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Transport guru Todd Litman says the biggest vehicular breakthrough of recent decades is the rolling suitcase. That's not the conventional wisdom. Most recent attention to the wheels of the future focuses on electric cars, and they are clearly essential. Still, for some, they are also a false hope, suggesting that all we need to change is our drive trains, not our auto-centered way of life. If our future is to be sustainable, however, the role of cars electric or otherwise will have to diminish. The obesity epidemic, the range limits of electric batteries, the pressing need to get off the carbon-fuel rollercoaster as soon as possible, and other challenges suggest that changing vehicles' power source is only part of the solution.
In the end, the real alternative to automobiles is not better automobiles. It is better neighborhoods. Complete, compact communities enable walking, cycling, and transit to thrive. They make electric vehicles' limited range adequate. And they allow cars to fill their rightful place as one transportation tool among many, rather than as the organizing principle of daily life.
It's in the context of better neighborhoods dense, vibrant, beautiful, mixed-use, mixed-income, mixed-age communities that rolling suitcases are a vehicular breakthrough. Well-wheeled luggage is a vast improvement on the lift-and-carry type, and it is actually just the beginning of the innovations in human-powered motion.
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