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This week's Conversation is about the future of the automobile in a carbon-stressed world.
The lead essay is by Daniel Lerch
author of "Post Carbon Cities" and program manager at the Post Carbon
Institute. Lerch says our entire environment is built around the car
and it won't be going away anytime soon. But he believes we could
quickly adapt to a much more intensive use of public transportation,
bicycles and walking if we want to. And he points to examples in Europe
and the United States where people are doing just that. An excerpt:
With a peak oil conference in Sacramento this week and the 100th
anniversary of the first mass-market automobile coming up, it's a
perfect time to re-visit our relationship with that most ubiquitous
icon of the American (and California) Dream: The Car.
Model T didn't just mark the start of widespread private automobile
ownership. It heralded the complete restructuring of America around
petroleum-powered cars and trucks. By mid-century we had discovered
massive oil fields in Texas and the Middle East, and World War II had
effectively modernized our industrial base. The stage was set for the
true mass consumption of the car, a shift that would fundamentally
change our economy, our landscape and even our culture.
days it's pretty well accepted that we can't all drive everywhere.
California was home to some of the earliest suburban sprawl, so its
metropolitan areas experienced early on what happens when everyone
tries to drive everywhere: unending congestion (despite more and bigger
highways), more sprawl and overall greater dependence on oil.
For years we've tried to limit sprawl and promote transit, bicycling
and walking - first in the name of conservation and quality of life,
more recently to fight global warming. Today peak oil (the looming high
point of global oil production) and the end of cheap oil make it more
urgent than ever to reduce our dependence on cars.
problem, though. We're stuck with the landscape we've built over the
past 60 years, much of which is literally uninhabitable without a car.
Trying to make our communities less car-dependent simply by adding more
buses, streetcars and light rail is like trying to make a bowl of
chicken soup vegan simply by picking the chicken out. It's just not
that simple: like the chicken broth in my chicken soup, car dependence
is an inherent property of nearly every city, town and suburb in this
country and especially so in car-loving California.
To read the rest, go here.Sam Staley
director of urban and land use policy for the Reason Institute, writes
a brief rebuttal. He thinks it would be a mistake for the government to
adopt policies discouraging the use of the automobile. An excerpt:
Adopting a policy objective to reduce automobile use would be poor
public policy, reflecting little more than a knee-jerk political
reaction to a long-term environmental problem.
True enough, the
passenger automobile is an important source of carbon emissions, but
it's not the most important contributor. Industry takes that spot. More
importantly, cars emit carbon because of the fuel they use, and that
fuel source will likely change dramatically over the next several
decades even without interventions from government.
hybrid technologies already have the capability of cutting carbon
emissions in half within certain classes of vehicles (e.g., four-door
sedans), and more than 65 hybrid models will be available on the
American auto market by 2010. Plug-in electric technology is close to
becoming commercially viable at today's energy prices, and an electric
power system that relies increasingly on nuclear energy, wind, and
hydroelectricity means we can reduce carbon emissions without
sacrificing the mobility provided by the automobile.
More fundamentally, public policy focused on significantly reducing
automobile use in favor of other travel modes - whether it is mass
transit,bicycling, or walking - betrays a stunning naivete about travel
or a brazen disregard for the needs of everyday Californians.
To read the rest of Sam's comment, go here.Tim Holt
a freelance writer who lives in Dunsmuir, explores one technique cities
are using to encourage a new way of looking at the urban landscape: the
temporary closure of streets to vehicles. An excerpt:
There's an easy, inexpensive way for Sacramentans to experience
car-free streets. It's called a "ciclovía," or "cycle way" in Spanish.
Every Sunday, Bogota opens up 81 miles of its streets to pedestrians
and cyclists. It's a healthy exercise in open-air democracy: Families
from the city's richest to its poorest neighborhoods mingle together in
this year-round event.
Bogota pioneered the event 30 years ago as
a way to promote public health. With record levels of obesity in the
U.S., it's welcome news that the ciclovía is starting to gain a
foothold here. This summer Portland, New York, and San Francisco have
all had their own ciclovías, each one six or seven miles long, with
Chicago and Baltimore ready to follow suit.
Imagine folks from
Meadowview, the Pocket area, Curtis Park, and Land Park enjoying a
car-free Freeport Boulevard, linked to midtown, and pedal-powered folks
in east Sacramento cruising down Folsom Boulevard. The U.S. ciclovías
have generally steered away from a "street fair" approach, avoiding the
vendors that can take business away from neighborhood shops and
restaurants. Instead, they've emphasized free activities for adults and
kids - including free tango, yoga, and bike repair classes.
To read the rest of Tim's comment, go here.
What do you think? Should the government try to get us out of our cars?
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