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50. America’s Love Affair With Cars

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It’s often said that Americans have a “love affair” with cars and driving. Where did this oddly specific expression come from? Most people probably assume it was something that developed organically, like so many common sayings. But Peter Norton, the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, credits a little-known 1961 NBC TV documentary starring Groucho Marx for popularizing this famous phrase. It’s a fascinating story that finds the wisecracking comedian pitted against anti-automobile activists such as Jane Jacobs and proves that America’s so-called “love affair” with cars is more like an arranged marriage.

***This episode was sponsored by our friends at Cleverhood. Receive 20% off your purchase of stylish, functional rain gear designed specifically for bicycling and walking. Enter coupon code WARONCARS when you check out.***

Support The War on Cars on Patreon and we’ll send you stickers and give you exclusive access to bonus episodes.

Rate and review the podcast on iTunes.

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SHOW NOTES: 

Purchase Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City as well as titles by all the authors who’ve appeared on the podcast at the official War on Cars page on Bookshop.org.

Watch NBC’s Merrily We Roll Along, which originally aired on NBC on October 21st, 1961 (Part 1 & Part 2).

Read “The Myth of the American Love Affair With Cars” (The Washington Post)

Find us on Twitter: @TheWarOnCars, Aaron Naparstek @Naparstek, Doug Gordon @BrooklynSpoke, Sarah Goodyear @buttermilk1

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email us: thewaroncars@gmail.com

TheWarOnCars.org

 

49. Winning the War on Cars in Rural America

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Dave Cohen of VBike Solutions

Reducing automobile dependence in America’s suburbs, small towns, and rural places is a daunting task. But a tiny non-profit organization in Brattleboro, Vermont is offering a glimpse of how it might be done. Launched in 2010 by bike advocacy legend and psychotherapist Dave Cohen, VBike Solutions is fomenting an electric-assist bicycle revolution in the Green Mountain State. Forging partnerships with state government, electric utilities, financial institutions and local bike shops, VBike is making e-bikes more accessible, affordable and just plain normal. Dave calls it “car reduction therapy for Vermonters.” And as War on Cars co-host Aaron Naparstek discovered while playing softball in Brattleboro this summer, it seems like it’s working. Plus: Vermont’s state bird makes a cameo!

This episode was sponsored by our friends at Cleverhood. For 20% off of stylish, functional rain gear designed specifically for bicycle commuters, enter coupon code: WARONCARS when you check out. 

Support The War on Cars on Patreon.

Rate and review the podcast on iTunes.

Buy a War on Cars t-shirt at Cotton Bureau.

Check out The War on Cars library at Bookshop.org.

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48. Right of Way

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Angie Schmitt has long been one of the clearest and most passionate voices out there talking about the real price of automobile dependence in the United States. As the national editor for Streetsblog, Angie reported for years about how we design our communities to accommodate cars at the expense of human beings. Now, Angie has a book out. It’s called Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America. In it, she gives a compelling analysis of why more pedestrians are dying on American streets now than at any time since the 1990s. We talked with her about the nation’s toxic mix of big vehicles, cheap gas, and utter disregard for human lives — especially when those lives belong to poor people, people of color, people without housing, older people, and people with disabilities.

***This episode is sponsored by Cleverhood. Enter code “WARONCARS” at checkout for 20% off your purchase, including the sleek new Rover Rain Cape.***

Support The War on Cars on Patreon.

Rate and review the podcast on iTunes.

Buy a War on Cars t-shirt at Cotton Bureau.

Purchase Right of Way and other books by authors featured on The War on Cars via Bookshop.org.

 

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30. The Automotive Police State [Rerelease]

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[This episode was originally released on October 31st, 2019. We’re re-releasing it as an end-of-summer extra for new listeners and will be back with new episodes in September.]

For a century, the automobile has been sold to Americans as the ultimate freedom machine. In her groundbreaking new book, “Policing the Open Road,” historian and legal scholar Sarah Seo explodes that myth. Seo shows how modern policing evolved in lockstep with the development of the car. And that rather than giving Americans greater freedom, the massive body of traffic law required to facilitate mass motoring helped to establish a kind of automotive police state. Is a car a private, personal space deserving Fourth Amendment protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures?” Or is a car something else entirely? It’s a question that courts have struggled with for decades, ultimately leaving it up to the police to use their own discretion, often with horrifying results, especially for minorities. In this revelatory conversation with TWOC co-host Aaron Naparstek, Seo offers an entirely new way of looking at the impact of the automobile on American life, law and culture.

Support the podcast on Patreon.

Rate and review us on iTunes.

Buy an official War on Cars t-shirt at Cotton Bureau.

Buy books from all the authors featured on the podcast at Bookshop.org.

A full transcript of this episode is available here.

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47. Vehicles as Weapons

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Using a vehicle as an instrument of terror is nothing new. Over the last decade, extremists proclaiming affiliation with ISIS and other terrorist groups have used trucks and cars to murder pedestrians in London, Barcelona, Nice, Berlin, New York…the list goes on. Recently, however, the United States has seen a new and frightening development with vehicular assaults. These attacks are not random. The targets are protesters using highways and streets to exercise their First Amendment rights, to demand justice, and to call for the reform of policing and other systemically racist institutions. Some of the attacks have been carried out by people affiliated with right-wing hate groups, some by people with no known affiliation, and still others have involved the police themselves. In this episode, Sarah talks with Ari Weil, a University of Chicago Ph.D. student researching vehicular attacks, about this terrifying trend. We also hear from Robert Foster, who was at a protest in Austin, Texas, where a confrontation between a marcher and a driver turned fatal.

Support The War on Cars on Patreon.

Rate and review the podcast on iTunes.

Buy a War on Cars t-shirt at Cotton Bureau.

Purchase books by authors featured on The War on Cars via Bookshop.org.

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46. Crash Course with Woodrow Phoenix

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“I wrote this book to make you mad.” So declares British writer and artist Woodrow Phoenix in the afterward of his new graphic novel Crash Course. Subtitled, “If You Want To Get Away With Murder, Buy a Car,” the book explores the powerful and toxic relationship between people and automobiles. With its stark and beautifully hand-drawn images of roads, traffic symbols, cities and highways, Crash Course takes aim at the ways in which cars have shaped the built environment, politics, and even the human psyche, largely for the worse. Crash Course unpacks the term “road rage,” explains why traffic accidents are anything but, and dispels the notion that people can be neatly separated into categories such as motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. It also examines the dangers of SUVs, the perils of driverless cars and the recent and growing trend of vehicles being used as weapons against demonstrators in places such as Charlottesville, Virginia. In this one-on-one conversation, Woodrow Phoenix talks to Doug about the unique combination of artistry and journalism that makes Crash Course an effective polemic, one that will hopefully persuade people to think carefully about their responsibility when they get behind the wheel of a car.

This episode was sponsored by Sidewalk Weekly, the new podcast from Sidewalk Labs.

Support The War on Cars on Patreon and get nifty rewards like stickers, t-shirts, and even a copy of Crash Course.

Buy a famous “buttery soft” War on Cars t-shirt at Cotton Bureau.

Rate and review the podcast on iTunes.

Find the full transcript of the episode here.

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45. StreetRidersNYC

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In the span of one month the StreetRiders have become a major presence in the Black Lives Matter movement in New York. Their weekly bike protests have taken over streets, bridges and highways and attracted thousands of people of all ages to rally against police violence. In this interview, Doug talks with StreetridersNYC co-founder Orlando Hamilton about how he found his voice as a political organizer, what bicycles bring to the protest movement and what it feels like to look out and see 10,000 people filling the streets of Times Square all in support of Black lives.

This episode was sponsored by Sidewalk Weekly, the new podcast from Sidewalk Labs.

Support The War on Cars on Patreon. Contribution levels start at just $2/month!

Rate and review us on iTunes.

Buy a famous “buttery soft” War on Cars t-shirt at Cotton Bureau.

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44. Democracy in the Streets

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What are streets for? Who are streets for? And what makes a street feel truly safe, welcoming and comfortable for everyone? On May 25, police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota murdered George Floyd sparking an international uprising against systemic racism and police brutality. George Floyd was killed on the street. The global demonstrations that followed Floyd’s murder are also playing out on the street. We often tend to look at the street as the place where the dramas of transportation policy play out — bikes vs. cars vs. transit vs. pedestrians, and on and on. Oonee CEO Shabazz Stuart (remember him from Episode 34) has been out marching the streets of Brooklyn, dodging police batons and helicopters, and writing about the experience. In this episode he joins the War on Cars crew to talk about a more fundamental role for urban public space than mere transportation: “Streets,” Shabazz argues, “are for Democracy.” 

We appreciate your Patreon contributions more than ever. Become a member and we’ll send you stickers, t-shirts, and more.  

Rate and review us on iTunes.

We love to see people marching in comfortable, light-weight War on Cars t-shirts and you can buy one at Cotton Bureau

SHOW NOTES: 

“Let the People March” by Shabazz Stuart (Streetsblog)

‘Safe Streets’ Are Not Safe for Black Lives by Dr. Destiny Thomas (CityLab)

“To Trumpers, the Shared Space of the Street Is an Unprivatized Threat” by Justin Davidson (New York Magazine)

“The Bicycle as a Vehicle for Protest” by Jody Rosen (New Yorker)

“We Must Talk About Race When We Talk About Bikes” by Tamika Butler (Bicycling)

“In Protest, the Power of Place” by Michael Kimmelman (New York Times)

Tahrir Square Before and After

This episode was edited by Ali Lemer. 

Find us on Twitter: @TheWarOnCars, Aaron Naparstek @Naparstek, Doug Gordon @BrooklynSpoke, Sarah Goodyear @buttermilk1

Questions, comments, ideas, complaints? Shoot us an email: thewaroncars@gmail.com

https://thewaroncars.org

 

43. Victory?

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As cities around the world have gone into lockdown and instituted social distancing measures to slow the spread of the covid19 pandemic, something unexpected has happened: We’ve gotten an impromptu demonstration of the benefits of living with fewer cars and less driving. Seething gridlock has vanished, smoggy skies have cleared, global carbon emissions are way down, and forward-thinking mayors are rapidly re-programming their streets to give human beings the space that once belonged to motor vehicles. Is the world witnessing the wrenching, difficult birth of the car-free city? Or are we merely living in the brief moment before cities snap back into even deeper automobile dependence, the car serving as the ultimate personal protective equipment? Plus: We hear from City of Oakland Transportation Director Ryan Russo.

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42. “Driving While Black” with Gretchen Sorin

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Historian Gretchen Sorin has written a fascinating new book, “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights,” that dives into the role the car played in the 20th-century African American experience. Sorin talked with Sarah about how in the Jim Crow era, when riding public transportation was often humiliating and downright dangerous for black Americans, the automobile provided a way for black families to get around with safety and dignity. She also explains how cars played an instrumental role in building the civil rights movement, and why white etiquette expert Emily Post wasn’t so comfortable with the rising popularity of the automobile.

Find the full transcript of the episode here.

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