Car problems

The good…: Let Bites begin by declaring my distaste for the automobile. Cars kill community-mindedness, pollute the air, stratify society and disconnect us from the natural world. But, like cops and condoms, cars are a necessary evil in today’s complex world.

We all need to flee at times, driving off to the places that touch our souls, and sometimes cars are the only way to get where we need to go. And there is even a small percentage of the population that needs—really needs—to commute to work. Maybe you need a car on the job, or maybe spouses work in different places, forcing at least one to travel.

Yet that reality is no reason to spend the lion’s share of our transportation dollars building new freeway lanes and trying to make commuters’ lives as easy as possible. Anything that has such a negative impact on our health and quality of life—as our commuter culture does—should be difficult and painful.

The Sacramento City Council recently recognized that reality when it rejected spending $2.5 million to study building another lane on Highway 50, only to be slapped by suburban political leaders and the Sacramento Bee, where an editorial blasted the stand as “city isolationism.”

Hello?!?! Is it really isolationist to encourage smarter modes of transportation? Can a city that is subsidizing central city residential development as a way of wooing more people to move here really be called “isolationist?” Why should the city subsidize sprawl? Why should we make it easier for people to move away and choke our air?

The Bee’s hand-wringing rings hollow, like an easy way to kiss the butts of the people in the ’burbs, which seem to be where most Bee subscriptions come from. Why else would they advocate diverting money that could be used for expanding light rail or bus service into yet more freeway asphalt?

So, councilmembers and their constituents, kudos to your support for progress. It’s not a bad beginning.

…and the bad: Didja really think that Bites was going to just leave that kind of sappy praise for the City of Sac hanging out there unchecked? Regular readers should know Bites isn’t big on the warm fuzzies so, as expected, here’s some medicine to go with that sugar.

The Sacramento Police Department and Old Sacramento Management (a city-sponsored agency) last week tried to capitalize on the city’s new anti-automobile schtick in the most callow and transparent of ways.

With all the self-congratulatory fanfare of a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting, the city sent out a press release announcing that cars will be banned from Old Sacramento on weekend nights through the end of the year.

“This program will allow visitors to have a more comfortable experience and enjoy a more relaxed setting in Sacramento’s premiere historic district. They will experience the true ambiance of Old Sacramento without the late night weekend gridlock of street vehicles,” read the press release.

The “true ambiance of Old Sacramento”??? Huh? Old Sacramento has been the hub of nightlife in the city since the Gold Rush days. Hell, if they were trying to be authentic, they’d let us carry guns to fire into the air after we stumble out of the saloons. Because that’s a helluva lot closer to this area’s true ambiance than all the boutiquey bullshit designed to drain the wallets of rich, white tourists.

What’s really going on is the city is trying to put perfume on the police state it instituted in Old Sacramento last year when young people of color started populating the area, drawn by the hip-hop music of some popular bars.

Why else would the city continue allowing the “gridlock of street vehicles” during prime shopping hours? And why would they build in an elitist exception to the ban, allowing hotel shuttles, horse carriages, taxis and limousines to continue driving the cobbled streets of Old Sac?

No, just like with the city’s “update” of its dance ordinance regulations—with its new restrictions tentatively slated for a public hearing on Sept. 23 and approval next month—there’s far more behind this program than we’re being told.