Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pie-in-the-sky futurists

Automobile The Next Cigarette
The Resiliant Earth, May 15, 2013  By Doug L. Hoffman

A recent report on the IEEE website claims that the
car of the future is not a hybrid, electric or even hydrogen powered vehicle. In fact, it is no car at all. It seems that a group of pie-in-the-sky futurists have decided that the automobile in any form is a bourgeois abomination. The hope for the future is mass transit and electric bicycles say the urban planning pundits. This shocking bit of utopian navel gazing comes out of the New York "Energy for Tomorrow” conference, which was devoted to “Building Sustainable Cities.” One prognosticator went so far as to pronounce the car the next cigarette, soon to become a pariah to all right thinking lefties. It is unsurprising that a bunch of big city officials and socialist leaning academics would prematurely announce the demise of the automobile, but then futuristic urban planning has a long history of being unerringly wrong.

Writing in the IEEE web column Energywise, Bill Sweet provides a gushing overview of one of the most asinine ideas ever to pop stillborn from a thinktank. With a modest recovery underway in the US and continued growth in Asia auto sales have recovered somewhat in recent years, yet many of the “experts” at the Times's conference have come out strongly anti-auto. Here is how Sweet put it:
Most shocking, perhaps, was the level of hostility expressed by 
many speakers to the automobile as such. Jaime Lerner, a former 
mayor of Brazil's Curitiba, known for the work he did there introducing an integrated mass transportation system that has been copied the world over, expressed the belief that cars some day soon will be seen as noxious as tobacco is today. “The car is going to be the cigarette of the future,” Lerner said.
The distaste Lerner and others expressed had to do not merely with pollutants and gasoline but, first and foremost, with congestion and what you might call human equities. Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, said his transportation reforms emphasized wide use of mini-buses (like the VW “Volksbus” seen ubiquitously in Mexico City), which after all emit pollutants and consume hydrocarbons too. The decisive factor for Penalosa is the amount of urban space consumed by a bus, as compared with a private car. “If we are all equal before the law,” he said, then “a bus carrying 100 people should be entitled to 100 times as much road space as a private car.”
It is totally amazing that those who do not own or drive personal automobiles think the rest of us are willing to adopt their inner-city 
lifestyle, content to use public transportation and share-a-ride bicycles. Don't misunderstand, we have no objection to public transportation in cities—it is outside of cities that the myopic green view fails. In reality, half of humanity lives outside of large urban areas where personal vehicles are not just a nicety but a necessity. Those who live outside of major cities in North America, Australia and elsewhere know this and are not about to relinquish their private vehicles.

The fundamental truth overlooked by the navel gazers is that the automobile freed the common man. In America, Henry Ford's spindly wheeled creations put the nation in motion. For the first time, people were free to pick up and move if times grew hard in 
their area or there were better jobs in the offing somewhere else. And move the people did, sometimes all the way across the continent. There is a reason why California became so car crazy, most of that state's citizens arrived by car.

1 comment:

  1. Well this interested me enough to read further about Curitiba. Very interesting. The plan was created and executed in the 60s and 70s when the population was just over 400,000 and the city was not built out fully.
    So, the lesson is: if you are a small city with rapid growth and some forward thinking people you can shape what the city becomes at a reasonable cost.
    The corollary to that is that if you are a large city almost fully built out such a change is going to be very expensive and make a lot of people unhappy!