Suburbs and cars: 
a complicated relationship



It’s a well-known fact: cities are filled with cars. At the peak hours, massive traffic jams occur as people go to work or are coming back from it. But where do most of these cars come from? Surprinsingly enough, they don’t always come from the city itself, as most people who live there use public transportation or walk. In fact, the suburbs are responsible for sending so many cars in the cities.

According to the American Community Survey made by the Census Bureau from 2010 to 2013, suburban areas tend to have a greater car ownership. Globally in the U.S. (not just the suburbs), there is 1.8 vehicle per household[1], so we can indeed say that most suburban families have at least two cars in the driveway. And when their owners go to work, they all find themselves jamming the traffic in big cities.

People who put their feet up in a suburban house are usually relatively young families who have children. The types of vehicles that you’ll find there go along with that reality. You'll usually see SUVs (sport utility vehicle) and minivans parked in the many driveways all over any suburb you visit. These types of cars are more popular simply because they are more reliable family vehicles—they can hold a lot of occupants and luggage, which is a must when the kids go to their hockey practice, for example. Just watch any TV commercial for a SUV or a minivan and they'll tell you how efficient they are or how much room they can offer.

Also, the fact that there is very little or no public transportation outside the city also influences people who live in the suburbs to buy a car, or even two cars, because how are you going to get to work if your husband or wife has to use the car to go to work as well? Technically, one could indeed call a taxi every day, but that would be too expensive in the long run. Let's face it: a surburban family cannot rely on public transportation other than the school bus for their kids. This is a big part of the reason why having at least two cars is essential when you live in the suburbs.

Finally, while cars are very useful, they are a major environmental issue, and living in the suburbs isn't exactly an advantage when it comes to saving gas. Especially for people who have to travel a great distance to go to work every day, living in the city (or closer to your workplace) would be more friendly to the environment. Although the suburbs are cleaner because the density of traffic is smaller, the fact is that the distance one has to travel is bigger and thus, using your car in the suburbs causes more pollution than using a means of transportation in the city, where everything is, in theory, closer to you.

To conclude, upon a bit of analysis, we can say suburbs and cars have, in a certain way, a complicated relationship. While suburban areas are great because of tranquility and space, they do generate some complications when it comes to transportation. Car ownership is greater there, and so is the distance to travel, and consequently, pollution. But who knows, maybe one day we will develop a transportation system that links cities and suburbs in an ecological way.

[1] Census Bureau's 2010-2013 American Community Survey

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