Writing can be a lonely pursuit, especially when you write about something in which the public doesn’t seem all that interested. But if you’re lucky, the pebbles you throw into the pond of public discourse will eventually make ripples elsewhere.
I gave up my car in 2007 as a New Year’s resolution. In January 2014, the Bangor Daily News published my commentary on my seventh anniversary of car-free living. The latest issue of Bangor Metro magazine – for which I wrote from 2006 to this year – features an article on bicycling to work. I wrote a comprehensive story on public transportation in the area for the magazine’s March 2008 issue. (Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to access the magazine’s archives on its website, so I cannot provide a link. Copies are available at the Bangor Public Library.) As far back as 1992, when I was living in Southern California, I wrote in a guest commentary for the Los Angeles Times that a controversial piece of public art in the coastal city of Carlsbad was better appreciated on foot than from inside an automobile. The city tore the sculpture down instead.*
Thus, it’s gratifying to see a recent wave of commentary, both local and national, on the American car culture and what we can do to reduce its wastefulness. Though I have been writing about this subject for years, personal recognition was never my motivation. What matters more is that the discussion is finally taking place.
Do we really need so many dang cars? Must we pursue transportation policies that encourage car ownership over every other form of mobility? Why are so many roads unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians? Why must public bus services scrape by on minimal budgets, even as we build more parking garages and parking lots? How can we create a more balanced, environmentally friendly traffic infrastructure?
The thesis of this blog is that it starts with the individual. As I have written before, not all of us can give up our cars – but some of us can, and as more people discover the rewards of car-free living, public services will have to accommodate them – er, us. I’m encouraged to see the emergence of new advocacy groups for bicyclists and pedestrians. I’m happy to read about a recent rally in Pickering Square supporting longer bus hours. I’m glad to see a Bangor Daily News blogger suggest giving up a car as a way to get into better physical shape. However it happens, I’m happy to see the ripples spreading.
* – The public art project referenced in the commentary was called “Split Pavilion,” and it was the work of noted New York artist Andrea Blum. In 1999, the city of Carlsbad, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, bowed to public pressure and destroyed the sculpture, so that drivers could once again enjoy an unimpeded view of the Pacific Ocean from their automobiles.