Cars Improve Our Quality of Life?

Q. Studies show that car ownership increases personal wealth and quality of life in ways that depending on public transportation can never accomplish so how can you say we should be getting rid of them?

A. When and where were these studies done? In rural areas or urban? 60 years ago or in the last 10 years?

It is certainly true that quality of life has improved in many ways during the period that cars have been available to more than the upper 10% of the population. Cars have may have contributed to that but they have also contributed to air, noise, and earth pollution. Was it worth it?

But that question aside, is there a context in which to compare the economic advantages of using cars vs public transportation? Public transportation is so poorly developed and maintained in this country that is probably impossible to determine.

Another problem is accounting. While people disagree whether cars are a blessing or a curse, it is hard to calculate their economic advantage because we don’t know what they cost us in terms of depletion of raw materials, air pollution, ground pollution, etc.

I’m not speaking against cars but against dependence on cars. Arranging one’s life so getting to work, to food, to recreation, to schools, etc, can be done without using a car is incredibly freeing on a personal level and environmentally would drastically reduce air, noise, and visual pollution.

Think about how much more open space there would be in cities, where cars are the most concentrated and most often parked on public land, if cars were reduced by 50%. Streets that have parking on two sides could then have 6 ft more walkways and gardens on one side, a decrease in asphalt of 25%. That is a huge number when you imagine looking down a street and seeing a long park or spacious landscaped walkways or bike lanes instead of another row of cars. The walkability index for that neighborhood zooms right up.

A further reduction in air and noise pollution could be produced by planning activities that cannot be done within walking distance to be done on public transportation. Don’t jump in the car automatically. Ask yourself, is there a Whole Foods or a Giant on a Metro line? Can I get new shoes while I’m there? How many more mysteries can I read if I ride instead of driving?

And then, do I really need a car? With six Zipcars for hourly rentals within 2 blocks of my home and three longer term car rentals one Metro stop away, how much money could I save to just rent? And that calculation should include not only the savings from my personal budget, but in tax dollars from everyone doing the same.

The incalculable costs of cars are in medical care, road building and maintenance, traffic control (though there seems to be little of that), dead car and rubber tire disposition, emergency vehicles for accidents, building and maintaining parking, etc. The air pollution is not just from driving but from manufacturing and processing the raw materials.

Maybe a better number cruncher than I am has figured out how much a reduction in the use of cars would reduce taxes.