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The Freedom to Not Drive

9:27 AM PDT on July 6, 2010

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 would be 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 the suburbs.

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