Things I learned from reading Why Cul-de-Sacs Are Bad for Your Health on Slate.com:
- The average working adult in Atlanta’s suburbs now drives 44 miles a day. (That’s 72 minutes a day behind the wheel, just getting to work and back.)
- 94% of Metro Atlantans commute by car.
- Metro Atlantans spend more on gas than anyone else in the country.
- Georgia Tech researchers found that a white male living in walkable Midtown Atlanta was likely to weigh 10 pounds less than his identical twin living in a car-dependent place like Mableton.
Also found in that Tech study on Metro Atlantans:
Six out of every 10…couldn’t walk to nearby shops and services or to a public bus stop. Road geometry was partly to blame…that iconic suburban innovation — the cul-de-sac — has become part of a backfiring behavioral system.
Basically, building roads entirely for cars — with cul-de-sac subdivisions being the height of car-dependency — makes for unhealthy people, not to mention unhealthy urban places. Unfortunately, Metro Atlanta has bought into that style of road building big time.
Progress is happening, with better urban design popping up in pockets all over, but the battle is very much an uphill one.
— Companies Say Goodbye to the ‘Burbs | Yahoo Finance, 12/6/2013
This is an 1882 photo of the intersection of Whitehall (now Peachtree) and Alabama Streets. Notice the mule-drawn trolleys and horse-drawn wagons on the streets.
An article published recently, “Did Cars Save Our Cities From Horses? Debating a modern parable about waste and technology,” gives an interesting rebuttal to the common story that personal cars saved cities from mounds of horse manure.
Between the era of horse-drawn carts and personal cars was an age of electric streetcars:
The late 19th and early 20th centuries was actually the age of streetcars. Running on steel rails, a few pulled by horses but most powered by electricity, they were the dominant urban mode of vehicular transport. The first suburbs date to this time, rising along streetcar lines in Boston, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and other cities.
You can include Atlanta in “other cities.” We had an extensive line of streetcar routes covering the city, as seen in the 1946 map below:
Streetcar systems like this served cities for decades before cars began to dominate. As the article states, once car infrastructure was in place:
Streetcars now had to compete on roads suited to automobiles, and it wasn’t a fair fight. Cars clogged the streets, slowing traffic and preventing streetcars from keeping their schedules. Ridership fell. Streetcar companies struggled to stay profitable, all the more so because, as local monopolies, city governments limited fare increases.
Cut to — this classic image. These are discarded streetcars from the Georgia Railway and Power Company (the precursor to Georgia Power) which ran streetcars from 1937 to 1950.