It was recently announced that Michigan’s Governor has appointed a new Car Czar. Really? In a state that is already far too over-dependent on the automobile, we need a Car Czar to tip the scales even further towards one industry? Dang! After living in Michigan for nearly 23 years, I think I’ve heard this same old song and dance before. And each time, we proceed to get burned when the next downturn occurs (and it will) by the fact that we have thrown all our eggs into a single economic basket.
What Michigan really needs is an Active Transportation Czar (bicycling, walking, and mass transit). Why? Because, not only are we too dependent on cars for livelihoods, we as a state are woefully dependent on cars for getting around – hence Michigan’s sad and consistent ratings regarding obesity.
Michigan should be taking its extensive automotive expertise and applying it to the design and manufacturing of:
- Passenger and freight trains
- Streetcars and commuter trains
- Boats and ferries
- as well as cars
Think this is folly? Well, be prepared for a surprise, because the cycling industry employes more people in Europe (more than 650,000) than the automotive industry. Here’s a snippet from the findings:
“…a cycling economy that employs more than 655,000 people in industries such as retail, manufacturing, infrastructure investment, and tourism.
On just two wheels, the industry is creating more jobs than Europe’s high-fashion footwear industry (388,000 jobs), its well-established steel sector (410,000), and the United States’ Big Three automobile companies (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) combined (510,000).
Holger Haubold, fiscal and economic policy officer at the European Cyclists’ Federation, which commissioned the study, said that cycling allows cities and countries to cut carbon emissions without hindering economic growth.”
Instead, our state’s blinder-wearing worship of the almighty automobile will yet again lead us down the primrose path to economic upheaval. It’s just a matter of time before the auto industry will have a cyclical downturn, as it has many times before. And once again, the near-sighted politicos will wonder what happened. Well, I will tell you what happened. Our state appointed a new Car Czar in 2014, instead of pursuing, pushing, and exploring exciting new avenues of economic nirvana in active transportation or other areas.
Shame on them for doing so and shame on us for not speaking up more resoundingly.
If we as planners and professionals pull out another European study about bicycle anything, then we continue to show we are just as out of touch as the last generation. We think that an intuitive position on public health or the natural environment should encourage mode shift from cars to nonmotorized or public transportation. Vehicle ownership is an equity issue and barriers for the impoverished and minorities are huge. Should we also be reminded how underrepresented these demographics are in the planning world? Could any of us gotten our education without access to vehicles?
If liberals want to talk about upward economic mobility and equity, than expecting European models of development on Americans just reinforces how out of touch this profession is.
Also, don’t oversimplify how innovative, diverse, and robust Michigan’s economy will be, especially with King Car leading the way.
What is relevant is the synergy and efficiencies that happen when various entities in one industry, and closely related industries, are in fairly close proximity. It’s easier and cheaper for people and objects to get from one entity to the next. Serendipity and borrowing will happen more often.