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September 18, 2007

Guest Commentary : The world from a car-free perspective

Jackie GreenSaturday, Sept. 22, is World Car-Free Day. It’s a day to consider the consequences of using cars, the various degrees of living car-free, the motivations, the benefits, the options, the design of car-free cities and the numerous techniques of going car-free.We and our cars have destroyed farms and wilderness with suburban sprawl, polluted the Earth’s atmosphere, turned cities into dirty, dangerous, noisy and isolating places, crippled and killed fellow travelers, grown fat, wasted energy, natural resources and space, denied funding for public transit, misspent family dollars, created an unsustainable economy, begun oil-wars and destabilized global climate. We are poised to destroy mountains and pollute waterways with new coal-to-liquid fuel technologies. We are ready to burn the food stock of future generations by exhausting soil fertility growing crops for ethanol. The responses to the consequences of car use range from ignoring the issue, through token reduction, through sequenced, slow reductions, to cold-turkey teetotalism. The motivations for going car-free are environmental, social, financial and personal. The benefits include improving health, enjoying nature, saving money and experiencing neighborhood. The alternatives to the drive include walking, bus riding and bicycling. The virtual tour of cities mentioned below illustrates many car-free design alternatives. It is the techniques of going car-free that require more attention. Going car-free influences wardrobe, housing, school, work — everything. Going car-free has its consequences and challenges. What are they? How does one deal with them? How does one move toward being car-free? How does a family move toward being car-free? How does one move toward being car-free when the family is not supportive? Going car-free is life changing, so much so that there may be a need for a local support group, a wiki, an AA — Autocentrics Anonymous. (Seriously, if some variation on that concept appeals to you, e-mail me at j@bikecourier.org — I’ve been car-free in Louisville since 1999.)Beyond the personal challenges, there are also institutional challenges to living car-free. Four institutions that come immediately to mind are TARC, Jefferson County Public Schools, the law and elected leadership’s commitment to accommodating cars.TARC is dreadfully under-funded. The state and city will sufficiently fund public transit only when the number of bus riders grows larger. A 1945 Kentucky Constitutional amendment further complicates public transit funding by limiting the use of gas taxes to road construction and maintenance. Louisville will never have the public transit system it deserves until the amendment is overturned and our local elected leadership actively supports the required funding.Jefferson County Public Schools is redesigning the student/school assignment program. One of the factors in determining assignment should be the student and parental commitment to walking and/or biking to neighborhood schools. The laws governing our roads are biased in the favor of drivers. Pedestrians and cyclists are treated as obstacles to the flow of traffic or disposable units. We need streets that welcome pedestrians and cyclists. Safe Streets Louisville (www.safestreetslouisville.org) introduced a Neighborhood Pedestrian First ordinance to the mayor’s office. The ordinance gives pedestrians an uncontested right-of-way on neighborhood streets, in school zones and within two blocks of parks. Metro’s legal department has asked Safe Streets Louisville and Metro’s Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator to provide research on the ordinances. Local government is hell-bent on accommodating cars by building parking lots, widening every interstate and building two more interstate bridges. The mayor admits, “Washington no longer has dollars available for these projects.” State Senate President David Williams says: “These projects will come to a halt in the near future because there’s not going to be the money to build it,” and the chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee proclaims, “It’s a fantasy to believe that this General Assembly is going to come in here in ’08 and allow taking this much road money from the rest of the state.” Building more car infrastructure defies reality. Going car-free is not an issue just for individuals. Our local elected leadership also needs to support going car-free.The first World Car-Free Day emerged from the oil crisis of the ’70s. Forty years later, oil prices are at record levels. We are waging wars in oil-rich lands. And last month just weighed in as the hottest August on record, lending credence to global warming. It is time we give up the car. For more info, check out www.carbusters.org and www.bikewalk.org. For a virtual tour of cities with solutions to transportation challenges, visit www.carfree.com/cpix/place.html. Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com