America’s road trip: will the US ever kick the car habit?
Motor City Detroit built the automobiles, oil capital Houston fuelled them and Los Angeles was carved up by freeways in their honour. Yet now all three cities are pushing walking, cycling and the use of public transport. So does this mean America’s love affair with the car is finally waning?
by Nick Van Mead
Wednesday 2 November 2016 13.49 GMT
A battered Dodge Challenger roars past as I head out on the nine-lane highway, riding past shuttered shops and decaying restaurants and row upon row of vacant, overgrown housing lots.
Normally I wouldn’t even consider cycling on such an expanse of road, but it’s not so bad in Detroit. After all, the birthplace of America’s car industry doesn’t have that many cars any more.
My ride along Jefferson Avenue passes the low bulk of Chrysler’s car assembly factory. Along with General Motors’ Hamtramck plant, it is all that remains of the once-great industry which supported this city. Where there were 285,000 jobs, now there are just 10,000.
In 1940, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the US; now it doesn’t even make the top 20. From a peak of 1.8 million inhabitants, the population now stands at 677,000.
But the city is resurgent – and its near-total collapse may unwittingly have created one of its most powerful and unique assets. The well-documented flight to Detroit’s sprawling suburbs killed the city inside, but it also left space. The wide rivers of asphalt carved deep into the city were designed to transport a population three times its current size.