Shifting Gears

BREAKING OUR ADDICTION TO CARS

It’s no secret that we Americans have spent the past half-century building our communities and our lives around the car, which gives us the freedom to go anywhere we want, whenever we want. Cars give us other things too: the safety and room to spread out in the suburbs; the social status signaled by the kind of car, truck, or SUV we drive. These advantages and aspirations have given rise to the car-dominated American landscape we see around us today.

It’s also no secret that this new landscape comes with significant costs. Growing traffic jams, pollution, the loss of prime farmland and open space to sprawl, weaker social ties, tacky strip-malls and endless big-box stores, the decline and isolation of the nation’s urban cores, the social marginalization of those who don’t drive—in particular, the very poor and the old.

As these costs have grown, so too has an awareness that our current car-centered habits are neither desirable nor sustainable, and that the time has come for a real shift in priorities. New political and economic circumstances make such a shift possible. Dramatic swings in gas prices over the past year and the probability of rising prices in the long-term future, an unprecedented crisis in the American automobile industry, and the prospect of massive infrastructure spending as part of government stimulus efforts—together these things provide an opportunity for fundamental...

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About the Author

David Carroll Cochran is professor of politics and director of the Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.