Isn’t Self-Sufficiency a Conservative Thing?

Anyone who’s ever maintained a blog knows how easily it can burn you out. So we’d like to give a special welcome back to one of our Streetsblog Network members, WalkBikeCT, which has returned to the keyboard with a renewed sense of purpose after a few months of hiatus.

Their first offering of the new year is a fine essay from contributor Tom Harned on "The Conservative Case for Walking and Biking." Harned makes the point that the freedom and self-reliance regularly trumpeted by conservatives are perfectly embodied by pedestrian and bicycle transportation. Infrastructure that enforces auto dependence effectively negates that self-reliance.

So why aren’t more conservatives supporting bike and ped infrastructure? Harned writes:

3797967061_2196453d56.jpgNot a landscape that encourages self-reliant transportation Photo: Matt_Picio via Flickr

When did getting oneself from here to there using your own two feet
become "liberal"? When did conservatives get the idea that providing
your own transportation — that relying on your own muscle and sweat, as
opposed to a gasoline engine — become something other than a virtue,
something worthy of scorn and mockery, something to be discouraged? A
true conservative would promote all forms of personal mobility.

Conservatives
will often talk about how government should be as lean and efficient as
possible. Spending taxpayer money is a serious issue and therefore, the
government should utilize tax dollars in such a way as to provide the
greatest level of service for the least expenditure.

The current
auto-oriented transportation policy often championed by the
conservative members of both the Connecticut General Assembly and the
United States Congress is anything but cost-effective and efficient.
Our state and federal gas taxes do not come close to paying for the
highway system we all enjoy. This means that all citizens, no matter
how much or how little they drive, end up subsidizing this costly
system through their income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and all
manner of other fees levied on them by local, state, and federal
governments.

For another great analysis of why conservatives should promote walkable communities and transit, see this essay by David Schaengold, published by the Witherspoon Institute last spring. Also check out Transportation for America‘s report on the debate they held in December on conservatives and public transportation, featuring William Lind, co-author of Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation.

More from around the network: Bike Portland has a guide to bicycle insurance options. Biking in LA writes about the power of simple courtesy on the road. And The City Fix takes on the thorny issue of how citizen participation can impede smart growth.

  • That reminds me of a scene in “Back To The Future III”, where one of the characters asks something like “Walk for exercise? Why? We walk just to get someplace.”.

  • > So why aren’t more conservatives supporting bike and ped infrastructure?

    Because the term is about as meaningless as has been ‘liberal’ ever since Wilson.

    Most of the same ‘conservatives’ who eschew bicycling and depend on automobiles also voted for Bush twice and laughed at Ron Paul while he was predicting the Great Contraction. Republicans they certainly are; conservatives they are not.

  • paulebob

    Preposterous! Walking and biking is no more a political persuation than is eating and sleeping. But then someone would probably ask if you sleep on your right or left side. You can blog anything, but that doesn’t make it worth the effort to read.

  • David_K

    Kaja is right right. “Conservatives” (like Bush) are all about profligate spending of resources, building roads, and expanding government in the name of national security. “Liberals” (like Obama) are much the same, frankly. The labels are meaningless.

    That said, they DO mean something, because our country is polarized around these same vacuos labels. Why don’t self-labeled mainstream “conservatives” want to conserve resources, and have the satisfaction of moving about under their own power? I think it’s because they are intellectual sham artists in love with the myth of the big wheels on the free, open road.

    Here is what one such “conservative” has to say about it (this article just kills me):
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/05/18/george-will-government-interference/

  • Conservatives saying one thing but doing another? I’m shocked.

    Next you’ll tell me that liberals also enact policy that contradicts their positions!

  • Christopher

    For better or worse, cycling advocacy has gotten intertwined with the environmental movement, which has been aggressively hostile to anyone right of center. This is a pity for everyone involved, because, as the original poster points out, there is plenty of common ground with the aims and/or the outcomes of a strong bike policy. Examples: cutting back on driving decreases the demand for foreign oil. Conservatives should like that because they don’t like having to be involved in foreign entanglements, and liberals should like that because they favor peace at all costs (yes, I’m generalizing here, but work with me). But instead of saying “let’s stick it to those oil-drilling jerks in the Middle East by riding our bikes”, cycling advocates tend to say “you’re killing the planet by driving your SUV.” I would suggest that cycling advocates would make a stronger case for better cycling infrastructure, stronger protections, etc., by showing how things that are good for cyclists are good for the things conservatives like. Example: neighborhood streets that are designed to be safe for cyclists are also safer for families with children.

    Going on and on about how cycling is the solution for global warming isn’t going to change any minds. A little less preaching to the choir and a little more creative outreach would go a long way to achieving the goals of cycling advocacy.

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