All Posts By

Aaron Naparstek

112. Unintended Consequences with Steven Johnson

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This year, 2023, marks the hundredth anniversary of the invention of leaded gasoline. Of all the many harms that the automobile has imposed on the environment and humanity over the last century, the effects of leaded gasoline have to be pretty close to the top of the list.

Science and industry were well aware of the dangers of lead in the 1920s. But adding small amounts of tetraethyl lead to motor fuel made internal combustion engines work better, and that made it possible to turn the automobile into a viable mass market product. As a result, pretty much every American born between 1960 and 1980 was, to some extent, poisoned by lead.

Back in March, bestselling author Steven Johnson wrote a somewhat mind-blowing essay in the New York Times Magazine titled, “The Man Who Broke the World.” In it, Steven told the story of Thomas Midgley, Jr., the chemical engineer who not only invented leaded gasoline — he also invented the chemical compound that made modern refrigeration possible. As with lead (branded as Ethyl to sound innocuous), Midgley’s miraculous chlorofluorocarbons unleashed an almost unbelievably destructive set of unintended consequences. Four decades after their invention, scientists discovered that CFCs were burning holes in the ozone layer of Earth’s upper atmosphere and quite literally threatening human life on Planet Earth.

We’ve been wanting to do an episode on leaded gasoline for a while now. This conversation with Steven accomplishes that and goes so much further, weaving together so many different threads. It was a lot of fun and we hope you enjoy it.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

***Support The War on Cars on Patreon and receive access to ad-free versions of all our episodes, exclusive bonus content and stickers.***

This episode is produced with support from Cleverhood. Listen to the episode for the latest Cleverhood discount code.

LINKS:

The Man Who Broke the World” by Steven Johnson for the New York Times Magazine, March 15, 2023.

Find more of Steven Johnson’s work on his website.

Subscribe to Steven’s newsletter, Adjacent Possible.

Find all thirteen of Steven’s books here. War on Cars fans will enjoy The Ghost Map — it’s a page-turner of a mystery/thriller about urban planning and epidemiology. You can buy Steven’s books at our Bookshop.org store.

Interested in digging deeper into the history of leaded gasoline? Check out Toxic Truth by Lydia Denworth.

Buy official War on Cars merch at our store.

Find us on Mastodon, Bluesky, Instagram, Facebook, Threads, and whatever godforsaken new social media platform pops up next.

Follow and review us on Apple Podcasts.

TheWarOnCars.org

Check out this episode!

111. Why Congestion Pricing Matters with Diana Lind

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Gridlocked Manhattan street

After 16 years of slogging its way through municipal, state and federal government and every imaginable form of public process, congestion pricing is finally on its way to New York City. If all goes as planned, then anyone who wants to cram a car or truck into Lower Manhattan south of 60th Street is going to have to pay somewhere between $9 and $23 per day starting next spring. And all of that money will go toward supporting and improving New York’s transit system. There are still lots of details to iron out and we should never underestimate New York’s ability to blow it when it comes to transportation policy. But Diana Lind of the Penn Institute for Urban Research thinks congestion pricing is a big deal that will fundamentally reshape the relationship between the car and the city, not just in New York but all across North America. “The next 20 years,” Lind writes, “will be the beginning of the end of the private car in cities.”

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

***Support The War on Cars on Patreon and receive access to ad-free episodes, exclusive bonus content, stickers, and more.***

This episode was produced with support from Cleverhood. Listen to the episode for the latest Cleverhood discount code.

LINKS:

Read Diana Lind’s essay, “Why New York’s Congestion Pricing Plan Matters” and subscribe to her newsletter, The New Urban Order.

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SPECIAL: Freeway Exit

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This is a special presentation of the first episode of Freeway Exit, a six-part series produced by award-winning reporter Andrew Bowen of KPBS Public Media in San Diego, California. Freeway Exit reveals the mostly forgotten history of how Southern California’s urban freeway network was built. It tells the story of the citizens and public servants who fought these projects and how decades after that network was finished, some communities are still working to heal the wounds that freeways left behind. While Freeway Exit focuses specifically on the urban highways of Southern California, the story that Andrew tells is universal: Freeways aren’t free. We pay for them in all kinds of ways — with our tax dollars, our time, our environment and our health. In the 20th century we planned, designed, and built highways through the middle of our cities. In the 21st century we can and must plan, design, and build something else better in their place.

Find all six episodes of Freeway Exit right here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Meet reporter Andrew Bowen of KPBS. You can also find him on Mastodon and Twitter.

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Enlist in The War on Cars as a Patreon supporter! You’ll get ad-free episodes, access to exclusive bonus content, and we’ll send you free stickers.

Buy some official War on Cars merch at our store. Have you seen the new “Make Love Not Cars” t-shirts?

Subscribe to our newsletter, The Traffic Report, on Substack.

Find us on MastodonInstagramTwitterFacebookThreads, and whatever godforsaken new social media platform pops up next.

Follow and review us on Apple Podcasts.

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107. Is It Worth It To Confront Drivers?

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Illustration by Andy Singer.

Have you ever been walking across the street when a driver turned into your path and almost hit you? Or riding your bike when a hostile horn-honker laid into you for delaying them to the next red light by a few seconds? If you spend any amount of time on a city’s streets outside of the protective shell of a two-ton automobile, you’ve probably had frustrating, frightening, and infuriating experiences like these. How did you respond? Did you lash out verbally, or give them the finger? Mutter under your breath and walk away? Did you dare lay hands on their precious vehicle? Or did you do the sensible thing and buy a ten-pack of War on Cars stickers to slap up around your neighborhood? In this episode, Doug, Sarah and Aaron share their own experiences of close calls they’ve had with cars, plus strategies for coping. And we hear tips and stories from listeners as well.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

This episode is produced with support from Rad Power Bikes.

*** Support The War on Cars on Patreon and you’ll be tipped off to listener participation episodes like this one, you’ll receive access to ad-free versions of all our episodes, special bonus content, stickers, and more! ***

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Pick up official podcast tees and other merch in our official store.

This episode was edited by Ali Lemer. It was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear.

TheWarOnCars.org

TEASER: Discovering Oil with Amy Westervelt

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Weird things happen when you’re an investigative reporter trying to cover an international oil giant like ExxonMobil. Your plane tickets are mysteriously canceled, your hotel room gets broken into, and the local reporter that you’ve hired is offered a lucrative job to work on something else. In this special bonus episode for Patreon subscribers, investigative journalist and podcaster Amy Westervelt tells us what it was like to report and produce the new season of her podcast, Drilled. It’s called “Light Sweet Crude.” In it, she takes us to the tiny South American nation Guyana where, in 2015, ExxonMobil discovered one of the world’s largest off-shore oil reserves. Seemingly overnight, Guyana began transforming from an international environmental leader and model of sustainable development to one of the world’s fastest growing petrostates.

Why start a brand new oil industry in the middle of a climate crisis in a country that is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts? Do wealthy, western, oil-guzzling nations have any right to tell a nation like Guyana to keep their fossil fuels in the ground? And once a project like this gets going, is there anything that can be done to stop it?

***This is a preview of a Patreon-exclusive, ad-free bonus episode. For complete access to this and all of our bonus content, become a Patreon supporter of The War on Cars.***

104. Arrested Mobility with Charles Brown

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In Huntsville, Alabama, it’s illegal to play ball on any street, alley, or sidewalk. In Lewiston, Maine, pedestrians must keep to the right half of the crosswalk while crossing the street. And in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, bicyclists are strictly prohibited from any kind of “fancy riding.” If these laws sound vague, arbitrary, and difficult to enforce, well, that might just be the point. In a groundbreaking new report, urban planner Charles Brown painstakingly identifies the vast array of transportation-related laws that are used almost exclusively to limit the mobility and freedom of Black Americans while providing no real benefit to public safety. Brown gives this repressive policy regime a name. He calls it: Arrested Mobility.

You can find a full transcript of this episode here.

This episode is produced with support from Harvard University Graduate School of Design Executive Education and Cleverhood.

*** Support The War on Cars on Patreon and receive access to ad-free versions of all our episodes, special bonus content and stickers! ***

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103. Why Does Hollywood Hate Bikes?

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Chances are, if a character rides a bicycle in a movie or TV show that character is a huge loser. From The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Arrested Development, bicycles are frequently used to represent immaturity, otherness and misfortune. Thankfully, things are changing — at least a little. Witness the Citibike-riding women of Broad City or Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, the sports psychologist who counsels the cast of Ted Lasso after commuting to work on her Brompton folding bike. Journalist Nitish Pahwa of Slate joins us to discuss the ways in which Hollywood and other parts of our entertainment-industrial complex use bicycles and cars to signify power and status.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

This episode is produced with support from Rad Power Bikes and Cleverhood.

***Support The War on Cars on Patreon and receive access to ad-free versions of all our episodes, special bonus content and stickers!***

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TEASER: You Can’t Afford to Live Here Because of Cars

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What if we told you that some of the biggest, most exciting, and potentially transformative victories in The War on Cars are being fought and won these days by people working on affordable housing? In this special Patreon-only episode of the podcast we are talking to one of those people — Matt Lewis, communications director of California YIMBY. In the last few years, California YIMBY has launched an impressive barrage of legislation aimed at making housing more affordable by challenging the mid-20th century “California Dream” of single-family, automobile-dependent, suburban sprawl. Housing, transportation, climate, equity and inclusivity… For YIMBYs it’s all the same issue.

***This is a preview of a Patreon-exclusive, ad-free bonus episode. For complete access to this and all of our bonus content, become a Patreon supporter of The War on Cars.***

102. CONSPIRACY!

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“15-minute cities” are having a moment, and not exactly in a good way. How did a mundane urban planning concept turn into the latest grist for the culture-war mill? Why does the idea of making it easier to walk to school or the grocery store have some people afraid that they won’t be able to leave their homes for more than 15 minutes? And why do some think this is all a plot by the World Economic Forum to force people to “own nothing and be happy”? We break down this conspiracy theory and ask if we can ever get back to reality.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

This episode is produced with support from Radpower Bikes and Cleverhood.

***Support The War on Cars on Patreon and receive access to ad-free versions of all our episodes, special bonus content and stickers!***

Friends of The War on Cars receive 20% off tickets to Micromobility Europe, the world’s largest conference for small electric vehicles, June 8 & 9th in Amsterdam.

Pick up official podcast tees and other merch in our official store.

Buy books by podcast guests and check out our book recommendations at our official Bookshop.org page.

This episode was edited by Ali Lemer. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear.

TheWarOnCars.org

 

101. Feminist City with Leslie Kern

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Dr. Leslie Kern standing in a public bathroom next to a sign with a non-binary figure that says "Whichever." Credit: Mitchel Raphael Kern

Photo credit: Mitchel Raphael Kern

EPISODE 101: FEMINIST CITY WITH LESLIE KERN

Cities have almost always been designed by men, prioritizing men’s needs as defined by the traditional male-female binary. But as scholar and author Leslie Kern writes in her  book, Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World, a truly feminist city could be, “an ongoing experiment in living differently, living better, and living more justly in an urban world.” Sarah talks with Dr. Kern about  how gender influences the way we move through our streets, and how adopting a feminist perspective could make our cities more humane and livable for everyone, regardless of gender identity.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

This episode is sponsored by Cleverhood. Receive 15% off anything in the Cleverhood store using the special coupon code in this episode. Good for a limited time only!

***Support The War on Cars on Patreon and receive exclusive access to ad-free versions of all our episodes, special bonus content and free stickers!***

LINKS:

Find out more about Dr. Leslie Kern’s work.

Buy Feminist City and other books by podcast guests at our official Bookshop.org page.

Pick up official  The War on Cars merch in our store.

This episode was produced and edited by Sarah Goodyear. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear.

TheWarOnCars.org