Oil doesn’t equal freedom

A few months ago, I came across this infuriating quote from former Virginia Governor George Allen:

Americans are not addicted to oil, Americans are addicted to freedom.

This isn’t the first time “freedom” has been used to justify our addiction to oil.  Here in Cincinnati, fringe political group COAST uses the “freedom of the automobile” argument to bash the Cincinnati Streetcar proposal, which they tried (but failed) to block in last November’s election.

CityKin blogged about Allen’s quote today, prompting this response from COAST member Mark Miller:

Likewise, modern society isn’t addicted to oil but rather to the freedom, mobility, and cost-effectiveness that oil currently provides. As soon as something better, faster or cheaper comes along Americans will no doubt abandon oil.

George Allen is right. It’s not at all about about the energy source, but the freedom which that energy makes possible.

What Miller fails to mention is that there is no other source of energy on the horizon that can replace the amount of oil we currently use. We have to focus on increasing efficiency.

Unfortunately, for the past 60 years, we’ve been constructing a built environment in America that’s extremely inefficient. We’ve been letting our cities decay and building new houses farther away from the urban core. We’ve thrown up countless new highways and interchanges. We’ve moved residential as far away as possible from retail, requiring every person to own a car and drive to work, to school, to the grocery store, and anywhere else they need to go.

COAST claims to hate bailouts. So how are they going to like it when gas hits $8/gallon and we’re forced to bail out Americans who live in remote exurbs and drive for every errand?

We need to focus on urban neighborhoods again. We need to build mixed-use neighborhoods where people can walk from home to a convenience store, a dry cleaner, a restaurant, and maybe even their office. We need to build reliable mass transit that allows people to live without cars.

If you prefer living in the suburbs and owning a car, that’s fine. No one will force you to move to the city and give up your lifestyle. But give those of us who prefer city life a chance. You’ll still benefit from reduced congestion on the highways, reduced gas prices due to lower demand, and a vibrant urban core that will have positive effects on the entire region.

And, one more thing.  Driving a car isn’t exactly freedom.  It’s a commitment to car payments, insurance premiums, parking and maintenance costs, fuel, and a handful of indirect costs.  Freedom is rail transpiration that allows you to do something productive (read a book, work on your laptop, or even sleep) instead of staring at the road for your entire commute.