Raining on a Sustainability Parade

By Dom Nozzi

Recently, a good friend and colleague indicated in an email that it was important for us to stop pussyfooting around when it comes to attacking or otherwise opposing car-happy tactics such as road widening, removal of on-street parking, fighting against mixed use development, or keeping residential densities low in a new development. That if we continued to be too timid in going after these counterproductive design ideas, we would continue to fail to meaningfully improve and induce more bicycling, walking, or transit use in the US.

We must, he urged, move aggressively to ban cars from certain streets, for example.

As much as I was thrilled to hear him make these bold observations, I’m not sure the time is ripe.

Frankly, I was SHOCKED to hear myself say that.

I’ve spent a lifetime being on the other end of this, with friends and enemies regularly telling me “Gainesville [where I used to be a town planner] is not ready for your idea, Dom,” or “Your idea is too radical, Dom, and will marginalize you.”

But I find that I must urge caution in proceeding too rashly – and I do believe my friend is being somewhat rash.

I STRONGLY agree that we need to stop pussyfooting around with cars and what we bend over backwards to provide them, if we are serious about promoting bicycling, walking, or transit use. Anything else is almost a complete waste of time. I probably agree with him more than anyone else I know!

BUT [it is very painful to have a “but” here…] I’m convinced that the US still has made it way too cheap to own and drive a car. Given that on-going state of affairs — that we’ve had now for several decades — I cannot imagine that an explicit anti-car crusade will resonate with anyone – even our allies.

Given what I’ve seen over the past 20 years with the very quick disappearance of openly anti-car organizations in the US during a time where it is very affordable to drive a car everywhere, I think that an openly anti-car agenda by an organization (or individuals) must regrettably wait for the cost of car ownership and use in the US to become significantly higher. We are starting to get close to that long-awaited tipping point – increasing gas prices, for example – but the prices are still too low overall.

I regrettably urge patience. We are still in the low-cost motoring world that will inevitably marginalize those calling for car-attacking tactics.

I’m saying this because philosophically, I am a materialist. Behavior and values are largely shaped or driven by underlying conditions such as prices. No matter how skillfully conveyed, even the most inspiring rhetoric needs to patiently wait for the conditions to be right, and the prices are just not there yet, I’m afraid. I say this even though I fully agree with him on the effective tactics.

Have I lost my revolutionary radicalism in my “old age”? Or have I just matured into someone who is now more politically savvy than I once was in my younger days?


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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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

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