Does Car Travel Promote Freedom?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, the executive editor states that ”most people prefer to travel by car because [they
seek]…freedom.”

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/04/134255653/weekly-standard-the-way-we-drive-now

But in what sense is this true? Our nearly single-minded focus on providing for car travel has meant that all other forms
of travel, such as walking, bicycling and transit use, have been made quite difficult, unpleasant, and unsafe (car-happy design is a zero-sum game that makes other forms of travel less possible). This zero-sum game means that for decades now, most Americans can only realistically travel by car. Again, in what sense are Americans “free” if they are forced to travel only by car?

We also learn from the executive editor that “there’s no evidence anywhere in the United States—or the world, for that
matter—that investment in mass transit in recent decades has reduced congestion.”

The proper aim of providing for more walking, bicycling and transit options is not, as the editor claims, to reduce congestion, however. That plays into the hands of the pro-road widening lobby, because even the most effective efforts to provide for non-auto travel are unlikely to reduce congestion. Why? Because cars consume so much space that it only requires relatively few motorists to congest a road, and when motorists do not need to pay a toll to use an important road, there will always be many who are
eager to fill new road space created by those who have opted to walk, bicycle of use transit. Again, since even the best non-auto travel promotion efforts will fail to reduce congestion meaningfully, the road-widening lobby can then respond that since our non-car promotion efforts “failed,” we need to get back to “realistic” tactics like road widening.

No, the proper aim of efforts to promote non-car travel is not to reduce congestion. To state this is a canard. Any city worth
its salt will have congestion. The purpose of promoting non-car travel, instead, is to provide TRAVEL OPTIONS for those who are unwilling to tolerate the congestion, and would like to avoid being stuck in traffic.

Being able to avoid congestion, then, is the true measure of travel freedom. And the true measure of the success of promoting
non-auto travel.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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1 Comment

Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Transportation, Walking

One response to “Does Car Travel Promote Freedom?

  1. My first, immediate, and well researched response to this is no, absolutely not. Those that think it does have not thought through the matter very deeply.

    Cheers on the blog and site. I’ll be taking a gander at your book soon too.

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