what is the breaking point?

i am well aware of the american dream. white picket fence, 2.2 kids, a dog, and a three-car garage. maybe i am the sort of person who always questions this sort of thing, but here i feel i can at least ask the outside world– when will this generation of american dreamers alter their standards? even if gas supplies last another fifty years, what is the breaking point? when will people change their lifestyles and finally refuse to pay these insane prices for a completely standardized dream?

my husband works construction in downtown. we live downtown. he walks to work, i walk to school. people he works with don’t believe we can afford a condo downtown, and they just assume that he makes a lot more money than they do. he doesn’t. we just don’t have a car. with prices the way they are, both in real estate and gas, his coworkers are moving further and further outside the city, therefore paying more and more for gas– but since it registers to them as a necessity they will not consider any alternative way to live. these people were always told that this was the dream. commuting 2 or 3 hours on congested highways, paying out most of their wage in gas, and wasting hours of their lives in the drivers seat. as the price rises, they will sacrifice anything for this dream, even if it includes commuting hours and hours and paying hundreds of dollars in gas every day.

today, gas is $1.25/L here in toronto. that’s nearly $5/gallon for you americans. for the last week, there has been a talk of a transit strike– luckily it didn’t happen, but what was the city’s plan? main streets are HOV lanes. parking only on side streets. it’s suddenly a good idea to turn a bustling, lively metropolis into a crowded highway. how about closing off main streets to cars? rent out bikes for the price of a transit pass. ask people to walk. yeah, that thing with your legs. believe it or not, it uses no oil and can actually be good for you. especially since this week is going to be absolutely beautiful. i know a lot of people without cars have made plans to purchase bikes and that’s great– but it’s not an inconvenience like they think it is. it’s an excuse to get out and take your bike for a ride. as long as the rider considers it a problem that they’re on a bike, it will be one. it’s the mentality that has to change here, even though some peoples actions are becoming more productive reflexively.

this isn’t about sustainability or the war on iraq. or any other buzzword or generic headline. this is a mentality. america’s railroads have been left to become rusty metal in the prairies, and the most important thing in the news is how much more money you will be paying in gas, not whether or not you should use your car tomorrow. in england they scoff at us– there are trains that pass through every town. they are affordable and run relatively on time, so it is almost completely unnecessary to have a car. amtrak and via rail have an enormous market share here in north america, but are pathetic as far as usability goes. we need something better if this car-centric lifestyle is ever going to change.

i know lots of people depend on their cars right now. big families, people in rural areas or even suburbia, etc. i’m not saying cars should be banned. i’m just searching for an alternative dream– one for kids right now who don’t want to look into their future and see themselves paying $10/gal at the pump. i know it’s not as convenient and i could go on with problems and solutions for a long, long time. meanwhile, if you’re reading this, think about a way you can use your car a little less today. the world won’t thank you, but your wallet just might.

EDITED TO ADD:
i thought it might be a good idea to include some links here, for those of you who might be interested in being part of the solution.

if you absolutely can’t stand the idea of giving up your beloved car, there’s always the prius, but if you want to go one step further than that, check out hybrid technologies, who are modifying some gas guzzlers into full electrics. almost 200 miles per charge can surely get you to the soccer field and back, and it seems they might actually drive better than the common car. it is completely noiseless and emits zero emissions.

if you don’t have the $25 grand to invest in something that only loses value over time (and don’t ever want to drive on a highway again), you might want to take a look at the gizmo, a neighboorhood electric vehicle with a more limited battery and a top speed of 45 mph. for only 12 grand, you can’t take the kids to soccer practice, but you can get to the grocery store. (yeah, 45 mph, not so great– but for those of you in NYC, how often do you go more than 45 anyway?)

if you’re more open to riding your bike but hate how open it makes you to the elements (and don’t care how silly you look), check out the velomobile, a human-powered vehicle (aka bicycle) with a hard covering so you don’t get rained on.

obviously, hybrid and electric vehicle transport has a long way to go, but i know that i personally can pledge to depend on mass transit only until someone comes out with a better , more functional electric vehicle. i hope some people out there are waiting out with me

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One thought on “what is the breaking point?

  1. Right! As to why we Americans have had to put up with a barely adequate Amtrak, take a look at the post I put up yesterday.

    http://www.takeatrainride.blogspot.com

    It does seems that there is a pro-rail groundswell building, but we will have to get rid of Bush and his cronies before anything much can happen. His proposed budget cuts Amtrak’s current level of funding by 40%, which is crazy, of course. Congress won’t let that happen, but it’s indicative of what Amtrak has had to deal with for the past 7+ years.

    Anyway, you’re right on!

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