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Andrew Cuomo

CYCLE OF RAGE: Forget Your Vanity Plates, Andrew, And Make Drivers Use These

One thing has been lost in the debate over what license plate design should adorn New York State cars: The license plate design should fit the crime.

Gov. Cuomo obviously wants some uplifting symbol affixed to the state's millions of cars — the state's ever-upward motto "Excelsior" is even on four of the five finalists, and images such as the Statue of Liberty dominate — because “license plates are a symbol of who we are as a state," he said (in a weird bit of geographic anthropomorphism).

Cuomo is right that license plates are a symbol — but he's willfully blinded himself to the symbolism embodied by the cars to which they're attached. So I decided to help with my own proposals for more realistic designs.

Death machines

stop killing cyclists plate

The design at the top of the page (and shrunk down at right) is inspired by state license plates that actually try to change driver behavior.

If states can offer "Choose Life" license plates to allow drivers to express their objection to abortion or New Hampshire could force its drivers to say they'd choose death if they can't "live free," New York State could certainly send the message that it's time to end the slaughter on our roads.

After all, Washington, D.C. license plates still feature that city's motto: "Taxation without Representation." So why not adopt a new motto in New York State: "Stop Killing Cyclists."

Punish bad drivers

punish distracted drivers

The nation is in the middle of a 10-year increase in pedestrian deaths that began, wouldn't you know, with the widespread adoption of the smartphone. Like most states, New York bars drivers from physically holding the phones in their hands, but the DMV lets technology flourish in every other way. Now our cars are fully wired extensions of the devices in our pockets — press a button and you can call home. Press it again and you can tell Siri or "OK, Google" or Alexa to order you a pizza or a new pair of Dockers (size 36, regular cut).

But what do our lawmakers do? The best you'll get is a lame press release every April (April is apparently "Distracted Driving Month") reminding drivers to pay attention. Most of them probably tell Siri to download and read the press release while they're speeding down the highway.

Too many cars

congestion plate

There are more than 11 million cars registered in New York State. In New York City, virtually every inch of the public roadway is set aside for the storage and movement of private cars (minus a few miles of dedicated bus lane and, yes, some bike lanes). Every effort to wrest some of that public space away from drivers is met with a hue and cry from the entitled car-owning class.

But with pedestrian, cyclist and, yes, motorist deaths rising this year in the city, it is time for the mayor to start eliminating car access to some streets, first as a safety measure and then, as people realize how awesome car-free streets are, as the ultimate quality-of-life issue. Fully 10 percent of the non-arterial residential roadways in this city could be no-car zones.

Think about how we could restore sanity to our city: Millions of Americans grow up being able to play in the street. Not a single New York kid does.

Global warning

pollution plate

Everyone talks about the imminent end of civilization from global climate change, but no one wants to do anything about it. Yes, it's difficult to find non-polluting ways to get around. And, yes, it's not going to change a thing if only a few committed individuals do it. But if license plates are truly a symbol of "who we are," then this design above is the most-fitting one.

We need to stop saying climate change is a problem. We need to start doing things that show we actually believe it.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog. When he gets really angry, he writes the “Cycle of Rage” column. Prior posts are archived here.

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