I will preface this post by mentioning that I never envisioned writing something like this until now. It almost feels like I’m comitting a taboo just by tapping these words into the interwebs. I’m a guy who loves to drive his car down the road. I don’t mean, that I just like driving, I do love to drive. I went out of my way to find a sedan that does not have an automatic transmission. I consider it a plus to have personal control over as many functions of my car as are available from Detroit or Yokohama. That’s how much I love to drive.
When I was 15-years old, I almost went crazy with anticipation as I waited impatiently for my 16th birthday so I could finally obtain my driver’s license. The day the government issued the license to me is etched into my memory. My first drive without any adult supervision took place in my dad’s 1961 Buick LeSabre. I can still visualize every detail of that short drive. The whole world was opening up. My future became more palpable.
The other day I came across some articles describing how Generation Y individuals are far less interested in motor vehicles and the act of driving than those of us born in previous decades. The Federal Highway Administration found out that the share of 14 to 34 year old people with no driver’s license increased from 21-percent in 2000 to 26-percent three years ago.
Even as their population share actually shrank, that age group took more than 24-percent more non-fitness related bicycle trips. People in that age group also walked to more destinations. The amount of public transit use by that population group increased a whopping 40-percent.
At first glance, it might seem like today’s dreadful economic situation is at the root of this change. Both new and used vehicle prices are insanely high these days. Then we factor in the price of gasoline, tires and other maintenance costs. Add in the insurance premiums and licensing fees. The result is a staggering sum of money to be spent by someone who works at a typical service industry job or who is forced to work part-time or is recently unemployed. The cost/benefit ratio has become negative from that standpoint.
More importantly, the youth are typically more idealistic and concerned about the broader issues of environmental degradation. More and more of the world is being paved over with asphalt and concrete. Fumes from cars and trucks continue to choke our health. Dangerous, controversial pipelines are being constructed. All this is centered around motor vehicles.
I have long troubled over these problems and how they conflict with my extreme love of driving. I sometimes even think about them when I’m behind the wheel. I’m completely bowled over by the enormity of the motor vehicle problems whenever I travel to an urban area.
Here in Northeast Nebraska, we enjoy mostly open roads. We might get irritated when we are stopped for five-minutes because a highway department crew is patching part of the road. Less conveniently, we might be forced to drive slowly after a blizzard or ice storm has made the road surface hazardous. The rest of the time, we can set our cruise controls at the speed limit (some people set it higher), and forget about delays. Our car trips are usually relatively pleasant and easy.
A couple of years ago, I drove to Kansas City and encountered highway conditions much different from ours. In-town driving seemed more dangerous, intimidating, and stressful. On the Interstate Highways, there wasn’t a safe calm stretch of roadway on which I could engage my cruise control unit. Cars and trucks weaved in and out of traffic at random and rudeness was rampant. I took an off ramp so I could observe the freeway from the viewpoint of an overpass bridge. I stood for about 15 minutes marveling at how the streams of vehicles endlessly flowed by like rivers. Is it any wonder, these days, that a kid might not be all that turned on about the prospect of owning a vehicle?
As I get older, I’m realizing that someday, far too soon, I’ll need to relinquish my driving privilages. My traveling and commuting abilities will be sharply curtailed. I’ve often wondered about the shortsightedness of our state’s transportation authorities and the legislators. There is such a narrow focus centered on highway construction. It seems peculiar that little, if any, thought has been given to some sort of mass transit or light rail system here. I’ve mentioned the subject in passing to friends and acquaintances. Their disapproving reactions speak volumes.
Still, I wonder what life might be like in this state if there was light rail transportation between towns and cities. Travel would be much more safe in the wintertime. Individual transportation expenses could be slashed. There’d be less stress. And older Nebraskans could retain their freedom of travel far longer than possible now.
I’m thinking about the news stories about young people not loving the cars, SUVs and pickups so much these days. This makes me feel strangely glad. Certainly, some of these folks are Nebraskans in towns near mine. I can imagine them getting together to build a practical, working light rail system for the area. I can see bike rental kiosks springing up. Short term car rentals being enabled. I can picture intelligently planned towns.
I hope I’m not the only one around here with these kinds of daydreams. I know that through our reprioritizing, these dreams can come true.
The Blue Jay of Happiness does not rely upon mechanical forms of transportation.