Category Archives: Curbing Cars

Curbing Cars @ The Movies: The Magnificent Ambersons And The Invention Of The Automobile

Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotton) demonstrating one of his automobile prototypes, from Orson Welles’s film The Magnificent Ambersons (RKO Pictures, 1942)

Here’s the first installment of Curbing Cars @ The Movies, in which our Research Director Rick Meier explores four cinematic visions of the future of cars and driving.  In Part 1, we look back to turn of the 20th century, and the invention of the automobile. We see  how the horseless carriage transformed the idyllic, pre-industrial city of Indianapolis, in Orson Welles’  The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).


By Rick Meier

In 1942, immediately following his spectacular debut in Citizen Kane, Orson Welles delivered his second feature release to RKO Pictures: an elegant adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons (originally published in 1918).

It is the story of the once grand and prosperous Ambersons: rich and influential property owners in a small but thriving “Midland town” (based on Tarkington’s native Indianapolis, during the opening years of the 20th century).

Welles opens his film with a series of vignettes portraying the way it used to be in sleepy, pre-industrial Indianapolis.  In the first vignette we learn that, “back in those days” the only public convenience was the streetcar, and one on which the rules of chivalry were not yet dead.

The film follows the great Amberson family and its ever-watchful neighbors as succeeding generations of Amberson heirs fail to maintain the great wealth and position won by their patriarch, Major Amberson.  Faithful to Tarkington’s novel, Welles’s adaptation is set against the backdrop of America’s second industrial revolution (also known as the technological revolution). Behind each personal tragedy of the Ambersons we perceive the changing world of their bustling community as their quaint Midland town progressively spreads and darkens into a modern city.

Ultimately, the greatest threat to the eminence of the Ambersons comes from the newly invented automobile.  The family’s prospects begin to dwindle as the Amberson-owned houses on National Avenue (a district based on the real-life neighborhood of Woodruff Place, in Indianapolis) start to depreciate in favour of newer upscale suburban neighborhoods, now more accessible by car, and located further and further away from the increasingly smoky and bustling industry of the downtown core.

In a crucial scene, George—the current Amberson heir—disparagingly characterizes the automobile as a useless nuisance, giving rise to an insightful speech from the automobile manufacturer and family friend, Eugene Morgan (played by Joseph Cotton), about the ways automobiles could potentially impact human life.

The subtext that drives the Magnificent Ambersons is the story of how the rise of driving gave birth to the suburb.  Here at Curbing Cars we look at the still-unfolding story of how the now increasing burdens of car ownership is coinciding with an historic period of re-urbanization.

Tune in next week for the second installment in this four-part series on cars in cinema, featuring Minority Report (2002)

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Filed under cars, cities, Curbing Cars, public transportation, ride sharing, urban planning

The Results Are In! How You Told Us You’re Getting Around In 2014

More than any other mode of transportation, our Curbing Cars readers get around by walking.

More than any other mode of transportation, our Curbing Cars readers get around by walking.

By Micheline Maynard

Back on New Year’s Day (a mere month and three days ago), we asked our Curbing Cars audience to tell us how you planned to get around in 2014. We got a terrific response and now we’re sharing the results with you.

We’re ambulatory. Most of us still use cars, but not as much as we use other types of transportation in the mix of the ways we get places. The number one way Curbing Cars readers get around is on two feet. Almost 80 percent of respondents say they get around most frequently by walking. That was followed by public transportation, used by 69.7 percent; cars, used by 58.1 percent and other modes of transportation, which included running, Zipcars or car sharing programs, and taxis.

Several people told us that they use of a mix of transportation in a single day. “I walk to work every day, bus in bad weather, bike for some errands in spring/summer/fall. use my car mainly for weekend shopping and for getting out of town,” replied one survey participant.

In fact, I’m doing more walking this winter in Phoenix, where I’m a Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State. I walk to school every day from my home downtown, and I’ve walked to the farmer’s market, the movies, to drinks and dinner, and to the Phoenix Opera in the month since I’ve been here. Even though I walked frequently in Ann Arbor, I am doing even more daily walking here. (And of course, the weather is much better…)

We’re pleased with our choices. People seem to be pretty satisfied with the mix of the ways they get places. About 60 percent of you said you were happy with your transportation mix. About 24 percent said they’d like to change it, and the rest said they would like to change it, but couldn’t for various reasons. Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, bike sharing, car sharing, cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, Poll, public transportation, Uncategorized, walking

Millennials: Tell Us Your Transportation Stories For Our Ebook

By Micheline Maynard

We’re hard at work on the first Curbing Cars eBook, which is scheduled to be published this spring. We’d like to include stories about millennials and the way you use transportation.

Did you put off getting a driver’s license, or did you get in line as soon as you could? Do you see a car as something that’s too expensive, or are you a car buff? Are you cycling or skateboarding or using public transportation? Or, do you have to drive to get where you need to go?

Join our stable of writers,

Millennials: share your stories.

How important is technology to you? Is your mobile device more important to you than your car?

If you are 30 or under, and would like to share your thoughts, please email us at Put Millennials in the subject line. Share a few transportation thoughts so we’ll know how to categorize you. Include your name, city, telephone number, Skype ID if you have one, and the best time to get in touch.

We only want people whose names can be used in the book, and we will verify your info to make sure you are who you say you are. Please respond by Feb. 14.

Thanks, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

P.S. for our non-millennial readers, we’ll be looking for your stories as well. Stay tuned for our request.

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Filed under Curbing Cars, Poll

Should She Keep Her Car Or Go Car Free? Your Advice For Anne

By Micheline Maynard

Ask, and ye shall receive! Our reader Anne in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked Curbing Cars last week to help her decide whether she should keep her 1998 Honda Civic, or take the plunge and go car free.

Anne's 1998 Honda Civic

Anne’s 1998 Honda Civic

Your advice has come flooding in. Here’s the first response, from John Lloyd. (We’ll be featuring more Advice for Anne this week.)

Dear Anne,

Great question!  The fact that you’re asking whether to keep your car is a wonderful indication that you have freed your mind from the tyranny of the automobile.  I have been living “car light” for the past 3 years, and driving my car less and less every year.
Like you, I have an older car (a 2000 Toyota Corolla), and I only fill the tank a couple of times a year.  I’d love to go completely car-free, but I live in a car-dependent suburb and like knowing I have the option in an emergency.  If we had a Zipcar available nearby I’d feel better able to let the car go completely, but since we don’t, I’ve hung on to it. Continue reading

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Filed under advice, cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, public transportation, walking

Help Anne Decide Whether To Keep Or Give Up Her Car

Anne's 1998 Honda Civic

Anne’s 1998 Honda Civic

By Micheline Maynard

People are cutting back on driving, and many are giving up their cars all together. We’ve told some of those stories here on Curbing Cars, like Andrew Hartford in Austin, Texas, and Lauren Steele, in Columbia, Mo. Now, one of our Curbing Cars readers wants some help in deciding whether she should keep her car, or cut the cord.

Her name is Anne (she asked us not to use her last name) and she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor has an extensive public transportation system, and it’s also a very walkable city. But it gets its share of snow and ice, and some parts of the city aren’t as accessible by transit and foot.

Here is Anne’s story (and that’s her 1998 Honda Civic above). Once you’ve read it, please send Advice For Anne to our email address: We’ll publish your responses and Anne will tell us what she’s decided. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, public transportation, walking

The Best Way To See A New City? Try Public Transit


Never be afraid to try public transportation when you visit a new city.

Never be afraid to try public transportation when you visit a new city.

By Micheline Maynard

Curbing Cars hasn’t spent much time bringing you stories about travel. But this weekend, our research director Rick Meier and I decided it’s a subject we should be writing about, for this reason.

When you visit a new city, the best way to see it is often the same way its residents get around: by public transit. In fact, that’s the advice I gave Christopher Elliott, the veteran traveler advocate, for his new series called The World’s Smartest Traveler.

It was flattering to be invited to take part — and I also welcome the idea of helping people feel comfortable when they’re away from home. I don’t think visitors should confine themselves just to rental cars and taxi cabs. Travelers ought to be able to get out and about, in an affordable and environmentally friendly fashion.

But, what’s the best way to feel secure getting on an unfamiliar transit system? Ah, I thought you might ask that. So, here are four tips so that you can get the most out of public transit when you’re on the road. Continue reading

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Filed under Curbing Cars, public transportation, Travel

Do We Really Have To Get Rid Of All The Cars?

photo(14)By Micheline Maynard

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about something I spotted on The Atlantic Monthly’s website. It’s called, “The Case Against Cars In 1 Utterly Entrancing GIF.” You can take a look at it here.

Basically, the animation shows a street full of cars, flashing to their drivers seated on the road. Then those people are grouped, and loaded onto a streetcar. The point of the GIF is to show how public transit reduces congestion.

Since Curbing Cars launched this summer, I’ve been struck by the polarization in the discussion over transportation use. At one end are people who think cars are evil and to be avoided at all costs. At the other end are those who love automobiles and think the people who despise them are crazy.

There’s very little discussion about the middle ground, which is where I think many Americans are heading, and will be heading in the next few years. That is, cars as part of a mix of personal transportation, but not the only option. It’s what the Livable Streets Coalition calls “driving light,” and which others call “living car light.”

That seems to make perfect sense, and yet, as with many moderate points of view, that thought seems to be getting overlooked. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, public transportation, walking

Public Transit Is More Popular Than Ever, And That’s The Problem


Toronto’s day transit pass (left) and a Montreal 3-day pass.

By Micheline Maynard

Over the past few years, there has been a record demand for public transportation. Environmentalists think that’s great news. So do businesses near bus stops and subway stations.

There’s only one problem. The interest in public transportation is swamping cities’ ability to provide fast and comfortable service. Every day, Twitter is full of alerts about train lines breaking down, subway delays and street closings that cause buses to detour.

I experienced some of these issues with the public transit lines in Toronto and Montreal during my visit. While they didn’t keep me from getting where I needed to go, the delays and detours threw me off schedule. Multiply that by the thousands of people who use the systems each day, and you begin to see that productivity can be under pressure.

The first problem happened on my first ride in Toronto. I hopped aboard a street car headed toward Lit Espresso Bar, on College Street, a main east-west route, figuring I’d revive myself after my Via Rail journey from Windsor.

Perhaps a mile into the trip, the driver made an announcement that our journey was going to entail a “short turn.” That means the car wouldn’t proceed to the end of the line, but would dump passengers off at the next stop, where they could pick up the next car.

It turns out this happens all the time in Toronto, and the transit authority even produced a video at one point to explain it. (The video is now gone from YouTube.) Essentially, if there’s bad traffic, construction or too few people riding a streetcar, the system dumps people off and turns around. Continue reading

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Filed under Curbing Cars, public transportation

Lessons Learned Getting Around Without A Car

By Micheline Maynard

Last week, I set off for Canada to do research for the upcoming Curbing Cars book. I decided before I left that I’d try to get around without a car.

You might think that’s a reasonable idea, since Toronto and Montreal have extensive public transit systems. I’ve lived in big cities, after all, such as Tokyo and New York, where I didn’t have a car.

But I usually drive to Toronto, or get a rental car while I’m there. And, because I wanted to see different parts of Montreal, I originally planned to rent a ZipCar for a few hours, only to find the service isn’t offered there.

Instead, I wound up using every kind of non-personal car transportation available to me. It was an experience that taught me how difficult it can be to adjust to living car free, once you’re used to jumping behind the wheel. But many people get along that way. In fact, the number of car free families rose in the U.S. last year for the first time in a half century.

Here’s how my trip went. Continue reading

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Filed under bike sharing, cars, Curbing Cars, Driving, public transportation

Curbing Cars Checks Out Transit In Canada

A streetcar in Toronto.

A streetcar in Toronto.

By Micheline Maynard

Curbing Cars is a North American transportation project, so this week I’m headed north (or technically south, if you’re standing in Detroit). I’m visiting Toronto and Montreal, checking out their blends of bike sharing, public transportation, walking and driving.

Follow my visit on Twitter @curbingcars (with the hashtag #cccanada) and on our Curbing Cars Facebook page. I’ll be posting regular updates on the people I meet and the ideas that I hear about.

There will be plenty about both cities in the upcoming Curbing Cars ebook, and we’re looking for your suggestions on what to see and do. Drop me a note in the comments.

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Filed under bike sharing, Curbing Cars, public transportation, urban planning