We live in a society that sees social engineering as something that's only permitted for corporations (billboards, TV, radio, internet, and so on). But any social engineering that might have a public benefit is seen as totalitarian. (We can indeed thank social engineering for this manner of mind.) But the public transportation problem, for example, is not going to be solved by just building a system and waiting for people to use it. Humans do not work this way.

You might think that increasing investment in public transit could ease this mess. Many railway and bus projects are sold on this basis, with politicians promising that traffic will decrease once ridership grows. But the data showed that even in cities that expanded public transit, road congestion stayed exactly the same. Add a new subway line and some drivers will switch to transit. But new drivers replace them. It’s the same effect as adding a new lane to the highway: congestion remains constant.

But even the car companies at the dawn of the automobile age knew that the behavior of citizens would not change without first a change in their minds. Charles Montgomery makes this very point in his excellent book Happy City. Cars were not naturally or automatically adopted as the solution to urban mobility; instead, the car industry had to restructure the public's opinion about automobiles, and its understanding of urban space...
“They had to change the idea of what a street is for, and that required a mental revolution, which had to take place before any physi- cal changes to the street,” [says urban historian Peter Norton.] “In the space of a few years, auto interests did put together that cultural revolution. It was comprehensive.”

Motordom [the car industry] faced an uphill battle. It did not take an engineer to see that the most efficient way to move lots of people in and out of dense, crowded downtowns was by streetcar or bus. In the Chicago Loop, streetcars used 2 percent of the road space but still carried three-quarters of road users. The more cars you added, the slower the going would be for everyone. So Motordom’s soldiers waged their psychological war under the cover of two ideals: safety and freedom.

First they had to convince people that the problem with safety lay in controlling pedestrians, not cars. In the 1920s, auto clubs began to compete directly with urban safety councils, campaigning to redirect the blame for accidents from car drivers to pedestrians. Crossing the street freely got a pejorative name—jaywalking—and became a crime.

Most people came to accept that the street was not such a free place anymore—which was ironic, because freedom was Motordom’s rallying cry.

You will not end car culture by simply building stuff; you have to impose public transportation culture from above and as aggressively as Motordom. Without social engineering, we are going nowhere soon...
  • CM