walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Car Sick_, Lynn Sloman

Subtitled: Solutions for our Car-addicted Culture

I asked recently for suggestions for books to get people out riding bikes, with a list of what I thought should be in such a book. This excellent book as suggested by H., IIRC, on the Amazon UK site; I had no trouble finding it on the US site and ordered a copy. The US publisher/distributer is Chelsea Green Publishing out of White River Junction in VT, a lovely town.

The short form of this review is: You should immediately, right now, before you finish reading this review, go out and buy a copy of this book. After you are done reading it, you should pass it around to everyone you know and get them to read it, too. Here's why.

Years ago (wow, quite a few, actually), I used to avoid books over 300 pages long, because I firmly believed that you should be able to say anything you need to say in less than 300 pages and if you took more, you were probably just running off at the mouth and in need of a good editor. I applied this rule indiscriminately, to fiction and non-fiction alike. I did recognize the existence of exceptions, but for me to bother with a 300+ page book required it to pass a substantially higher bar than a sub 300 page book. This particular book would pass _any_ standard I could apply.

Unlike most non-fiction that I enjoy, it is not organized as a narrative. It is a policy book aimed at everyone and refreshingly free of reader-abuse or even exhortation. The whole book revolves around the idea that if you (or anyone else) has to work very hard at something, it is not very likely to happen, and even if it did, if you did not see substantive personal benefit from it, you wouldn't stick with it anyway. The author lives in rural Wales and does not own a car, but that doesn't come up until the end of the book. Instead, she focuses on the work she has done, on contract for various levels of government and as an activist, to identify effective "soft" changes that reduce car traffic and encourage walking, cycling, public transit. In a 192 page book (with illustrations, notes and a good index), she covers:

the vast, difficult to identify costs associated with cars (including parking and dead children)
a rule of thumb for the percentage of trips made by car that could be made otherwise easily, less easily but with small changes, and with great difficulty if at all
school and work commute interventions to reduce rush hour car traffic
taxibuses and other ways to improve bus service and make it more cost effective
what a good cycling city or town looks like: Utrecht, Strasbourg, Freiburg, Winterthur (and, along the way, how Britain lost its cycling culture)
the return of cyclepaths to Britain (familiarly, involving abandoned rail lines) and congestion pricing in London and how London got cycling back very quickly
land use policy, in particular, big box retail, the location of housing subdivisions and office parks
why the civil service in the UK keeps funding Big Projects, but can't seem to get buses and cycle paths going
which kinds of motivation (getting exercise, saving money, saving the environment) are how effective in convincing people to use cars less (and 3 examples of car-less people/families in rural areas)

Her wrap up is a gem. She recapitulates many of the specific interventions she described in the course of the book, briefly laying out how individuals had ideas, implemented them, how other people found out about them, and how, over time, that led to government action to more widely distribute the ideas.

And all this in a world where the town's government is a "council", a subdivision is a "housing estate", sidewalks are "pavements", roads come in flavors like "motorways", "dual carriageways", the pedestrian walk symbol is the "green man" -- you get the idea.

It's short. It's fun to read (not just because of the language!). Sloman is not pushy, but instead charming. It is packed with wonderful ideas and research data to explain how helpful these ideas can be and what their limits are. And it isn't pushy at all. A sharp contrast to some of my other reads, recently. Seriously. Track a copy down. And then be pushy and make other people read it, too.
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