Episode 33: WCAR Drive Time Radio
[RADIO JINGLE: WCAR, The Car!]
Nap Dog: Okay, WCAR Morning Zoo! Good morning!
[RADIO JINGLE: WCAR, The Car!]
Nap Dog: This is the Nap Dog with Spoke and Sarah Goodyear in the chopper. How’s the weather looking out there, Spoke?
Spoke: Well, it’s a bit chilly, a bit wet out there. But, you know, I got to be honest, it doesn’t matter. You’re on your bike, you’re not made of sugar. You won’t melt. Just put on some good gear and get out there and get to work or wherever you’re going and you’ll be fine.
Nap Dog: Let’s head up to the chopper where Sarah Goodyear is polluting the environment. Hey Sarah, how’s traffic looking this morning?
Sarah Goodyear: Oh, it looks great as usual. Just smooth sailing if you’re on a bicycle, the same way it always is. If you’re on the BQE, you’re in a parking lot. But I do see an NYPD cruiser parked in the bike lane on Smith Street. But just go on around it, maybe give him a dirty look or two. It shouldn’t slow you down too much.
Nap Dog: All right. So the morning commute’s the usual. It’s crappy if you’re in a car. Let’s take some calls!
Doug Gordon: This is The War on Cars, the podcast about all the people out there fighting their fights on their home turf to make the world a better place for people who aren’t in giant metal boxes.
Sarah: That’s right. Keep it up out there, folks.
Doug: I’m Doug Gordon. I am here with my co-hosts Sarah Goodyear and Aaron Naparstek.
Aaron Naparstek: Hey, what’s up?
Sarah: Everything’s good now that I’m out of the chopper.
Aaron: Out of the WCAR chopper. Didn’t like it in there?
Sarah: Yeah. No, I don’t—I don’t like being in a chopper.
Doug: Frankly, a huge waste of our Patreon dollars to pay for that helicopter. So it’s probably a good idea that we’re not doing it anymore.
Sarah: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Doug: On this episode, we take your questions, comments, general observations and rants about all things related to the war on cars. We are gonna hear from you today.
Sarah: But first, if you want to help us produce the podcast in 2020 and beyond, you can go to TheWaronCars.org and click “Donate.” You can start supporting us at just $2 a month.
Aaron: Yeah. And we will send you stickers, we will send you T-shirts, and you can even have your name read on an episode if you donate at a high enough level. Thanks to everyone who’s pitched in so far. We couldn’t do the podcast without you. Really appreciate it.
Doug: Yeah, thank you. Okay, so this has been a big year in The War on Cars. It’s been the first full year of this podcast, for example.
Sarah: Yeah, kind of amazing.
Aaron: There you go.
Doug: It’s also been a huge year in the world of personal mobility, of people getting out of cars, about the discussion about the things that cars are doing to our cities, our towns, our planet. And I thought a really great way for us to start this episode would be for each of us perhaps to share our favorite thing from the past year in the war on cars—not the podcast itself, but what’s out there, what’s in the news, what happened this year that you both really responded to?
Sarah: All right. So I have one, which is that back in November, on the day that is the World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote the following tweet, or at least it was put out on her Twitter account. “Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year. On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I’m sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It’s time to #EndTrafficViolence.” So, like, I saw that, and I think a lot of people when they saw that tweet, were kind of amazed to see someone who’s a national figure using the words “traffic violence,” which a lot of people just consider too radical to say out loud. And so I had the opportunity to actually meet Senator Warren after the Democratic debate in Atlanta. And I told her that it had been very meaningful to people to hear her say the words “traffic violence” in a tweet. And she looked at me, and she gave me that little Elizabeth Warren fist pump, and she said, “Oh, good!” And then we had a little conversation in which I said, you know, that I think it’s a public health issue and it should be treated as such. And she said, “Yeah, just like guns, you know, it’s a public health issue.” And I just think that’s a huge step forward that someone who is in the mainstream is even thinking about it in those terms, using those words and willing to really confront the concept of traffic violence. I think that’s a huge development.
Doug: That’s really awesome. Aaron, do you have a good one?
Aaron: Yeah, I guess mine is more general. I feel like this was the year, 2019 was the year when people really started talking about the end of personal car ownership in a serious way. And you heard a lot of people on the corporate level, people working for automakers, obviously, a lot of these, like, new tech mobility startups, some of which are car-oriented themselves, but oriented more towards subscription models or pay-per-mile models. But generally, just a lot of different people starting to contemplate the end of this sort of model of inefficient, everyone owns their own gigantic hunk of metal sitting out on the street all the time system of transportation. I feel like it’s, like, starting to become a thing that just is being contemplated in a serious way.
Doug: Just questioning the fundamental concept of car ownership itself.
Sarah: Yeah. And that’s what we got into in our last episode with Kara Swisher is, you know, somebody from a completely different world who that’s what she predicts is gonna happen, is the car will go the way of the horse.
Aaron: Yeah. And hopefully—you know, hopefully we won’t replace it with something even more terrible, which is still very …
Sarah: Like a cyber-truck? Yeah.
Aaron: Yeah, we have a track record of not doing a great job.
Doug: We were all thinking the same thing. It’s just going to be something—everyone’s getting a tank.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly.
Aaron: But, you know, it’s why cities really need to step up, like, on the policy side and start to, like, dictate the way that these transportation systems evolve, rather than just letting Silicon Valley and Detroit and Washington, DC, and Albany and whatever decide for us.
Sarah: What about you, Doug?
Doug: So mine is rather New York-centric, but like all things New York-centric, you know, we like to think that it influences the rest of the world. So it’s the 14th Street busway, which some of our listeners might be familiar with.
Aaron: Oh, that’s a good one.
Doug: The city of New York took 14th Street, which runs east-west, west-east across Manhattan, and basically banned private car travel. You can still make local deliveries, but you have to get off after a block. Trucks can make deliveries. And they turned it into a busway. And bus speeds have gone up. Ridership has gone up. I think one of the best things about it is how quiet it is on 14th Street. There’s just as many people as before, if not more. But you can actually have a conversation and hear people. I was there recently and heard a baby crying on the other side of the street. It was positively European. I mean, and I think that’s the thing, right? Like, a busway is not a novel concept in most of the rest of the world, a tramway, a transit way of any sort. But when it happens in a place like New York, it sends a really great message to the rest of the country that these things are possible. And it’s one of the rare, unqualified, inarguable success stories of the transit story, I think, of the last year for sure.
Aaron: Yeah, just like a huge, sneaky success story.
Doug: And all it really took was just getting the cars out of the way. You know, it wasn’t tech, it wasn’t shiny. It’s a bus, a bunch of buses and fewer cars, and that was the magic recipe that it took to make the city a little better in this little corner of the city.
Aaron: I got to say, it’s a lot better for biking, too. I biked a small stretch of 14th Street a couple of weeks ago, you know, I just happened to be there. And, you know, there’s like no cars, so you can actually—it feels pretty safe. I mean, the buses are kind of whizzing by if you’re not careful, but …
Doug: The other thing, too, is that, you know, everyone, the opponents of this project—because there are always opponents—predicted traffic chaos on the side streets, and that hasn’t happened. Trip times have increased by maybe just like a minute or two, not very much. But the actual number of cars has not changed really in the slightest. It’s gone down on a couple of the streets. So it’s just a really great lesson for other cities. Like, get rid of the cars, the traffic will disappear, people will be happier, people will get where they’re going faster. I really think it’s a great one.
Aaron: At least in places where there’s good transit, right? I mean, like, that’s one of the things that we have there is like, it’s the middle of a transit hub.
Doug: Yeah, there’s multiple subway lines, and there’s great density and lots of destinations. So it just works so well. Okay, so speaking of the news, our first listener voice memo is about something that’s made headlines here in Brooklyn recently.
Catherine: Hi, The War on Cars. This is Catherine from Brooklyn. I think you’ll have seen the work of the anti-car street sign vigilante known as Bikesy. This is the person—or people, I suppose—who a few times this year has reprogrammed one of those large digital road signs on the side of a major street in Brooklyn with messages like, “Sick of the traffic? You are the traffic,” and “Get rid of your car.” If you were Bikesy, and not to out you if you are, what would you have the sign say, and where would you place it?
Doug: That’s a great question. So should we fill our readers in just a little more? So yeah, there are these VMS—variable message signs—throughout Brooklyn. Two or three locations that I can think of. And they were hacked to have anti-car messages.
Aaron: Now I assumed it was Sarah that was doing that the whole time.
Doug: I assumed it was one of you guys or someone I know.
Sarah: It’s clearly someone who’s on board with the general—you know, I think if I were to do it, I might say something like, “You seem like a nice person. Why are you driving?”
Aaron: I don’t know if you get that many characters, though. That’s the problem.
Doug: How fast do you have to be going by to be able to read that entire message? Pretty slow.
Sarah: Okay. “You seem nice. Why drive?” Or, “Why are you driving?” I think you have room for that. “You seem nice.”
Doug: How about, “Cars make good people bad?”
Sarah: Oh, I like that.
Aaron: Oh, that’s good. “Cars make good people bad.” I think you got, like, two screens there, maybe?
Doug: It might be a little confusing, but something like that.
Aaron: Yeah, that’s pretty good.
Aaron: How about like, “4,000-pound car. One person inside. Doesn’t make sense.”
Doug: Is that a haiku? That sounds like a haiku.
Aaron: Well, this is my—you know, I have some history with the haikus.
Sarah: For those of you who don’t know, Aaron has a history with haikus. He’s a haiku artiste, shall we say?
Aaron: Published poet. The rare published poet.
Sarah: Honku is one of his great works.
Doug: Well, if you are Bikesy, the artist known, I guess, as Bikesy, and you would like to be on the podcast, I guess we could mask your voice. You could reveal yourself, but not reveal yourself and tell us more.
Aaron: I feel like we should do an episode with all of the masked superheroes. So we get Bikesy, @BicycleLobby, @Bob_Gunderson, @placardabuse, like, all of the secret Twitter accounts of transportation world.
Doug: If you’re not hip to who some of these accounts are, we’ll put links in the show notes, and you should be following all of them.
Aaron: We’ll mask all of your voices. Email us if you’re any of those people.
Sarah: Yeah, and we’ll have you on. And your secret is safe with us.
Doug: Sounds good. Here is a question related to our last episode.
Nick: Hey, guys. This is Nick from Cleveland, Ohio. Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh hyperloop technology feasibility study was recently completed in our area. Our area-wide coordinating agency is a sponsor of the study, and is now recommending an environmental impact study before construction begins as early as 2023. On the last episode of the podcast with Kara Swisher, it did not seem like the idea of a hyperloop was well received among the group. Could you guys go into more detail about your thoughts on the idea of the hyperloop? Thank you.
Aaron: Oh my God.
Sarah: The hyperloop.
Doug: The hyperloop.
Sarah: It’s not going away, is it?
Aaron: It’s really not. Especially—I mean, speaking as a former Clevelander, this is so Cleveland that the hyperloop would be getting pushed in Cleveland. They’re so into the—the hyperloop is like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of transportation. You know, it’s like, “This is the thing that’s gonna save Cleveland!”
Aaron: And it’s not the thing that’s gonna—I mean, you know, actually, this is an insult to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is fine.
Doug: We always have to insult one city on our episodes.
Sarah: Even LeBron James couldn’t save Cleveland.
Aaron: That is true.
Doug: We’re gonna to edit this out, I’m sure.
Doug: No, but the hyperloop? It’s vaporware. It’s never gonna happen, right? It’s a complete waste of money. It’s basically a subway or subterranean train, only less efficient and more expensive. So I don’t see it at all.
Sarah: And also completely unproven. And, you know, for all we know, it could kill you. I mean, do you want to be the first one to get shot through the tube? I mean, I don’t. Are we gonna send Laika the dog out there? You know what I’m saying?
Aaron: It’s like all the downsides of transit with all the downsides of cars.
Doug: But I also—I mean, there are train tracks between Cleveland and Chicago.
Aaron: That’s the thing.
Doug: So couldn’t you just run more trains? For the amount they’re spending on the feasibility study alone, which I think took something like $600,000 out of Cleveland’s transportation budget.
Aaron: Oh, it was more. It’s like a $1.3-million feasibility study.
Doug: Right. I think the whole study was $1.3-million, but Cleveland took $600,000 out of their transportation budget. Like, how many more bus stops could that have built? How many more bus lines could that have built?
Aaron: Well, this the thing that kills me is like, you know, so right now the train from Cleveland to Chicago, which I once tried to take to go visit colleges, it’s like, the train leaves twice a day and it’s something like two in the morning and four in the morning.
Aaron: And it’s expensive. The passenger trains are prioritized behind freight trains, so you’re always delayed an hour or more. You know, you never even get in on time. It’s long, it’s slow. There’s no reason to take the train. And that’s something that we could fix right now. And it’s all this hyperloop stuff, it just sucks the oxygen out of the room in terms of, like, solving real solvable problems that are inexpensive and not that hard to solve. Don’t require any fancy technology, really.
Sarah: Right. And I mean, it’s not even the fancy technology, or the fact that this is a completely unproven idea, but it’s that we know that constructing those kinds of tunnels—the part of it that has been proven, which is constructing tunnels, is just phenomenally expensive in this country. And yeah, we have train tracks just sitting right there that have been used for, you know, decades and centuries. And we already built that. It’s like people just can’t imagine.
Aaron: It’s like we just need the new thing.
Sarah: Yeah, right.
Aaron: It’s like the shiny object.
Sarah: Yeah. The only thing that appeals to people is something new.
Aaron: And what depresses me about it is just how much it distracts us from what really needs to be done. I mean, like a place like Northeastern Ohio could be building a high speed rail link just between Cleveland and Akron. And if you could get from downtown Akron to downtown Cleveland really quickly, you can imagine how, like, the real estate and the city and the neighborhoods around those train stations would start to become a thing again. You know, we wouldn’t have a bunch of parking lots in downtown Cleveland. We would have, you know, activity happening around a train station. That people from Akron would be coming in and out every day. And it’s like, I-77, the highway between Cleveland and Akron? It’s like you get one car crash on that thing and it’s like, everybody’s commute is screwed for, like, half the day. And, you know, this is a doable project. Like, fast train between two nearby cities in the state of Ohio. We could do that, you know? It’s not even that expensive.
Doug: All right. Let’s move on to our next question, our next comment. This one comes from Trey in Saskatoon.
Trey: Aaron, Doug, Sarah, first of all, I love the show. My name’s Trey. I’m a year-round bike commuter from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. I think last year, it hit -52 with the wind chill one time when I was biking.
Trey: Nonetheless, I’m a business student, which means that I rely on data for a lot of decisions. I have a gigantic Excel spreadsheet that made my decision for me in terms of the economics of car ownership or biking. I want to know what your elevator pitch is to get people out of their cars without somebody like me having to spew a bunch of data in their face.
Aaron: Wow, that’s a good one. Saskatoon, first of all. Come on. We got a Saskatoon listener?
Doug: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Sarah: Thank you, Trey. That’s very much appreciated. I mean, you know, for me, my pitch is that biking is joyful, and that that’s something that you can’t put in a spreadsheet. And it also makes you feel younger. I’m not young, and I feel young every time I’m on a bike. Like, I feel basically the same as I did when I was 21 and riding a bike. Unfortunately, also with it included the fear that I feel from the vehicles around me.
Aaron: It’s a good adrenaline rush.
Sarah: Yes, exactly. But I mean, it’s joyful.
Aaron: I’ll just piggyback on that, because one of the things that I always think about, and it’s a little bit like the glass half full version of what you just said is like, biking is never depressing. It’s never a depressing commute. Like, okay, you might get wet, you might get sweaty. You might have some, like, dangerous moments with cars. Like, there’s downsides and stuff, but it’s like it’s never a soul-crushing, terrible, stuck in traffic or stuck in an unmoving subway commute.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, I think the thing is you can only ever lead by example, so as Trey is kind of alluding to, you can’t be the person who, despite having all the data and the spreadsheets, you can’t be the person say, “See? Look how much money you’re gonna save biking to work.” But all you can do is really show up to work, and when someone says, “Hey, how’d you get here? I saw you rode your bike. Like, how does that work?” Tell them about it. Show them pictures. Do stuff like that. That’s what I do. I don’t really throw a lot of facts or data at people. If they start asking, sure. I have that information. But mostly just like, “Yeah, I dropped my kids off at school and then I headed in to work.” I also think one of the most—in addition to it not being, like, a depressing commute and being a joyful commute, it’s always an on-time commute.
Doug: Google Maps tells me that it will take me 35 minutes to get from my door to my old office via subway. But that’s if everything is running on time. Sometimes it could take an hour. On my bike, it always takes 35 minutes. And if I’m a little late, I go a little faster. If I’m interested in stopping somewhere, I stop somewhere. But it always takes the same amount of time. And so the predictability of cycling is, like, one of the most unheralded virtues of biking. And I wish it was spoken about more actually.
Aaron: In fact, it’s like all the promises that you get in car ads like: control, freedom, independence, like, getting where you need to go. Like, you don’t get any of those things in a car, actually, but you do get all of them on a bike.
Doug: Every single one of them, absolutely. And you save money. So that’s the best part. Thank you, Trey. Here’s another one I thought was really good.
Mark: Hi, The War on Cars. My name is Mark, and I live in a Seattle suburb. A few weeks ago, I took my kids to a birthday party, and I overheard a few parents talking enthusiastically about getting e-bikes for commuting, recreation and errands and so forth. And what surprised me was I didn’t know any of these people to be really into biking or non-automotive transport. They’re just typical suburban parents. What do you think of the potential for e-bikes to take hold in the suburbs?
Doug: That’s a great question.
Aaron: That’s super interesting.
Doug: I really like this question a lot.
Sarah: I think the potential is huge. I mean, I think that we are gonna see in the next five years an absolute explosion of e-bikes in suburbs and cities, and that people are really gonna start using them a lot. The technology is very good right now. You know, people are ramping up production on these things. People are finding out about them. And on Twitter all the time, I’m seeing people talking about their e-bike commutes and how it’s just revolutionized everything for them.
Doug: I think that as far as the suburbs go, e-bikes kind of flatten the suburbs because distances are so great in most places in America, and on an e-bike those distances just completely disappear. So granted there are issues about safety. You need decent bike infrastructure. You don’t want to be riding on a limited-access highway or something like that. But all those excuses about, “Well, it’s, you know, four or five miles to get to my kid’s school,” or whatever, that goes by in a breeze on an e-bike. And you don’t get sweaty, you can go in almost any kind of weather, and you can haul all sorts of loads on those things. You know, there’s incredible models now: Rad Power Bikes, Tern Bicycles. They have these great cargo bikes where you can carry your kids, your groceries, all kinds of stuff. So the potential for e-bikes to transform suburban living is huge.
Aaron: Why do you guys think—I mean, you know, we have mopeds and motorcycles, right? Like, why would e-bikes be that different?
Sarah: I think that they’re very—the interface with the power of them is very, very smooth, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re cranking up an engine. It just feels like you’re sort of gliding the same way that you do on a bicycle when you’re coasting downhill or something. And it’s just a very …
Aaron: Right. There’s no oil, there’s no grease, there’s no exhaust.
Doug: Yeah, I think the fact that you can pedal these things, most of what we’re talking about are pedal assist e-bikes and not full throttle, which is more like a moped or a motorcycle, gives you that personal connection. You feel part of the machine, and so it responds to what you’re doing. You don’t have to use the motor. I have an e-bike and I can just turn it off if I want to pedal on my own. I can turn it up to high if I want a little more help. And so there’s also the fun. They’re a lot of fun. They are a ton of fun.
Aaron: I think also the fact that you can plug it into the wall in your house or office. There’s no gas station trip. It’s just like your fuel is so easy to get.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, I also think a motorcycle and a moped, they’re motor vehicles, and there’s a limit to where you can take them. But e-bikes, the potential is enormous in the suburbs.
Aaron: What do we got next?
Doug: Okay, here’s our next voice memo.
David: Hi, War on Cars. This is David from Indiana. Longtime listener and I love the show. I’m just wondering what you think the place of roadies is in the war on cars, in the fight for safe streets? The people who, you know, like to get road up and go out and ride long distances fast, and sometimes in groups. It seems like we’re the primary targets of a lot of the scorn of drivers, and I wonder if you think it’s better tactics for us to try to kind of stay hidden, or to actually push forward and be visible? Thanks.
Aaron: Oh, roadies!
Doug: That’s a great question. I really like that question, too.
Aaron: I feel like a major role of road bikers in my advocacy experience, so fighting for things like car-free parks in New York City, you inevitably get these complaints about the road cyclists. “Oh, the road cyclists! They come flying by in these big groups and they terrify us.” And what I always used to be is like, “Yeah, those guys are assholes. I totally agree with you. That’s not what we’re talking about here.” You know, actually, the road cyclists were often just a good …
Aaron: Scapegoat, yeah. Yeah. But, you know …
Doug: But I’m sure David is not an asshole. He sounds like a really nice guy.
Aaron: No, David sounds like a very nice guy.
Sarah: Look, I’ve been a roadie.
Aaron: Sure. Same.
Sarah: So I don’t know. I really dislike scapegoating any group of people on bicycles, but I see the usefulness of that.
Aaron: You know, you do what you got to do when you’re fighting for your car-free park.
Sarah: That’s right. But, you know, I just think that, like, the people who are riding bicycles, whether they’re riding them at, you know, 10 miles an hour or 25 miles an hour, it remains ridiculous that they feel like they have to be ashamed of something when there are people blasting around in cars. And so, you know, I think the roadies have their place, and they should be able to ride on the road for crying out loud. And they should have access to places where they can ride the way that they want to ride. And there should be more places where roadies can get up to speed and have the kind of experience that they want to have, without being in places like Prospect Park, where they do come into conflict with children and pedestrians and people who are riding more slowly.
Doug: I mean, I think roadies can be great allies in the fight for safe streets. Well, first of all, most places in this country, to get to the place where you can do the uninterrupted road cycling, you have to get through cities or suburban strip mall-type locations where it’s really dangerous for even the most athletic, most confident cyclist. So the more there are safer streets, the easier it will be for those people to get to the places they want to really ride. I also think there’s something powerful to be said when very strong, confident riders—men or women, whatever—come out and say, “Look, I am this strong, confident rider, and you shouldn’t have to be like me in order to just get out on the streets.” Like, you should just be able to be a kid or a little nervous or a senior citizen or disabled. Like, this is for everybody. And we want to make streets where not just people like us are riding. So do not hide, come to your public meetings and speak up on behalf of all people who cycle.
Aaron: Yeah. And I mean, those guys are organized. They have their mailing lists. They’re going out in groups. They shop at, you know, the same bike shops. And they actually have a lot of potential to be an organizing force.
Doug: Yeah, untapped potential there.
Doug: For sure. Okay, our next one is actually related to—we were talking about variable message signs, well, this one is related to that.
Adam: Hey, The War on Cars. This is Adam from Connecticut. I’ve noticed that the variable message signs along our highways always use the term “accident” instead of “crash.” I reached out to Connecticut DoT to ask them to change their terminology and they said no, citing a study from 2000 in which Minneapolis drivers felt more uneasy after seeing the word “crash.” I think making drivers uneasy will actually make them more aware of how dangerous cars are and therefore a safer driver. What do you think?
Aaron: First of all, that’s pathetic, citing some 2000 study from Minnesota. I mean, there’s been so much written about this “crash” versus “accident” language change since 2000.
Sarah: Yeah, I know. That’s a long time ago now. It’s interesting because in Connecticut, I used to be on the road a lot in Connecticut, and they also have signs for when their workers are on the road, and it says “Let ’em work, let ’em live.” Which, I found that pretty disconcerting. Like, “Oh, you know, don’t kill these guys with your car so that they can keep working.” I don’t know.
Aaron: Right. It’s like a choice we’re making? Like, “I think I’m gonna kill this one today.”
Sarah: Let ’em live.
Aaron: “No, I’m gonna let that one live.”
Doug: “Oh, that guy’s working. I shouldn’t kill him.”
Sarah: Right, exactly.
Aaron: It’s like the assumption there is like every driver is an executioner or something.
Sarah: So I’m not, like, buying the Connecticut DoT’s argument that they’re just, like, trying not to disconcert drivers because I was pretty disconcerted by that message.
Aaron: Maybe we should back up, though, and even explain, like, why the word “accident” is problematic.
Doug: There has been a big movement spearheaded by transportation alternatives, Families for Safe Streets and other organizations to remove the word “accident” from the vocabulary of press coverage, of state and city DoTs, because the word “accident” implies it’s completely unpreventable. It implies that no one is at fault, and it’s just like an act of God or the weather. Whereas “crash” is considered to be neutral. It’s a thing, an incident that happened, and then maybe from there we can talk about ways to prevent it.
Aaron: And, you know, some crashes are caused by actual negligence.
Aaron: You know, a person is texting on their phone while they’re driving, or a person is speeding, you know? And is that—do you just call that an accident?
Doug: Like a drunk driving accident. Like, if I choose to drink and then get in a car, what usually happens next: running over someone and killing them is not an accident. It’s inevitable in many ways. So it shouldn’t be seen as “Oops!” It should be seen as an inevitable outcome of a choice that somebody made.
Sarah: And I think Adam has a good point, that making drivers uncomfortable, you know, making drivers realize that their actions have consequences is good, and that if more people understood and really felt the idea that cars are dangerous and that, you know, catastrophic stuff happens all the time, maybe they would drive more carefully.
Aaron: And I mean, also, the word “accident” takes up a lot of characters on your VMS sign board.
Doug: [laughs] Yes. Yeah.
Aaron: And it’s like, if you’re trying to be more efficient with your messaging …
Doug: “Crash” is very economical.
Sarah: Yeah, what you’re saying is ac-ci-dent, right? I know. It’s like, come on.
Doug: All right, we’ve got another one. Here’s our next clip.
Roger: As a Black, same-gender-loving man in my 40s living in a South Florida suburb, as I do, dating has become quite prickly and interesting in that I find myself having to admit very early on in my relationships, or even in my friendships that I’m trying to start with the new person that I’ve met, that I don’t own a car and that I use public transit and my bicycle to get around. In many ways, in Black estriol culture, car ownership is more than about getting from point A to point B, it’s about status. And men of my age not owning a car is akin to being unemployed. And not just unemployed, but unemployed and showing no interest in finding a job. It’s akin to being a bum, almost.
Doug: Yeah, so I emailed with Roger because he didn’t really have a question. It was just an observation. I think this would be a great topic for a future episode.
Sarah: Yeah, I was gonna say we could do a whole episode about this.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, we are three white hosts who don’t have the same perspective that Roger is gonna have on this, but he does bring up an incredible point of view: car as social signifier. It’s a huge part of what we’re up against here.
Aaron: And you hear the same thing a lot when you talk to immigrant communities in Queens and Brooklyn. Like, if you’ve ever been to community board meetings in, like, central Brooklyn or eastern Queens, and the idea that a car is a really important signifier of making it in America, like, being a fully functioning citizen.
Sarah: Yeah, you have arrived.
Sarah: And this just came up recently actually, when New York State started allowing people who are here without documents to get driver’s licenses, and the lines were out the door. And some people in the transit and biking advocacy community said, “Well, this is not good because, you know, cars are bad.” And I think it’s ridiculous to be judging people for their desire to own a car, because it’s just absolutely true that having a car is a measure of full citizenship in the United States. And so, you know, I think that’s something that advocates ignore at their peril.
Doug: It says something about Roger is contacting us from Florida, and in very sprawled-out places, your car, it’s the first way you present yourself to almost everybody you’re interacting with. You pull up at someone’s house, you pull up at a restaurant, you pull up at work, and what you’re driving is the first thing that they’re gonna see. And from there, they’re gonna make all sorts of judgments about who you are, your economic status. Like Roger’s saying, your motivation in life. So if you pull up in a kind of like, shit box, they’re gonna make one judgment about you. If you pull up in a brand new Porsche, they’re gonna make another. And if you’ve got no car, as Roger is talking about, it’s an entirely different set of judgments. So I really think it says so much about all of this stuff that we’re talking about: race and gender, and just the way we have built American society.
Aaron: Well, and also how cultural tastemakers, present status. You know, what status is. Like, it’s entirely feasible that the kind of entities, the marketers, the companies, the celebrities who essentially create the idea of status in this country could start presenting themselves on bikes, or in electric cars even, instead of big fancy gas burners. I mean, there’s ways that we can start to change the idea of what status is.
Doug: Great. All right, our next question comes from someone right here in Brooklyn.
Brian: Hi, The War on Cars. So my daughter is five months old, and when she’s one, we’re gonna put a bike seat on my bicycle and I’m gonna take her around Brooklyn. And how we’re going to get around. And whenever I tell people this and how excited I am, they tell me how concerned they are, how they think it’s a bad idea. And it’s really frustrating because it’s the best way to get around Brooklyn, and it’s far better than driving around in a car. But everyone seems to believe the opposite and have no qualms about telling me. So more families on bikes.
Aaron: Oh, that’s a good one.
Doug: Yeah, I get this a lot. I’ve been biking around with my kids since they were little. My daughter was about 10 months old when we put her on our bike. You know, so I would get that from people. You know, you can’t throw facts back at their face, but the most dangerous thing that most parents do with their children every day is put them in a car. Like, it’s the number one cause of accidental death of children in this country. Granted, I don’t think that’s gonna convince people to do what I do or what other people do. But, you know, again, I think to get back to what you were saying before is leading by example really helps. So we just get everywhere by bike, and then we don’t have to worry about parking and we don’t have to worry about traffic.
Aaron: It’s actually so great when you have kids.
Doug: Oh, I love it.
Sarah: I know. It’s really …
Aaron: It’s really nice.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, so look …
Aaron: It’s just convenient. Like, that’s the sales point.
Doug: Absolutely. I mean, not having a car does limit you in some ways. You can’t have that, like, spontaneous camping trip, you know, up to the Catskills or something. But I like to call my bicycle for families, you know, it’s a “yes machine.” Someone invites us to a playground in another part of Brooklyn to just hang out for a play date? We can do it. I don’t have to schlep a stroller on the subway. I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just get them there in 15 minutes, and then go to the next thing.
Aaron: And park your bike in the damn playground.
Doug: And see where it is. Right. Have my eyes on it. It’s great. And so I find myself being able to just do so much more because I have a bicycle. Granted, that’s because I live in Brooklyn, and things are close and I can do other things. But yeah, I really call them “yes machines.” You can just do so much.
Sarah: But Brian’s comments get back to Roger in Florida and dating. And, you know, a lot of this is about the peer pressure, the social pressure that we all feel to just do things the way everybody else does them, to do them in a car. And, you know, I think that there is a certain amount of you just have to not care about what other people think. You have to have the courage of your convictions. You have to know what’s right for you and your family, and really believe that, and really just live by it. And it’s not easy always. And, you know, we could all be forgiven for sometimes just going along to get along and all of that. But I mean, we are in a crisis in our world right now. We’re in a climate emergency. There’s all sorts of terrible things happening, and we all have to, you know, examine our consciences, and also just do what works for you. Do what’s right, do what you know is right. I mean, some of it just comes down to just doing what you know is right.
Aaron: Yeah, so what happened to Brian in Brooklyn used to happen to me all the time when I biked around New York City with my two little kids. And I remember one of my favorite incidents of this was I was pulled up at a red light and, like, an older woman in some enormous sedan pulled up next to me. She was staring at us, and she rolled down her window, and she started just kind of lecturing me about how unsafe it was to be out here with the kids, and how could I do that? And I’m a horrible parent and I’m irresponsible. And, you know, my kids are just sitting there, like, looking at this woman lecture. And I just was like, “Ma’am, excuse me? The light’s green.”
Aaron: And she just, like, harrumphed and drove away. But she’d just been sitting there at a green light, just choosing to lecture me.
Doug: Drivers are always in a rush unless they want to give a bicyclist a piece of their mind.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, Aaron, your kids are a little older than mine, and you’ve been biking with them for longer than I have. When you did it, you were a weirdo, right?
Doug: And when I did it, I was a little bit of a weirdo, too. But I think the thing that gives me hope is that we are no longer really as weird.
Aaron: It really doesn’t seem weird anymore.
Doug: No. Yeah, and I think maybe to get back to almost the beginning of this podcast, we were talking about the best thing of the year. Maybe the best thing of the decade is a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about is now a little bit more mainstream. There are so many more families biking around. We got a question about biking on e-bikes in the suburbs. That wouldn’t have happened just a few years ago. So those are the things that I think give me hope and keep me fighting in this fight.
Aaron: Yeah, 2010, 2011 was like, the great bikelash of New York City. I mean, look how far we’ve come. Now, we still have a—actually, wait. I don’t know if …
Doug: No, the bikelash is still here.
Aaron: It’s still here.
Doug: But there are more people on our side fighting this fight. It’s not just the regular cast of advocates that you expect to see. It’s now a much broader coalition of people.
Sarah: And all those kids that we’ve pedaled around over the years—my son, who got pedaled around from the time he was about a year old, is about to turn 18 years old and be a fully enfranchised member of the society. And he still rides a bike to get where he’s going. And you can bet that he’s not gonna be quiet about it.
Doug: So what you’re saying is that brainwashing works?
Sarah: Yes, it does.
Aaron: Although I think one of my kids might end up, you know, buying an SUV at the first possible moment. I think I got one cyclist and one car owner, maybe.
Sarah: That’s not a bad ratio.
Aaron: You don’t win them all.
Doug: You win some, you lose some. That closes out this year of The War on Cars. Thank you to everyone who sent in a voice memo for this episode. If we didn’t include yours this time, don’t worry, we will do another mailbag episode in the future.
Sarah: Remember to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts because that helps people to find us. And if you have any complaints, suggestions, ideas, rants, please send them to us at [email protected]
Aaron: And thank you to our big Patreon sponsors: Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law Office of Vaccaro and White in New York City, Huck and Elizabeth Finne, Lee H. Hermann Jr. and Drew Raines.
Doug: Also, a special message to listeners Kaylie Campbell and Keith Beerman. Kaylie, your mom says that you and Keith both live by your ideals and know that the best way to change the world is to lead by example.
Aaron: Yeah. Happy holidays, Kaylie and Keith.
Doug: Yeah, we’re taking requests here now.
Aaron: That’s a gift from your mom.
Doug: That was a gift from your mom.
Sarah: That’s so sweet. That is like the nicest gift. It’s beautiful. And to all of our supporters, no matter how much you’ve chipped in this year, it has made a difference. It has made a difference to know that you are out there listening and caring about the same things that we care about. It really is just so meaningful to us. I can’t even really express it without getting a little bit verklempt, so I’ll keep going. We couldn’t have done it without you. If you’re listening and you haven’t contributed yet and you’d like to contribute to getting me all teared up, you can do that by visiting TheWaronCars.org and clicking “Donate.”
Aaron: This episode was recorded by Andrew Feyer at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio and edited by Matt Cutler.
Sarah: Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D Designs. I’m Sarah Goodyear.
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek.
Doug: I’m Doug Gordon. And this is The War on Cars.
Woman: Dear owners of the blue Toyota Prius and gray Honda Civic that park on Wayne Ave. in Oakland. Don’t be surprised if a new mom leaves her daughter’s poop-filled diapers on your windshield if you don’t learn that you can’t park blocking the sidewalk. You both have a driveway, aka a mini-parking lot in front of your house. Use it. Or better yet, ditch your cars. Love, your neighbor.