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Is the End of Auto-cracy in Sight?

Our car-dominated transportation system may soon make more room for biking, walking, transit and trains.

by Jay Walljasper

One of the biggest factors undermining a commons-based society during the 20th Century was the automobile. Untold billions of dollars of public money was spent to enshrine the private car as essential to modern life, first in the U.S. and then throughout the world.

Photo credit:Flickr/Lynac, creative commons license

The commons was sacrificed to achieve this manufactured dream of speed, privacy and convenience. The air was polluted, the climate altered, landscapes paved over, urban neighborhoods ripped apart, and the very nature of our social connections turned upside down. Streets, once public spaces used by everyone, became the exclusive domain of vehicles. Our public life declined, as people began to move about town isolated behind their windshields.

Problems caused by a transportation system dominated by automobiles have been apparent for decades, but little happened to change the situation. It was considered an impossible dream that we would embrace any other way of travel.

But there are growing signs that people now understand —even in auto-dominated America—that we must broaden our transportation system by giving significant funding to bikes, transit, trains and walking. The fate or our environment, economy and communities depend upon it.

In the November election, voters around the U.S. approved billions in new spending for transit including a California high-speed intercity rail system and a $17.8 billion tax increase in Seattle for expanded light rail and bus service. Even citizens in Jonesboro, Arkansas, voted 86-14 percent to continue their local transit system, established in 2005.

Transportation for America —a new coalition of civic, community, environmental and social justice groups—has drafted the Build for America aganda, an ambitious five-point plan to strengthen the U.S. economy by creating a 21st Century transportation system based upon:

1) Modernizing and expanding intercity rail and urban transit systems comparable to those in Europe and China.

2) Investing in green transportation technology—not just cleaner cars and buses, but also expanding opportunities for people to walk, bike and take transit.

3) Restoring our decaying roads, bridges and transit systems before building any new roads.

4) Cutting back on unnecessary transportation spending by reevaluating all planned projects in light of our need to cut back on oil dependence.

5) Saving American families money by providing more affordable housing options within easy walking and biking distance or transit connections to jobs and commercial districts.

Not only would this boost our economic prospects, it would reinvigorate a sense of community in our towns and cities, which is the chief prerequisite for a commons-based society.

Jay Walljasper, co-editor of OnTheCommons.org and senior fellow of Project for Public Spaces, is author of the Great Neighborhood Book.

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Comments

Need a new car? Don't have the money to buy a new car? Could you get your new car for free? Perhaps.

part.cc may have just the deal you have been looking for. part.cc is a rather unconventional advertising business. Instead of

placing advertisements in magazines, billboards, radio or TV they place them on cars and give the cars to people to drive for

free.

Advertisements on vehicles is certainly nothing new. We have all seen ads on buses and taxis. part.cc is not the only company

to place advertisements on personal automobiles. Autowraps.com pays drivers $400 a month to advertise on their own cars.

part.cc, however, has introduced the new twist of providing the car for free.

Currently part.cc offers only the Volkswagen New Beetle, but they have plans to expand to Ford Explorers and PT Cruisers. The

Beetles are new and equipped with air conditioning, radio and automatic transmissions. The cars are covered with a high

quality vinyl adhesive with advertising graphics.

Unfortunately, not everyone who applies will be accepted into the program. part.cc will be providing as many free cars as the

demand for their advertising will allow. It helps to be located in a college town and/or a large metropolitan area, but they

do cover all fifty US states.

There are a number of requirements for participants. Stipulations include such things as being 18 or older with no recent

moving violations, driving the number of miles stated on the application, having a suitable profile for the particular

advertisers, parking in specified areas, and meeting with a part.cc representative for periodic checks of the mileage and

advertising. For a complete list see the links at the end of the article.

The application looks long and daunting at first, but it is easy and painless to fill out and can actually be completed in

ten minutes as they estimate. The majority of the application deals with where and how far you drive.

So, is part.cc your ticket to a free car? They very well may be if you live in the right place, your driving profile matches

what they are looking for, and you are willing to drive a rolling billboard. Would I participate if accepted? I'm enough of a

freebies addict that I'd have a hard time saying no to a free car. What about you -- would you accept a free advertising

supported car?


Posted by: part on 13 Dec 08

My impression is that the debate taking place now is primarily about what we use to fuel our cars, and not about whether or not private automobiles are the right kind of transportation for our cities. I think this particular debate was mostly inspired by high oil prices (which have now, alas, receded), and also given prominence by global warming. Unfortunately, we can fix both of those problems without reconsidering how we build our cities, and without creating livable spaces for people (instead of drivable spaces for cars) by making cars very lightweight, and running them on electricity, or as flex-fuel plug-in hybrids, along the lines of Amory Lovins' "hypercar" concepts.

In some isolated places in the US (like Boulder, CO), livable streets have taken hold, and advocates for cycling, transit, and walking have gotten more attention than normal, but I think that's mostly because people have been concerned about fuel prices, and GHG emissions, and we don't yet have access to the highly efficient vehicles that will (hopefully) soon emerge.

I fear that if we don't aggressively take advantage of this interim period, or if (because of once again low fuel prices) it doesn't last very long, we will continue to invest heavily in unlivable environments, built around large private mobility machines, and sprawling decentralized cities.


Posted by: Zane Selvans on 13 Dec 08

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