Sunday, March 29, 2009

Say "Tata" to gas-guzzlers?

It's News Monday again, and we must confess to being a little slow on the uptake. However, your Miss has an excuse. She's been wrestling with just how to handle this wee little bit of news (and it is wee). In fact, it's so wee that you could probably fit all of it into a Mini Cooper.
Yes, we're talking cars here on the Green Sugar 'Blog today. Specifically, we're talking about the Tata Nano, a 30-horsepower, 52 miles-per-gallon critter that is only available in India and which only costs the equivalent of $3200. It's a sweet little beast that performs best where the traffic is slow and the streets are perpetually crowded. Still, it's got us thinking about the way we travel. The Nano only goes up to 45 miles per hour, which is great for city streets, but wouldn't do so well on our superhighways.

It's cute! It's orange! It's...a car?!

Although I'm already smitten with the Nano's friendly shape and, okay, yes, the idea of a car that uses such a small amount of gasoline and is still large enough to lug around a weeks' worth of groceries, there is something else that is stopping me from fully appreciating the net worth of this addition to the automotive world: It's an addition to the automotive world.
Look, I'm not knocking the Nano itself. I'm really more frustrated with the idea that there are so many people out there who think it's OK to drive the mile to the grocery store. (Your Miss grew up in Southern California. She knows from too much driving.)

The area covered by this map, which covers the Miss' home town of Claremont, CA, is maybe 10 square miles. That's a lot of car dealerships!

The thing is, millions of people in almost every major American city get by without cars. They either walk to the grocery store, pulling along a cart for the food haul if it's going to be a big one, or they get on that most wonderful of creations, the bicycle, for their short-haul trips to the many destinations that make up our lives: the post office, a visit to a friend, picking up something at the drug store.
I'm fully aware that many of us don't live in areas that allow for safe bicycle riding, or safe walking, even. And for those of us with kids, well, it often can feel like an added annoyance to bundle your child into his own bicycle, or, if the kid's young enough, to strap them into the Baby Bjorn, adding another 25 pounds to your own weight, before you head to the grocery store to ballast yourself with 15 pounds of groceries.
But the payoffs are multiple: You get a little exercise. Your child gets outside. Maybe you get to see part of the neighborhood you never discovered before, and from street-level, instead of SUV-level. Perhaps you'll even find it in you to lobby your local representative for better infrastructure all around, so that when your kids are old enough, they can safely hop on their own bikes, help you with the groceries.
The world doesn't need another car. Our immediate world, these United States, needs a better way for folks to get around. The incentives are already there.
Your Miss has one more confession to make before she leaves you until Did You Know? Thursday. I'm missing my own commuter bike, a sweet little mountain bike that's been with me to New York, California and Colorado, terribly. It was poached from our house by someone who I hope will use it to cut down on their own driving. Mmmhmmm. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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