“The car is a very specifically American symbol of freedom, but like so many instruments and symbols of American freedom, it is a tool of domination and control.”

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Not only is car-centrism, or “automobile supremacy,” a form of imperialism. It is perhaps the last remaining form of imperialism almost entirely free from social stigma.

“The automobile took over because the legal system helped squeeze out the alternatives.”

When we get behind a wheel — all of us, including me — our assumption of acceptable behavior changes every bit as much as when we savage people on social media. We demand to be in control, and we insist the rest of you get the hell out of our way.

The headline is to be taken as sarcasm, by the way.


THE FUTURE IS FOUR WHEELS, CYCLISTS BE DAMNED
, by Jacob Bacharach (The Outline)

Cars are pushing out bikes and pedestrians to the applause of the influential and powerful.

 … Nationally, pedestrian and cyclist deaths have spiked since 2009. The ubiquity of cell phones and the growing preponderance of integrated screens in vehicles is a major contributing factor, as is the American preference for trucks and SUVs, with which their taller front profile makes them far more deadly in collisions than the lower, slanting hoods of normal cars.

There is also the unrelenting, often murderous hostility of drivers toward pedestrians and people on bikes. No cyclist I know has not been menaced by an enraged driver — brushed past within inches, bumped at an intersection, run off the road — and most of us have been menaced more than once. No pedestrian who has to cross at a mid-block crosswalk is unfamiliar with the experience of a driver actually speeding up when they see you; no one who has crossed at a regular intersection is unfamiliar with a turning driver laying on the horn and waiting until the last second to jam on the breaks as you scurry out of the way.

The car is a very specifically American symbol of freedom, but like so many instruments and symbols of American freedom, it is a tool of domination and control. A car is a missile and a castle, a self-propelled, multi-ton fortress, hermetically sealed against the intrusions of weather, environment, and, of course, other people. Drivers view the world through the lenses of speed and convenience — most of the anger at cyclists, in my experience, is at having to drive at something resembling a normal urban speed limit because there’s a bike in front of them — but also through the lens of ownership. Streets belong to cars. The rest of us are interlopers, invaders, invasive species.

In fact, most Americans, and certainly most of our political leaders, seem to view our car-based infrastructure as essentially organic and inevitable, and anything that impedes, slows, reduces, or provides an alternative to the circulation and storage of internal combustion vehicles is an engineered scheme to alter an essentially natural order. Newspapers relentlessly editorialize about massive road and highway projects as absolute fundamentals of economic wellbeing and development, whereas rail and bike lanes and other multi-modal transit options are generally treated as luxe amenities at best, or public menaces at worst.

(snip)

But cars are not creatures and have not evolved to fit their environment; we have designed our environment around cars …

 … And here, curiously, we find a great undiagnosed cause at the root of our supposed cultural malaise. (Also, incidentally, a great undiagnosed source of national violence: cars kill as many people in America — around 40,000 a year — as guns.) These, too, are persistent bugaboos of op-ed writers and pundits: fragmentation and atomization; loneliness and disconnection; declines in communal values and an absence of interpersonal interaction.

Well, easy enough to blame it on the internet, but for a century now we have been putting things farther and farther apart and, more and more, traveling to and from everyplace in single occupancy vehicles, grimly zooming from garage to garage, interacting with no other humans along the way except for that fucking cyclist taking up the whole goddamn road! The interactions that presumably create the sorts of communities that conservatives and columnists so frequently lament losing require more than a front porch on which to sit; they require some strolling passersby as well.

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