The Joy of Driving

I’ve been going on about cycling – partly because I enjoy it, and partly because I am staying in Scotstown without a car.

But last weekend my wife came down from Montreal with the car, and I drove to Lac-Mégantic to do some shopping. What an experience! I rarely drive – maybe twice a month in town. Most of my driving is on highways, out of town, often going to or returning from Scotstown. Anyway, after 4 weeks in Scotstown without a car, following virtually no driving for a few months, getting back behind the wheel was a revelation.

I could actually cover 40 km in half an hour! I wasn’t exhausted or in a sweat when I arrived! I did not need to carefully weigh my purchases and balance them in a bag or on a rack! I did not get drenched by the rain! And how pleasant it was to drive along a rural highway, with the road rolling off into the distance, knowing that I could get to the horizon without effort.

Between Milan and Nantes, photo: R.Shearmur

Robert Gordon, in his magisterial opus, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016), describes how the invention and propagation of the car (mainly between 1910 and the 1940s) revolutionised transport, making cities cleaner (no horse piss and shit to clean up, no rotting carcasses to dispose of), opening up rural areas, breaking the monopoly of local stores, as well as allowing people to move out of cramped central cities to higher quality suburban housing (this possibility was first revealed by trains and horse cars, but fully realised with motorised transport). He also points out that infrastructure – smooth roads and bridges – was equally as important, and that their improvement may have driven demand for automobiles (i.e. it may be inaccurate to believe that the advent of cars led to better roads: rather, the bicycle and the impoving postal service led to better roads, which in turn revealed the potential of the car and increased demand for them).

Another item he discusses is the pleasure of driving – driving as a leisure activity in its own right and as a means of accessing leisure activities and seeing the world.

Well, after a good month without a car, I felt the world open up as I drove to Lac-Mégantic, and I took great pleasure in the drive!

Published by Richard Shearmur

I am a professor at McGill's School of Urban Planning. I perform research on innovation, on how we locate work activities (in a world where people often work from many places), and on urban and regional economic geography. I used to work in real-estate, and teach a course on this. I am an urban planner, member of the Ordre des Urbanistes du Québec and of the Canadian institute of Planners.

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