This is the conclusion to my three part series. The first two installments can be found here: Part I and Part II
Roads move people.
Roads were not intended to move cars. Or bikes. Or buses. Or horse and buggy combinations. Roads were intended to move people. Dernit. The idea of roads predates cars by millenia.
You can refuse to yield to a pedestrian walking in a parking lot. But the nanosecond after you reach your destination and get out of your car you become a pedestrian yourself. And have to dive out of the way of some jerk behind the wheel of his SUV that’s driving way too @#$%! fast in the parking lot!
Don’t get me started on parking lots. I have a huge issue with our standard design of having a public drive lane across the front of every building. Doors are for people, not parking, not dropping off, not waiting for a spouse, but for human beings to enter a structure. There is no need for drive-up SOV access to public entrances. Stop being so lazy. There, I said it. And if you're going to be lazy...SLOW DOWN near the doors!
Freedom. That’s what I was going to address in this post. What is it about driving that resounds with those who see freedom as the number one consideration in life? That’s easy. We think because we have a key to a four-wheeled, steel and plastic contraption capable of travelling at much more than human speeds we are more free than if we did not have access to such a powerful machine. (There is no fundamental human right that implies each individual on planet earth is entitled to singular access to a petroleum powered chariot.)
But are we more free? What choices have we given up to maintain our deathgrip on the choice to drive?
Would you prefer to live within walking distance of your place of employment or live 50 miles away (if you had the option of choosing)?
Which choice gives you more freedom?
If you live within walking distance of your job you can walk, bike, or drive to work. If you live 50 miles away driving is the only practical option left to you. And believe me, I know, having commuted 20 miles one way to go to classes, once you get over 20 miles the bike becomes less and less feasible as a mode of transportation.
So if you truly value freedom you would choose (if you could) to live and work close together. There are many reasons people choose to live far away from their jobs. Some people necessarily will work in the city, but prefer to live in the suburbs or the country and vice versa. Some people cannot find jobs close to where they already live and do not want to move. This is a problem in itself, that we cannot satisfy ourselves occupationally in our hometowns, but I’m not going to address that factor in this post.
If you do not have the option of walking, or biking, or taking public transit to your destination (to fulfill your intentions) then what freedoms can you still enjoy? Well, you can enjoy the freedom to have a driver’s license. Oh wait, those are compulsory if you want to drive and be in compliance with the law in all fifty states of the union. Then you can still enjoy the freedom to pay car insurance. That’s a freedom in all fifty states of the union as well. Oh, not a freedom? That’s right, another compulsory law. Well, you still have the freedom to buy as much gas as you want. Right? No matter how much it costs? And when the car breaks down you still have the freedom to choose NOT to pay exorbitant amounts to get it fixed. Right? When the ole odometer clicks over 300,000 miles you still have the freedom not to replace the car and choose a different mode of transportation. When your commute is 50 miles one way. Right?
When you stretch out your destination beyond the scale that is humanly traversable you give up a lot of freedoms. Now, this might be hard to understand for those of us (you) that enjoy a more than modest income. It’s easy for me to understand because I grew up with little to spare, and at times in my life mourned the lost income burned up in the combustion chambers of my car engine.
If you feel the pain at the pump, and I mean really FEEL it, then this concept is easy to understand:
You’re not truly free when you’re a slave to your car.
You might love your car. You might enjoy your car. But that doesn’t make you any more free to decide where to spend your life energy (represented by cold hard cash or numbers in a computer.)
As a society we’re not truly free if we’re slaves to our transportation infrastructure. If we can only survive as long as we keep throwing cash at our existing roads and bridges and wringing our hands because we can’t afford to build more lanes and more roads then we’re not really a free people. Do we want to be free now, or at some distant point in the future when we've finally built enough roads?
My family was more resilient when we only had one car but were able to make many of our trips on foot or by bike. We didn’t funnel as much money into the lone car we had and we prolonged its life by using it less. We practiced true conservatism, and we were rewarded with the freedom to spend more of our life energy as we pleased.
Now we’re on the cusp of making the choices all over again. The problem now is there is a layer of complexity that we didn’t face before. Once we sell the house in Colorado and begin looking for permanent digs we will need to weigh the economics of the 80 mile daily commute with the possibility of owning some land versus the 5 mile commute and a diminished opportunity to directly provide our own food and basic needs. See, we want a small farm to grow produce and raise animals. And it would be possible for us to do this fairly cheaply in our home county. It would be hard work, but also fulfilling, and something we’ve talked about for a few years now. Or we could live in Lexington and try to be backyard farmers, skirting the regulations, trying to shoehorn in a land use that isn’t optimal in suburbia.
In the whole scheme of things is it better to pour excessive resources into a car commute while working toward self-sufficiency, or is it better to reduce the direct carbon footprint of my family and be more dependent on the carbon footprint of the food delivery system? This is actually not as easy as it seems to sort out.
And what pains me most is that to have the job I have now, which I love, and which I see as being a place where I can do some real good, I can’t have my cake and eat it too. But I made a choice, and I still have some freedom to continue choosing. At least for now.
My closing point is just to reiterate what I said in the beginning of this post and tie it back in with my previous posts:
Roads move people.
Roads were not intended to move cars.
So when we look at planning any kind of development, whether it be transportation infrastructure, residential or commercial development, or anything at all, we need to first consider if we can reduce the time and/or distance that people need to move. Second, we can then look at reducing the friction in our existing transportation system, and then, if all else fails, look to building a new road with all users’ needs considered and incorporated into the construction. And we do this to give people back their time, which is what we truly value as finite beings in a harsh world.