Monday, March 31, 2008

The "need" for a car

"I need a car," a friend of mine declared a few days ago. I hate hearing this shit. If you live in New York City, you don't "need" a car.

I'm not a live-off-the-land kind of guy. I like living in urban civilization and paying taxes to support quality of life. I think we need many things beyond just food and shelter. We need schools and police and fire protection. We need health care. We need transportation. We even need art. But we don't need cars.

My friend has three small kids and lives in one of "those" parts of Brooklyn. Now I don't have have any kids, so what do I know? But I see plenty of mothers with kids on the subway. Granted, the mothers often look tired, but they're there. You don't need a car, you want a car.

She can afford a car and bought one. But here's the problem. Her car makes my life worse. Through pollution, through accidents, through parking, through car alarms, through a car simply being and taking up space in a city with little space, cars are bad.

We should have wider sidewalks that fit yuppie strollers. There should be spaces on subways for strollers (and wheelchairs... and bikes). We need to make the city friendly for all people. We need to tell people that they don't need a car. And we need to charge them if they selfishly want a car.

This all started as a discussion about congestion pricing. My friend, in her defense, is pro-bike and pro-congestion pricing. But I still don't want her to have a car. I subsidize her large car through road maintenance, snow clearing, traffic police, curb cuts for driveways, and parking.

Having a car in New York City is not a simple choice you have a right to any more than me running a tannery in my backyard or me keeping neighbors awake at night by blasting a stereo is a choice I have a right to make.

Funded benefits to car owners is wrong. If we charged market rent values for public parking and zoned in ways that didn't encourage parking and car ownership (and even make it a necessity for most Americans), I wouldn't be so opposed to cars.

Why not rent parking space to vendors? I'd love to plop shipping containers on parking spaces and rent them out as offices or workshops or meditation centers or pay-by-the-hour hotels. Anything. I'd love to give parking spaces to trees and benches. I'd love to give parking spaces to anything but parked cars. I want parked cars to pay.

If rich people can afford a car, fine. Hey, rich people live better than you or me. I don't have a problem with that. I just don't want car subsidized by the taxpayer. Car owners need pay the full societal cost of having a car... and then some. Congestion pricing is a start.

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