Keller @ Large: We Need Our Cars

BOSTON (CBS) – For the last 11 years, people in cities around the world have marked September 22 as “World Car Free Day,” a moment to, as its organizers describe it, “remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated society.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

No question about it, from congestion to pollution to the sheer danger involved, modern civilization’s love affair with the automobile has plenty of negative consequences.

That’s why Governor Patrick on Monday was touting car-free commuting and the state’s decision to extend the event to a week-long affair.

But the difficulty of identifying viable solutions was evident when my colleague Ken MacLeod politely questioned the governor about why, if going car-free is so important, he had commuted to work that day in a hulking SUV?

After trying to laugh it off, and promising that he would try to take the T to work later in the week, the governor noted that his work schedule had him running all over the place and required driving.

Yes, welcome to the club.

Obvious security reasons require the governor to stick with private transport, but regular folks also have solid safety reasons for wanting to transport themselves and their families that way.

And the truth, as the governor surely knows, is that we are simply not realistically equipped to wean ourselves away from our cars in any major way.

Access to wheels and the open road is a crucial part of the economy, and we have never demonstrated anything close to the financial and planning commitment required to elevate public transportation over the car.

We might have taken the billions poured into the Big Dig and gone another way instead, but we didn’t, and everyone in power – Democrats and Republicans, unions and the chamber of commerce – was part of that decision.

So while Car-Free week is a well-meaning stunt, as is the governor’s belated practice of what he preaches by taking the T to the State House today, it’s no substitute for a serious, long-term commitment to ditching the car that would be among the most difficult and controversial political decisions ever made.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

More from Jon Keller
  • Stephen Stein

    I wonder if the commenters from McLeod’s story will show up here? That comment thread certainly doesn’t have the, um, “tone” that’s customary here, but there sure are a lot of comments there (246 right now).

  • tsal

    I am in favor of a ban on nonessential driving one weekend day a month. My husband was living outside of Rome during the 80s when there was an energy crisis. Italy banned all cars on weekends and permitted odd/even driving on weekdays according to license plate numbers. You could use a taxi if you didn’t have access to public. He said no one had a problem with it and everyone managed to get around using either public transportation or bikes or walking.

    It can be done

    • Stephen Stein

      Italy seemed a bit different from the US (from my vast 2-week experience). The cities had public transit systems that were no better than Boston’s, and inter-city rail resembles the Northeast US. The countryside, however, had very little suburban sprawl – the towns were concentrated around commercial centers with rail lines to the bigger cities, and the countryside was mostly agricultural. So if you are a commuter, you live in an apartment or small house with very little land in a walkable town where everything is pretty concentrated, not in a big house in a suburb on half an acre where you need your car to get to the school or the grocery store.

      Just my impressions. As for who would WANT to drive in Rome – I have no idea! Boston drivers are courteous and passive compared to the Romans.

      • tsal

        Stephen when I went to Italy I was still young enough to be daring – I was still racing muscle cars here. Yet there was no way I would get behind the wheel of a car in Rome – or anywhere else in Italy. They are nuts :)

        That being said, my husband and family lived about 10 miles outside of Rome which of course wasn’t walkable for most purposes. Many live in areas not unlike our suburbs but as you say more apartments than houses on lots of land. There was no public transportation to his dad’s plant but they managed to carpool with those who could drive on specific days. My husband and siblings went to the Overseas School of Rome which was an hour drive at best from most American kids living there. Buses were arranged for their transportation.

        I’m not suggesting an all out ban here but if it worked in Italy on such a large scale – and really what ever works in Italy – it could work here one day a week – or even a month. Or even the one day a year which I didn’t even know existed until Jon mentioned it here. We just won’t do it.

    • Matt

      As far as I am concerned what ever I do is considered esential driving because I am doing something that I either have to do or want to do. Even if that means driving the 1/4 mile to Dunkin Donuts to get my coffee and Sunday paper. You don’t want to drive then don’t. I am an adult and will do what I want.

      • tsal

        Batman – well said. Even freedom isn’t free and it also isn’t a right – unfortunately we seem to think it is.

      • The Batman

        And here is where the problems lies. Not with geography but with attitude. It doesn’t matter if something is the right, legal, ethical, moral, economical, ecological or socially acceptable thing to do, there will still be people who will do just what they want to do because they are selfish, conceited, juvenile (insert your own adjective here). Everyone is always screaming about their rights but very few want to accept the fact that serious responsibility comes along with those rights. Nothing in life is free, everything comes at some type or amount of cost. If anything in the previous statements makes you angry I would be willing to bet it is because you see something of yourself in those descriptions. Not a pretty picture, is it?

  • Saintory

    I think the answer is in the story and is obvious: with proper planning travel by car is not necessary. Unfortunately we do plan our days events with the thought that we can jump from A to B to E very quickly. With better planning it’s easy for anyone to do their routine day without a car.

    There’s also the poor use of technology in today’s world. We’re more connected than ever before and there’s really no reason we can’t do most of our “face time” via electronic means.

    While I don’t think it requires a paradigm shift to become more efficient it does take some effort, and that’s where we need to step up to the plate.

  • Betty

    I’d love to be able to take public transportation to work. But when I have to take 2 buses and then walk 3/4 mile,taking nearly an hour, vs. a 15-minute drive, it’s a no-brainer.

  • emom

    Taking public transportation,, WAIT THATS A JOKE, , First they are crowded, , late, cost more for some, and a waste,,, OH YEAH thats because the country rural areas have none……. Lets see If I did not use a car to get around in a day it would take me probably 2 maybe three days to do everything I needed to do,,, Grocery store is over 10 miles round trip, YEAH like I am going to lug all those grocery bags,,NOT, drug store is 6 miles round trip, Visiting my mom to take her out,, (if they are talking the weekend) she is over 1 miles round trip, Then take her shopping to the mall which is a 20 mileround trip, And then to see my husband which is 18 miles round trip,,,, YEAH AHHH I DONT THINK THAT IS TRUELY ECONOMICAL AT ALL,,,,, CAR POOL YOU SAY, really with who,,, thats a joke, take a cab,,,,,, EXCUSE ME FOR A MOMENT,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ROTFLMAO…….HAHAHAHHHAHAHAHA THAT’S THE BIGGEST JOKE EVERY… do you know that if we all took a cab we would be waiting for a cab for hours…. yeah thats a total waste of resources,,, they have to fill their tanks everytime,,, NOPE I rather use my car to get around…. the governor is the biggest waste of resources and money… he has a hell of a nerve to suggest we stop driving,,,, NOW THERE IS THE BIGGEST JOKE EVER..

    • tsal

      My husband said very few cabs were used. Everyone just plain figured it out. If it worked for every day, for one day a week or a month and certainly a year – it can be done.

  • tsal

    Betty and emom – with exceptions, I don’t think anyone could go without a car every day. No one is suggesting anyone do that – one day a week or a month as was wisely pointed out by saintory is possible with a little effort. Most won’t want to bother. That’s ok because in the lifetime of those on here we will still have fossil fuels. It may cost an arm an a leg. However, in the life time of our grandchildren and theirs, that may not be the case.

    The saddest part is when I see cars at a local gas station that typically charges 13 to 16 cents higher than stations less than two miles in every direction. No wonder the oil/gas companies are robbing us blind.

  • emom

    Lets face it whats good for a few a larger amount can not benifit from it.. As I say if you live out side the city, Its near impossible to go with out a vehicle for a day,, especially since most due there errands on the end end, Unless you plan on staying home all day long do nothing veg in the house then sure why the heck not,, it can work,, WAIT stay home do nothing what a novel Idea…. I did My share fo public transportation, did it for over 16 years, commuted back and forth to school went shopping, sure it was for a few meals back then and we would have to do the same the next day or so…But oh wait thats right I lived in the city we had trains, buses and take a cab really at what they charge you ,,, it was far cheaper to take the train.. the bus even was a joke. still is… If you live in a city with public transportation its easy a no brainer, for that matter more than 50% do that, How ever, the further out you live the less public transportation there is LOOK it up… the commuter rail you still have to travel to, its not in our back yard like in the city and well if the train you have near you is the wrong one well you might have to change multiple tinmes to get the right train.. And once again a cab well it is using fossel fuel how economical ccan that be since they want you to stop it for a day…counter productive if you ask me,,, trains run on electricity or deisel they are the biggest in carpooling,, a cab is the same as me taking my car,, but cost far less for a tank of gas,, lets put it this way ,,, It would cost the average person 5 times to pay for a cab to use than to use your own car,,, I can take my car into the city for more than half the cost of a cab… Using far less gas because I am not sitting there IDLE, waiting for a fair, wasting resources and costing people far to much. And yes most probably wont do this, why because today people have a schedule of things that take them further from their homes, Kids havve sports, the need to grocery shop, some have to work and still travel. this is not the 60’s when a time was far simpler… and not many lived that far out in the sticks… I remember living in the sticks, that roda trip took a few hours by car,,, now thats insane to me if I had to walk…. How about his instead,,,, to me this is far more realistic ,,,, CAR Manufactures create vehicles that are more economical on fuel, create vehicles that run on alternative fuels, and oh yeah MAKE THEM FAR MORE AFFORDABLE so all can purchase them…. Its like other green resources are to expensive for the avergae person,, aka SOLAR. Just a thought to a more better future..

  • FireGuyFrank

    I remember as a kid that science fiction movies and television shows showed far more mass transit than individual vehicles. As mentioned above, trying to take mass transit is a nghtmare — delays, multiple stops, different lines criss-crossing, etc.

    And no tax break. You’ll still pay 100% excise tax with no mass transit offset. So your car sits in a lot or at home while you spend more time and money than a tank of gas is worth to be “green”. It doesn’t make sense.

    If we had far more mass transit, with carriers picking people up every minute, with a virtual grid approach so you really could get there from here, it would work. Imagine mass transit mag-lev carriers that folllowed the already existing highways? Use your car when you needed to, but use mass transit to go to and from work.

    We just don’t really, REALLY want to give up cars; or gasoline for that matter. We would have done something about by now.

    • tsal

      Frank, your last sentence said it all.

      My son doesn’t have a car any more. He lives in the city and a car in the city is not a good thing. He uses the public transportation all of the time and says it is far less headache than dealing with the traffic messes and other drivers when he had a car. He has absolutely no complaints about public transportation.

      And I know I’m going to hear the comment that others don’t live in the city. Neither do many of my sons friends and he has no trouble getting to every area outside of the city – including the south shore.

      Back to your last sentence which I loved, Frank. I remember during the 70s when we had the energy crunch that we were asked at Christmas not to have outdoor light displays. I know this is a minor comparison. You’d have to know me to understand how taking away anything at Christmas is just not in my game plan. BUT it was for a good reason and people just did it and while doing it found some very special ways to compensate. Some that I still hold dear as a tradition.

      There was a time when Americans just did what needed to be done for the good of all. That time is long gone. And what I think Americans do not realize when they say they don’t want the man in Washington telling them what to do is that they now have to be asked or told to do what they would have naturally done before we got to the ME generation.

      Is this me being nostalgic – possibly. Can we ever get back to where we think of someone besides ourselves – good heavens I hope so.

  • emom

    FireGuyFrank,,, so true, I loved seeing all those sci-fi shows growing up it was like a vision of a future to come,, a UTOPIA of sorts, But your right none of that has every come about. only more of the same. spoiling us you might say… giving us this invention the vehilce to go places just ike that show did, to where no man could go…. LOL.. I agree we need to utilize our resources, But this is the hardest and possibly the worst thing to try… Instead build better vehilces, I MEAN it, and have them so affordable that half would so give up their gas guzzlers for the better vehilces, But that is not going to happen at least for awhile… living in a city is and always is easier, you can go just about anywhere and get what ever you need… But we also know that there is a housing crunch in the city, a parking problem and well why do you think so many left the city for the outskirts of the city,,, Crime, TAXES, a better life.. Thats what my parents did so glad too. You did not have transportation to the south unless youy had a car,, so traveling anywhere from the city never happened, and there are so many areas that are unreachable by public transit.. cost has and will always be the biggest part for anyone using the public transit. I dont see anyone using less vehicle transportation on the southshore only because there are less ways to get anywhere unless you have a vehilce ..LIKE working,,, I have never had a public transportation near any of my jobs ever.. so I can only use a car to and from,,as does many others, I see the parking lots full of cars so it appears many that can us it do use., so what is the big issue ,,,, Besides if politicians would us the public transit, lead by example instead of dictating to others about saving a trree, then maybe people would do the same… when was the last time a politician of any kind took a public transportation with out getting blasted because he or she didnt… NONE, uless you called them out and they do it once.. oh well some will some wont.. come up with a far better solution to our problems,,, there are better solution to the problem but none has been used or even tried. SOLAR & WIND

  • merimack

    When you live in a town like I do, you have to have a car. It is a mile and a half walk just to get to any major street. After I arrive there I better have a bike or keep walking because it is another mile to any store of any kind. The USA was set up for fast moving transportation. I don’t mean the public kind.

    The idea of limiting cars is a joke when you live in a suburb.

    • tsal

      It’s not a joke and you can do without a car for one day on occasion. No one is saying every day. Right now the request is one day a year. And yes I know there are exceptions but those are exceptions and not the rule.

      It doesn’t matter where you live. It’s simply a matter of whether you are willing to give a little to get what in the long run will be a lot and most Americans are not. I’m not really buying the living too far away from anything excuse. I live in the largest town in the country and still would have to walk over two miles to get groceries so I’d shop another day. It’s that simple.

      I grew up in the suburbs. I walked to school (uphill both ways). My mom didn’t drive. Very few of my friends had two cars in the family. We did sports and we got ourselves there and anywhere else we wanted to be. Our moms managed all day, every day of the week without a car. Public transportation was barely available. It can be done and it isn’t that big a deal.

      It’s sort of like the panic we see when people lose electricity due to a storm. We can’t cope with anything that we perceive as even the slightest inconvenience when on the scale of things it’s literally nothing. It’s mind boggling.

  • tsal

    Good topic Jon. Thanks for the time you take to put these together!

  • mikey

    With respect to the governor’s SUV the news isn’t all bad as it’s a hybrid.

    • tsal

      please don’t tell me that’s true – over 200 people will be awfully disappointed that all of their comments were for nothing :)

  • emom

    OH gee the old walking to school up hill heard that story for years,, and my dad did it in a blizzard both ways, and they walked everywhere,, ya ya ya ,,, heard it all,,,,But wait fast forward to now,,, its far different than back when we where kids,, Hell I walked to school every day growing up I was a kid too. much younger lived in a city took the train everywhere,, been there so much and did that,,,, Just about anyone that lives in a major city takes the trains or busses,,, for them its so much easier,,, HOWEVER. in the sticks, its not as simple as that. we work during the week and transport our kids to different things, lets see they have a sport event they must get to how do we plan on that,,,, its in another town or across town,,, not that easy .. for a small amount of folks taking one day a year off from driiving is no big deal for many more not that easy and still another smal amount well sadly wiull never give a darn. those the ones that are killing things, not the ones that do or have limits,,, Oh and those big large gas guzzling vehicles,,, well whats the real reason in having such a gas guzzler,,,, I mean its not economical,,, those stupid hummers… thers the real issue… car manufacturs can and should manufacture vehicles that are better on our resources…. BUT THEY DONT……… I remember the gas crunch back in the late 60’s or ealry 70’s the odd even days of gettin ggas… what lines we had back then… we survived…create far beeter vehicles MAKE THEM AFFORDABLE and then we can save ourt resources,,,, we dont need gas guzzlers do we….
    OH I hear that about the govenors SUV,, how ironic its possibly a hybrid…. what a joke he took public transportation for a day… and alll with a huge smile, fake at that,,,,,

    • tsal

      Just to repeat. No one is saying get rid of the cars every day. It’s once a week – or even once a month. We can’t even do it once a year. And not knowing about today being a worldwide day to not use your cars until yesterday, my family managed to reschedule everything planned today or use a means that doesn’t use fossil fuel for the day. And we did it in hours and we all work and all have lives that are demanding. And it wasn’t a big deal.

      I’d be curious to know how the rest of the world responds to this day.

      So far it seems I’m only hearing excuses that simply say people don’t want to be inconvenienced for even a day no matter what the reason.

  • emom

    AHHHH I do one better… To save money, time and fossil fuel,, I plan every trip to & from. from every daily weekly or even monthly driving chore I must endure…You see, with plenty of planning anyone can save money and fule.. but well most feel they should not… I stretch that dollar to the point of breaking and it works very well.. I plan every trip out to where I have to go., so if I need to shop for groceries, I do it while I am on my way to a place I need to go . The kids got karate,, I plan on grocery shopping, its that simple… Oh I know plenty of folks that wastge so much ., and well thats even worse… going to the store to purchase groceries every day,, WHY may I ask,, do it in bulk save time, money and fuel.. Honestly with the prices the way it is i find it crazy to waste a drop. But as i said, being able to get to places because of necessity well its what it is, Besides, I dont us my car 24/7 You drive it park it then dont use it again for 8 hours so I further dont waste fossil fuel… I actually save fuel,, what a concept save fuel & money,,,,, to many have no idea how to do…..

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