Friday, 27 March 2009

The Right To Drive And To Park - Part 1

A few years ago I saw a car bumper sticker in Belgium with a Web address: I thought 'at last, somewhere motorists are fighting for their rights'.

While the abovementioned URL no longer works, the association has a website:

Its motto in French “Droit démocratique de Rouler et de Parquer” could be translated into “The democratic right to drive and park”. In this article, I intend to elaborate on the subject.

Every person should have the right to drive their car anywhere and also to park it. Yes, that’s right – you should not only have the right to drive but also the right to park where you wish!

This notion might come as a shock, especially in this day and age when we are constantly bombarded with the idea that ‘cars are bad’ and that cars should be banned from city centres’ (if not altogether).

Now let’s take another perspective and see why the fashionable idea of restricting car traffic rests on very shaky foundations.

First, let’s forget cars for a minute and think of our primary means of transportation: walking. Everyone considers it his/her right to walk the streets of their city (or any city, for that matter). We expect the authorities to provide us with sidewalks and pedestrian zones, all of which are public areas, accessible to anyone without having to pay anything for their use. We take it for granted.

But think about it: someone had to build the sidewalks and pave the pedestrian zones. So someone had to get paid for doing that; construction workers and civil engineers don’t work for free. And the land upon which we walk also belongs to somebody. Although our sidewalks are owned by the state/city just like public roads, the real estate had to be bought from someone (or if it has always been a public property, think of opportunity costs for not being able to sell it into private hands) and has to be maintained. Ever looked up how much of your municipal/city/state budget is dedicated to maintaining of public areas? Authorities are paying large amounts of money (which is coming from our pockets, mind you) so that we may stroll down the street on a nice flat surface. Essentially, it’s no different from having to provide roads and parking spaces for cars.

Another alternative to walking is cycling. But that also requires additional public expenses to build bicycle lanes – and this is on top of the expenses for pedestrian surfaces.

(to be continued -see Part 2)

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