The War on Cars Is Over, if You Want It

©. Getty Images/ Hulton Archives

Todd Litman calls the war on cars a bad joke. He gives us a lot of ammunition in the fight to end it.

Calling every bike lane or transit improvement "a war on the car" didn't start in Toronto, but it got a big boost with our late [offensive adjectives deleted] suburban drivist mayor Rob Ford and the current Deputy Mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong, who said in 2009, "The city's undeclared but very active war on cars is really a war on people." It's now used all over the world, and there is even my favorite podcast, The War on Cars.

Now Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, has taken discussion of the War on Cars to a whole new level with a massive post, writing, "There is no war on cars. Everybody, including motorists, benefit from a more diverse and efficient transportation system. Let there be peace!"

Complaints about a "war on cars" demonstrate that automobiles make people selfish. The majority of transportation investments and road space are devoted to automobile travel, yet motorists are not satisfied; they want even more. Claims that motorists are under attack are particularly cruel because pedestrians and bicyclists really do face violence from motor vehicle traffic. Much of what motorists call a “war on cars” consists of efforts to increase the safety, convenience and comfort of other travel modes.”

It's a long and thorough article that goes through how unfair the distribution of space and money is; the drivers of cars get way more than they should. Drivers always claim that they are paying for the roads with their road taxes and fees, but Litman demonstrates that they are in fact subsidized by non-drivers who pay taxes that cover most of the costs of roads, especially in cities, along with cheap or free parking in public space, bylaw requirements for parking that increase building costs, and I would add all the policing, pollution and hospital costs that are directly attributable to driving.

He addresses the great American question of freedom.

Some critics claim that regulations, such as fuel economy standards and transportation management programs that encourage efficient travel, reduce people’s personal freedom and opportunity. These are distorted and incomplete claims. According to Washington State Transportation Center director Mark Hallenbeck, “All transportation planning is social engineering. We've spent 100 years making it easy to drive. We've spent 100 years making it really hard to [walk, bicycle or] take a bus. So people drive, because it makes sense.”
war is over if you want it

© Getty Images/ Hulton Archives

In a recent post, I noted that the problem in our cities isn't physical; dedicated bike, bus and micro-mobility lanes could be installed overnight. The problem is cultural, as people resist change even though change is so necessary. But as Litman makes clear, it doesn't have to be this way. To paraphrase John and Yoko, the war on cars is over, if you want it.

I could go on, but it is better to read it all at Planetizen.