Forest for the Trees

It is a familiar refrain, and any time a story comes out, in whatever media source, people will trip over one another in a mad rush to be first to trumpet the obvious. 

From one side of the metropolis to the other, Santa Monica to Pasadena, Claremont to Chatsworth: "Traffic is bad enough as it is," they say. They are convinced that, "removing a lane will just make the situation worse than it already is." There is some logic in that argument. Isn't there? The thing is, maintaining the status quo does nothing to resolve the problem. Those people are failing to see the forest for the trees.

and so it continues, the never-ending cycle

Traffic is backed up when there are two lanes. Traffic is backed up when there are three. It is backed up on the freeways when there is eight lanes, or more. The number of lanes is irrelevant, really. It has been shown time and again, that traffic congestion is a mess we cannot build our way out of. To use an analogy, the argument is like a lawn in which crab grass takes root and continues to expand until it takes over. You can try pulling the offensive weeds out every free weekend you have, but it will continue to come back unless you get to the root of the problem. The ROOT of the problem.

The root of the traffic congestion problem is not the number of lanes on a roadway. Nor is the root of the problem to be found in the number of motor vehicles on any given roadway. After all, and no matter how society attempts to make them into something more, automobiles are simple tools of mobility - they do not move without someone at the controls. No, the root goes deeper. Perhaps this is why it is so difficult for so many to distinguish, and thus eliminate. This root can only be discerned with some up-close and truthful self-examination. Too many people have allowed themselves to fall into the trap, the pit, of motor dependence. There is the root.

More and more over the past number of decades society, especially in the developed world, has become dependent on motorized means to the exclusion of manual. From preparing food in the kitchen, maintaining landscapes in our own yards, sharpening pencils, brushing teeth and, of course, transportation, have all become motorized. Zeus forbid we should do anything under our own power anymore.

In 1969 Zager and Evans sang about it:

"In the year 5555
Your arms hangin' limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin' to do
Some machine's doin' that for you…"

In the year 5555? Truthfully, I don't think it will take that long.

Use what ever excuse you want to justify all those "necessary" automobile trips - too far, too much to do, too little time. But underlying each and every one is dependence. If excessive motor dependence is at the root of the problem, then the solution clearly involves breaking free from that dependence. Of course for most people, in this country anyway, motor dependence is tied into a complex web of causal factors in their daily lives. Some of the strands of that web are real and practical, while others are more ephemeral perceptions, or mis-conceptions - danger, difficulty, that kind of thing. Yet in almost every case there is a resolution.

When we sit in traffic on a street with three lanes each direction, two lanes, or one we are part of the problem. Of course the solution involves change. The problem will not resolve itself without doing something different. Nothing is ever accomplished by sitting on our hands and doing nothing. All the wishful thinking in the world will not make a bit of difference. What will make a difference is asking ourselves each time we pick up the keys to our cars, "is this necessary, or can I accomplish this trip another way?" 

The majority of our daily journeys are less than four miles. Unless we are hauling 24" box trees, or king-size mattresses home, many of those journeys are easily doable by foot or bike.

I am pretty sure Homer was talking about Marge,
but for the average American it could just as easily be the car

If you have not seen an announcement for it yet there is a bicycle commuter festival and summit quickly approaching on the calendar. Looks like it will be both fun and informative. Get all the information here.


  1. ad infinitum... good commentary.

    1. Thanks. Every so often I try to be informative.


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