Episode 84 – They Paved r/place and Put Up a Parking Lot
Sarah Goodyear: Guys, I gotta tell you, I have a Cleverhood problem at my house.
Doug Gordon: Sarah, this is an ad. You’re not supposed to talk about problems with the product.
Sarah: The problem is that every time it rains, my wife steals my Cleverhood.
Aaron Naparstek: I had a Cleverhood problem this weekend, too.
Sarah: And what is your problem?
Aaron: It was freezing rain on Saturday. I went to take my dog out. He would not step foot outside of the house because he didn’t have a Cleverhood like I did.
Doug: Well, I guess I will share my problem. So everyone in my household has a Cleverhood, but my daughter’s rain cape is the same bright yellow as my anorak, and she doesn’t like to be too matchy-matchy with her father because she is 12 going on 16. So I don’t know. That’s a good problem to have that we have too many.
Aaron: So the problem basically is everybody needs a Cleverhood.
Doug: And if you want to get a Cleverhood, you can just go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars, and you can save 20 percent off anything in the Cleverhood store with code “HAPPYCOMMUTE.”
Sarah: Cleverhood. If everyone has their own, there’s no problem.
Doug: This is The War on Cars. I’m Doug Gordon, and I’m here with my co-hosts Aaron Naparstek and Sarah Goodyear.
Aaron: How’s it going?
Sarah: Hey there.
Doug: Okay, so this is a bit of a breather episode for us. We’ve had a lot lately, some big guests in the last few episodes. And Sarah, you just had your episode, “The Pedestrian,” which was outstanding. It was incredible to really hear that and see it get out there in the world.
Sarah: Thank you. Thank you. And it was great. Ali Lemer really helped me out with that one. And I’ve been working on it for months, so I’m very relieved that it’s done.
Aaron: Production-wise, it felt like we stepped it up to the next level with that one. It was really nice. Yeah.
Doug: It was really, really great.
Sarah: Thank you.
Doug: So on this episode, we’re gonna do a mailbag. We will take our listener calls, so to speak, and respond to them. But, you know, one of the things with this podcast is that news moves very quickly, and there’s really more than we can cover. We would be doing an episode a day, probably two a day with all the stuff that’s happening out there. So we are gonna share a few news items with each other and like I said, take some calls. But all three of us have recently just wrapped up a little bit of travel, kind of our spring break travel, and we were in different parts of the country that are not New York, so very car dependent. Aaron, do you want to go first?
Aaron: Yeah, sure. So I was in Los Angeles. We were visiting colleges with my older son, checking out schools in the LA area. We drove all over LA, from Pasadena to Santa Clarita, I think it was called—wherever Cal Arts is—all the way down to Venice Beach, to Silver Lake, where we were staying near some friends. So we drove everywhere, it felt like. And we drove a ton, and there were four of us in a car. And at the end of the trip, I returned our rental car. But before I did that, I put gas in it. And I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna feel the pain at the pump now. It’s gonna be rough. It’s gonna be terrible. I’ve heard of it.” You know? And gas seemed nuts. I’ve never seen $6-a-gallon prices on gas signs, and that’s what I saw in LA. And so I fill up this car after four days of renting it and driving everywhere all around LA and the region, and it only cost $61. And I was like, “This is a bargain!”
Aaron: “I just transported myself all around.”
Sarah: And your family.
Aaron: And my family hundreds of miles all over LA. We visited, like, four colleges. And it only cost 60 bucks. What are people complaining about here, folks?
Aaron: In New York, like, what would that cost? That’s like, how many subway rides or Metro-North rides? It’s not that much travel, 60 bucks.
Doug: I mean, for four people, you know, if you’re a tourist in New York for the weekend, you would probably spend more on the subway.
Aaron: That’s like a half a day for a tourist.
Doug: Yeah, basically.
Aaron: On taxis or whatever.
Aaron: So I was really struck by that. Like, $6 a gallon does seem crazy but, you know, for four people in a car? Not so bad.
Sarah: Yeah, but I mean, it’s not just the 61 bucks. Obviously, you had to pay the rental, or if it was your actual own car, you would be paying for the car.
Aaron: I know, but people don’t even seem to complain about that.
Sarah: No, it’s true. They don’t. They talk about the gas.
Doug: That’s the sunk cost. They don’t even think about it.
Aaron: It’s just invisible. Anyways, it was striking. $6 a gallon is really something to see on those signboards. It is weirdly shocking, you know, that number. I felt that number. But anyways, what about you guys? Where did you guys go?
Doug: So I was in Massachusetts helping my mom, who just had knee surgery. Mom, I hope you’re doing great. Keep it up. And so I was in the town where I grew up, which is an old New England town and, you know, lots of homes from the 1600s and very beautiful, but very car dependent.
Doug: And so for me, I wasn’t so much focused on the cost. I was using my mom’s car. I didn’t have to rent a car. I was focused on the time. So I had to run a lot of errands for my mom because she’s not mobile right now. So there was one day where I had to do about four or five different errands. I had to go to a medical supply store, I had to go to a shoe store, I had to go to a hardware store to get some keys made, and I had to go to a friend’s house to drop something off that my mom had borrowed. And none of those destinations were more than two to three miles away from each other, and none were more than about three to four miles from where my mom lived. And those four errands took about two and a half hours because I had to drive to each place, find parking, go in, do my business, come out, go out of the parking lot, go to the next place.
Doug: And I was thinking about it: where we live here in Brooklyn, those four or five errands would take 20 to 30 minutes because everything would be within two to three blocks of each other. So I was really struck by just how much time I wasted doing basic stuff. And just the mental energy it took. I’m not just going to get keys made at the hardware store. It’s like a whole—it’s an expedition. It really changes your way of thinking. And I get that if you live there—I used to live there—you don’t think about it in the same way. It was more fresh for me, but it was a little mentally exhausting.
Sarah: Yeah. So I went to upstate New York. A lot of my family lives in the Cooperstown area, and my uncle has just moved into the village of Cooperstown, which is a very beautiful, walkable, quaint village. And he can’t see well enough to drive anymore, so one of the reasons he’s moved into town is that he wants to be in a place where he doesn’t have to drive.
Sarah: And he is so ecstatically happy to be living in this village where he can walk to the store, he can walk to the pharmacy, he can walk to meet friends. He had been living in a more car-dependent place where he couldn’t be independent that way, and it’s like blowing his mind because he hasn’t had that lifestyle—he used to live in Paris a long time ago, but he hasn’t had that lifestyle for a long time. He couldn’t stop talking about how happy he was.
Sarah: And Cooperstown is a village where everybody could be riding a bike around the village. There’s a lot of stuff that happens, you know, in the countryside. It’s not really appropriate for biking, you know, long distances on these narrow roads. You wouldn’t want to do that even on an e-bike, I don’t think. But within the village, especially in the summertime when it gets really crowded with the Baseball Hall of Fame crowd and so forth, they should be doing everything by bike. It’s a perfect e-bike thing where the longest distance is probably three miles that you would go within the village. I mean, it’s just—it could be such a relief for everybody if they thought about it the way that he’s thinking about it that it’s just a place to walk. So that was really great.
Doug: Okay. So we promised we were gonna share some news items that people have been asking us to talk about, or that we have found interesting ourselves. Sarah, do you have a news item you’d like to share?
Sarah: The news item that caught my eye was about this woman in Harlem, Jennifer Tolliver, a 38-year-old woman who was walking with her six-year-old son, and they were hit by a driver who jumped the curb. And she died of her injuries a few days after they were hit. And she was at least the 60th person to die in a traffic crash in New York City this year, which is the highest rate since Mayor de Blasio put the Vision Zero plan into effect when he took office nine years ago or eight-and-a-half years ago.
Sarah: And so we’re going really backwards on that. And there’s just, you know, another driver jumped the curb in Crown Heights, hit six people, including children, grave injuries. Because there’s no fatalities, maybe you don’t hear about it. But, like, the level of bad driving and fast driving and big cars and recklessness that is going on in the streets of New York, it’s just exactly what we’re seeing all over the country: the rates of these vehicle crashes are going up all over the country, and nobody is really addressing this in any systemic way in this city or anywhere else.
Sarah: And meanwhile, people are—you know, a 38-year-old mom with her six-year-old son, it just astonishes me that we’re able to be so persistently indifferent to these events that are just life ruining and ending for so many thousands of people. And each one of these deaths just has a ripple effect on so many other people. I just can’t get over how able we are to just act as if nothing is happening when this is happening all around us. And yeah, that’s my not-terribly-uplifting news item.
Aaron: Yeah, that’s kind of what blows my mind about these incidents too, is that we just—we have ways of making it so that it would happen less and we choose not to pursue that at all.
Doug: All right. Well, I’m gonna pivot us to a less depressing …
Sarah: [laughs] Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Doug: Yeah. I have a really great news item that is very funny. A lot of people shared it with us. I came across it in our Twitter feed. There is a subreddit called “Place,” and it functions according to the Washington Post—great story in the Washington Post by Taylor Lorenz as a sort of digital canvas. So the idea is that you as a user can place a single colored pixel every five minutes on this big canvas. Now no one person can really effect much change by placing one pixel every five minutes, so other subreddits then come to “Place” and they all band together to create little sections of this canvas with images. You know, everything related from video games to political stuff to, you know, country flags—there’s, like, a Ukraine part of it. And the best part of it, and where this relates to The War on Cars—and kids, please plug your ears for a moment if you’re listening—there’s a subreddit called “Fuck Cars.”
Doug: And they created a large section of this digital canvas. They turned it into a parking lot with, like, big, black essentially pavement in the middle of this canvas with little cars around the edge. And it says “R/FuckCars” in the middle of it.
Doug: And it’s hilarious, and it’s great because the “Fuck Cars” people basically said that they wanted to raise awareness about the environmental impact of cars. And Alexa Jacob, who is a senior at Cooper Union, she’s part of the subreddit “Fuck Cars,” She said, “We chose to do this to show the reason for this subreddit existing. We wanted to show parking lots are a really big waste of space, and cars are incredibly wasteful. Place is a way for different communities to show what they value.” So this is great. The other really cool thing that I like about it is that there is obviously the potential for, like, hate groups and trolls and all this to take it over, but because lots of different groups can band together, it hasn’t really had that much trolling. And when it does, people quickly come in as their subreddit groups and place their own pixels over the hate symbols and, like, make them funny. So it really shows in a digital space how important community is to changing things for the good. It’s the rare positive online community internet story these days.
Sarah: I like that. That’s nice. It is—it makes you wonder, of course, like, if we could do things like that in real space more than we already do.
Doug: Yeah, instead of placing pixels, just come to a community board meeting. Yeah, definitely.
Aaron: Yeah, really. It’s harder.
Doug: It’s much harder.
Sarah: [laughs] It’s much harder.
Doug: Yeah, but it’s still, I think, just like a delightful story, people doing good things online. When do you hear that?
Doug: So that’s enough for the news. We’re gonna take a quick break, and then we will be back with listener voicemail.
Aaron: Join Jeff Speck, author of the bestselling book Walkable City, for a two-day course on the most effective arguments, tools and techniques for improving walking, biking and transit. The course takes place June 13th and 14th in-person on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You’ll learn powerful strategies for building stronger, healthier, more equitable places by focusing on walkability. And you’ll get hands-on experience working on a real world planning project in the city of Somerville. Whether you’re already an urban design professional, you aspire to become one, or you just want to learn more about how to make your own community more walkable, this course is meant for you. To sign up, search for “Harvard Walkable City.” Click the first result. And we’ll include a link in our show notes as well. Again, that’s The Walkable City with author Jeff Speck, June 13th and 14th at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Executive Education.
Aaron: For our first listener voicemail, let’s hear from Tom from Arkansas.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Tom Cotton: $5-a-gallon gas is not an accident, it’s not an unintended consequence. It is the intended consequence of their energy policies. They want to make us all poorer. They want to make you live in downtown areas and high rise buildings and walk to work or take the subway or ride an electric scooter or whatever it is that Pete Buttigieg takes to work this week. They want to get you out of your pickup truck, out of your SUV, out of your home in the suburbs where you can have a backyard with your kids. This is the exactly intended consequences of their energy policies. They don’t like it now, though, that it’s gonna cost them control of the United States Congress this fall.”]
Doug: Oh, Aaron!
Aaron: Okay. Okay. That was my news clip.
Sarah: That’s not fair! That’s not fair!
Doug: That was your way of making us listen to Fox News.
Aaron: I’m sorry. There should have been a content warning on that. Disclaimer: we are about to play a clip of one of the most cynical, soulless and miserable human beings in US politics: Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas on the Laura Ingraham Angle on Fox News. I was interested in this clip, though, because—you know, so this was about a week ago, and it turns out Tom Cotton is on this Fox News show, like, three or four times a week. And he just sits there and he gets almost the whole show. It’s kind of extraordinary. Like, is that normal? I don’t watch enough cable news.
Sarah: Well, because he is one of their great hopes. So I think that, you know …
Aaron: For the presidency?
Sarah: Yeah, exactly. And so I think giving him that platform is very intentionally, you know, building him up as: what if Trump doesn’t work out the next time? You know, he’s not Trump, but he’s Trumpist, right?
Aaron: And the campaign that he’s running is interesting to me because it’s like they’re really running against the city. You know, the city is their bogeyman. It’s very much—Tom Cotton’s target is, you know, there are people who live in cities, and they’re Democrats, and they want things like electric scooters. And they are the ones who are making your gas expensive. You know, it’s not the war in Ukraine or whatever cause, it’s these city folks. They’re the enemy. There’s something about it right now that feels very dangerous to me. It feels very ominous. And I don’t know if I’m kind of connecting too many dots or, you know, reading too much into it, but the way that they’re—you know, recently that senator from Florida, Rick Scott, you know, he had a rant on TV about how radical leftists are the enemy within.
Aaron: And now that we have this sort of insane Russia-Ukraine war, like kind of a fossil fuel kleptocrat with nuclear arms who’s, you know, out there leveling cities, I can’t help in my own mind connecting this attack on cities and urban living and the people who live in cities in the US, you know, calling them an enemy within and blaming them for the high gas prices with this kind of more visceral and direct attack that’s happening in Eastern Europe right now, I’m probably connecting too many dots there.
Doug: Aaron has all this red string behind him, different photographs.
Doug: He’s got a whole PowerPoint presentation that he’s …
Aaron: But no, it just feels like there’s this kind of fossil fuel kleptocrat oligarchy that is really coming for us right now.
Doug: Okay. We promised actual listener voice memos, so let’s go to our first one.
Alice: Hi there. This is Alice calling in from San Francisco. Huge fan of the podcast. One success I’ve seen lately is the Just a Minute protest that a group has been doing in San Francisco, where on Valencia Street there was supposed to be protected bike lanes years ago and they have not been put in, and cars routinely park in the bike lane. And so they’ve been going out and holding out signs that say, “Just a Minute,” so whenever a car parks in the bike lane, they block the road so that there’s a safe space for bicyclists to go through, and telling the cars that they’ll just be one minute while they wait for the car to move out of the way. And then when the car moves, they scuttle off until another car parks in the bike lane again. And it’s been very satisfying to watch, and also seems to have inspired faster action from the city on actually putting in protective bike lanes.
Aaron: I love this project.
Sarah: So great. This is defending the city, right?
Aaron: Yeah, it really is.
Aaron: It’s direct action.
Sarah: With your body. Yeah.
Doug: But it’s also joyous. You can hear—you can hear Alice smiling as she’s saying that. And we’re all smiling responding to it. There’s something just very funny about, you know, “Don’t worry. I’ll be just a minute.”
Doug: And for drivers, you’re just inconveniencing them. For cyclists, you’re risking their lives by blocking the space that they’re entitled to.
Aaron: There’s some great video clips of this. Should we play a little bit of one of these?
Doug: Yeah, absolutely.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, protester: Coming in hot. All right, everyone. Sorry, it’s gonna be just a minute.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, protester: Bicyclists, come on over. We love you!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, protester: You’re welcome!]
Sarah: It’s perfect. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Doug: It’s great. So good.
Aaron: I’m just increasingly happy to see people doing direct action on these things. I feel like in so many ways, city government is failing us, and even when we pass laws and make things happen through the—you know, we turn the wheels of government. We take three years to pass the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, or take 10 years to pass congestion pricing, it still doesn’t happen. Government seems like it’s not doing a very good job of implementing these days, and in some ways that forces citizens to go out and do direct action, to, like, sort of take these things into our own hands. So, you know, that’s challenging, that can be dangerous, it can be risky. But what these people are doing and the way they’re doing it, you know, there’s even a bit of a video clip of them interacting with a police officer. And the police officer’s like, “Yeah, I love that you guys are doing this.” I think it’s pretty great.
Doug: And we need more fun in advocacy, too.
Aaron: Yeah, right.
Doug: I mean, I think, you know, there’s a lot to be angry about. And I do think you can channel that anger into all kinds of protests. But sometimes just, like, taking and making your point with humor breaks through. Especially, you know, that’s a viral tweet, right? And was shared by lots of people, and there’s something really fun and funny about it. But it still makes the point that, like, this shit has to stop. You’re endangering people’s lives. And so my hat is off to the advocates in San Francisco who came up with this.
Sarah: Okay. So our next listener is Rockwell in New York, and he is calling in about something that we have talked about on this show before: wrong-way cycling.
Rockwell: Hi, War on Cars. I live in New York and I bike most places. Pretty much any time I do, I’ll encounter bikers going the wrong way in the protected bike lane. This happens often on Columbus and Amsterdam, which is especially annoying since they’re only a block away from each other and have nice protected bike lanes running in opposite directions. This really pisses me off since they can’t be bothered to take even a slight detour to avoid a dangerous situation for everybody. So I guess my question is: how do you deal with this? Have you reached some sort of peace with this, or is there anything constructive I can do? And of course, don’t even get me started on jerks riding mopeds in the bike lanes. Thanks!
Doug: What do you guys think?
Sarah: Well, I think that all those bike lanes should take up a full traffic lane and should be two way.
Sarah: Because actually, the distance between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues is not so short. And there’s no reason that you shouldn’t—I mean, all those streets used to be two way to begin with. And in the ’60s, they were converted to one-way avenues to make them more like highways. And they shouldn’t be like that to begin with. And they’re very wide. There is absolutely no reason that there couldn’t be—I mean, I think in some places these things are three or four lanes wide, right? There should be a two-way bike lane for conventional bikes and speed limited electric bikes, and then there should be another lane that’s for electric mopeds and other, you know, small, lightweight vehicles that go faster. And then if there’s room, there can be a car lane too. There should be a bus lane.
Aaron: Yeah, and a transit lane also.
Sarah: [laughs] Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Doug: I mean, I always think that one-way streets for cycling make about as much sense as one-way sidewalks, right?
Doug: Like, you wouldn’t expect pedestrians to just go around the block if they want to go in the other direction. And on the continuum or spectrum that kind of starts with pedestrians on one side and cars and drivers on the other, cyclists are much closer to the pedestrian side. And so we need, like Sarah said, there should be two-way bike lanes. My philosophy with people going the wrong way down a one-way street is not to really get annoyed with them, but to focus more on the institutional solutions like wider bike lanes.
Aaron: It’s the system, man.
Doug: It’s the system. Yeah, I’m kind of zen about it. To me, it’s just like, you know, you live in a city and you gotta deal with that sometimes.
Aaron: I’m with you guys. I think if you’re being the wrong-way cyclist, you should just really be mindful that you’re being the wrong-way cyclist and, you know, pull over to the side if people are coming at you who have the right of way, and just try not to be a jerk if you’re doing it. But I totally agree with you guys. I think a lot of these places where we see a lot of quote unquote “wrong-way cycling,” what we’re actually seeing is a place that needs a two-way bike lane. Okay. Should we do another?
Sarah: Let’s do.
Aaron: How about Aaron in Somerville?
Sarah: Okay, Aaron.
Aaron: Hi, this is Aaron from Somerville, Massachusetts, and I’ve got a question for you. I found it’s essentially impossible to get a bike in the US with built-in features like fenders, dymo lights, an upright posture, chain guard, et cetera—all things that come standard on bikes in places like Denmark and the Netherlands. Usually you have to add these things on yourself, which increases costs and also limits access to those who are, quote, “Avid cyclists.” What can we do to get more affordable bikes that come standard with features that make them easy to use as transportation devices? Thanks and keep up the good fight.
Doug: I love this question.
Aaron: Yeah, it’s a good one.
Doug: It’s like there are tiny little things that unlock bicycle culture, and the Dutch-style bicycles with, as Aaron was saying, like, integrated lights, fenders, an upright position. Maybe it has racks that come pre-installed, chain guard.
Aaron: The rear wheel lock.
Doug: The wheel lock. The cafe lock is one of my favorite things. I could do an entire episode on how that has changed my life on my bike.
Aaron: I’d listen to that.
Doug: [laughs] We’re gonna nerd out, folks. That kind of bicycle is the thing that unlocks utilitarian cycling beyond almost anything else. Obviously, infrastructure of course, is important but, you know, the fact that you can just get a bicycle in the Netherlands or in Denmark that you don’t have to think about adding anything onto and you can use it for hauling groceries or, you know, putting your briefcase in and your laptop or whatever. Do people still have briefcases? I don’t know.
Sarah: No, no. [laughs]
Doug: This is not Mad Men anymore. Yeah. So what do you think? How do we get more bike shops and bike manufacturers in the US to offer these as standard?
Sarah: I don’t know. Is it that we are used to the idea of bicycles that your dad has to put together the night before Christmas, you know, on Christmas Eve, like, under the Christmas tree? Or I don’t know what that is.
Doug: I think it’s probably just more that the American bicycling industry is still dealing with the many vestigial effects of cycling as recreation. And you don’t need a rack, and you don’t need lights and you don’t need fenders if you’re, you know, the weekend warrior type. And those are still a big segment of the market. And so it just might be that a lot of American companies are not set up to offer something different. I will say that I’ve noticed that e-bike companies do offer all of those things. The lights come standard on most e-bikes. Many come with racks that you can easily attach a bag to. A lot of e-bike manufacturers even make their own bags that go with it. Like, if you have, you know, the long-tails like the Yubas or the Rad Power—full disclosure, sponsor occasionally of The War on Cars—they do offer those things. So I think, you know, that’s because a lot of e-bike companies see their products as car replacers and not bike replacers. So maybe we just need more, I don’t know what we call—traditional bikes, acoustic bikes, whatever you want to call them, those companies to see that those bikes can be car replacers too.
Aaron: So as an Aaron who also lived in the Somerville area for some time, I’ve spent a couple stints in Cambridge. One of the best bike shops in the US for this very kind of bicycle is actually in Somerville. There is a shop called Bicycle Belle like B-E-L-L-E at 368 Beacon Street. I want to make a plug for it because the woman who started this shop, Carice Reddien, she’s super cool and she started a shop specifically because she saw a gap in the marketplace for these kinds of urban transportation-cargo-carrying your kids around bikes. And she sells a lot of these kinds of bikes. She sells WorkCycles.
Doug: I have two WorkCycles in my family, and I love them.
Doug: They have all of those integrated features and they’re great.
Aaron: And so Carice, go check out Carice at Bicycle Belle in Somerville. It’s right there. And also I want to know if you’re the Aaron who is always taking my coffees at Diesel in Davis Square.
Aaron: Because I swear to God, there’s a lot of Aarons in Somerville.
Sarah: Too many Aarons.
Aaron: And they’d call “Aaron” and I would go to, you know, get my coffee and another Aaron would always have taken it. So what’s the deal? All right, should we take another call?
Sarah: Yeah, let’s hear from another part of the world. Our next caller is from Brussels, Belgium. It’s Fraser.
Fraser: Hi there, Sarah, Aaron and Doug, this is Fraser coming in from Brussels in Belgium. So recently we had exceptionally high levels of air pollution, and as a result the regional government made public transport free for a couple of days. This was appreciated, but it got me thinking about free public transport as a whole. Some researchers have argued that free public transport is actually a regressive policy benefiting wealthier people living near transit more than poorer people who may live in areas with sparse public transport who simply need those options to exist rather than them to be free. So I want to ask: is free public transport just a red herring solution for progressive transport people? Thanks, and keep up the good work.
Aaron: This is another one we should really do an episode on because it’s a super interesting question.
Doug: It is super interesting. And there’s a lot happening in the world in terms of free transit, not just as emergency measures in response to bad air quality, but Boston, their mayor, Michelle Wu, made three bus lines free for a pilot program for two years. And that just got started very recently. And the results so far have been positive to mixed, I would say.
Doug: So on the positive side, basically, they eliminated fares on the 28 bus, and they found that ridership increased 23 percent compared with other bus lines. And then the sort of mixed thing about it is that eight percent of the people who were surveyed said they would have walked or biked if the bus were not free, and five percent said they would have used a car. So, you know, you’re taking a little bit more from people who would have just walked or biked. You’re not taking that much from people who would have driven. It did speed up boarding time, because you no longer have people, you know, having to swipe a card or search for change. And there was all-door boarding, so that was good. But the average trip time actually increased from 37 minutes to 41 minutes. So not a huge increase, but adds up over the course of many, many routes, many trips, many riders.
Sarah: I think that you can actually address the equity issues in some more creative ways than just free fares for everybody. In New York City, we have a program called Fair Fares that offers a 50 percent discount to people who are income qualified. And that program so far has enrolled a quarter of a million New Yorkers who are riding for 50 percent. And then we also have a new program where if you use the OMNY system, which is a tap system in the subway and buses, if you ride 12 times in a week, then after that your rides are free. And I think those kinds of different pricing structures that do take into account what people’s income is, you know, I think that those can address those equity issues in a more creative way. And I think that, especially with technology, there are so many different ways that we can slice that, you know, that I think all cities should be looking at those kinds of solutions.
Doug: See, I think actually that, like, sometimes we’re missing the forest for the trees when we talk about free transit, because I think you just need to run more trains, more buses in more places more frequently. And yes, cost is an issue, and we should be sensitive to people on the lowest ends of the economic spectrum, but for a lot of people on the lowest ends of the economic spectrum, they don’t even have a bus that they can get onto, free or not.
Doug: And so, you know, there’s a really good post by Alex Schieferdecker—I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. And one of the arguments that he makes about free transit is that we tend to think of it like free health care or free education, and that in the US actually, we have excellent education and we have excellent health care, but the access to it is impossible for a lot of people because of the cost. That is not true as far as transit goes. We have really shitty access to transit.
Doug: And very shitty transit if you have access to it. And so we need more of our money going to increasing service. You know, there’s a strong like, why not both? Make it more frequent. We’re a rich country, and make it free. But, you know, Fraser is calling in from Brussels, but I think I always look to international examples, and you actually don’t see a lot of places that have outstanding transit offering it for free.
Aaron: That is true.
Doug: You don’t.
Aaron: I’m sort of more excited about the first part of Fraser’s question, the part where they’re responding to air quality by encouraging transit or restricting automobile use. And there are a lot of cities that are doing that, and not in North America.
Sarah: [laughs] Yeah, right.
Aaron: You know, in Asia and Europe. Like, if—you know, when you get to a bad air quality day, diesel cars are banned from Oslo, or cars are just restricted from certain parts of certain cities on those days. And, you know, here in the US, we do the opposite of that. We actually just restrict. You know, we tell the vulnerable and people with cardiovascular illnesses and children to stay indoors because the air quality is bad.
Sarah: Or sometimes on the BQE or other roads in town, it’ll say “Air Quality Alert Day. Use transit,” as you’re sitting in traffic.
Aaron: In your car. Yeah.
Sarah: So yeah, that’s the way we do it here in North America.
Doug: Okay, we have one more. And this is Dylan from Madison, Wisconsin.
Dylan: Hello. My name is Dylan. I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, and I’m an avid supporter of The War on Cars. I wanted to write today to ask the host’s opinions on how bike infrastructure, as it is conceptualized today, is or isn’t adequately forward looking when considering the mass adoption of personal electric vehicles like scooters, one wheels, electric mopeds and electric dirt bikes. These are becoming increasingly popular, and having a rich selection of options open to commuters is important to address everyone’s needs. My concern is that, while I prefer someone on an electric dirt bike to an SUV, a bike that can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour doesn’t belong in the same lane with scooters, bikes and one wheels. However, that e-bike user should feel safe on the road if we want to incentivize moving away from cars. How do we make space in our roads for everybody—I mean, besides cars? Thanks!
Sarah: Thank you, Dylan, for your support. And the answer is: get rid of the cars!
Doug: [laughs] Yeah, there’s plenty of space. It’s just the cars are on it. Exactly, yes.
Aaron: That’s really true. I mean, I think about this all the time now. You know, to see, like, certain bike lanes that, you know, we’ve even worked on as advocates, like our favorite one on Prospect Park West, and, you know, on the weekends, it’s jam packed now, but some of the users are commercial cyclists on e-bikes going really fast, mixing in with little kids. And I’m like, oh! Like, I don’t begrudge those guys their space on the bike lane, but I wish they had their own lane over there where those parked cars are. Like, we need another lane now.
Sarah: Yeah, and there is another lane. It just has cars in it. So we just—you know?
Doug: Take it. Take it all. Take every last—no, I also really appreciated Dylan’s question here because you could tell that he approached it with such sensitivity. Like, a lot of times these debates come with, like, “What are these guys doing in our bike lanes? I don’t like these guys going so fast.” And he’s basically saying, like, “You know, they’re not in a car. They’re just trying to get to where they’re going. They deserve to be safe.” And I wish we could take that attitude towards these discussions more. Like, the guy on the e-bike, even if he can go 30 miles an hour when you really want it to be going 18, he’s on our side, man. And like we were talking about earlier, we should not be fighting each other. Let’s point our gaze towards the lanes just to the left or right of that bike lane.
Sarah: Exactly. And I do think there is gonna be a proliferation of small electric vehicles in the coming years. It’s just gonna explode. And they’re gonna range in size from scooters to golf carts, right? And we should be doing everything we can to encourage small, lightweight electric vehicles that are convenient, and maybe some of them can be weather protected for people for whom that is a priority. And yeah, we should just be creating a set of lanes that makes room for all of these vehicles. And yeah, the only way to do it is by taking lanes away from enormous 7,000-pound vehicles, even 7,000-pound electric vehicles.
Doug: Okay, so that is it for this episode of The War on Cars. We want to thank everybody who sent in a voice memo. If we weren’t able to include yours, hopefully we’ll get to it on another episode. But thanks so much. We really appreciate all the questions and the comments and the good fodder for discussion.
Sarah: 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 $3 a month, you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content and other rewards.
Aaron: Thanks to everyone who has signed up to support us, whether you’ve been with us from the beginning or you’re a new enlistee. A special mention to our top Patreon sponsors: Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law office of Vaccaro and White in New York City, Virginia Baker, James Doyle and Martin Mineo.
Doug: And also a special thanks to our friends at Cleverhood for sponsoring the podcast. If you would like the best rain gear for walking and cycling, go to Cleverhood.com/waroncars, and enter code “HAPPYCOMMUTE” at checkout for 20 percent off.
Aaron: Hey, and don’t forget to join author Jeff Speck for his two-day course on the walkable city. We will include a link in the show notes.
Sarah: This episode was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. It was edited by the great Ali Lemer. Our music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D. Designs. I’m Sarah Goodyear.
Doug: I’m Doug Gordon.
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek. And this is The War on Cars.
Listener: Have you ever wanted to be the center of attention? Have you wanted more people to look at you, to start conversations with you? There’s no better way than to wear a War on Cars sweater or a t-shirt. Trust me, you’ll make friends, you’ll make enemies. Either way, it gets people talking.