Auto Madness

September 28, 2004

Although he never learned how to drive, Robert Moses championed designing cities to accommodate automobiles. Using state and federal funds as well as public authority revenues from the public authorities, he cut wide highways through the five boroughs and across Long Island while preventing federal funding or Triborough revenues from subsidizing public transportation. Whether this was because of Moses's personal contempt for the poor or for policy reasons, the result was roads clogged with traffic and no reasonable alternative for travel outside of the city aside from the automobile.

While the Moses philosophy of transportation planning may have waned slightly in the past 25 years, the car-centric philosophy has never disappeared. In the New York Times Magazine, John Tierney writes about advocates of the automobile who argue that public transportation is a crazy socialist idea and that America's traffic problems will disappear if we get poor people off the road by charging variable access fees for roads: The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road).

These thinkers acknowledge the social and environmental problems caused by the car but argue that these would not be solved -- in fact, would be mostly made worse -- by the proposals coming from the car's critics. They call smart growth a dumb idea, the result not of rational planning but of class snobbery and intellectual arrogance. They prefer to promote smart driving, which means more tolls, more roads and, yes, more cars.

The RAND Institute finds that Suburban sprawl is linked to the incidence of many chronic health ailments. RAND researcher Deborah Cohen thinks one way to improve health is to "build cities where people feel comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars."

Cities should not have to choose between highways or mass transit. Sensible urban planning requires a balance between mass transit and autonomous transport.

Posted by Andrew Raff at September 28, 2004 11:12 PM
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