Is the automobile this bad?

A letter in the Wichita Eagle from March 2011 held this: “Perhaps it would be helpful if we all spent five minutes imagining the car in our garage is a murderer worse than Osama bin Laden, a disaster worse than the Tohoku earthquake, a polluter worse than coal, a drug more addictive than crack. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have allowed real-estate developers to zone our lives so there is quite literally nothing for us to walk to. Maybe those five minutes of imagining will move some of us to demand ultralight commercial development in our suburban residential deserts.”

Putting aside the wild and unsubstantiated claims the writer makes, the automobile gives us mobility, which is priceless. In his recent book Gridlock: why we’re stuck in traffic and what to do about it, Randal O’Toole explains the benefits of mobility: “The benefits of mobility are huge and undeniable. The most tangible benefit is to our personal incomes. Increased travel speeds allow people to reach more potential jobs in a given commute time. Research in France found that, for every 10 percent increase in travel speeds, the pool of workers available to employers increased by 15 percent. This gives employers access to more highly skilled workers, which in turn increases worker productivity by 3 percent. Similarly, research in California has found that doubling the distance workers can commute to work increases productivity by 25 percent. … Mobility also reduces our consumer costs and gives us access to a wider diversity of consumer goods. … Thanks to our mobility, most Americans enjoy much better housing than they did a century ago and better than most other people in the world today. Mobility not only increases the income available for housing; it allows us to reach areas where housing, and the land it requires, is more affordable. The most intangible benefit of mobility may be the thing many Americans say they value most: freedom.”