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Confronting Our Problems

10:40 AM EST on December 21, 2006

Below is an interesting e-mail sent yesterday to Transportation Alternatives. T.A. forwarded it to Streetsblog and we all thought that it would make fodder for an interesting discussion. The letter's author gave Streetsblog permission to publish it. One of my questions is whether people think that this cyclist's approach is a productive way for New York City's urban environmental advocates to press their case?

Dear Transportation Alternatives,   

I feel obligated to share a story with you of my recent encounter with one of your members.  I was parked outside of a veterinarian in Park Slope this morning as a man on a bike rolled up beside my car. He asked me to roll down the window, and I did expecting him to ask for directions or something. Instead he began to interrogate me about my bumper sticker, which reads, "This car is on a low carbon diet." 

I suppose he was curious as to how a Jeep Cherokee could possibly be on a low carbon diet, or maybe he was just trying to pick a fight. Either way, I explained that I pay a monthly fee to a clean energy organization to offset the amount of carbon that is emitted by an average SUV. He then retorted with criticism of how much space I was taking up in the city, and then asked me if I was "guilt free." I told him that I was in fact "guilt free," and he turned in disgust and peddled away. I wished him good day -- a gesture which he completely ignored.   

I began to think to myself, should I feel guilty for owning an SUV? Of course I would rather own a hybrid electric, but I'm driving a 1994 Jeep because Brooklyn rent doesn't exactly allow for the purchase of a new vehicle, so there's no guilt there. Besides, it's a 6 cyl engine which gets 20 mpg and I only drive it when it's absolutely necessary. For example, today I'm taking my dog to the vet, and the last time I put gas in this vehicle was NOVEMBER 12TH when I had to attend the funeral of a close friend out of state. So I guess you could say I have zero guilt for driving as opposed to riding a bike when I need to leave the city.   

I wonder if this judgmental attitude and overall rudeness is shared by the majority of your members. I know it's certainly not representative of all of your affiliates because my fiancée is a member of Transportation Alternatives, and I myself support the idea of critical mass. Sure, why not? The city would be much nicer without any cars right? However, my guess is that this particular gentleman probably buys his organic produce from the Park Slope Co-op, and I seriously doubt it's delivered to the store via bike messenger. I'm curious if he feels guilty for eating. Perhaps your organization should stress the importance of being nice to people in general and sharing the roads with respect and consideration to the needs of others.  Perhaps we shouldn't assume that we know everything about a person based on their bumper sticker. Maybe we should try this instead of being such a critical mAsshole.    

Sincerely,

Name Withheld

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