Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Mass-transit Op-Ed

The Scottsdale Tribune published my first Op-Ed piece over the weekend. I had sent it in on Monday, and they responded right away, saying they were considering it and could I provide them with a photo. Then nothing for five days. They even ran a letter to the editor on the same topic. I had assumed they had decided not to run it. Then Saturday morning, as I got out of the shower, Judy yelled up that my picture was on the front page. They had given me a "refer" as my friend in the business calls it. A page one blurb about my commentary on the editorial page. In addition to my picture, they also ran a 3x4 picture of traffic above the piece. The whole thing was pretty cool, although my picture makes me look like a doofus who can't afford a haircut.

Here's the piece. The Tribune, unfortunately, doesn't put commentaries on their website. Just official editorials.

In Monday’s Tribune, Tom Patterson offered a paean to the highways that ignores the limited and deprived life that comes from a city dependent upon cars. Mr. Patterson argues that private ownership of cars gives us “privacy, mobility and autonomy,” but he doesn’t tell us that such benefits are not available to all. Children under the driving age, some of the elderly, and those who cannot afford a car are left behind. Those of us who would prefer other options—walking, biking or light rail—are out of luck. We must forfeit time and money to ever longer commutes on ever more congested roads.

Children, especially, are harmed by such a community. They are confined to a miniscule world of rec rooms, backyards, and for the fortunate ones, a nearby playground. They are completely dependent upon adults for any entry into the larger world. Such dependency perpetuates a state of adolescence until magically, at the age of sixteen, they are expected to become independent citizens. It is no surprise that such wrenching change is not always gracefully managed. Parents suffer as well, reduced to chauffer status for a sizeable portion of the day. And lest we forget, our widespread suburbs force us into paying for a mass transit system that runs only twice a day and is limited to children—school busses.

The sprawling communities created by building more highways lead to a spiritually deprived and economically wasteful city environment. Time sacrificed to commuting leaves us absent time to spend with friends and family, absent time for visiting the library, absent time for exercising, playing the piano, reading, or writing letters. Worse, such sprawl eats at the social fabric that holds our communities together. It makes it difficult to meet neighbors and it restricts our options for civic engagements such as attending council meetings, volunteering for political parties, or even merely participating in clubs or sports. Mass transit along with a more dense urban fabric can return this time to us, enriching our lives.

Patterson does make a slight nod to environmental and safety concerns, noting that cars are becoming cleaner and safer. Yet despite improvements, cars still are a major source of pollution and tens of thousands die every year in auto accidents compared to a scant few who die in mass transit accidents. And Mr. Patterson’s claim that more highways will reduce congestion shows a remarkable blindness to history. New roads always come with new traffic, and without an alternative, we are doomed to be forever behind the curve.

Advocates of mass transit are not taking away cars. Rather, they are offering the valley options and, in the long run, the only viable way of alleviating congestion on our roadways. Mr. Patterson, employing a tired anti-intellectualism, claims that environmentalists, academics and local media—“elitists” he calls them—are lecturing the residents of the valley. But it is Mr. Patterson who claims to know what the people want. It is he who would take away our freedom to choose and imprison all of us in small steel cages.


At 8:09 PM, Blogger Scrivener said...

Hey congratulations!


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