by Andy Singer
Andy Singer’s cartoons have graced these pages of HopeDance for years. He has been car-free for years. He came to SLO and Santa Barbara a couple years ago to give us a slide show of Transportation. This is an excerpt from that presentation.

[For those of us 13 people who attended the workshop by cartoonist Andy Singer in SLO and Santa Barbara a few years back, the following is an excerpt from his slide show presentation of cartoons and transportation. We have some of Andy’s cartoons scattered throughout this issue. And you can also go to his website at http://www.andysinger.com ]

I am a big advocate for Car Free Cities (or city sections) and for car-free living. Giving up your car commits you to living in urban or dense suburban areas. This is because only THESE areas can be negotiated by bicycle, walking or public transit. Since you are more dependent on your immediate neighborhood for employment, goods and services, giving up your car commits you to your immediate neighbors and commits you to collective social relationships. It also commits you to behaving in a more time and energy efficient manner and, it commits you, more deeply, to public transit and the environment. By giving up your car, you become a better political advocate for transit, for cities, and for your neighborhood, since you gain a more intimate knowledge of them and are more dependent on them for your day to day life.

Allowing your beliefs to impact your lifestyle on this level is what I would call “orthodox environmentalism”. It is similar to the lifestyle chosen by the Amish. They refuse to use cars or big technology precisely because they feel it adversely impacts their community. Once you give up your car, you’ll see more clearly how cars and hyper mobility do, in fact, destroy community.

What can we as individuals do about all this? How can we stop the onslaught of cars and highways and promote better urban design and alternative transport?

First there are personal choices– we can choose to live without a car and try to do without one as much as possible. In 39 years, I’ve never owned a car and I’ve lived in a lot of places. It just requires some planning when deciding where to live and where to work. You need to situate yourself in an urban or dense suburban area, with bus or transit lines, preferably within walking or biking distance from your job and basic services (groceries, bank, post office, etc.). When I absolutely need a car, I rent or borrow one.

This seems like a minimal act, but sometimes, not burning hydrocarbons or going anywhere is the most radical thing you can do.

We can try to raise awareness of the problems that cars cause by leafletting, making art, writing. This was an idea I had for vehicle warning stickers or magnets.

Or this garden car, which someone actually made, to reclaim at least one parking space worth of pavement.

We can start alternative transport businesses, like PEDEX in Berkeley California, which delivers packages and goods in big hauler bicycles …or like this pedal powered taxi here in New York City. …And we can patronize and support these businesses, especially when they are being challenged by motorized taxi and limousene companies. There are now over 40 pedicabs operating just in midtown Manhattan. As a result, the taxi and limousene companies are starting to feel threatened, and are lobbying the city government to ban them. So they need public support. [see the film PEDAL coming soon as well as the Bike Film Festival in May.]

Or we can participate in mass group activities, like this critical mass bike ride in Minneapolis Minnesota. For those who don’t know Critical Mass, once a month, bicyclists meet up at some designated area, in mass … and then ride wherever they want. It’s slogan is “We ARE traffic.” Massers have run into conflicts with police, but in Minneapolis and other cities we have won the right to ride by bringing political pressure on the mayor and city council.

If a city refuses to allow critical mass and demands order and permits, we can organize big public festivals or pedal-powered parades.

Or we can organize city wide awareness events, and get our elected officials to participate, just to experience life without a car and see what their city looks like on foot.

At some point, however, we MUST participate in the political process. As the main point of this talk indicated, there is not substitute for making major legislative changes. Meetings suck …but political power goes to the people who are willing to sit through meetings. Your local zoning boards, the MET council and community boards can have a big impact on urban design and transportation choices. I encourage people to pay attention to these boards and to become active on transportation issues. There are tons of groups trying to push transit, including Transit for Livable Communities, The Bicycle Pedestrian Alliance and the Sierra Club. At the National level are groups like the Surface Transportation Policy Project, Project for Public Spaces and dozens of others.

Thru politics– collective community action– you can get bollards like this one, to block off your street to thru-traffic.

Or more elaborate street planters like this one in Berkeley, California.

Or you can get bike or pedestrian bridges over highways or other urban obstacles.

Or you can get things like the Hudson River Greenway– an incredible project that was brought about by sustained political pressure from many groups in New York City, over many years.

Through politics and commendeering a greater share of federal and state gas taxes, you can get better transit, urban revitalization, and maybe even a complete ban on private cars in cities or city sections. I encourage people to dream big and fight for stuff. If you ask for it, you just might get what you want.

Andy Singer can be reached at [email protected] Contact him if you wish to hire him for a cartoon/talk presentation.