Freedom at last – kicking cars
by Gabriel Cross
Three years ago, I was breathing toxic fumes on the freeways of LA, cursing the endless line of cars in front of me. Now, riding down the riverbank bike paths of Eugene, Oregon, that seems like a distant memory.
I hate to drive.
I also hate going to the DMV, finding a new mechanic, paying insurance, and the constant upkeep of gas burners. Mostly though, I hate the stress of driving.
In LA, I hated the fact that wherever I went, I was already mad when I got there because someone inevitably cut me off, didn’t let me in, honked at me for no reason. Stress kills, you know, so driving is actually killing you.
I’m not sure when living car-free became a conscious goal, but I started commuting by bike before I left LA. When we finally moved to Eugene proper, a walkable neighborhood was priority numero uno; good access to bike paths and bus routes numeros dos y tres respectively.
I cannot tell you how elated I feel now as my wife and I plan to get rid of our last car. So I’m a little perplexed by people who are against public transit and mixed-use development, and think their car is somehow identical to their freedom.
I get it, from an emotional standpoint. Most people live in places with terrible public transit, with nothing in walking distance and not much in biking. But thinking that the car is their means of freedom, rather than something that has enslaved (and is now killing) them, just makes no sense. I’m not against car ownership, not hardly — I’m just sick to death of the tyranny of the iron steed.
For the last 50 years or so, cities, states, and the nation have invested in roads at the expense of every other kind of transit, and the result is gridlock coast to coast. If you think politics is slow in Washington, try the morning commute on the I-495.
Los Angeles and Seattle both have chronic problems with transitioning from the single occupant car to anything else at all. The web of special interests and local politics that stifle change is mindboggling. Natural gas pockets (in LA) and bodies of water between urban hubs (Seattle) serve as persistent financial roadblocks. Houston, St. Paul, Chicago, Atlanta — every city in this country is choked with cars (and their exhaust). Even in New York, where more than half of the people don’t even own cars, the streets are bumper to bumper, with about a million cars on the road every day.
I’m lucky to live in a place where I have the option to live car-free. It’s an unattainable goal for most. But don’t believe for a second that your car makes you free. Freedom is about having options, and right now the car has you in a trap. Cars are great when they’re optional, but when you have to get behind that wheel every single day, being stuck in traffic sure doesn’t feel like freedom.