Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Credit for Honesty Department

As I was waiting for the subway this morning the following announcement came over the loudspeaker:

Red Line train service is running normally. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Apparently they meant to apologize for an earlier service disruption but it was just fine the way it came out. The point, for this blog, is that there's one policy decision the Obama administration and the new Congress can collaborate one, along with all of our Democratic governors and legislatures, that will make this nation better and stronger in a whole lot of ways at once, and that's to take a couple of hundred billion dollars a year out of the military budget and invest it in mass transit.

Sorry to tarnish your legacy, Mr. Ford -- noting in passing that it's already bad enough that you were a Nazi, but we aren't supposed to mention that -- but cars do a whole lot of evil at once. We run them on fuel that we obtain by sending trillions of dollars to politically unstable regions of the world, followed by spending trillions of dollars more to invade and occupy said regions because we're worried that they won't let U.S. based companies reap a big chunk of the profits. Both halves of that proposition are making the country bankrupt and it means you won't get Medicare when you retire if we don't fix it, and quick.

Second, they spew CO2 into the atmosphere and, well, you know where that's going.

Third, although they don't tell you this and nobody seems terribly upset by it, they spew oxides of nitrogen, ultrafine hydrocarbon particles and other pollutants into the air, which people then breathe, and which cause asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease, thereby making millions of people sick and shortening their lives. More than 42,000 Americans die every year in motor vehicle crashes as well (which happened to my uncle, widowing my aunt and orphaning my cousins). Motor vehicle injuries result in about half a million hospitalizations every year and cost $150 billion.

Cars cause residential development patterns in which housing is built in sprawling tracts far from work, stores, and cultural amenities. This causes people not only to do a lot of driving and incurring all of the above costs, it also causes them to spend time driving when they could be doing something else. Something else includes walking to those destinations which would make them healthier, and particularly less obese. Furthermore it separates the housing from community gathering places, thereby fostering isolation and alienation.

Mass transit means less imported oil, less pollution, more safety, and denser mixed-use development around transit stations. For example, I live in Jamaica Plain, which is within the city limits of Boston but which is functionally a classic streetcar suburb, with its own Main Street district of retail stores, and restaurants, including music venues; and easy access to downtown jobs via mass transit, which would be even more popular if we invested enough in the subway system to make it more reliable and less crowded. I usually don't even start my vehicle during the week, I only use it when I need to get out of town. People in the burbs, without access to mass transit, may spend two hours or more in their cars every day.

This really is a miracle cure, folks. It kills every predatory bird that threatens us with one shot: global warming, foreign oil, foreign wars, national bankruptcy, air pollution, traumatic injury and death, even bowling alone. Automobiles are the leading cause of every single one of these problems and mass transit is a magic bullet. Yep, it really is that good. But it's way down the list of public priorities.

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