A Dinosaur Piloting the Titanic

By Dom Nozzi

September 2, 2008

Car happy suburbanites must be bewildered that the costs to operate and maintain a car — as well as to build the road and parking facilities cars need — are skyrocketing in recent years.

After all, they have had a love affair with the “freedom” that they fervently believed the car delivered to people formerly trapped in the “dense and dirty central cities.” A freedom that allows them to flee to the bliss of the drivable suburbs.

But with exploding car travel prices, the suburban dream is rapidly becoming an unsustainable, unaffordable nightmare, because a car-based lifestyle is bankrupting governments, businesses and households, and leading to an national epidemic of outlying suburban homes rapidly losing their value and attractiveness, as large number of Americans are now flocking back to the more sustainable and more convenient walkability of compact, charming, historical downtowns (where housing values are rapidly increasing due to the growing demand for such housing).

The free-market libertarian variety of the drivable suburban resident should be ashamed of his- or herself for stubbornly supporting the most heavily subsidized (read: socialized) artifact in world history: the American car (largely due to free parking).

Why do suburbanites insist on enlarging this subsidy by calling for governments to force private businesses to provide even MORE excessive, often bankrupting, car-travel-inducing parking? Why do suburbanites loudly argue for road-widenings, traffic congestiondespite the fact that doing so amounts to extreme socialism for motorists?

Such suburbanites have become dinosaurs in a society teetering on the edge of economic collapse. Dinosaurs because we are in an enormous oil and gasoline predicament. Our nation must take action immediately to avoid costly, agonizing pain that soaring automotive costs are bringing to America.

Given the horrifying and unstoppable rise in car travel costs, a suburbanite must feel like the captain of The Titanic just after learning that icebergs will send his or her unsinkable ship to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Without delay, we must take steps to avoid societal icebergs. We must immediately start adopting effective mechanisms to reduce car dependence.

Such as reforming our local development regulations to make compact, mixed-use, walkable, low-speed lifestyles legal again (most all cities make such sustainable development largely illegal).

Such as starting to re-build a national train system.

Such as putting an end to the enormous government subsidies issued to cars and suburbs.

Such as providing a full range of lifestyle choices and travel choices, instead of only allowing one choice: car-dependent suburban living.

Are suburbanites willing to be part of the solution instead of part of the (obsolete, dinosaur-like) problem?

Do they naively think that oil would somehow miraculously be abundant forever, and that gas would always be cheap? How many future wars will America be forced to engage in to continue the desperate, hopeless struggle to keep oil abundant?

Far from being the source of “prosperity” and “freedom,” as many suburbanites assert, cars are rapidly becoming a dysfunctional millstone around the necks of large numbers of suburban Americans who are trapped in a world where they are now forced to take out a bank loan every time they buy gas. Their living arrangements don’t allow them the freedom to opt for walking, bicycling or using transit. Instead, they must cut corners to afford expensive gas. Less money for food. For health care. For entertainment. For housing. For savings. As Peter Maass writes in the 8/21/05 NYT, “[Dwindling oil supplies]…could bring on a global recession…The suburban…lifestyles, hinged on two-car families…might become unaffordable.”

How ironic. And how tragic that the suburbanite’s support of socialism for cars and hostility to transit is akin to The Titanic captain not ensuring enough lifeboats on his ship and ordering “all engines full ahead.”

And by the way, if, as many suburbanites say, cars are not detrimental to our quality of life, why do we not find Detroit and Houston and Atlanta to be a paradise, where cars and highways have long been king? Why are they, instead, an awful place to live? (and where housing prices plunged most steeply during the 2008 real estate crash).

Why do people the world over flock to enjoy the timeless charm of the great European cities, built before the emergence of the car?

 

 

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Filed under Transportation, Urban Design

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