The Last Traffic Jam
“The auto industry must acknowledge that a rational transportation policy should seek a balance between individual convenience, the efficient use of limited resources, and urban-living values that protect spaciousness, natural beauty, and human-scale mobility. Twice as many autos and freeways as we now have would be a sentence of death for our cities. A necessary shift in public policy toward effective mass transit systems (which consume relatively little energy per passenger mile) would ameliorate the problem, but Detroit still must recognize that the time has come to begin developing external combustion engines (like the steam engine), to build sturdy engines of smaller horsepower that will travel twice as far on a gallon of gas as do today’s engines.”
A fragment lifted from some transpo-wonk’s position paper vis a vis the auto bailout? Nope. It’s an article by Stewart Udall, writing in The Atlantic in 1972 (thanks to Kottke for the tip).
Of course, we didn’t exactly see the “end of the love affair with the automobile” that Udall refers to — as historian Brian Ladd chronicles in Autophobia, that’s a rather cyclical conceit — and the cars Detroit went on to build (and we happily bought, or were encouraged by federal policy to buy) became less efficient. And as the always insightful Dan Neil notes here, in a review of the new Ford Fusion (52 MPG!), better fuel economy out of Detroit was never a technological hurdle as much a matter of overcoming its own lassitude, enabled by government and the mass of consumers who, let’s be honest, never had much altruistic interest in better fuel economy except when they began to take the hit.
In any case, Udall’s article is an interesting reminder of roads not taken.
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