November/December 1994, p.3

Why Auto-Free?

Sometimes I fear that folks take the words "Auto-Free Press" and "Auto Free New York" too literally. Too often people perceive the literal meaning and jump to a quick dismissal of the auto-free movement as extremism. In fact, many of the thoughts and concepts behind the auto-free movement are quite mainstream, and even, yes, conservative.

One basic concept is to remove the hidden government subsidies that encourage driving and skew the marketplace of transportation choices people make. Free market economics 101. An editorial in the Sept 9 Wall Street Journal advocated that drivers should pay for the costs their driving imposes upon others, including environmental costs. I suspects that the WSJ and the Auto-Free Press might disagree about the measure of those costs, but we share the basic idea.

The NYC Chamber of Commerce proposes putting tolls on the East River bridges, another auto-free position. TA advocates favored treatment for commercial traffic, recognizing that the unnecessary proliferation of single-occupant private vehicles costs local businesses money in lost employee time, more expensive deliveries, and other hidden costs. Reducing traffic by getting people back into mass transit or on their bikes is good for NYC's economy. Structuring new development to ensure that people can comfortably walk to most of their daily destinations such as shops and schools helps to accomplish the same goals.

Another part of the auto free movement is pedestrian safety. Motorists kill roughly 300 pedestrians every year in NYC, and yet almost none of the drivers ever get prosecuted for anything. More than 50% of car-related deaths are pedestrians, and most NYC households do not own a car. Last year, the Daily News rented a speed gun and clocked drivers traveling 40, 50, 60, and yes, even 75 mph in residential areas. Newsday reported that a DoT redlight camera test program caught over 43,000 red light violators at only 15 intersections in its first 4 months, while the police only managed to ticket roughly 12,000 red light violators. The need to improve pedestrian safety is obvious.

What is not always so clear are the ways in which auto-mayhem tears us apart. A few years ago, a driver in Brooklyn intentionally ran a red light jumped a sidewalk, and killed a young boy playing on the sidewalk. The driver walked, then was allowed to leave the country before facing even a civil suit. The boy's community could not believe that the law allows drivers to intentionally run red lights and kill children on the sidewalk, but it does. Sadly, a driver in New York State has to simultaneously violate two laws before facing any criminal charges, even when killing someone.

The people refused to believe that the law could be so stupid, and chose instead to believe that racism allowed the driver to go free. Racism is stupid, too, but this community is more familiar with racism than with traffic injustice. So some members of that community rioted for several days. A member of the driver's community was murdered. An already tense neighborhood became more volatile. We probably have a different mayor as a result. All because drivers of all ethnicities are allowed to run red lights and kill people without facing any penalty. In a city of pedestrians, this is appalling.

At its best New York is a wonderful pedestrian city. You can do more things walking in New York than any city in the country. New York seems more alive than other cities because you can see its residents, and its visitors, on the streets, all day, every day. Auto-Free New York simply celebrates this marvel, and tries to cultivate it.
-Mark Garbowski, Editor

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