As Woolman traveled around the US preaching against slavery he often went by foot refusing to use horse-drawn coaches, saying "So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world that in aiming to do business quickly, and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan." And that was in the 18th century!
In the 21st century:
- Thousands of tons of car-related chemicals are washed into waterways and aquifers annually
- 63 million tires were dumped in 1996, adding to 800 million tires already in dumps. Tires are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and are a fire hazard.
- Vehicles kill thousands of pedestrians and over a million animals every year.
- The US consumes 26% of the worlds petroleum; 43% of this energy is used for cars and trucks
- Motor vehicles account for 33% of carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming
- In urban areas, road surfaces cover about 1/5 of available land.
As friend Jedidiah commented the other day, perhaps we do still need cars. But there are a lot of things we can do to cut down on our usage of them.
- Drive less
- bike, especially to work
- use a fuel-efficient hybrid (like the Prius) or an electric car (see the Zap)
- use public transportation (buses, light rail, etc)
- get rid of your car and join a car co-op (like zipcar)
- you can also support public policies and legislation for fuel efficiency, public transportation systems, and clean cars.
But, what happens if you have to travel greater distances? Air travel has become ubiquitous but it costs more than just the ticket price. There is a lot of fuel involved in this option as well.
I'd like to take a stand here for train travel. I rode Amtrak up and down the Puget Sound from Seattle to Portland and Salem for years. It was usually an enjoyable way to spend 4 or 5 (or 6+) hours: watching a movie, meeting new people, catching a nap, enjoying the scenery, not stressing out about the traffic, reading books, doing homework. I even worked on a quilt one time!
However, the state of train travel in this country sucks. A recent article in Good Magazine, Train in Vain, spells out some details. A few juicy details:
- Rail service is impractical because most of the time, it’s cheaper and faster to drive or fly.
- Rail service is unreliable because more often than not, the trains are really, really late.
- In Europe, reliable high-speed routes are now being connected across the continent: the French TGV regularly hits 200 mph; the Eurostar zooms the 300 miles from Paris to London in just 2 hours and 15 minutes; in Japan, the Shinkansen has been zipping along at 130 mph since 1964—1964!—and the island nation’s most popular long-distance intercity route serves 385,000 passengers daily.
- America’s trophy system, the high-speed Acela..., peaks at 150 mph for two short lengths of track, which total a meager 18 miles.
- Despite having the largest rail network of any country in the world... in terms of passenger miles, the United States ranks below not only France and Japan, but also below under-developed countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
- George Chilson, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (and a lot of other people) sees the railroads as a priority for America, as a solution to congestion and rising gas prices.
- Per passenger mile, an Amtrak train uses about half the energy of an airplane, and can carry twice the number of people. It’s also the passenger-carrying equivalent of 16 lanes of highway.
- Though Amtrak is entirely owned by the U.S. government, funded at the government’s discretion, and has its leadership appointed by the president and subject to Senate approval, it still has a mandate to achieve profitability and financial independence.
- Those of you thinking about which candidate to vote for, McCain has been a vocal critic of the rail system.
- And sadly, Amtrak, too poor to own nearly any of the rails that it runs on, operates on borrowed infrastructure, using tracks owned by private freight companies who are legally bound to let Amtrak roll on their rails, but little else. Meaning that when a freight train needs to get by, Amtrak waits.
I support Amtrak, and I am looking for ways to support massive improvements to the system. I hope someday we will have an excellent and speedy train system, more options for when to travel (trains only leave Minneapolis once a day), and I would hope the price wouldn't be so outrageous. The price of transportation should reflect the true cost of resources and in that sense, air travel should be more expensive than train travel!
If you want to help now, here is information from NARP on the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.