There’s no war on cars, there are people trying to live their lives while making positive choices for their families and the environment. Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association and the Greater Metro Auto Dealers Association, authored a Star Tribune commentary on August 16th, “Counterpoint: Let people choose how they get around, even if it’s by car.” It makes facetious claims about people who are advocating for safer streets. He writes that the “anti-car movement is decidedly anti-family, anti-job and anti-progress.”
The IPCC climate report states we have at most ten more years until climate catastrophe is irreversible. Dooming our children to a future of climate wars, mass extinction, and possible starvation seems pretty anti-family to me. But the president of the Auto Dealer’s Association is working towards that future by advocating for more cars and more fossil fuel consumption.
My partner and I own one car but we rarely drive. We make that work through intentionally shaping our lives to make car driving optional, not necessary. Many people want to be able to walk and bike more and drive less. The problem is that our streets are not safe because they are designed to move cars quickly, with few protections for the most vulnerable users. Improvements to our streets to make them better places to walk, bike, and wait for the bus also have the side benefit of making it safer to drive too. The least we can do is invest in high-quality complete streets to keep folks who are trying to reduce climate impacts safe. Don’t get me started on arguments that you can’t bike in the cold, or with children, or for errands. Thousands of people worldwide manage to do all of those things in climates harsher than ours. Minneapolis is filled with enterprising folks biking with cargo, biking with infants, biking with multiple children, and biking on the coldest days.
It’s not buying a brand new car that’s going to save the environment. There is a lot of carbon burned to produce that new car, negating improvements in efficiency. We need to move away from cars entirely. Complete streets aren’t about forcing people who want to drive to stop driving, they’re about making sure the people who do walk and bike are safe and that more people can walk or bike if they want to.
I have been advocating for safe streets in Minneapolis for years. I constantly hear from people who say that they would bike, if only they felt safe. Even as an experienced bike rider in our lauded bike-friendly city, I often get cut off, almost hit, and threatened by angry drivers. We don’t have the kind of low-stress bike infrastructure that’s going to make your average person want to bike regularly. Here lies the critical failing of Mr. Lambert’s argument: a century of U.S. policy and infrastructure has created a country where driving is the only choice for most people. To give people actual choice, we have to make our streets safer.
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