Monday, June 27, 2011

The Car Slant

We obviously have a very long way to go here in the US before most of our cities, towns and countryside become places where walking, biking and taking public transit are viable alternatives to driving. Just try to walk from Little Rock City Hall across Broadway to Robinson Auditorium between 6:00 a.m. & 6:00 p.m. for an illustration. Before widespread changes can occur on the ground though we have some work to do just in terms of how we engage in conversation about those changes. Enter the NY Times today with a great example of how not to do it. 
Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Alternatives.
ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
Read the article for more of the same bias. I wonder why the author didn't take a view more along these lines:
LITTLE ROCK — While European cities are making crosswalks safe to improve pedestrian flow and offering apps to help people find available bike share bikes, many American cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to people. The methods vary, but the mission is clear - to make anything but driving dangerous and just plain miserable enough to tilt everyone toward a less environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
I'm in full agreement that much of the space and funds reserved for cars right now should be reallocated to alternatives, but the tone of the article sets up an antagonistic us-and-them relationship that potentially fuels the anti-bike, anti-pedestrian, anti-public-transit attitude that so many drivers on this side of the pond share.

Since we've been so effectively limiting freedom for 60+ years now many Americans have become completely dependent on automobile infrastructure, and any attempt to tilt the balance back toward the livability that marked our cities for the first 175+ years of this country's history is met with open hostility. People cry out that building a bike lane limits their freedom. (postal ROADS are mandated by the Constitution for goodness sake, not bike lanes and streetcars!) Freedom? How many of us truly have freedom in choosing how to go about our daily business? I'm not talking about freedom to choose which car to drive or which road to take, but real freedom of choice. Here in Little Rock, except in a few pockets of livable neighborhoods, most of us do not have a meaningful option other than taking a car to work, the grocery store, and even to the bike path along the river. How freeing would it be to walk out your door in the morning and hop on a clean, comfortable bus when your smart phone alerts you to its arrival, or if the weather is nice to be able to ride your city bike to work without ever feeling like you're risking your life mixing with 45 mph traffic?

Instead of continuing to spend billions of dollars we don't have on expanding freeways and building new ones, which will only serve to increase traffic and the amount of time we spend behind the wheels of our cars, it would be incredibly easy and affordable to build our infrastructure in such a way that allows people to choose how to get from A to B. We'd be healthier; our neighborhoods would be more vibrant and safe; our economy would be less exposed to shocks in the price of fuel; and we'd have more money in our pockets to spend locally.

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