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Car Culture

Friday’s Headlines: ‘Car Deaths are a Small Price to Pay’ Edition

12:04 AM EST on November 22, 2019

Elizabeth Warren at a CNN presidential “town hall” earlier this year.

Cars are so awesome! As Americans, we just love 'em! In fact, why would anyone complain about their tiny little side effects (toxic exhaust, congestion, road rage and the death of close to 40,000 people every year) when our cars get us where we want to go without having to mingle with any of our fellow Americans or pay our fair share of the damage they do?

Well, that's at least what National Review writer Kyle Smith (and a longtime friend of our grizzled old editor) suggested in a piece the other day.

The piece was an overall put-down of Elizabeth Warren, and, of course, Smith is entitled to his opinion (as everyone knows, opinions are like assholes, etc). But we would be remiss if we didn't point out Smith's misguided defense of cars completely undermines his rant about Warren.

Smith's jumping-off point, if you will, was Warren's recent solidarity tweet on Sunday's National Day of Remembrance, when she used the accepted hashtag, #EndTrafficViolence. The hashtag itself set off the conservative columnist.

“'Traffic violence' is quite a phrase," Smith wrote. "In this bold new framing, cars are not the principal way Americans get around, with fatalities being an unfortunate but blessedly rare occurrence (one per 100,000,000 vehicle miles traveled, a rate that is down more than 80 percent in my lifetime). No, to Warren, cars are instruments of violence like, I don’t know, nunchucks or fuel-injected guillotines, and so she issues her clarion tweet to #EndTrafficViolence. So ... 'it’s time' for us to zero out deaths from cars? How? On what planet?"

Many people pointed out the internal illogic: if, indeed, deaths are down 80 percent in one middle-aged man's lifespan, than 100 percent is certainly achievable. But here's another idea: why do those who supposedly speak for the greatness of America feel the need to defend cars? Is our culture — our greatness — dependent on them? Apparently, so...

"Down here in America ... almost nobody has ever doubted that the benefits of motorized transportation have more than justified the various costs, even when the chance of getting killed in a car was 20 times higher than it is today," Smith argued.

He's wrong. Cars are a Faustian bargain, and the Devil is calling in his chit. Say what you want about Elizabeth Warren, but don't start defending the automobile — especially by attacking one of the few candidates who is even talking about saving lives.

Here's yesterday's news:

    • WEA CULPA! Apologies to Politico's Dana Rubinstein for not crediting her with breaking the Veronica Vanterpool news on Wednesday. She had it first! Now, when is Cliff Levy going to hire her?
    • We were not at all convinced by The City's argument in favor of restoring driving privileges for some drunk drivers. Not convinced at all. We really hope our lawmakers in Albany don't read Clifford Michel's piece and think, "Hmm, I gotta get more drunk drivers on the road!"
    • We did like the outlet's story about old subway cars, though. (The City)
    • Gov. Cuomo's misguided plan to hire 500 MTA cops to patrol the subways hunting for churros and fare beaters is looking even worse, now that the MTA has admitted it has nowhere to train the incoming officers. (NYDN)
    • Meanwhile, pressure is building on the NYPD to back off the "Churro Crackdown." (NYDN)
    • We'd like to offer one of those sweeping, head-to-toes hat tip to Kings County Politics Editor Stephen Witt for his piece about his recent trip to Osaka. Witt has long been a burr in our saddle because of his automatic support for car owners, but he did some soul-searching when he was overseas and says he now sees the potential if "New York City can actually reclaim parking spaces as public space, as Streetsblog shouts at every turn."
    • This is not a joke: A cardinal, a priest and a rabbi walked into a discussion — and left as traffic violence opponents (Brooklyn Eagle).
    • Kudos to the Josh Greenman's Daily News op-ed page for running Quinn Gregory's handlebar-eye view of the city's crackdown on cyclists.
    • Did it rain yesterday? At the Broadway station in Williamsburg, it did. (NY Post)
    • A scooter rider in Elizabeth, N.J. was killed by a truck driver. (NY Times)
    • In case you missed it, Dan Rivoli at NY1 did a good piece about subway entrances that the MTA closed years ago as a crime-prevention measure. Time to reopen them!
    • Friend of Streetsblog @tomverse posted a cautionary reminder of how cities knew that cars were the problem in the 1950s — but capitulated to them anyway! This historic video is worth watching. (YouTube)

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