Transportation Policy in Short
(fossil-fuel-driven, motorized vehicles)
*For full policy paper, see further below
"I told the Lancaster Journal newspaper in Ohio that Liz and I are running for president as concerned Midwestern parents. And what kind of responsible parent would leave a world of climate chaos for their children? For that matter, what kind of responsible parent would put their children in harms way day in and day out on our current, exceedingly dangerous road systems - simply because we want to continually go farther and faster?" -Joe
Our platform starts with the obvious premises that fossil-fuel-driven motorized vehicles contribute significantly to: global warming; mass killing (a whopping 33,000 traffic deaths a year on American roads) and maiming; the environmental cancer of urban sprawl; the breakdown of solid community.
Acceptance that we've become an auto-addicted society and we need to start to put the brakes on this addiction, quick.
Establish Walkable Communities based on environmentalist Dan Burden's model (slower speed limits, more bicycle lanes and bicycle paths, diagonal paths to shorten distances from the center of town to the periphery of town, locating senior living facilities above downtown shops). Burden has been called one of America's top environmentalists by Time Magazine.
Shift the country back to a small, family-farm-oriented agrarian-based society. One that would revolve around local production for local consumption, not only with food but goods and services. (This would cut down exponentially on car and truck transportation miles.)
Create a major shift to alternative fuels like bio-diesel and switch grass.
Create a major shift to many more alternative vehicles: solar powered cars, electric vehicles... And we would look to subsidize the installation of charging stations in downtowns across the country.
Create many more incentives for people to carpool, take the bus, bicycle, walk
Nix new highway project expansions and impose steep tolls on highways.
Stop urban sprawl.
Slow speed limits on highways and residential streets significantly.
Categories covered below include: 1) Overview of the Issues; 2) Dangerous Mode of Transportation; 3) Centralism and the Demise of the Family Farm; 4) The Plan; 5) “Walkable Communities”; 6) Alternative Fuels / Alternative Transportation Modes; 7) Nix Road Expansion Projects, and Levy Higher Tolls; 8) “Deadly Weapon”; 9) Time to Slow Down
1) Overview of the Issues
We have accepted, almost unquestioningly, the high-tech, fossil fuel driven mobilization of society. But should we have? The Amish and other Old Order sects (Mennonite, Quaker…) have consistently – through prayerful discernment – chosen not to use some modes of transportation driven by internal combustion. (The motor vehicle is one of them.)
In Barnesville, Ohio, I met with Old Order Quaker and author Scott Savage. Savage has a degree in Library Science from Kent State University and is a convert to Quakerism. In his book A Simple Life, he explains why he relinquished his motor vehicle driver’s license and went to driving buggies. It’s not that he’s a “slow adapter to advancing technology,” he said, but rather he chooses not to drive motor vehicles because of a variety of quite considered reasons. Similar reasons that many of these Old Order people around the country have explained to us.
For one, being good stewards of the environment is a priority. And cars running on gasoline pump a whopping 19.6 lbs of carbon dioxide into the air for each gallon used. And its carbon dioxide that a wide body of scientific research is indicating is responsible for the alarming threat of global warming.
Motor vehicles have also allowed for tremendously accelerated urban sprawl that is swallowing farmland and destroying large swaths of species habitat. Urban sprawl, at this point, has become a tremendous environmental cancer.
Motor vehicles also significantly impact the solidity of family and community. With people having ready access to convenient, temperature-controlled motorized transportation, they spend much more time “en-route” these days from here to there, and less and less time with family and/or with the local community.
In addition, the ever improving motor vehicles and continually improving highway systems, have made it more and more convenient for, say, grown children to trade in years of relationship building in a family and in a community – for jobs in other parts of the country. It’s now extremely common to hear a parent in Colorado say of their grown children: “Mary is in Phoenix, Charles is in Seattle, Mark is in Cleveland…” The fabric of our families and of our communities has been incrementally torn apart.
2) Dangerous Mode of Transportation
At a stop at an Amish/Mennonite Cultural Center in Shipshewana, Indiana, we learned these Old Order sects also believe it’s a grave spiritual matter to cause the death of another – no matter what the reason. And their point when it comes to motorized transportation is that in using it you significantly increase the risk of killing (or maiming) someone.
So what are the numbers on that?
In Loudonville, Ohio, I interviewed Brad Porter, who runs a Driving School. He said current U.S. statistics show some 33,000 people are killed on American highways each year. (By comparison, over a five year period in the second Iraq War, 5,000 U.S. soldiers were killed.) Our roads, in essence, have become a major war zone.
Porter said someone is killed every 13 minutes in this scenario. He continued that that adds up to about 114 people being killed, every day. This would be the equivalent of a half full airliner going down in America, every day. And if that were the case with airliners, there would be tremendous public outcry – and the grounding of all planes.
“Would you fly if you knew that?” Porter asked.
Yet because we’ve become an auto-addicted society, our collective denial around this issue is strong. (This is quite similar to the denial experienced by drug addicts and alcoholics in the throes of their addiction.)
Note: As I was writing this, there was an Associated Press article out of Marrowbone, Kentucky. A tractor trailer traveling at a high rate of speed had crossed a median strip and hit a van carrying a family of eight on the way to a wedding in Iowa. Everyone was killed, except for two young children in car seats. The truck driver was also killed.
How absolutely tragic.
How absolutely avoidable.
3) Centralism and the Demise of the Family Farm
In addition to all this, motor vehicles have added exponentially to the fracturing of community on another level as well. That is, they have fueled the phenomenon of “centralism.”
Centralism started to evolve with the popularity of the Model T car, the first affordable car for the “average Joe” in America. Prior to this, each community more or less, was self sustaining and highly interdependent. Each town had a set of small merchants who provided for most of the material needs of the town, as the local farmers and gardeners, etc., provided food. With everyone dependent on each other, community camaraderie was naturally strong.
However with the car and more mobilization, bigger stores started going up with cheaper prices at “central” locations between several towns. Some of the smaller stores started to die, and with them, a significant amount of community interdependency started to die a well.
On a stop in Sea Level, North Carolina, we saw apex of this. James Styron, 61, told us the downtown in this small coastal town used to have a grocery store, restaurants, a clothing store, a general store… With town people regularly “up town” shopping, interacting with each other. Now, that’s all gone. What’s more, the town used to have quite a strong sense of community. No more, said Styron.
Also, with this increased motorized mobilization (faster cars, trucks, trains…), like the bigger stores, corporate mega farms started up in the Northwest, for example. They could grow at such volume (and transport the food cheap enough) that those corporate farms could now undercut the local family farmer in, say, Ohio – who was selling to the local grocery store just up the street.
And in turn, more and more small family farms died, and yet more and more of that camaraderie and interdependence died as well in this newer “centralized” society. In essence, what we did was trade all this rich family and community life, essentially, so we could go: farther and faster.
Common sense would say this was a bad trade off.
4) The Plan
Our administration would promote a sweeping, incremental shift away from our current “auto-centric” society. Our aim would be to move us back to the old days of decentralism and its heightened levels of family and community solidity. And an important attendant aim would be to cut back on air pollution, including global warming gases, exponentially.
Aware that we can’t get from “here to there” over night, our thrust would be to move society (transportation wise) at least back to the 1950s during our term(s). And we have traveled the country looking for models that would effectively do that.
5) “Walkable Communities”
In High Springs, Florida, we interviewed Dan Burden. (Time Magazine has called Burden one of the top environmental visionaries in the country.) Burden regularly travels the country to inspire his “Walkable Community” model from town to town. The intent of the model, Burden told me, is to make towns as walking and bicycle friendly as possible.
With this model, bicycle and walking corridors are widened and motor vehicle speed limits are lowered. He proposes diagonal paths from the periphery of town to the downtown to shorten walking or bicycling distances. (On an End Global Warming Campaign Tour with my family, I told the Wellington (OH) News that if a family of five can bike 300 miles, someone can bicycle, or walk, the one or two miles to the local store.)
Also with slower speed limits in a town, the town becomes more “driving friendly” for slower electric and solar powered vehicles. And as they have done in Ann Arbor, Michigan, our administration would also promote downtown charging stations for electric powered vehicles.
Another component of Burden’s model (among many) includes locating senior living facilities above downtown mercantile section to make the town as accessible as possible for the elderly.
I would use the presidency as a bully pulpit to tout Burden’s model. And I would push for incentives (matching grants, etc.) to inspire towns to adopt the model as well.
6) Alternative Fuels / Alternative Transportation Modes
For conventional motor vehicles still on the road, our administration would push for things like much more bio-diesel production to curb carbon dioxide emissions. For instance, in Oberlin, Ohio, we researched the Full Circle Fuels service station, the first in the country to provide pumps where you can dial in exactly the percentage of bio-diesel mix you want. This station also converts engines to biodiesel. And it sells only green products. “It’s the station of the future,” I told the Elyria Chronicle newspaper.
At Bowling Green State University in Ohio, I met with Professor Jon Opperman who is involved with the Alternative Vehicles Department there. The Department, for instance, has developed a hybrid shuttle bus that is in operation around campus. It saves 30% on fuel by harnessing and storing electricity from the braking action of the bus. Our administration would provide more grants for this type of development. And we would provide incentives to consumers, to purchase more hybrid cars that run on both gasoline and electric.
Another alternative vehicle we would highly tout is electric vehicles.
In Mt. Vernon, Ohio, I interviewed Walter O’Dell who had recently purchased a GEM mini-flat bed, electric pick-up truck. He told me he gets almost 800 miles to a charge and the charge costs him a mere $12.
We would also champion programs like Cleveland’s “City Wheels” project. An environmental initiative, City Wheels has a fleet of hybrid cars (gas and electric) that are available for rent to area people. Project manager Megan Wilson told me that often people in the city usually get places, within a certain radius, within the city by walking, bicycling or on a bus. However, they keep a car just for those rare incidences when they have to, say, move something, or pick someone up at the airport… And they put (relatively speaking) a large amount of money into car payments, repair and insurance. Ms. Wilson added that figures show for every one City Wheels car, some 20 cars are taken off the road.
Our administration would also promote more sweeping and multi-level public relations campaigns to help influence way more people to consider using mass transit (bus, light rail, etc.).
For instance, my wife Liz was a public relations consultant in Wellington City, New Zealand. The city hired her firm to put together a campaign to promote more bus riding. She said the campaign emphasized the convenience and monetary savings components to taking a bus.
Furthermore, there’s a significant gap in public transportation in America in regard to servicing rural areas. A woman who lives near the small town of Jelloway, Ohio explained that her town is somewhat equal-distant from the two intermediate population centers of Loudonville and Mt. Vernon, Ohio. She regularly goes into each, but there is no public transportation out to her place in Jelloway. Now if a bus ran between Loudonville and Mt. Vernon, say, three times a day (which it currently doesn't). This woman's proposal is that the bus simply makes stops at some of the small towns along the way. And she noted in her particular case, she could bicycle the couple miles from her home to Jelloway. (What’s more, in our travels to metropolitan areas across the country, we’ve noticed more and more bicycle racks on the fronts of buses. So this woman could also bicycle around Mt. Vernon or Loudonville when she gets there as well.)
7) Nix Road Expansion Projects, and Levy Higher Tolls
We would propose all but stopping funds for Federal Highway expansion projects. And we would ask states to consider doing the same. In addition, we would propose extremely steep tolls for both cars and trucks on the Federal Highways. And again, would ask states to consider the same.
All this would cut down considerably on intra-state and interstate travel. It would start to reverse the environmental cancer of urban sprawl. It would cut down exponentially on carbon dioxide and curb climate change.
And it would help force a move back to a much more decentralized, “local production for local consumption paradigm.
8) “Deadly Weapon”
I used to facilitate an out-patient group in Lorain, Ohio, for people court-referred for drunk driving offenses. During one of the sessions, I would show a film that explained a motor vehicle can turn into a “deadly weapon” in a split second.
At a stop in Dallas, Texas, I toured the Mothers Against Drunk Driving National Headquarters. MADD’s Victims Services Director Janice Lord game me a tour of “The Wall” there, an expansive display of pictures of children and adults whose lives had been cut short by a drunk driver. The display was tremendously impacting.
And as we’ve traveled, we’ve heard story after impacting story about motor vehicle accidents.
During a campaign stop in Statesville, North Carolina, for instance, I learned about a drunk driving accident that claimed the life of five-year-old Cheyenne Russ. Her 20-year-old sister Amanda, who was driving when her 1992 Toyota was hit head on at 70 mph, sustained 15 broken bones, not counting her ribs. Her right hand was so smashed that she can’t straighten her fingers. Her sinus cavity was fractured and there was a blood clot behind her right eye.
Accused of drunk driving in the Russ accident, Ronnie Joe Southerland was also facing charges of second degree murder and assault with a “deadly weapon” (the vehicle) with intent to kill, inflicting serious injury.
Our administration would push for much stiffer penalties for drunk driving. And we would push for much slower speed limit.
9) Time to Slow Down
We spent four years living in Bluffton, Ohio, home of Bluffton University. If some will recall, it was a charter bus carrying Bluffton University baseball players that crashed in Atlanta in the early morning hours of March 2, 2007. (We happened to be doing a campaign stop in Atlanta the day of the incident.)
According to reports, the charter bus “traveling at highway speeds” on an HOV left hand lane, apparently mistook a left exit ramp as a continuation of the lane. At the top of the ramp, the bus was still traveling at a high rate of speed, the driver apparently saw the stop sign last minute, tried to brake and slid sideways, careening over a retaining wall on a bridge deck. The bus plummeted 19 feet onto its side on the highway. Seven people were killed and seven were seriously injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the bus driver had probably mistaken the ramp for the continuation of the lane and the Georgia Transportation Department had been remiss in not marking the exit better.
What wasn’t stated was: If the “highway speed” had been, say, 41 mph (the highway speed limit in the 1940s), instead of 65 mph, the slower speed would have provided a much better chance that the driver would have been able to stop in time.
And with considerably slower speed limits in general, both on highways and residential streets, common sense says the incidences of killing and maiming would drop dramatically – which would have made a big difference to a young boy in Atlanta recently.
On another campaign stop in Atlanta several years after the Bluffton University bus incident, another motor vehicle accident was in the news. On a Sunday morning on a residential street, a car crossed the yellow line (it hadn’t been determined why yet) and hit a compact car head on. A father, mother and their two young children were in the car.
Rescuers were pulling a five-year-old boy out of the back seat, and they asked him about how his sister was doing next to him. The boy already knew she was dead. He looked up and managed through the shock: “I guess I now have an angel in heaven.” When the judge heard this in the courtroom, she started to cry.
And we should all be “crying.”
Because we’ve wanted to go farther and faster in the most comfortable and convenient way possible, we’ve put these little children at risk, we’ve put the planet at risk. It’s now time to reverse that, in a big way.
Scene from "Amish country" in rural Illinois. The Amish are excellent environmental stewards, including when it comes to transportation (with their buggies, bicycles, walking...).
Photo by Joe
In Key West, Florida, we saw a good number of these electric vehicles. There's no reason electric vehicles couldn't be a lot more prevalent in towns across America.
Photo by Joe
And each town would do well to switch to "Walkable Communities" that were much more walking and bicycle friendly. We met with the designer of these communities in High Springs, Florida.