The dangers of "autobesity"

Friend of TOD Hans Noeldner sent us this piece by Steve Hiniker, which appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel a few weeks ago. The original link can be found here.

Face it. We have a driving problem, and it's killing us.

We are addicted to driving, and we are in denial about it. We lash out at those who bring it to our attention and label them as "anti-car." Unfortunately, that is about as constructive as labeling a doctor as "anti-food" if that doctor recommends a diet.

The signs of autobesity are everywhere. If miles were calories, we would be in intensive care. Last year, Wisconsinites racked up an unbelievable 60 billion miles behind the wheel. Each one of us drove, on average, twice as many miles as drivers 25 years ago. We spend, on average, $7,000 a year per car on our addiction - plus parking costs.

Our driving addiction is costing us lives, dollars and destroyed communities every day. In Wisconsin, there is a motor vehicle crash once every five minutes, an injury every 14 minutes and a fatality every 11 hours. We use euphemisms to rationalize the horrible side effects of driving. Though we refer to car crashes as "accidents," almost all car crashes are avoidable events.

Like most addictions, we are often oblivious to the consequences our habit has on others. Motor vehicles are the principal cause of ozone air pollution and contribute to about one-third of our global warming gas emissions. Highways have destroyed vibrant neighborhoods throughout the state, and more neighborhoods are at risk because of expansion plans. Farmland, wetlands and cultural resources are all-too-frequent victims of road expansion.

Our fixation with driving leads us to build new housing, shopping centers and job centers that are entirely auto-dependent. It is no longer an option to have a car in the typical new development in Wisconsin; it is a requirement.

Unfortunately, those who still walk face increasing obstacles. No sidewalks mean pedestrians must risk sharing the street with cars to reach any destination. Pedestrians often become simply another obstacle for drivers.

As we lose pedestrians, we lose the human connections that make safe and healthy neighborhoods. We lose our identity, and our communities become merely a collection of buildings connected by roads.

So if autobesity is killing us, what can we do about it?

Like eating, driving is necessary. And like eating, driving can be fun. And like eating habits, we can develop healthy driving habits. Recognizing that cars can be an obsession doesn't mean that cars are bad - nor do we need to take the fun out of driving. Just as we like good food, we can enjoy nice cars. We just need to know when to say "enough."

We need to stop investing in developments that require driving. The proposed $25 million interchange to feed cars into a proposed mall at Pabst Farms is a good example of auto-dependent development that should not be subsidized by state taxpayers. The mall will stand like a chocolate fudge cake with sour cream frosting for the autobesity crowd.

We should invest in healthy alternatives that don't require a driver's license for admission. Transit-oriented development can accommodate auto traffic while allowing and encouraging access by pedestrians and transit users.

Oconomowoc would be better served by re-establishing rail service to Milwaukee and Madison. New retail could be incorporated with downtown plans accommodating cars as well as shoppers and workers arriving by train service. We also would have fewer cars clogging up the interstate and spilling over to local streets.

The choice is clear: Feed autobesity with the junk food diet of ever-expanding highways or start a new healthy multimodal diet that recognizes the necessity of driving but also promotes healthy communities by investing in transit, walking and bicycling.

Steve Hiniker is executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, an environmental group.

I'm with you on trying to figure out ways to reduce mileage. I have a temporary situation while I'm working and in graduate school where I work 22 miles from home, travel 18 miles to school from work and another 15 miles home from school, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 miles 3x/week. I would like to work much closer to home where I could ride a bicycle to work at least several days per week, but that will not happen soon. Transit is not yet viable in the Twin Cities. I would hope for at least 4 more light rail lines to make a workable system such as in Salt Lake City, Portland, or Denver. A transit system with adequate parking can reduce mileage quite effectively. Only a few ride bicycles to buses. Intermodal in practice is very time-consuming and exhausting. I'm not sure what all the options are, but there is plenty of room for improvement over what we are doing now.

Yup, we're addicted to the "cage", aren't we? Problem is, in 2 - 5 years, when we are really going to be having problems, people are going to have to give up car usage (no choice), and for many in the USA there aren't going to be any alternatives. For example: I live 10 miles away from the nearest bus stop in my metro area. My fault; I bought a house in the suburbs in 1992. I wasn't so aware of PO then.

A Prius with an empty tank is as useless as a Hummer with an empty tank. Biofuels? Huh, give me a break. Electric cars? Got $100,000 for a Tesla?

Just about the only technology that will be able to be applied in massive numbers in 2 - 5 years is the bicycle. Americans are going to re-discover this mode for trips from 0 - 20 miles round-trip.

I urge anyone reading this to consider becoming certified as a cyclist instructor by the League of American Bicyclists, so that you can be a resource to your family, friends, and neighbors when they can't get gas and they need a paradigm shift. It is very rewarding.

Click on this link to learn more about becoming an instructor:

I suggest we have, like the neighborhood car, neighborhood vans/buses, providing transport and employment to people in your neighborhood for maintenance and drivers. Government should set up the insurance for them.

Also, neighborhood tractors, rototillers, snowblowers, lawnmowers ("sheep", I think they're called).
Oh hell, let's just call it "community" and see where it goes, hey?

All corporations with more than, say, 100 employees should offer transportation services to their employees.

We need to get back to people being valued, rather than enslaved by companies.

"If you aren't working and paying, what are you good for..?"

The paradox of high speed and long distance movement is that the further and faster you can go, the fewer places there are to go to, and the less somatic benefit you derive from movement. Cars and highways homogenize place and culture itself. They make mass culture possible. You can get down the road, but all you find when you get there is another town with a McDonalds and Starbucks.... more homogenized systems for injecting calories into your body and fewer uses for those calories.

The only alternative to building a transport system is building a place system... otherwise known as building places worth being in, places that by virtue of their completeness obviate the need for automobiles and even for much of transport of any kind. Sometimes these sophisticated places are called communities. A community is a place that has most of what you need already there. Isn't that actually more sophisticated than the fanciest car, train, airport and superhighway system we can dream up?

A community is a place where you can live, sleep, work, socialize, play, and do all of those things within biking or walking distance. About a hundred years ago we decided that the small town and village was too small, and that the solution was to enable people to move their bodies around more to get all that good stuff. (Actually some clever oil and auto entrepreneurs decided that for us.) The result was that you could get more live, sleep, work, socialize, play opportunities... but not in one place. That was a movement from a sophisticated technological machine called a "community" toward a LESS sophisticated technological machine called the automobile, and its superhighway system. It ripped the fabric of the world apart. It ended those sophisticated all in one places that dotted the earth in their millions. Those sophisticated all in one places included a built in exercise functionality.

The technology of the future is this new invention called the "super-community." (I only put "super" in there because that way you know it is new... it's not really new at all.)

In this high technology wonderland people will access all of their human needs using only the power of their legs. It will take clever engineers and technologists to design these machines... these "communities"... with an advanced feature set that includes, work places, living places, agricultural places, playing places and more, all within a few square miles. These "communities" or "places" will include an anti-obesity feature called "walkablity" and "bikability." Maybe to fit all these features in one place, they'll need to use "nano-community" technology... but they'll figure it out.

How do I know? I think the price and scarcity of oil will force them, and all of us, to figure it out. Moving bodies around in steel cages powered by oil is a dead paradigm.

"Place Making": Stuffing everything you need for life in a few square miles - it's the next high technology frontier.

(cross posted: )

Not sure if I really like the the term autobesity....
How about autoaddicts instead. I think that more accuratly describes those addicted to OIL.

Motor vehicles are the principal cause of ozone air pollution and contribute to about one-third of our global warming gas emissions.

What about electric vehicles. While I do NOT have 100k to buy a Tesla roadster, I did do the next best thing. I built my own EV. See for details on my projects.

My EV is fueled by a small off grid solar system that I also built myself. My contribution to global warming with the EV and solar system is a fraction that of a normal car.

I am not the only person in the world building an EV. Take a look at
There are hundreds of people out there doing the right thing to get off of oil. Come on in and join the fun.

Not sure if I really like the the term autobesity....
How about autoaddicts instead. I think that more accuratly describes those addicted to OIL.

I like the term "autobesity", because everyone in this country is ridiculously fat;thier houses are fat, their cars are fat, thier children are fat, their dogs are fat, their horses are fat, and their cows are fat....

Call a pig a pig.

I would call it "autofat", but that would be confused by the hip-hop fans into "autophat" in Bizarro world.

'Like eating, driving is necessary.'

And yet, 200 hundred years ago, nobody was driving anywhere.

This is a fundamental difference between Europe and the U.S: - European know that driving is simply an addition in our lives, like electricity.

Even people who really should know better believe driving is non-negotionable, though it is an open question whether the United States can possibly survive in its present form if driving had to be reduced 80%. And yet, as every year of non-preparation passes, the U.S. continues to drift in a direction where that result becomes more likely.

The U.S. fracturing is my metaphor of what happens - what follows is hard to predict, to put it mildly. Europe remains somewhat easier to predict - the rich will remain the rich, even if their numbers shrink, and the rest will generally expect functional services to continue functioning - rescue services or trach collection vehicles are likely to be fueled, regardless of any individual's 'need' to drive to work, until no fuel is available. Europe is likely to be able to adapt to living the way the way it did 50 or 100 or 500 years ago, as the various elements allowing such transitions are still in place.

But to even suggest that driving is not 'necessary,' it just involves living differently, sounds radical in an American context.