One common buzzword used by defenders of the sprawl status quo is “auto-mobility”- a phrase calculated to imply that auto-dependent sprawl equals mobility. But of course, this is not the case. When other modes of transportation are made impossible or impractical, automobile dependence makes us all less mobile.
A related argument is that “automobility” empowers the poor (or women, or minorities) by enabling them to reach jobs and other destinations. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if government policies are based on the assumption that everyone can/should/must drive, then more and more destinations will be accessible only by automobile, and thus people will need cars. If government policies are based on the assumption that people should be free to use other options, then fewer destinations will be accessible only by car.
To give a simple example: imagine two towns: Freetown and Sprawltown. In Sprawltown, everything is arranged for the convenience of fast-moving cars: roads are too wide to cross safely, there are few buses or trains interfering with car traffic, “jaywalking” laws ensure that pedestrians may only cross streets at dangerous intersections, and if you let your child walk to soccer practice you will be arrested for child neglect (since the police, like most right-thinking citizens, assume that a child is safe only when inside a parent’s fast-moving automobile or house). In Sprawltown, someone without a car does lead a very difficult life, and ownership of a car is indeed liberating.
In Freetown, cars exist, but are not dominant. Streets are narrower, transit options are many, and children are freer. In Freetown, cars are more of a luxury and less of a necessity. In a region comprised of many Freetowns, far fewer people will find a car to be liberating.
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