News What He Said
posted by May 19 at 9:41 AMon
Paul Krugman writing from Berlin in today’s NYT:
Any serious reduction in American driving will require more than this—it will mean changing how and where many of us live.
To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.
It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin—but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.
And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia—utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas—it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.
Starting to look? It’s been crystal clear to many of us, and for quite a long time, that Berlin had the better idea—and so did New York City, Chicago, Paris, London, Munich, etc., etc.
And Krugman makes another great point:
If Europe’s example is any guide, here are the two secrets of coping with expensive oil: own fuel-efficient cars, and don’t drive them too much.
Notice that I said that cars should be fuel-efficient—not that people should do without cars altogether. In Germany, as in the United States, the vast majority of families own cars (although German households are less likely than their U.S. counterparts to be multiple-car owners).
It’s possible to live in Berlin without owning a car, of course, and many people don’t. But all of Berlin’s trains, buses, and safe bike lanes make it possible to live in the city and use your car infrequently. Building a real rapid transit system in our region—rail, rail, rail—isn’t about forcing people out of their cars, which is how many anti-mass-transit activists like to frame it. It’s about giving people—including car owners—more options. That people here are forced to rely on cars isn’t proof that people prefer to drive everywhere they need to go.