The Freedom to Not Drive

The thought of the day comes to us from the island of Oahu, where Doug Carlson writes the "Yes to Rail" blog. Carlson advocates for construction of the Honolulu rail system, recent recipient of a key approval from the Federal Transit Administration.

Over the July 4th weekend, he wrote:

hawaii_traffic.jpgTraffic backed up after a collision on Hawaii’s H-1 highway. Photo: Yes2Rail

It’s obligatory for bloggers and editorial writers on Independence Day weekend to find a way – usually a tortured way – to tie their favorite theme to the national theme of freedom. We’re up for that.

We’ve often used “independence from traffic congestion” to describe what Honolulu rail will mean for commuters who choose to ride the city’s future train.

It’s also obligatory for rail supporters to hammer away at this theme — freedom from morning and evening traffic woes that can destroy the spirit of all those stuck in congestion that’s bound to grow with increases in population and the number of vehicles in the morning and evening commutes…

Click through for Carlson’s rail-themed homage to Pete Seeger and Lee Hays.

Automakers have been equating cars to “the national theme of freedom” for the better part of a century, so I think advocates for sustainable transportation and livable streets are well-served by flipping that argument on its head, as Carlson suggests. It’s not a tortured line of reasoning by any means. Generations of car-centric planning have, after all, yoked Americans to a transportation system that constrains the most basic elements of our lives — our time, our health, our finances, our ability to socialize with friends and neighbors.

In addition to liberating people from hellish commutes, as Carlson describes, reducing car-dependence means freedom from spending more and more of our household budgets on transportation; freedom from sedentary lifestyles that are contributing to skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes; freedom from worrying about the safety of walking or biking. Freedom, eventually, from having to extract and use energy in ways that pose catastrophic risks to the environment.

Also on the Network today: Building Cincinnati reports on the progress of a port plan that would reduce truck traffic; Matt Yglesias and Tom Vanderbilt both link to a great presentation by Ellen Dunham-Jones about retrofitting suburbia; and John Massengale at Veritas et Venustas notes that David Brooks seems to be casting a more critical eye on suburbs.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Hawaii: Say “Aloha” To Transit-Oriented Development

|
Craig Chester is a fellow at Smart Growth America. Not all transportation in Honolulu, Hawaii is a walk on the beach. Known for its breathtaking natural beauty and warm temperatures, Honolulu is also plagued by heavy traffic congestion and delays. High energy costs and a lack of transportation choices compound the challenges of getting around […]

Honolulu Mayoral Frontrunner Would Torpedo Light Rail Project

|
However controversial a rail project is, is it a good idea to pull the plug after construction has already begun? Honolulu residents have that question to ponder from now until Election Day. The city’s mayoral election has become a referendum on its controversial rail project. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano came out of retirement (and took […]

Reminder: Just Laying Track Is No Guarantee Riders Will Come

|
Laying track isn’t enough to build a successful transit system — as some cities are learning the hard way. A slate of new rail projects — mostly mixed-traffic streetcars, but that’s not the only way to mess up — are attracting embarrassingly few passengers. Some of these projects may be salvageable to some extent, but for now, they don’t […]

Highway Boondoggles: Widening I-95 Across Connecticut

|
Last year Congress passed a multi-year transportation bill. Like previous bills, it gives tens of billions of dollars to states every year to spend with almost no strings attached. How much of this federal funding will state DOTs devote to expensive, traffic-inducing highway projects that further entrench car dependence and sprawl? In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2 (the […]