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The Canary Coalition


PO Box 1556, Whittier, NC, 28789
Toll-free 1-866-4CANARY
Fax/phone 828-586-4620

Statement from Avram Friedman, Executive Director of the Canary Coalition, 11/21/02

My name is Avram Friedman and Iím speaking today on behalf of the Canary Coalition.

Iíd like to thank the North Carolina Department of Transportation for holding this important conference and for giving the people of western North Carolina an opportunity to express some of our ideas and visions for the future of this region.  I would ask you to maintain an open mind about some of the new ideas that may be expressed, and take them seriously, even if they may tend to conflict with plans that have already been studied and invested in.

In Jackson County, where I live, there is a proposed 107 by-pass, or southern loop to alleviate congested traffic and to accommodate expected future traffic as Western Carolina University expands, industries are brought in and the population of the county increases.  The DOT has conducted a feasibility study due to be released in February of next year, concerning this by-pass.   It has been estimated by the DOT that current traffic will expand on 107 from 30,000 cars per day to 40,000 cars per day.  An American Lung Association study, released this summer, showed that children in Cherokee and the surrounding region are two and a half times as likely to develop asthma as children in other areas of the country.  Thatís because western North Carolina is already experiencing a severe ground-level ozone problem.  Ground-level ozone has been directly linked to the development and increased frequency of asthma attacks in people, especially in children.  It is unrealistic to believe that we can bring in 10,000 more cars to Jackson County every day without having an unacceptable impact on the health of our children. 

Public policy needs to address these very real costs of automobile use.  Itís time to begin to think about, to plan and to implement policies that will discourage the use of cars rather than subsidize their use.  Itís time to develop plans for alternatives to the use of automobiles and to provide economic incentives for the use of modes of transportation other than automobiles.

There will always be a need for roads.  We donít want to abandon the use of ambulances, fire-trucks, police cars and other necessary vehicles.  Weíll always need roads.  But, given the negative impact of the over-use of automobiles, itís time to make plans to maximize the efficiency of existing roads through better access management; to develop comprehensive and reliable mass transit systems; to encourage the use of bicycles and feet as serious modes of transportation; and to begin a major effort to employ serious land use and urban planning techniques that make it less necessary for people to use cars to fulfill their daily transportation needs.  And itís worth considering, although it would be unpopular at first, raising taxes on gasoline and levying a tax on mileage itself to discourage the use of cars except when absolutely necessary.  Leave the roads open, so that when an ambulance needs to get somewhere, it can get there fast.

Decisions that prepare for the future also play an important role in defining the future.  If we, for instance, build roads to accommodate what we expect to be a vast increase in automobile traffic,  that prediction will most likely come to pass, because bigger roads attract and encourage the use of automobiles.  State and federal highways are a taxpayers subsidy to the automobile industry, because we are building this very expensive infra-structure for the use of automobiles and giving the use of cars economic advantage over other less subsidized forms of transportation, such as trains, trolleys, buses, bicycles or pedestrians.

This is America and people have the economic ability to own cars and the right to drive them.  The convenience of owning a car is difficult to argue with.  One can go anywhere, anytime one wants to in a car. It has become part of the freedom that we, as Americans, have come to take for granted.  And this freedom should not be taken away.  But, people need to have the choice of using alternative modes of transportation that provide universal benefits for the health, environment and economy of the community.  And the state has a role in promoting  and in providing incentives for people to choose these alternatives, whenever possible, rather than using our cars.  Because the price of automobile overuse is high.  In addition to the expense of buying and maintaining the machine, there is insurance to pay and there is fuel to buy and burn.  The insurance often covers medical costs for victims of automobile accidents.  And, according to DOT statistics, in the year 2000 alone, the last year data is listed on your web site, more than 1500 automobile accident fatalities were reported in North Carolina.  This too is a cost of frivolous use of the automobile.   When we buy gas and oil for our cars, we are contributing to Americaís dependence on petroleum from foreign countries.  In this sense driving a car makes us vulnerable and affects national security.  Iím not sure how to calculate this value but it has to be counted as another cost of unnecessary automobile use.  And then there is the problem of the automobileís contribution to air pollution.  The ten year study released this year in the SAMI report, included the fact that mobile sources, or automobiles, are second only to coal-burning power plants as the source of nitrogen oxides that produce ground-level ozone.  How does one evaluate the cost of heart and lung diseases in thousands of children?  This too, is part of the price of relying primarily on cars for all our transportation needs.

Just because Jackson County is growing and thousands of additional people will probably be coming on a daily basis, it doesnít mean that they have to come by car.  New high-tech industries and universities can and should be held at least partially responsible for providing transportation for workers and students.  Buses or a light-rail system are not out of the question for western North Carolina.  Thereís no reason why someone should have to rely on a personal vehicle to get to Asheville, Franklin or Murphy from Cullowhee on any given day.

Let's plan for the future that protects the health of our children and the environment in Jackson County and all of western North Carolina, instead of planning for the future we expect to have if we continue to rely exclusively on the use of automobiles for mass transportation.

Lets be pro-active by predicting and planning for a future that realistically protects our basic health and protects and preserves the basic character of our communities.

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