The desire to drive, and how we must counter it

I am discovering that there’s some powerful psychology going on when you get a new car.

Playing into this for me is that my old car was wearing out, and was getting difficult to drive, plus the change from manual to automatic.

This means the new car seems like a breeze to drive.

The “new car smell” is real, and somehow makes it seem pleasurable to sit in the driver’s seat.

The extra features – even on this model which was as cheap as I could buy in the size I wanted – are (I’m guessing) designed to appeal, to make you want to be in the car (and thus to drive it).

Some designers have identified cupholders specifically as desirable, with some perhaps unlikely explanations:

Rapaille says women love cup holders because — and this is really what he told her — cup holders mean coffee, and coffee means safety, because of the memories we all have of our mothers preparing coffee with breakfast.

And this: Anthony Prozzi, design manager for Ford in Michigan, explains that “part of a designers job is to play psychologist, anthropologist and sociologist, and knowing those things helps you read consumers and know what puts a smile on their faces.”

Lancer manual: cup and bottle holders

My new car has a spot to put a bottle in the door (like my old car did) plus cupholders in the centre between the front two seats. So I can have two drinks within easy reach if I want… while the manual warns you not to actually use them while driving. Plus it’s got a spot for a packet of tissues, in case I have a spill.

I suppose car manufacturers have been at this game for a long time. You’ve bought their product for thousands of dollars – they want you to feel good about it, so that in time you’ll want to upgrade to another one.

The net result is that – even for someone like me, who understands the consequences of driving, and doesn’t like driving – I feel like I want to drive it.

I’d never drive it to work. Parking is too expensive, traffic is too soul-destroying, and (usually) the train is too good.

But it’s tempting to drive it other places where PT options are fewer – and I can understand why some people would be tempted to drive every day, even into horrible traffic. Combined with (Australian) governments who keep building big roads, even though it doesn’t solve congestion (it expands it), the desire to drive is powerful.

Just get in, turn the key and go. It’s so easy. Mostly the noise, air quality and traffic impacts are Somebody Else’s Problem. The motorist doesn’t pay for them; society does.

Governments are complicit in this, especially in Australia, where they build ever more roads as cities get bigger – despite this being not how the world’s biggest cities solve their mobility problems.

So the desire to drive is powerful.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

Fighting back

All this means that those of us who believe in the importance of solving those impacts through alternative transport modes have to make sure that they improve enough to fight back. If everybody who could afford to and was able to was on the roads, it’d be a disaster.

Perhaps to an extent cars are self-defeating. The more crowded the roads become, the better the alternatives look.

I also associate the car with first escapes, driving nowhere in particular in the middle of the night with a friend, movement being a goal in its own right. … Countless trips have been made by car since then, and we (still) own a small car today. However, trains became our favorite transport mode a long time ago, and as a family, we nowadays associate highways with congestion and stress, places to avoid.Stefan Gossling

Ultimately to fight back against the car, the other options need to improve.

Gossling again: There are powerful interests at work to psychologically engineer car addiction—addicts, conveniently, never question their behavior. Other insights pertain to the role of cars with regard to emotions, sociality, sex and gender, speed, authority, and death. We need to understand these interrelationships to unlock the possibility of alternative transport futures.

Caulfield station, inbound passengers during evening peak

Can public transport improve?

One could focus on the psychological aspects of public transport, but what about the basics – making the system easy and pleasant to use?

Cleanliness, crowding, information, security and easy to use ticketing all come into it. But seamless connections and cutting waiting times to reduce door-to-door journey times are fundamental requirements.

It would be easy enough to despair. Progress is so damn slow.

Most suburban buses are still running to frequencies from cuts 25 years ago. The last tranche of the better quality orbital Smartbus routes were implemented in 2010, almost a decade ago.

Trams have seen capacity expansion (big trams replacing smaller trams) but few route extensions, and remain slow due to a lack of progress on traffic priority.

The noises about public transport expansion are positive, but the actual progress isn’t.

Particularly frustrating is that literally billions are being spent on new rail tunnels to fix peak hour (great!) but most suburban train lines continue to run only every 20 minutes at most times of day, 30 minutes evenings. There are still gaps of 40 minutes on some lines on Sunday mornings.

A few have improved, but on most lines at most times they are much the same now as they have been for 30 years.

Let’s face it, with some exceptions, outside peak, most of the public transport system remains pathetically infrequent and slow, especially for a city of nearly five million people — despite increasing all-day demand.

Really, it’s no surprise that most people continue to drive.

The car industry is doing its best to coax us in, and on the other side, every signal from authorities, every pathetic half-baked public transport upgrade, every poorly-programmed pedestrian crossing, every non-existent bike path tells people to drive.

To curb the many problems of the car, they have to do better.

Retail therapy

Just a quick few points while I work on a more complicated post that’s (inevitably) transport related

Shopping bags

Many major retailers are phasing out single-use plastic bags. Or to be precise, they’re phasing-out free bags.

This is not the first time Target has tried this. They stopped issuing free plastic bags in 2009, but brought them back in 2013. Part of the problem seemed to be that the bags they sold were the same as the previously free ones they’d given away. Other retailers sell higher quality bags.

An outright ban has been in place for all retailers in NT, Tas, SA and ACT, plus Qld and WA joined them on 1st July, which no doubt is why the retailers have pushed ahead. Victoria is set to follow at some stage. Unclear what NSW will do.

I’m happy to see this change. Yet there’s been some unbelievably ridiculous hand-wringing from some quarters:

C’mon. If you still want a bag, it’s typically just 15 cents to buy one. FIFTEEN CENTS! That’s just one percent of a $15 shop.

For me, the only behaviour change is I now stuff a green bag into my work bag, so I have it for my detours to the supermarket on the way home.

We’ll all adapt. In fact, at this IGA at Nagambie (snapped on 30th June, before Coles switched) the locals seemed to be coping without any fuss whatsoever.

Nagambie IGA: Bring your own bags

Update 2/8/2018: Coles backflipped on 1st of August and made the reusable bags free for an indefinite period.

Then the next day they backflipped again, and said the free bags will end on 29th August.

Dish washer

The Fisher and Paykel dishwasher, which had been in my house since I moved here in 2005, broke down again.

I’d previously thought that, given it was a pretty old model (circa 2000), I’d replace it the next time it failed, so that’s what I did, and found a good price on a Bosch.

Why Bosch? The Bosch washing machine I bought nine years ago hasn’t skipped a beat, and they also rate very well on the Choice web site (which is well worth joining if you’re grumpy that The Checkout hasn’t been renewed).

I paid the installation fee. While it didn’t take long, it was satisfyingly complex enough that I’m glad I did.

Dishwashers aren’t for everybody, but I hate washing dishes, so for me, this is money well spent.

The new car: 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer

The new car arrived

I picked up the new car last night. That’s it above.

I suspect the web has changed the shopping experience. I no longer go and look around car dealerships unless I already know what I want.

The car dealers I’ve dealt with during this saga seem less slimy than the ones I encountered the first time I bought a car.

When scouring Carsales, I had pondered that if I saw the perfect deal somewhere out in the country, I’d be willing to go to grab it. In the end I bought from a local dealership, which will make servicing it with them to maintain the warranty much easier.

In fact as part of the handover, they showed me where the service area is, and how the after hours drop-off/pick-up works. Clever. The chief service guy there recognised me from when he used to work on my old Magna years ago. Heh.

The dealer bloke showed me the basics of the car, then sent me on my way.

Amusingly/horrifyingly I scraped the bottom of the steep driveway just exiting the dealership. Can’t see any visible marks. Also amusingly, I thought the engine was revving loudly on the drive home, until I realised it was in Sports mode, not Drive. Oops.

Today I’ve sat in the car for a while with the manual and figured out all the controls. Or at least, the important ones.

The psychology of buying a new car and wanting to drive places is powerful.

Anyway, I like it so far, though I could do without the spoiler, which I don’t think helps visibility out of the back window. Perhaps I should have asked if the car was available without it.

Cyclists on the footpath

I described this on Twitter the other day, but I’ll expand on it here.

I was heading out in the car on Saturday afternoon.

Got in, beeped, looked behind me, slowly backed-out of my driveway.

BANG! A cyclist riding along the footpath with his dog (roughly at running pace) collided with my car.

I stopped, moved my car back into the driveway, and asked if he was okay. Thankfully he was. And his dog.

They carried on down the street, at the same speed.

Bicycles parked at Ormond station

Cyclists on footpaths

Cycling forms a vital part of the transport network, helping people travel longer distances than might be practical by walking, but without having to drive a vehicle.

Sometimes there are good reasons for cyclists to avoid riding on the road. Riding on some roads can be perilous due to driver behaviour.

Probably not my on street though. It’s fairly quiet. But what would you do if taking the dog out for a run?

In Victoria it’s completely legal to ride on the footpath for cyclists under 12, or accompanying those under 12. (Regulation 250)

(The bloke I encountered was an adult.)

The problem isn’t so much the bicycle itself, as the speed compared to other footpath users.

Just as cyclists come of worse in on-road collisions with motor vehicles, pedestrians come of worse in footpath collisions with cyclists.

For a bike going at anything much above walking speed, there’s a real danger of a collision with a vehicle or a person, especially given limited visibility to/from driveways and garden paths — in fact years ago one of my sons was hit by a cyclist while coming out of a front garden gate.

And yet some cyclists will persist in riding at speed along footpaths. Really not a good idea.

What could I have done?

My fence isn’t high, but the speed he was going, I’d have little chance of spotting him even if driving out forwards.

And he obviously didn’t spot me, and either didn’t hear the beep, or didn’t realise where it came from, or couldn’t stop in time.

There is one thing I could do: my driveway is short enough that I could have a quick look up and down the footpath before I get in the car. It might help.

Four minutes? Impossible!

I can’t help noticing that when traffic is relatively light, this sign on Kings Way always it’s 4 minutes to Williamstown Road.

4 minutes to Williamstown Road

This seems as optimistically unlikely as those old Citylink travel time promises. Google Maps reckons it’s 7.7 kilometres, and estimates a travel time without traffic of 6 minutes.

The speed limit along the freeway and over the Westgate bridge is 80 km/h, which by my calculations makes it just under 6 minutes if you were able to consistently do the speed limit for the whole distance. To do it in 4 minutes you’d need to be zooming along at about 115 km/h.

The estimate to get to the Western Ring Road seems a little more accurate.

Of course the very reason these signs are needed is because travel times on the roads can vary widely. In peak hour they are crowded and slow… in a city the size of Melbourne, this is inevitable, because it’s simply not efficient to move people in ones and twos in their cars.

Vicroads figures just released show that traffic continues to get slower… and that’s despite a multitude of motorways having been built, extended or widened over the last decade. This graphic from the PTUA:

Despite billions spent on roads, traffic is still getting slower.

In a big city I contend that it’s probably not possible to fix road congestion. But is it possible to reduce overall average travel times for everyone (not just motorists)?

Well yes it is. Vancouver’s managing to do it. How? By not building motorways, but upgrading public transport instead. The more people are off the road, the better.

Keep clear: Pedestrians walking!

I was pleased to see a couple of articles on page 5 of the May 2014 City of Glen Eira council newsletter, about the rights of pedestrians on footpaths.

Car blocking footpath #RoadMorons

The first notes the rules around keeping footpaths clear:Glen Eira News, May 2014: Pedestrians

Clearing the way for walking

During community consultation for Glen Eira City Council’s Walking Strategy, various concerns were raised regarding obstructions for walking. These obstructions range from overhanging branches from private properties, illegally parked vehicles and construction sites.

A key role of Council’s Parking and Prosecutions Department is to have a presence at schools within Glen Eira to ensure safety of children. This includes ensuring vehicles do not park over school crossings or footpaths.

It notes you can ring the council to get cases investigated.

The other concerns motorists using private driveways needing to give way to pedestrians:

Pedestrians and private driveways

Each year, a significant number of pedestrians including the elderly and children, are run down and seriously injured by vehicles exiting private driveways

Under the Victorian road rules, a driver exiting a private driveway must give way to pedestrians and all other traffic — even if such traffic is hidden by high front fences, hedges or buildings.

Glen Eira City Council Manager Transport Planning Terry Alexandrou said that blowing the horn before exiting the driveway is not giving way.


The correct way to exit a private driveway is:

1. drive slowly to the exit and stop with the nose or tail of the car just short of the footpath; and

2. at less than walking speed, inch out slowly across the footpath.

It’s worth noting that the Road Safety Rules 2009 makes it clear that motorists have to give way to pedestrians when entering or exiting any off-road area, and this “can include a driveway, service station or shopping centre” — it’s not just private residential driveways.

As I’ve noted before, this is contrary to common signage which urges pedestrians to “Beware of cars” — which they should of course, but in the absence of any warnings for motorists, could easily be misconstrued as implying vehicles don’t have to give way.

See also:

Give way to pedestrians when exiting a driveway or car park