Episode 36: Live in Denver!
Doug Gordon: Hey, everybody. I’m Doug Gordon, and on behalf of my co-hosts Sarah Goodyear and Aaron Naparstek, welcome to The War on Cars. What you’re about to hear is our first live episode, recorded on Monday, February 10, at the Moving People Forward Conference in Denver, presented by Bicycle Colorado. Our guest was Kyle Clark, the host of Next with Kyle Clark on Denver’s 9News. Kyle is well-known around Denver, but what brought him to our attention was an on-air editorial he delivered about bike lanes, NIMBYs and historic preservation that, as you’ll hear, was pretty outstanding. No spoilers, but I think you’re gonna really appreciate his insight. We thank a lot of people at the end of this episode, but a special thanks goes out to Sarah Moss, who was our producer on the ground in Denver, and who made sure everything went off without a hitch. Thank you, Sarah. This episode was produced and edited by me, and this intro was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. Our next live show will be at the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 16. Find out more at Bikeleague.org/summit. Now without further ado, sit back, relax—not too much if you’re driving—and enjoy.
Announcer: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So it is my honor, Bicycle Colorado’s honor to welcome to the stage for their first ever live podcast, The War on Cars.
Doug: How’s everyone doing? Hello, Denver!
Aaron Naparstek: Hello.
Sarah Goodyear: Hey!
Sarah: This thing on?
Doug: This is on. So we are The War on Cars, the podcast where three New Yorkers come to Denver and tell you everything that you need to do. I am Doug Gordon. This is my co-host, Sarah Goodyear. My other co-host, Aaron Naparstek.
Aaron: Hello. Hi.
Doug: If we seem a little nervous, it is not because this is our first live podcast. It’s the altitude, right?
Sarah: Yeah, that’s right.
Doug: We’re still getting used to it.
Sarah: Also, like, that weed makes you a little paranoid, doesn’t it?
Aaron: Yeah, actually, we—we did a bunch of edibles before we got here. So …
Doug: All right. We’re gonna get all the legal weed jokes out of our system right now.
Sarah: That’s it for the corny Denver jokes.
Doug: That’s it for the night.
Aaron: I have, like, five more weed jokes I was going to—I’m not allowed to do them?
Sarah: Happy hour.
Doug: Yeah. So actually we all flew in last night, so we have not had a chance to do legal weed, but we also really haven’t had a chance to see much of the city. I mean, my view from my hotel room is a 20-story apartment building with an eight-story parking garage right below it. So welcome to Denver.
Aaron: Doug, I requested the parking garage view, so …
Doug: You have to pay extra for that. Yeah.
Sarah: So you’re very, very happy. Me, too. But actually, one of the things that struck me right away was I took the train from the airport. And it was really late, it was around midnight. And wow, you guys have a great train from the airport.
Aaron: Very nice.
Sarah: And especially since I had to take the train from the airport the other night in New York, and that ended up being, like, the most horrific experience, we have a terrible thing, though. Anyway.
Doug: So thank you. This is what it’s like to live in a first world city. It’s really great. We’re really grateful.
Sarah: Exactly, yeah. It’s exciting to be in here.
Doug: But before we get started, we usually have some business to do, right?
Sarah: Oh, yeah, that’s right. If you do listen to the podcast, you know that we fund it through Patreon subscribers who, you know, contribute a little bit of money to make the podcast possible, make it so that it can actually sound good. And if you would like to be a Patreon subscriber and you’re not, you can get all sorts of fun swag like stickers and t-shirts and buttons. And you can do that by going to Thewaroncars.org and clicking on “Donate.”
Doug: Yeah. So we were saying that we haven’t had much of a chance to explore Denver. And unfortunately our timing actually couldn’t be worse because B-cycle just shut down a week ago. That’s—for people listening at home, that’s the bicycle sharing system here in Denver, shut down for various reasons that we don’t all need to get into. But I mean, there are scooters, still, and jump bikes and electric bikes and things like that, but I was really hoping to get on the bicycle share system.
Sarah: On the B-cycle, yeah. I’ve done B-cycles in other cities. It launched here in Denver, I believe, during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, right?
Aaron: I think so, right. I assumed it shut down because it’s one of the programs that—one of the Obama-era programs that Trump is rolling back. Is that correct?
Doug: Anything anything associated with Obama, just wipe it out.
Aaron: No detail too small.
Doug: That bicycle system in Denver? Boom.
Doug: If only Trump had that attention to detail. I don’t think he does.
Sarah: But there is good news in Denver, which is Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver Department of Transportation Infrastructure, apparently, I read, just announced a plan to add 125 miles of bike lanes to the network by 2023. Is that right? Did we get that right? All right. That sounds pretty good. That’s impressive.
Doug: That’s really soon. That’s gonna require a lot of work. That’s incredible. Hats off to everybody who is pushing forward on that.
Aaron: And is it correct that Hancock’s term goes until 2023? Is that right? Denver says yes. That’s particularly impressive because our mayor likes to promise things that will take place two or three mayoral terms after he’s gone.
Doug: That’s usually how it works.
Aaron: I’m always impressed when a mayor promises something that has to happen while he or she is still in office.
Doug: There was an editorial I read in The Denver Post, though, that was like, “Look, it’s great that you’re gonna add these bike lanes, but please add them with care. Make sure that all of the neighbors buy into it, that everybody is convinced that it’ll be a good thing.” I’m like, what fantasy world is The Denver Post editorial board living in, where every neighbor is gonna be like, “Yes, I want a bike lane on my street. Please take my parking.”
Sarah: I think they said the trick is to convince people that the inconvenience will be worth it. And if they figure out, if any of you all figure out that trick of how to do that, please let us know, because there are people around the world who need to be doing that trick.
Doug: Yeah. So speaking of local news, that is our main topic. That’s why we’re here in Denver. We’re really excited to talk about this. You know, we tend to talk about policy. We talk about facts and figures and statistics and all of this stuff, and we’re all preaching to the choir. But in order to wage a successful war on cars, you have to go through your local news media. And a lot of time, the local news media, they can be kind of new to some of these issues. They sometimes take things from a driver’s perspective. You know, Aaron, Sarah, you both have had a lot of interactions with TV news in particular over the years. What are some of the things we’re dealing with?
Aaron: Indeed. I mean, a key element of your local news is that—and, you know, it’s probably not true everywhere, but certainly in the New York City region, the local news is mainly oriented toward suburban older car-owning, home-owning audiences. And so you do end up with this pretty intense windshield perspective in the local news. And it really comes out every time there’s a story about a new piece of bike infrastructure or some new transit infrastructure. So that’s something that we’re up against.
Sarah: Yeah. And it comes out too—and this is even more disturbing. It comes out when there’s a fatality. Often it’s, you know, this idea that, well, you know, the person ran into a truck, a person on a bicycle, you know, somehow ran into a truck or—you know, the way it’s covered, it just doesn’t usually look at things as if the people who are on bicycles are members of the community, the same community that all the other people watching the TV are.
Doug: And in a way, that’s a perfect segue for the segment we’re gonna show. So many of you here know, but for our listeners who are not here in the room, the city of Denver proposed installing a bike lane on four blocks of Marion Street—South Marion Parkway. And, of course, this kicked up the normal sort of opposition of people living on the street, and people got upset. Here’s how one channel in Denver played it. It was a segment titled “New Bike Lane Proposed is Loved by Some Cyclists, But Hated by Neighbors.”
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: There are two types of people who use Marion Street every day: people who live here …]
[NEWS CLIP, woman: It’s a wonderful neighborhood to live in.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: … and those just passing through.]
[NEWS CLIP, man: I’ve been commuting on Marion for about a year.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: People who drive, and people who cycle. And sometimes the two just don’t coexist. That’s why the city of Denver wants to build a protected bike lane along this street, similar to this one in Wash Park. to separate the two.]
[NEWS CLIP, woman: I have two elementary school kids, and we ride in the street.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: For some cyclists, It’s a welcome addition.]
[NEWS CLIP, woman: I would appreciate it if it were just a little bit more safe for vulnerable users.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: That’s because the bike lane that currently exists …]
[NEWS CLIP, man: It doesn’t necessarily provide any separation from traffic.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: But it’s not just the moving cars that might be a problem.]
Aaron: Impressive drone shot.
[NEWS CLIP, woman: When there’s parked cars here, it’s pretty dangerous for bicyclists. They’re in the door zone.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: However, some neighbors say this protected lane just isn’t the answer.]
[NEWS CLIP, woman: You’re destroying the whole beauty of the parkway.]
Doug: With a row of parked cars behind her.
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: Not only are they unhappy with how this could change the look at the neighborhood …]
[NEWS CLIP, woman: Because it is a historical parkway, and it’s about the trees and the beauty.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: They say space is already limited on this street.]
Doug: Beautiful moving truck.
[NEWS CLIP, woman: All the deliveries and move-ins and move-outs have to occur on this street, and it’s very difficult.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: And they’re worried about losing parking spaces. But Denver officials say that won’t happen with their designs. Other cyclists say things are fine as is.]
[NEWS CLIP, man: There’s so little traffic along here. It doesn’t—it’s not needed.]
[NEWS CLIP, man: I don’t see any issue with this type of bike lane, personally.]
[NEWS CLIP, reporter: For now, on this four-block stretch of Marion, the future is anything but certain.]
Aaron: Such good material.
Doug: So what I love about that clip, it’s really common, right? This side, there are the people who live here. This side, there are the people just passing through. This side, there are the cyclists. This side, there are the drivers. And what I love even further is that they divide the cyclists then, so drivers are, like, one monolithic group, but the cyclists are the people who are both for it, and then like the two older—sorry, old white guys, but it’s almost always two older white guys who’ve been biking on the street forever and they didn’t get killed, so what do they need a bike lane for?
Aaron: Right. They’ve survived 40 years of biking. Now they’re old white guys.
Doug: It is total survivorship bias, right? Yeah.
Sarah: Also like, the idea that that’s a tough parking situation? I’d like you to come to New York City. It’s just really like …
Doug: They literally show a shot, drone shot. It’s like, open curb where you can park a moving truck. And the moving truck is parked in the bike lane, not even against the curb.
Aaron: Can we talk about the high level of production quality of that newscast?
Sarah: I know!
Doug: That was a well done segment.
Aaron: You guys are using drones in your local newscasts? That’s very impressive.
Sarah: Also yeah, just like your trains are so much better than New York’s, your production values in your local news also. I’m like, kudos.
Aaron: You can be pleased about that.
Aaron: But we should just point out the historic preservation argument, because that just comes up a lot.
Sarah: Yeah. This came up in New York in the first bike lane fight that I got involved with, with a historic street. Now in my neighborhood, the houses date back to the mid- to late-1800s, and people were talking about historic preservation. If you put a bike lane on the street, you’ll ruin the street. Meanwhile, there was a streetcar that ran down that street in the 1910s. So it comes up all the time.
Sarah: Right. Or when they put in our bike share system, the docks for the bike shares, people were complaining, “Well, this bright blue color is not appropriate for a landmark district.” Meanwhile, of course, the entire curb is filled with enormous cars, which were also not there in 1850. Anyway, but that’s—you know?
Doug: Yeah. But I mean, look, this is all kind of like, theoretical, like, interesting to argue about, but it has real world consequences, right? So as many of you know, in July of last year, a 37-year-old woman, Alexis Bounds, was killed on a stretch of Marion Parkway, I believe, where they were going to put the protected bicycle lane. She was a mother of two, married. A very tragic story. The driver was at fault. And from what I have read, it sounds like Alexis would be alive today had this project been implemented faster.
Sarah: Yeah, and it would be great if, instead of reacting to fatalities and having to say, like, “Oh, look, this is a good place for infrastructure because someone died here,” you know, to instead be preventative about it, and not have to have people die. Because every time somebody dies in this way, obviously it affects dozens and dozens of other people.
Aaron: And so the very next night in a clip that really ricocheted all around the world, the safe streets world, we all saw this: a local news anchor here in Denver named Kyle Clark from Channel 9News, delivered this pretty amazing, scathing on-air editorial.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kyle Clark: If we are going to make Denver streets safer for everyone—whether you drive, bike or walk—we need to acknowledge something that is both obvious and uncomfortable. You don’t own the street in front of your home. We, the public, own the street in front of your home—and my home. “Our streets” is more than just a protest cry, that’s a factual statement. Our streets belong to everyone, so that everyone can get from here to there with as little fear of being killed as possible. I get that people like living on pretty streets. Arguing for aesthetic appeal while bodies are being lifted off the pavement is a bad look, and it’s a worse argument. I also love Denver’s history, but not more than your life or mine. The people arguing that making our streets safer ruins our history need to be honest. They’re not really arguing for historical preservation. They’re asking for the preservation of the present. Because this is the history of South Marion Street Parkway: a dirt street, a horse and carriage, a drainage ditch down the center. I don’t hear the people fighting the protected bike lanes there calling for cars to be banned or calling for parking to be eliminated all in the name of history. No, they just don’t want any more accommodations for cyclists. These preservationists of the present want the status quo—not history. The status quo that makes it all too easy for drivers to kill our neighbors.]
Aaron: Yeah! Really good.
Doug: Incredible. I think on that note, we should bring up our guest. We actually happen to have here the host of Next with Kyle Clark on 9News, Kyle Clark.
Sarah: Welcome to The War on Cars.
Doug: So Kyle, I think we should just start with what was the reaction to that piece, both from people like, who might be in this room, and people who would never be caught dead in a room like this?
Kyle Clark: It went over well in mobility church on the internet. I think it was pretty well received, because as you guys laid out, this was not an event that happened in isolation, this was part of a continuing conversation about safe streets in Denver. And what prompted me to take that particular tack is the fact that Alexis’s death didn’t appear to change anybody’s conversation. And you had neighbors standing within a block or two of where she died, making the same arguments that they were making the week prior, despite the death of their neighbor. And I thought that was pretty grotesque.
Sarah: I’m interested in how other people at the station, your bosses and so forth, was there support in your workplace for taking this approach?
Kyle Clark: There absolutely was. So when we launched the show that that appeared on, Next three years ago, we brought commentary back to local news. And we heard some people say, “How dare you do commentary on local news?” As if commentary and editorials haven’t been a part of local news for decades, for generations. Carl Akers, who helped found my station back in the ’50s, did commentary for more than a decade. We just brought it back, but we brought it back in an era in which media is under a lot of scrutiny and under a lot of pressure, especially as it relates to bias. And our goal with commentaries like that one—I’m not a policy expert. I don’t advocate on policy in any arena—but what we try to do is advocate for areas where we think there are widely shared values within the community. So quite often that is transparency, accountability, fairness, not being cavalier about the death of your neighbors, things like that. I’ll leave it up to the policy folks to figure out what’s the best way to make South Marion Street Parkway a safe place for everybody, but I am happy to be the one who comes forward to a large audience and says, “Yeah, it needs to be safe.”
Aaron: So, you know, as we discussed at the beginning, you know, local news often does have this windshield perspective, if only because that is pretty much the status quo of our cities. Our cities are heavily car dominated. What do you suggest to advocates and people who care about these issues for how they should approach the local news, how they should pitch their ideas, how they should try to get the news to see things the way that people in this room see things?
Kyle Clark: I think that’s really the crucial question. And I’ve heard that reflected in The War on Cars before in terms of how do you start these conversations in a productive way? How do you have a public meeting that’s more than just a shouting match, that actually moves people? When you say that local news has a windshield perspective, I think local news is reflective of America. And that’s the perspective that America has. It’s not unique to local news. Yeah, it might be a little bit more distilled. I mean, we do have traffic segments in which the only type of traffic that’s acknowledged is cars.
Kyle Clark: You know, there’s a whole segment on your commute in from the suburbs. And then it’s like, “Well, if you’re biking to work, how is it today?” “It’s great. Same as it was yesterday.” [laughs] So all we talk about is car congestion. But in terms of how do you make that productive first step to having a conversation with a journalist, what I have found in my personal experience is we hear from people across the ideological spectrum. When we hear from folks who are in the transit and mobility space, we tend to get one of two types of outreach. The first, and until recently, the most common was you are a corporatist shill for petrodollars, and that’s the reason why you won’t talk about bike lanes or pedestrian safety because you’ll lose your car commercials, and you’re a hack and so on, and so forth. Okay, that’s the one approach.
Aaron: Sorry. Sorry about that.
Doug: You return those emails, right? You write back to those people?
Kyle Clark: I wrote back to each of you. And then the second approach is, “Hey, you seem like a smart guy. You like to know things. Maybe you don’t know this. Do you want to read about it? Here’s a link. Here’s another.” “Oh, I heard you say this the other day. Did you ever think about this?” Send some reading material my way. And then following up. “Oh, hey, we heard this perspective, and appreciated that inclusion.” Now you’re thanking us for doing our job. Nobody needs to thank us for doing our job. But those are the types of outreach that we tend to get. And I tell you what’s been a lot more effective in Denver over the last couple of years: I know we kind of put up that piece from the other channel and dragged them a bit, but hopefully the folks in here from Denver do notice a bit of a sea change in the way that local media talks about safe streets. It wasn’t just one editorial by me. There’s a lot of that. There are a number of outlets that have done incredibly good coverage. I think about the work that was done by Streetsblog and by Denverite. I mean, journalists read other journalists and, you know, they’re writing informed my opinion, along with a lot of thoughtful outreach.
Sarah: And how about you? I mean, do you—is this something that was on your radar because of your personal habits? Do you bike? Do you—you know, how did you get this perspective yourself?
Kyle Clark: I am not an advocate. I am not in that space. I drove my SUV here this morning.
Doug: All right. Go home. Get out of here.
Doug: That’s our show, folks. Thanks. Good night.
Sarah: It’s been nice, Kyle.
Aaron: And that’s it for this episode of The War on Cars.
Kyle Clark: I would say that I’m somebody who’s constantly interested in learning, and that means learning about the city that I live in, and learning about the world that I live in, and learning about how my choices and the choices of my neighbors impact the city and the country and the world that I live in. And I think the transition, at least for me personally, because that’s how I came to it. I grew up in the country. I grew up in a town of about 3,000 people in western New York, a farm town. Where I mean, this is not a conversation that you have in a farm town in upstate New York, at least not when I was living there. And I don’t know if folks who grew up in urban environments understand how little people who don’t understand about how cities work. I was completely ignorant about how cities work, and about how cities could better work for more people. So that’s the exploration that I’m on.
Doug: And I think the thing you said about, like, that other piece that we showed, too, is that at least they’re covering it. Like, my philosophy is, okay, so it’s a both sides thing. It’s, you know, maybe not the coverage we would want as advocates, but they’re covering it. Because if you hadn’t been covering this on your show, that editorial might have come out of the blue and had no context. So you had been covering this story on your show, correct?
Kyle Clark: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Yeah, this was something, this was part of a continuing conversation. And I mean, credit to everybody in this room who has brought this issue to the forefront, and who is constructively engaged with journalists and with policymakers. I’ve been in town 12 years, and I’ve seen a decided shift in the conversation in the last three, maybe. And again, that’s credit to those outlets that I mentioned earlier that were doing leading work on the issue. But credit to the folks in this room who are making change.
Doug: So speaking of the folks in this room, I think that’s a great way for us to turn to do a couple of questions from people in the audience. Got one right in the back, right?
Speaker: Considering the reasons why there is a war on cars, what can we do about the war on pedestrians, and addressing pedestrian dignity?
Sarah: I mean, for me it really comes down to, do we see each other as human beings in this world? And it’s obviously a much bigger, bigger, bigger question that we are struggling with in this nation on a really frightening level. Do we see each other as human beings? What is more human than a person who is out walking on the street or using a wheelchair to get down the street? This is a human being, and we seem unable to allow ourselves to see each other as human. And so there’s no easy answer to how we get to that. But I think that the war on pedestrians is really part of the larger war on humanity that we see in the United States today.
Aaron: And I mean, not to make this answer too long, but a lot of the solution comes down to infrastructure and engineering. So if we make our streets safer for pedestrians, if we make places that are accommodating to pedestrians, we will have safer pedestrians. There’s another piece to this that I think is coming more to the fore, and one of the things that we’re trying to talk about more with The War on Cars, which is we need to think more about the design of our motor vehicles, of our personal motor vehicles, and the fact that cars are getting bigger and bigger, that drivers are getting more and more distracted. This is also a problem that needs to be designed and engineered and thought through. And that’s another way to make pedestrians safer.
Announcer: This was submitted by Tim Jackson. He is with the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, and he’ll be at our conference later today. So please feel free to say hello. He asks, “While cycling is great when people have the flexibility to use that option, the ban cars movement harms the construction worker who needs to deliver supplies to a job site, the parent who needs to take the soccer team to practice, and others for whom a bike isn’t an option. How do you explain the ban cars movement to those people who will be spending more time in traffic congestion if they can get to their destination at all?”
Sarah: Okay, I just actually got back from Finland. I was at the Winter Cycling Congress in Finland last week. And Helsinki, which is a pretty large city, had zero pedestrian and bike fatalities last year, which is amazing. And I went to a very small, rural city where there are people biking all through the winter. And anyway, I was talking to one of the people who does planning in Helsinki, and we were talking about the idea of cars and, you know, he knew the name of my podcast. And he said, ‘Well, it’s very simple. We have priorities here. The first priority is pedestrians. The second priority, because bicycles are a very good, efficient, environmentally-friendly mode, the second is bicycles. The third is excellent public transportation. The fourth is goods transport. And the fifth is cars. Yes, sometimes you need cars, and they are in our list of priorities, but they are the lowest priority.” And that just seems sensible to him. Of course, there are going to be times when people need cars, there are going to be people who need cars. But if you have all of those other priorities taken care of first in an urban environment, then cars can be lower on the list.
Doug: All right. I’m going to disagree, because that argument is great for this room, terrible for the Car Dealership Association of America representative, right? So if we can make our streets better and safer and give people options, then that guy who’s hauling, you know, sheetrock and giant contracting equipment is going to have a better and easier time getting around. We don’t need to get him out of his car. We need to get the person driving to his office job by himself in the same type of pickup truck that that contractor is probably using, by the way. The way I have been describing it lately is that mobility should be like a Swiss Army knife, right? Like, when you need to really cut something, get out that big blade. But most of the time, most of us need the tweezers, we need the corkscrew. We need, like, the nail file. You don’t need a big truck to take your kid to school, to go to your office job. And so there’s no ban cars movement. If there is, I would love to see that website. But there is a let’s rethink how we deploy the use of cars to make it better for those who absolutely need them: people with mobility challenges, the disabled, the contractor. And I think we can do that and be inclusive and still make a better city, a better Denver, a better New York, wherever it is for everybody.
Aaron: Well, let me disagree with that.
Doug: Well, my argument is not gonna—my argument is not gonna win over that guy either.
Sarah: The War on Cars is not monolithic.
Aaron: I’ll be the very bad cop. I mean, you know, we have multiple interlocking crises underway in Denver and the United States and the world. You know, the climate crisis is going to require us to get rid of gasoline-burning personal motor vehicles as quickly as we can, you know? And that’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re an auto dealer. But you could still maybe sell electric cars. We need cities to function really well so that we can stop sprawling. We need to solve our housing affordability crises in our cities, which means more development, which means more people, which means if we’re all driving cars, cities don’t work and we don’t have affordability. We don’t solve the climate crisis. You know, the list goes on, right? You guys know the list. So there are industries that are gonna be, frankly, losers in this transition. And perhaps the automobile dealers are one of them. Perhaps the frackers are another one. The oil companies might be another one, unless those guys can figure out how to transition. So this is all a process that’s underway. There are hard conversations. And I think that’s one of the things we’re trying to do is sort of, you know, make the automobile dealer guy a little bit uncomfortable.
Doug: Kyle, as a shill for the petro auto industrial state, do you have an answer?
Aaron: Kyle disagrees.
Doug: Do you have an answer for this?
Kyle Clark: I guess my only area of policy expertise is in the use of words. So is Tim here? I know Tim Jackson. Nice guy, lovely guy. I hope that no serious journalist in Denver is actually considering repeating Tim’s phrase about a ban on cars, because I haven’t heard anybody in Denver talk about that. So at this point, that’s about as real as the war on Christmas. So I would hope that journalists are intelligent about the words that we use. But Tim’s always welcome to come in for a conversation.
Doug: Yeah, we would love to talk to you after the show, Tim, please. Another question?
Speaker: Hi, welcome to Colorado, the land of SUVs. We might have a nice train to the airport, but we drive a lot of SUVs, which I think is a combination of practicality. I mean, it’s snowy, we have mountain roads, it’s image, it’s sort of who I am, but it’s also fear, right? We have been convinced that in order to be safe, you need an ever bigger car to protect you and your children and your groceries. That last piece worries me because that’s pretty visceral and deep. Advice, suggestions, you know, how do we start to unpack that idea that in order to be safe you need an ever bigger car? I know you can solve it in, you know, five seconds.
Aaron: I mean, it’s an arms race. I mean, it’s a legitimate arms race where if you do want yourself and your family to be safe on the road, you do feel like you need a bigger vehicle. And it’s a huge problem.
Sarah: I think for me, in a way, it gets back to what I was saying before. All of these things are reflective of larger cultural movements that are going on in the United States right now. So when you say that we’re motivated by fear, I think that’s really accurate. And it’s the same thing that says, oh, I should be packing. You know, everyone should be armed in every situation because who knows who’s going to come through that door right now. And so I think that there are deeper societal problems. Again, just because I just was in Finland, I was in this very snowy, rural place where people really value being able to go out, like, deep into nature, and they ski everywhere. And, you know, it’s very much like Colorado in some ways. It’s sparsely populated. There were so few SUVs. It was people were driving around in sedans. And, you know, it’s just I think that trying to get fear out of American culture is a really big lift, but I think that we all have to be working on that as well.
Doug: And I think storytelling is a huge part of that, because I’m not gonna convince that mother who’s driving her kids in an SUV to go skiing or pick up groceries, that she doesn’t need the SUV. But the more of us who are living without that, and taking the bus to the slopes, and biking our groceries home, the more people will pick up on that. So I think we, as advocates, need to do a better job of storytelling. We’re up against the car industry, which has a big budget for doing that, but I think storytelling is a huge part of it.
Aaron: Just one final thought on that. I mean, there is a very practical policy lever that we can pull, and that is, you know—and it’s hard to pull, but right now, you know, motor vehicles and drivers are mostly managed by states and the federal government. And I think one of the things that could help here is if city governments start to try to insert themselves into this process. We actually just saw an example of this in New York City today. A bill is getting signed called the—well, it was called the Reckless Driver Accountability Act. And it’s one of the first examples of a city government really aggressively asserting itself into the kind of regulation of drivers and motor vehicles in a way that you usually see a state Department of Motor Vehicles do. So I think cities need to sort of seize control over that again, and start to control the kinds of motor vehicles that are permitted on urban streets. And, you know, this is a motor vehicle right behind us. This scooter, this e-scooter. And, you know, cities are starting to regulate these. So I think some of the lessons that we’re learning from the regulation of electric vehicles can start to apply to cars, too. But it’s gonna be a big fight.
Doug: Another question?
Speaker: Hi, my name is Brad Evans. I started the Denver Cruiser Ride here in Denver. So thousands of people riding bikes and having fun. Also—also known for agitating, so I’m here with my friend Pete. Is it better to be incremental or say, “Hey, I don’t want anything unless it’s as good as it can be?” I think it’s such a kind of dynamic we have here. There’s kind of—there’s only a couple of elected officials here, so getting mobility to change and become a priority in Denver is zero from the top. So how do we get the incrementalists and the people like me who would rather have nothing than what’s best? So do you have any ideas on how do you kind of make up those paradigm shifts between incrementalism and getting the best?
Doug: I mean, I think that’s sort of like the old Supreme Court saying about, like, what is pornography? Like, I’ll know it when I see it. Like, you will know when to be incremental, and you will know when radical change is needed. When New York City launched Citi Bike, they could have gone with a pilot of 15 stations in one neighborhood. They went with, like, 300 stations across the whole city, because they knew that incrementalism wouldn’t work. The Reckless Driver Accountability Act that Aaron just referenced will seize the cars of drivers who rack up a certain number of red light and speeding camera ticket violations. But it’s a very high number right now, because that’s all that the city can manage. Eventually, it will get down. That’s where incrementalism sort of comes into play, because if we just went now willy-nilly confiscating the vehicle of any driver who racked up two speeding tickets, there’d be a lot of pushback and that program would fail.
Aaron: But look, the reckless driver thing is a great example. Sorry, Sarah. Because, you know, we have that system in place. Everybody who worked on it wanted there—wanted it to be more stringent, wanted it to be tougher, wanted it to be bigger and more radical. And, you know, we could have said, “Oh, it didn’t accomplish those goals. We’re going to scuttle it.” But we didn’t do that. Instead, you know, the thing we—the legislation we put forward and is passing, it’s going to exist and it can be built on. And it’s a real paradigm change what was passed. It’s not perfect, but it can be built on. So you push for more and you often settle for less.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean—and also, I do think we’re in a crisis. I think it’s going to become increasingly apparent just how bad that crisis is, and that this country has reacted with very radical change when there have been crises in the past. For instance, the Depression, World War II, you know, those are the—but I think to Aaron’s point, you know, ask for more because it’s a negotiating position, it’s the Overton window. We want to move it way over, and the only way that’s gonna happen is if we ask for more.
Doug: And to the elected officials in the room, that’s the advocate’s job, is to give you cover to do more. So you say you want to do, you know, 50 miles of bike lanes, and the advocates say, “No, we want 500.” And whoa, you get 125 out of that? That’s a win in my book. So I think elected officials should understand that advocates in their best and highest version of themselves are there to give you cover. Work with them, talk to them. I think we have time for one more question.
Speaker: I was in a cab in New York, and they brought up the fact that there are 100,000 Ubers on the street, and contributing to a lot of the problems, congestion, also sustainability issues. You know, they’re driving around waiting for the next ride. So how do we reconcile that, you know? We thought Uber and Lyft was a, you know, tremendous asset because it cut down on the number of cars that are out there. But really, it’s contributed to more congestion and more cars.
Aaron: Look, I don’t think these new mobility solutions, they’re not—you know, we can just sort of drop them in cities and see how they’re going to work, but if you incentivize a bunch of people to get cars and drive them in the city, you’re going to get more cars and driving in the city. And governments really need to start to think about, you know, if we’re going to add these Uber and Lyft motor vehicles to our cities, how are we going to reduce something like personal car ownership in the city? And that I feel like has been a big missing piece in New York City. We’re not really doing anything to try to reduce personal car ownership as we add this entire new fleet of vehicles.
Sarah: I think also the fact that the VC money that is subsidizing these rides, making them much, much cheaper than they ought to be, that eventually that bubble is gonna burst. And that’s going to have a pretty catastrophic effect on people who are making their living as Uber drivers now. But I think that that might help to correct some of the situation in the future.
Doug: Folks, I want to thank everybody for being a fantastic audience. That is it for this first-ever live recording of The War on Cars. Kyle Clark, thank you for being such a great guest. Thank you for being here.
Kyle Clark: My pleasure.
Doug: We want to thank everybody at Bicycle Colorado, including Sarah Moss, Stacey Mulligan, Piep Van Heuven, Justin Millar, Pete Piccolo, everybody here for welcoming us in Denver. It’s been great.
Aaron: Also, thanks. Oh. No, applause.
Doug: Yes, applaud for all of those people. They’ve been awesome.
Aaron: We never have that in the studios. That was a little weird. Also, thanks to all of you, our live audience. We will have t-shirts, stickers and buttons for sale after the show. Everyone listening at home, please head over to Thewaroncars.org and support us with your Patreon contributions.
Sarah: This live episode of The War on Cars was recorded by Daniel Cokewell, Taylor Richards and Aaron Landon. Give them a big hand back there.
Doug: Thanks, guys.
Sarah: Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D. Designs. You can get it on that t-shirt out there. And I’m Sarah Goodyear.
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek.
Doug: I’m Doug Gordon. And this is The War on Cars. Thanks!
Sarah: Thank you!