Last modified on 21 November 2014, at 23:11

Lentis/American Automobility and the Car Counter-Culture


Karl Benz began production of automobiles in Germany in 1888. [1] In 1895, Charles and Frank Duryea (Charles and Frank Duryea brothers) founded the first U.S. automobile manufacturers by founding Duryea Motor Wagon Company. [2] American manufacturer Oldsmobile began mass-producing cars in 1901. [3] a stationary assembly line, attributed to Ransome Eli Olds, rapidly expanded Oldsmobile's output from 1901 to 1902. This innovation was the start of a new paradigm.

On December 1, 1913, Henry Ford implemented a sophisticated manufacturing process, complete with a moving assembly line, which reduced the time to build a car from 12 hours to ninety-three minutes. [4] [5] Ford used this new manufacturing methodology to produce the Model T which became the first car marketed to the middle class. As Ford wrote, “[The Model T] will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces." [6]

Ford Model T

By the mid-1920's, consumers were less enthralled by the plain Model T, but the want for inexpensive mobility had hardly faded [7] Between 1900 and 1930. cars quickly became a staple of United States culture. Over this period, the number of vehicles owned per 1000 people increased from 0.11 to 217.34.[8] Cars have remained ingrained in the United States throughout the 20th century as evidenced by consistently increasing car ownership (nearly 850 cars per 1000 people in 2009)[9] as well as the complex of industries that support automobiles' use and their manufacture. [10]


There are 10 million carless households in America; of these, 62 percent live in cities and 13 percent in the surrounding suburbs. [11] This discrepancy in location is partly due to mass transit availability in cities. According to the Brookings Institute, 99 percent of the cities are covered by mass transit services, whereas only 58 percent of suburbs are mass transit accessible. [11] The lack of public transport in suburbs leaves 700,000 zero-vehicle households without bus or metro options. [11] Another reason for more carlessness in cities is shortened commuting distances; the average urbanite commutes 43.5 minutes daily, whereas the suburbanite commutes 52 minutes. [12] This makes biking and walking more attractive options for commuting. Thirdly, higher traffic densities in cities can cause congestion, longer driving commuting times and frustration with cars.

Of 7.5 million carless households, 60% are classified as low income. [11] This trend has several explanations. First, the payment on a car can amount to a few hundred dollars, which is a substantial portion of a low income budget. [13] Second, when mass transit is available, it is often more cost effective than owning a car. Bus fares in Hampton Roads cost 50 dollars per month, which is less expensive than the costs of owning a car. [14] However, while the majority of carless Americas are low income, there are over 2 million middle and upper class zero vehicle households. [11]



Many people do not own a car because they prefer more cost-effective forms of transportation. For example, one carless urbanite said “Most people don’t realize it, but their car is what is sucking most of their cash away”. [15] Other carless individuals are too poor to afford a car payment and must live without a car.


Environmental concerns are another motivation for going carless. Cars emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and these individuals use mass transit, biking, or walking to reduce their carbon footprint. According to one individual, “And the Jetta didn’t make me any happier. … it still weighs 2,000 pounds and is full of metal and toxic things, plastic and gas. Do I need this monstrous thing to live?” [15]

Environmentalists are one proponent for a carless America. Fewer cars will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Each year the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere increases in the US and globally. The United States has the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world with almost 20 metric tons per year per person [16].


Exercise is another motivator for carless individuals. Americans take the fewest steps daily of any developed country, due to a car-dependent culture. [17] These individuals aim to increase their daily exercise by biking or walking to work. In the words of one health-conscious commuter, “I’ve been without a car for two months now… Lots of walking and listening to the ipod”. [18]

Social Group AnalysisEdit

Car ManufacturersEdit

Car Manufacturers oppose a carless America for economic reasons; without a market these companies will go bankrupt. In 2012 the US market sold 8 million cars and 7 million light trucks [19]. These markets will cease to exist in a car free America. On the other hand, the price of unleaded gasoline will drop significantly. Lower demand will result in lower prices; today the price of unleaded gasoline is averaging $3.50 per gallon [19]. Lower prices for gasoline will further benefit the public transportation industry by making it less expensive for pedestrians, thus improving ridership.

Effect on Transportation LandscapeEdit

In an effort to make the streets safer and more accessible for non-vehicular users, there have been many changes to the infrastructure of cities and towns.

Bike Lane AdvocacyEdit

Bike lanes first became prevalent in major cities in the 1970s [20]. Today they still serve as a safe median where cyclists can share the road with motorized vehicles and are becoming more common in major cities such as Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia [20]. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Roadside Design Guide provides specifications for the design of bike lanes, such as minimum width of the lines and the lane itself[21].

Public TransportationEdit

Public transportation was begun to provide pedestrians with a safe and convenient mode of travel. A bus stop design guideline submitted by Darnell and Associates provided information to “encourage the members of the community to use public transit through the provision of safe, comfortable, and convenient transit facilities”[22]. Public transportation will reduce car use and lead to the environmental benefits previously discussed.

Walkable InitiativeEdit

Recently, a movement has arisen calling for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick issued a statement highlighting the needs of more multifamily homes and affordable housing; he also emphasized how these homes had to be “near jobs, near transit, and near city and town centers”[23]. This proximity will deter the use of motorized vehicles and encourage people to walk to their destinations.

Examples in Other CountriesEdit

Venice, ItalyEdit

Panorama of the Grand Canal
Panorama of the Grand Canal

Venice is the perfect example of a carless city; it has been carless for the past 1500 years. [24] It was built on 118 small islands, connected with 400 bridges. The narrow streets of Venice weren’t built for cars, instead Venitians use canals to transport freight and passengers. [25] Many small shops have doors facing the canal, so freight can be loaded or unloaded quickly and easily. Even though tourists prefer to use the gondolas, Venetians prefer to use the traghetto (ferries) to get across the Grand Canal.

Houten, NetherlandsEdit

Houten's infrastructure prioritizes cyclists and pedestrians. Railway stations are easily accessible and child-friendly bicycle paths weave through the city. Cars are discouraged because of the city’s urban planning. Bicycle paths are connected to each other all around the city, whereas cars have to travel to the city center first to get to another part of the city. The city council approved this innovative traffic layout in 1968. [26]

Fes-al-Bali, MoroccoEdit

Mules used to transport freight

Fes-al-Bali is the oldest part of Fes, Moracco. With a total population of 156,000 people, Fes-al-Bali is considered to be the largest contingent of carless urban dwellers in the world. [27] It’s surrounded by large city walls, so the space within the walls is very valuable. In the medina, the streets are very narrow, only 2 feet wide in some places, preventing car and bicycle use. Merchants use mules to transport freight in and out of the medina. [28]



  2. Georgano, G. N. (1985). Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886–1930. London: Grange-Universal. ISBN 0517480735.
  11. a b c d e Tomer, A (2011) Transit Access and Zero-Vehicle Households. Brookings Institute. Retrieved from
  12. US Census Bureau. Commuting in the United States:2009 Retrieved from
  14. Hampton Roads Transit.
  15. a b Can you live without a car? MSN.
  16. Rapier, R. (2012, July 12). Global carbon dioxide emissions — facts and figures. Retrieved from
  17. The crisis in America walking.
  18. I finally sold my car. Location180.
  19. a b Wall Street Journal. (2012, December 04). Auto sales. Retrieved from
  20. a b Pedestrian Bicycle and Information Center. (n.d.). Bike lanes. Retrieved from
  21. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. (2011). Roadside design guide. (4th ed.)
  22. Darnell and Associates. (2006, October 04). Bus stop design guidelines. Retrieved from
  23. Benfield, K. (2012, November 12). [Web log message]. Retrieved from