Episode 125: When Driving Is Not an Option with Anna Zivarts 


Doug Gordon: Hey Zeb, how’s it going?

Zeb: Good.

Doug: How do you like Cleverhood?

Zeb: It’s a good rain jacket for, like, walking in the rain and, like, for really heavy rain.

Doug: Tell me about your backpack. When you’re wearing the Cleverhood.

Zeb: It usually stays dry since it’s basically like a poncho. It goes behind you, all around you, and then there’s a hood, so all your belongings will still be dry.

Doug: Right. Because your backpack goes under the cape.

Zeb: Yeah.

Doug: What color is yours?

Zeb: Yellow.

Doug: The weird thing about podcasting is that I ask questions I know the answer to already. I am your father, and I know what color your raincoat is.

Zeb: Yeah.

Doug: And is it comfortable?

Zeb: Yeah.

Doug: Yeah?

Zeb: Yeah.

Doug: Do you know where people can go to get 15 percent off everything in the Cleverhood store?

Zeb: War on Cars?

Doug: Well sure, you can go to TheWaronCars.org, or you can go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars, and pick up—well, you have a Rover rain cape in yellow.

Zeb: Yeah, I think so.

Doug: You think so?

Zeb: I think.

Doug: You think.

Zeb: I didn’t buy it.

Doug: That’s true.

Zeb: Yeah.

Doug: Anything else you want to say?

Zeb: No, not really.

Doug: All right, so there you have it: a glowing endorsement of Cleverhood from my son, Zeb Gordon. How old are you?

Zeb: Eleven.

Doug: See what I said about asking questions I know the answer to?

Zeb: Yeah.

Doug: For 15 percent off everything in the Cleverhood store, go to Cleverhood.comWaronCars and enter code ITMAYRAIN. That’s ITMAYRAIN.

Anna Zivarts: There’s a whole range of folks out there that wouldn’t necessarily identify as disabled, but can’t drive, or they can’t drive all the time. And then there’s also folks who can’t drive because they can’t afford to drive. And there’s folks that are too young to drive. And so really, the point of this book is to say, “Hey, there’s actually a lot of us. We need to get places without being able to drive ourselves, and let’s rethink how we can build our communities so that it’s possible for us to participate.”

Sarah Goodyear: This is The War on Cars. I’m Sarah Goodyear, here with my co host, Doug Gordon.

Doug: How’s it going, Sarah?

Sarah: It’s going pretty good.

Doug: It’s a lovely day here in Brooklyn.

Sarah: It is. And Aaron is not with us today. He is in an undisclosed location.

Doug: He is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, basically. Sarah’s the president, I’m the vice president. We have to keep that chain of command intact so—in case something happens.

Sarah: That’s right. We have got a great show for you today. But first, we’ve got something to ask for.

Doug: Right. If you like what we do here at The War on Cars, sign up on Patreon. Support us, help us out. You can go to Patreon.com/TheWaronCarsPod, or go to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support Us“, and for just three bucks a month, you will get stickers, access to all of our bonus stuff, and you’ll be helping us out. So thanks.

Sarah: Yeah. And I’ll send you a handwritten note.

Doug: Yeah, Sarah handles most of the Patreon stuff, so you get a note directly from her.

Sarah: So today’s episode, I’m gonna start with a pop quiz for you, Doug. What percentage of people in the United States do you think doesn’t have a driver’s license?

Doug: I read the book that we’re gonna talk about.

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: So I know the answer to this question, but I actually was surprised that it was as high as it is, even as somebody who lives and breathes a lot of this stuff that we talk about on the podcast. So I do know the answer. Would you like to say what it is, though?

Sarah: It’s 30 percent. Nearly a full third of Americans just flat cannot drive by law. They’re too young, they never learned, they have a disability that prevents them from getting a license. There are a lot of reasons, and we’re gonna get into all of those in this episode. But I did find that surprising because obviously, one of the things we talk about on this podcast all the time is the way that in most parts of the United States, access to a personal motor vehicle and the ability to drive it yourself is a precondition for full participation in society. You need to be able to drive to work, to school, to the doctor, to social stuff. You just need to be able to drive to feel like you’re fully participating.

Sarah: And yet there’s this huge and often invisible proportion of the population that can’t participate fully and comfortably because of the way we’ve built our infrastructure. Our guest today wants to make those invisible people visible, and she wants to push the rest of us to change the way we think about barriers to mobility in the United States. Anna Zivarts is a Seattle-based organizer and videographer who launched the Disability Mobility Initiative at Disability Rights Washington in 2020. Anna has written a book called When Driving Is Not an Option: Steering Away from Car Dependency, published by Island Press, and it’s out this month. In it, she makes a compelling case that by designing our transportation future for those who can’t or don’t feel comfortable driving, we could build a system that works better for everyone, and that would be more equitable, safer, and more environmentally sustainable. Anna Zivarts, welcome to The War on Cars.

Anna Zivarts: Great to be here. Thanks.

Sarah: So this is a very personal topic for you. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about why that is.

Anna Zivarts: Sure. So I was born with an eye condition, a neurological eye condition where my eyes wiggle all the time. Because of that, I don’t have great visual acuity, and so I definitely can’t pass a vision test. I had a friend who tried to teach me how to drive in high school, and I drove her mom’s truck up a tree. I write about that in the book. And so that means that, you know, I have always sort of viewed the world through this lens of knowing that I can’t drive, I can’t drive safely, and trying to figure out how I can participate and how I can live a full life in the United States with this disability.

Anna Zivarts: I also became much more active in the disability community after my son was born in 2016 with the same condition, and so it made it bigger than just myself. Suddenly, I had a kid and a future beyond my own sort of concerns to think about. And that’s when I started connecting to more folks in the disability community and realizing there was many, many people out there who can’t drive, can’t afford to drive, are too young to drive, too old to drive. And we’re largely invisible because of sort of the structural inequalities in our society that make it hard for us to participate. So that’s what motivates me to write this book, to do the work that I do, and it’s exciting to be here to talk about it.

Sarah: One of the things you do say right at the beginning of the book is that while disability is a really important part of this conversation, and you center disability and accessibility in your writing, it’s not a book about disability and transportation. And I was wondering if you could explain why that’s an important distinction to make, and who else is covered in this book, and who else is the constituency you’re talking about for myself?

Anna Zivarts: You know, I grew up and was born in the ’80s, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I really didn’t know other disabled folks. And I had a lot of shame around my disability, and I tried not to tell people about it. And part of that, not telling people about it, was moving to New York City where most people don’t drive. And, you know, being able to sort of hide in that because I didn’t have to say, “Oh, I can’t get there,” or “I need a ride” because it was possible to take the subway places. So I myself didn’t necessarily identify as disabled until my 30s, until I started to reconnect with the disability community.

Anna Zivarts: And I think for many people, disability, there’s still so much stigma around that word that many people choose not to identify or just don’t consider that part of their identity, but they can’t drive or they can’t drive all the time. People with chronic illnesses, people who are aging out of driving, people who have anxiety and PTSD that makes driving really difficult, or conditions that maybe they can’t drive at night or when they’re tired. And so there’s a whole range of folks out there that wouldn’t necessarily identify as disabled but can’t drive, and then there’s also folks who can’t drive because they can’t afford to drive. And maybe that’s because they have a disability and they can’t earn what they need to be able to afford a car—something that’s becoming increasingly expensive, right? And there’s folks that are too young to drive.

Anna Zivarts: And all together we’re a really large constituency, but we don’t think of ourselves as a constituency because there’s so much shame and stigma around both disability and not being able to afford things and not being able to afford to drive. And so really, the point of this book is to make that visible, to say, “Hey, there’s actually a lot of us who have very similar, what we call in the disability community ‘access needs.'” We need to get places without being able to drive ourselves, and let’s rethink how we can build our communities so that it’s possible for us to participate. And getting a car and getting a license isn’t an option for many of us, or it just isn’t gonna work financially. And so let’s figure out ways to build our cities and our towns and even our rural communities in ways that don’t require car dependency.

Doug: So Anna, one of the things that you talk about in the book is how—and you have lived in New York City and you live in Seattle now, is that transit-rich, accessible places are expensive.

Anna Zivarts: Yeah.

Doug: Because we have built so few places where it is possible to live without a car, those places become luxury products in a way. We are sitting here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which is arguably the most walkable, transit-rich neighborhood, you know, in the US—at least one of the top three, let’s say. You know, what did your research in your book tell you about this experience of—and your own personal experience of trying to find a place to live that isn’t prohibitively expensive, but that allows you to get around without a car.

Anna Zivarts: Yeah. I mean, exactly what you said, right? The places that are the most walkable and the most transit rich tend to be the priciest in our country. And that’s really hard because for folks who can’t afford to drive or who have disabilities that prevent them from driving, often, you know, we’re income restricted. And so how can you find affordable housing in a country where housing is exceedingly expensive, in a place that has sidewalks, where you can walk places? That’s a real challenge. And in Washington state, when I did a lot of—a lot of the work I started was based on interviews with over—now over 200 non-drivers from every legislative district in our state. That pricing was huge. And people look at me and say, “Oh, you’re so fortunate you can live in Seattle. I have moved back in with my parents in a rural community that has no transit, that’s a two-mile walk into town, down a rural road without sidewalks, because I, you know, just can’t afford housing in even the smaller cities in our state. And that is such a challenge, and something we have to figure out and makes the conversation, I think, bigger, right? We have to be talking about land use and zoning and housing and not just, you know, providing transit, because it’s not possible with the way we’re so spread out and housing being most affordable in these areas that are furthest from everywhere you need to go.

Sarah: So that connects to a phrase in the book that I had never heard before and that was very intriguing to me, which is the idea of a ‘kinetic elite.’ Can you explain where that phrase comes from and what it means and why it’s significant here?

Anna Zivarts: So it comes from theorist and scholar, Mimi Sheller, who wrote a book called Mobility Justice. And she talks a lot about mobility in the global context, and immigration and movement of peoples. She also writes about how we have this sort of kinetic elite of folks who are constantly on the move. And I think, for me, I sort of see it in this, like, Instagrammable lifestyle of travel and aspirational tourism and jetsetting, right? And thinking about that in the context, in a sort of more localized context, is where I found relevance in the work that I do, where you have people who, because they can afford a car, because they can drive, can travel much more within a region, right? Can go to the cheaper grocery store, can get to Costco, to Target, to better health clinics.

Anna Zivarts: And then there’s people who don’t have that privilege, who, because we built this transportation system in our communities that’s so car dependent, are locked out of those opportunities, right? When you think about food deserts and transit deserts. And so rather than saying that, well, everyone should have access to a car, everyone should have access to this jetsetting lifestyle, what if we were instead to think about it in terms of, well, what if we built up our local connections, more our local communities, our local resources? If there were more resources within this sort of 15-minute city concept, where we could get to an affordable, culturally-appropriate grocery store, where we had access to healthcare facilities in our communities, access to green space, right? These were closer to where we need to go, and not just in areas that are unaffordable, but everywhere that people live.

Doug: I mean, it’s funny that you mentioned the 15-minute city concept, because when we did the 15-minute city episode, and whenever it comes up in conversation, the thing that we always talk about is that for a large number of people and, you know, in your book, you’re saying 30 percent of the American population, they essentially live in that dystopian nightmare that the right wing is saying where they do not have access, they are not able to essentially leave their homes to get the things that they need because they don’t have cars. And so your book sort of subverts that and turns that notion on its head.

Anna Zivarts: Exactly, right? And I write about my block parties as sort of a counterexample to, like, what is possible, rather than driving around town far distances to participate in social activities, building these local connections, building our local community. And I guess bringing it back to New York for a second, but I was in Red Hook during Hurricane Sandy and didn’t evacuate when we should have, and experienced a lot of flooding and then the lack of power and two weeks of no electricity. And there was other folks in the Red Hook houses that didn’t have heat and hot water for months, right? And saw how those local connections and the ability of a community to respond in natural disasters, and as we’re experiencing more and more climate-induced natural disasters, those local relationships and knowing your neighbors and being able to call on each other for help, I think is so critical. And so for me, it supports people who don’t have the option to travel far if you build these local communities. And it also supports all of us in moments of crisis.

Sarah: We are talking about disability, but we’re not just talking about disability when we talk about non drivers. Maybe you could break down for us just who we are talking about beyond people in the disability community, people who can’t drive.

Anna Zivarts: Yeah. So beyond people who can’t drive because they can’t, right, because of a disability, because of a chronic illness, because of a mental health condition, there are lots of other reasons people don’t drive. We have people who are aging out of driving, which again, that may be connected to a disability, but they definitely wouldn’t discuss it that way or think about themselves as disabled. So we know that folks are likely to spend the last seven to ten years of their life in the US unable to drive as they age out of that being a safe and comfortable way to get around.

Anna Zivarts: Then we also have folks who can’t afford to drive. And I know you guys know these stats, but the cost of car ownership, of insurance, of gas goes up, and that makes it unaffordable for folks, especially as the cost of housing has really skyrocketed. You know, the cars are another major, major expense for households, and so many folks can’t afford a car, or if their household can afford a car, they can afford one car. And it’s really interesting to think about in households that there is one vehicle, who has access to that vehicle. What are the gender dynamics there? What are the other dynamics? And for people who don’t have reliable access to that vehicle, which of their mobility needs or their community needs are going unmet?

Anna Zivarts: And then, you know, there’s folks who are too young to drive. And I got a lot of pushback on this one, right? Because when you talk about non drivers, a big percentage of the non drivers in our country are people under the age of 16. And, you know, some people are like, “Oh, they shouldn’t count because they can’t get a license.” And I’m like, “Well, 16 is really this artificial number that we’ve come up with in the context of having a license, right? But it doesn’t really mean anything as far as your ability to go places and even go places on your own.” Like, in New York, middle school students ride the subway by themselves to and from school. In other communities, even younger children are allowed and expected to travel independently. And 16 is just this cutoff for driver’s licenses, but it’s not a cutoff for anything else.

Anna Zivarts: And even if you can’t travel independently, that doesn’t mean you still aren’t going places and needing to go places, right? We talk a lot about the burden of caregivers and transporting children in car-dependent areas where, you know, it’s usually the moms spending all this time chauffeuring their kids around. I remember the first week my kid was born, he needed to go to a doctor’s appointment in New York, right? And we got on the subway, and we were able to do that because there was a subway system. But many caregivers also can’t drive, and I think that is erased when we talk about every child has a parent who can drive them. That isn’t necessarily true.

Sarah: Then there’s people whose immigration status might prevent them. I mean, all of these categories, it brings up this idea that some people talk about of mobility as a human right, that the access to being able to move around your community and get services like education, healthcare and so forth, that’s really something that human beings should have a right to, right? Sort of inherently.

Anna Zivarts: Yes.

Sarah: And that does include young people as well. So yeah, that’s what I think about is this idea of mobility as a human right.

Anna Zivarts: And we can’t forget in the United States in particular how racialized this is, right? I’m white, and often in Seattle, which is still a very white city, I’m the only white person on the bus, and definitely the only white person on the bus with a kid. Folks who can’t afford cars or who, because of racialized enforcement, have had licenses suspended or fines and fees sort of accumulate until that happens are overwhelmingly Black and brown. And so that is a huge piece of this, and I think a huge part of why non drivers are so invisible, because it is so racialized.

Doug: The people that you’re describing, other than, say, the elderly people but, like, children, low-income people, people with disabilities, people who, they’re not legal citizens of this country, people with mental health issues, none of those people are the people who show up at the meetings to advocate for better bus service, better bike lanes, sidewalks, and safer pedestrian infrastructure. For lots of reasons. Number one, they’re usually at times when those people are working, or they have childcare issues that make them unable to attend these meetings, or language barriers make them unable to attend these meetings.

Sarah: Or transportation issues.

Doug: Or they can’t actually even get to the meeting. Exactly. And so therefore, the conversation around a lot of these issues becomes, in my experience, and certainly I’m sure in yours, there’s a lot of bad faith arguing. You hear a lot of people using people who can’t drive, largely people with disabilities, as a weapon or cudgel against these improvements. Like, “You’re gonna take away parking, you’re gonna take away a lane of traffic. Well, what about people with disabilities?” How do we change the conversation and include people, which your book talks about, who are not normally included in the conversation and in many ways are used in bad faith ways to just keep the status quo?

Anna Zivarts: There’s lots of bad faith arguments that happen. I see people with disabilities used by bike advocates too, right? Where like, “Oh, look at this picture of a person I snapped in the bike lane in their wheelchair. We need bike lanes,” right? And that is also speaking for other groups. And tokenizing isn’t great, and so we need to be aware of it across the board. But I think there’s this assumption in this country, and I think because of the disabled parking placard and parking spots being so visible that disabled people drive, and that isn’t actually the reality. I mean, there are some folks with disabilities who driving is their best option for getting around, especially because we don’t have sidewalks, we don’t have affordable wheelchairs with long-lasting batteries. There’s not really a way if you need that sort of mobility assistance, it often doesn’t work. Our subways are, you know, not accessible. There’s stairs, right? That a car really might be the best transportation option for many people, but it’s not the majority of people with disabilities.

Anna Zivarts: And cars that are wheelchair accessible are also exceedingly expensive, so even if it might be the best option for someone, chances are that’s a luxury to afford a vehicle like that and afford to maintain it. And so we need to make sure that when we’re saying “people with disabilities,” we’re recognizing that there’s a whole complexity of needs that sometimes compete, and that the community is actually being involved and being consulted. And I think, you know, much of the work we’ve done in Washington state is saying, “Okay, sure. There may be some folks who really want to make sure that the parking is preserved, but there’s also other folks who can’t use that parking, don’t have a vehicle, need there to be a bus stop there, need there to be an accessible sidewalk, need the bike infrastructure to be designed in a way that consults the disability community, and particularly the blind community that is, you know, walking and needs to figure out how to cross it safely.

Anna Zivarts: Like, there’s a complexity and a nuance to understanding the needs of the disability community. And that comes from having people at the table. And I think yeah, I guess the second half of the book, or maybe the last third of my book, really focuses on that: how do we get different voices at the table, in agencies, elected to office, participating and making decisions, and not just sort of on the outside, not included or tokenized?

Sarah: I also want to make space for you to talk about invisible disabilities because I think too, that people, if they don’t see a white cane, if they don’t see a wheelchair, you know, they don’t imagine that a person could have a disability. So maybe you could talk about some of the invisible disabilities, and how that community is even less accounted for sometimes in people’s vision of what is needed in transportation infrastructure.

Anna Zivarts: Yeah. I mean, most people when they look at me, like, I’m not someone who necessarily comes across as visibly disabled, unless you really notice my eyes, right? Or notice that I’m holding my phone really close. There are times when I use a white cane just to be able to be more easily identified as disabled, because it helps in situations where, especially in airports when I need to ask for directions, people are much nicer if they know that I can’t see the sign. Really, for real. That’s why I’m asking. And so there are many kinds of disabilities like this that aren’t super obvious, unless you know, or aren’t obvious at all, but do present different access needs.

Anna Zivarts: And so it’s important for us to be inclusive of this as well. And in a younger generation of folks—younger than me—there’s a lot more conversation about disability and access needs. And I think that is so positive. When I started working with a team of disabled folks in Washington state, it was revolutionary for me to be around people who are comfortable disclosing their disabilities and talking about it. And I think this younger generation that grew up post-ADA in spaces where it was okay to disclose things is really helping transform the conversation and making it possible for people who wouldn’t previously have ever chosen to out themselves as disabled to sort of talk about, “Okay, this thing is the way my body or my brain works, and this is what I need.” And that’s great.

Sarah: So that perspective is so important. The perspective of disabled people and non-drivers in general, their lived experience, is vital. How do you get that in front of elected officials and planners who can actually make a difference in policy and infrastructure? In the book, you talk about going to the AASHTO Conference—that’s the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials—and you talk about what it was like getting that different non-driver perspective into that room.

Anna Zivarts: Yeah. So I started doing organizing work in Washington state around transportation issues really full time in 2020 when I had the chance to launch a program within the organization I work for, where we were collecting stories from non drivers from throughout the state. And those stories, our Secretary of Transportation, Secretary Roger Millar, saw that work and thought it would be really powerful to have that work presented to AASHTO at their board meeting. And so I had the opportunity to present there.

Anna Zivarts: And I think that was one of those moments. There was a couple moments where it started to feel for me that what we were doing was something valuable, and was providing perspectives that hadn’t formally been seen or heard in these rooms. And I think, you know, there’s other states that have started doing really wonderful work. In Wisconsin, they have a non-driver advisory committee. They’ve done a lot of research and work there, really focused on non drivers. And as I’ve gotten to talk about this work, I think that there is, you know, in other states, an increasing focus on how do people who can’t afford a car, how are they able to get around? How is our state transportation system serving or not serving them? And I think that it is a really interesting way to start thinking about how we can redesign our communities and decenter cars a little bit if we start talking about all the people whose needs aren’t met.

Anna Zivarts: One way we’ve sort of taken this to the next level is our Week Without Driving Challenge, which started—we started it in Washington state in 2021, and we invited elected leaders and public officials and agency folks to join us and try for one week, just one week, to get around without driving themselves. They could still get rides, they could walk, they could bike, they could take transit, they could carpool, but they couldn’t drive themselves. And that challenge now is in its fourth year. We partnered with America Walks last year to take it national. And that has really given us a concrete way to engage decision makers about the reality that non drivers experience in their communities. Because guaranteed that there are non drivers in every single community, on every street and every family, probably, and yet, you know, they’re just not thought about or considered as people with valid needs for mobility or independent mobility.

Doug: With the Week Without Driving campaign, you know, there can be a performative aspect to this, because those people know at the end of the week they can go back to driving, right? And so some elected officials are gonna experience that, get a few good headlines and then really not change anything. But I wonder if you could talk about any people who have done the week without driving and really come out of it, not just saying, “Oh, I had this bad experience, and now I sort of understand what it’s like to wait for a bus on the side of the road with no bench,” let’s say, versus the elected officials or other people who come out of it and say, “Okay, here’s the policy solution we need so that nobody has to experience what I just experienced.”

Anna Zivarts: Yeah, I think one of the most exciting examples for me are the politicians who recognize that how much they don’t know, right? Because they are not the ones walking these roads without sidewalks day in or day out. They’re not the ones waiting for the bus. They have the option of driving, and they do that most of the time. Even folks who are allies and ride the bus most days when it’s commuting hours and convenient, having to ride it on the weekends or late at night, like, those are very different experiences.

Anna Zivarts: And I think the elected leaders who recognize that this is a new thing for them, and that there is so much knowledge from folks who are doing this day in and day out, the non drivers who are out there dependent on these systems, that’s been really exciting for me. And so we had one council member from a city in Washington state who took the challenge with us, was really excited about it because his folks had aged out of driving, and he saw what a burden it was for them to try to get around without driving. And then when we wanted to run a piece of legislation in Washington state this past year to have two voting members of transit boards be actual transit riders, he was a huge champion on that because he understood how much people who ride transit know that he is someone who has the option not to, doesn’t have that day in and day out experience.

Anna Zivarts: And so I think that recognizing that there is knowledge and expertise that comes from using these systems and that could be used to make these systems better—and we’re just not taking advantage of it because people are pushed so far out of systems of power. You know, changes are small, but I think it has opened people’s eyes, and then when we come to them asking them to partner with us on legislation or on budget asks, they’re much more willing because they understand how broken the system is in its current form.

Doug: So Anna, on the podcast and in general, I think people tend to think of this as an urban issue—accessibility and transportation, transit and biking, et cetera. But there’s a huge number of people who live in rural communities who can’t drive for all of the reasons that you’ve stated, but especially because of poverty. How do we solve this problem in those communities without—you  know, I think there’s probably a lot of politicians who think, “Well, if you’re too poor to afford a car, we just need to, you know, make it more affordable for you to own a car.” How do we solve this problem in places like that?

Anna Zivarts: Yeah, this is something I think a lot about because, you know, so much of our country is not big cities, and transit, it’s harder to make it pencil out in more rural areas. What do we need to do? Right now I’m in southern Indiana, which is where my dad’s family is from, a farming community. And it’s interesting to me because we’re actually right off a major highway. And this highway was built in the ’60s, and before the highway was built, there was this little, tiny, you know, small town here with a grocery store and a gas station and a school and the little community where you could get most of your needs met, right? And you kind of had to because periodically the river would flood here, and this community would be fully isolated until the water went down, and so there needed to be these things here.

Anna Zivarts: And then the highways got built, and now it’s, you know, much easier and much cheaper for most folks to drive 20 miles into town and go shopping, you know, at the big box stores. And that’s cheaper and more affordable, but it means there’s nothing left here in this community. And I think a lot about how when I was living in New York, we were toying with the idea of moving back here to Indiana and being part of this farm. And for me, I was just like, there’s no way. Like, if it was the way it was before the highway when there still were resources in this community, I could live here as a non driver and access what I needed to access. But now because we’ve made it so easy for people who can afford cars with this highway system to travel, there’s not that possibility.

Anna Zivarts: And so I think for me, there’s thinking about okay, we do need to provide rural transit in places. And it doesn’t have to be hourly, right? It could be, you know, once a day, a couple times a week. But even that in more rural communities and the folks I’ve spoken to who live in rural areas, that’s enough, right? And then we also need to be thinking about, how can we have more stores, you know, grocery stores, in rural places, not just drive to the nearest dollar store 20 miles away?

Sarah: I think about just individual human beings that you talk about in your book, of what they don’t get access to. Can you talk a little bit about the human cost of not having transportation infrastructure that everyone can use?

Anna Zivarts: Yeah. This is something that I really think it’s important to talk about because I think in typical sort of transportation policy conversations, that emotional burden of asking for rides or being a shut in is not something we do a great job talking about or measuring. There’s one sort of newer transportation metric called the Transportation Security Index that really does start to explore some of those questions. And I think it’s really valuable because in the interviews that I’ve done with folks, that’s one of the biggest pieces, right? Is that feeling like you can’t go where you want to go, or if you want to go somewhere, you’ve got to ask a favor, and is it worth asking this person that favor or not?

Anna Zivarts: We also hear this, too, with the week without driving. The elected leaders who participate, for them, that’s actually one of the most interesting things is how isolated they feel just for a week of not participating perhaps in all the social activities they would have because they felt guilty asking for rides to go to social activities because it isn’t like a necessity. And that’s the same thing we hear from non drivers is that weighing how much it’s worth a favor to go somewhere, and as a result, being shut in and being isolated. And, you know, I think the pandemic taught us all how unhealthy that really is to not have those social bonds with our communities.

Doug: I mean, it’s almost like a budget that you have to do, right? So, you know, a lot of Americans have to decide between am I going to afford a car payment or am I going to afford to eat? And in this case, it’s like an emotional budget of like, am I going to afford this favor for someone to take me to the doctor’s office, or am I going to blow it on “Can you just drive me to the movies?” And that’s not a choice that those of us who have the luxury of choices and the ability to drive, let’s say, ever have to face.

Sarah: And that makes me think of something that your book talks about a lot, which is the issue of stigma. And the stigma of being a non driver is so strong in this country. And I feel like people who are currently in their lives not disabled, and who might have the financial resources to drive a car, there’s this underlying fear, I think, that people have that they can see, oh, there might be a time when I can’t drive. There might be a time that I can’t afford to drive. And so they project that fear onto this whole conversation, right? Their fear that they might end up being in the stigmatized group. Do you see that in your work?

Anna Zivarts: For sure. And I think it’s definitely with—where I’ve seen it the most is with folks who may be aging out of driving or contemplating that, right? And we fought for funding in Washington state to get a survey done about the non-driver population in Washington state. And they were trying to get a statistically representative sample of our state of non drivers. And they really, really struggled, and ultimately weren’t able to get enough seniors to participate in the survey.

Anna Zivarts: And I think there’s this real—especially around folks who may be at the point where driving isn’t the safest or best option for them—fear to give up that mobility access and to talk about life without driving. I see that. You know, I mean, in my own family, I know my grandma who lived here in southern Indiana refused to give up driving. She was having heart problems. She kept on passing out, driving off the side of the road and the cops would find her and she was fine. And she’d get back in her car and keep driving. And, you know, like, definitely shouldn’t have been driving, but didn’t want to give up that access. And so yeah, I think that is something for real and something we need as a country to reckon with. With, you know, my parents’ generation, I don’t know what my parents are gonna do. They live in a rural area. That’s where I grew up, in the woods, out in a country road, far from transit. There’s so much of our country that isn’t great for not being able to drive. And what does that mean for people who are aging out of driving, I think is a huge, huge question.

Doug: Well, it’s a real reckoning moment, I think, for the baby boomer generation for sure, that is now well into their 70s and 80s and has invested so much in living in largely suburban places, especially. So Anna, I wonder if we could talk—you know, to kind of pivot more to the positive stuff that can come out of the work that you’re doing that you talk about in the book. That there’s sort of a curb cut effect that when we make cities better for people—not just cities but small towns, all kinds of places—better for people who can’t drive, they become better for everybody in lots of different ways. Let’s go through some of those ways in which tackling this problem will make the world a better place.

Anna Zivarts: All right! [laughs] There’s so many ways that reducing our car dependency helps us. You know, public health ways, being more active, being more connected to people in our communities, right? Spending less on cars and driving, and the climate change impacts. I mean, think as much as people like to think we’re gonna electrify completely very fast, that’s not happening, right? And so how for me—and one of the bigger picture reasons that I think this work is so important, first of all, I mean, the access needs are immediate, right? Like, people right now are being left out. But then the public health implications of car dependency with air pollution, with noise pollution, all the tire dust pollution we’re increasingly realizing is pretty awful. And then climate impacts, those are all really good reasons to care.

Sarah: So you end the book saying you’re coming from a place of hope despite all of these huge structural problems that we’re facing. And I think that’s because you believe that there are a lot of positive actions that all of us can start taking immediately to make things better. I just wonder: what gives you hope? What keeps you going? What do you think we can do, both short term and long term, to make this better?

Anna Zivarts: Yeah. My kid this morning, when I told him I had to go do this interview was like, “Why do you do this, mom?” [laughs] He’s seven. And so I was trying to give him an answer that meant something to him. And I think that really is the question coming from him that I try to answer is: why do this work? And I think you have to have hope to do it, right? You have to believe that it is possible for us as a country to create systems that are less car dependent, and that if we are willing to do that and willing to fight for it, and that we’re willing to build the kind of coalition strength to do that and to actually have power and influence elections and influence decision makers, then I think it’s possible for us to change. But I think that it’s gonna take more than research. It’s gonna take more than, you know, knowing that these are the facts about climate change or the facts about access. It’s gonna take building that kind of broad coalition that can demand something different. And I do think by starting to say, “Hey, there’s a lot of us the system isn’t working for already, and there’s a lot of people who see that it’s flawed and want to change it,” that’s the basis for beginning to transform the way our country is built.

Sarah: That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Anna Zivarts’s new book, When Driving Is Not an Option: Steering Away from Car Dependency, published by Island Press, is out now. Buy it from your neighborhood bookseller or find it at The War on Cars store at Bookshop.org. We will link to it in our show notes.

Doug: And please don’t forget to support us on Patreon. You can go to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support Us” and pitch in, starting at $3 a month. We will send you stickers, and you will get discounts on merch. You’ll get access to bonus episodes, invitations to live events, all kinds of cool stuff. Again, that’s TheWaronCars.org. Click “Support Us.”

Sarah: We want to thank our top Patreon supporters: Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, Virginia Baker, Mark Hedlund, and the Parking Reform Network.

Doug: We also want to thank our sponsor Cleverhood for their support. For the best rain gear for walking and cycling, go to Cleverhood.com/WaronCars, discount code ITMAYRAIN. That’s ITMAYRAIN. We’ll also put a link in the show notes.

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

Doug: I’m Doug Gordon, and this is The War on Cars.