Ending The War on the Car: How Cyclists Might Talk To Conservatives and Drivers


Image credit: Imagine Peace

The phrase "war on the car" was common in Toronto, Canada whenever a bike lane was installed or new dedicated streetcar lanes proposed. The war quieted down for a while, until the new Mayor rode the meme to victory over bike-riding pinko kooks. Eric De Place at Sightline Daily traces the etymology of the phrase, and found references going back to 1998, but notes that it has generally been limited in use to Toronto and Seattle. But, as in Toronto, it seems to be gaining strength again in Seattle and even nationally. Now it has jumped the Atlantic to the UK, where it is called the War on the Motorist.De Place writes:

On September 29, almost as if on cue, conservative blogger Stefan Sharkansky wrote a short post about Seattle's new mayor called "Mike McGinn's War On Cars" and dyspeptic radio host Ken Schram aired a segment about "the war on cars."...By mid-October, Fox News had jumped into the fray. Seattle-based reporter Dan Springer led the charge with the language, generating both local and national versions of the same story, "Seattle's War On Cars," on October 13.

Now it has jumped the Atlantic to the UK, as the War on the Motorist. George Monbiot writes in the Guardian about recent government moves that he considers to be a war on pedestrians and cyclists.

The two men who have just announced that they will "end the war on the motorist" - Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, and Eric Pickles, the communities secretary - are living in a dream world. Or, perhaps more accurately, a media world, in which the fantasies of the rightwing tabloids are treated as if they were reality...... If "the war on the motorist" means the puny and half-hearted measures designed to ensure that drivers couldn't push everyone else out of the way, the government announcement that it has come to an end means that we will lose any hope of ensuring that transport is built around the needs of society. Instead, all other human life will have to make way for the car.

More in the Guardian

Ronald Reagan on bike, from Commute by bike

That truly does sound familiar. But perhaps there is a way to change the discussion, to take the advice of cyclist Tom Bowden about How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative. He asks,

What makes you think cycling isn't conservative? Of course it is! It conserves energy, it's individualistic, and it's anything but new-fangled. So they should be receptive.

He suggests avoiding anti-car arguments:

Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You'll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American "car culture."

Don't talk about Copenhagen or Amsterdam:

Refrain from gushing praise of European cycling culture, e.g. the Dutch, the Danes, or whoever. Conservatives are not inclined to emulate pre-colonial imperialist has-beens - at least not consciously.

He concludes:

So. Bottom line (and that is what conservatives like to think they are all about): Cycling saves money, saves lives and makes us stronger as individuals and as a nation. Spending money to support cycling is like putting money in the bank-it pays big dividends at low risk. It's as all American as Mom's apple pie. How much more conservative can you get?

More in Commute by Bike.

James Schwartz of the Urban Country is a little bit more tongue in cheek as he suggests that motorists should thank cyclists for being on the road. But if one loses the snark, there are some good points to be made in promoting cycling to those who do not.


You're welcome Mr. Motorist. I'm happy that my mode of transportation has allowed more space on the road for you to get to your destination more efficiently. One less car on the road to get in your way and increase congestion, right?

And oh those health care costs. Did you know that heart disease and strokes are two of the top three causes of death in Canada? In America, cardiovascular diseases and stroke cost an estimated $475.3 billion in 2009.

Isn't it great that my commute helps keep me healthy so I can help reduce our health care costs? I would hate to be a burden on your pocketbook.

And how about those gas prices? Isn't it wonderful that my bicycle doesn't require gasoline? It'd be a shame if I contributed to increasing demand for fuel - driving gas prices even higher.

More at the urban country.

More on the War on the Car:

How To End The War On The Car: Recognize It Is A Win-Win Situation
Bruce McCall on Bike Lanes, Horse Lanes and Baby Carriage Lanes

Tags: Bikes | Biking | London | Ride Your Bike | Seattle | Toronto

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