54. The French Connection

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Under the leadership of Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the city of Paris has transformed itself, turning streets that were once clogged with cars into places for people on bikes and on foot. In response to the pandemic, the city quickly installed “coronapistes,” temporary bike lanes designed to help Parisians move around safely. (With Hidalgo’s recent re-election, approximately 30 miles are now slated to become permanent.) To learn more, Sarah speaks with Deputy Mayor Christophe Najdovski, who’s in charge of the city’s initiatives to increase green space and biodiversity and previously served as the deputy mayor for transportation. Najdovski explains that while the changes in the French capital are the envy of people all over the world, they haven’t been without their share of controversy. Nevertheless, Hidalgo’s political will and persistence have paid off. Paris now has cleaner air, less noise, more public space and a balance of street users that is shifting toward women. Plus, we hear an update from friend of the War on Cars and Paris resident, Cécile!

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

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53. Cars and the Law with Greg Shill

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On Friday, October 30th, just days before the U.S. presidential election, a Biden-Harris campaign bus on I-35 in Texas was followed and surrounded by a “Trump Train,” a caravan of SUVs and large pickups displaying “Make America Great Again” flags and other pro-Trump signs. In video posted online, one vehicle can be seen crashing into a white SUV which was said to be transporting members of the Biden-Harris team. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

While neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris were on the bus, other candidates for office were and the incident motivated Texas Democrats to cancel three campaign events due to safety concerns. Beyond that, it marked a frightening escalation in the use of vehicles as instruments of political violence, something that seems to be occurring with increasing frequency in this country.

To make sense of it all, Doug talked to Greg Shill, an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. Greg has written extensively on the ways in which the right to drive at the expense of nearly all other forms of transportation is written into America’s legal system. (Read his longer paper on the subject here.) On Election Day, The Atlantic published his take on the Texas incident and why the drivers in the “Trump Train” had every reason to expect immunity.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

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52. Honk If You Loved 2020

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Automobiles played an oversized role in the news this year, from the country’s response to the pandemic to the strange twists and turns of the presidential election. In fact, some might say 2020 was the year of the car. Beyond the growth of drive-thru COVID testing and importance of curbside voting, there was the president’s weird virus-infected limousine ride around Walter Reed, flag-flying “Trump Trains” shutting down highways and the strange spectacle of watching President-elect Joe Biden deliver his victory speech before supporters in parked cars who expressed their excitement and enthusiasm by honking. What does it mean for the future of democracy that most of our interactions with our fellow citizens now happen from behind a windshield? Are we destined to duke it out, road-rage style, until society collapses? Or is there an off-ramp from all this madness? Plus, is there really a parking angle to the Four Seasons Total Landscaping story? You bet there is. Aaron, Sarah and Doug are together again to discuss it all.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

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51. Getting the Car Out of Carbon Emissions

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The long-awaited electric car revolution is finally upon us. Are you ready? Are you excited? Last week, General Motors officially launched the electric version of the Hummer. The Hummer, of course, is the purposely intimidating sport utility vehicle based on the U.S. military’s HumVee. Popularized during America’s turn-of-the-century oil wars, the Hummer has long been one the personal vehicles that is most like a gigantic middle finger on four wheels. Weighing almost two tons, with 1,000 horsepower, and 0 to 60 m.p.h. acceleration in three seconds, the 2022 Hummer E.V. begs the question: Are we simply going to try to replicate the toxic male, energy-intensive, automobile-centric, 20th century “American way of life” on electricity rather than gas? Or can we imagine and build something better? 

This episode was sponsored by our friends at Cleverhood. For 20% off of stylish, functional rain gear designed specifically for bicycle commuters, enter coupon code: WARONCARS when you check out. 

Support The War on Cars on Patreon.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

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50. America’s Love Affair With Cars

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It’s often said that Americans have a “love affair” with cars and driving. Where did this oddly specific expression come from? Most people probably assume it was something that developed organically, like so many common sayings. But Peter Norton, the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, credits a little-known 1961 NBC TV documentary starring Groucho Marx for popularizing this famous phrase. It’s a fascinating story that finds the wisecracking comedian pitted against anti-automobile activists such as Jane Jacobs and proves that America’s so-called “love affair” with cars is more like an arranged marriage.

You can find the full transcript of this episode here.

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49. Winning the War on Cars in Rural America

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Dave Cohen of VBike Solutions

Reducing automobile dependence in America’s suburbs, small towns, and rural places is a daunting task. But a tiny non-profit organization in Brattleboro, Vermont is offering a glimpse of how it might be done. Launched in 2010 by bike advocacy legend and psychotherapist Dave Cohen, VBike Solutions is fomenting an electric-assist bicycle revolution in the Green Mountain State. Forging partnerships with state government, electric utilities, financial institutions and local bike shops, VBike is making e-bikes more accessible, affordable and just plain normal. Dave calls it “car reduction therapy for Vermonters.” And as War on Cars co-host Aaron Naparstek discovered while playing softball in Brattleboro this summer, it seems like it’s working. Plus: Vermont’s state bird makes a cameo!

This episode was sponsored by our friends at Cleverhood. For 20% off of stylish, functional rain gear designed specifically for bicycle commuters, enter coupon code: WARONCARS when you check out. 

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48. Right of Way

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Angie Schmitt has long been one of the clearest and most passionate voices out there talking about the real price of automobile dependence in the United States. As the national editor for Streetsblog, Angie reported for years about how we design our communities to accommodate cars at the expense of human beings. Now, Angie has a book out. It’s called Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America. In it, she gives a compelling analysis of why more pedestrians are dying on American streets now than at any time since the 1990s. We talked with her about the nation’s toxic mix of big vehicles, cheap gas, and utter disregard for human lives — especially when those lives belong to poor people, people of color, people without housing, older people, and people with disabilities.

***This episode is sponsored by Cleverhood. Enter code “WARONCARS” at checkout for 20% off your purchase, including the sleek new Rover Rain Cape.***

Support The War on Cars on Patreon.

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Purchase Right of Way and other books by authors featured on The War on Cars via Bookshop.org.

 

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30. The Automotive Police State [Rerelease]

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[This episode was originally released on October 31st, 2019. We’re re-releasing it as an end-of-summer extra for new listeners and will be back with new episodes in September.]

For a century, the automobile has been sold to Americans as the ultimate freedom machine. In her groundbreaking new book, “Policing the Open Road,” historian and legal scholar Sarah Seo explodes that myth. Seo shows how modern policing evolved in lockstep with the development of the car. And that rather than giving Americans greater freedom, the massive body of traffic law required to facilitate mass motoring helped to establish a kind of automotive police state. Is a car a private, personal space deserving Fourth Amendment protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures?” Or is a car something else entirely? It’s a question that courts have struggled with for decades, ultimately leaving it up to the police to use their own discretion, often with horrifying results, especially for minorities. In this revelatory conversation with TWOC co-host Aaron Naparstek, Seo offers an entirely new way of looking at the impact of the automobile on American life, law and culture.

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A full transcript of this episode is available here.

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47. Vehicles as Weapons

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Using a vehicle as an instrument of terror is nothing new. Over the last decade, extremists proclaiming affiliation with ISIS and other terrorist groups have used trucks and cars to murder pedestrians in London, Barcelona, Nice, Berlin, New York…the list goes on. Recently, however, the United States has seen a new and frightening development with vehicular assaults. These attacks are not random. The targets are protesters using highways and streets to exercise their First Amendment rights, to demand justice, and to call for the reform of policing and other systemically racist institutions. Some of the attacks have been carried out by people affiliated with right-wing hate groups, some by people with no known affiliation, and still others have involved the police themselves. In this episode, Sarah talks with Ari Weil, a University of Chicago Ph.D. student researching vehicular attacks, about this terrifying trend. We also hear from Robert Foster, who was at a protest in Austin, Texas, where a confrontation between a marcher and a driver turned fatal.

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46. Crash Course with Woodrow Phoenix

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“I wrote this book to make you mad.” So declares British writer and artist Woodrow Phoenix in the afterward of his new graphic novel Crash Course. Subtitled, “If You Want To Get Away With Murder, Buy a Car,” the book explores the powerful and toxic relationship between people and automobiles. With its stark and beautifully hand-drawn images of roads, traffic symbols, cities and highways, Crash Course takes aim at the ways in which cars have shaped the built environment, politics, and even the human psyche, largely for the worse. Crash Course unpacks the term “road rage,” explains why traffic accidents are anything but, and dispels the notion that people can be neatly separated into categories such as motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. It also examines the dangers of SUVs, the perils of driverless cars and the recent and growing trend of vehicles being used as weapons against demonstrators in places such as Charlottesville, Virginia. In this one-on-one conversation, Woodrow Phoenix talks to Doug about the unique combination of artistry and journalism that makes Crash Course an effective polemic, one that will hopefully persuade people to think carefully about their responsibility when they get behind the wheel of a car.

This episode was sponsored by Sidewalk Weekly, the new podcast from Sidewalk Labs.

Support The War on Cars on Patreon and get nifty rewards like stickers, t-shirts, and even a copy of Crash Course.

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Find the full transcript of the episode here.

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