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BY NANCY SALVATO – And it’s two bare feet on the dashboard,
Young love in an old Ford,
Cheap shades, and a tattoo, and Yoohoo bottle on the floorboard.
– Kenny Chesney, Summertime, 2006)

Driving down the highway today, I noticed a little yellow ragtop, possibly an MGB Roadster that I would venture to guess was as old as I am.

In any event, what caught my eye, besides how utterly cool this car was, was the idea that two of these sport cars could probably drive side by side in only one lane of highway. My wheels started to spin, not the car’s tires, but the figurative ones in my head.

I recalled reading that often, by the time a highway is expanded, its capacity in relation to the number of cars on the road is already diminished. According to David T. Hartgen and M. Gregory Fields of the Reason Foundation, “Nationwide, the number of lane-miles of severely congested roads is expected to increase from about 39,500 in 2003 to 59,700 in 2030.” Yet, right in front of me, I believed was a possible solution.

Navigating my “Compact SUV” just a few car lengths behind the object of transportation which grabbed my attention, I remembered my mother once remarking that she hated driving a small car behind a large truck because she couldn’t see what was up ahead. Even with the benefit of sitting higher off the ground, I, too, can relate to her experience. The man driving his little MGB couldn’t have been too worried about his line of vision, though; I imagined him breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the sun and the breeze on such a gorgeous day. Still, he was at a definite disadvantage if he found himself, God forbid, in a traffic accident. Perish the thought.

If we want to encourage people to drive smaller cars, a beginning would be to create two traffic lanes, smaller sized, for smaller vehicles. Twice as many cars could drive in the same amount of space –already designated for the road. My gears began to shift. Smaller vehicles generally utilize less gas. Perhaps compact cars could be configured to have a narrower body. Designers could be more creative with how seats are positioned. Trailers could be constructed to haul behind the vehicle, should a person desire additional space to hold bicycles, luggage, etc. Different size trailers could be purchased separately, or rented, should you have to transport a large load.

Trucks and vans and larger automobiles would be required to stay in their own two lanes. Eight lane highways would use the same amount of space as six lane highways. It would prove safer for those who drive small cars because there is less risk of having an accident with a larger vehicle. According to the article Are Small Cars Safer Now?, “Recent advances in both technology and crash testing, not to mention the use of new, stronger structural materials, have significantly improved the crash-worthiness of small cars.” Whether or not you feel any safer in light of the new technology, one thing is for certain; my little voice is telling me that the survival rate in an accident with a vehicle closer in size to your own would not be as destructive as one with a larger size vehicle.

For commuters who cannot or choose not to carpool, the option of driving to work in a car that is more efficient and takes up less space would be appealing. It certainly would be a boon in heavily congested, urban areas, where parking spaces are often at a premium. Again, twice as many cars would use half as much space.

Changing a major form of transportation and the infrastructure associated with it will likely generate jobs to implement these measures –and for a good cause. It is reasonable to expect that a smaller car would cost less money. People may choose to drive these types of cars when going it alone on the road, and switch to a larger vehicle when driving with a group of people to a destination.

I don’t presume to know all the answers, but outside the box thinking about our current modes of transportation might generate more viable options for the long haul, which could assist this country in alleviating its dependence on foreign oil.

Maybe you have a better idea. Do share. Perhaps someone with the skills, initiative, and funding will recognize your good idea and act on it. You’ll never know unless you try.

More columns at BasicsProject.org

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