Wishing I were car-free again…

November 19, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Mickey Knox sums up his opinion of LA: “How in hell can one live in a city where having a car is as important as having a place to live in.”

I might rephrase this as “who would design a city in where having a car is as important as having a place to live in”. The core of my current home of St. Louis was built before car ownership was common, but our city fathers seem to specialize in making the city pedestrian and bicycle unfriendly: interstates carving up neighborhoods, no sidewalks, no enforcement of traffic laws. And a ridiculously inadequate public transportation system. I’m afraid many American cities have gone the same way: outside New York, and a few other cities, car ownership is an expectation. The financial and health costs to the owners, and the environmental costs from the pollution, don’t seem to enter into anyone’s calculations.

Knox was an interesting character, by the way: a Brooklyn-born actor who appeared in a number of gangster films (he was the drive in White Heat, for instance) until he was blacklisted. He went to Europe where he worked as a dialogue coach and dialogue director: he taught Anna Magnani her lines for The Rose Tattoo and dubbed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly into English. I recommend his autobiography, The good, the bad and the dolce vita (Nation Books, 2004).

Full disclosure here: I lived happily car-free in New York City, Jersey City, Boston, Chicago and Amherst, and bought my first car when I moved to St. Louis County to accept a job. I have a feeling if other Americans had the experience of living in cities where cars were not necessary, they would demand cities built for people, not automobiles.


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About the Author ()

I'm a biostatistician for BJC HealthCare and an adjunct professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. In my spare time, I'm a musician, work on several kdhx-tv shows and write on various topics.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    You'll get no argument from me on this issue. I love traveling to San Francisco, New York and Chicago, where I do NOT rent a car. Having to own a car is, as you write, a huge burden to one's budget and health. It will be interesting to see whether people start demanding better mass transit as the cost of fuel keeps rising. In my experience, though, many people residing in the suburbs hate the thought of sharing the same train or bus with people who look different or who speak different dialects or languages. Those suburbanites are also convinced that half of the people on public transportation will rob and shoot them.

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    Sarah, don't despair! I didn't drive until 40, and have lived most of my life in St. Louis. I also lived in Colorado, New York and Washington, D.C. We never wanted to leave the Fraser Valley in Colorado, mass transit does well in NYC and DC but, I've walked, hitched, road "Big Blue", taken countless cabs and rode my bike all over St. Louis to get around over the years. I've also relied upon the kindness of friends and neighbors throughout the years, and still do!

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