10352Interesting piece on World Changing
- Aug 2, 2007Interesting piece on World Changing
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A Car-Free Future?
August 2, 2007 2:14 PM
There are few possessions to which people are more attached than their cars. Surveys have consistently shown that between a quarter an a third of all Americans bestow names on their cars. One survey found that 84 percent of all people say they love their cars, and more than half keep photos of their cars on hand.
Let me say right away that this attachment to automobiles isnt a phenomenon I applaud, much less understand; my relationship with my car, when I had one, was more indifference than love, in large part because I live in a city (Seattle) where owning a car, much less driving one, is an everyday exercise in frustration and waste. Parking permits are largely useless, and a city law requiring car owners to move their vehicles once every 72 hours, versions of which are common in cities around the United States, force people to drive every three days anyway, like it or not. Driving, meanwhile, has become incredibly time-consuming, with the average American wasting 47 hours a year in traffic. And we're all familiar with the climate impacts of driving, particularly driving alone.
Giving up your car isnt one of those simple things you can do to make the world a better place. It requires major lifestyle changes, new ways of ordering your entire existence. Yet in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the costs. For one thing, owning a car is expensive; once depreciation, fuel, maintenance, repairs, licensing, registration, finance charges, and insurance are factored in, the true cost of owning a car is usually many times higher than the sticker price. In a pilot study undertaken by the city of Seattle, households that gave up one car saved an average of $70 a week.
Less concretely but no less significantly, the psychological costs of owning and driving a car can be significant. Isolation, concerns about theft and property damage, and the psychic toll of sitting in traffic all add up quickly.
People often say, But I have to own a car. I cant possibly commute by bus/train/streetcar; and besides, what about road trips/emergencies/midnight snack runs to Taco Bell? I thought that once myself. Seattle, like many midsize American cities, is not an easy place to get around without a car, but it isnt that difficult, either, provided youre willing to think of bus rides as opportunities to read, work, or catch up with yourself. Since I gave up my car, my travel options have expanded to include walking, biking, taking the bus, FlexCar, and the occasional rental; the money I save is nothing compared to the peace of mind that comes with knowing I dont have to worry about a large, expensive, and environmentally damaging possession that could break down and cost me thousands of dollars at any moment. At the same time, I sympathize with those for whom carlessness does not seem to be an optionparents of small children and those with multiple jobs have challenges that I, as a single, childless person with a home and job in the city, do not share.
Still, people everywhere and in every social and economic situation are looking forand findingsolutions to auto dependence and other transportation challenges. In this column, Ill be exploring those innovations and challengesfolks who are promoting urban design for people, not cars; the challenge of rising gas prices
and discretionary spending; the false promise of biofuels and some alternatives; and much more.
Erica C. Barnett
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J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities