The fictitious war on cars

Why the automobile is not ai??i?? and has never been ai??i?? endangered

Jennifer Good ai??i?? The Brock Press (Brock University)

Canadian University Press


Bike lanes don’t slit cars’ tires. There’s no war zone here. (Photo courtesy of Paul Krueger/Flickr Creative Commons.)

ST. CATHARINES (CUP) ai??i?? “The War OnAi??Cars.”Ai??It’s a slogan that I first heard Rob Ford use in his successful Toronto mayoral campaign. More recently, Progressive Conservative premier wannabe TimAi??HudakAi??used “The War On Cars” mantra in his unsuccessful campaign. The concept? Bike lanes, streetcars and car-related taxes are indications that the car is under attack. “The War On Cars” encourages us to believe that, somewhere out there, unfriendly folks are making life difficult for those of us who just want to drive ourAi??favouriteAi??jalopy, unencumbered by nasty, inconvenient stuff like bikes and streetcars.

This notion, that the car is somehow falling victim to a nefarious war, strikes me as so ridiculous that I can barely stand it. The idea that cars have some sort of prima facie role as the rightful transporter of the people comes not from some set of objective benefits of car travel, but rather from the car’s history of dismantling ai??i?? indeed waging a war upon ai??i?? other transportation options. When the car was born in the earlyAi??1900s, the big car companies (like General Motors) realized that a fast, efficient network of economically viable publicAi??transportationAi??would impede the car’s rise to prominence.

In the PBS documentary Taken For A Ride, filmmakers Jim Klein and Martha Olson describe their exploration of this moment in history thusly: “Before freeways, traffic congestion and air pollution, public transportation was a vital part of the American landscape. [Taken For A Ride] weaves [together] investigative journalism, urban history and social commentary to uncover General Motors’ role in dismantling street car transportation in the 1930s, therefore catapulting the automobile to the centre of our national culture.”

Dismantling the street car? This is the way that car travel has gained prominence: by making the playing field ai??i?? or transportation field ai??i?? as uneven as possible. Car travel has become entrenched over the years, and our support of its dominance has been unfailing. From road maintenance to oil/fuel subsidies, and from tax breaks to industry bailouts (and a few oil-relatedAi??skirmishesAi??here and there), I think one would be hard-pressed to say that we have done anything but continually prop up the car’s reign over our other transportation options.

That’s what makes Ford’s,Ai??Hudak’s and others’ claims that the poor automobile is under siege so ridiculous. They think that other ways of getting around are “winning.” What FordAi??and Hudak should really oppose is the fact that the car’s war on other forms of transportation has been so successful ai??i?? so ferociously, unrelentingly successful ai??i?? that we don’t have much of a choice but to get in our cars and join the masses of other people in their cars jostling along in stop-and-go traffic. It is the ultimate irony that the blame for gridlock and other such driving ills gets placed at the feet ai??i?? or should I say, wheels ai??i?? of such things as bike lanes and mass transit.

The Toronto Star has reported that 60 per cent ofAi??TorontoniansAi??are interested in riding their bikes, but they’re too scared to vie for space on Toronto’s busy, car-filled streets. Seems to me that the nicest thing to do for those who really want to be in their cars would be to build safe bike lanes for those 60 per cent of would-be bikers and improve the mass transit options for as many other people as possible to get those folks out of their cars. In other words, give the car lovers their roads and let the rest of us safely ride our bikes and comfortably take mass transit. Let us all do our part in stopping this oh-so-lamentable war on cars.


2 Responses to “The fictitious war on cars”
  1. Canadian Malcontent says:

    I never heard that slogan ‘War on Cars’ before. But coming from a conservative it does not surprise me lol.

    Cars are in no danger anywhere in North America. We build endless roads while telling people they should take transit which is under-funded and ‘for everyone else to use but me’.

    Just look at Vancouver area. Where 100 years behind the times. We has awesome rail service 100 years ago. We would have a lot more people using rail if it was never shut down and tracks covered up. There was lots of it and even all the way to Chilliwack (and that line is still there). It is a shame really.

    Now we spend endless money on ‘SkyTrain’ which is only used in now 5 places and most of them are small lines. Yet for some reason Translink won’t look at light rail and everything has to be Skytrain. What a shame. Surrey the second largest city (soon to be first) in BC only has 4 stations. We need more and light rail would do the trick but we will wait now 20-30 years before Translink expands skytrain as Evergreen line and one to UBC will come first and it seems only one line is built every 10 years or so..

    Dianne Watts mentioned LRT and from what I can tell has been shouted down and the skytrain lobby has started an anti LRT pro skytrain propaganda campaign for Surrey but they do not seem to get it at the pace skytrain lines are being built (plus (N)Evergreen and UBC first) it will be 20-25 years before it is even started..

    Just think all the regular light rail we could have for the cost of one skytrain line and regular modern light rail carries just as much if not more than SkyTrain. People will never get out of cars because no alternatives seem to get built other than once a decade and to be honest SkyTrain seems more of a tourist attraction than a commuter service.

  2. Jim says:

    Perhaps we should have a war on cars. And a war on urban sprawl over valuable farm land.