2008-06-20

bikes, buses, cars, freedom, and America...

With rising oil prices and increasing attention, emphasis and support going to public transportation, bikes, walking, carpooling, etc, it seems that certain people are getting worried that their civil liberties may be at stake.

I've been seeing a number of people in media lately shooting the idea out that cars are one of the biggest symbols of liberty and freedom in America, and that without the right to drive whenever and wherever we want, we are somehow less free, less capable and less American.

These particular people seem to feel that anything and everything should be done so that their driving whenever and wherever they want type of lifestyle should not be threatened. They seem to feel that buses and bikes only get in the way of cars, and that we should focus more attention on making it easy for drivers, rather than making it easier to accommodate buses, bikes and pedestrians. They also seem to think that "those kind of people who think the world would be better without automobiles" (which seems to mean anyone who would dare to suggest they should drive less) are in a united effort to force them to stop driving, and to remove their civil liberties and replace them with socialist practices such as public transportation. They seem to take personal offense at the thought of being encouraged out of their car and onto the street, for any reason.

I find this particular viewpoint really extreme and ridiculous, for a lot of reasons, so I thought I would expound some of my own thoughts on the issue. Here goes.

I think that within the metropolitan area of any city, there are different groups of people with different situations. Trina and I happen to live very close to the center of the city, where things are close together and almost everything we need on a daily basis is easily within walking/biking/busing distance, sometimes even more quickly than if we drove. For people in that situation, I think it's easy to see the benefits of walking, biking or using public transportation. You don't have to buy gas, you can go anywhere you want or need within quite a large distance whenever you want to go, you aren't tied down financially as much, and you even could live quite well without a car at all in many areas.

I understand that this is a very different situation than for those further from the center of the city. I understand that if you live in a suburb and work in the city, it is often much more convenient and practical to drive to work than to bike or take public transportation. I understand that for people outside the city, things aren't so close together and it takes longer to get to things. I understand that driving holds a much bigger appeal and even necessity in these situations.

I also agree that cars do afford us a certain amount of freedom. I can't take a day trip to the coast on a bike or a bus, and it's much more difficult to travel inter-state or across the country without a car. I can't take yard debris to a dump on a bike or a bus, or haul large furniture or boxes, and for commuting into the city from a suburb or vice versa, a car is really handy, there are places you simply can't get on a bus, or require extreme amounts of time and waiting to get there.

So, here's my conclusion. There are a lot of good reasons to think about using your car less. Environmental issues, health issues, community issues, traffic and crowding and safety issues, money issues. I don't want to go into detail on all of those here. What I do want to say is this: I don't want to deprive anybody of the right to own or drive a car. However, I feel that everyone should take a look at how they use their car, and determine if they could realistically reduce the amount that they use it, and increase the amount they use alternate forms of transportation. Maybe you can walk or ride your bike to the post office, the bank, even the grocery store. Maybe you can take a bus to the concert downtown instead of driving. Maybe you can bike or walk to your local coffee shop and actually meet and interact with your neighbors on the way there. Look at how your life works and determine if there are realistic ways you could change certain things to use your car less in your particular situation. I think that we should also recognize that not everyone in America is middle to upper class. Not everyone can even afford a car, much less the cost of gas to drive everywhere they go. Encouraging alternate forms of transportation supports those people in being able to travel where they need to, and makes their lives more productive, safer, and more convenient.

I think if we're careful and responsible with how we use our automobiles, we will make things better for everyone, including people who drive, and if we make an effort to accommodate people who drive, people who walk, people who bike and people who ride public transit, we'll end up having a better balanced, more connected and more smoothly running society.

4 comments:

  1. also what seems to be in many of the arguments is the issue of taking drilling the oli we have in the US. It seems to me that that oil here has not be shown to be an everlasting supply and when we drain that where will we be? Seems like a good responsible thing to do would be start putting money in alternative fuel research and creation and easing our dependency on our cars int he mean time, finding ways to use them and public transport and self transport together in a good ratio for our own individual lifestyle. You get you ca some, you use youlegs and promote your health some, you are out with people some on busses and such, you save money on gas and you save natural resourses.

    Probably has many more layers and problems and is not as simple as i have imagined above but what can i say? I'm an idealist. :)

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  2. I agree with most o what you have said. It's funny because when I lived in CA I rode my bike everywhere, walked and took public transportation. Even though I had my drivers license I didn't even own car until a few years ago when my son was born and I had to deal with four seasons here in Oregon. Part of me wishes I was still riding my bike and saving the money but the car does provide easier access to where we need to go. Bend didn't even get a bus service here until last year and it still has far to go in terms of quality of service.

    We've cut back on our driving and my husband car-pooled with fellow teachers this year. In fact we're not going to do our California trip as we know we'd just spend money we dont have and most of it on gas. I feel good in knowing that I dont have a problem with any of the alternatives if for some reason gas gets to be even more expensive...I'm use to having done without a car for a long time.

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  3. Yeah, you know, like I said, some people will be much more able to use alternative forms of transportation than others, depending on their individual situation, I just think it's important for all of us to take a look at what we realistically can do, and do what we can.

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  4. this was a really nice post, it gets people thinking.

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