Transcript — Episode 73: Third Anniversary Mailbag
Doug Gordon: The folks at Rad Power Bikes have a lot in common with what we do here at The War on Cars. Just like us, they believe in a world where it’s easier for more people to live life without ever having to own or drive a car. CEO Mike Radenbaugh, he talks about it all the time. He wants Rad Power to be the e-bike for people who are waking up to the fact that they don’t need a car for every last trip. As North America’s leading electric bike brand, Rad Power Bikes has affordable e-bikes for every kind of rider. Whether you’re commuting to work, running errands or just getting some exercise, Rad Power Bikes are built for anything and they’re priced for everyone. Also, they’re are a lot of fun. So visit RadPowerBikes.com to find the right e-bike for you or for someone in your life who wants to spend less time in a car. There are plenty of bikes in stock for the holidays, and shipping is free. Again, that’s RadPowerBikes.com, transforming the way we move and helping to win the war on cars.
Sarah Goodyear: This is The War on Cars. I’m Sarah Goodyear, and with me are my co-hosts Doug Gordon and Aaron Naparstek.
Aaron Naparstek: What’s up?
Sarah: Well, what’s up is that it is our third anniversary. This is our third anniversary episode, as a matter of fact. It’s a little late, though.
Doug: Yeah, our third—we launched in September three years ago. So we are a little late.
Aaron: Are we gonna do anything like a romantic dinner or anything like that? I mean, what is third anniversary?
Sarah: I’m not expecting anything here.
Doug: We have to make it up to ourselves because we forgot our anniversary. So yeah.
Aaron: Sarah, you didn’t get me a gift? Again? You forgot the second anniversary, too?
Sarah: Well, I guess it’s a pattern then. But yeah.
Doug: Mom, Dad, please don’t fight.
Aaron: Oh boy.
Sarah: Anyway, so—but yeah, it is our anniversary, and I’m actually feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about the occasion this year because it does feel like The War on Cars love is growing and maturing.
Doug: So as the official Amazon warehouse of The War on Cars, I send out most of the stickers. Aaron filled in for me for a little bit.
Aaron: Yeah, it was fun.
Doug: But I see the addresses that all of our stuff goes to—stickers and all the rest—and it’s all over the world. And it does feel pretty awesome that there’s this community of listeners who are sharing the podcast, discovering it for the first time, listening to it, getting something out of it, emailing us and engaging with us. And I’m very grateful for every last person who devotes their time to listening to us. It’s amazing. So thanks to all of you.
Aaron: It does feel like our stuff, our issues are getting more and more mainstream. Like, the war on cars is really coming up a lot—for better or for worse.
Aaron: As part of the culture wars more broadly.
Aaron: So we’re in there. We’re in the mix.
Sarah: We’re definitely in the mix. As a matter of fact, there was a little mention of some war on cars-related stuff in one of our most venerable media institutions.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Saturday Night Live: A new report shows that the fastest-growing form of electronic vehicle is the e-bike, which is particularly popular in cities. At this point, experts believe the only thing that could slow these bikes down are car doors.]
Doug: It doesn’t get more mainstream than Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. So good job, everybody.
Aaron: Yeah, nice work.
Aaron: I mean, there’s clearly only one way to open this episode now.
All: Live from New York, it’s The War on Cars!
Sarah: Okay, so here we are. We are not live, but we are in New York, and we’re ready to mark our third anniversary by opening the best present of all, actually, which is the voicemail memos from our listeners. But first, we have a little gift that we’d like to give you.
[TV announcer: Here’s to the men who do the manly things like driving a pickup truck with a front grill so big, you can barely see the kid crossing the street in front of you. With plush leather seating for five and a rugged bed for hauling cargo that’s so high off the ground you can barely reach it, which is fine because all you carry to work is an iPhone and a cup of coffee—oh, by the way, could you pick up the girls at field hockey today?—in a truck built so big and tough it doesn’t even fit in a regular parking spot, so you gotta drive all the way up to the roof of the parking garage. And that’s pretty inconvenient. Have you noticed how weird the weather is lately? The flash flooding the other day was crazy. Now gas is $3.92 a gallon. It costs 100 bucks to fill ‘er up, and that pisses you off. But you’re not a selfish, entitled, adult-sized baby running errands in an $80,000 stroller. You’re a man who does the manly things, so you’ll blame Joe Biden. Introducing the 2022 Chevy Inundator. Let’s get real. Nobody needs it.]
Sarah: What a relief to hear some real truth in advertising.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, we’ve always wanted car ads to reflect the reality of driving, so that’s very refreshing.
Aaron: Okay, all right. Let’s get down to it. Listener voicemails here. First one? This one comes from, like, Central Command of The War on Cars Northern European theater. Here we go.
[Pele: Hello, The War on Cars. Danish bicycle mechanic from ladcyklen.dk here, I really love your podcast. You’ve very much changed my view towards e-bikes. I like how you talk about traffic violence, rather than just talking about accidents. And I also liked your episode about the bike paths in Copenhagen, although there’s still way too many cars around here in Copenhagen. Thank you so much for an amazing podcast.]
Aaron: Wow, nice!
Sarah: Even Copenhagen? I’ve never been to Copenhagen, so I’m, like, kind of bummed to hear that. You guys have been there. Is that true?
Doug: I’ve been to Copenhagen, yeah. I like Copenhagen a lot, and I actually think for all the talk that we give about Amsterdam and the Netherlands, that Copenhagen in many ways has more to say about what’s possible in American cities than some Dutch cities. It’s got a pretty sprawl-y area around the historic core. The really wide streets, lots of drivers, lots of traffic, and the infrastructure looks a bit more like it fits in an American context. So when I rode around there, I felt super comfortable and felt like kind of if you squint your eyes, you can see Brooklyn or Pittsburgh or any American city.
Aaron: Yeah. Copenhagen is one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been a couple times now, and I totally agree with what you said there, Doug. It does actually feel like—the streets do feel kind of American. Like, you can imagine these really bikeable streets being in an American city, in part because there are a lot of cars. And one of the things that they do there that’s really smart is they just really manage parking tightly. So, you know, if you don’t have a place to put your car, it’s basically pretty hard to have a car in Copenhagen. But people do have cars, and they’ve designed streets in a way that, when we were there for the summer with our kids, when they were only, like, seven and nine years old, they could both bike throughout the city all hours on their own bikes. And it was amazing. Like, the sense of independence and freedom that the little guy had especially, you know, that was the first city he ever biked in, and it was really spectacular. You know, bums you out when you come back here and you’re just like, “Okay, now you can’t do that anymore.”
Doug: I think early in The War on Cars, on one of our first episodes, we talked about Copenhagen Syndrome, which is the feeling you get when you come back from a trip abroad and you have to deal with American infrastructure, whether it’s trains or streets or whatever, yeah. I felt it acutely when I came back.
Sarah: So anyway, thank you to Pele for—if that’s how you pronounce his name—for the voice of Denmark there.
Aaron: What town was he from again?
Doug: It says in our transcript, “Unintelligible Danish place name.”
Sarah: I’m gonna figure it out. I’m gonna look it up. [Note: it was a listener who told us it was a bike shop name, not a place name!]
Aaron: Yeah, I want to learn how to say it.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s definitely something I’m gonna work on. [laughs] Maybe by the time we have protected bike lanes in New York City, I’ll—yeah.
Aaron: Yeah, get your Danish accent down.
Sarah: So we really appreciate the listener love. And the thing about love is that sometimes it does get a little complicated, especially as relationships develop and mature. And this next voice memo from Kristen in Boston, it asks a kind of delicate question.
[Kristen: Hi, this is Kristen from Boston, Massachusetts. Just had a question for you: we used to have two SUVs. Since my kids started biking to school, we consciously got rid of one, but we still do have one. What are your thoughts on wearing a War on Cars shirt, but also owning a giant car? I take the train to work, but I do drive the car at times. So is this a baby step, or is it hypocritical? Appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.]
Doug: Oh, that is a great question. Thank you, Kristen. But I think before we answer that, we are going to hear a word from our sponsor Cleverhood with a little info about a discount.
Aaron: It’s never too dark and rainy outside when you’ve got the right gear. That’s why we here at The War on Cars all wear Cleverhood. Cleverhood makes rain gear for people who walk and ride bicycles. Their capes and anoraks look great, and they keep you dry. And reflective details keep you visible when you’re walking and biking at night. Cleverhood also donates five percent of revenue to advocacy groups working to create safer, more livable and equitable streets in cities around the U.S. For 20 percent off of all of Cleverhood’s gear, go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars. Enter coupon code “holidayrain” when you check out. The sale runs through December 31. Again, that’s Cleverhood.com/waroncars, coupon code “holidayrain.” Good through the end of the year.
Aaron: Okay, so quick recap: Kristen from Boston got rid of one car, but she still has one huge car, and she likes to wear her War on Cars t-shirt in the car.
Sarah: Is it hypocrisy, or is it a baby step? Or is it a hypocritical baby step?
Aaron: I want to say I like it. I like it.
Doug: I think it’s a huge victory in the war on cars, to be honest.
Aaron: I think so.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, the world doesn’t need another guy like me running around with a War on Cars t-shirt who doesn’t own a car. The world needs more car owners joining the war on cars.
Sarah: Yeah, I agree. And I think that wearing your War on Cars t-shirt while you’re driving your SUV and, like, especially if maybe you’re going to pick up your kids at something or drop them off, and some other parents might see you getting out of your SUV sporting some War on Cars gear, just think of the conversations that that could start.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, I think this is great because like most of the country, it is not possible to go car free. But we can start shifting trips to other means, to e-bikes, to regular bikes, to walking. And if you can go down from two cars to one, that’s a huge victory. That’s a huge savings for yourself—all the money that you can spend on other stuff, all the space that is freed up for other uses. So that’s where we’re gonna win the war on cars. It’s not eliminating cars, it’s not the freak out over ban cars, it’s reduce cars and the amount of times you use them.
Aaron: To me, that’s the thing is there’s this sense sometimes when people hear the war on cars or they see, you know, #BanCars—our favorite hashtag—there’s this very, like, absolutist sense that, like, we must eliminate all cars immediately. And well, that’s impossible. That’s never gonna happen. But why not #BanCars on this particular road for a few hours? Why not, you know, a war on cars where you just wage war on one of your cars, you know?
Aaron: You keep that one and you get rid of—you know, these are incremental improvements. Like, just cutting down the amount of cars, cutting down the number of trips, starting to substitute trips in your own life from car to transit or bike or walking. That’s good. That’s awesome. That’s also the war on cars.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, Kristen has reduced her number of cars by 50 percent. That’s pretty darn good. So Kristen, we are with you. You are with us. And it’s all gonna work out.
Doug: And who has more credibility than a person who stands up at a meeting and says, “Well, I own a car, but I want my children to be able to walk and bike to school safely.” That’s great. More of that, please.
Aaron: You get out there in Newton or Medford or Somerville.
Doug: I think she’s in Boston proper. She’s in Boston proper.
Sarah: Okay, yeah. We’re gonna let Doug handle the Massachusetts accent.
Doug: Okay, so our next voicemail concerns one of our favorite bikelash talking points.
[Michael: Hello, War on Cars. This is Michael Owens. We know that there’s a lot of success out there in car-free plazas and non-car transit, but every city all over the US keeps having the same debates about loss of revenue for businesses, parking spaces. And yet, the data is fairly clear that these arguments don’t hold water. Why do we keep having to repeat this instead of spreading examples place to place quickly? We don’t have much time to make this better.]
Doug: I like the urgency at the end of that question, because I totally agree. Like, we cannot have the same fights over and over again.
Sarah: This is a case where I think facts—as so often is the case, that facts don’t actually make any difference. Data doesn’t actually make any difference. It’s about emotion, right? That people have an emotional response when things change. And this is where I think you need political leadership, and you need elected officials and planners to, if they’ve been put into office promising to have a certain kind of solution, that they stick to it and don’t just cave in to the one guy on the block who’s making a noise.
Doug: I think the best example is Citi Bike here in New York. When they launched Citi Bike in 2013, they didn’t start with five stations and fight it neighborhood by neighborhood and have the same fight over and over again. They just said, “We’re putting in 200, 300 stations. This is how it’s gonna work. You can have some input over where that station goes, maybe this side of the street versus that side.” But they just went big, and suffered through a few weeks of backlash and then it was a huge success. And I think the problem, you know, here in New York or where Michael is, where everybody is, is that city agencies fight the same battle on one street that they fight on the next street and then they fight it on the next street. And there’s no accumulated knowledge or wisdom. And they lack the courage to look at the people on the next street and say, “Yeah, the folks on the last street had the same problem. That didn’t happen. And so now we are gonna just do this.”
Aaron: Yeah, but Doug, this is Eighth Street. It’s totally different than Seventh Street.
Doug: [laughs] That right? Yeah, so on Eighth Street, we have businesses and residences and people going to school.
Aaron: That is what comes up in these Brooklyn fights.
Doug: Oh yeah.
Aaron: You know, it’s just like, “Your block is not at all like my block.” It’s, like, two blocks away.
Doug: But there’s progress, right? Because, like, when I started doing this, I was noticing all the folks saying, “This isn’t Amsterdam.” And that we have actually gotten to a place in New York where people really do say, “Well, that’s Eighth Avenue. That could never happen on Ninth Avenue.”
Aaron: I do feel like one of the really good tools in the toolbox—and New York was smart about this, about using this as the pilot project concept. So when these things are just abstract, when it’s just people fighting at a table, in a church basement, it’s really easy for things to get heated and emotional and just completely out of control. Like, people’s imagination just kind of goes wild, or whatever other issues people are having with whatever other changes are taking place in the neighborhood, these things come up. If you can get your city government agency to do a pilot project, just put a test of the new bike lane, of the new transit way, whatever it is, try a test. Do it with temporary materials. Do it cheaply and quickly. Do it in a way where if it doesn’t work, you can scrape it right off the ground and restore it to the car sewer it used to be. I think we found that that really helps allay these community concerns and get projects built, and let people see, oh okay, that wasn’t the end of the world to, like, install some bike racks on this block.
Sarah: And yeah, and not only that, it creates a constituency for the infrastructure that’s been installed. So now the Prospect Park West bike lane being a great example, you know, there are hundreds of kids and families and delivery riders and other people who use that lane every day of the week. If somebody came along and tried to take it out, then you would have a fight, right?
Sarah: Because people see it and they like it and they use it.
Doug: I also think you just have to work with, like, all deliberate speed. You announce a project, you install it quickly. Because there’s this idea for congestion pricing, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. But there’s something called the Valley of Death. Like, the longer you delay implementation of a project, the longer NIMBY fears get thrown in, the more opportunities people have to file stupid lawsuits and, you know, exploit environmental review laws and all the rest. You just have to get the project in. And like you said, like, get the pictures of people on bikes using it, of happy kids going to school, of delivery riders being safe while they’re doing their jobs. And then it becomes much harder to take it out.
Aaron: And treat it almost like software. So it’s like, “Here’s version 1.0 of the bike lane. We’re gonna let people use it. We’re gonna evaluate, and then we’re gonna, like, fix it up, you know, fix the bugs and do 2.0.” I mean, that Prospect Park West bike lane, that was really, like, four iterations, I think, before it got to what it is today. You don’t have to pour concrete immediately, but just get something on the ground.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Our next listener has a question about how differently we treat road safety from other kinds of safety.
[Greg: Hi, War on Cars, this is Greg in Burlington, Vermont. I have a question about the differences that I see between occupational safety and transportation safety in the United States. For workplace safety, employers try to eliminate hazards as a first step, then separate workers from hazards, and as a last resort, they tell workers to protect themselves with PPE. This is opposite to the way that we approach transportation safety, where we are all told to wear seatbelts and helmets rather than change the system. So my question is: if we know that a systems approach works to improve safety, why haven’t we used it for transportation?]
Doug: That’s a great question. It’s really good.
Doug: What Greg is describing is essentially known as the hierarchy of controls, right? Where first it’s elimination, you remove the hazard. Second, you substitute or replace the hazard, then what’s called engineering controls—you isolate people from the hazard. Then administrative controls where you change the way people work. And then finally, as he mentions, PPE. You give people helmets on the factory floor or something like that. And we do not apply that at all. We do not eliminate the hazard of cars from our streets. We just rely on individual behavior. And here’s a seatbelt, and here’s a helmet, and here’s a reflective vest, and good luck, everybody.
Aaron: Right. And, you know, we also don’t do the kind of, you know, the stuff that they call Six Sigma where, like, you know, General Electric will make all their factories incredibly safe with, like, you know, Six Sigma controls, where they kind of just go through and really closely identify all the things that are causing injuries and fatalities and flaws in products, and they sort of methodically try to eliminate the sources of these problems. Like, we know what the most dangerous things people are doing in cars are. So, like, if you’re driving your car in a way where you’re, like, accelerating really quickly a lot or decelerating really quickly a lot or you’re swerving a lot, these are all things that there are actual apps that insurance companies use to measure driver safety. Then the insurance company starts to know, oh, you’re an unsafe driver. You do a lot of hard accelerations, you do a lot of swerving. These are things that we could actually use to start to identify drivers who are potentially more likely to crash.
Sarah: Well, we could also have things like speed governors, right? I mean, you could have cars that could talk to cities, which is what everybody says they want, right?
Aaron: Well, it’s like we have e-scooters that can do that now.
Sarah: Exactly. Yeah. Why do we slow down the e-scooters, but we think that a car that weighs many times more, it should be allowed to be able to go 156 miles an hour or so.
Doug: But I think even bigger is that, in factories where these things are controlled, where, you know, if the forklift operator is coming down, that there are rules: get everybody out of the way, and there’s certain limits to what people can lift and all that kind of stuff, that was won through the labor movement, through unions. It’s all being dismantled now. But that hierarchy of controls exists because people died, people sued, people worked to improve their labor conditions. And there isn’t like a pedestrian labor movement, a pedestrian union that is suing cities for better safety. And sometimes transportation departments get sued when there’s a known hazard, but I think in this American society of ours, we might just have to have, like, big lawsuits that force cities’ hands. But they’re protected in many ways, too. So it’s a problem.
Sarah: And the fact is that our society doesn’t care enough about the members of the society. And there’s not enough—there’s not just a general atmosphere of, like, we would like to take care and make sure that people live healthy, happy lives. That’s just not an underlying principle of government in this country. I know in the Netherlands, when there’s a traffic fatality, they do the same kind of analysis that we do here for airplane fatalities, right?
Doug: Right. It’s assumed that something terrible went wrong with the design of the street or, you know, unless it was like the most egregious thing you can think of. But the system has to be changed in some way.
Sarah: The system works. And they do a forensic analysis that is designed to figure out what went wrong so that then you can prevent it from going wrong the next time. And you do that because you care about the next person who is driving down that road. Unfortunately, the caring part, the foundational part of why you do these things is not there. And actually, it would be economically advantageous for our society if fewer people died on the street and fewer people were grievously injured and fewer people were suing each other over what’s happening on the street, right? But you have to care about the people, you have to care about fostering a society in which people’s lives are valued. And unfortunately, I don’t see that here in the United States of America.
Doug: That’s my big thing with Vision Zero as it’s been applied in New York, is that there’s a lot of focus on individual intersections. Like, someone died here, and we need to fix this intersection. And my big thing is like, no, actually, we need to fix every intersection like this, because we know that an intersection with wide turns or, you know, vast expanses of asphalt, those are the things that lead to high-speed crashes. And we get so focused on chasing the last death and responding to it that we don’t just take this systemic approach. And I think that’s how Vision Zero has to work going forward.
Aaron: Well, I’m not even satisfied with just, like, looking at all the intersections. Like, I would like to start to look at the vehicles themselves, you know? And the drivers, I mean, as long as we’re going to have humans driving, like, we really need to understand, like, okay, this person is doing dangerous driving habitually, regularly in all these different locations. So that person is liable to hurt somebody, you know, in any one of these spots that he drives through regularly. Likewise, if we have personal mobility devices in dense, crowded cities that can go 140 miles per hour with the flip of your foot on a pedal. within five seconds, you can be going 140 miles per hour. That is inherently not an okay form of mobility in a city. Like, all the streets would be fine if we got those things out of the city.
Doug: Well, that gets to the hierarchy of controls, where you have to substitute the hazard with something else. So let’s have it all be e-bikes and cargo bikes and things like that that can deliver our Amazon packages instead of tractor-trailers.
Aaron: I mean, and it’s right there. It’s like the new technology for personal mobility is kind of sitting right there now. And also obviously transit and old technology like bicycles. I mean, we don’t need to live like this.
Sarah: [laughs] Exactly.
Sarah: And speaking of low technology and old technology vehicles that are quite efficient and useful, Amy in DC has some thoughts about a form of transportation that she doesn’t think gets enough respect.
[Amy: Hi, War on Cars. This is Amy from DC, and I have really enjoyed listening to your podcast. And perhaps partly inspired by it, we recently bought an electric cargo bike that has been a blast and cut down on car trips. But the wheeled vehicle we actually use the most isn’t a bike or car or an electric scooter—it’s a stroller. And because of the humble stroller, we can get to a huge number of places on foot or via the metro. But in urbanist circles, or at least urbanist Twitter, there seems to be little attention devoted to this car replacement. There’s no stroller shares in any city I’ve been to, no public stroller parking that I’ve seen. You can’t even get on a metro bus without taking your kid out of the stroller or kids out of the stroller and folding it. So I guess I’m curious: are any cities taking the stroller seriously in their attempts to create walkable, livable places? And are any stroller companies taking their role seriously as serving as car replacements? If you have any thoughts on this, I’d be interested to know. Thanks.]
Aaron: That’s such a good one.
Sarah: Yeah, it really is. I mean, boy, when I had a stroller-aged kid, I really loved my stroller. And I had deep feelings about it. But it’s true that, you know, if you have stuff in the stroller, because you can use it to carry your groceries or your supplies or whatever it is, you shouldn’t have to fold it. It should be easy to get around with the stroller, right?
Doug: Yeah. I mean, my kids are not too far out of stroller age. My youngest is eight, so it’s within recent memory that he was still in a stroller. And man, what a pain in the butt when the bus would come and you’d have to fold your stroller, pick the kid up, put a shopping bag on one arm and get on the bus. And I get it. It’s crowded and the space needs to be prioritized for everybody who needs it, but there are cities that allow you to bring an open stroller on transit. I have a Streetsblog article here that says Seattle, they changed their policy in 2015 to allow kids in open strollers, provided there aren’t people with disabilities using it. Chicago, the CTA allowed open strollers in 2003. Same criteria. It has to be in the space for people with disabilities as long as nobody else is using it. And yeah, I mean, I guess it opens up a whole kind of set of questions of, like, should we have transit where you can just roll on? Obviously, that’s better for people with disabilities, but it’s better for people with strollers or people with limited mobility that might not technically qualify as a disability. It makes life easier for caretakers in cities if you can just roll everywhere with your kids.
Aaron: That’s like the TransMilenio in Bogota. When we went down to visit that, it’s like all of the bus vehicles line up with a platform, so you’re never walking up steps to get into the transit vehicle. You can really just roll on. And it did make it much easier for people in wheelchairs, people pushing strollers, people with, like, grocery carts. It was much, much better than what we have where, like, everybody has to walk up a set of steps. They also have, like, pre-boarding fare payment. So, like, you’re also not just like waiting in line to, like, pay on the vehicle. You pay before you get to the platform. Much, much better.
Sarah: Yeah. And there are transit systems around the world that have elevators going to subways as well, so that you can actually—I mean, New York is …
Doug: So you don’t have to do what you were describing: running down the stairs with a kid in your arm, right?
Aaron: Do you guys remember—so I guess we pushed strollers for probably, like, six years with two kids, like, about two and a half years apart. And I remember, like, one of the things that was the most shocking about pushing a stroller was, like, the hostility you would sometimes get. Just like, “How dare you, hogging up the whole sidewalk with your two kids on a stroller?” And we even had one of those strollers where the kids were, like, vertically aligned. So we weren’t even taking up that much space on the sidewalk. But my thought was always just like, “You realize, like, the alternative to this is being in a frickin’ car, right? Like, I’m only taking up the amount—like, we are three human beings being incredibly efficient right now. Do you really want me to be in a car?”
Doug: I also don’t—and we’re in Park Slope right now. I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who complain about kids in strollers in Park Slope. Like, you moved here and you knew that this was, like, the epicenter of that. So be quiet for a moment. Yeah. I mean, I think the other thing that Amy’s talking about, I know so many parents who got radicalized into the war on cars only when they started pushing a stroller, because the stroller is low to the ground, it’s in front of you. Drivers are not looking at it. If they see you, they might buzz you too quick and you have to pull the stroller back. So, you know, there is this whole big constituency of people who might join the war on cars because look, you don’t have to be a parent to join the war on cars, but it doesn’t hurt, right?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely.
Aaron: There is no stroller advocacy. There should be some organization.
Doug: I also like the idea, honestly, of stroller share. I’m really into stroller share.
Aaron: Stroller share is genius.
Doug: No, because it was such a pain in the butt. Like, when we would go to the airport, you’d have to put the stroller in the back of the car, then you’d have to take it out, then you’d have to check it, then you’d have to get it on the other end.
Sarah: You know where they do it sometimes is at amusement parks.
Sarah: Yeah. So it can be done.
Doug: Amusement parks often have the best transit of any town around.
Sarah: Exactly. And walkable too.
Aaron: Okay. Here’s another voice memo. This one is from Tom Lent from ClimateAction.center. And he wants to know if it’s time to step up the intensity in the war on cars.
[Tom Lent: Given the increasing frequency of disastrously record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, heat waves and deep freezes, it seems like the war on cars is no longer a clever tongue in cheek phrase, but rather a national security necessity. I’m promoting e-bikes as my primary subversive act, considering e-bikes to be a gateway drug to get doubters out of their cars and liberated on two wheels. Can you suggest more subversive acts we can take to gain recruits to help us escalate the war on cars?]
Doug: Yeah, it does seem like we need to take more drastic action.
Aaron: Direct action.
Doug: And, you know, getting people onto e-bikes is a fantastic thing that Tom is doing—whether it’s subversive or not now that we had it on SNL, like, that’s a different story. But it’s really helpful. You know, there’s plenty of stuff that I think you could do: tactical urbanism to close down the street for an hour, and show that the world didn’t end. That’s not a bad thing to do.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I guess part of what I think you can do is just to talk about it without being embarrassed. And that may not sound like the most subversive thing, but I do think that a lot of people who, you know, recognize how dangerous cars are are very careful to always be, you know, couching things in the most sort of gentle way possible, and being really thoughtful and kind, and you don’t want to alienate anybody. And sometimes I do think—and this was kind of the idea behind the name of this show, right?—was that you just say it and you just say “No, SUVs are killing people. You know, cars ruin cities.” You know? And that can be very subversive when you do it in certain settings. I find, especially when you do it in places where people are quite liberal and educated and they know that this is true, but everyone’s sort of politely agreed not to say it and then you say it. And if you’re willing to do that, that’s subversive, I think.
Aaron: I’m finding that people are also more willing to have that conversation in, like, the place that we live, which is very liberal and, you know, ostensibly wants to be, like, environmentally progressive and all that. But, like, I found that these days when somebody is like, “Oh, God. I’m sorry I’m late. The traffic was terrible. Like, why is traffic so bad? Traffic’s terrible now.” You know, there’s all these conversations like that that you have, and I’m just like, “Yeah, well, there’s too many cars. There’s too many cars.” You know, they want some other answer, like, is it the new bike lane on the Brooklyn Bridge that’s destroyed all of the traffic in the region?
Aaron: It’s like, no, there’s actually just too many cars. There’s too much driving. And when—I feel like that’s a subversive thing to say that I’ve started to say. I’m just trying to say things more clearly now about what I see as the problem. And what I’m finding is like, people aren’t getting super defensive about that. They’re actually, like, really interested in engaging on that. Like, “Oh, yeah, too many cars. Like, totally. Like, what are we gonna do about that?” And then you can have, like, this other conversation.
Doug: I was also thinking, just because in Tom’s voicemail he talked about people being liberated on two wheels, that a lot of times we talk about the solutions in terms of deprivation, or our lives will be worse off with all the things that we have to do to deal with climate change. And you guys saw that video of the kids in Barcelona biking to school? There were like 75, 100 kids who do what’s called the BiciBus, the biking bus that takes them—like, it starts with a few kids, picks up a few more, picks up a few more, and then they just take over the whole street. That’s liberation, and that’s subversive climate action. And it’s fun, and it can show people that your life can be better off, actually, if you take these drastic measures to change your lifestyle and change lots of people’s lifestyles.
Doug: And like I said, it can be this, like, weird little—I think using kids in that way is subversive because the grown ups who complain about parking or having to drive to the doctor’s office every day in both directions, a hundred times a day or whatever it is, they can’t argue with those little kids who just want to bike to school. That’s super subversive in my view.
Aaron: BiciBus is such a good example because it’s also not illegal. You know, it’s just a bunch of people deciding we’re gonna be the traffic getting to school in the morning, and we’re gonna—you know, we’re just gonna do it on bikes.
Doug: Yeah, it’s like a Kidical Mass, right? It’s just like, we’re gonna just take the street, say we belong here and kind of screw you. But we’re not saying “Screw you” because it’s kids, and we don’t want to say that in front of kids. And it’s just joyful and fun. So more like that, please.
Sarah: The other thing to talk about is, you know, blocking roads the way that Extinction Rebellion and groups like that increasingly, I think, are using blocking highways. And there’s a lot of controversy about that tactic because, “Oh, you’re hurting people who are just trying to get to work. How is that helping the planet?” But I do think that that kind of direct action as well is one of the things that builds attention and builds awareness of the urgency of the situation. Because the situation just could not be more urgent. It’s just an emergency. So we have to—I think we have to use the friendly subversion, you know, and then we also—some people are prepared to do things that are riskier and less popular. And I think there should be more actions like that as well.
Doug: My favorite thing about the Extinction Rebellion action on FDR Drive—they shut down the highway—was the reaction from some people who were stuck in that traffic, and suddenly, magically, they all seemed to care about the harm caused by cars. They said, you know, “Oh gosh. You’re really gonna do this? Well think about all the carbon emissions we’re now spewing into the atmosphere because you made us late to work.” It’s like, “Oh, so you get it now. Like, you see that cars are bad, right? Like, cars are bad.” And so I think there’s huge value, as much as people were inconvenienced. I mean, that’s the point of protest. It shouldn’t be like, “Hey, we’re gonna protest but, like, you can go on having brunch and you don’t have to change anything about your life and you can drive your SUV from Queens to midtown Manhattan.” I liked that it got people talking about, “Oh, so you recognize that cars create exhaust and we should do something about that. Thank you.”
Aaron: Okay, that’s our show. That’s our show, folks. We want to thank our musical director, Nathaniel Goodyear.
Aaron: Our special guest, Josh Wilcox.
Aaron: That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars.
Doug: Remember, if you want to support The War on Cars, you can go to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support Us” and join today. Starting at just $2 a month, we will send you stickers, other cool stuff, and you will get access to exclusive bonus episodes.
Sarah: 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 and White in New York City, Drew Raines, Virginia Baker and James Doyle.
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Sarah: We have merch, including brand new Cars Ruin Cities t-shirts and stickers and a hoodie?
Aaron: Yeah, we’ve got a new hoodie.
Sarah: All right.
Doug: You need something warm.
Sarah: You gotta cuddle up.
Sarah: Check it out. TheWaronCars.org/store.
Doug: This episode was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. Our music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D. Designs. I’m Doug Gordon.
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek.
Sarah: I’m Sarah Goodyear. And this is The War on Cars.