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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Huge orange flying boat rises off a lake / Thousand-year-old petroglyphs doing a double take / Pointing a finger at eternity / I'm sitting in the middle of this ecstasy
— Bruce Cockburn, Wondering Where the Lions Are
May 23, 2010
Michael Enright on Bikes vs. Cars

Michael Enright’s Sunday Edition opened this morning with a monologue on the issue of cars vs. bikes.

Enright points out the deteriorating condition of our infrastructure and raises the spectre of the suburbs in a way that seems to praise the role the automobile had in the development of them.

Cycling is derided as not North American and environmental issues are completely ignored, while the recent economic bailouts are passed over as if their impact should never be considered.

In the end Enright (a motorcyclist as well) chooses his car with—it’s worth noting—some enthusiasm.

This isn’t a war. It’s not a matter of us vs. them. There isn’t much of a choice here: unless we stop using fossil fuels to power even the smallest of transportation tasks, the natural environment on which we depend will continue to decline. Quite simply, North American transportation habits are pumping too many greenhouse gasses into the air for the atmosphere to contend with.

Not everybody has to get out of a car. A minivan with eight people in may be a reasonable choice; the same minivan with a single person is not. If all we could achieve was the elimination of the single occupancy vehicle, too often used for short trips, it would be a major leap forward. I’d like to see more, but this would be a reasonable short term goal.

When the media fails to acknowledge this, and presents an argument so short sighted I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Enright’s show is presented as an opinion piece, and not the official editorial view of the CBC but few are likely to make the distinction. Enright is among the most senior and trusted voices on the radio, and it carries weight.

I’ve transcribed his monologue below.

This past week the World Wildlife Fund, the panda bear people, released the results of a survey a bit off their usual radar. They asked drivers across the country how they felt about their cars.

The results are noteworthy but not really surprising. 36% of us say we would give up junk food before giving up our cars; another 14% said they’d give up coffee; 6% television; and 2% said they’d forgo sex rather than hang up their keys.

We love our cars, almost beyond reason. But at the same time we car drivers feel under siege in the era of goodness and greenness. We’ve had the war on poverty, the war on cancer, the war on drugs, even the war on Christmas. Now drivers complain we are in the midst of a war on cars. We see the enemy everywhere. Everybody from the oil companies who gouge us at the pump to the government who taxes us.

But the greatest threat, the enemy we fear the most is the lowly bicycle. We are ever alert to the forays and incursions the bicycle is making into our sovereign territory. Take Montreal and Toronto for example. Every time some city department makes a suggestion to convert a lane of car traffic into a bike lane, the car fanatics go mad. Giving up an inch of turf to cyclists is an appeasement to the enemy beside which Munich pales.

Handing over an entire bike lane to granola crunching, Birkenstock wearing, latte sipping downtown tree hugging lefties would be like Custer trying to negotiate with the indians. And the odd thing is the war on cars is over…has been for a long time, and guess what? The car won. Our cities long ago were designed for the car, not for people. The suburbs owe their entire existence to the car. Drive into any small town in the country and the approach is the same everywhere. Long lines of American owned junk food franchises and car dealerships.

Our major cities are choked, gridlocked by car traffic. Our roads have descended to the level of those in Soviet Romania circa 1955.

Nevertheless we keep turning out cars by the hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year after year. That’s what I call winning the war. In fact, the victory for the car has been so stunning that we actually forked over war reparations in the form of auto company bailouts running to the tens of millions.

Of course, the car craze has suffered some minor retreats during the war. SUV sales for example are slipping. In fact, General Motors has cancelled the egregious Hummer, after trying to peddle the brand to the Chinese who were too canny to bite.

Incidentally I’ve always thought that men who bought the Hummer were trying to overcompensate for an inadequacy of their generative appendage, but that’s another another story.

Car drivers generally feel that if we cede any territory to the cyclists, we could wind up like Amsterdam—with bicycles everywhere. Cycling is somehow too…European. It lacks a certain element of North American robustness.

No, the war is over but we will still keep fighting to protect our turf. You can take away my junk food, my coffee, my TV watching and even my love life, but to get my car you’ll have to pry my dead cold hands from the steering wheel.

Posted by skooter at 5:16 PM This entry is filed under Cycling, Politics.
This entry is tagged: Cars, CBC, Cycling, Environmentalism, Urban Planning

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