Fellow drivers: Don’t get traffic calm. Get mad!

COMMENTARY BY ART GOLAB agolab@suntimes.com
July 29, 2012 4:14PM

Source: Sun-Times

Nick Taylor, of Chicago, feeds quarters into a River North parking-meter box on May 3. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

There are 1.3 million cars registered in Chicago. Yet the people who own them, the largest voting bloc in the city, get pushed around like nobody else in this town.

Parking-meter rates have gone up faster than college tuition and stop signs have sprouted like weeds. Speed bumps and potholes trash our suspensions. Streetscaping has become a euphemism for putting planters in places formerly occupied by lanes of traffic.

Parking tickets, red-light cameras, city stickers and meters extract at least half a billion dollars annually from motorists in this town. Soon speed cameras will take even more of our cash.

“Traffic calming” has become a mantra for city planners.

Motorists, this is not a time to be calm, it’s a time to get mad.

Think of other less worthy causes that make government dance to their tunes.

According to the NRA, if the government regulates assault weapons, next they’ll be coming for your hunting rifle.

I say that if Alderman So-and-so comes for my corner with a stop sign, it won’t stop until every corner has a stop sign.

What Chicago needs is an interest group to fight for motorists with NRA-like tenacity.

I’d start such a group myself if i didn’t already have a job I love as a reporter.

But at a time when charities and civic organizations are closing their doors, I know there are experienced activists who could do the job. I call on you to step up.

Get a website, find a few committed drivers, start showing up at City Hall and soon reporters will be calling you every time some new outrage is being planned for the city’s war on cars.

Take a lesson from Jesse Jackson: Even if you haven’t signed up all 1.3 million Chicago car owners, you can speak for them.

Then sponsor a YouTube contest to generate protest songs. With any luck, you’ll get a hit like Steve Goodman’s “Lincoln Park Pirates,” which detailed the abuses of a towing company, or the Kingston Trio’s “M.T.A.” — a song about the injustice of the Boston subway fare-collection system.

It’s not impossible to change things because it has been done before. In the teens and 1920s, the Chicago Motor Club fought for better streets and roads.

But now the organization concentrates on selling towing insurance and travel planning. It was nowhere to be found when the parking-meter deal went down.

We need an organization that will keep the pressure on aldermen and the mayor when anti-car measures such as speed cameras and the parking-meter deal crop up.

Like the old Motor Club promoted roads, we need a group to demand that the city spend money on new technology to control red-light timing to improve traffic flow.

While there seems to be plenty of money to install computerized cameras to write tickets, the few streets that have timed lights now depend on mechanical technology that is decades old.

Some say that for environmental and other reasons, cars should be discouraged, not encouraged.

I say it is traffic jams, energy-wasting stop signs and inefficiently timed red lights that are an environmental disaster.

And if all the wasted time is tallied, I’m sure Chicago takes an economic hit as well.

All of us pay a gridlock tax with our precious time.

Our motorist group need not be immune to compromise. Perhaps it’s not worth going to the mat for every new stop sign. But some interest group should be there to question every one of them.

If somebody wants to lead, I and 1.3 million others are ready to follow.