No Takers for Contest to Make Fun of Walking, Biking, Transit

From the Competitive Enterprise Institute — the Phillip Morris-Amoco-Texaco-Ford-funded activist "think tank" that brought you such informational videos as "Where’s the Warming?" — comes this attack on World Carfree Day.

CEI invited YouTube auteurs to submit video responses in a competition for a $100 gas card, but its target audience may not think going car-free is all that nutty. They didn’t get any takers for their contest, though there were almost a dozen negative viewer comments, 100 percent of the feedback as of this writing.

In the video, narrator and CEI senior fellow Marlo Lewis says that car-free events are catching on "because there’s a growing political push to restrict car use." Uh, right. It isn’t like Americans are turning to transit, walking and biking for other reasons — rather than, say, relying on contests for free gas.

Video: CEIdotorg/YouTube

  • Tasty quote:

    People can freely choose not to use cars, of course, but those contemplating a Car-Free Day should acknowledge its implications. For a realistic day of car-free living, try it:

    When it’s raining
    When you’re carrying several bags of groceries
    When you’re carrying a baby, with a toddler alongside you
    On crutches
    After midnight
    Without using a car or cab to get to the train or bus station
    Any combination of the above

    OK, let’s see:

    When it’s raining: I carry an umbrella.

    When you’re carrying several bags of groceries: I shop twice a week — love that fresh produce — so carrying groceries isn’t a problem. I own a shopping cart, so if I wanted to carry home a month’s worth groceries, it wouldn’t be hard. My apartment is actually downhill from my neighborhood’s shopping area.

    When you’re carrying a baby, with a toddler alongside you: I’m childless, so I’ll defer to fellow Streetsbloggers on this one.

    On crutches: Check. Sprained ankle, used both crutches and a cane for several months. It didn’t prevent me from getting around. I’ve also had two attacks of gout that drove me back to the cane. It slowed me down but didn’t stop me.

    After midnight: I’ve taken the subway after midnight more times than I count. I once had a night job that made it a daily necessity.

    Without using a car or cab to get to the train station: This is the only blemish on my otherwise perfect record. If I have no luggage, I take the subway, but if I’ve got bags, I’ll take a cab. I may reconsider this habit when the 96th Street IRT station renovation is finished — can’t wait to try out that new elevator!

    I have a feeling that CEI’s Richard Morrison, who wrote these bullet points, has never even experimented with car-free living. Try it, Richard. You might like it.

  • Ordinary Midwesterner

    My first thought: this mirrors the criticisms of car commercials “you always see the car driving a beautiful, curvy, empty road – never sitting stuck in traffic at 5pm.”

    Walking/biking is not always glamorous, just as driving is not always glamorous. This is something car critics legitimately need to deal with.

    Also interesting… the carfree crowd offers possible solutions to the things that make driving ugly – traffic, parking lots, gas costs – by addressing their root cause. How does the auto establishment propose to address the things that make walking or biking supposedly annoying? Prohibit babies? Taxes on sprained ankles? Prevent rain? (not sure where I’m going w/ this… help)

    Never mind that people once lived without motorized vehicles and survived just fine.

  • As I see it, if people can’t deal with a little rain, or any of the other hassles of life without a car, then our society is already doomed.
    Are we really that sensitive?
    Would a walk to the supermarket kill you?

    Also, since when is it better to be in a car during a rain storm?
    Do you like having to crawl down the road afraid of getting into an accident?

    And why do people keep talking about having to bring their kids to school?
    I only got driven to school a few times, in emergencies, or if I somehow missed the bus.

    Since I moved to a city, I have adapted, I go to the supermarket more frequently, and get fewer items, and it works fine for me.

  • t

    I think any sensible alternative transportation advocate would not say, “Let’s ban cars entirely.” I think activists on both sides make a mistake when they take an either-or approach to this debate.

    The point is to find a balance. It might make total sense for someone to use a car if they are doing their grocery shopping for the week or for a month and have ten bags to get home. But if someone needs to run out to just get a gallon of milk, it makes little sense for that person to use a gallon of gas to do it.

    There are other things to consider. Just because it might rain on one day doesn’t mean you need to drive on all other days. Yes, some people will bike to work no matter what the weather. But I bet there are lots of people who want to bike to work when the weather is nice and have the option of taking a car when it’s not. The point is to give people options, which is why I think Transportation Alternatives chooses to call themselves that. Imagine how much money and gas our society would save if people only drove to work when the weather was bad! That’s not an either-all scenario; it allows for people to make choices. Right now, it’s hard for people to do that; even when the weather is ideal for biking, the infrastructure and traffic makes it too dangerous for people on the fence to choose biking or walking.

    It’s not about banning cars. It’s about reassessing where and when using them makes sense.

  • t, most livable-streets advocate don’t advocate “banning cars.” We advocate congestion pricing, parking reform, complete streets, etc.

    Likewise, living car-free is not tantamount to advocating the banning of cars. It simply suggests an alternative — for me, quite a viable alternative, and one I relish. What you make of that alternative is, of course, up to you.

  • t

    Mark,

    Of course I agree. I don’t think that most livable streets advocates think we should ban cars outright. But your responses to the criticism from CEI lended a little bit to the idea that it’s an either-or scenario even though I know that’s not what you believe or what you meant. You essentially gave the impression that because you could still get around on crutches, that was a satisfactory response to CEI’s bullet point about crutches. The real answer should be, “Well, it depends on the individual, but we need to make sure there are solutions in place so people can make sensible choices.”

    The answer to the question, “What if it rains?” should not simply be “I carry an umbrella.” I think that response turns people off. (I carry an umbrella when it rains, but I still manage to get soaked in heavy storms and sometimes wish I could just hop in a car!) I think what is needed is a more reasonable answer: “When it rains, we want to imagine a city or town with multiple options for people.”

    Organizations are trying to frame the debate as either-or, hence the ridiculous set of bullet points. We, as sensible transportation advocates, have to use careful responses to counter the impression that we’re a bunch of left-wing nutjobs. That impression exists, whether the reality backs it up or not, and it’s our job to counter it at every turn.

  • It’s definitely true that in many places the transit system is so incomplete that it is difficult to walk to the supermarket on a regular basis, or to get around with a baby and a toddler, or to take a bus after midnight. But that’s not the case in places like New York City, or even in certain well-designed small towns, where there are supermarkets within walking distance, safe sidewalks for toddlers, and all night transit service. And if a place has a majority of non-car-owners, it tends to be more convenient without a car.

    As a left-wing nutjob, let me outflank Mark and argue that we should be planning for a world without cars. Car-based lifestyles are unsustainable, and everyone will eventually give up their personal auto, if not out of a commitment to the health of the planet then when it gets repossessed for defaulting on the loan, or when it gets carjacked by Lord Humungous.

    Our responsibility should be to get as many cars off the roads as peacefully as possible, and ease the pain of transition to a sustainable society.

  • As someone who has lived outside of car culture for a long time — but was, until recently, afraid to speak about it, afraid that prisoners of car culture would consider me a nut — I now believe the biggest mistake is to remain silent.

  • Anon

    These people who are so car-dependent, who talk about how you can’t bike in the rain or walk in the rain. George Carlin calls this the “pussification” of America.

  • Daytripper69

    Until you can find ways to get around the idea that you “need” a car, you’ll be nothing but oil-serfs “as far as I can see”

  • t

    The point is to redefine need and we must create systems that encourage those new definitions. One needs a car in Atlanta because the city is built in a way that defines that need in one overarchingly uniform way for all of its residents. A car is a need in Atlanta because the city’s definition of need is different from New York’s. You don’t need a car in New York. It’s nice to have in some situations, but not an outright necessity.

    Small changes will allow people to think about “need” in a different way. Say my office installs a shower or provides secure bike parking. Or say my town installs a bike lane. If I can now bike to work but my wife has to, I might not “need” a second car. If, instead of building megastores on the outskirts of a city we built more local markets in existing buildings, people wouldn’t “need” a car to do their shopping.

    So, people can find ways to get around the idea of needing a car, but governments have to help them find those ways. It doesn’t take much: a bike lane here, a new bus route there. It can be done.

  • t, I’m enjoying your posts, and I hope you’ll stick around.

    One thing you’re missing, though, is that drivers drive because they’ve made almost heroic investments in car ownership, both directly (buy/lease car, insure it, etc.) and indirectly (taxes pay for roads and won’t be cut if you drive less). Therefore they perceive that the incremental cost of each driving decision (basically fuel, maybe parking) is relatively small — they’ve already paid plenty and they know it. So they feel they may as well drive, both to justify the investment and to take advantage of mostly free roads and often free parking.

    That in turn prompts them to drive even when other options are available. As you note, New York is rich in transit options. Yet many people who don’t need to drive do so anyway — and that includes Manhattan residents, who are better served by transit than anyone else in the nation, as well as folks from the outer boroughs and some very nice railroad suburbs.

    As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You’re in favor of providing the water (bike lanes, etc.). But what would you do to make the horse drink?

    Let me suggest that peer pressure and, yes, even ridicule may have their uses.

  • Zvi

    Shouldn’t competitive enterprise institute types *want* to encourage more travel options (ie other modes)? Where is the ‘competitive’ nature in only being able to use one’s car? I do have access to a car, but I never “need” to use it – except if I am going out of the city (or to IKEA)!

    I certainly wish that more North American cities offered realistic options for getting about. The point of ‘Car-Free Days’ is to try to nudge people into thinking differently about their travel options. If you never try doing something without a car, you won’t realize what it feels like – for better or for worse.

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