Sunday, April 10, 2011

We didn't start this war (these wars)

So Wendell Cox has come out with several books and articles arguing that transit, pedestrian and cycling advocates are waging a "War on Cars." As Sarah Goodyear sums up, people like her, Eric de Place, Todd Litman and Ezra Klein are bewildered by this accusation. War on cars? We just want choices. Can't we just be pro-transportation?

Those of us who have been fighting this for years know that there is a struggle going on. The problem is that we didn't start it. It just happens that several different campaigns that have been waged on several different fronts have used cars as their primary weapons. These include the March of Progress, the civil rights struggle, the American dream, the Back to the Land movement, and now the Mr. Austerity beauty contest.

You could characterize these campaigns as the War on Proven Technology, the War on Black People (and Mexicans Too), the War on Renting, the War on Cities, and the War on People who Make Less than $250,000 a Year, but unlike Wendell Cox I will be charitable and assume that people are motivated by positive goals. Despite these positive goals, though, these campaigns have had many negative effects. The casualties have been fairness, equality, resource conservation, clean air and water, safety, health and community.

It isn't one war, but the values we cherish are under attack from many different directions, and we are sticking up for them. We are fighting back against the Deniers and the Not Our Problem crowd. We're trying to get help from the You Can't Do That Without a Car crowd, but it's hard when they are convinced that we can't win.

The fact of the matter is that we can't just be pro-transportation. We can't afford "choice" or "balance." We can't afford to build and maintain two redundant transportation networks, one with private cars and trucks and one without. We may not really be able to afford one transportation network. We need to pick the cheaper one and focus on it.


rockfender said...

I completely agree that we transit supporters have to push the agenda. The house is currently so stacked against transit that we need to be active and forthright in promoting the benefits of life with a sustainable transportation network.

However, recently I've noticed a trend that disconcerts me. As the Prospect Park West bike lane story evolved into a mudslinging battle, the pro-bike (and presumably pro-transit) faction has taken on a decidedly darker tone. The bike/transit blogosphere seems to be heavy on the "car-carnage," "road bigots" language recently--at least more than I noticed in the past. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that this tone won't do the cause any good? Many car drivers see cyclists as a fringe, radical group to begin with, or annoying at the very least. I hope this doesn't evolve into the partisan warfare in Congress that you alluded to.

capt subway said...

I think the whole concept of "car carnage" needs to be talked up even more. Most people simply have no conception of just how dangerous a contraption a motor vehicle actually is, nor as to the actual death and injury toll caused by these vehicles. Nor of the extent to which the operators of these vehicles are given "carte blanche" to kill and maim. (Want to kill somebody? Don't use a gun or a knife because if you do you could probably end up doing some really hard time. Just run them over with a car and chances are you'll get off with nothing but a summons, and maybe a few months' suspended license.)

Motorists here in NYC regularly speed, weave, blow red lights and stop signs while the NPD focuses it's enforcement efforts on "reckless" cyclists and "aggressive" pedestrians.

So yes, let's talk up the "carnage" and "road bigot" angle. Put them on equal footing with the bigger issues of foreign oil addiction and global warming.

Alon Levy said...

I was just in Worcester, where sidewalks at railway underpasses look like this. Now who's waging war on who?

capt subway said...

Well at least there's a sidewalk in the underpass, as dingy and filthy as it might be. Here in NYC vital links like the Verrazano and Throg's Neck Bridges were built without ped paths whatsoever - a shameful disgrace. And the ped path was removed from the Whitestone when they expanded from four to six vehicular lanes.

On the Verrazano I'd really like to see two lanes taken over for peds and bicycles. That reduces the vehicular lanes from 12 to 10. I can live with that.

Alon Levy said...

The sidewalk disappeared further up the road, but I was in a hurry and didn't take a photograph. I had to walk in a highway median.

New York has buses that come reasonably frequently - even on the Verrazano. They're slow, but usable.

capt subway said...

True buses come "reasonably" frequently - for now - on the Verrazano and Whitestone, but not the Throgs Neck. This does not mean we shouldn't also be able to walk or bike over these same bridges if we so choose. These are two more cases where peds, cyclists were treated as absolute non-entities, beneath any serious person's notice.

Alon Levy said...

Seriously, comparing New York to Worcester on this issue is like comparing poverty in the US to poverty in Sierra Leone.