It may not have been the event for which you've been waiting all year. It may not even be an event that you knew existed. But Tuesday, September 22 was World Car-Free Day-- a celebration of life without those noisy, smelly, intrusive devices that turn idyllic city streets into urban hell holes.
Sound nonsensical? Well, it is. And by the way, how did you manage to miss it?
It would be one thing if Car-Free Day simply involved shutting down a street here and there, turning it into a temporary plaza for the sole enjoyment of pedestrians and bicyclists. Or if it were simply a lifestyle issue-- move here, chuck your vehicle, and enjoy the non-automotive life.
But Car-Free Day is more than a call for private action. It has a political agenda: "It is up to us, it is up to our cities, and our governments to help create permanent change to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who do not drive cars."
And more and more, governments are only too happy to oblige. In fact, they often take the lead, since the car-free movement ties into a host of booming political issues such as global warming, alternative fuels, and urban planning. And at that point, of course, we are talking not individual lifestyle choice, but government policy. And at heart it's a pretty elitist government policy.
Consider the photographic images of World Car-Free Day. In most images two features predominate: sunny weather and healthy young people. Only rarely are there photos of the elderly or the handicapped, or of people schlepping babies and groceries. Western culture is often criticized as youth-centric. Car-Free Day takes that to new levels of magnitude.
And just what is it that's the enemy here? Cars, after all, are an incredibly empowering technology. In the words of University of Virginia philosophy professor Loren Lomasky, they're one of the three most liberating inventions of mankind, right up there with the printing press and the computer chip.
By liberating people from having to live within walking distance of their jobs, or from the rare mass transit lines that work well, cars greatly increase employment options. And they increase the range of communities in which people can make their homes.
And consider what cars have meant for the entry of women into the workplace. As transportation analyst Alan Pisarski points out, many working mothers start their day by dropping their kids off at day care, then drive to work, then pick up groceries and dry cleaning and kids on the way back home. If women were forced to depend on mass transit to juggle these duties, the obstacles would be insurmountable.
Similarly, for new immigrants obtaining a car means a huge expansion of job and community opportunities-- their first real steps into the American mainstream.
Is it any wonder that in countries such as China and India, where cars till now have been a rarity, the development of affordable vehicles is being welcomed by an overwhelming number of consumers? The car does not satisfy some Madison Avenue-created craving; it satisfies a basic human need for individual mobility.
A machine that takes you where you want to go, when you want to go, is, quite frankly, a miracle. Some intellectuals may hate it, and most central planners may despise it, but that says more about elitism than it says about cars.
So live without cars if you choose, but lay off the use of government to push others into making that choice.
Sam Kazman is General Counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a contributor to OpenMarket.org. View CEI's Car-Free Day Video on YouTube.
Sam Kazman is general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market organization in Washington, D.C.