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Clearly Jerome's anti-car-culture tirade (which, for the record, I largely agree with) is not the irresistible force that will get the immovable American public to budge from its perception of cars, gasoline and suburban sprawl as not only desirable but essential. It dawns on me that there is only one logically and politically feasible way to take on this issue, and that is to attack the idea of necessity itself.

In other words: "OK, you're right, you do need these cars. But is it right that you should need them?"

Don't our suburban families deserve transportation choice?

I think this is the only way to frame the issue that has even a chance of making a dent in people's thinking. You have to pay upward of $10,000 a year to own, fuel and maintain two cars -- why? Why should you have to do this? Geenius at Wrok doesn't have to do this -- he lives in a city where he can address nearly all his transportation needs on foot, bicycle and public transportation. On the rare occasions when a car is far preferable to all those other options, he can use a car sharing service. He has choices. Why does he get to have choices while you, living in suburbia, are given none?

People equate the car with individual freedom. Turn this idea on its head. Is it freedom to have to use this bulky, costly vehicle to get anywhere you might want to go? Isn't real freedom the ability to choose which mode of transportation is most suitable for a given task -- say, car for shopping, public transportation for commuting, bicycle and walking for recreation and social calls? The ability to choose a cheaper mode when money is tight, a less polluting one when temperatures are rising, one that provides moderate exercise when the waistline is getting too expansive for comfort, one that doesn't require a licensed driver when the under-16 kids want to go somewhere?

Why must this choice be preemptively, presumptively made for you by your built environment, in total ignorance of your personal values or circumstances?

Don't you deserve to be able to make up your own mind?

Once upon a time the car was a luxury; later, a comfort. We made the decision as a society to turn it into a necessity, to reconfigure our entire environment (aside from a few big cities and forward-thinking small towns) to make it nigh-impossible to live without one. We did this on the assumption that, well, everybody wants a car, so everyone will have one, at least everybody who's anybody, so there's no problem! People who don't want them, well, they're just deviant kooks; and people who can't afford them, are we supposed to care? Just keep them in the inner-city housing projects, out of sight of everyone else. They can take buses -- buses are good enough for them. Not for us.

This mind-set "worked," about as well as any conformist, elitist mind-set can work, until the mathematics of the lifestyle came home to roost in the 21st century, telling us that this way of life has an expiration date -- that the dollar is weakening and the oil is finite and our dependence grows as things get farther and farther apart and the people with all the real quantities of money in this country aren't going to share it to make anyone else's lives easier. So we can either march blithely toward suburban apocalypse, the logical conclusion of this self-created necessity, or we can demand choices. More precisely, we can demand that the people who build our environment -- the developers, the planners, the bankers, the lawmakers -- to start creating the kinds of places that allow us to have choices, multimodal communities that allow the car to remain one transportation mode among a number of equally attractive alternatives. The open-minded among us can move to these places and insulate ourselves from the shocks that will befall those who insist on keeping all their eggs in one internal-combustion basket.

Originally posted to Geenius at Wrok on Mon Apr 24, 2006 at 09:08 AM PDT.


If you HAD the choice, would you use some mode of transportation other than the car?

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| 57 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  So (6+ / 0-)

    Will the debate be pro-choice vs pro-car ?!

    In the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)
    Read more on the European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe

    by Jerome a Paris on Mon Apr 24, 2006 at 09:10:52 AM PDT

    •  Libertarians (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Reading the posts on your diaries over the weekend seems to confirm one of the claims made by the Libertarian Party. Americans both left and right share a Libertarian bias from our heritage. Patrick Henry’s speech, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” influences American thinking on every subject, and subjectively we interpret it to mean “I get to decide every issue for myself”. Many of us interpret Henry while rationalizing  rejections of your well-reasoned proposal for taxing gasoline to pay for the infrastructure we need to free ourselves from our oil dependency. Many of us understand that we are rushing toward an energy cliff, but our revered current President speaks for us all when he says, “Doing something about it is hard work.” Each of us must decide our willingness to pay the price and do the work, but right now procrastination and hoping it will go away appears to be winning.

      -7.88, -7.13 I think the Republicans really do hate us for our freedoms, but we still need to figure out what's pissing off the Muslims

      by ocooper on Mon Apr 24, 2006 at 10:21:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Do you know how well that would poll ?!? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Canadian Reader

      Really, really, really well.

      "Are you in favor of choice, or do you want to force Americans to drive two-hour commutes every day?" You know how people would choose!

  •  Choice vs reality (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We all want choice, we all want our nice creature comforts and we all want personal transportation.  The reality is that we're going to diving headfirst into energy shortages of historical proportions over the next few decades and whether we like it or not, we may be losing choices in the matter.  If someone chooses to live in the suburbs in a larger than necessary house (requiring more energy to heat) and drives a vehicle that uses three times more gas than, say, a Honda Civic, they compounding the problem.  Jerome is basically confronting people with a major dilemma and of course he's not going to be popular.  He's like the guy who finally takes the chocolate cake away from the fat kid.

    If everyone "chose" to buy cars that got no less than 30 mpg, we'd reduce our gasoline consumption in dramatic fashion.  However, as you can see everytime you go out, people are still driving their oversized SUVs and packing the freeways.  No one is thinking about what kind of footprint they're leaving on the world with their energy habits.

    And yeah, I'm as bad as the next guy.  Although I drive a Nissan Sentra (30-35 mpg), I tend to drive far more than necessary.  Best way to spend a weekend?  Get into the car, drive somewhere new and take photos.  Not exactly a wise use of energy.

    The solutions have to be discussed NOW, though.  People obviously need personal transportation in today's world, but we need to develop things that leave very small footprints or come from renewable sources.  If our habits don't change, the end of oil may result in a dramatic collapse of our lifestyle or worse, the end of western civilization as we know it. I go to get a battery for that car I drive far too much.  (Do I get points for acknowledging my blatant hypocrisy?)

    •  Choosing a car (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Canadian Reader, neroden

      But notice that as more types of car are offered, more people embrace the "alternative" vehicle. Demand for the Prius exceeds supply. Mini based a whole ad campaign on an SUV backlash, and in my neighborhood, it worked -- there are Minis all over the place. When I was contemplating buying a car, the only one I could even consider was the Honda Civic LE. There's a Chevy dealer in town who's actually an active environmentalist -- going against the grain of his entire industry -- and I'd have loved to buy a car from him, but Chevrolet simply doesn't make a car, even a compact or subcompact car, that could be construed as "fuel-efficient" by any definition. How many sales has GM forfeited by refusing to embrace fuel efficiency? How many motorists drive cars that get less than 30 mpg simply because there aren't enough fuel-efficient models available to satisfy them?

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Mon Apr 24, 2006 at 09:54:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  at least around here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the biggest issue is businesses, and people, that think shiny new things are always better. I live in Rockford, Illinois - and it's a city where a car is a neccesity. More businesses move to the edge of town every year, in one direction, leaving abandoned buildings, which fall into disrepair and then don't get bought or rented by new businesses. It's ridiculous - given the choice, a business would rather be located on a road where the speed limit is 50 than one where it is 30, because alot of people would rather drive on that road, and then as businesses build up, it increases congestion, causes accidents, and the speed limit gets decreased, and it happens all over again. It's become the american city experience - everybody wants to be by the edge of the city, not in it, and sooner or later, the city is just a hollow shell around an adandoned downtown area that slowly increases every year.
    Sprawl is the root of the death of our cities in the U.S., and it seems like people in the government, urban planners, businesses, and many people just don't care. If you want to make things change, the key is making people understand urban decline through sprawl, and that it matters to them even if they move out of the city.

    •  well what's happening (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      in other cities, perhaps bigger cities than Rockford is that all those abandoned depleted buildings in the central parts of the cities (and I've seen this in Denver, Austin TX, and it's all the rage now in Los Angeles) -- are getting snatched up by developers and converted into high-end "lofts".  

      Which is great for the cities, except for the "high end" part of it.  It ain't exactly affordable for most folks.

      It's really bizarre in downtown LA right now because in some of the most third-world poverty-stricken areas of downtown -- where drug addicts and homeless people literally crowd the sidewalks and the alleys are full of trash and human shit and piss, you see these rich urban types pulling into the buildings in expensive sports cars, and coming out in their $300 dollar jackets and $800 dollar shoes to walk their $1500 dollar dogs in the middle of this squalor.

      Truly an odd scene.

      But anyway, that's what's happening in a lot of cities.

      The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer -- Henry Kissinger

      by theyrereal on Mon Apr 24, 2006 at 09:36:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Its not whether or not (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to own/use a car, its about making a responsible choice regarding the car you choose to own.  Most people in Europe do have cars...they just don't have a lot of big gas guzzling SUVs.  With the price of gas, you'd think more Americans would be thinking this way. Regardless of what has been said, most people don't need an SUV to drive in from the suburbs to work each day.  Most don't need one to go to the grocery store or run errands.  And lets be realistic, how many SUV owners are using them to carpool with?  Not many.  

    I went down to the bus stop this morning with my kids.  In my own neighborhood five SUV's passed me and only two "regular" cars.  What does that say about us?

    •  Use the 'SUVs fund terrorists' angle (0+ / 0-)

      Might the best way to convince Americans (especially red-staters) not to drive oversized cars, be to point out that oil money funds Islamist terrorists.  Sort of like the "When you ride alone, you ride with Bin Laden" campaign which Bill Maher suggested?

  •  I live in LA and own a nice car I rarely drive. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Canadian Reader, neroden

    I've made the decision to walk, and use mass transit as much as possible. I have a grocery story a half mile away so that make it much easier. I have a local bus that hits my local shopping area and only costs a quarter. I meet people on it, and have made a few friends.

    That being said, what my choice has taught me is that having a car is essential if one is going to have a consumer economy. Getting crazy with the Cheeze Whiz at my local Macy's isn't nearly as much fun when I have to haul my booty back on a bus and then walk a half mile home. I'm also far less likely to hop the bus and go to Macy's when I have some cash burning a hole in my pocket. But if I decide to drive....I'll be their every Friday night picking up this and that (none of which I actually need, and don't even get us started on Frye's).

    Walking and riding a bus will stop people  from spending money unnecessarily. That's why cars were essential.

  •  What he said! (0+ / 0-)

    Huzzah, huzzah.

  •  Nukes only way to separate Americans from cars! (0+ / 0-)

    Anyone who believes Americans will voluntarily give up their cars, trucks, and SUVs out of a sense of civic responsibility or environmental angst is smoking too much of the good stuff. My guess is that it will take about $10/gal gasoline to get Americans out of their cars and onto buses. And even then, all those millions of people who have purchased less-expensive homes way out in the boonies, about a two-hour commute away from their work, will STILL be driving because there is no mass transit out in the boonies except riding the dog (Greyhound).

    Look around. America is built around the car - gas stations with kwikimarts, drive-thru fast food franchises, stores with acres of parking lots, highways and freeways clogged to capacity 12 hours every day, and television ads that equate cars with youthful vitality, beauty, financial success, and sexual fulfillment. Asking Americans to give up their cars is more likely to be considered an act of war than sage advice.

    Politically, Dems should NOT be pushing a gas tax, even if it is a good idea. This is a certain path to oblivion. Dems should be BLAMING Bush and his military misadventures for the price of gas in order to get elected and have the power to do something about the energy problem. Push alternative energy sources (wind, tidal, geothermal) once Dems control Congress. Impose fuel taxes on the transportation industry (trucks, trains, airplanes, ships) to reduce demand. Push research into safely disposing of nuclear powerplant waste. Dems can do many things once they have power, and absolutely nothing until they do. But supporting a programme of higher fuel taxes on average americans is as sure a road to political perdition as attacking Social Security. Just don't do it - don't even think about it!

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