Freedom from the car

Want to be free of cars? Neal Peirce writes:

Bikes, overall, account for 37 percent of Amsterdam transport. Public transit comes in second, at 22 percent of trips. On top of regular and high-speed rail, there’s a massive light-rail network — 50 miles of tramlines, with many stops, dense in the center city, radiating out to neighborhoods and suburbs with cross-connecting lines too. Recently, freight tramcars began running through the city, cutting truck use (and pollution). And Amsterdam has added three new subway lines since its first in 1976.

So what’s the Amsterdam game plan? For decades it’s been to nurture the “compact city,” slowing a middle-class exodus and preserving the open landscape by dense development, recycling old industrial areas and intermingling uses. Reducing auto use — now just 41 percent of trips compared to 90 percent-plus in most U.S. cities — is the heart of the plan.

Helped along by the Netherlands’ high gas taxes (per gallon costs are now over $9), the Amsterdam approach not only cuts energy use but provides a starting point for dramatic carbon reduction. But its genius, so rarely discussed in America, is smart land use and curbing the auto use that so easily overwhelms modern world cities.

Cities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam have been busy changing and evolving away from a car transportation system since Jimmy Carter was elected in the United States in 1976. American cities, on the other hand, largely have been pushing for more roads, wider roads, and more cars.

Resulting in, as the International Herald Tribune describes, America’s oil addiction: Chronicle of a crisis foretold.

Over the last 25 years, opportunities to head off the current crisis were ignored, missed or deliberately blocked, according to analysts, politicians and veterans of the oil and automobile industries. What’s more, for all the surprise at just how high oil prices have climbed, and fears for the future, this is one crisis we were warned about. Ever since the oil shortages of the 1970s, one report after another has cautioned against America’s oil addiction.

Even as politicians heatedly debate opening new regions to drilling, corralling energy speculators, or starting an Apollo-like effort to find renewable energy supplies, analysts say the real source of the problem is closer to home. In fact, it’s parked in our driveways.

Nearly 70 percent of the 21 million barrels of oil the United States consumes every day goes for transportation, with the bulk of that burned by individual drivers, according to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan research group that advises Congress.

People in the Netherlands are paying twice as much — $9 a gallon — for gasoline… and have something to show for it. What does America have to show for $4.50 a gallon gasoline?


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  1. Maybe we can find work in the Netherlands?

  2. fine essay on the recc list, slightly tongue in cheek, but

    Me, I really love my cars every one of them I’ve ever had

    from my little aluminum engined oldsmobile, to my 64 tempest with the three on the tree that would get hung up and force me to crawl under it with a piece of 2×4 and bash the gears back into alignment, to my wonderful 68 LeMans with the great 350 engine that I drove forever and into its constituent elements, then my GTO with that big-assed 400 engine that went up the steepest of hills in high gear, like wise my baby, my 66 Corvette Sting Ray (which I’ve had for the past 39 yrs)with the rat motor and fire engine red inside and out, another LeMans a rather ugly 4 door with the 400 engine that was the best car ever for the SF/Oakland traffic, fast enough to get to any hole in the traffic and already beat up enough to scare off any who would contend with it.

    My 3 vw bugs, all the old flat windshield type, the first on nearly got me killed with its lack of power.  My Riviera, the glide ride as my sis-in-law called it, my little Opel GT, and then the Manta following that.  And now my Honda Civic

    I loved them all, each in their own way-they meant freedom in the little towns, they meant a way to get into town from the country, and into the city from the little towns, they meant buckets of horsepower that thrilled me and still do, they meant cross-country trips and nights at the North Rim, under the stars, Tonopah, 130 mph on cruise control, they meant rolling around in the back seat with the wonderful girls, and riding around the countryside getting stoned to the gills with the bright lights on and the windshield wipers flashing.

    And thats not even counting the Motorcycles.

    Sorry you hate cars, I think only those who love them and who drive them well should be allowed to have them, or to ride in them.  One of the things I thank heavens for is that I was around in the time of the muscle car and again in the time of the really sweet motorcycle (that time is RIGHT NOW, bikes are the best they have ever been).  I think all the city people should not be allowed cars, and when we go to cities I think we should have big assed parking lot on the outskirts where we can park and then get bussed around and metro’ed like is appropriate to a city, but I love my cars, every one of them I’ve ever had has taken me someplace fantastic, and in a manner that a King could not have enjoyed a century ago.

  3. People in the Netherlands represent a higher form of human life. Americans should go there, talk to “them” study their nation and model America more after the Netherlands than what America currently does, modeling itself after a fascist Israel.  

    • Robyn on July 8, 2008 at 3:30 am

    …but I never learned how.  Of course, I never had a drivers license until I was 46 or 47.

    Fear is an awful foe.

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