TCS Daily

Four Wheeled Prisons

By Brock Yates - November 7, 2002 12:00 AM

In America, we speak darkly about gridlock. In Great Britain the traffic Cassandra call it "Carmageddon." The result is the same; a total congealment of mid-city traffic in major metropolitan areas like New York, London, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. with no solution in sight.

Example: 3.6 million motor vehicles descend on Manhattan's midtown during working hours. In London, 250,000 cars cram daily into the central city's tiny eight square mile business center.

Example: Since 1970, the population of the United State has grown by 40 percent. During the same time frame registered motor vehicles have increased by nearly 100 percent, meaning that the car population has proliferated at a rate over double that of people. As for roads to accommodate all this added traffic, count a niggling six percent increase.

Example: In 1948 about 650,000 motorists trundled from the outlying burbs into Manhattan. Fifty years later that number has ballooned to 1.3 million - all bumper-to-bumper on the same network of the bridges, tunnels and expressways as their forbearers.

Example: Despite all this traffic madness, which by the way pervades every metropolitan area of America, people are driving more, not less. Census figures from 2000 indicate that 75.7% of workers drive to their jobs, up from 64% in 1980. Those who use public transit stayed level at just under 5%.

Utopians everywhere are outraged by these numbers, and scream about more mass transit funding to discourage automobile use. Bicycle riding, walking, Segway use, etc. are even cited as alternatives, but all are idiotic options against the freedom, flexibility and weather-proof privacy offered by the automobile.

But even the most ardent fan of the private passenger car has to be cognizant that gridlock in urban centers is totally counter-productive, not only to the movement of goods and services, but to the general health and sanity of the population.

We are now seeing a reaction. London administrators will institute a plan in February that will levy a pre-paid $8 "congestion charge" for driving in Central London during working hours. Cameras at major intersections will ferret out non-payers and hit them with heavy fines. Motorists who must drive because of the lack of practical mass transit are screaming, but for lack of a better solution, the plan may help to keep the city's economy from being swallowed up in a sea of automobiles.

In America the movement toward a computer-controlled "EZ pass" systems that charge extra for entry into congested areas is beginning to gain momentum. New York is leading the way, not only using EZ pass systems, but talking about a "congestion pricing" plan similar to that used in London, with special high-speed lanes where higher fees are charged (already denounced as "Lexus Lanes" by socialists but countered by the argument that lower income workers can't afford to drive in the first place because of high parking costs in midtown).

With governments at the national and local level stifled by environmentalists opposing more road construction and mass transit clearly not an option to most commuters, there seems little alternative but to control access through higher pricing and computer-managed access routing.

This is an anathema to drivers who view the automobile as a right, not a privilege, but the options are clear: either cut down the traffic or face economic ruin.

We love the automobile and all the unfettered mobility it provides, but unless some real-world sense is employed regarding its usage, it will become not a freedom machine but a prison.



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