« Letter To Barbara Boxer »

The following was a response to an email sent out by our senator regarding the matter of commuters in California spending something like ten days of their lives each year sitting in commuter traffic. For my impassioned argument, I got a form letter a few weeks later, no doubt generated by a keyword and database driven autoresponder.

Livin' the good life in suburbiaDear Senator,

I appreciate your concern for how much time commuters spend in traffic, and applaud the incentive to make something work. However, I positively do not expect any improvement if we use the same methods for addressing the problem as we have used for the last 50 years. Namely, the idea of using more freeway construction to supposedly alleviate congestion is ludicrous. It isn't your idea, and I don't mean to slight your efforts, but seriously, when did adding any freeways or other significantly large roads ever alleviate the traffic problem for more than a few days or weeks?

The problem, as I see it, lies in the fact that our entire manmade landscape is constructed so as to force us to be dependent on cars. This is the central disaster from which all others spring. I live in San Diego and frankly there isn't much that can be done that doesn't demand the use of cars. I know that this was an intentional arrangement that was created by automotive and oil industries in the post war period. At the same time, public light rail was abolished in most places. The suburban scheme is a disaster, because of the way it makes human life unlivable unless somehow there is a car involved, and then again, having a car isn't necessarily the ticket to living a satisfying human life, as your email confesses.

So when will we talk not only about making a too-little-too-late rail and bus solution work, but also about forcing development patterns that concentrate on high density, mixed use designs? We need to rebuild our man made landscape to honor the lives of humans and not those of cars. Cars are not going to be with us a lot longer, given the state of global oil supplies going down with the coming of the global oil peak. We should stop catering to cars as the centerpieces of our designs, and get back to making spaces that are livable without the dependence on cars. We need a revolution in our habits. We need the mindset of the New Urbanists to take over in our civic design and a total rethinking of most of our zoning laws. The less people need to be segregated from their jobs, their churches, friends, and other amenities and human relations, the better our lives can be, and we can get back far more than the ten days we now spend sitting in traffic. We need to consult the classic living spaces of older US cities, and most of Europe's living spaces. We need to stop the forced separation of the places and institutions that make our lives what they are. We need to make our cities and towns into places that serve our needs and are worth caring about. So many of our problems today can be traced to prioritizing the automobile over the human. This must stop. Can you help make this reality?

Thank you.

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