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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

A new perspective on auto dependence: it hurts drinkers, too

Kaid Benfield

Posted January 6, 2009

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Driving under the influence of alcohol is a very serious matter.  But count me among those who enjoy a good brew or single malt from time to time, so I am not without sympathy for those who find it difficult to enjoy themselves in a world where options other than driving are limited.

a classic pub (by: surfstyle, creative commons license)

And now, the connection has been made.  William Brand writes in his beer column for the Contra Costa (CA) Times, "What's On Tap":

"The American problem - our problem - is the way we live sucks. I mean we're totally auto-oriented. Most of us live in places where mass transit doesn't exist or is sucky.

"For instance, I live three miles from the closest BART station; there's only bus service 9-5 weekdays and it's five blocks to the damn bus stop.  So I drive, usually to BART. Coming home, I don't get back in the car 'til I'm certain I'm sober.  It's a hell of a way to live.

"In fact, it changes where I go. I hate visiting friends where we're going to drink good beer, but the only way to get there is driving. I envy my friends who live in San Francisco, Oakland and other cities, where a trip to the pub is a short walk."

The column has spawned quite a few online comments, most of them thoughtful and sympathetic.  It's a point of view worth considering. 

Thanks to my colleague Justin Horner for pointing me to this story.


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Dave ReidJan 6 2009 11:45 AM

@Kaid I've written on this from another angle in the past. Our zoning laws actually promote drunk driving. By requiring parking spots per bar stool, or by single-use zoning, or simply lot sizing zoning that pushes homes further away from business it encourages people to drive.

Add on top of that the lack of transit and well people drive.

Article on this topic:

Kaid @ NRDCJan 6 2009 05:08 PM

That's a great post, Dave. Thanks for sharing. Incidentally, while researching photos for this post I found one of a poster advertising a pub crawl in London, with the pub locations noted on a map of the Tube! Of course I can't find it now . . .

Merry RabbJan 6 2009 08:18 PM

Would that be the Circle Line pub crawl? Apparently there are as many versions as there are pub crawlers...

DavidJan 7 2009 08:56 AM

I like this post, though I would go a step further. I think the way our society discusses drinking and driving demonstrates an enormous pro-automobile bias. Here's what I mean:

In our society it is a forgone conclusion that drinking and driving are a deadly mix. (They can be.) It's also a foregone conclusion that, in that mix, it's alcohol that is the deadly additive. But that's simply not true. Consider:

People have been drinking alcohol, generally without mortal consequences, since the beginning of human history. Also, every day stone-sober drivers will kill each other driving their cars. Yet somehow, it's not the car that's the problem; it's the alcohol.

I think it's pretty clear that breaking our dependence on the car would improve life in so many ways, but to do that we need effective public transit systems.

Melissa BJan 7 2009 10:12 AM

I was home in Phoenix over Christmas and was very excited to see the valley's light rail (finally!) open. There were a number of stories in the local paper criticizing the light rail for closing at a relatively early hour. They specifically cited concerns about drinking and driving.

Kaid @ NRDCJan 7 2009 03:13 PM

Great perspectives, people. And very interesting indeed to consider that driving could be the real villain in the drinking/driving mix. I think Merry's 28-pub crawl around the Circle Line would have to be a week-long affair for me, though!

Comments are closed for this post.


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