Death by freeway

January 31, 2008

by Rick Coates

Last month I witnessed something that sickened my heart. Undoubtedly you have noticed the highway 101 widening project. Not, of course, because traffic was at a standstill. This is the normal condition of 101. The clues were the CalTrans trucks, heavy equipment and flaggers. But did you also notice the many large, stiff carcasses laying along the shoulder? I refer to the redwoods slaughtered to make way for freeway expansion? These slain trees symbolize our Transportation madness.

Anyone who has studied such matters know that the automobile causes more environmental and health damage than any other source. It distorts our land use decisions with sprawl development. It paves over ground water recharge areas. Its toxics fill our cancer wards and its burdens our trauma centers. It maims parents and orphans children. It fuels our wars. It heats our planet, literally leading us “down the road” to climate disaster. And climate change will destroy our forests.

The safety record of the automobile when compared to that of trains on a passenger-per-mile basis is abysmal. And most train accidents involve, yes, an automobile.

Our so-called leaders refuse to give us a choice. Their policy is to devote more precious land to the automobile. They cannot see that the goal is to move people, not vehicles, in a safe, comfortable and efficient way. We need to remove cars from the freeway, not make more room for them.

Some have the audacity to complain of subsidies for trains. The most heavily subsidized form of transportation is the automobile. Hidden subsidies at every level, from the parking spaces that local business’s are required to provide to federal tax breaks for massive oil tankers, it drains our public treasury and our private accounts. The price at the pump is but a tiny fraction of the true cost of the automobile. Return to some free-market utopia sans subsidies, and automobiles would be melted down into rails.

These trees, sacrificed on an altar of steel, rubber and concrete, once cleansed the air of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They cooled the air and help protected the soil from driving rain. They shielded us from the cacophony of road noise. They turned fog into ground water and their roots channeled rain into our aquifers. And they made the long slow journey on the ugly freeway tolerable. I will miss them.