Last night I heard a story on Free Speech Radio News about how Portland activists are rethinking local highways and transportation spending in light of the coming global climate change cataclysm (listen here). All right, they didn’t use the word cataclysm, but it’s what they meant.
The story quoted some shocking statistics, which I double checked for myself. They’re true. In 1956 there were 65 million cars and trucks on America’s roads. That number has nearly quadrupled in fifty years, to 237 million today. The Portland activists are asking whether we should keep building more highways and bridges to make it possible for more cars to move, which increases oil demand, air pollution and health problems? Or should we make better decisions that help us reduce the number of miles we have to drive?
One local economist asked, If you had $4 billion to spend on improving quality of life in our region, would you want to spend it all on this bridge?
That’s when I realized the solution to this looming highway cataclysm is in my closet.
From many years of travel I’ve learned that no matter how big a suitcase I take with me, I’ll fill it up. The solution, I discovered, is to carry a smaller suitcase and plan my trip around it. What clothes can I mix and match? How many pairs of shoes do I really need? Will I have access to a washing machine? I once heard a travel planning adviser say that you don’t need to take much formal wear on any vacation. If you get invited for dinner with the Queen, he said, you can just buy something there.
It’s not so different with highways. Clearly, no matter how big the American road system is, we’re going to fill it up. So let’s just choose not to expand it any more, and instead make better decisions about where we build schools and job sites. Let’s spend our transportation infrastructure money on public transit and bike lanes, and line them with parks and gardens. Let’s make the distances between work and home shorter, and offer more options to get from point A to point B, like buses, subways, bike paths and walkways. Let’s make it easier for people to drive less, and even give up their cars entirely.
If you’re invited for dinner with the Queen, you can always rent a car to get there.