Cars on Streets: by Right or by Privilege?
Today, in our cities and their neighborhoods, freedom of the streets is primarily accorded to the automobile. Motor vehicles (including automobiles, trucks, and buses) kill up to 500,000 people per year across the world; they injure millions. Carcinogenic gases arising from these vehicles kill an estimated 30,000 people in the USA alone; they are killing the forests of densely populated Europe, cause crop losses of $1.9 to $4.5 billion of four cash crops in the USA; they not only degrade marine life in the Atlantic coastal waters, they are the primary major human-made contributor to the greenhouse effect.
In addition, the noise that vehicles make chase people off the street and sometimes, even from their homes. People who cannot escape can be literally driven crazy by the noise. As well as having an insatiable appetite for fuel, these machines can occupy almost three times more space for parking than the space occupied by their owner's residence.
The simple fact, however, is that cars were never formally granted a right to the streets in the history of cities. What happened was a coup. When the car first appeared, it was viewed purely as a leisure vehicle for the rich. On public roads, cars had to proceed at a walking pace with a man in front waving a flag. In 1901, Mercedes-Benz estimated that the ultimate world market would never be higher than one million cars but by 1992, there were 600 million cars world-wide; a car is manufactured every second of the day.
While all of that was happening over the course of some 60 years, almost no public debate took place as to whether the thousand year old tradition of refusing the right of street access to "beasts which would kill and maim" should be reversed.
The question of "rights" is a serious approach to this important concern; it should be widely discussed with an idea in mind of taking action. There is a strong moral argument pursued mainly by ecologists that freedom to use the roads was recognized as a basic right before the invention of the car. Therefore, when cars restrict the right of others to use the streets, it is the car that must yield to a citizen's right.
It can also be argued that while the car remained a leisure vehicle in small numbers and travelled at a speed that did not endanger any other road users, there was no problem: exhaust emissions were too low to harm people's health, noise produced was not much more than that produced by a noisy group of children.
But when entire transportation systems and the infrastructures for them were created by the state, where we now have winners (cars) and losers (pedestrians and cyclists), when in addition the losers are at the bottom of the economic ladder, then the injustice being perpetrated must be remedied by change.
There are three basic human rights involved in this matter:
- the right to protection from harm in society;
- the right to equal access to essential transportation;
- the right to peaceful community life.
Power to the People!
Such a movement has begun in the USA, thanks to those who support compliance with the ADA, but advocacy can begin wherever you happen to be, as Next City has successfully begun to demonstrate <https://nextcity.org/features/view/ada-compliance-accessible-design-cities-lawsuits-doj>, as Alice J. Friedemann (see link below) has been advocating for decades, as S.G. Collins' video precisely demonstrates.
"Suburbia" is a painfully inadequate version of the village/small town of the Transcendentalists, as this video shows: <http://qz.com/698928/why-suburbia-sucks/>