Creative Crusaders Who Inspired Us in 2010

Travelling the country this past year promoting our book Carjacked, we met some pretty remarkable people who are working to reduce the price Americans pay for mobility. In the book we detail how our car dependent transportation system offers an awesome array of downsides, though they are often obscured by the auto industry’s relentless marketing blizzard.

We were uplifted to find so many insightful and inspiring folks working to increase awareness of, and provide solutions to, the problem of car dependency. Here are just a few of them.

Get Your Undriver’s License

The authors with their Undriver's licenses.

The authors with their Undriver's licenses.

Car crashes can be profoundly life altering, and the lasting changes they bring are only rarely positive. Julia Field’s 1987 crash, in which she totaled her Honda Civic, was an exception. At first, she reasonably feared that life without a car would be isolating and complicated. She soon came to experience it, though, as quite the opposite — liberating and simplifying. We met sunny Julia in drizzly Seattle when she cheerfully handed each of us a personal Undriver’s License™, just one of the brilliant tools of Undriving, the nonprofit initiative she founded and runs.

The guiding premise of the organization is to encourage less driving, not by discouraging driving per se, but by engaging people in experimenting with getting around without a car. The group issues their licenses online and at eco-festivals, street fairs, schools, transportation conferences and other events. The license is much more than a fun gimmick: It represents a pledge based on goals set by the individual Undriver, recognizing that we all have different transportation needs and resources and a strong desire to feel in control of our own mobility.

Want to know more?  Check out one of the many testimonials of Undrivers posted on YouTube.

Holding the Car Lobby Accountable

You can thank Rosemary Shahan for your state's lemon laws.

You can thank Rosemary Shahan for your state's lemon laws.

In 1980, when an auto dealer who had spent months not repairing Rosemary Shahan’s car threatened to install defective parts in it when she complained, she started a crusade on behalf of the American car buyer – and she’s been on that crusade ever since. As founder of the nonprofit Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, she’s been crucial to the passage of state lemon laws and federal airbag mandates.

When we met her in Washington DC last spring, she was battling on two fronts: informing the public about the Toyota sudden acceleration problem and getting auto dealers included under the regulatory umbrella of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Rosemary educated us on the potency of the auto dealer lobby, which slipped out from under the new agency’s aegis, despite the fact that auto loans account for a greater percentage of household debt than credit cards.

Persuading older folks to leave the car at home

Wake Gregg in his ebike shop. Photo by the authors.

Wake Gregg in his ebike shop. Photo by the authors.

Blogger and ebike enthusiast Sam Hass took us on our first electric bike ride through Portland, Oregon this summer. Pedaling along the city’s copious bike lanes and paths on rental bicycles equipped with electric motors felt like a flying dream. As we zipped through intersections and zoomed up hills, we understood why we, as Baby Boomers, represent a rich target market for this rapidly growing mode of low-emissions, low-sweat active transportation.

Sam’s tour included stops at a shiny new EV charging station, at several cycle shops, and at a parking lot performance by a spandex-clad women’s bike/dance troupe, the Sprockettes. We met and rode with Dan Woodard, local ebike designer and builder, and chatted with Wake Gregg, charismatic owner of The Ebike Store, who reminds his many new customers that they are not just buying a bike but choosing a new lifestyle, one that values health and wealth over speed and horsepower.

While Portland is a well-known cycling mecca, our travels West, East, North, and South proved the city to be no exception but an emblem of a nationwide groundswell of efforts to provide healthier, safer, and more sociable alternatives to the car. In each city, enthusiasts, activists, and entrepreneurs like the inspirational people featured here are making it happen. And for each of them, there are a multitude of everyday heroes and transportation gurus out there who we still don’t know who are supporting the cause of saner transportation and safer streets. Who are yours?