I don't know about your reading lately, but I have been spending my time with a journal called Auto Free Times. It is subtitled 'Greet the Future of Sustainable Trade and Transport,' and it originates, of course, in California.
Samples from the tables of contents include 'One Hundred Years of Car-Nage ... a car is buried to commemorate 100 years since the first auto fatality' and 'Packing Pavement ... photos show how cars consume enormous amounts of space' and 'The Joys of Carlessness ... real people in the Chicago area who have chosen the auto-free life.'
One editorial espouses trans-oceanic shipping via sail: 'Here in Arcata, Calif., we see the potential for sail trading as navigable waters stretch toward citrus, coffee and cocoa regions to the South, tropical fruits to the Southeast, treasured spices and culture to the East and a wealth of indigenous crafts and flourishing seafoods to the North.'
Another editorial echoes what seems to be a repeated call for a paving moratorium.
The farther you get into Auto Free Times, the more persuasive it becomes to any sensible person that there is reason to question the cost of our transportation system.
The fact is, we pay in casualties, in consumption of a finite petroleum supply, in congestion, in a thinning ozone layer, in air pollution and, in general, in social malaise for reliance on the car.
That said, there is no question about its benefits.
With the invention of the car and its adjunct device, the truck, came freedom from a fixed place of work. With the advent of the car, it was important to be located near a river, but it was no longer indispensable. While it was convenient to be at a crossroads between two towns, more and more it defined those crossroads.
What was important was the freedom that the car bestowed on individuals to make choices about where they wanted to live and where they wanted to work.
It remains true that we live in an enormous country in which we insist on our individual freedom to travel where we please, how we please and when we please.
If we choose a lemming cluster around a city, we pay for it in congestion. If we prefer a less populous place, we likely have to travel farther as the price we pay for that convenience.
In either case, the car (our private device) combines with the highway (the public contribution) to form the transportation system that works best for us in a country in which no combination of purely public transport is or has been workable.
It's gritty. And a solution to the pollution and petroleum consumption problems it inflicts on us is needed and wanted - sooner, rather than later.
But we can't hope that romantic visions of sail trading to the Spice Islands will solve our problems for us.
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