Episode 62 – It’s Finally Infrastructure Week

Doug Gordon: You’ve all heard the saying April showers bring May flowers. Well, you don’t want to be caught off guard when it starts coming down while you’re out on a bike ride or a walk this spring. So get yourself some stylish Cleverhood rain gear, and you’ll be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. The folks at Cleverhood, who are based out of Providence, Rhode Island, they’ve thought of everything, from reflective details to keep you visible, to secure zippers that won’t let in any water. Listeners of The War on Cars can now receive 25 percent off anything in the Cleverhood store. Just go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars, enter code “waroncars”—that’s all one word—and you’ll get your discount. That’s a huge savings on some high quality rain gear, so get yours before it starts raining.

[Aaron Naparstek: Welcome back to WCAR News. An update on our top story: a massive 18-wheel truck still stuck on Lower Manhattan’s Canal Street. This crisis, which has captured the attention of the region and brought commerce to a grinding halt, continues on into its sixth hour.]

[Sarah Goodyear: This ongoing disaster has caused untold economic losses, and sent tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Crews are working as hard as they can to get the truck moving again, but it could be a long time before things are back to normal.]

[Aaron: We now go live to correspondent Doug Gordon, who’s high above the scene in the WCAR news chopper. Doug, what do you see up there?]

[Doug: Aaron, Sarah, this thing is totally jackknifed. If I look closely, I can make out the words “Ever Driven” on the side of the trailer, although with this city’s trucking regulations, who owns and operates it is anyone’s guess. It’s causing major traffic problems from Brooklyn to Jersey. UPS, FedEx, the Postal Service, they all have to find alternate routes to complete their deliveries. Except for every weekday at rush hour, I have never seen anything like this.]

[Sarah: Doug, can you give our listeners a sense of just how big the Ever Driven is?]

[Doug: The scale of this thing is hard to comprehend. From end to end, it’s 72-feet long. Now for reference, that’s equivalent to over 12 bicycles lined up in a row.]

[Aaron: And so the Canal Street Ever Driven crisis drags on into its seventh hour. Doug, thanks for the report.]

[Sarah: It looks like if you selected one-day Amazon Prime Shipping or if you’re waiting for that new Peloton, you’ll have to wait a lot longer.]

[Announcer: WCAR, The Car!]

Sarah: This is The War on Cars. I’m Sarah Goodyear. With me are my co-hosts Aaron Naparstek and Doug Gordon.

Aaron: Hello.

Doug: Hey, what’s up?

Sarah: On this episode, we’re going to look at some other recent transportation stories, ones that don’t have to do with ships being stuck in canals. But before we get to those, a listener sent in a voice memo that is related to our recent episodes on e-bikes.

[Dana: Hi, War on Cars, Dana from California here. I feel like the cycling community needs more discussion of how the e-bike revolution sources its batteries. Making batteries requires mining lithium, nickel and other raw materials, and building infrastructure which just is bad for the environment. There’s no way around that. The battery industry perpetuates climate change and environmental injustice. E-bikes are great, but we should know the true price of this accessibility and convenience. Thanks.]

Aaron: That’s a good one.

Doug: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: Dana is absolutely right here. There have been reports from Amnesty International about child labor abuses in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, multiple human rights violations against indigenous people in South America, where a lot of our lithium comes from. These issues with batteries are really serious, and they’re on multiple fronts. And I mean, it’s interesting because they echo a lot of the other problems that transportation technology has caused for generations.

Doug: And I think for anybody considering buying an e-bike, there are things you can do. You can ask the companies from which you’re potentially buying one, how do they source their batteries? What are the labor practices? And also at the tail end of its life, you know, when your battery dies, how do they replace it? How do they recycle it? Because a lot of these things just wind up in the trash, and that’s terrible for the environment, when they can actually be upcycled into smaller electronics, because they might not have enough juice to power your cargo bike, but they could power a phone or a radio or something like that.

Aaron: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s something that we should really try to dive into in a future episode. It’s a really good topic. And honestly, I think, you know, we don’t really even know what the answer to that question is. Batteries are becoming a huge part of the energy mix, they need to become a huge part of the energy mix. And so is there a way to do it sustainably and justly and non-destructively? And we should try to do an episode on it. We should talk to people who actually know some of the answers to these questions.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely.

Doug: Yeah. Thank you, Dana.

Aaron: Thanks, Dana.

Sarah: So let’s get to the news. There’s been a lot of news this past month. One of the really sad pieces of news is about Shawn Bradley, former NBA player who was hit by a driver when he was riding his bike.

Doug: Yeah, and the thing obviously that struck us about this was that in much of the news reporting, this was referred to as a bicycle accident.

[NEWS CLIP: The Dallas Mavericks just shared the first public details of an accident that Shawn Bradley suffered in late January while riding his bicycle a block away from his home in Utah. A car struck Bradley from behind. The accident caused a traumatic spinal cord injury that has left Bradley paralyzed.]

Doug: Again, this isn’t a bicycle accident any more than, like, if I’m hit by a car while I’m walking on the sidewalk, it’s a sneaker accident. This is a car crash.

Aaron: Right. Or you’re, like, sitting in a chair in your backyard and a tiger leaps over the fence and eats you, like that’s not a chair accident.

Sarah: Yeah. So, I mean, I think that this—because this is a really high-profile, obviously very tragic case, it’s gotten some attention, and it’s been a chance to really talk about why it’s important to not say “accident” and to not view these things as accidents, but to understand them as part of a systemic failure of the way we design the spaces that vulnerable human beings are moving around in.

Aaron: I mean, what word do you guys like? I mean, obviously, you know, “crash” feels like the most neutral term for something like this. But I even say, like, you know, “vehicular violence,” “vehicular manslaughter” when the person is killed. Like, a vehicle, a driver in a vehicle did this violence. And that should be pointed out.

Sarah: Yeah. Or “traffic violence” is another term that has been gaining some currency. I had the chance to talk to Elizabeth Warren during the campaign for the presidential nomination about how she had used that term on Twitter. So I think that people are understanding maybe more broadly that this is violence, it’s violence that is the result of using these machines on a daily basis for these simple transportation tasks in an environment that’s just not safe.

Doug: I also just used the word “incident” very often, because sometimes the word “accident” gets placed late in a story because a reporter or writer is searching for another word to use that they haven’t used before. And so you might say that Shawn Bradley was injured when a driver in a car hit him, causing him to crash. And then you could say “the incident left him paralyzed,” not “the accident left him paralyzed.” So I think it’s just, you know, folks, reporters, you’re writers, you have a thesaurus, you have a dictionary. There’s so many words that you can use that don’t just describe sort of like, “Oopsy!” to this thing that happened.

Aaron: By the way, do you guys know how tall Shawn Bradley is?

Doug: Over seven feet, right? 7’4″, I think.

Aaron: He is seven feet, six inches tall.

Doug: Oh, wow!

Aaron: Like, if anyone is going to be visible on the road, like, how do you miss a seven foot six inch tall guy on his bike, you know? And like, that’s a little oopsy accident. I mean, no one could be more visible than that.

Sarah: The way you miss it is you’re in a car and …

Aaron: Yeah, a huge car.

Sarah: … you can’t relate to the world around you like a normal person when you’re in a car.

Aaron: There was one more example just like this this week. Did you guys see this insane story on CNN about the teen girls that carjacked a guy, an Uber Eats driver?

Doug: Yeah, the video is very hard to watch.

Aaron: I did not watch the video, but …

Sarah: I did not watch the video either.

Doug: Terrible.

Aaron: So it’s a terrible story. So two teen girls, ages 13 and 15, apparently jumped in a car with an Uber Eats driver to rob him. They used a Taser while carjacking this poor guy. But then CNN tweets out, “Police said the girls, 13 and 15, assaulted an Uber Eats driver with a Taser while carjacking him, which led to an accident in which he was fatally injured.” How is that an accident? It’s a murder. It’s like a literally murder. It’s like I was stabbed in the chest and I stumbled and fell. And that’s an accident? I mean, it’s …

Sarah: Yeah, it just shows that, like, when there’s a car involved, the word “accident” just pops into people’s minds, into their mouths, and it really trivializes what happens with these vehicles. It needs to change.

Doug: I think this is another thing we should do an episode on, about the history of this word “accident” and the people who are working to change how news reporters talk about this. I know the AP updated its stylebook a few years ago to ask its reporters not to use the word “accident” in such instances.

Sarah: All right. So I want to turn to one of my personal superheroes, Lina Hidalgo. She is the Harris County judge in Texas. That’s kind of like she’s the top official in the Houston area. She’s just 29 years old, she was elected in 2018. She’s amazing. She’s been right out front on so many important issues like voting rights and voting access, COVID restrictions. She’s really held the line on those in a very difficult environment in Texas and Black Lives Matter. I mean, she’s just—she’s an amazing person. You should definitely know about Lina Hidalgo and watch her for the future because she has a bright future politically. But she also, it turns out, really understands induced demand, and all the other negative effects that highways and freeways have on communities. And there’s a big project going on in north Houston right now. They want to—the Texas Department of Transportation wants to widen I-45, which is already a massive freeway. It’s a $7-billion project. And she put out this video that talked about all the reasons this freeway is a bad idea, how it would be bad for the environment, how it would put children’s health at risk and displace thousands of residents and businesses in Black and brown communities especially. And she also talked about how it’s just a really antiquated solution to 21st-century transportation needs.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Lina Hidalgo: Wouldn’t it be great to be able to have a modern transportation system? If we’re going to invest billions, we may as well do it to build a system where we can work on our way to work, where we don’t have to be stuck in traffic for 45 minutes, two hours every day, back and forth in an unreasonable commute. That is something we can expect as one of the largest regions in the most powerful country on Earth. We don’t have to settle for more highways that just lead to more traffic. And it is possible to have a project that includes within it transit options like bus rapid transit that has worked the world over very, very efficiently for all kinds of folks from all kinds of backgrounds.]

Aaron: Man, it’s so good. She’s really good.

Sarah: She’s amazing. And, you know, she’s just an absolute powerhouse. And Harris County is actually suing the Texas DOT to stop the project on environmental grounds. And also, a couple of weeks ago, the Federal Highway Administration has now asked the Texas DOT to put the project on hold so that the feds can review it to see if it violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which is supposed to protect vulnerable communities from environmental injustice. So it’s kind of an amazing case of exactly the kind of really destructive urban freeway that has been going on for generations. And, you know, now there’s a really concerted fight against it, both on the county level and at the federal level, challenging the Texas DOT business as usual.

Doug: And I really encourage all of our listeners to watch this video. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes, because it is a master class in communications. Because in five minutes, she does more to inform people about the legacy and history of destructive highway building and what a 21st-century transportation system looks like. I think she does that more in five minutes than you could get in, like, graduate school, in an entire course. She does such a great job at this. And it is obviously specifically about Houston and that project, but it should be watched by, I think, anybody across the country about why we should no longer be widening or building any more highways.

Aaron: I think my favorite part of it was just at the start there. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to have a modern transportation system?” Like, the way that she frames the automobile up front as something from the 20th century, as something that is antiquated and outmoded and old and not modern. And, you know, it’s like, especially in a place like Texas where, you know, things are big and new and people believe in, like, the American way, we believe in technology is going to fix things. I just think it’s so great to frame the car as being non-modern.

Doug: Yeah, that was really awesome.

Sarah: So speaking of just how destructive cars and highways are to urban environments, there is hope that one of the mechanisms for making that better—congestion pricing—might be moving forward in New York City thanks to the Biden administration.

Aaron: Yeah, so totally, I mean, it’s like the white whale of transportation policy in New York City. We’re finally maybe gonna catch it. But after lingering in this sort of purgatory under the Trump administration, New York City’s congestion pricing plan, which would be the first of its kind in the US, is finally starting to go through an approval process with the Biden administration. They just gave the green light to a kind of expedited environmental assessment. Always amusing when projects like bike lanes and congestion pricing need to go through an environmental assessment, but they do. It’s not obvious that reducing gas-burning cars in the city would be good for the environment, so we have to assess it.

Aaron: Also worth noting that this plan has been just sort of slogging its way through various levels of government since 2007. So congestion pricing was approved by New York City Council in 2008. It was really hard. Like, advocates worked incredibly hard to get congestion pricing approved in 2008. And then it just got killed in a smoke-filled back room in Albany in the state legislature the same year. No vote was ever even taken. Finally, like, 10 years later, in 2019, another version of this plan made it through Albany and was approved in Albany. And then it gets put on a desk at the DOT in the Trump administration and just sits there for more months and years even. And it’s just this whole congestion pricing saga is—to me, it’s just like a prime example of the way in which cities are continually screwed in this federal system that we have in the US. Like, we just don’t even have the power to implement our own traffic control transit fundraising plan. And this has been going on for 13 years, really. It’s brutal.

Doug: So we mentioned that congestion pricing is going to receive an environmental assessment from the Biden administration. And we should probably explain what that is and why that is good. So typically, projects like this will get what’s called an environmental impact study, and that can take years. And it’s often used as a means of blocking good projects. There were bike lanes in San Francisco that were subject to environmental impact studies that, like, delayed the implementation of bike lanes by more than a decade, I think. It was just everything was held up. This is usually a favorite tool of NIMBYs and people who are in favor of the status quo for just keeping things the way they are. So an environmental assessment can take weeks, it can take months, but not probably a lot longer than that. So this will be a very quick process, and then it will move to the next stage. So it’s a really good and fast project. Government does not normally work like this.

Aaron: Yeah, and that San Francisco case, Doug, that was a really interesting one where I believe San Francisco’s bike plan in the early 2000s was held up because NIMBYs who were opposed to the bike plan sued and said that the bike plan was violating the Clean Air Act because bike lanes would create more traffic congestion for cars, and cars would then spew more exhaust into the air, and that was a violation of California’s very stringent Clean Air Act. And it’s just one of these ways that, like, this sort of body of 1970s environmental law, you know, which was fundamentally good stuff, but has been twisted in so many ways and can be used really destructively now.

Sarah: Well, but now that that’s been cleared out of the way, now that those things aren’t going to be used against congestion pricing, that it’s no surprise that New York-area Republicans have weighed in on the horrors of congestion pricing. Here’s a statement released by Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, who represents the 11th District, which encompasses all of Staten Island and a tiny little bit of Brooklyn. She complains about, you know, this is going to be the first congestion pricing program in the nation. It kind of implies that there are going to be more like that.

Aaron: Right.

Sarah: And she says it’s irresponsible the way the Federal Highway Administration is allowing an environmental review, as opposed to an environmental impact statement. She goes on to say, “As a state legislator, I voted against this program because it would severely impact working-class Americans from transportation-starved communities. Now it is clearly part of the de Blasio-Cuomo-Biden administration’s war on cars as well.”

Aaron: Oh, yeah, product placement!

Sarah: All right, Nicole. Thanks for the shout out, man!

Doug: So I love this statement for so many reasons. Number one, wow, Republicans are really concerned with the environment now? That’s great. Republicans are really concerned with providing their constituents with good transportation options? So thank you, Nicole. Also, Republicans are in favor of big government environmental impact studies? Wow. Okay, that’s a big about face from what I’ve experienced of Republicans. And also the idea that Bill de Blasio, who is driven to the gym, Andrew Cuomo, who loves muscle cars and building big bridges so he can name them after his father and, like, rescuing drivers who are stranded on highways, and Joe Biden, who has a Corvette, who ran on “Ridin’ with Biden,” these are like …

Aaron: His literal campaign slogan was in a car.

Doug: This is the axis of evil of The War on Cars. These are the guys who are on our side flying this anti-car flag. It’s just absolutely ridiculous. Such pandering to her constituents, to the right wing, yeah, where do you even begin and end with something like this?

Sarah: Okay, so speaking of a perceived war on cars, that brings us to our big news items of this episode, which both have to do with our new Secretary of Transportation, Mr. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Doug: No, that’s Secretary Mr. Mayor Pete Buttigieg to you Sarah. Show some respect.

Aaron: Oh, no. That is Secretary Mayor Lieutenant Mr. Pete Buttigieg.

Doug: Okay, so I will set this up for everybody. Mayor Pete, Secretary Mayor Pete gave an interview in Rolling Stone, in which he outlined a lot of the Biden-Harris administration’s transportation goals, and talked a lot about bike lanes, of course. And he used a phrase “sexy policy areas,” where he talked about some of this stuff is really sexy to people who work in the transportation industry and activists like us, for example. And in a Fox and Friends weekend segment, host Will Cain was interviewing Fox business personality Charles Payne about this, and they had basically a sort of meltdown about bike lanes.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Will Cain: But again, here’s what Buttigieg is saying. He’s saying some of them, sexy in the policy world, roads need to go on a diet. That’s just some of his quotes. And here’s what he had to say, a quick flashback when it comes to infrastructure, our new transportation secretary. Listen to this, Charles.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Pete Buttigieg: I think it’s very important that we recognize the importance of roadways where pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles and any other mode can coexist peacefully.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Will Cain: Oh, coexist peacefully, Charles. That’s a lot of happy talk. But what I don’t know, this infrastructure package might look like as a part of this $3-trillion in spending.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Charles Payne: Yeah, it’s goofy happy talk, you know? The roads aren’t going to be a lot thinner the way they’re going, because no one will have a job. But, you know, imagine being in one of these sexy roads with two lanes and the bicycle lane is empty and you’re 30 minutes late for work, all because we’ve reserved this for the elitists who know how to do things right, and somehow can afford to ride their bike while everybody else is gone to work. It’s just—it’s not sexy at all, unless you believe in this utopian world that Pete Buttigieg believes in.]

Sarah: What really struck me about this is where they say that this is just happy talk, goofy happy talk. The idea that people who drive cars and people who walk and ride bicycles can coexist peacefully is just happy talk. I mean, it’s just so cynical and so dark to see the world this way, and totally fails to acknowledge that anyone and everyone who has ever been inside of a car has also been outside of a car. I mean, these are not two separate species of creature.

Aaron: Right. It just seems like they’re really just trying to hit a lot of hot buttons. So, you know, Secretary Mayor Pete wants us to coexist peacefully. That’s offensive. That’s offensive to us, this notion of peaceful coexistence. How dare he try to assert that on America’s streets and roadways? And then, of course, they follow that up with the elitist trope that the person on the $250 bicycle is the elitist, whereas the guy, the non-peacefully coexisting guy in the $100,000 Cadillac Escalade, he is the salt of the earth. He is the working man. It’s just—it’s kind of all there in this clip.

Doug: You know, the big thing I was thinking about this, I have a running Twitter bit where I am asking Secretary Pete to come on the program.

Aaron: I might describe it more as hounding than asking, Doug.

Doug: It’s not bordering into harassment territory yet. Not yet. Not yet.

Aaron: We’re getting there, we’re getting there.

Doug: The Secret Service has not shown up at my door asking me to stop this.

Aaron: Okay, that’s good.

Doug: So I have this running bit where I keep asking him to come on the show. And, you know, I’m sure people on his staff listen to the podcast—not everybody, but maybe a few. And I am sure that they are afraid of getting him on the podcast and having the right wing freak out about Secretary Pete, your new transportation secretary, going on a podcast called The War on Cars, and my answer now is the right wing is already freaking out about it. You might as well just embrace it. Secretary Pete, please come on. Just do it. Let’s get it over with. We’ll have a great time.

Aaron: You have nothing to lose.

Doug: You have nothing, nothing to lose. Exactly.

Aaron: They think you’re a communist. They think you want to impose sexy bike lanes, weird sexy bike lanes on America. It doesn’t matter. You can come on The War on Cars.

Sarah: And isn’t that maybe just what Secretary Buttigieg’s role has maybe shaped up to be in this administration anyway?

Aaron: Right, exactly. So it’s like, his role in the cabinet is to be culture war cannon fodder, you know? So you get Fox and Friends chattering about liberals using cargo bikes on sexy bike lanes to take a load of Dr. Seuss books to a composting facility. So then the Biden administration can focus on vaccine rollout or whatever their priorities are. So actually, Pete, coming on The War on Cars would be really good for the administration.

Doug: Yeah, I’m picturing President Biden calling Secretary Pete into the Oval Office and being like, “Great work, son. You got Steve Doocy really riled up about bike lanes. And I just—you know, while you were doing that, I just put another $1,400 in Americans’ bank accounts. Thanks. They weren’t even noticing.”

Aaron: Yeah, it’s like, “Hey, Pete. We want to bomb Syria this week. Can you go on Hannity and talk about bus rapid transit? Nobody pays attention to that.”

Doug: Yeah, perfect.

Sarah: Okay, okay. Stop, you guys. I don’t want you to give away the whole strategy, all right? They might be listening.

Aaron: We’re just trying to help Secretary Pete.

Doug: Pete. Mayor Pete, come on the podcast. Let’s do this.

Aaron: It’ll be so good for you, Pete. Secretary Mayor Pete.

Sarah: Secretary Pete actually just exploded another little bombshell in the war on cars when he talked about the possibility of using pricing vehicle miles traveled or VMT instead of the gas tax as a way to fund infrastructure. It’s partly something that people have been talking about for a while because, as we transition to electric vehicles, which is a huge part of the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, you know, the gas tax is not going to apply to electric vehicles. And so how do we price their travel? And so Secretary Pete raised this issue of VMT.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kayla Tausche: What about a mileage based tax?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Pete Buttigieg: So I think that shows a lot of promise. If we believe in that so-called user pays principle, the idea that part of how we pay for roads is you pay based on how much you drive, the gas tax used to be the obvious way to do it. It’s not anymore. So a so-called vehicle miles traveled tax or mileage tax, whatever you want to call it, could be a way to do it.]

Doug: So this was big news. And we should mention that, as we are recording this episode, President Biden has announced his massive infrastructure plan. I think it’s something we’ll probably get into on a future episode once we see the details and can talk about them with someone. But the VMT tax idea that Secretary Pete floated on that CNBC segment kind of erupted on Twitter and became a huge debate, especially among the urbanist crowd, with some people saying, “Oh, that’s regressive.” Other people obviously saying that it’s necessary to fund infrastructure. Where do you guys come down on that debate?

Aaron: Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s interesting. So VMT taxes the amount that you travel. So obviously, if you have a longer commute, if you live further away from your job or the places where you need to go every day, school, grocery stores, whatever, if you have to drive a long distance to get to the things you need, then vehicle miles travel taxes would be potentially more regressive, especially if you are not wealthy, if you’re a poorer person who’s been forced out of the urban core and you need to drive long distances. I thought Angie Schmitt, a friend of the pod, Angie Schmitt, had a really great point on Twitter where she pointed out that this particular view of regressive taxation, where poor people live on the outskirts and are forced to drive a lot, that is truer in big coastal cities than it is in most other American cities. I mean, Angie pointed out the way in which, where she lives and where I went to high school, actually, Cleveland, the wealth has actually fled the urban core. And, you know, it’s the suburbs, the car-oriented suburbs that are the wealthiest part of the Cleveland metro area. So, in fact, a VMT tax probably wouldn’t be all that regressive because you are essentially taxing people who have fled the urban core and are living in the wealthier parts of the region. But, like, so much Twitter discourse is driven by us coastal elites that we sort of weren’t seeing that, she thought.

Sarah: Well, I mean, I do think that the one place where I could see it being problematic is in big, empty rural states like Maine or Nevada or Montana. You know, where people really do have to cover enormous distances just to go to the hospital or go to school. I mean, you know, that’s something in truly rural areas that I think is an issue. Obviously, those are people who probably are hit pretty hard by gas taxes as well, and I do believe that there can be solutions for some of that stuff, but it seems clear and has seemed clear for a while that we’re going to have to transition away from using the gas tax. It hasn’t even been raised in most places, you know, for practically a generation. It’s not an effective funding mechanism, and it needs to be completely rethought.

Doug: I mean, in fact, it hasn’t been raised. The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. It’s 18.4 cents a gallon, and remains 18.4 cents a gallon. If it kept up with inflation, it would be 34 cents a gallon today. So yeah, something probably has to be done about that. And I think Andrew made another point is that with all taxes, you can layer in solutions that benefit the people who might be harmed by them the most. So it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing. It doesn’t just have to be so cut and dry.

Aaron: Yeah. I mean, it seems like there’s a pretty clear-cut framework for how we should be taxing people in this country. And it’s like, tax wealth, tax extreme wealth more heavily, tax intergenerational inherited wealth, you know, it’s not really being earned, so estate taxes. And then also tax fossil fuels, you know? So one concern I have with the VMT tax is that you are putting a little bit of discouragement on the transition to electric cars, and that’s something we should probably be incentivizing more than we should be discouraging right now. So there’s ways to do this. There’s ways to design taxes that work for everyone and that are progressive. And it’s just like, it doesn’t have to be this, like, black and white, you know, social media freakout.

Sarah: Well, it did seem like some aspect of the freakout may have gotten to Secretary Pete, because he was on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN three days later, and I don’t know, you guys listen to this and tell me whether you think he put the VMT car back in the garage and shut the door on this one.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jake Tapper: And also that a mileage tax showed, quote, “A lot of promise” as a way to help pay for the plan. That tax would charge people for how many miles they drive. Is that under consideration?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Pete Buttigieg: No, that’s not part of the conversation about this infrastructure bill. So just want to make sure that’s really clear. But you will be hearing a lot more details in the coming days about how we envision being able to fund this. And again, these are carefully thought through responsible ideas that ultimately are going to be a win for the economy, and need to be compared to the unaffordable cost of the status quo.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jake Tapper: Okay, so something of a backtrack on that.]

Doug: I do love Tapper at the end there. Sort of like, “All right, so you’re walking that back. Okay, thanks.”

Aaron: Isn’t it great that, like, Pete is putting these issues on the table? Like, these are, like, policy issues that our wonky little transportation nerd community has been talking about for years, and no one outside of it pays attention to. And I just think it’s actually really, really healthy that these issues are just being put on the table on big Sunday morning news shows and places like that. Fox and Friends.

Doug: I continue to believe that that is perhaps Secretary Pete’s biggest strength is that he is getting booked on everything from CNN to Meet the Press to The Tonight Show, and he’s bringing sexy bike lanes to communities that wouldn’t normally be talking about them. And I actually think, you know, from our experience with the bike-lash in New York circa 2010-2011, the freakout over bike lanes elevated these policy discussions to New York Magazine, to the New York Times, to audiences that weren’t reading Streetsblog, and I think helped us power through and get to a place where we are now, where cycling is very popular, where people want bikeshare stations. And I kind of wonder if there won’t be the same effect of this just constant talk about it, whether it’s a freak out on Fox News or just Jake Tapper talking about it in conversation on his afternoon or evening news program.

Sarah: Also, it really says something about how important the Biden administration thinks transportation policy is that they put a media star in that position.

Aaron: So he walked it back, but now America knows what VMT is. That’s an improvement.

Doug: Yeah, that’s good. That’s a civic education. Who needs that urban planning degree? Just get Mayor Pete on TV talking about this stuff. And Lina Hidalgo.

Sarah: And Lina Hidalgo, exactly. That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Please support us. You can go to thewaroncars.org and click on “Support Us.” And that way, you will get taken to our Patreon page, you’ll be able to sign up for all sorts of cool stuff like stickers, t-shirts, and you’ll be able to keep us going.

Aaron: We’re starting to put up a lot of exclusive content on our Patreon page, so if you’re a subscriber, you’ll have access to those special episodes. In fact, Doug, you just released a bonus episode interview, right?

Doug: Yeah, I interviewed Mikael Colville-Andersen, the Danish urban designer and writer and speaker about kind of lessons from his city, especially during lockdown. So check it out.

Sarah: A big thank you to our top Patreon supporters, Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law office of Vaccaro and White in New York, Drew Raines and Virginia Baker.

Doug: And don’t forget, listeners of The War on Cars can receive 25 percent off the purchase of stylish rain gear for walking and biking from our friends at Cleverhood. Just visit Cleverhood.com/waroncars, enter code “waroncars” at checkout for your discount.

Aaron: And check out our store, also. We’ve got a lot of new merchandise in The War on Cars store. We have a coffee mug, we have sweatshirts, t-shirts, even a little zip-up hoodie.

Doug: We have a really cool sticker that people are going mad for, yeah.

Aaron: Such a good sticker. So go to thewaroncars.org, click “Store,” you’ll be taken to our new store. It’s worth checking out.

Sarah: And please follow us on Apple podcasts and leave a review, because that helps people find us. And we want people to find us.

Aaron: This episode was edited by Ali Lemer. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D. Design. I am Aaron Naparstek.

Sarah: I’m Sarah Goodyear.

Doug: I’m Doug Gordon.

Sarah: And this is The War on Cars.

[Announcer: WCAR, The Car!]