Saturday, March 29, 2014

In America, it's what makes our cars happy that really counts

We’ve been down this road before, buckaroos, but let’s make a U-turn and take another look.
An on-line discussion about an alleged car-parking “problem” in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, spurs this ramble. (See
One person got things rolling by posting a wish that Montpelier have more parking spaces – slots closer to destinations, like shopping, workplaces, eateries, and such. The goal, of course, would be to make life “easier” and limit walking (a time-honored form of exercise) by building a parking “garage.”
Most Americans who drive a private car, SUV or truck have been in one of these concrete, asphalt and steel things. I hiked around inside the one at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington,Vt., a couple of weeks ago after a medical appointment inside. I hiked for a good hour before finding my car.
Parking garages are huge white elephants, expensive to build, expensive to maintain, unpleasant to look at, and, as others have noted, a crutch for our car-centric culture.
“It would be preferable to find ways to reduce cars in the city, not give them comfy subsidized nests that preclude other, more desirable, uses,” a reader wrote.
His conclusion: “I subscribe to the idea that Montpelier doesn’t have a parking problem – it has a walking problem. It’s easy to find a place to park and shop if you are willing to hoof it a bit. And, you might even drop in on some other store on impulse. Cool! Walking to a store in Montpelier is a lot more fun than playing dodge ‘em with cars in some soulless sidewalk-less big box asphalt desert.”
Wow, well said.
I started thinking about cars, congestion, air and noise pollution, and stormwater runoff about the same time my wife and I moved to Conyngham in 1989 after three years in the Adirondacks. Watching motor vehicles plying Route 93 in the Nescopeck Creek valley was the anecdotal-enriching experience.
Today, I see the same heartless expression of America on wheels in northern Vermont. This time it’s Vermont highway 2A.
Try this yourself sometime soon (it’s more fun than watching tee vee): With clipboard in hand, stand or, better yet, sit at a good place to observe a local highway (Route 309 would qualify nicely) and keep a tally of those passing vehicles with more than one person inside (the driver). If my own experience watching the flow of steel/rubber/plastic/glass is the same as yours, what you’ll record is this: Only one of every 100 or so automobiles passing your vantage point is carrying more than one individual.
I’m not sure what car-buyers these days learn from their dealer-of-choice about their auto’s emissions. And just this morning I sat in a niece’s new Toyota Prius. Nice car, you bet, and the electronic gizmos are astounding.
You can find out for yourself what your own vehicle emits by burning gasoline. Go to
I drive a car too, but I’ve also been a committed walker (for fitness, transportation and fun) for a long time. But here’s the glitch: Parking is only an alleged “nightmare” if one chooses to limit his transportation options to one: The private automobile.
Arguably, the private, family car and the infrastructure needed to keep motor vehicle fleets on the move are among the biggest reasons out there for the ongoing decimation of our country’s natural heritage. McMansions these days come, more often than not, with a three-car garage.
Done right, municipalities can have a high quality-of-life rating and be more walkable, more livable, more fun to be in, and better for the air we all breath – motorists and walkers and bicyclists alike – if we stop trying to make things bigger and better for cars and cars alone.
A closing observation: Just days ago, I sadly found another road-killed owl. This time the species was barred owl. Over decades of birding and observing nature, I have now recorded these six road-kill owl species: barred, barn, eastern screech, great horned, burrowing and western screech.
Our ongoing societal desire to make things best for cars is to blame.

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