Commentary

World Car Free Day Tomorrow—Buy Your Bread and Milk Now

An article in the Washington Post on Sunday notified me that Tuesday, September 22, 2009 is World Car Free Day.

“World Car Free Day is the annual apex of a global movement that promotes alternatives to a car-dependent society, including improvement of mass transit, cycling and walking, and the development of communities where jobs are closer to home and where shopping is within walking distance.” The global movement is based in the Czech Republic and coordinates the European activities. Projects in the USA are run through a variety of member organizations because there were technical issues regarding the tax free status Details are here.

A charter for the organization is here and obviously their agenda does not include mobility.

While the loss of life attributed to automobile crashes is tragic–3,000 per day world wide according to this group—there are many who would disagree with their premise that “automobiles shape and distort our urban environment. They replace lively, pleasant, walkable, human-scaled communities with low-density, sprawled-out environments designed for getting elsewhere as fast as possible.”

The charter goes on to say, “Our society’s dependence on an expensive, inequitable technology – the most resource-intensive means of locomotion ever devised – has expanded to achieve a radical monopoly in much of the industrialised world. This automobile-motorway-petroleum system denies free mobility to children, the elderly, the poor and the physically handicapped. Public transport, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is tacked on as an afterthought, if at all.”

This all seems a bid much doesn’t it?

The Washington DC area ranks in the top five in every survey of urban congestion, commuter stress and time wasted going bumper to bumper in traffic, the notion of a day without cars sounds as delightful as it does preposterous.
Last year, the DC region had 5,445 people participate and this year the organizers are hoping for 10,000 participants. However, the counter shows they are quite a ways from reaching their target tomorrow.

A 24-hour break from burning carbon fuel might mean a peaceful hiatus from noise and a reduction in air pollution, but there’s no guarantee that it will be a better air-quality day. When the Washington DC region has a bad-air day, it’s caused by an atmospheric inversion that stalls soot blown our way from the Midwest. This is well known.

Lon Anderson of AAA MidAtlantic has stated “There is a major misconception about how much vehicles contribute to pollution.” Anderson said about 25 percent of the DC region’s pollution comes from cars. He goes on to say, “What comes out of the tailpipe is about 95 percent cleaner than it was 25 years ago. A lawn mower that runs for a couple of hours puts more pollution in the air than a car driving from here to New York and back.”

So as we do in “snow days” we in the DC area had best buy our bread and milk today before the Car Free Day starts tomorrow since the delivery systems for anything on the grocery shelves will be completely disrupted tomorrow. Not likely this year anyway.

My colleagues at Reason have written extensively about mobility and its contribution to the economy. See any of the writings of Adrian Moore, Bob Poole, Sam Staley and David Hartgen.

Shirley Ybarra is a former senior transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Ms. Ybarra served as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, overseeing a budget of $3.2 billion and a staff of 13,000 people. Between 1994 and 1998, Ybarra was Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Ybarra also served as senior policy advisor and special assistant for policy for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole from 1983 to 1987. In that role, Ybarra managed the transfer and privatization of Dulles and National Airports to the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.

Ybarra authored Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, considered the model public-private partnership legislation in the United States.

In 2001, Ybarra received the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's "Public-Private Ventures Entrepreneur of the Year Award" for her leadership in designing innovative infrastructure financing.

She holds a Master's degree in Economics and a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.