I would like to consider myself an environmentally conscious person: I recycle, dry my clothes outside, and refrain from using paper towels. However, like most Americans, I drive. Sometimes I think that if the price of gas went to ten or even just five dollars a gallon I would curb from my habit. But the federal government insists on feeding my gas addiction through subsidies- 312 billion in 2009-and changes in reserve supplies (http://www.globalsubsidies.org/files/assets/subsidy_watch/sw43_apr_11.pdf). If we cannot increase the price of gas, can we create an alternative disincentive to driving?
It turns out that Europe has done the thinking for me in cities like Vienna, Barcelona, and Paris. There, streets are being closed to cars and parking places are vanishing as biking and pedestrians have taken over the roadways. In some places just driving into the city is charged, red lights are added and speed limits are cut as measures to increase the safety of pedestrians. In other cities only vehicles with low carbon dioxide emissions are allowed. Here in Europe, pedestrians- not drivers- rule the streets. In lieu of driving, residents take to abundant public transportation, bikes, and sidewalks. In metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio driving could be curbed by taking some cues from these forward-thinking European cities.
Unfortunately, our driving addiction in Texas and the U.S. is fed by lane additions on already busy highways, paving fields worth of parking spaces, continuing to manufacture fuel inefficient cars, and spending public money to make it easier to be on the road rather than getting people out of their cars. Although the United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocols the Clean Air Act created requirements that people hoped would add pressure to reducing car usage. However, we simply ignore this pressure and let most U.S. cities fail to meet the Clean Air Act standards and fall into non-attainment status. Our addiction is being accommodated.
For more information and a great read about Europe’s green movement visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/science/earth/27traffic.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=earth