Cartoon Tuesday: Captain Car-Free


Today is World Carfree Day, and though we somehow let it slip by us, NotionsCapital reappropriated this classic comic to promote events down DC way.

They’re not super heroes per se, but in the livable streets universe, David Byrne, Janette Sadik-Khan and Paul Steely White are about as close as they come. You can catch them tonight at a free panel called "Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around" at the Union Square Barnes & Noble at 7 p.m.

Speaking of livable streets super heroes: any ideas? Bikeman? Woonerf Woman? Livable Streets League?

  • clever-title

    Good thing this isn’t Gothamist, else you’d have 50 comments here claiming that this “proves” cyclists and pedestrains want to kill motorists.

    Was this an actual Action Comics cover, or was it just a photoshopped pic of a taxi ramming another building/subway station/Central Park wall in NYC?

  • I am perpetually curious why the utopian end-state for many livable streets luminaries is an eradication of the automobile, public and private.

    Do you recognize no benefits, no reasonable middle ground?

  • Jen

    Ah geez. Don’t sweat it Streetsblog. If you’d written a criticism of this cartoon they’d be telling you to “lighten up.”

  • Number of carfree cities in America: zero. That seems pretty extreme to me. Tell you what, when I have a selection of a dozen U.S. carfree cities with a million-plus population in which to live, get back to me then and we’ll talk about the “reasonable middle ground.” In the meantime, read “Carfree Cities” and “The Carfree Design Manual” by J.H. Crawford. And see Venice.

  • Ian Turner


    I’m sure one of the things you’ve discovered is that there is anything but consensus on this blog regarding what the Utopian end-state looks like. But from my perspective, private automobile use should be convenient, safe, expensive, and rare. Sure there are benefits! But once you pile in all the externialities, only those with the most to gain, such as tradesmen, should be left in their cars.

  • Livable streets superhero: Bicycle Repair Man ( — it’s all in a day’s work!

  • Mark –

    I challenge you to give me 12 examples, worldwide, of car free cities. Or maybe even just one in addition to Venice.

    I’m with Kaja. Why is a complete lack of convenient, motorized transportation, seen as the only acceptable end-point?

    I know moderation doesn’t often resonate with radicals, but there have to be more people on this site that are interested in livable streets without needing to eliminate the car.

  • There is atleast one more car free city in Italy: Siena. And San Gimignano’s city center is inaccessible to cars do to the medieval walls surrounding he city.

  • nanketering, that is exactly my point. I’m not saying that there are as many as a dozen carfree cities. I’m saying that there aren’t any carfree cities — not even Venice, which is blighted by a huge parking lot called the Piazalle Roma. And certainly not in the U.S.

    Also, motorized transportation is fine with me as long as the motor is electric and the transportation runs on rails. A humane environment can be built around that kind of transport. With cars, such a thing is impossible.

    Finally, here is a list of carfree places — unfortunately, there is really not a single large and fully carfree city in the world. But there are some carfree islands, towns, villages, and districts that prove it can be done. How sad that so few of them are on our continent. See Wiki’s list of carfree places.

  • Shemp

    Siena as an example applies only yo the small old-city, and even that isn’t absolute. There is more to the town outside the walls.

  • gecko

    With a projected world population of over 9.5 billion people (about 3 Chinas) by 2050 cars simply do not fit in the future if the world population is to have an type of reasonable affluence.

    Cities have the least use for cars — they thrive despite them — and will likely be the showcases for the dramatic changeover to mass implementation of vehicles smaller and lighter than human beings (100 pounds or less) providing much safer, cost-effective, comfortable, and practical transportation.

    Hybrid human-electric agile systems can be designed to do all the great things automotive transportation systems can do without the waste in costs, environment, and lives.

    Insurance, oil, financial, and conventional transport companies will probably not have the local monopolies, large margins, and revenue streams of the past.

    Electronics, communications, and data processing industries will probably do quite well as well as those that benefit from low-cost, safe, highly practical transportation including people in general.

  • gecko

    Proven and existing technology exists here and now to make this rapid changeover. No dramatically new technology needs to exist to make this happen. The idea that transportation vehicles do not have to be large, heavy, and expensive to be practical, convenient, comfortable, etc. just has to sink in and be widely excepted.

    Although, extreme enabling technology will likely be molecular strength materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene which only exist on micro-scale at this time and are projected to be commercially available on macro-scale by 2050. Of course, development could be rapidly accelerated with efforts similar to the Manhattan Project or the Space Race which achieved dramatic results within a few short years.

    Molecular strength material science – where materials might well be 100 to 200 times stronger than steel per weight – may well provide the enabling technology to mirror the type of dramatic advances that micro electronics have produced and continue to produce and transportation will benefit considerably as well as the built environment in general.

  • Bill

    Jane Jacobs Man

  • zach

    The Walking Man? We could probably get a combination James Taylor and Johnnie Walker sponsorship.

  • Doug

    I’m not sure who the superhero would be, but his love interest would definitely be Lois Bike Lane. (Insert groan here.)

    Siena is not car free. I was there recently and within the city walls you’ll find taxis, scooters and some personal cars.

    There are many reasons why there are no car-free cities. Some of it is just laziness or the inertia and encroachment of half a century of personal automobile use. But there are some very real reasons why people need cars, and we ought not be seen as being insensitive to those needs. Even in the most bike- and pedestrian-friendly cities on earth — Amsterdam, Copenhagen — you’ll find personal cars and motor vehicles.

    When Mark comments that “motorized transportation is fine with me as long as the motor is electric and the transportation runs on rails,” that seems crazy. Are we going to run rails to every door of every building of the city? Staten Island, NJ, and Long Island, too? It’s a big world out there, and even way back when people needed personal transportation, even if it was a horse and buggy.

    Many of us who frequent this blog have a very narrow frame of reference; we’re all relatively young and healthy with little to no problem using a bike or walking for some or all of trips around New York. But can we imagine no person for whom a car, or some form of personal transport is appropriate? The elderly? The handicapped? If we can’t, then we have the exact opposite of a windshield perspective. Get off the bike or bus for a second and think about who lives in a city. I’m not saying you’re wrong to think that we neeed or more places where cars are simply not allowed — Central Park, I’m talking to you — but I think understanding the other side is the best way to moving toward real solutions to our transportation mess here and elsewhere.

    The point may not be to eliminate personal automobile use, as much as that’s a Utopian goal for many. The toothpaste is out of the tube on that one, and even if we ran out of oil tomorrow there would still be a handful of people who want to drive their zero emission electric cars to work, school, or elsewhere. The point is to prioritize and minimize personal automobile use. Maybe one day we’ll sneer at someone who drives a two-ton vehicle to buy a gallon of milk or who flies from New York to DC when high-speed rail is better. But if someone needs to drive to a doctor’s appointment or to visit family we should not be so judgmental. The question is not “Are cars appropriate?” but rather, “When, where, and under what circumstances are they appropriate?” Ian’s “convenient, safe, expensive, and rare” standard seems like a good place to start.

  • clever-title

    I guess I spoke too soon yesterday 🙂

    @ Doug: That was one of the best thought-out comments I’ve ever read on a transport blog. Thanks.

  • J:Lai

    I am anti-car as much as just about anyone, except maybe Mark Walker, but I would NOT say that the best scenario is one with no private automobiles. Cars are very useful, and they should have a place in the overall transportation network. It would be sub-optimal to exclude them.

    However, the current transportation system prioritizes private cars to a huge degree. This occurs at the expense of all other types of tranpsortation, and it involves imposing significant “external” costs of private car use on society in general. Given where we are right now, just about anything that de-emphasizes cars is a move in the right direction. That doesn’t mean we need to get to a place with zero car use.

    I do not agree that the goal should be to have 12, or any number, of completely car-free cities. Private cars will likely always have a place, even in the densest cities, but there need to be viable alternatives in order to reduce the dominance of autos.

  • The use of the word CAR — think about rail CARS and trolley CARS — when they mean AUTOMOBILES privately owned by members of the general public, spotlights the lack of independent thought by the impressionable college students and others who spout such sloganeering intelligentsia.

  • Though clothed in reasonableness, Doug’s comment has its unreasonable moments. I’ll limit my response to the one where he characterizes my advocacy for rail as “crazy”:

    “When Mark comments that ‘motorized transportation is fine with me as long as the motor is electric and the transportation runs on rails,’ that seems crazy.”

    Thanks for being so civil about it.

    “Are we going to run rails to every door of every building of the city?”

    Classic straw man. No, but outside of rural areas, it would make sense to have them along every major thoroughfare that lacks a subway route. This was how much of big-city and small-town America was built before the car, tire, and oil companies formed a cartel, bought up the streetcar lines, and put them out of business.

    “Staten Island, NJ, and Long Island, too?”

    Ah, feel free to lecture me about New Jersey. Then I can tell you about the classic main street town where I grew up. I walked up and down that street to my schools, shopping, library, etc. My longest walk to school was 45 minutes; I was in high school by then. My shortest walk was three minutes. And there were trolley tracks running down that street as recently as the mid-1960s though I never saw the trolleys themselves.

    “It’s a big world out there, and even way back when people needed personal transportation, even if it was a horse and buggy.” Actually, only the wealthy could afford horses and buggies. Everyone else walked. And there was a brief golden age of rail dominance between the horse-and-buggy era and the car-dependent era. Thanks to rail, low-income people had an alternative to walking long distances for the first time. Yet rail was still compatible with walkable and livable streets. That doesn’t seem “crazy” to me. But then, I’m not looking to celebrate World Carfree Day by undermining the carfree movement or making “appropriate” excuses for car dependency.

    The peak oil crisis will eventually end the age of the automobile. There will be a transition. Would you like it to be abrupt, painful, and violent? Then stick with the status quo — when the gas shortages begin, all hell will break loose. But if you’d prefer it to be gradual, peaceful, and creative, these fleeting moments in advance of the peak oil crisis offer us a chance to embrace the carfree movement and start rethinking the assumptions, excuses, and equivocations of car dependency.

  • J. Mork

    I’ll argue that Venice isn’t really car free. It’s just that the cars there are boats. And the part that makes it nice is that there’s a complete grade separation. (But this kind of separation isn’t really feasible anywhere else.)

  • “Doug’s comment has its unreasonable moments. I’ll limit my response to the one where he characterizes my advocacy for rail as “crazy”:”

    Please cite.

  • Ian Turner

    Doug, he did, it’s right there on this same page and quoted at the top of Mark’s comment.


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