CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Changing Ends at Half Time

Absorbing some of the recent debate over the new fuel efficiency standards, not to mention the hovering controversy over congestion or VMT pricing — or even the closing of segments of Broadway to car traffic in NYC — I was reminded of a passage I recently came across in a lecture by Phil Goodwin, now emeritus professor at University College London, back in 1997:

I think we are engaged in one of those historic transitions which looks quite different when you are in the middle of it, from what it looks like in retrospect – a bit like the great liberal reforms of the 19th century. The abolition of slavery, and of child labour; the introduction of free, compulsory education; the concept of public health; the construction of a system of drains; running clean water; the right to vote. All of these, at the time, seemed revolutionary, or threatening, or infringements on the liberty of the citizen; or too expensive, and there were long arguments. In retrospect, they seem logical, fair, efficient, and absolutely good value for money. Subsequent generations even wonder why it took so long, and why there was so much fuss about it.

I see transport as similar. Mass car ownership offered us a control over time and space which no previous generation has ever had, and we took it up willingly and enthusiastically. But it has got out of hand. It has now started to defeat its own advantages. There is much talk of a ‘level playing field’ – but playing fields are never level, which is why we change ends at half time. It’s now half time – literally: we are probably about half way to the levels of traffic that would eventually apply if trends continue unchecked, and that just won’t do. So we need to find a better way, or better ways.

It may all seem very complicated just at the moment. But we do our children no favours if we confine them to a car-dependent mobility. And I think our grandchildren will wonder what took us so long.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2009 at 7:30 am and is filed under Cars, Cities, Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Changing Ends at Half Time”

  1. Jack Says:

    Prof Goodwin has it right and I hope we don’t have to wait till our grandchildren for change. The young generation in Japan as surveyed does not long for car ownership. Our DOTs are seeing large and growing maintenance deficits after spending billions to create an infrastructure that is unsustainable without mega-tax increases. How long will it take for carheads to see the obvious? The solution for congestion and noise is simply batteries?

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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