I was a presenter at the Transportation Future Meeting at the Northeast Library on Wednesday, November 29. I thought the meeting was well-organized and inspiring, and some other attendees I spoke with felt the same.
In the question and answer period after the presentations, a person in the audience suggested that I move to Europe if I hold the views that I hold. I was very nervous when I gave my presentation and felt that I stated many things poorly or awkwardly, so I would like to restate some of the major points of my presentation to see if I do indeed deserve the sentence of exile.
I started with a picture of my driveway, which is now a garden. My partner and I grow food in what was our driveway because neither of us drive and we own no car. I have never had a driver’s license. This is because I decided when I was a teenager that I would never drive. My initial reason for not driving was because of what I considered the poor engineering at the heart of the automobile, but my reasons for not driving have been strengthened repeatedly since then.
I showed something called the green transportation hierarchy, which is a triangle, just like the food groups triangle, that can be used for neighborhood planning, and also for personal life planning. The hierarchy suggests that the more environmentally friendly forms of transportation, like walking and bicycling, be given greater priority than the less environmentally friendly forms of transportation, specifically single occupant motor vehicle use. I compared this transportation triangle to the food group triangle, and said that I think about walking and biking like my fruits and vegetables, and car rides as my sweets.
And car driving is not very environmentally friendly. A single car will put more than 20 tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere every year. This is the gas whose growth in the atmosphere is melting the ice of the poles and of Greenland, and altering world weather patterns.
I talked about how historically, streets were the center of community. But we have given our streets over to cars so that they dominate them. I suggested that cars were violent bullies, because they dominate the streets that once accommodated multiple uses. I meant that they were bullies in the way that someone who takes over the jungle gym and won’t let anybody else on it is a bully. As someone who was knocked to the ground by the car when I was a kid, I can tell you from experience that there is a certain violence about them. Cars weigh a ton or more, which is much more than pedestrians or bicyclists weigh. This weight is a useful tool for cars when they are displaying their bullying behavior on streets.
I suggested that we might want to look at ways in which streets could be shared by multiple uses, such as walking, biking, art, community-building centers, commerce, and motor vehicles. I showed a number of examples, both in Europe and the U.S., where this was already happening.
The person who told me that I should move to Europe said that she was on the citizen patrol. I think that what the citizen patrol is doing is great, but it is necessary because so many people do not walk, do not see walking and biking as the fruits and vegetables of their transportation diet. Crime levels tend to be lower in cities with higher levels of walking for transportation.
I hoped my presentation would get people thinking about ways that streets can be shared, and that this will make our streets into places where we will want to be, where we will want to walk, rather than the transportation infrastructure that they become when we let traffic engineers define them as street types, like collectors and arterials. These street types seem to exclude all other uses of the streets, and words are powerful things that affect how we see the world. If we think about streets as places where we want to be, rather than as transportation infrastructure that we want to pass through, I think we will have stronger communities.
So if these views are sufficient to sentence me to European exile, I suppose I accept my sentence. But I love Minneapolis, and just hope that someday it is a place in which it is easier to live the lifestyle I have chosen to live, a lifestyle in which I don’t drive.