Why We’re Still Struggling

Two articles reporting on relatively similar things.  The first being the one from the Hamburger Abendblatt (in German,) reporting that a third of Germany”s automobile commuters could imagine that in the relatively near future they would get rid of their car, or at least leave it at home.  Then this article in the New York Times, reporting about how some people in the U.S. are willing to think about living without a car, but with more emphasis on what a difficult time car dealerships and manufacturers are having and how and when we’ll be back to record breaking numbers of car purchases.

First though, a bit of a run through on things I found interesting in the Hamburger Abendblatt article.  The statistics aren’t necessarily so indicative of the situation in Hamburg.  According to the article the number of personal automobiles on Hamburg’s streets increases around 10% every five years.  For 2008, however, there were actually slightly fewer cars on the road.  One of the reasons for the still fairly large number of automobiles is the cash-for-clunkers program.  Funny enough, cash-for-clunkers was mentioned in the NY Times article, too, but as the reason why the average price paid for a car “plummeted” $3,000.  Another reason for the still relatively high auto use in Hamburg is the state of Park and Ride facilities.  Only a third were given good ratings in a recent test.

At the same time use of public transportation is increasing, even though fares were raised last year and will be raised again this coming year.  The cost of purchasing a vehicle as well as insurance prices were sighted as reasons for the increase.  Another interesting aspect in play is the StadtRad (CityBike,) a new bike share program introduced in June that has so far attracted 33,000 users, according to a recent article, which I’ll write more about in a future post.  The city has set itself to increasing the cycling modal share to at least 18% within the next few years.  And for that effort there’s around 25 million Euro available in 2009 and 2010 for improvements in the bike lane network, with one of the biggest goals being to get more lanes actually on the street instead of next to pedestrians on the sidewalk, particularly where the sidewalks are narrow.  Of the 1700 kilometers of bike lanes only 20 kilometers are already on the street.  At the end of the article car-share programs were mentioned as a popular alternative to actually owning a motor vehicle, as was similarly stated in the NY Times article.

The difference in tone between these two articles is, however, case in point for why it’s so difficult in the U.S. to imagine that any time soon people will begin to recognize the responsibility we have to each other and to the planet we live on.  It has to be about mutual respect, for each other, and the realization that every little thing we do has an impact on those around us, even on those not so close to us.  I didn’t really want to get into these rather personal opinions but particularly in reference to the NY Times article, I couldn’t help but stray a little. A really quick, rough translation of the German article can be found here.

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