cover_story (2007-16)

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Aboard a 9:15 Night Rider KAT bus, a stocky middle-aged man in a windbreaker is sitting in front of the bus, talking to another man about his day. He sounds like maybe he's just gotten a steep car-repair bill, then he mentions gas prices. "I almost think I'd be better off without a car," he says.

"You've got to have a car," says the older, balding man. "Everybody needs a car."

"I don't think I do," says the stocky man. "I can get everywhere I really need to go walking, or riding the bus."

"But how do you go to the doctor?" the older man says.

"I take the bus," says the stocky man.  

The older man is driving the bus. "You need to have a car," he says. "What if you get sick in the middle of the night?"

"I'd call an ambulance," the stocky man says.

"But they're expensive," the older man says.

"Not nearly as expensive as having a car," says the man in the windbreaker. "If you add it all up, you spend thousands and thousands a year, just to have a car. I can get along just walking, and riding the bus."

There's a thoughtful pause.

"Well, I wouldn't want to live that way," says the busdriver. "You need a car."

Most Knoxvillians share that certainty, and many express it with a conviction that's something like loyalty. Newcomers from other countries or bigger cities report they weren't here long before someone told them that: to live in Knoxville, you need to drive a car.

But a lot of people don't drive cars, even in Knoxville.

For the majority of people who don't drive, it's hardly a choice. Many can't afford the major expense of buying and maintaining an automobile. The blind, and several categories of the physically handicapped, couldn't drive cars if they had them. Others have had licenses revoked or suspended due to legal problems. There are people who, for one reason or another, never got past the driving test. There are the very old, who due to physical or mental infirmity have finally accepted that they can no longer drive. There are the very young, some of whom have jobs and money to shop with, but still can't drive. There are non-English-speaking workers or foreign students who have been unable to get past the considerable red tape involved in getting licensed in Tennessee.

According to polls based on samplings during the 2000 census, there were 11,696 households, in Knox County that had no regular access to an automobile. That's 7.4 percent of the total populace. So for every 13 or 14 Knox County households, one doesn't have a car.

According to state sources, the number of Knox County residents with a valid driver's license as of March 31 is 300,145. That says nothing about whether they can afford a car, or whether they could still pass a driving test if they took one today. But 300,145 at least do have licenses.

According to the latest census estimates, the current population of Knox County is 412,000; the apparent 112,000 Knox Countians who don't have drivers' licenses would be a standing-room-only crowd in Neyland Stadium. Of course, most of them are children. But if we use census data to weed out those under 15, it leaves about 30,000 Knox Countians, 15 or above, who can't legally drive a car. It's a considerable number. Many of them are wholly dependent on public transportation.

But it doesn't include those who do have licenses, but hardly use them.

One of those in that driver's-license holding majority is Jim Peterson. A successful graphic designer of 36, Peterson works long hours working on illustrations to enhance several national television programs, sometimes a high-pressure job. He spent most of his professional career in Washington, D.C., but moved to Knoxville about three years ago.

"I have a license," he confesses. "I just don't have a car." It probably wouldn't surprise anyone that Peterson lives downtown, in an apartment on Jackson Avenue near the Old City. Census estimates indicate that the carless tend to be concentrated downtown, where such a lifestyle is easier than it might be in suburbs. Some of those inner-city dwellers are poor, but some are carless by choice; they work at home, on computers; some live within walking distance of a job, or go to school at the university.

What's different about Peterson is that he lives downtown and works every day in his office in deep West Knoxville, at Scripps Networks. The television company's headquarters are well west of Cedar Bluff Road.

"I get the KAT bus to Cedar Bluff, and Park West," he says. "Then it's a seven-minute walk from Park West to Scripps."

Peterson hasn't had a car since he was a teenager, almost 20 years ago. "D.C. is a car-not-needed kind of city," he says. When offered the Scripps job in 2004, he considered it carefully. He liked the TV work Scripps offered, and he liked Knoxville's climate ("It's not so cold in the winter, and not so horribly humid all the time," he says. "I know people here may not think of it that way.") But he didn't want to buy a car just for the privilege of living in Knoxville.

Colleagues told him, "You can't live without a car in Knoxville, it's impossible." To him, it sounded something like a dare.

"I thought, I'll give it a year, and see if I can do it." Here he happened to meet a fellow Scripps employee, Art Carmichael, who also commuted to Scripps from downtown without owning a car.

Carmichael is a 40-year-old promo producer for HGTV. Carmichael had lived in New Jersey and Philadelphia, but spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, where he rarely used public transit. He drove everywhere, and continued doing so after he moved to Knoxville about seven years ago.

In 2003, his car broke down. He rented a car to go look for another car. "I saw the futility of paying so much for a vehicle that really only gets me to work and back," he says. He especially didn't like the economics of automobile ownership. "You take out a loan and pay seven or eight or nine percent interest on a rapidly depreciating asset," he says. "And do it willingly." He laughs, as if he can't believe he ever did such a thing.

A 2006 book called How to Live Well Without Owning a Car details, among other things, the hidden costs of car ownership. Author Chris Balish contends that the cost of car ownership is almost predictably about twice what car owners estimate. According to an American Automobile Association survey, the average cost of car ownership is over $8,000 per year, per car. A strictly practical book with no obvious political agenda, it emphasizes the personal economic advantages of carlessness, in part as a way to get out of debt.

Discouraged by car-owning options, Carmichael tried the bus system, KAT. "I thought it would be a pain in the ass," Carmichael says. "But it turns out to be pretty easy to use." The 101 Cedar Bluff express route was established mainly to bring suburbanites downtown to work; Carmichael and Peterson take advantage of the fact that the vehicle has to return, each way, to pick up more suburbanites. They're sometimes the only passengers on that leg of the route. Carmichael says he also sometimes takes the 11A Kingston Pike route, which is often packed.

Carmichael's praise of KAT sounds sincere, but he's quick to add a disclaimer; he's a relatively recent member of the Knoxville Transit Authority board, an unpaid position.

Peterson has a lot of praise for KAT. "Overall, I think the bus is great," he says. "About 99 percent of the time, it's right on time." He's sometimes annoyed by drivers' attitudes. "I wish that just a few people would realize they need to be a customer-service organization before they're a transportation service. With some, it's' like, 'I'm the driver and these are my rules and I don't care what you think.'"

One thing about his daily trip bugs him: despite some recent efforts in that regard, too many Knoxville streets have no sidewalks. The length between the bus stop and Scripps headquarters is not far, but it can seem that way. "Art and I trudge through the mud and grass on frighteningly busy Sherrill Boulevard every day." Their trip takes them by Park West Hospital, and he often sees patients, sometimes in motorized wheelchairs "trying to negotiate the street between the hospital and the various doctors' offices."

Peterson does his routine shopping via KAT, typically on a Saturday, when he makes a Route 11 circuit, visiting places like Ace Hardware in Bearden, groceries, and drugstores. He says the rigor forces some efficiency onto his trips. "There's no car-like impulse, no 'Oh! I need cat food! Let me drive over there and get it!' It has curbed my shopping habits, made it so I have to think about it."

He wishes KAT went more places, but admits, "It's the chicken and egg: If it went more places, it would have more riders; but it can't afford to go more places until it has more riders."

He cheats some, but only a little. Like a lot of people in the media, Peterson sometimes has to work long hours, as well as travel. When he works past

By contrast, Carmichael says he usually finds all he needs without ever getting into a car. He gets his groceries, on bicycle or on foot, on Broadway at the Three Rivers Market, a.k.a. the Food Co-op, hardly a mile of sidewalk away from his Gay Street apartment. "I'll ride my bike or walk," he says. "It's a nice walk."

"A lot of my needs are taken care of downtown," where he dines at restaurants, visits friends at pubs, and sees shows. "And I just buy my clothes on the Internet."

"A lot of people think it's gonna be more of a pain than it is," Carmichael says.

Peterson says, "People go, 'I don't know how you do it.' But I don't really think about it. It's automatic."

Peterson and Carmichael are two of at least three Scripps employees who don't drive (a fourth is reportedly struggling with that ideal). In our unscientific survey of non-drivers, there seemed to be an interesting cluster phenomenon: people seem more likely to dispense with automobiles if a colleague has proven that it's possible.

The biggest cluster of all may be the University of Tennessee, which almost certainly has the greatest compliment of non-drivers in Knox County.

They're not necessarily students. It's been claimed that, judging by the popularity of on-campus parking, UT undergrads drive cars much more than the average American college student.

But many of their teachers, and quite a few graduate students, some of whom have moved to Knoxville with habits bred in other cities, don't drive much at all.

Jessica Weintraub, who moved here from Boston almost four years ago, just got her Ph.D. in creative writing and expects to stay at UT for a while. At 35, the award-winning fiction writer has lived widely, from Edinburgh, Scotland, where public transportation is taken for granted, to Davis, Calif., where she says "everyone, everyone bikes. They have really wide bike lanes, but they also give you tickets for reckless biking, drunk biking, biking with expired registration." (Mandatory bicycle registrations in Davis were $6 a year.)

When she was considering UT four years ago this spring, she came to do some reconnaissance on Knoxville. "I noticed that there weren't that many bikes. But I saw the trolley. I lived in the Sterchi on Gay Street, and walked, biked, or took a trolley to school.

Like Peterson, when she moved here, "I gave it a year--until I realized I was living in a transportation-friendly city."

It's not a phrase commonly heard in relation to Knoxville, but Weintraub seems committed to willing it so. Knoxville's not the most transportation-friendly city she's lived in, but it's not the worst, either. She says Seattle was harder to get around when she lived there more than a decade ago. "I tried it for two months, and just couldn't do it. In Seattle, I was driving all the time. I got really sick of it." She understands that famously progressive city has gotten much better in public-transit terms since.

Her first year in Knoxville, she says, "I walked a lot, or took the trolley. I enjoyed walking around town, even when it was cold and rainy. Got in touch with parts of Knoxville invisible from UT, like the mission. I kind of liked that." In four years, she has lived in more parts of town than most longtime Knoxvillians have. After a year downtown, she moved to in a converted garage a few blocks from Broadway in North Knoxville, and typically took the 22 bus into school. Then she moved into an old apartment in Sequoyah Hills, which she says turned out to be the easiest carless grocery shopping she found.

Though the nearest grocery is well over a mile away, a carless colleague, Sarah Downey--the 30-year-old literature teacher had previously lived in Toronto--showed her the ropes of how to shop without a car. "To go grocery shopping, I can take a combination of the 10 and the 11" to the Bearden Kroger or the Fresh Market. "Here, I can take 40 minutes to shop, then take the 11 to Scenic, then the 10 down into the neighborhood. I don't know if anyone meant that to be, but it almost always works." (That maneuver requires a transfer, and a little extra expense. Semester passes available through UT, or monthly passes available through KAT, makes it easier.)

Downey, her original guide to car freedom in Knoxville, who had never needed a car during six years in Toronto, praises the lifestyle. "I lived happily without a car for about a year and three months, and really enjoyed not having the stress," she says. "Plus, I must have saved something like $4,000 to $5,000 in not having car payments, gas, or maintenance. Getting groceries was easy, and so was getting to and from downtown almost any time I wanted to."

Weintraub shops for groceries about twice a week: "More the European way of many small trips rather than one great big one." She admits she often rides to the grocery with her driving friends, and cooks them a meal in return for the favor. "I want to underscore how important it was to have such generous friends during my time here.   I don't think I would have been able to live here without their generosity--at least not as happily.   I almost want to give you a list of everyone who's ever given me a ride to and from the airport, to grocery shopping and to the mountains.   Those places were my biggest car-less challenges."

Though a small passenger train once took Knoxvillians to the Smokies, there's no regular way to get to any part of the park now except by private vehicle. A more practical problem is getting to the airport; several we spoke with describe the lack of public airport transportation as a major drawback particular to Knoxville.

At 31, Silvia Schultermandl has never owned a car in her life. The American Studies scholar at UT has lived near Weintraub in Sequoyah since August. Originally from Austria, she has lived in Macedonia, where she taught for a year, and New Brunswick, N.J., where she did post-doctoral work at Rutgers. In both places, she says, "the abundance of public transport options made [carlessness] a rather easy choice."

"I see the absence of good public transportation as a sign of the infrastructure of mid-size American towns," she says: "places that do not have a vibrant downtown and are characterized by a great deal of urban sprawl and suburbanization."

Of course, whether Knoxville has good public transit or not is largely a matter of perspective. Most we spoke to are convinced that KAT is better than most non-busriders assume. A couple of Europeans we spoke to, both of them relative newcomers, find the system frustrating.

"The bus in my neighborhood only comes by once an hour, and stops running in the early evening," says Schultermandl. "What I noticed very early after I moved here is that my life is very much centered around the bus schedule--out of necessity, of course. For instance, when I do my grocery shopping at the Fresh Market, I usually go in to school first, work some in my office, and then take the 11 out west and then the 10 back home. It all works out, after a period of adjustment to the fact that KAT gets to say when and how I shop."

She speaks English with the merest trace of an accent, and in fact could probably pass for American if she had reason to. Except for that telltale carlessness.

"What is interesting in smaller cities in the U.S. is that a person who does not drive is rather marginal: either too poor to own a car, has a DUI record, or is a 'freak' who refuses to drive for some ideological reason. And sometimes when I take the bus, it seems that this is true. The same also goes for walking and biking, I might add." She calls the automobile the "central means of conforming to the American mainstream."

But like Weintraub, she admits, "I do have friends in the neighborhood who offer rides to the store, the mall once in a while, and to the airport."

If our sampling is representative, the people who choose not to drive cars may use the Knoxville airport more than the average car-driving Knoxvillian (a few claim they use their no-car savings to finance more air travel) and they all complain about how hard it is to get to.

Locals who have compared rates with those in other cities say it's more expensive to get from Knoxville's airport, McGhee Tyson, to any destination in town than it is to make a comparable trip in most major cities. McGhee Tyson is far off KAT's regular routes, and there's no regular public airport shuttle. "The fact that there is no shuttle to and from the airport makes Knoxville seem rather provincial," says Schultermandl.

Carmichael says he'd like to see an Alcoa Highway bus that might serve as a de facto airport shuttle. He thinks KAT and local government entities view the bus system too strictly as practical transportation for already proven; he believes it could be a driver for economic development.

For those without cars or an especially indulgent friend to offer a lift, there's just one option: taxi cabs.

Knoxville boasts of its low cost of living, but in one regard, Knoxville tends to be more expensive than other cities. Several sources say Knoxville cabs are more expensive than in most other cities they've encountered, even on a per-mile basis.   That fact may be unfamiliar to locals who never use them.

Weintraub refers to the "dire cab situation" and calls Knoxville cabs "expensive and unreliable." She says she's had wildly different experiences with rude or reckless cab drivers here.

Peterson, who rides in a Knoxville cab a couple of times a month, has learned to trust some local cab companies, but he concurs about the expensive part. "In Knoxville, cab rides may cost $35. In D.C., most trips are about $6." In D.C. and other major cities, catching a cab is a casual thing; not in Knoxville. "It's a telephone call, then a 20-minute wait." Followed by a bill comparable to the check for an elegant dinner or a

"It's not a spur-of-the-moment thing."

To be fair, says KTA board member Carmichael, it's not fair to compare big city cabs, which can usually pick up passengers even if they're driving back from another job, with those in Knoxville, which are likely to make a full round trip for just one customer. According to Carmichael, Knoxville's cab rates are "in line with any suburban cab company."

Still, when people ask him about what he misses about Washington, the first thing Peterson mentions is cabs.

Among other employment clusters of those who minimize driving are Lawson McGhee Library, several downtown restaurants, and even the Tennessee Valley Authority, each of which employ, or have employed, several non-drivers. All of them live within walking or easy bicycling distance of work.

For years, the Tomato Head restaurant has been famous for employing the carless. Sometime manager Tommy Bateman, now 32, was carless for about five years. "I just didn't need to own one," he says. "To some it might seem a tough way to live, but it was quite easy." Admittedly, Tomato Head's employees don't have the concern about shopping for groceries; many of them just eat at the restaurant every day.

Bateman bought a car only recently, and only because he was assigned to be the first manager of the restaurant's new Maryville location, and now has to drive there daily. He liked the lifestyle, but is trying to look on the bright side. "Maybe I'll see movies I missed," he says. (Seeing movies without a car is, at best, a challenge; it can be done at some KAT-accessible cineplexes, but involves coordinating movie schedules with bus schedules.)

The life of a Knoxvillian who lives his life afoot is probably not as limited as some might assume. It can, after all, include most live entertainment available in the city, from avant-garde rock to high opera; a choice of at least 50 restaurants; some significant grocery and gift shopping; and, if the pedestrian is lucky, a job. (Downtown waiters, clerks, and bartenders, when they leave one establishment, show a marked tendency to reappear at another around the corner; transportation may be a reason.)

But a walker's life probably doesn't include a lot of discount shopping, trips to the mountains or lakes, suburban parties or weddings, or, for the most part, parenthood.

Most of the people we were able to find who had learned to live without driving here had gotten used to living without cars in other, mostly bigger cities. There's a bit of an irony there, considering that the South in general was slow to adapt to the automobile, a Northern invention; and early in the 20th century, New Yorkers were known to make fun of Tennessee-reared newcomers, who tended to try to walk everywhere.

One exception, though, is Elizabeth Armstrong, a lifelong Knoxvillian of 52 who supervises cataloguing for the Lawson McGhee Library. For the last eight years, she and her husband have lived two blocks away from the library, at the Pembroke on Union; of course, she commutes by foot. She takes a KAT bus on occasion, but mainly she walks. They do at least own a car, but she says they rarely use it except to shop for groceries and go to church, about two miles away.

She and her husband find plenty to do downtown, walking to shows at the Coliseum on the east side, walking to lectures and other events at UT--

She's unassuming about her choice to walk more than drive ("I never really thought about it," she says. "I guess it helps the environment. And, she adds, "Having better health is nice."). Pressed about why more of her fellow Knoxvillians don't do the same, she says, "People in Knoxville, some feel they have to drive," she says. "And to live as far away from everything as possible."

Various agencies have tried to encourage more alternative-transit options. The TPO sponsors a sort of non-driving club called SmartTrips. Compared to the anti-car zealots, its goals are pretty modest. Its Commuter Challenge urges members to use a non-driving option more than once a week. Director Jill Wolverton says they have more than 500 members; about half of the enrollees are in downtown Knoxville, but they have some earnest participants as far away as Oak Ridge and Blount County. Wolverton says participants in SmartTrips are split pretty evenly between public transit (mainly KAT buses), carpooling, and bicycling or walking. Those who qualify--it's strictly honor system--are eligible for a monthly prize drawing.

"With gas prices getting up high again," Wolverton says, "a lot of people are wondering, 'How can I save my family some money?'" She cites a survey reporting that about 50 percent of Americans are looking for ways to save money on their gasoline bill. Wolverton, who usually gets to work via the express bus from Cedar Bluff, admits she drives to work one or two days a week.

Some people may have to drive. Sarah Downey, Weintraub's formerly carless colleague at UT, recently broke down and bought a used Toyota Corolla. She mentions three reasons. "I couldn't really get to church comfortably on Sundays--the Call-a-KAT system is too clunky and I felt guilty using it." (It's also being discontinued, due to funding cutbacks.) "I had a hard time getting to and from evening parties at people's houses. And I realized I was spending about $250 a month on out-of-town travel, by plane or rental car, which I could be spending on a car payment instead."

"Honestly," she adds, "if bus 10 ran on Sundays and there was a bus to the airport, I probably would have held off on getting a car for another year."

Among the voluntarily carless, we weren't able to find any parents with small children. Living Well Without Owning a Car offers a whole chapter about non-automotive dating, which is promised to be easy and fun. The author, it will surprise no one to hear, is a bachelor. As, for that matter, was Henry David Thoreau when he wrote Walden . But even Balish's manifesto acknowledges that the modern parent is going to have to drive, and probably drive a lot: to cross-country meets, choral competitions, piano lessons, pediatricians and dentists' offices (which more and more tend to be located in remote strip centers), and especially soccer games.

In Knox County, at least, soccer games are routinely scheduled at remote multi-field parks 20 or even 40 miles away from the players' homes, schools, and practice fields. A modern soccer mom could easily log more than 1,000 miles in a season. Parents might suspect that the American Youth Soccer Association may be responsible for the economy of some of the smaller Persian Gulf nations.

Most of the driving is done for elective sports, of course; even for parents, most of the essentials can be handled without piling into an SUV. But for most parents it would be prohibitively hard to tell little Buster that he can't play soccer because Daddy has turned over a new leaf and has decided not to own a car anymore.

The best the 21st-century American parent can hope to do, the author confesses, is maybe see if they can do with one less car; even a family with busy parents, the author claims, has one car that's used only for commuting, and therefore spends about 23 hours a day sitting idle.

Kelley Segars is a transportation planner for the Transportation Planning Organization, and in her six years in Knoxville has become known as a bicycling evangelist. Originally from South Carolina, she lived in Missoula, Mont., for seven years; the compact city in a mountain valley is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the nation.

Often seen bicycling on Gay Street, Segars says she bikes to work "99 percent of the time." She knows some people who commute to downtown from as far away as Farragut, and says there's a handful who commute from Knoxville to ORNL by bike. But her home is nearby, in Fourth and Gill, not much more than a mile from the City County Building. From that downtown-adjacent neighborhood, she says, "it would be stupid to not bike to work, really."

She calls Knoxville a "typical Southern city" with lots of postwar development that's not friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. The exception she says, is the center city. "It's easy to walk and bike around, but only if you stay in the old part of Knoxville."

Partly because of Knoxville's stubborn non-attainment status in terms of air pollution, the TPO is working with the city and county to improve the street network for bicycling and pedestrian access. "Retrofitting is expensive," she says.

Jim Hagerman, a TVA employee in his 50s, is one of the instructors of a Street Skills urban bicycling class Segars has coordinated; the one-day course will be held this Sunday, the 22nd, at 2, at 616 Jessamine Street. He practices what he preaches. Hagerman lives in Island Home and commutes to work by bicycle "about 90 percent of the time. Most of my routine errand-

He has a car, but drives when distances prohibit bicycling, when he has to transporting "big stuff, like building materials or a week's worth of groceries, and when he takes his cat to the vet. "One of these things happens once every week or so," he says.

"I think the biggest thing that locks in car dependence in Knoxville is sprawl and the resulting long distances between destinations and roads designed for cars only. For most people, it is critical to choose a place to live that is close to work or school and other services if you want to rely on a bike. I do know a few people who have very long bike commutes (up to 40 miles round trip), but for most people, that is just not a sustainable lifestyle.

"Another thing that discourages many people from riding for transportation is the lack of bike-friendliness of Knoxville streets. As an experienced rider, I can find ways to get to my destination, but route-finding can be a problem, especially west and north of downtown.

"Is it easy? No," says Segars. "It is possible. You're saving a lot of money, but you're increasing inconvenience, adding more time. But you're saving that much money, and you're probably healthier."

Charlotte Tolley works at Bliss on Market Square, and coordinates (with Carmichael, as it happens) the Market Square Farmers' Market, which opens for the season Saturday, May 12. Originally from Memphis, Tolley has lived in Knoxville for about a decade and, at 27, she's one of the newest members of the no-car club. "I did have a car, and it killed itself in January." She's been doing without since.

She admits that her roommate does have a car, which she sometimes needs to help carry things associated with the Farmers' Market.

She lives in East Knoxville's Parkridge, and usually gets to work riding a bike. "It's two or three miles. I've never measured it. A little too far to walk. I only take it during the day; I try not to bike at night."

Women have a particular problem. "People here are often really rude to people on bikes," Tolley says. "Especially to a woman riding a bike. I get a lot of lewd comments."

Schultermandl agrees: "Young females on bikes get honked at and hooted at a lot" in Knoxville, much moreso than in Austria. Bicyclists, she says, "have a place" in Austrian traffic that they lack here. Austrians have, she says, "a different mindset than we have here in the U.S."

And that's an issue. "It's definitely possible" to get along without a car in Knoxville, Tolley concludes. "If I want to go to a show late at night, that's when it's a problem."

For young, single adults, who seem most likely to try to live the car-free life, that's a particular problem. KAT's last bus runs at 11:45; in a few months, due to cutbacks, the last buses will leave downtown at 11:15. Though that's a great improvement over a few years ago, when KAT ran only until about 8 p.m, it's a dilemma for those who want to go out later.

The Old City probably peaks after KAT has ended its regular schedule. Shows at the Pilot Light, the Old City music club that has a cutting-edge reputation, are just getting started then. Even operas have been known to go until midnight or so. KAT does run a late-night shuttle on many weekends between UT and the Old City.

Knoxville's late-night transportation limitations also raise some grim questions about a dangerous issue America seems unable to control via stricter enforcement and steeper penalties.

Several bus-riding Europeans say they're perplexed by the American landscape, which seems planned to maximize the combination of drinking and driving. Any bar with a parking lot seems to cater to the drinking driver. And considering that bars are open more than three hours after the last buses run, revelers tend to be drunkest when there are the fewest non-driving options for getting home.

By contrast, some visiting scholars, like Irish graduate researcher Orla Dermody, say a British or Irish pub is almost by definition a walking, or staggering-distance sort of establishment. A regular KAT rider by day, she and her fiancé have to take a car when going out at night.

"Why, oh why does the last bus go down Kingston Pike at 11:45?" asks Dermody. "I guess there just isn't a market for a late bus. I don't know, though it could work.

"I think it is a common problem for bus change-points like the one downtown to be a bit dodgy (even during the day) and this really discourages people, especially us girls, and especially late at night when we may really need a bus."

Some   worry about security, but one of the seeming paradoxes cited in the Balish book is that crime in general seems more likely to happen to those driving a car. Vandalism and break-ins are one concern, of course, but the possession of an appealing car can also become a motive for a physical assault, as in many carjacking cases.

Is this a new trend? Are more and more Knoxvillians deciding they can do without cars?

The answer, pretty resoundingly, is no .

According to census figures, the number of Knox County households without cars is actually declining. Perhaps that was a reflection of economic improvements and also the passing of a generation of widows who grew up in an era when they didn't have cars, and didn't make them a priority in their later years. Many of the little old ladies we remember who never learned to drive have died off.

For whatever reason, carless households in Knox County fell by over 20 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Another perhaps more pertinent study cited by the TPO indicates that while Knox County grew 17 percent between 1990 and 2005, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased by a whopping 68 percent. In general, even with gasoline prices soaring toward new heights, even with troubling reports that link our gasoline dollar to funding for terrorists and nations hostile to the United States, each of us, on average, are driving more than we ever have in our lives. For whatever reason--suburban sprawl is the most-cited culprit--we drive more than ever before.

Still, maybe it's good to know that maybe we don't always have to.

© 2007 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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