What if it rains on World Car-Free Day?

The right wing complains that an effort to encourage us to drive less is "anti-prosperity." Why do they hate bikes?

Published September 21, 2009 5:08PM (EDT)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is unhappy with the suggestion that we should try to drive less.

From an e-mail alert:

Tuesday is World Car-Free Day. That means you're supposed to walk, or bicycle, or take a bus, to make some sort of anti-car, anti-prosperity statement. Good luck getting to and from the grocery store. Even more fun if it rains (and can you imagine if this day were scheduled in the dead of winter?). The fact is, the automobile plays a major role in making our lives happen -- it empowers all of us to get where we need to go (not to mention respond to emergencies).

The stupidity implicit in CEI's attack on the idea that there might be some merit in sensibly minimizing our car use is staggering.

If it is an emergency, or raining hard, or you need to get six bags of groceries -- go ahead, drive! I won't think the worse of you! (Maybe some Critical Mass jerks will scream at you in juvenile attempts to demonstrate their own superiority, but you can just ignore them, or steer them toward a pod of CEI flacks in the hopes of creating a multi-car/bike pileup of unthinking righteous arrogance.)

The point of exercises like World Car-Free Day is to encourage us to be less unthinking in our auto dependence. If it's a sunny day, why not ride a bike, or take a stroll? Stretching your legs conveys its own reward. And you know what, if there isn't a grocery store within walking distance of you, maybe there should be. Maybe the absence is a signal we have designed our living communities badly. Maybe if, urged on by "World Car-Free Day," we realize, hey, it's stupid that there is nowhere close where I can pick up a quart of milk or some fresh tomatoes, we take a necessary step, as a society, toward a more thoughtful, sensibly organized way of life.

I share a minivan with my ex-wife that is exchanged when custody of our kids is exchanged. And yes, sometimes it is indeed a pain in the ass not to have a car when I'm lazy, or it's raining, or my friends are having a bbq 30 miles away. But most of the time it is not -- and as a result I ride my bike more, read a good book while riding the subway, and save a lot of gas money. That's not so bad!

CEI complains that World Car-Free Day is "anti-prosperity." If their idea of prosperity is living in the suburbs where you have to drive miles to get to the nearest McDonald's, I guess they are right. But World Car-Free Day really is "pro-good life." A life in which we use our bodies instead of burning fossil fuels, reside in livable neighborhoods instead of sterile deserts of tract housing, and enjoy the wind on our face instead of the hum of the air conditioner.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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