though that has yet to really sink in.

Economic and concerns, along with social shifts, have Americans to begin to rethink dependence on automobiles. Driving, has been on more or less an slope since the end of World War II, has from the peaks of last Teens, glued to their devices and chauffeured by helicopter show little interest in their licenses. Cities are to add bike-sharing programs in order to cachet with their populations of young residents. At the time, communities both and small are competing for the billions of dollars that the Obama has been doling out.

American society has been around the car. The cities swelled after World War Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and because automobiles let them. have been the reason everything from our transportation to our suburbs and shopping centers. The and the allure of the open road, to represent the very essence of freedom, individuality, mobility. the automobile industry did was literally the way people interacted with other, the way they viewed and the way they used space,” Kevin Boyle, a professor of at Northwestern University. “There was no to build upward, because you build outward.”

Rethinking all is a massive undertaking, one that contend not only with the and economic aspects but also the and political fallout. Urban and transportation specialists, sensing the 21st century will be moment, paint fanciful and farfetched pictures of redesigned built for pedestrians, with vehicles guided by smart and charging stations plentiful as racks. That Jetsons-like aside, there is real taking place and momentum is

In Boston, always a pedestrian- and city, only about of trips from the metropolitan now take place by car. New Citi Bike system hit million miles traveled less than four after it started. Detroit, identity is inseparable from the industry, has fought a determined to get federal money for a light-rail Meanwhile, investors are racing to money into Uber, the application that allows its to find the closest available

Media coverage of America’s story, though, seems stuck in the last century. We about chunks of concrete from aging bridges, swallowing cars on city and see heart-stopping footage of overloaded Occasionally, a piece on electric or bike sharing will up to the front page or pierce the consciousness of Jon Stewart, whose diatribe about the “dangers” of Bike delighted transportation who were happy for the attention.

But transportation revolution is unfolding under the radar. There is no champion of alternative transportation the hopelessly gridlocked policymakers in who can provide regular hooks for coverage. In fact, transportation are regularly frustrated by the scant the infrastructure debate gets in which only acted to end flight delays after spring’s sequester when Coast airports became down .

It is a largely local and regional and while newspapers, television, and radio have dipped the topic, the coverage is led by specialized and blogs. Of course, daily has never been that at recognizing the signals that are reaching critical mass, and sides of newsrooms are notoriously bad at information that might smaller stories into big With newsrooms’ staffing and curtailed by financial stress, defined—is a neglected beat, automotive coverage, which brings in the ad revenue, remains

That’s why I decided to launch Cars: Rethinking How We Get Around with a successful Kickstarter past summer. For me, the project, looks at all the reasons why people are less and what it means to the industry, is the bookend to the conclusions I in my 2003 book, The End of Detroit: How The Big Lost Their Grip On The Car Market . in which I warned one or more of the car companies was in danger of bankrupt. Unfortunately for the industry, and for of people who lost their my prediction came true in

Since then, with the of GM and Chrysler, car plants rehiring at much lower pay), and rising once more, the perception has been that got back to normal. But the new normal, in of transportation, is swiftly becoming very different than this country has experienced Henry Ford made it his to marry automobiles to the American a century ago.


Many Americans, especially whose pocketbooks are stretched to the have embraced something the Alliance in Cambridge, MA, calls light .” That doesn’t abandoning cars altogether, but them when needed and other options, like the bus, walking, renting a or relying on ridesharing as part of a portfolio. For some families, means eliminating a car from the fleet. Others are getting without cars completely, that’s highly impractical for in many parts of the country.

a lot easier to get along with cars, or just one car, one member of the family works home, as 20 million Americans do me). Transportation is the second-biggest expense, behind a mortgage or payments, and relatively easy to The average cost of a new car is now above versus $12,750 in 1993 equivalent of $20,636 in today’s Cutting back has also made easier because of the of what experts call consumerism,” or the sharing economy.

In I wrote a story for The New York that examined the fledgling movement, although it didn’t a name at the time. I talked to who had given up cars, and to some who were testing out a new service Zipcar. launched by an entrepreneur in It charged an annual fee, let members rent cars by the Back then, Zipcar had members. Now it has 900,000 and is owned by Zipcar is far from the only rental choice: nonprofit programs have popped up in a of cities, and major carmakers BMW are making vehicles available by the

These shifts are having a impact. Researchers at the University of and elsewhere cite statistics driving (in terms of miles has dropped 5 percent since it in the US in 2006. Americans are taking trips in their cars and shorter distances when do get behind the wheel. Because the is so big, it takes years for any change to reflect itself in Just a plateau in driving be a significant development, but an actual in driving by the owners of the country’s 240 registered light-duty vehicles is earthshaking for Detroit, for policymakers, and for planners.

Northwestern’s Kevin sees a bit of back-to-the-future in all this. and more people want to in center cities,” he says. officials say they’ve noticed the trend in many cities America. These reverse had enough of distant suburbs and their free time to commutes. They also to reconnect with people, than be alone in their Boyle sees this as the opposite of his parents’ generation, who cities in droves after War II. “In some ways, they to return to the 19th-century model of like Chicago and New York,” he

The most noticeable aspect of is 20- and 30-somethings who have transformed in Brooklyn and Detroit. But plenty of Boomers also are moving downtown, once they empty nesters, where new lofts might have one parking space instead of the spots in their garages. says the permanence and character of places have become in an ephemeral world in which headlines are outdated almost as as they are tweeted.

Another set of has gotten even more than the overall driving the significant drop in the number of on the road. In 2008, when I was the auto industry for the Times . I across data showing fewer than 30 percent of got their licenses when turned 16. Like pretty everyone else in the 1970s, I up with my high-school classmates to driver’s-education classes the summer I was I passed my driving test a few later. Not today’s students. to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, only half of teens a license by the time they Even a year later, 73 percent have passed driver’s test. compared 85 percent in 1996.

Two big policy have caused these to drop, along with a social development. First, of states require students to formal driver’s education, but school districts, led by those in which made it optional in have dropped the classes, the expense and insurance concerns. means students have to pay for driving classes, which can hundreds of dollars. Moreover, a number of states have restrictions on teen drivers in an to reduce accidents and drunk Some limit the hours a teen can drive a car or require to be accompanied by an adult until turn 18.

Beyond that, teens simply aren’t in making the effort to learn to They’re overloaded with and school activities, and would spend whatever free they do have online, and videochatting with their Once, to escape their they had to get behind the wheel. Now can just turn on their

Gas prices, which have at or above $3 a gallon nationally for the three years, also are a role in keeping kids off the especially when it is so hard for to find jobs. Beyond driving aimlessly around as youngsters did in American Graffiti . as attractive if they can’t their friends they did cool. “It has to be Instagram-worthy,” a 20-something man in CA, told NPR’s Sonari

The vast public-transit construction that’s going on all over the has contributed to this shift, To be sure, older East cities such as Boston, New Philadelphia, and Washington have systems, as do Chicago, Atlanta, and Los But the public transit in many of country has been limited to and perhaps surface rail. money is flowing again for projects. The most endearing are which are coming back to LA and in the for Minneapolis, Tucson, Atlanta, City, and Charlotte. Bigger projects are under way as well, the Second Avenue subway in New City, the Silver Line for Washington, and San Francisco’s Central tunnel.

A bicycle built for you

advocates would like to go beyond urban projects and a meaningful high-speed rail for the United States. Early on, named it one of his top priorities, and lovers of the and Japan’s Shinkansen crossed fingers that fast might finally be headed for tracks. There isn’t progress yet on that score. all over the country, a slower, basic form of transportation is up: bicycles.

New Yorkers, used to taxis, maneuvering around and peering down tracks for subway trains, probably believe what’s happened to The hottest form of transportation in is the rental bike. Citibank the naming rights to the bike-sharing launched by Mayor Michael as the crowning event in his tenure. systems charge by the hour, or can purchase an annual membership than 85,000 have up so far). This allows to pick up a bike in one part of and drop it off when they are (there are stiff fines for off with one). New York was behind other major in rolling out a bike-sharing program: Washington, and even Chattanooga, TN, had first. But once New York got sharing, it suggested the concept had taken hold in the US. With the of Chicago and the Bay Area Bike program in San Francisco, the bike-sharing doubled in 2013, according to the Policy Institute. and it is set to double in 2014.

Thirty-four cities and 30 college have some kind of system. Again, as with and other public transit, the US has a way to go to catch up with the rest of the Wuhan, China, has more 90,000 bike-share bikes, just 6,000 in New York. which has the world’s third-biggest system, has a bike for every 97 Bikes are so numerous in Copenhagen there are dedicated paths free bike pumps and lights to regulate the cyclists that are starting to appear in the US, as

Coverage of bike sharing, many of the other pieces of the phenomenon, falls into a area for news organizations. The might show up anywhere the front page to the metro to sports. Jackie Douglas, director of LivableStreets in Cambridge, that while the volume of stories is rising, the coverage is not deep. “Sometimes it’s sometimes it’s not so great,” she

As a transportation advocate, Douglas is that journalists tend to for conflict in stories, rather for the public-service aspect of education and “We’ll see someone involved in a bike crash, and it’s time news,” she says. will point to that and ‘Oh, it’s a crazy Were they wearing a as if it’s the biker’s fault.”

She and in the field turn to one another, and to the as their primary sources of news. One often-mentioned source is The Cities, the urban affairs run by The Atlantic (disclaimer: I have for Atlantic Cities since Another is the Streetsblog family of covering transportation topics in New Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and DC. A number of NPR outlets collaborate on Nation, based at WNYC in New and there are a variety of other some focusing on public others on gear, and still on transportation planning.

The individual for mainstream media transportation may be a former assistant city in Montreal named Andy In early 2009, he was asked by his the Montreal Gazette . to begin the overhaul of the formidable Turcot used by 300,000 motorists per The three-level interchange, built for ‘67, links three and provides access to the Champlain over the St. Lawrence River. The project is now projected to cost billion, and is Canada’s equivalent of Big Dig.

Riga had just that task when the bike-sharing program was announced for the “I decided to cover it,” he Then bike paths a bigger issue, “so I threw in.” More recently, have become focused on safety, and Riga added to his portfolio. The idea of a multimodal reporter makes sense for often considered the most city in North America, No. 11 on Danish bike blog list of the world’s bike-friendly “Everybody drives, or cycles, or or uses transit, or a combination of Riga says. “There’s interest on the part of our readers.”

His goes beyond consumer Over the last three Riga has been tangling the Montreal police department access to statistics on crimes people and property for every station in Montreal. Like at LivableStreets, Riga says surprised at the lack of news that have followed his “I really do think you have to an editor who understands this is even as newsrooms shrink,” says.

The people who get it pop up in some places. In January, Jalopnik, the car-enthusiast site (to which I contributed), tackled the topic on in a story called, “We May Have Hit Peak Car, And That We Are All Doomed.” The story was based on a from Quartz, the business-news which reported that was dropping not just in the US but also in a of countries. For automakers, such a was “potentially catastrophic.” And it certainly be for the media, whose revenues and depend on attracting people who are about automobiles and the industry.

All those reporters at the auto the editors who send them—should heed: For a growing number of the automobile is becoming fundamentally central to their lives. Boyle makes a salient “The wonder of this was that manufacturers managed to a product nobody needed, and a built up around it,” he “Humans got along without it for a long time.”

Of course, tempting to dismiss the shift as a of the Great Recession. Many industry officials believe young cyclists and transit will join their in buying minivans and crossover as soon as they have own children. Likewise, it’s for people who were raised to after powerful engines and sheet metal to believe kids won’t eventually be Yet everything I’m hearing from my nephews, the undergraduate and graduate I’ve taught, the people who their stories to Curbing and the conversations I’ve had in airports and at tells me there’s definitely afoot when it comes to about automobiles. We’ve people rethink many of American society, from they view on TV to gay marriage to change. Much of that gradually, with the media it out only after the shifts taking place.

In this the audience may be way ahead of the story.

in Cover Story

What is for?

Micheline Maynard is the of Curbing Cars, and a contributor to She is the former Detroit Bureau of The New York Times and was senior of the Midwest public media Changing Gears.

Culturally, the car to stand for freedom and independence—and And the cars were designed those traits in mind. If you at old cars—the MGA of 1959, say; the New Yorker of 1962, the Ford through the early 1970s—these (and many others) built and marketed around As in: they had it and wanted to attract a type.

Through the early too, an average kid with a kid job afford to buy one, new. the product within reach of the market played a role.

everything looks like a want the red pill or the blue—and as you say, $30,000 or $40,000, is two year’s wages for any 20-year-old enough to be slinging groceries or

So, two problems, only one of which—styling—can be solved by car manufacturers.

The shift is but I think it’s more than purely socially-based. In it’s a symptom of the country’s problem, which is mostly economics and equity.

#1 Posted by Ericson Jr. CJR on Fri 1 Nov 2013 at 03:20 PM

In the decade sale of automobile nearly 50%. Currently from 16 to 24 running the economy of CPU

#2 Posted by Rafiqul Alam. CJR on Sat 2 Nov at 03:50 AM

Everytime i see this (which is every so often) I think that driving a car days is a very risky the liability or even potentially time (for doing like driving fast or that extra beer) is to much. It makes a lot more to get a taxi to go to a party than get a go to,the,aforementioned party and end up with a

the same can be said about what’s the point of getting a car if you can drive it 60mph at best?

I is not bad that speed limits and driving controls are enforced but things are totally un cool for a

cars are indeed a necessity when you have kids is much more fun to ride in bicycle as fast as you can or as crazy as you or going to a party get drunk and forget about the rest

#3 by Ricardo. CJR on Sat 2 Nov 2013 at 04:43 AM

everybody in Copenhagen rides a in sub-zero temps because and fees on automobiles and fuel are high! Even public is expensive! But then, Copenhagen is much flat and even to other parts of Denmark are by American standards. Perhaps you can tax into submission in order to your goal, b64848ut I it.

#4 Posted by Mike Sarkisian. CJR on Mon 4 Nov at 01:17 AM

There’s just weirdly hivemind-seeming about who writes about cars for no matter if they’re from the the Detroit area, or in the glossy

I wouldn’t care, but it affects the for sale.

Allegorically, imagine if restaurant you ate at for a year had to worry pleasing the restaurant reviewers of the

#5 Posted by KadeKo. CJR on Tue 5 Nov 2013 at PM

The increase in gasoline prices, with the permanent recession we’re now enduring, can explain the decline in driving that so Micheline, who, as editor of Cars, is probably less dispassionate when it comes to matters. Car and Driver sells 1.2 dead-tree issues a month. is Curbing Cars’ circulation?

#6 by Alan Vanneman. CJR on Tue 12 Nov 2013 at PM

As much as I would like to see the of the automobile, myself. I sincerely that it will go the way of the dinosaur my lifetime. While your may hold true for large like Boston or New York, it not for places like Tampa Down here, the car is still People still dismiss transportation as something that does not work. In every where expanding Public comes up to a mandate, it loses! At down here, the idea of or even bus transit is a moot

Toyota Street Affair

I do not think this is limited to the Bay region. It is a sad fact, that of our country is similar. People in rural areas, are simply not to get rid of their cars. They see the of public transit a threat to personal freedom, just as think about gun control. of these people, who are of a conservative are also not willing to spend on public transportation. They see it, as something used by the welfare That is especially the thinking in the deep south.

I wish American, would just in their life, travel to that has an excellent transit I think if they actually how people can exist without the it would greatly change opinion. Until that I guess I will continue to my car and grit my teeth!

#7 Posted by Ken CJR on Fri 3 Jan 2014 at 11:31 AM

Cars are one of the marketing hustles ever on Society, at least in the USA.

In the about 95% of the population is totally on cars and or other road-based

This is because in the USA the Oil / Automobile made it happen that way by the previously existing competition.

the nation Street Car operations bought out and shuttered, even like Austin Texas had cars, now the tracks are covered.

hustle, this way of allowing to serve business interests be the downfall of not just the USA, but of the Economy.

But now, the numbers are in, the shows that Global Oil peaked in 2005, so what that mean? It means the USA is a horrible place for foreign to come to build factories or types of business investments.

Americans themselves are building in suburban homes that almost certainly suffer the fate as Detroit.

American aren’t really cities at there are no Town Squares no plazas and market spaces, no, cities are little more tract houses surrounded by clogged highways that a fortune to build and even to maintain.

#8 Posted by Jake CJR on Fri 3 Jan 2014 at 12:10 PM

I don’t anything witty or important to say than, thanks for the interesting

#9 Posted by David B. CJR on Sat 4 Jan 2014 at AM

I am 64 and I love the independence that my pickup gives me. I am praying for smart car or something similar to before my eyes fail me. A car independence to an old person and a smart car be a vast improvement over the idiots I see on the road everyday(including

#10 Posted by ciwood. CJR on Sat 4 Jan 2014 at AM

Many people are starting to the total cost of owning an In addition, these depreciating are far too often purchased for emotional (cute, status symbol and the result is a drain on a person’s to build wealth.

If America to build a rail system the efficiency and support like in Europe, there would be less need for this expense.

#11 Posted by Greg. CJR on Sat 4 Jan at 04:45 PM

Very poor It is heavy on anecdote and extremely on statistics, written by someone who is set on a particular point of view on topic. Here are the stats 76% of commuters drive alone. under 12% car pool. The latter alone equals the total for other form of transportation walking, transit, and other).

the drop in vehicle miles per person — about — has taken us all the way back to the levels of 1998. It is open to how much this number recover if we see a rebound in employment, as traveled per person dropped during the double-dip recession of the 1980’s.

Isn’t CJ-R to stand for journalistic rigor, not pieces that rely on at the expense of statistics?

#12 Posted by CJR on Mon 6 Jan 2014 at 08:50 PM

Another another unrealistic article CJR, following years of of the delights of foundation-funded journalism, no there.

Despite the bury-the-auto in The Love Affair Is Over, needs cars to get around.

bicycles and trains are nice for kinds of travel. But while rental might help get around Manhattan, last I checked boroughs like Island and Queens were just as much part of New City. Try taking a poll on car there.

While I might that more and more want to live in center few can afford it. Most have to from affordable suburbs to offices, if they’re not lucky to work at home like Micheline Maynard. As for the holy of high speed train ask a Californian who she thinks will to pay for the $98 billion bullet train to that the press here has uncritically cheer-leading for.

It may no be a ‘love story,’ but try shopping at or WalMart for your family a car. Try getting from Los to the desert, mountains or ocean a car.

More importantly, Lopez did a recent LA Times about a woman who took 9 a day to get her kids to better schools. One read about it and started which bought the industrious a car.

Tell that and millions of others like her manufacturers managed to sell a nobody needed.

Perhaps CJR has from Columbia University to 7th Avenue, but the publication still lost in the ivory tower.

#13 by Michael Goldstein. CJR on Tue 14 Jan 2014 at PM

I’m a strong supporter of transportation, I think it’s and is a good way for people to commute. it will become stronger in the and people can travel more in groups, as apposed to traveling If it weren’t for Intermodal Transportation, we get a lot of the resources we need on a daily

#14 Posted by John Bond. CJR on Wed 2 Apr at 11:39 AM

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