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CityLab
Transportation

How Cars Divide America

Car dependence not only reduces our quality of life, it’s a crucial factor in America’s economic and political divisions.
Cars crawl along the freeway during rush hour in Rowland Heights, Calif.
Cars crawl along the freeway during rush hour in Rowland Heights, Calif.Jae C. Hong/AP

Urbanists have long looked at cars as the scourge of great places. Jane Jacobs identified the automobile as the “chief destroyer of American communities.” Cars not only clog our roads and cost billions of dollars in time wasted commuting, they are a terrible killer. They caused more than 40,000 deaths in 2017, including of some 6,000 pedestrians and cyclists.

But in the United States, the car plays a fundamental role in structuring the economy, our daily lives, and the political and social differences that separate us.