For a multitude of reasons, the USA would be a much better place if we reoriented our cities and towns towards transit based development. Getting Americans out of cars and onto trains, buses, bikes, and our feet would drastically cut our oil consumption and go a long way towards combating our obesity epidemic. Freed from car dependency, our towns and cities could return to the human-scaled and pedestrian-friendly communities many of them originally were. As we spent more time walking in our own neighborhoods and sharing rides on trains and buses with our fellow citizens, we might see a resurgence of American community life and public participation. With 2008 upon us, it’s not too much to say that the future of our country literally depends on kicking our addiction to oil.
The key to changing the car culture is to first recognize that this isn’t a religous argument. Even as a die-hard transit advocate I don’t believe that cars are evil or that they should be banned. In fact, automobiles are wonderful inventions and they’ve given us unprecedented personal mobility and freedom. They’re not going away any time soon not because of some conspiracy by oil and automobile companies (though these may certainly exist), but because cars are darn useful and people enjoy driving them.
The real problem is automobile dependency. A community (or a country) dependent on cars as the primary means of personal transport is going to be inherently more dispersed, more costly, and most likely less equitable than one built around transit lines.
There are many solutions out there, from carbon taxes to outright bans on automobiles in cities. In my opinion, the best and fairest solutions are those that make drivers pay the true cost of driving. (A lesson in negative externalities awaits those interested.)Or maybe we could just make cars really expensive. As promising as low-emission vehicles are, a billion people driving Priuses is way worse for the environment than ten million driving gas guzzling 911 GT3s (MSRP US$107,500). And taxing the heck out of those ten million Porsche owners might buy us a lot of nice new trains and buses.
Full disclosure: the 911 was my childhood dream car — and still is.
(Inskip Porsche, Warwick, RI)