I’m in tears. Back in 1972, Stewart Udall, interior secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, proposed that the auto companies branch out into “exciting new variants of ground transportation” to produce minibuses, “people movers,” urban mass transit and high-speed intercity trains. Instead of expanding the Interstate highway system, he suggested that the road construction industry take on “huge new programs to construct mass transit systems.” And he called for building “more compact, sensitively planned communities” rather than continuing urban sprawl.” We all know what happened. Detroit, today desperately seeking a miracle, worked hard to ensure that this would never happen. Even today, while screaming and begging for tax dollars, Detroit is lobbying against California’s stricter emissions laws that dictate smaller cars. Here’s the thing: people don’t want cars, we want mobility. And the reason I’m in tears is that lots of people saw this, almost FIFTY years ago.
There are purposes for which we do want a car, but most of our transportation needs can be solved with clearer thinking, and applied solutions that have a vastly improved energy impact. The “many cars in every household” mindset has created a non-viable industry, and a non-viable attitude to transportation. Robert Goodman, professor of environmental design at Hamsphire College, writes about this in today’s NYTimes. I could hug the man. He asks that the “Obama administration should ask the companies, as a condition of financial assistance, to begin shifting from being just automakers to becoming innovative ‘transportmakers.'” Because that’s what we need. It’s all about the mobility, stupid – not about having three cars in each garage.
The coming years will see an incredible revolution in transportation – and when we get through our fixed view of what we thought was right, and emerge into what’s possible, we’ll find ourselves smiling from ear to ear at what fun it has become to move around in the world. (But before that happens, the industry behemoths have some concessions to make – their thinking has been all wrong, from at least 1972 onwards.)