Friday, September 23, 2011

Millions Drive to Work on World Car-Free Day

Yesterday, September 22nd, was designated as "World Car Free Day".  9000 people pledged to walk, bike, use mass transit, work from home or find other alternatives to cars (most of whom already did so at on a regular basis).  However for most of the millions of other commuters in the region and the tens of millions in the US who drive to work every day, the day passed without notice, and with no discernible difference in the number of cars  on the road or levels of traffic congestion.

Perhaps World Car day provides an opportunity to ponder how much the automobile has improved the quality of life for so many.

A 2005 US Census bureau data showed that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans drive to work. Only 4.7% take public transit and about 2.5% walk to work.  Why is that?  Some would have the public believe that driving is a matter of laziness or lack of  concern for the environment.  Those who NEED cars know that is not true.  We drive because cars offer us the freedom of mobility that no other form of transportation can, and our decisions to choose cars over other options are driven by extremely practical concerns.  This author personally sometimes enjoys taking alternate transportation to work, sometimes including a 10 mile run which is awesome when it is possible.  But as a practical reality that is limited only to those times when personal and profession obligations, the weather, health, and other constraints all cooperate to make that possible.  Like so many mass transit is not a practical option... I need to walk over a mile to the closest bus stop and that will only take me to the metro station 6 miles away.  By the time that's done I've spent almost an hour longer than a car would take on my worst traffic day.  Telecommuting does not allow me to attend in-person meetings that are expected of me almost every day.  And how am I to drop the kids off at daycare with any of those options?  No, most people NEED cars to keep up with the modern, fast paced lives we have come to expect and which are expected of us by our employers who make up the nation's economy and pay our bills.

A salute to the automobile, our indispensable friend
Consider what would it be like if you were *forced* to be "Car Free".  What would you need to give up?  Would you be able to live and work where you choose, or would you be limited to only home/work choices either very near each other or only near 'government approved' mass transit sites?  If you own a house now, would you surrender the dream of owning a home in a safe, affordable area of your choosing in exchange for living in concrete termite mounds crowded around metro sites?  Would you be able to take your kids to the daycare center or school **of your choosing** in the morning and still get to work on time?  And when they're older how are you getting them to that soccer match or softball game?  Could you actually run that important errand during the day if you had to walk, or figure out bus schedules or mooch a ride? Maybe, but maybe not. Then there's all the services provided to you by car, whether you drive yourself or not.  Could the cable guy or plumber really hike all his gear on the bus?  And then there are the less tangibles.  Would you still have the freedom to wake up on Sunday an say 'Let's go to the mountains!' and just go?  Or, if your parents live in a rural area out of state, would they ever see their grand kids?  Oh such a crass concern that Grandma might get to hug little Timmy from time to time... but for many this is a thing made possible by CARS!

We propose that Car Free Day is a reminder to say a big THANK YOU to the automotive pioneers who made this freedom possible.  And we should be thankful that we live in a world where we do not need to be "free" of a thing which brings every bit as much value to our lives as electric lights, telephones, and running water.

Automobiles are THE essential transportation for many people.  They are the life-blood of our transportation system and our economy.  When you hear someone say "driving is not a right it is a privilege" BEWARE!  That person wants to use an absolutely essential "privileged" to coerce you into accepting some reduction your constitutional rights.  Your right to due process, right to face an accuser, and right to be presumed innocent may not seem urgently important to you right here right now, at least not as important as getting to work on time.  The proverbial 'they' know that, and they know you're willing to give up a 'right' for the sake of the 'privileged' of getting to work and keeping your job.  Don't fall for that.  If cars are essential to your 'pursuit of happiness', then you should demand that your elected officials understand that you do not concede any of your legal and constitutional rights while you are on those roads.