Conservatives love to paint personal vehicles as the pinnacle of freedom, fuel efficiency standards as the government boot on the neck of Lady Liberty, and walkable communities, car sharing & public transit as creeping communism. But an experience last weekend made America's oil-addicted transportation culture seem more constricting than liberating.
I was up in New Hampshire hiking the Boulder Loop Trail off the Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountain National Forest near the town of Conway. The trail walk to the top of Moat Ridge gave us beautiful views of the surrounding mountains as well as the Swift River running through the Passaconaway Valley.
We were hiking with a couple in their 20s who'd brought their 3-month-old baby along. Except for her request for lunch, we barely heard a peep from the baby the whole hike, she was perfectly happy gently bouncing along in her baby carrier.
As we got back to the parking lot, mom said she'd had a great time and wanted to hike more often for regular exercise. I suggested making a routine of it - finding a favorite spot and going for a hike, say, every Sunday.
"Well ... maybe every couple of weeks," she said.
Why not more often? "This thing," she sighed, pointing to her SUV. "I couldn't afford to drive the hour and back to the mountain every weekend."
Over the longer term, President Obama has taken steps to significantly increase fuel efficiency in new cars, trucks & SUVs. But in the short run, families need to consider all the consequences of owning a gas guzzler. I understand the desire for a roomy vehicle to lug around car seats, strollers & such. But what good is owning that vehicle if it means you can't afford to get to the places you want to go?
The newest vehicle that's both fuel-efficient AND family-friendly? Check out the Toyota Prius V: