Monday, July 23, 2012

Car Wars

One thing advocates of "alternative" transportation modes are constantly accused of is hating cars. This piece from NPR's Cities Project takes a closer look at the so-called "car wars" that planners are waging. One quote from a DC resident summed up for me the predominant--but uninformed--view on the situation:

"[Cars are] the predominant form of transportation in America. In fact, it's something that we can't live without...When you get a refrigerator delivered ... they don't bring it on a bicycle. ... They bring it in an automobile. It's easy to vilify the automobile, but it's not productive."

Setting aside for a moment the fact that many people do in fact live without cars, let's look at the second part of that statement. While he doesn't use the term, what the speaker is talking about is goods movement. And he's right: transporting goods around the city (and country) quickly and smoothly is essential to our economy, and a lot of that goods movement isn't going to happen on a bike.

But moving merchandise is an entirely different type of trip than, say, going to the hardware store, a nuance that often gets lost when we talk about the "war" on cars. You'd be hard-pressed to find a planner who really believes that cars have no place whatsoever in our society--heck, I heard this story while driving home from work in my car. But there are lots of trips where driving really doesn't--or at least shouldn't--make sense, and these are the trips we'd like to shift to other modes.

As I like to say, no one buys a Ferrari to drive to the grocery store. We should focus on using cars for the trips where they really make sense (and ensuring that drivers pay the full cost of driving, but that's another post), and ensuring that the pedestrian environment is safe enough for people to walk when they want to. As Washington DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning says in the piece, cars are nice but, "It's also great to get out of them every once in a while."

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