Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Is there a war on cars?

with 4 comments

Tyler Harbottle, in the Tyee, does not seem to think so. Although he does find “two renegades who do urge a rush to the barricades. Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler are authors of a new book, Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism: On the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, a war-chest of facts, figures and arguments identifying cars as enemies of the people.” So perhaps there ought to be.

There certainly is an on going battle – or perhaps more of a rear guard action – between car advocates and cycling advocates. There is an especially nasty anti cyclist rant dressed up as news in the Courier this morning. What the car advocates fail to point out is that they have had it pretty much their own way for the last hundred years. And the results have not been pretty. There are also people who do, quite deliberately, target cyclists on the road and take pleasure in scaring them – and then hurling abuse. It is a form of road rage. There are also drivers – possibly the same individuals – who hate any other vehicle that gets in their way. Just drive at the speed limit on any road in Greater Vancouver and they will quickly identify themselves. Of course, there is not a lot they can do to intimidate trucks and buses – but they make life as difficult for them as they can. These people are essentially psychopathic – or have an anti-social disorder to use the latest jargon. Sadly some of them seem to be able to command a significant audience in the main stream media. Mostly, the politicians favoured by the elite do the bidding of the corporations – and on the whole they are still wedded to automobiles for themselves and as many as they can foist on the rest of us. It still suits their agenda, even though it is short sighted and self destructive.

Unfortunately, lost in the cyclists versus car drivers debate is all the important stuff about what sort of place we want to live in, what our transportation choices have been doing to us and the place we live in and the planet we depend on. Notice too, how hard the car lobby tries to put the label of “moral superiority” on cyclists – and, by extension, anyone who has the temerity to suggest that we need more and better alternatives to driving everywhere. I suspect that is because they are aware at some level that they have already lost the argument. Cars did not bring us the great benefits they promised – and much of the time we spend in our cars is evidence that the system we have constructed – and are still constructing for it will never ever be enough – does not work very well even in its own terms. We do not have the freedom, mobility or accessibility we were promised. What we do have is, quite literally, killing us. And there are better ways of doing things that have been working well for many years in other places. And we cannot go on as we are.

Cycling is going to be part of our future. So is walking and so is mass transportation of various kinds. Individual motorized transportation  has got to be limited and reduced. And, on the whole, that will prove to be a boon. For while it seemed, once upon a time, that increased car use would have benefits, it is quite clear to anyone who has the requisite capability of making a rational assessment, that the costs of widespread car use far outweigh those benefits. Of course, in the media it is not arguments or facts that matter. Its the narrative – and the small c conservatives have understood how to do that better. Because they have had to, as reality has had a nasty habit of hitting them in the face. But, as we now know, they are immune to facts. 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 15, 2011 at 11:47 am

Posted in bicycles, Environment, placemaking

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4 Responses

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  1. My dad was one of these guys that wouldn’t go anywhere if he couldn’t go by car. He even went to work by car, much to the amusement of the neighbourhood. He lived next door to his workplace and, by the time he opened the gate, drove to the other side of the road, walked back to close the gate, walked back to his car, drove 50 meters, turned left –often waiting for a car or 2 to pass–and parked in front of the office, Mom, who walked to work, already had her first cup of coffee and was 1/2 through the newspaper.
    Forward to retirement, when they moved back to Bordeaux.
    He seldom used the car in town as driving and parking was such a hassle and fell in love with pedestrian streets…

    So there is still hope for car-centrics. Just bribe them with much better transit and pedestrians only areas…

    I noticed during the recent war against Boston that LOTS of people –obviously not familiar with SkyTrain routes—discovered SkyTrain and appeared to like it.

    I must say, much as I favor biking, that I couldn’t possibly ride on these non-separated bike lanes.

    Red frog

    June 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm

  2. I think that the car is so embedded in our culture that we can’t escape. For example, more than 70% of the commercials on TV hockey have cars in them. Now, there are two wars going on at the same time: cars vs cars, and cars vs others (bikes). Cars vs cars is about how car A has 0.09% better fuel efficiency and can leave you “breathless” compared to car B. Cars vs bikes is about how bikes have 100% better fuel efficiency than cars, and can leave you exhilarated. The problem is that the bike industry doesn’t have enough money to run a commercial during the hockey game.
    I think that a solution is to treat the bike industry just like cars. For example, if cars have a drivers license, then bikes should have a license that certifies that he/she has rode her bike for 2 months in a year. Then use that bike license to get discounts on shops. Anyways, what i’m saying is that I think we should treat bikes like cars so that hopefully, someday, it will be embedded in our culture.


    June 16, 2011 at 10:00 am

  3. Have you read the Toronto Star article titled ” GTA needs gas hikes, road tolls, congestion charges to fund transit: Experts”?
    The goal being to reduce the time car drivers spend commuting.

    Red frog

    June 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm

  4. It’s amazing how much venom there’s been over the Greenest City Neighbourhood Grants (which represent something like 0.1% of the city’s budget).

    But there does seem to be a slow shifting of opinion. I see all these articles saying that the tiny $5,000 grant to start the farmers markets drew massive criticism a few years ago, yet the farmers markets are incredibly successful. I think a lot of what we’re seeing are the denial/anger/bargaining stages of a Kübler-Ross response to the pretty clear evidence that there are major problems with the status quo. Depression isn’t likely to lead to vocal public responses, but my hope is that there is a steady progression to the acceptance stage.

    Once enough people progress through the emotional response to dealing with the reality of the situation, then we can get some real work done. We can only hope that it won’t be too late.


    June 21, 2011 at 10:36 am

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