World Car-Free Day: Not a Day to Celebrate

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Washington, DC, September 22, 2005—Organizers of today’s ‘World Car-Free Day’ are promoting supposedly more sustainable transportation systems.  But according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, lack of access to cars can be deadly—as demonstrated by the experience of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, where cars, rather than mass transit, were the key to evacuating hundreds of thousands of people.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


“It was a lack of access to cars that led tens of thousands of people to remain in the city,” says Sam Kazman, head of CEI’s Automobility Project. “Many people may well choose a car-free lifestyle, but the notion that government should impose it in the name of sustainability is crazy.  As Hurricane Katrina showed, it can be disastrous as well.”


Organizers of World Car-Free Day claim it is being celebrated this year by more than 1400 cities and towns in the U.S. and other countries. Their website poses a simple question: “What is life like in communities that are not dependent on the automobile, and what are the benefits of such a way of life?”


But New Orleans’ experience has triggered a reexamination of the dangers of such an approach.  In an article on his Green Economics blog, economist Matthew Kahn writes: “More of New Orleans’ urban poor would have survived the disaster if they had had car access.” (One Lesson from New Orleans? More Cars for the Urban Poor.)


As Thoreau Institute analyst Randy O’Toole points out, “Those who fervently wish for car-free cities should take a closer look at New Orleans. The tragedy of New Orleans isn't primarily due to racism or government incompetence, though both played a role. The real cause is automobility—or more precisely to the lack of it.” (Lack of Automobility Key to New Orleans Tragedy)


For more on CEI’s work on automobility, see “Cars, Women, and Minorities: The Democratization of Mobility in America,” by Alan Pisarski; and “Car-Free Days? No, Thank You,” by Waldemar Hanasz.