“No More Cars” vs. “Not More Cars”

Today on the Streetsblog Network, David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington
counters the accusation that, just because he believes in less
autocentric development, he hates cars. In an extremely eloquent and
thoughtful post, Alpert makes the distinction between "no more cars"
and "not more cars":

111149.jpgPhoto by lizjones 112 via Flickr.

Advocates
for more walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented places often face
criticism that we "hate cars." Gary Imhoff assumes that "nothing makes
[me] angrier than automobiles." And on yesterday’s thread about "green"
companies giving away gas and parking, Fritz wrote, "The majority of
residents of the DC Metro Area aren’t like you. It’s perhaps the
greatest weakness among the anti-car brigades on this website: the near
impossibility of recognizing that not everyone wants to walk or bike as
their main mode of transportation."

These responses rest on a logical fallacy. I’ve advocated for
new development to minimize auto dependence. But many take that to mean
that everyone ought to travel by train, bus, bike or foot. However, new
living patterns need not resemble existing living patterns. New
residents won’t necessarily interact with communities in the exact same
way as existing residents. We don’t need to get rid of cars. What we
need is to avoid adding many new cars…

We are in the
middle of a paradigm shift in the design of our communities. The sprawl
model of development that predominated for sixty years isn’t
sustainable and, more importantly, is no longer what the market wants.
Prices in established walkable neighborhoods are sky-high while nearby
walkable neighborhoods are gentrifying rapidly. We have enough
single-family homes for the next 20 years; in fact, nationwide,
analysts predict we’ll have 22 million too many.

There’s
nothing evil about wanting to live in a house with a yard and a picket
fence. Some government policies may unfairly subsidize that form of
living with cheap infrastructure, but it’s still a totally valid way to
live. It’s just that there are lots of those houses. Meanwhile, there
aren’t enough condos and row houses in walkable neighborhoods…

Tom
Coumaris recently suggested the phrase "no more cars," which I
misinterpreted at first to mean "get rid of cars," but which he meant
as "no additional cars." In effect, what advocates for livable and
walkable communities want is "not more cars" — growth that doesn’t
bring more cars. Some then misinterpret this as an attempt to ban cars
— "no more cars." It’s a subtle difference, but an enormous one.
Low-traffic growth is good for existing drivers as well. Low-traffic
growth means less competition for the roadway space they’re already
using, and less pollution from people driving through their communities
to get to new exurban ones farther out. We should all be able to
support policies that allow growth but "not more cars."

Alpert’s post has generated some great comments. Head on over and check it out.

Other things that caught our eye from around the network: New Geography
has a fascinating post about the commuting patterns of immigrants that
raises important policy questions about the allocation of transit
resources. At How We Drive, Tom Vanderbilt wonders if there’s a silent majority in favor of red-light cameras. And Trains for America
reports on how the recession has brought Amtrak’s ridership numbers
down. Interestingly, long-distance routes have taken less of a hit than
short hauls.

  • I’d say that “no more cars” should at least me LESS cars instead of “not more cars”. We have to many as it is, what is wrong with working towards less? I know that people don’t want to be forced out of their car, but then why do I feel like I’m forced INTO a car?

  • Pat

    Really though, isn’t it acceptable to support the reduction in use of something that is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 45? Is it not acceptable to wish for cities that are not hazardous to children and seniors? I mean you can be polite in your conversations with people who drive, but you don’t have to pander to them just because you are uncomfortable that people do not share your opinion.

  • ZA

    I think it’s instructive that as individuals, as institutions, and as a society, when confronted with the need to go somewhere, we’ve largely stopped asking how to go do it. The default of the car is omnipresent. Our freedom to choose alternatives has eroded, or gravely stacked against.

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