Monday’s Headlines: Car Culture at the New Yorker Edition

New Yorker montage

We usually savage the New York Times in these pages for constantly elevating the car in its coverage, despite the fact that the vast majority of residents of the city that shares a name with the paper don’t own or want one. Today, we’ll savage the New Yorker, whose annual “Adventures” issue reads like it came from the Detroit playbook.

The New Yorker cover in question: Graphic: Lorenzo Mattotti
The New Yorker cover in question: Graphic: Lorenzo Mattotti

If it was just the loathsomeness of Lorenzo Mattotti’s cover art — a car with two joyous passengers enjoying the ecstasy of an empty road on a stereotypical American “road trip” (right) — we could let it go. But the “Adventures” issue is filled with one-page memoirs under the rubric, “Road Trip,” which more or less celebrate the freedom of the so-called open road (an additional irony? The New Yorker hasn’t covered the city of its name’s miles and miles of open streets that also celebrate the road trip, albeit one without a car).

One “Road Trip” story, Joy Williams’s “Mine Field,” is particularly horrific. Describing a drive between Tucson and Centennial, Wyo., she makes twice a year, the author bemoans the increasing environmental degradation she sees outside her car window. “We are in a moment when a scenic drive, a little road trip through a purportedly protected landscape, is still theoretically possible,” she writes. “But we are also realizing our powerlessness to preserve or protect anything—children, the Earth, our instinct to harbor and honor the holy.”

Reminder: She is writing this while describing the 1,000-mile-each-way journey she makes in inaptly named Toyota Tundra. Yet never once does Williams stop to consider the role her driving — “two hundred and ninety-four thousand miles and counting” on the SUV — has played.

Now, we at Streetsblog are not blind to the fact that sometimes people’s only option for getting between Point A and Point B in this big messed up country of ours is by car. Indeed, members of our staff have been known to drive when our national transportation system has failed to create routes or cover gaps. Decades of bad policy-making at the local, state and federal level have made transit virtually impossible to, say, go on a nature hike upstate without a car (think about that for a second).

But when members of our staff drive, at least they don’t turn the experience into celebratory paeans to the open road — and they certainly don’t do it as part of a reflection of what terrible stewards Americans are with the planet as they destroy the very landscape they’re using a car to try and enjoy. Mostly, we feel guilty when we drive because, frankly, we are guilty: guilty of putting our desire for open space or a day at the beach or to celebrate a friend’s birthday at his Catskills bungalow ahead of the needs of the rest of the world. Taking a car is easy. But that doesn’t mean it should be celebrated.

It’s no surprise that the New Yorker would indeed celebrate the road trip, just as virtually all publications do — the New Yorker, like virtually all publications in bed with Big Auto. Who could forget that last year’s New Yorker Festival was sponsored by Wagoneer, the mega truck company? (Or that the company never returned our calls seeking comment for how it could explain a relationship with a company whose product causes so much damage in our city?)

Car culture is insidious and octopine. It even allows a magazine to ignore what cars have done … even in an article about what cars have done. It’s not easy holding that much cognitive dissonance in one place.

***

Before we get the local news, here’s a plug for Clarence Eckerson’s latest Streetfilms video from Minneapolis, a bicycling paradise. Don’t miss the reference to the fact that no one has been killed while riding a bike in the left one of the Twin Cities in the last two years. That’s a lot closer to the “zero” of Vision Zero than we’ve gotten.

Now, in other news:

  • There was lots of carnage over the weekend:
    • A hit-and-run driver (or maybe two?) killed a pedestrian in Brooklyn. (NYDN, NY Post)
    • A motorcycle rider was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the Williamsburg Bridge. (NY Post)
    • A bicyclist who was struck last month on Flatlands Avenue and E. 83rd Street has died of his wounds, the police reported on Sunday. No papers covered it.
  • Will Gov. Hochul sign the legislature’s bill banning schools from being built within 500 feet of a highway? (NYDN)
  • There’s placard abuse and then there’s handwritten placard abuse. (NY Post)
  • How big are the new LinkNYC street poles? So big they can’t even fit in Kevin Duggan’s photo of them! Mark our words — this doesn’t look good. (amNY)
  • Gothamist followed last week’s Post story with a deeper dive on the fleet of cars that are carrying air-quality sensors.
  • Speaking of following, we were happy to see Stephen Nessen’s Gothamist story about the cop van that was pulled over for the covered plate — which was our top story of the week last week.
  • Perhaps such coverage inspired this Daily News editorial against the NYPD’s rampant rule-flouting. Will it be the start of a movement that finally takes on police corruption? (Probably not, given how Mayor Adams keeps reflexively defending cops, as the Post and amNY reported.)
  • Speaking of bad cops, they don’t get the punishment they deserve, according to a commission report. (The City)
  • In case you missed it when we did it, here is Patch’s version of the optimism in Park Slope that teachers will give up free parking.
  • Speaking of parking, it’s a vicious circle, Transportation Alternatives argued in this blog primer.
  • Want to nerd out on congestion pricing? Read about Bogota, Colombia, where it’s done right. (Govtech)
  • Finally, Wayne Burkett had the thread of the weekend:

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