What would you do if you woke up one day and there weren't any cars?
Oregon is in general quite bicycle friendly, and Portland even more so. To prove it, the city is putting on a street party, taking back the street from cars. It's a Car-Free day, shutting down part of North Portland for a day.
On June 22nd, a circular route of traffic-free streets in North Portland will link four parks: Arbor Lodge, Peninsula, Unthank, and Overlook. The resulting 6-mile loop will be available for pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, skaters, etc. (While streets will be closed to automotive through traffic, a soft-closure will assure that neighboring residents have access to and from their homes.)
If you wanted to ride your bicycle (or walk, skate, skip or jump) outside but were afraid to do so, something like this sounds perfect. Utopian, maybe, but fun -- and practical too. Walkable neighborhoods help you keep fit and also help you keep in touch with people around you. If we all got out of our cars and walked or biked or hung out out on the front porch, it would create a community. Especially in newer areas of town, people don't use the front door. You get in and out of the house via the car via the garage. Neighbors? Don't meet 'em. Rarely even see 'em.
It's a crazy idea, but it just might work... or not ...
Two things come to mind:
- If you want to get people to adopt a car-free existence, even part time, you have to provide a safe environment for them to experience it in. This event seems designed to create just such an environment.
- No matter how this shindig is arranged, it is going to seriously piss off some people.
Am I pissing people off by writing another 'walk in your neighborhood' post? I'll have to check the temperature as the post goes on.
Some possible reasons why you would need a car
I mean, I'm not a totally unreasonable woman. I can see that some people absolutely need cars, especially if:
- you have a long commute and don't have public transport
- you have to drive kids, maybe even your own, to soccer practice here and dance recitals there
- you live in Wyoming, or the Northwest Territories, or the Australian Outback, anywhere that involves long stretches of nothing very much interspersed with the occasional mammal.
How am I doing so far? Are you miffed yet? Okay, then I'll go on ...
Some possible solutions
- Can't help people who have to travel long distances because they live in Wyoming or the Northwest Territories or the Australian Outback. However, these areas are sparsely populated, at least compared to the concentrations of humanity found in the cities and suburbs. Concentrating on the highly populated areas would make a huge difference to the high demand for gasoline.
- People who have to haul children from point A to point B? Seems to me the best way to solve this would be to restructure the community so that A and B are within walking distance of each other . Planned communities, like Orenco Station, are designed so that you can get to most of the places you need to go without using a car. Likewise the older communities have parks, schools, and local shopping areas within walking distance. It's the neighborhoods in-between that are the worst designed and sadly also the most numerous.
- People who drive long hours to commute to their jobs? If a convenient commuter train or lightrail were available, a lot of people would use it. Especially with the cost of gas increasing so radically. Solutions like these are expensive in the short term -- but so is the cost of gas. (Public transport costs also go up when fuel prices increase but -- this is the catch -- not as much.)
Getting a bit warm in here, is it? Well, maybe I'll just go a little bit further...
Stephanie from Back in Skinny Jeans wrote a post about the high cost of gas. One commenter pointed out that a lot of people in Europe have always had high gas prices. I think that's the point. It's not the fact that gas prices are high, it's the fact that they've suddenly increased a whole hell of a lot that's upsetting people.
(Crabby? Don't read these next two paragraphs, okay?)
Supposedly, the best way to cook a lobster is to place it in tepid water and slowly increase the temperature so gradually that the lobster doesn't realize how hot the temperature is getting. (I say supposedly because all the sources I could find that did any research into invertebrate physiology said that lobsters do not register pain. Just to be on the safe side, I've vowed to strike lobsters from my diet. If you're interested, here's the R.S.P.C.A.'s view on how to cook lobsters.)
The other generally used method of cooking a lobster is to plunge it into boiling water. It's quick and it's supposed to be painful. The lobsters are reputed to 'scream.' Some people say that since lobsters don't have vocal cords, they're not actually screaming; still, it's a useful metaphor for what's happening with gas prices in this neck of the woods. We're screaming lobsters around here.
Hmmmn... nobody's throwing stones at the blog yet. Maybe it's safe to go a little bit further...
The first thing to change
Eventually we'll learn to ease up on our car-dependency. Maybe. Or else the thought of tearing up whole neighborhoods will scare people into buying hybrids and electric bicycles.
Suburbs and cities can be changed. But the first thing to change is the mindset that everyone needs a car all the time. Try one day without a car, to see how it feels. Test out bicycling, jogging, yada, in an environment where it feels safe and you're more likely to survive enjoy the experience and maybe repeat it.
That's why I like the idea of this car-free day. It will be kind of cool to see how this works out.
On the other hand, if you hear of riots breaking out in North Portland later this month, you'll know why.
Don't blame Crabby; this is all my fault
If you are sitting there steaming, glaring at the computer screen, and snarling "Merry, you fool!" please bear in mind:
1 - These are my thoughts, don't snarl at Crabby
2 - I was wrong once. I could be wrong twice. Something's got to change, that's all. Anything that nudges us towards self-propelled transportation sounds pretty good right about now.
I'm going to go hide behind Crabby now.