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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Hoping the Problem Will Simply Go Away

I have often said that the automobile is the worst idea of the past century, or at least the way in which it has completely dominated American society—not that we are the only car-obsessed nation.  I would say for most Americans the car is their sole form of transportation.  Even walking has been removed from the transportation formula for many people living in the suburbs as distances are simply too great to do anything but exercise on foot. With our transportation model dating back to the 1950s we seem incapable of changing our idea of what it means to live in a modern society.

Most conservatives feel that there simply isn’t any sort of problem whatsoever, at least not one that we can’t fix by drilling in the Arctic or giving oil companies and even freer rein to do as they please.  Conservatives mock any attempt at…well, conserving. As ironic as it appears, being conservative or judicious with the use of petroleum seems to be anathema to conservatives.

Making automobiles that use less fuel or use some alternative just doesn’t seem to be any kind of answer. Even if we made cars that ran on sea water we would still need all of the resources to build them, and maintain the roads, and the parking, and then we’d still be saddled with the danger of automobile traffic.* If we are not making a vigorous attempt to lower the amount of cars we use then we are just kidding ourselves. It reminds me of a child trying to hide behind a curtain that doesn’t cover his legs.

Once again we are trying to solve a problem for which we already have the answers staring us in the face.  Public transportation in many American cities is woefully inadequate and most citizens view it as the last resort of poor people.  I would imagine that there are many places in America where only the poor ever set foot on city buses.  Only a handful of American cities have a working metro rail system, something that is generally viewed as being a bit more dignified and sophisticated form or urban transit.  

And forget about bikes; most Americans probably would never consider riding a bike for transportation.  It would probably take an entire generation to convince people that a bicycle is actually quite a sensible option for many urban transportation scenarios.  I face a similar mentality here in Spain where the car is seen as a middle class right. Some people are positively astounded to learn that almost all of my transportation is effected via the lowly bicycle.    

*The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was positively bubbling over the fact that there were only 37,261 traffic deaths in 2008. Even if that is an improvement over previous years it is still a wholesale slaughter of US citizens.  

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