Life on Wheels - Transportation For a New Urban Century

A Q & A with David Hodge, co-director of Life on Wheels.
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In the documentary Life on Wheels, an assortment of mobility experts, technologists, and visionaries explain the past, present, and futurescapes of transportation. The film tackles what the reality of our auto-centric transportation system is and investigates new possibilities that are only available through change.

The film is created by director/producer duo David Hodge and Hi-Jin Kang Hodge.

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1. What was the series of events that inspired you to create Life On Wheels?

DH: This film arose from the central question, how can we change our cities, so they are safe to walk and bike and not be dominated by the car. I can recall a sunny day walking down the street in Potrero Hill in San Franciso, seeing hundreds of cars parked. Just sitting there all day and thought, what if these machines didn't exist in our city. What would life be like without them? Could we redesign our cities, so things were closer and more accessible by foot or bike? Could we add more buses and trams for longer trips? Why wasn't this happening? How come it could be done in other cities in the world but not in my town of San Francisco? Could we make a city safe enough to let a child walk home from school without having to worry about them being killed by a car? At that point in time had also lost a dear friend in a tragic car accident. It was senseless. All of this led to the question, could we create a film or a work of art that answered some of these questions. 

2. Why do you feel changes in how we get around are necessary? (In terms of the climate, our health, pocketbooks, etc.)

DH: We are still living with technology that has been around for more than a century. Effectively nothing has changed. The car, train, tram, even the micro-mobility scooter are all about the same. We have new phone technology that connects us and our ability to buy transportation on demand, but the most significant difference is how many more vehicles are on our streets. Two billion cars, headed towards three if we keep going at the same pace. It's a monoculture. 

This has impacted our physical behavior. We sit a lot more hours a day and now suffer from a wide range of disorders, obesity, diabetes, bone density loss, asthma because we don't move our bodies as they are meant to do. Our tailpipe exhaust contributes to 40% or more of carbon emissions, and that doesn't include everything that comes from the manufacturing of an automobile, from mining to shipping to power generation. Even if we switched to all-electric vehicles, we still need to make them, power them and recycle batteries with relatively short life spans. Besides, you continually add to the fleet of cars that cause congestion and traffic fatalities. 

Lastly, according to a recent study, transportation is the second-largest expenditure for most American families. Americans spend about 16% of their income on it, with monthly costs coming in at a whopping $813 on average. Imagine if we designed our cities for walking and biking to work or for our errands and didn't need a car: better health, a cleaner environment, and more money in our pockets.

3. Do you believe the global pandemic will affect our future daily commute? Do you expect more of us to work from home indefinitely?

DH: I believe the global pandemic will shake up our thinking about land-use, mobility, and work patterns in most US and abroad cities. We are quickly learning we don't need to travel every day and use precious time and resources to be somewhere when we can manage some or many tasks from our home's comfort. We also don't have to get on a plane for every meeting or event. I think people will begin to rebalance their lives, reshape their homes, and adopt some of the new patterns we've developed during the pandemic. Maybe we'll work from home a few days a week and a few days at an office. Commercial real estate will also readapt for different kinds of usage. 

Cities will also benefit from a little less traffic on the roads. They may choose to keep roads closed to traffic for more pedestrian and cycling space. I think it will take time for these new patterns, ideas to form and to take hold. Some places will adopt these new patterns quicker than others.

4. I know you're living in Stockholm now. How has transportation shifted in your own life? What have you liked or disliked about it?

DH: Two years ago, we sold our car in the US and decided for a host of reasons to spend the majority of our year in Stockholm, returning to Half Moon Bay, CA, during our daughter's school breaks and summer vacations. We've owned a home in Stockholm for the past 16 years and have spent our summers and early fall here. I adapted to life without a car, using public transportation, trains, buses, ferries combined with cycling and walking. It is a way of life I enjoyed very much, and I came to realize that more and more, living in a place that only offered automobile transit was less and less appealing. 

We live in a beach community in Half Moon Bay and is lovely with access to the beach and coastal trails excellent for walking and cycling. Then to do anything else, grocery shopping, a quick run to the hardware store, a doctor visit, dinner out, taking your child to school, or activities all require you to drive. It would be possible to cycle to some of these things, but it never felt safe. You were always at the mercy of the automobile. 

Stockholm has plenty of cars and an infrastructure that allows safe walking and cycling to most places. In a day, I can do my errands, drop off or pick up my daughter from school, stop and the bakery, the grocery store, the doctor's office, go to a meeting all on foot. I get my daily exercise in the process of doing my errands. I have moved from a passive mobility structure to an active one. I also feel more connected to the world around me. One other bonus is I save about $800 a month for not owning or maintaining a car.

5. What excites you most in the realm of future modes of transportation?

DH: I have to say there is not much that excites me in the way of future transit modes. The only thing I recently saw was a "personal package robot," which is basically a high-tech pushcart that follows you, so you don't have to carry heavy loads—allowing you to walk and going shopping for groceries and not have to carry them. I believe the future of transit will be less about technology and personal ownership of a vehicle but more a reshaping of our cities to accommodate people—Human-centered design. This new thinking is beginning to take shape in cities worldwide—the reduction of car use and the reallocation of the streets for other things. Barcelona has created super-blocks. Paris and Norway have eliminated cars in the center core of their cities, and many other places are examining how to make way for "active transit." To me, this is exciting.

6. Is Amazon Prime the best place to direct people to watch it?

DH: Presently Amazon Prime is the best place to find our film. It will be available early next year on Tubi, Roku, and Pluto.

7. Anything else you would like us to know?

DH: We are just beginning a new documentary film titled Walk With Me - Exploring Life On Foot. We hope to release it in the Fall of 2021. You can read about it here.

Learn more

Life-onwheels.com: transportation for a new urban century

SmartGO.network: a great web site where you can learn more about car-optional living and ways of getting around.

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