Many people think of getting in their car, walking on the sidewalk, or stopping for a burger without understanding how people with different levels of privilege experience these things or how one person’s choices can affect so many others. We touched a bit in the last chapter about how folks who are differently abled can have a vastly better outdoor experience when streets are designed to prioritize people over vehicles. But how do the issues in this book affect black/brown people, or the elderly, women, or someone caring for a child? With the vast percentage of decision-makers being older white men there are issues that continue to be un-addressed in our society FOR DECADES.


Many people with privilege don’t see how streets which seem unchanging over time, can perpetuate racist ideas. However those with less privilege are regularly aware of how much loss has been experienced as cities shifted ever more urban land toward roads and highways. The shift has been most severe in black and brown neighborhoods. (link) (link)

The most blatant example of this was the properties which were stolen through eminent domain so that they could be demolished and used for highway corridors.

Not only was there less concern of pushback from black/brown communities, but highways were seen as an improvement over neighborhoods housing non-white people. (link) (link) This meant that non-white families were less likely to retain the generational wealth of property ownership that white families of a similar income level had. (link) Their children did not have a house to inherit and to this day more non-white families are renters rather then home owners.

To add insult to injury, other polluting infrastructure like oil refineries are also commonly placed in the backyards of poor non-white communities. This leads to higher rates of asthma, emphazema, and other illnesses from the increased air pollution. (link)

Gender Equality

Many women have the belief that traveling by car will be a safer option than using dark or empty streets with unsafe infrastructure.

This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where fewer people walking means less ‘eyes on the street’ and this results in more crime. Too many connections are seemingly ‘designed to fail’ and provide poor accessibility to vulnerable people. (link)

In many cities, neighborhoods are designed with a ‘point-destination’ mindset which reflects a home to work view of city streets. Women and care givers however do more trip chaining, dropping kids at school on the way to a job or doing errands. Chaining might be possible with biking or walking but it's very challenging for transit users.
Another challenge facing women and caregivers is the extra burden of 'encumbered travel' caused by carrying a delicate human along who needs regular care. The difference in travel needs results in women spending more time on transport, greater distances traveled on foot, and less support from the systems in place compared to work commuters. (link) (link)
Thankfully there are changes beginning to take place, with many communities getting more progressive leadership. Neighborhoods that reflect the needs of all people are being created in places like Europe and New Zealand. (link)

"The bicycle: a humble tool and powerful symbol for the emancipation of women around the world."

When streets are designed to limit car traffic use, then more people feel comfortable walking or biking. (link) (link) This makes trip chaining more convenient and parents can let kids get to school or to friends independently.

All of this makes for a more inviting atmosphere resulting in greater independence for women. (link) With the recent spike in e-bike sales, the access for people of all abilities has grown enormously. (link) (link)


I’ll never forget years ago doing a volunteer event at a major arterial. An older man who couldn’t walk fast was unable to get across the whole road before the light turned red.

He ended up trapped in the center with cars whipping past on both sides. The man might have been run over if not for another volunteer that helped him to safely reach the far side of the street.

One of the reasons that so many older people end up living in care facilities without the independence that they used to enjoy, is because our cities are not designed to be pedestrian-friendly. This robs people of the experience of safely navigating across traffic-filled streets. The bare minimum in making streets more accessible is a pedestrian island which divides the total crossing distance in half and provides a refuge for people.

Better solutions which have been used in Denmark and Netherlands (now also in Paris and Seville) are to simply make roads safe and navigable for people of all ages and abilities.

This not only helps vulnerable people, but actually helps drivers too since more people making trips on foot results in less car traffic.

Differently Abled

'But not everyone can ride a bike ya' know.'

I hear this so many times that it could literally fill a book. It's common for people who look at transportation from their own perspective, to assume that only one solution exists for all people.

The fact is though, people are individuals, and everyone has different abilities. There are a huge number of amputees, elderly folk, and people with various disabilities that use human power to get around. (link) There are also programs in various towns aimed at introducing people of differing abilities to human powered transport. It's because of such support that people who fall outside the fully abled spectrum can explore different options to enjoy active transport. (link)

For those who decide to use various types of pedal machines, many of them actually come to depend on their pedal machine or wheelchair to give them mobility.

Children & Families

At the same time there's a huge number of people who would find it difficult or impossible to travel by car (like children). For most people in North America, there is little freedom available until someone becomes old enough to get a drivers license. To me this is a handicap in it's own right because it denies young people the natural experience of exploring their environment on their own. (link) (link) This stifles their development and options for connecting with other children.

Later in this book we will look at how pedestrian-friendly streets helps children learn better, achieve independence, and make friends more easily.

For now I will share a common experience that I see on suburban streets. Parents will regularly shout out to their child to ‘stop at the corner’ and wait because crossing the street is considered unsafe for very young people.

The fear that car traffic brings adds unnecessary stress both to the children and to the parents who worry for their safety.

"Our culture obsesses about the care of children. We declare their well-being the most important thing in the world. Yet we keep building places that steal their freedom and put them in danger."
Charles Montgomery

This wasn’t a problem before the 1930s when cars began to carve their way into more and more neighborhoods.

I was one of the lucky children who avoided this stifling constraint. As young as 7 years old I was walking to school (with one sibling) and continued doing so on my own into adulthood. This allowed my parents to both work and take care of other needs which today’s moms and dads typically don't have. It also gave me a very early glimse into how skewed our neighborhoods are. As a teenager navigating the vast extent of Los Angeles I could spend hours traveling through the city without ever leaving the suburban grid. I rarely saw other people unless I rode to the beach and I was rarely on a street that didn't have traffic noise.

“Some kids outside are playing car accident… they both were in the car then they made it tip over and they started screaming help and then one of them crawled out and died on the ground and the other kid is screaming at him to wake up to no avail.
So grim. So hilarious.”


On top of having to endure all of the same challenges around navigating poorly designed roads that black and brown people deal with.

There is another torture that most people are not aware of- the horrific working conditions in slaughterhouses and meat processing factories which primarily hire the most vulnerable people.

The speed of work that is expected of people cutting animal carcasses with sharp knives results in some of the highest workplace injury rates in the country and at the same time brings a horrific emotional toll. (link) The era of Covid-19 has only worsened the situation as the areas in the centreal U.S. with the most concentrated infection rates were centered around slaughterhouses. (link)

This is why, when we talk about reducing or eliminating the use of cars and consumption of meat, it isn’t merely out of concern for the planet. These habits cause the largest amount of harm to those people with the least privilege.