Episode 68: A Word From Our Listeners
Sarah Goodyear: We here at The War on Cars love a lot of things about Cleverhood’s rain gear: it keeps you dry on a bike, it keeps you dry when you’re walking and it looks great in the process. But the people at Cleverhood aren’t satisfied with just making stylish, highly functional rain gear. They’re also focused on doing it in a responsible and sustainable way. They support environmentally friendly manufacturing, fair labor practices and small suppliers. And for every Rover Cape they sell, Cleverhood donates five percent of revenue to local advocacy groups working to create safer, more livable and equitable streets in cities around the US. For 20 percent off on a Rover Cape and lots of other great products go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars and enter coupon code “waroncars” when you check out. Again, that’s Cleverhood.com/waroncars, coupon code “waroncars.”
Aaron Naparstek: Hey, everybody, it’s Aaron here. Welcome to The War on Cars. We held our first War on Cars meetup on car-free Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn a couple of weekends ago. It was a lot of fun. 40, maybe 50 people showed up. We put out an icy cooler full of cold drinks, we sold some t-shirts and some stickers. We saw old friends, and we met lots of new people, too. One listener traveled from as far away as Raleigh, North Carolina, another from Philadelphia. One guy even came all the way down from the Bronx. The meetup was great. We really enjoyed it. We’ll do more. Part of what made this particular event special was the location itself. If you tried to do a meetup in the middle of Vanderbilt Avenue 15 years ago, you would have gotten run over by a truck. Not so long ago, Vanderbilt Ave was a chaotic, four-lane mini-highway designed to move cars and trucks as quickly as possible. It was what we like to call a traffic sewer.
Aaron: In 2006, the New York City Department of Transportation decided to experiment with its first ever road diet, and they did it on Vanderbilt Ave. They narrowed the street down from four car lanes to two, they installed some nice wide bike lanes on either side, and they added a center median with left turn bays. The redesign was done almost entirely just with white stripes on asphalt; light, quick, inexpensive, and easy to revise and change if something didn’t work out. After the redesign, all the usual complaints came in about the city waging a quote unquote, “war on cars” with its crazy road diet, but the new Vanderbilt Ave was popular and very quickly deemed a success. Less speeding, fewer crashes, it was a safer, more comfortable place to walk and bike. So more people walked and biked.
Aaron: Two years later—2008—the Department of Transportation came back. They built out the center median in concrete, created space to plant trees and shrubs and flowers. They installed bike racks in front of local shops. They improved the crosswalks and bike lanes a bit. The design changes made the street better as a transportation facility, sure. But the transformation was bigger than that. Vanderbilt Avenue was no longer just a street to help people in cars and trucks fly by as quickly as possible. Now, it felt more like a place to stay, to gather, to spend some time. It was a neighborhood street. Vanderbilt Avenue felt more like a place to be. And in the summer of 2020, New York City launched its Outdoor Dining and Open Streets Program. Thousands of on-street parking spots, miles of travel lanes were taken away from cars and trucks and given to neighborhoods, people. Vanderbilt Avenue was and still is one of those open streets, car free every Friday evening, and on weekends from noon to 10 p.m. It took 15 years to transform, and yeah, a catastrophic global pandemic. Not the ideal timeline or circumstances, but a street that was once a forbidding four-lane traffic sewer is now a lively and beloved public space being used for all kinds of different community activities, including The War on Cars very first meet up with our own community of listeners. It’s a street where folks can come and experience firsthand what it’s like to live in a city where cars aren’t allowed to dominate every inch of space, every day of the week, every hour of the day.
Aaron: It’s a street where we’re actually kind of winning the war on cars.
Aaron: Okay, tell me your name.
Carrie: Hi, I’m Carrie.
Aaron: And you are sort of in charge of this open street in some form?
Carrie: Oh, no, I wouldn’t say in charge. It’s—I’m on one of the many committees, volunteer committees that helps organize it.
Aaron: What have you learned from helping to organize this great car-free street, Vanderbilt Avenue?
Carrie: Yeah, I’ve learned that the community generally was very hungry for this sort of thing. I mean, we saw basically immediate success with Vanderbilt open streets. And I just personally love seeing how the community comes out and finds new ways to use the space just organically. I have loved watching kids learn how to ride their bikes or scooters for the first time. That’s always really cute, and you see that basically every weekend. A lot of people got pandemic puppies last year, and so there have been a lot of sort of like, spontaneous puppy meetups around here. You know, street art and kind of like street activism, things like that. Yeah, it’s just—and there’s also what I have deemed the Italian Supper Club over on the next block. There’s, like, this big group of Italian friends that come out basically once a week, and they have a full-on elaborate dinner party with, like, wine and candles, and it’s just fabulous.
Perry: Are you, like, doing interviews or something?
Aaron: Yeah, I’m doing some interviews. I’m Aaron from The War on Cars.
Perry: Hi, I’m Perry from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Aaron: You didn’t just come up here for this, did you?
Perry: I did.
Aaron: Come on!
Perry: This is basically how I do vacation. Like, I will go—like I don’t have, like, a kid or family or wife or anything. So I’m just like, “Hey, some random tech podcast or podcast I listen to is doing a meet up in some random-ass city, like, I’ve never been in that city before. All right, I’ll go, and I’ll just plan a whole vacation around it.”
Aaron: I mean, I’m just so blown away that you came all the way up from …
Perry: Oh, yeah. War on Cars, baby!
Aaron: So what does that mean to you? What does the war on cars mean to you?
Perry: In Raleigh, North Carolina? Well, in Raleigh, North Carolina, like, we have a lot of the same problems in New York. We just have way too many cars, and people driving way too fast. And it’s all these, like, suburbanites that want to take their trucks everywhere, and think that they should have control over everything, right?
Robin: For me, it means making sure that transportation is equitable, first of all, so everybody can access it safely. It means making sure that bikers can get around the city safely. And that space is used well, yeah. And that space is used fairly.
Aaron: What would that mean for transportation to be made equitable?
Robin: It would mean that there’s no group in particular that has to struggle more to use our public systems, because we all pay taxes, right, for all parts of the city, and we all deserve to have good transportation. Yeah, I think it’s that simple, I really do, yeah.
Aaron: What does the war on cars mean to you?
Jared: It really mean—I mean, I really found it because kind of a couple of years ago, I found myself in a place where I, like, woke up one day. And I don’t know how or why I got to the point, but I was like, “You know what? Like, I don’t want to buy a car. Like, I really don’t like driving.” And my parents had been like, “Oh, are you saving up to buy a car soon? You’re going to be graduating from undergrad.” And I was like, “What if I just moved to New York City and I don’t have to solve that problem?” And then I, you know, graduated and I moved to Austin, Texas. And they were like, “Okay, you’re moving to Texas. Surely now you have to buy a car.” And I was like, “No. I’ll buy a second bike, though, and double down on that.” And then coming back here, it just kind of reaffirmed. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not buying a car anytime soon.”
Aaron: Could they just not really relate to the idea that you weren’t going to get a car, and that you were, like, doing your life on a bike?
Jared: So like, when I first got a bike, they were like, “Oh, cool. It’s a sport, it’s a hobby, you know, it’s good exercise, of course. Yeah.” But then when I would start doing trips, especially in the pandemic riding a bike nine or 10 miles to, like, an outdoor coffee shop, and I’d just sit there for a few hours and just kind of enjoy the day. They were like, “Oh, aren’t you worried about getting hit by a car or, like, why don’t you just drive there?” And I’m like, “It’s more about the journey. It’s about, like, the joy of riding a bike. It’s about not wanting to just get in my parents’ Escalade and just, like, drive a couple miles downtown, and then have to worry about paying for parking, too. It’s like, when you really learn about how to navigate any place with a bike, it really just changes the place you’re looking at. Like, it just makes it real compared to just driving a car.
Jared: The war on cars means to me—it’s like having a nice place to live. It’s like being able to go outside and enjoy, like, the streets outside of my house, not sitting in my bed and listening to the garbage trucks roll by in the morning at 7:00 a.m., or the semis roll by.
Temple: The war on cars means safer streets for my kid to be running around, having more open streets so that I don’t need to worry about him when he’s outside. It means a better environment. It means more access for bicycles and e-bikes and yeah, all of us just kind of living happier and safer.
Aaron: So what’s your name?
Paul: Paul Krikler.
Aaron: What does the war on cars mean to you?
Paul: It means to me that we need way less cars in the city for about a thousand different reasons. We need safer places to be, a quieter place to be, a place where we can have buses that work and go quicker. I can cross the street without being killed. It means a thousand things—all of them good. The fact that we have cars taking over—20 percent of people in Manhattan have cars, 80 percent of us don’t have cars. We should be able to have places to live that is lovely, not shit and dangerous. I shouldn’t say “shit,” sorry.
Laura: You can swear on a podcast, yeah.
Harrison: To me, it’s almost a bigger project about what it means to be in a society and a community, and that we all don’t isolate ourselves in these houses, like, far away from each other, that we have places where kids could go hang out, where people could walk around the neighborhood on the afternoon. You know, I see my older brother, let’s just say, have to take care of his kid in the house. He’s stuck there all day with him. Can’t send the kid out anywhere, you know? He can’t just go walk the neighborhood, really, even though he’d like to. It’s terrible.
Aaron: Tell me about your vehicle.
Juan: Yeah, so it’s an electric unicycle. I love it. It’s my main method of transportation. I go everywhere with it. The battery lasts, like, 50 miles. It goes up to 30 miles per hour and yeah, I love it. It’s always with me, and I can go anywhere with it.
Aaron: What does the war on cars mean to you?
Juan: I think it means, like, the triumph for people or something like that. Like, I think about that phrase and I think people might win over cars to have the streets back to them. That’s at least my desire.
Aaron: And you said you’re a UX designer?
Aaron: So user experience?
Aaron: Do you ever think much about the UX of the street?
Juan: Oh, all the time. All the time. Each time I go in the street, like, yeah, I think about it all the time. Each time I go on a bike path that is not well made, each time I go to a street and then a car comes in that doesn’t belong there. Yeah, all the time I think about it. Yeah.
Aaron: So you spend all day just, like, redesigning things, thinking about better ways for users to experience, I assume, like, virtual spaces or …
Juan: Yeah, interfaces. Digital interfaces, yeah.
Aaron: Do you think there’s anything we can bring over from that field of study and practice, that profession, that would help us make cities better?
Juan: Maybe. But I think there are already a lot of very good professionals that can improve our life in the streets. And I think that we have to hear more from them, and the government officials and the people that are in charge of the streets have to pay attention more to them and hire professionals, actually.
Aaron: Right. So it’s not like—the problem isn’t, like, the designers don’t know what to do. It’s like, the political will to let them do it or something.
Juan: Yes, exactly. And I think, like, seeing Paris, for example, it’s a great example. And I know that you always in the program, in the show, talk about Paris. But, like, I think the political will is the only thing that we need to improve the life on the streets. Yeah, there’s no other thing.
Sonny: The war on cars? Okay, well, I used to live in Toronto, and so we had Rob Ford as the mayor who infamously coined the phrase. So that’s what it means to me. It means suburban drivers getting freaked out over a bike lane or streetcars.
Aaron: Did you hear our Rob Ford episode?
Sonny: Yes, I have. Yes, yes.
Melody: The War on Cars is a kind of church for me, because it’s where I go to hear sane conversation about transportation, and where I hear leading thinking about it. So it’s really good for inspiration, and I get to take those ideas and talk to other people about them who will then take me seriously because they’re very smart.
Patrick: Hello, I’m Patrick.
Aaron: Where are you from?
Patrick: I’m coming from Philadelphia. Like, a Philadelphia suburb.
Aaron: What does the war on cars mean to you?
Patrick: It’s just against building car dependent places and it’s like, respecting other modes of transportation. And realizing that, like, cars are—compared to any other mode of transportation are much more dangerous, they do much more pollution. Cars have much more environmental impacts. And so it’s better to, like, move people to other modes of transportation. It especially means a lot to me where I live in suburbia where, you know, it’s like you can’t walk anywhere. There’s, like, no sidewalks anywhere in my neighborhood.
Aaron: Gersh, what does the war on cars mean to you? And I don’t mean the podcast, I mean the broader struggle.
Gersh: Well, you know, honestly, it’s kind of an ongoing battle against the forces that destroyed our cities, frankly. If you think about it, like, is there a single product marketed as a positive thing for our society that has had actually so many negative repercussions on our society, and yet it’s still seen as a positive? My point, obviously, Aaron, is that the car is an abomination, and the challenge, the “war” part of the war on cars is getting people who have accepted the car culture to see it from the other side. And that’s really, frankly, the work that we do every day—you do, we do. And it’s hard.
Aaron: Thanks, Gersh.
Gersh: Well, that’s Gersh Kuntzman of Streetsblog. I have to plug. You know me, I have to plug.
Aaron: That’s it for this special meet up episode of The War on Cars. Thanks to everyone who took the time to talk to us. In order of appearance: Carrie, Perry, Robin, Jared, Temple, Kevin, Paul, Harrison, Juan, Sonny, Melody, Patrick, and the one and only Gersh Kuntzman from Streetsblog.
Aaron: If you would like to enlist in the war on cars, go to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support us,” join today. Starting at just $2 per month, we’ll send you stickers, you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content, and you’ll be the first to know about meet ups and other cool things.
Aaron: As always, we’d like to thank our top Patreon sponsors, Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law Office of Vaccaro & White in New York City, Drew Raines and Virginia Baker. Don’t forget: our friends at Cleverhood are offering War on Cars listeners 20 percent off of the purchase of their stylish rain gear for cycling and walking. Go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars, enter code “waroncars” at checkout. Also, take a look at all of the great merchandise that is now available in the War on Cars store: t-shirts, pint glasses, coffee mugs, stickers. Visit TheWaronCars.org/store. Did I mention we’re having a big sale? 20 percent off of all War on Cars apparel through the end of August. Discount code, “summersale” Again, that’s 20 percent off of all War on Cars apparel through the end of August. Discount code, “summersale.”
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek, and on behalf of my co-hosts Doug Gordon and Sarah Goodyear, this is The War on Cars.
Perry: War on Cars, baby!