Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as an NMA Weekly Newsletter #593 emailed to members in May 2020. If you would like to receive the newsletter, join today the thousands of other active motorists who have made that choice!
From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, anti-car groups have shamed, cajoled, and humiliated city officials to open streets and relegate vehicular traffic to the role of unwanted guests. These various programs, called Active Streets, Open Streets, Safe Streets, or Slow Streets, have popped up in nearly every major city in the country. Not only that, these groups and their media counterparts also are on a quest to make sure car-banned streets stay that way after the current crisis. Seattle has already succumbed and declared that 20 miles of its newly appointed streets closed to auto traffic will remain that way indefinitely.
The push in New York City, Oakland, and San Francisco is vociferous and unrelenting. Since the crisis began, the rhetoric over cars and trucks driving down streets has ratcheted to a level never seen. What’s worse, these people are shaming the driving population, which is nearly 92 percent of those eligible to hold a U.S. driver’s license, into believing that their “new norm” is the proper path for everyone.
Credit: Ken Lund
Destroying the car culture is the goal even at a time when most feel safer driving or riding in a car due to social distancing requirements. An NMA supporter recently wrote this in an email to us:
“I wonder how we can get across the message that, just because a few people can’t handle the tasks of driving or walking, the entire transport system of a city has to be slowed down, everywhere, all the time. Most people will grant that special pedestrian-dense environments have to be made safe, but they ought to rebel against the notion that all auto and truck users deserve to be penalized. At its most extreme, the anti-car argument calls for all roads to be slowed down against the chance that a wino might stagger into a main road mid-block at 2:00 AM.”
Before COVID-19, anti-car groups called for increased urban density, no-car-parking minimums for new developments, and have even changed the Level of Service designation in California to promote a multi-modal urban landscape in determining new development. Before the crisis, urban planners and designers were working tirelessly to increase urban density near public transit options in established car cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Now, any transportation expert or reporter who says anything critical about urban density is branded as a “sprawl lover” or “urban gadfly” and bullied online.
Make no mistake, anti-driver groups are not just trying to get us out of our cars, but also want transportation dollars to mandate bike lanes and expensive transit projects that have an extremely high cost per user ratios and can’t survive without taxpayer subsidies.
As the fight for transportation dollars grows ever more intense with all these competing factions, it is the road-user majority, comprised of motorists and truckers, who have the most to lose. American streets were built for vehicles to move people and goods safely and efficiently where they want to go. That is still the primary purpose for roads, whether they service large metropolitan areas, suburban towns, or rural communities.
Many cities have announced that they will be cutting expenditures for bike lanes and Vision Zero programs. Anti-car groups can’t fathom why this is happening. Many cities have postponed important maintenance projects while traffic is down. Others have had to lay off-road workers. Cities and towns face even tougher decisions with transportation priorities because of budget limitations. These decisions affect every road user, whether motorist, public transit user, bicyclist, or pedestrian.
Credit: New York City Department of Transportation
In a recent Outsideonline.com post entitled, Could the Pandemic Kill Car Culture? the author concludes with something quite telling in reference to prioritizing biking and walking over driving:
“We still desperately need a “new normal” for our streets, but we also have to prepare ourselves for a long period during which cities insist it’s a luxury we can’t afford.”
To get the economy back on track, transportation must be a priority. And that means we need streets and roads to pave the way for the movement of people and commerce. Motorists and truckers need to be more vocal on the local and state levels to remind officials that vehicular transport is necessary for a vital economy.
We should not stoop to the level of anti-car groups that try to advance their argument by bullying and shaming those with whom they disagree. Civil discourse on community priorities starts with the facts, something we have on our side.