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Synthesis/Regeneration 46   (Summer 2008)

Deep Green Transportation

by Don Fitz

Increasing the number of trains and buses on the road is not deep green transportation. Increasing the amount of car-pooling and car-sharing is not deep green transportation. Not even increasing the number of scooters and bicycles is deep green transportation.

Riding a bike is good exercise. Riding it through a park can be great recreation. But let's not delude ourselves into believing that giving a bicycle a ride on the back of a car going to a park does anything for the environment.

Deep green transportation means reducing the number of autos and trucks on the road - by a huge amount, not by a little bit.

Increasing trains and buses could be deep green transportation - but if and only if it is part of an actual decrease in the number of automobiles. Likewise, increasing bicycles, scooters, car-pooling and car-sharing is truly green transportation only if it is a piece of the big picture of reducing cars.

Otherwise, all of these are nothing more than eco-gimmicks that are part of the problem in a double way. First they require the manufacture and distribution of even more consumer items, which is the opposite direction of where we should be going. Even worse, eco-gadgets give people a sense that they are helping to solve problems when they are not.

Again, protecting the environment as well as our lungs requires a massive decrease - not an increase - in the number of vehicles on the road. Here's a 10-step plan that could lead to a 90% drop in cars in most US cities:

1. Reduce the workweek to 32 hours (or much lower) and guarantee jobs to workers who manufacture and operate vehicles. Reduction in the number of hours worked is probably the most important environmental demand there is.

2. Expand mass transportation, especially by having new lines and lanes dedicated to trains and buses. The goal should be to expand mass transit so much that people are confident that they can get to where they need to go without owning a car.

3. Require new homes to be multi-family. This not only saves enormous energy in construction and use of homes - it also increases urban density, which is the basis for an efficient mass transit system.

4. Require new workplaces to be adjacent to affordable residential areas, with workers and communities having the power to halt toxic production. Being able to walk or ride a bike to work is a very old pattern of urban design. A major reason that workers wanted to live far away was not wanting their families to be poisoned.

5. Require every company with more than 10 employees to give an hour off work each week to everyone who does not drive a car to work. The "reward" for socially responsible behavior should be less work (meaning less production) rather than an increase in money and purchased objects.

6. As steps 1 to 5 take effect, increase the frequency of trains and buses. If people do not have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for the next bus, mass transit will be vastly more popular.

7. Make it quicker to get to work without a car than with one. Connect buses and stop lights via radio waves so that lights turn green as buses approach. Designate at least one lane restricted to buses on each highway, without expanding the number of highway lanes. Sitting in a car on a highway while watching a bus go by at 40 to 70 mph would be a great motivator to take a bus.

8. Require new multi-family homes to be constructed without parking spaces for private automobiles. This would apply to apartments, condos, co-ops, and co-housing. Only allow parking spaces for a "motor pool" of no more than 1 car per 10 families that could be reserved for the rare times that a motor vehicle is truly needed.

9. Require every company with more than 10 employees to give two hours off work each week to everyone who lives in a home without any cars. Give the same two hours per week off to those who live in multi-family homes or neighborhood blocks where there is a "motor pool."

10. Once urban space is rehabbed so people can move around without cars, abolish parking spaces and parking garages (except for emergency, service, disabled, construction and motor pool vehicles). Nothing will be more effective at reducing the number of cars driven than having no place to park them. Then use the former parking spaces for urban gardens, parks or new buildings (which would shorten walking distances between shops).

Could these 10 steps each win a plebiscite? With equal time for and against, they might well win. But don't hold your breath waiting for democratic decisions. Not in a country that won't allow Ralph Nader in presidential debates and hands over elections to George W. Bush, whatever the vote might be.

It is clear that big business, politicians and big enviro groups do not believe that infrastructure collapse, global warming, world oil depletion, and interaction between multiple toxins are serious problems. If they did, they would be proposing something more than ineffective voluntary changes in consumer habits.

Reasons that people use cars instead of buses are obvious. The cost of using mass transportation has been steadily rising. At the same time, the cost of operating cars (even with gas price increases) has become a smaller part of household expenses. It is silly to think that isolated personal decisions to spend two hours riding the bus to work could reverse the trend of more cars being manufactured each year. It is even sillier to fantasize that individual choices could reduce the number of trucks used for hauling freight.

The barrier to a livable alternative to cars is a three-fold dedication to economic growth as the prime directive. The automobile is the driving force of the contemporary corporate economy, which has absolutely no intention of reducing the overall mass of production, especially the production of cars. They are solidly backed by corporate politicians who will only debate the conditions of endless wars for oil - not whether or not they should occur. And, of course, the third corner of the triangle is big enviro that serves corporate donors by dishing out endless illusions of biofuels, hybrid cars and eco-tricks.

Trucks, which vibrate bridges worse and pollute more than cars, are rooted even deeper in corporate gluttony. The enormous increase in their use is directly tied to NAFTA and other "free" trade agreements that encourage transporting goods long distances. This could be halted by legislation creating tariffs equal to the amount of wage and environmental differentials embodied in products imported into the US.

Increased trucking is also due to planned obsolescence, requiring everything we purchase to be replaced at shorter and shorter intervals. This also could be reversed by laws specifying minimum durability of all consumer goods. Greater durability would mean less production and less trucking.

But fewer trucks is no more likely to happen than fewer cars. The problem is not that corporations, politicians and big enviro don't know that there are alternatives. The problem is the lack of a movement large enough and strong enough to ignore big enviro, create its own political party and usher in new economics based on sane ways of living.

The above is based on a talk Don Fitz gave at the February 6, 2008 Black and Green Wednesday program of the Green Party of St. Louis. He can be contacted at fitzdon@aol.com

[13 may 08]

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