Despite the many benefits afforded by the comfort and convenience of automobiles, these benefits come loaded with devastating environmental consequences and economic costs.
C02 emissions from petroleum-fueled automobiles are causing climate change and sea level rise. Air pollution from car exhaust (including nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and un-combusted particulate matter), is causing asthma and other respiratory problems and contributes to thousands of US deaths every year.
The low-density, sprawling development automobile use encourages consumes valuable agricultural and conservation land and puts pressures on resources and wildlife habitats. It also squeezes out other transportation modes by making destinations too far to walk or bike to, and public transportation economically inefficient.
The United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil per day, 70% of which is for transportation. This oil dependence threatens our economic and energy security. Every oil price shocks since the 1970’s has been followed by an economic recession in the US within the following 18 months.
Hawaii has the highest cost of car ownership in the nation, with the direct cost of owning the average car (including both new and used) being $10,233 a year. A recent study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute determined that every dollar of direct expenditure on automobiles results in $2.55 in social costs. This means each car on Hawaii’s roadways is costing our economy around $26,000 a year.
And yet, automobile dependency is, (and always has been) a policy choice. Ultimately, there is no such thing as public vs. private transportation. All transportation is publically enabled through transportation policies, zoning, building and traffic codes, and infrastructure spending decisions.
Our auto-dependent transportation system is unsustainable, (both environmentally and economically) and by definition, must eventually come to an end.
Hawaii’s policy makers must actively pursue less costly, more sustainable modes of transportation. Accomplishing this will require significant public investments in non-auto infrastructure such as electrified rail transit, bike lanes and pedestrian facilities. It will require amendments to zoning, building and traffic codes; enabling and investing in transit-oriented development and pursuing traffic demand management strategies such as carsharing, bike sharing, car pooling. It may also require policies which force motorists to internalize many of the true costs of driving which are largely being externalized to the broader public now.
Automobiles provide Hawaii residents with substantial benefits. However, with the right mixture of viable transportation alternatives, these same benefits can be achieved with far fewer cars, at significantly lower costs and with far fewer environmental impacts.
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Below is the legislative tracker for all of the Smart Growth and Transportation bills introduced at the 2011 Legislature. You can view the status updates as well as a list of other organizations that might be active in supporting or opposing these bills.