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Mobility as a Basic Human Right


by Sarah Goodyear

Advocates of sustainable transportation are sometimes charged with elitism and criticized for being out of touch with the mainstream of America. A new exhibit of photographs showing in Los Angeles, "Without a Car in the World: 100 Car-Less Angelenos Tell Stories of Living in LA," graphically makes the point that the people who have the most to gain from effective public transportation and complete streets are hardly the elite.

Stephen Box, author of the SoapBoxLA blog, was featured in the exhibit along with his wife, Enci. Box lives without a car by choice. But he said when he attended the opening of the exhibit he was "humbled" by the stories of others in his city who don't drive because they can't, for medical or economic reasons. Box writes:

[T]he story that established the baseline against which the success of LA's transportation system must be judged was told by a gentlemen who simply explained "I'm on the bus six, seven hours a day. MTA doesn't see what we see, they need to come from behind the desk, take a two- or three-day trip, get on all the buses, see how they aren't on schedule, they're always crowded ..." LA's weakest and most vulnerable community members live in fear, sometimes unable to simply cross the street. If LA is to become a Great City, it will start with a commitment to mobility as a civil right, a basic guarantee of effective transportation choices that extends to everybody.

Box's post is an important reminder for sustainable transportation advocates. It is vital to remember that access to affordable public transportation, as well as safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, is a fundamental social equity issue. There's nothing elitist about it.

More from the Streetsblog Network: Systemic Failure wants to get bike lanes out of the gutter. Tucson Bike Lawyer wonders if drivers only get charged for making an improper turn if they end up hitting a police officer. And Biking in LA reports on the opening testimony in a particularly frightening vehicular assault case.

This piece originally appeared in

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Thank you for this. For me, it's easy to get focused on the other two E's of sustainability, economics and environment, and get forgetfull on this third E. Thank you for reminding me where the balance needs to be. I've shared the article with a sustainable urban infrastructures class I'm taking as a reminder to us all.

Posted by: Brian on 29 Oct 09

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