Facebook Fight! War on Cars edition

This episode of Facebook Fight (TM) started over some comments about a SLOG post authored by transportation guy par excellence, Ben Schiendelman. Update: Dan Bertolet gets all serious about the “War on Cars” at City Tank. 

A bunch of folks get into the act here. Our side seems to really take the “War on Cars” meme to heart. I think because it is an effective rhetorical device, and I think it strikes a chord. We tend to deny the war on cars, working to prove it doesn’t exist, and debating about it. Personally, I think this isn’t the best strategy.

The fact is the angry driver from Bellevue that almost ran me over in a crosswalk yesterday has a point. Things are changing. There are more bikes, more people in the streets, and fewer parking spots, all of which is making it more inconvenient to drive. When we say “there is no war on cars” we lose people. And we confirm that the other side is aligned with good old fashioned American values like individual choice. In fact, it’s just the opposite, we want to create more and better choices. We need to explain the changes going on and why we believe that they are consistent with a set of values that are well reasoned and good.

Denying the war on cars is a hopeless pursuit. We don’t need to say there is one either. What we do need to do is articulate why things are changing, why it’s good, and why anyone who values the environment and the community should support these changes. We need, to paraphrase Henry Kissinger, to answer our questions not theirs.  



Ben Schiendelman writes for Seattle Transit Blog and actively participates in Seattle transportation politics. Last July, a volunteer from Streets For All Seattle, a coalition…
Yesterday at 12:36pm ·  ·  · Share
    • Scot Brannon No?

      22 hours ago · 
    • Brice Maryman Non.

      22 hours ago · 
    • Kaid Benfield I’m not so sure. I know a heck of a lot of activists who are, in fact, anti-car. They don’t present it that way publicly, of course, but they do intend to to make it more costly and inconvenient to drive. Not saying that’s wrong as policy, just that it’s disingenuous not to be forthright about it.

      22 hours ago ·  ·  1 person
    • Brice Maryman Ok, Kaid, I’ll wade in with a few responses:

      17 hours ago · 
    • Brice Maryman

      ack…silly return button…need to remember the shift-return. ok, here goes:

      1. yes, there are activists who are anti-car, just like there are activists who are anti-sprawl, but i don’t think you would say that the NRDC and ELF are the same. tactics matter and the language of militancy with its implied violence that has no place in a conversation about transportation. period. just like it has no place in a conversation about smart growth. the language of a “war on cars” is an ideological framing that is hyperbolic, disingenuous and dangerous for us to adopt as a lens:http://daily.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2011/01/03/war-on-cars-a-history there is a legitimate policy debate occuring; there is a rebalancing of a transportation system but there is not a war.

      2. a “war” is conducted by a government, which, in a democracy, is a reflection of it’s citizen’s values. i’m very willing to accept that individuals in our society are “anti-car.” (we probably both read their blogs;-) BUT to say that there is a war on cars ignores the facts of contemporary American culture, which remains enamored with automobiles. probably the single biggest signal that there is no government-led war on cars–at any level, in any American municipality–is the vast imbalances in funding. what did the dangerous by design report say the other day? 12 percent of fatalities on US roads are pedestrians, but only 1.5 percent of funding is spent on pedestrians.

      3. making it more costly and inconvenient to drive a car does not a “war” make. i think in international relations, those would be called economic sanctions, designed to encourage a different course of action. if making something more costly and inconvenient was conflated with war, that would imply that any governmental regulation on an activity is, similarly, a “war.” so forget iraq and afghanistan, we have tons of wars going on! a war on cigarettes, a war on the wealthy (estate tax), or a war on passenger rail, etc. just as i think it’s irresponsible to use this language of “war on cars” i would be equally uncomfortable with statements by friends who were closer to my own ideological position saying that the US is waging a war on endangered species, renewable energy, healthy foods, or compact land uses.

      17 hours ago ·  ·  3 people
    • Brice Maryman another good read: http://www.vtpi.org/carwars.pdf

      17 hours ago · 
    • Roger Valdez

      I think we avoid the “war” language because it’s perceived as bad PR. Somehow we’ll lose the middling sort if we declare war on their car.

      I think we protest too much. Please ignore the issue. Whenever we discuss it (like we are now) it’s like helping Dracula find a dark room at sun rise. Let’s stop talking about it.

      The truth is, for me anyway, is that our policies ought to make it harder to drive, and easier to use other modes of transit and be car free.

      That’s an outcome that doesn’t deny the convenience of the car nor does it cloak our agenda.

      Frankly, I dream of the day when cars are like horses are now: legal to own, expensive, and not a viable form of daily transportation.

      A war? Say the above over and over and over and over and the war talk will go away.

      17 hours ago ·  ·  2 people
    • Jon Morgan The war is on pedestrians. And the poor.

      14 hours ago · 
    • Dan Bertolet

      Here’s positive way to frame it: Our goal is NOT to make it more costly and inconvenient to drive cars, but to fix UNFAIR public policy that makes car use ARTIFICIALLY cheap and convenient; to end GOVERNMENT MEDDLING that flies in the face of American values; to UNDO SOCIAL ENGINEERING that has had unintended negative consequences. We believe that by LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD in transportation options, we all will benefit in the end.
      5 hours ago ·  ·  1 person
    • Roger Valdez

      Dan’s got it. Amen, dude.

      But there is a value proposition here. There are values at stake. Yes, science points to the fact that bikes and buses are BETTER for the environment and climate change.

      We support LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD and ending the GOVERNMENT MEDDLING that results in people having to choose driving over say, riding a bike or taking the bus to work.

      If people notice that it might be getting a little bit inconvenient to drive lately because of all the bikes, that’s a result of our policies taking away the ARTIFICIAL things in the economy and in policy that have been making it harder to ride a bike and easier to choose a car.

      People can still make the choice, but we think, over time, as our policies take effect many more people be able to choose other modes than driving. It will be easier, safer, more fun, and cheaper than other driving

      5 hours ago · 
    • Roger Valdez

      My point is that when we get all hot and bothered about saying there “ain’t no war on cars,” we don’t sound believable. What we need to do is train ourselves to remember 1. we have values that shape our point of view (that’s good!); 2. the value proposition is that our current policies are damaging the planet and people, 3. the best way to fix that is level the playing field removing the artificial constraints and social engineering by the government which conspire together to make it cheaper and safer to use cars which are antithetical to our values. 4. therefore our policy proposition is (fill in the blank here) because it is a reflection of our values.”You might not share our values about trying to improve the health of people and our planet and trying eliminate social engineering that makes that problem worse. That’s too bad.”But we’re kind of on a fools errand to “prove” that there is no war on cars. When we do that they win.
      4 hours ago · 
    • Roger Valdez

      One last thing. I would probably have a slightly different valence on this within our discussion. I agree with Dan. But bashing the government and social engineering comes at a cost. Those two things can be good. We have to remember that the more we bash those things publicly, it pushes us around intellectually into some other really dumb arguments, like natural rights and individual rights. In a sense, what we want is not so much to “get the government out of our lives,” but to “change what government is doing in and to our lives.” OK done
      4 hours ago ·  ·  2 people
This entry was posted in 1. Federal, state law, or legal decisions, 2.Local change, 4. I don't understand. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Facebook Fight! War on Cars edition

  1. Pingback: War on wieners: Street food edition | Seattle's Land Use Code

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