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Atlantic Cities launches with neat maps, Huffington Post DC with "war on cars" debate

Two new news sites launched today, both edited by DCist alumni: Atlantic Cities and Huffington Post DC. Both have a number of interesting urbanism-related articles, though one a blog post in Huffington's launch set sadly rehashes tired arguments about the "war on cars."


Photo by slambo_42 on Flickr.

Atlantic Cities, run by Sommer Mathis, aims to cover the growing interest in cities and urban planning nationwide. Bruce Katz and Richard Florida talk about why we should care about cities; interesting map and chart articles look at playgrounds among various cities and how to define their borders.

Over at the Huffington Post edited by Michael Grass, there are a number of local news articles on the usual topics like Metro, restaurants, politics, and the Salahis. Blog posts include ones from David Catania on youth violence, Avis Jones DeWeever on DC voting rights, and Adam Clampitt on local veterans' issues.

A few posts talk about transportation: Jody Melto reviews taking the Chinatown bus, Seth Thomas Pietras the proliferation of old bikes. And Chuck Thies, an insightful commentator on District corruption issues on WPFW and the Georgetown Dish, decides to use his inaugural post to complain about the push for safer and better bicycle facilities as a "war on automobiles."

I'd link to it, except the Huffington Post uses detailed analytics to determine how long to leave posts on its home page, and this one needs to roll off as quickly as possible.
Here's the link. The vast bulk is a long recitation of every car Thies has owned and the location of every places he's lived or worked. But Thies comes to the conclusion that he can't drive because of the location of his son's new school, and therefore, any public policy that's not about automobility is the "war on cars":

There are powerful, multiplying forces aligned who seek to make driving as difficult as possible. They oppose spending money to build roads and want to occupy your parking space with a bike rack.

Don't get me wrong; I love public transportation, bicycling and walking. ... A month ago my son started school across town. ... So, last week we rejoined the community of car owners.

Now we are back in the crosshairs of those who prosecute the war on automobiles. I have already heard it several times: "You don't need a car," "You could do that with a bike," and so on. ...

People are moving here and businesses are hiring. ... Not all of those employers will be walking distance from a Metro. Every new home will not be built on a block with a bus stop. People with jobs will buy cars and drive them to places to spend money. That is reality.

I love walking, bikes and riding our much-maligned Metro. I do not like sitting unnecessarily in traffic. If the war on automobiles succeeds we will all be caught in a jam and the long-term prosperity of our region will be at risk.

The problem isn't with a public policy that increases transportation options, but rather with these people who hassled Thies for driving. It's fine for Thies to drive if that's easiest for him. I drive sometimes. I have friends who drive to work.

Some of them have to be able to dart into the office late at night if there's a sudden international crisis, and I can totally understand that buses just don't run enough from their house to their office at that time of day. Or they have to stop at a daycare which is inconveniently located to transit.

I just bought some antique doorknobs for my house at The Brass Knob in Adams Morgan. They're replacing black plastic handles which I hated. Some people love the plastic, probably including the former owner that put them on. That doesn't mean that I am engaging in a war on modern fixtures, even though personally I think they're awful. I have friends with super-modern aesthetic senses, who put things in their homes I would never consider for a moment, and we can still be friends.

By the way, I drove to the Brass Knob. It's not very far, but I had to carry a heavy bag of metal objects including the mortise, to make sure I got the right size, and I was fine paying the $2.32 to park for an hour with ParkMobile. I bike a lot. I take Metro and buses. And sometimes I drive. I don't feel bad about my transportation choices, but neither do I say that a project which helps people on one mode I use sometimes is a war on another mode.

This "war" rhetoric is really tiring. It assumes that anything which helps improves non-automotive mobility hurts drivers and vice versa. That's the opposite of the truth. In DC, wherever Thies is driving from Mount Pleasant, there's never going to be a new or wider road. If he's frustrated by traffic, the best thing we can do for him is make it easier for some people, those who don't have to take a kid to a non-transit-accessible school or carry doorknobs or go stop wars from beginning late at night, not to compete with him for road space.

If anyone can feel under attack, it's cyclists. Tom Coburn is currently tying Congress in knots to try to cut any dedicated bike and pedestrian funding, which if approved would surely lead most states to zero out entirely any spending on bike lanes and sidewalks.

At a more micro level, some drivers actively assault cyclists, or talk about how much they wish they could. There's the guy on Rhode Island Avenue who deliberately knocked a cyclist over with his pickup truck, while the cyclist was riding completely legally, or the guy who deliberately struck A Girl On Her Bike not knowing she was a police officer, or the Ballston Patch writer who bragged about her cravings to smack into those pesky bikers with her car.

Most drivers aren't that guy on Rhode Island Avenue, nor the Patch writer, nor Tom Coburn. Most people driving just want to get to work or wherever they are going, just like most people biking or walking or riding the bus do. At least the people driving aren't as likely to get seriously injured if they're hit.

Maybe that's why a few of them, like Chuck Thies, can say with a straight face that they feel there's a war against them. If anything shows an insane sense of entitlement, it's his statement that some people "want to occupy your parking space with a bike rack." Why is it "your" parking space? DDOT has never forcibly installed a bike rack in the parking pad behind anyone's row house. If it's on the street, it's my parking space too.

Thies wasn't just talking about bikes; he's also talking about opposition to the Outer Beltway and most other freeways conceived in the 1950s. There are plenty of arguments against that as well, but most of all, none of it would help Thies' own personal driving concerns, which is what his whole article focuses on (after the many stories about the many cars he bought and sold, for how much and to whom).

Among everything Thies talks about, the one thing that would help him more quickly drive his son to school and then get to work is replacing a few of those parking spaces with bike racks, even if he never personally locks a bicycle to one.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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multiplying forces aligned who seek to make driving as difficult as possible.

Does this man not realize that driving in DC has always been a difficult PITA?

Georgetown should be this guy's driving paradise: no metro connection, no nearby bike lanes, hardly any bike racks, lots of parking garages and lots with the main drags dedicated to street parking.

Guess what? Driving is "as difficult as possible" in that neighborhood

by JustMe on Sep 15, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

Perhaps a better question Chuck Thies should be asking is why he has to drive 45 minutes to get to a school for his child. I don't know him, or his situation, but he's clearly an intelligent guy who should be taken at face value that this was the best educational choice for his family.

Now, if that's because his local schools are crappy and he has no other option, that's a story worth investigating and a problem that needs immediate attention. However, if he simply feels that this is a better choice for his family, the cost is the long distance commute. That's a price he and his family need to be willing to pay, and he shouldn't feel the need to defend it to the rest of us either. But nor do I feel that we have to be told it's a "war on automobiles" because they felt a car was the best way to go.

by Tim Krepp on Sep 15, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

Now, if that's because his local schools are crappy and he has no other option, that's a story worth investigating and a problem that needs immediate attention.

He lives in Mt. Pleasant? His local school is indeed crappy.

by dcd on Sep 15, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

Fair enough, I don't know anything about Mt. P schools to judge. But then perhaps the problem isn't his relationship with cars, but rather the lack of quality schools?

by Tim Krepp on Sep 15, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

The war rhetoric points here are especially important.

Imagine if another demographic group, with a majority of the population, political clout, and historically preferential treatment, went on record and said that "war" is being declared on them.

by Rob P on Sep 15, 2011 1:27 pm • linkreport

Thies conflates several issues here.

1. Land use and transportation. Thies makes it seem like transportation reacts to land use. This is not uncommon for infrequent observers, but it's wrong. Transportation and land use are intimately connected. Long trip to school? That's really a land use question (amongst others!). Long commute to work? The fundamental issue would be the sprawl and decentralization of jobs and the impact those land use patterns have on transportation, not the other way around.

2. It's not the war rhetoric (as regrettable as that is), it's the all or nothing idea. For Thies, there's either a war on cars or there's not. So what to make of a policy like congestion pricing? That's something that gets to the heart of the real tradeoffs in play here - higher cost, or more congestion? Basically, would you rather pay with time or pay with money? Answering 'neither' and arguing that there's a war is both unrealistic and unobtainable.

by Alex B. on Sep 15, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

Seattle's altweekly The Stranger has a good article on the "war on cars" this week: http://bit.ly/o9sDmy

by Steve M. on Sep 15, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

Imagine if another demographic group, with a majority of the population, political clout, and historically preferential treatment, went on record and said that "war" is being declared on them.

You don't have to imagine it. Ever heard of the War on Christmas?

by Scoot on Sep 15, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

If Thies had a point, he lost me during his recitation of past cars. What does having a habit of selling your cars to violent parolees have to do with transportation policy?

by Colleen on Sep 15, 2011 1:46 pm • linkreport

Of course it's not a "war" on cars.

It is, however, an ideologically-driven desire to make driving cars in urban areas as expensive, difficult, and limited as possible.

To argue otherwise is really intellectually dishonest.

by Fritz on Sep 15, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

I might suggest that there is some cognitive dissonance at work when you think an article is so bad that nothing should be done to bring it more attention... but you write a thousand words about it.

by Don on Sep 15, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

No Fritz, your statement is just as exaggerating and misleading as calling it a "war".

To make driving cars as expensive, difficult and limited as possible would be to ban them completely. Nobody is suggesting this. Shifting priorities slightly from one group of users to another is not banning the use by the first group. And arguing that it is simply demonstrates how incredibly entitled and spoiled drivers are.

The only way in which the current debate is a "war" is in the fact that drivers keep killing people.

by TM on Sep 15, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Fritz

It is, however, an ideologically-driven desire to make driving cars in urban areas as expensive, difficult, and limited as possible.

To argue otherwise is really intellectually dishonest.

You, like Chuck, are missing a huge portion of the argument.

What's the trade-off? Making cars expensive, difficult, and limited, as opposed to what?

Again, consider something like congestion pricing. If you want to deal with automotive congestion, you have three basic ways to do it in a constrained urban environment:

1. Just deal with it, wait in traffic, and pay with your time.
2. Price roadspace based on demand - pay with your cash
3. Blow up the local economy and reduce overall demand.

#3 isn't particularly attractive. 1&2 are the only real solutions, both of which could be characterized as 'war.' Which means that the state of non-war is mythical.

by Alex B. on Sep 15, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

[Sentence deleted for violating our comment policy]. There is no war on cars. It's a figment of his overactive imagination.

by Ronalda on Sep 15, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

@Fritz - Instead of making a sweeping statement, in the interest of "intellectual honesty," can you point to specific programs designed to make driving as "expensive, difficult, and limited as possible?"

by The Heights on Sep 15, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

Childish move not linking to Thies' article at the outset. After all, they have a link to your bizarre Navy Yard-W. Bush post. I suppose that's what changed your mind. GGW really has some growing up to do. I suggest you look at your own tiresome rhetoric regarding car/bike issues as well.

by aei31 on Sep 15, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

War on cars. War on Christmas. Fake outrage. Persecuted majorities. Tiny, tiny violins.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 15, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

@Alex B,
You really did a good job simplyfing it. To add to that, the powers that be can make the streets as wide as they want to reduce the time cost, but only temporarily. Either induced demand will shortly fill in the remainder of the road or people will stop living and shopping on what has turned into a highway, esentially killing the community.

by cmc on Sep 15, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

It may be that Thies feels he is in a war, but he tags the wrong enemy. Every time he gets in his car and drives to his son's new school or back, or looks for parking, it's an exercise in frustration, not becuase of bikes but becuase the road capacity is always stressed at those times. His fear is that granting any sliver of the finite transportation budget or road network to bicycles is a zero sum game that negatively impacts his ability to drive and park in the District.

It's not really zero-sum. Money spent on bike facilties may reduce stress on road capacity, and space allocated to bikes often comes without appreciable reduction in the number of driving lanes on those roads.

Bottom line is that Thies may be at war, but the enemy is other drivers, not bikes.

by Crickey7 on Sep 15, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

I like riding horses, and can't drive because of an eye condition. Yet the policies DC has enacted over the last century have amounted to a short-sighted "War on Riders". I'm all for walking, cycling, and driving, but what about the needs of horseback riders? What about my needs?

Does Thies blather on in this way to his friends and acquaintances? If so, I can see why he takes a lot of flack. What a drama queen.

Here's a bit of real talk: driving sucks in DC. Because there's a lot of car traffic. That congestion is not going away any time. It's probably going to get worse. There's absolutely zero controversy about this among professional traffic planners. That's why they're frantically scrambling to add capacity via things like bike sharing and bike lanes.

The fact that folks like Thies think it's really a plot by "Big Bike" to make his life, personally, marginally less pleasant is sort of hilarious.

by oboe on Sep 15, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Crickey7:

Thies feels he is in a war, but he tags the wrong enemy. Every time he gets in his car and drives to his son's new school or back, or looks for parking, it's an exercise in frustration, not becuase of bikes but becuase the road capacity is always stressed at those times.

Perhaps a good coping mechanism would be if Thies were to blame his frustrating morning commute on radical Islamic insurgents. They bear about the same responsibility for his plight--possibly more--and he can console himself with the thought that our government is fighting tooth and nail to eradicate them.

Just a thought.

by oboe on Sep 15, 2011 4:18 pm • linkreport

Maybe Thies was driving that pick-up on RI Ave NE...if he sees bikers as his enemy then what that driver did would be a logical action, would it not?

by Tina on Sep 15, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

^ "...as his enemy [in a war]..."

by Tina on Sep 15, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

I really enjoyed this article. Well said Mr. Alpert.

Now, if you would advocate for getting bikes off the sidewalk, I may stop my desire to hurt 90% of the bikers that speed down the 16th St sidewalks and almost run people over everyday at the bus stops, that would be lovely.

Bikes belong in the road (children under 16 excluded). They are vehicles, not toys.

by what on Sep 15, 2011 5:03 pm • linkreport

To bring it back to what I think you are getting at: local media.

Patch on good days is a mid-level high school newspaper's blog. Many of these newer city or DC focused sites look at the city through the same prism or looking glass consistent with sites like "stuff white people like." While many black sites look at the city with a Tyler Perry dumbed down simpleness or with a faux Pan-Africanism militancy. Both genres offer perspectives that understandably speak to and for their expected audiences but can be shallow. A lot is left out. Distinguishing what is quality, what is honest, what is fresh, what is exploitative, and what is repetitious becomes harder.

The many neighborhood focused sites often report what is happening where they are and let readers form their opinions. Other sites are editorial based offering their opinions, the best guiding readers by showing them how they arrived at and/or formed these opinions. Some good, some not so good.

Sites like DCist, and this one, and many others have developed a reputation for consistency that in the business world is called "goodwill."

I would like to say the more local media, the better. But we need more quality local media. Not just quantity.

by SpinningOldRecords on Sep 15, 2011 8:47 pm • linkreport

Childish move not linking to Thies' article at the outset.

Certain articles are pretty much set up as trolls for clicks by their sponsoring websites. It's completely fair to simply not play that game, giving them the gratification and rewards of traffic.

by Tyro on Sep 16, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

Thies writes:

Now we are back in the crosshairs of those who prosecute the war on automobiles. I have already heard it several times: "You don't need a car," "You could do that with a bike," and so on. ..

I don't get it. In 16 years of biking, walking, metro-ing, and driving in and around DC, no one else has ever told me what method of transportation I should use. Who are these people who are constantly chastising these drivers?

I suspect they are figments of the drivers' imaginations. At best, they are rhetorical devices who allow the drivers to then justify their own choices and their own anger.

Most people don't care how Thies gets his kid to school. But as important as he is in his own mind, Thies assumes everyone is spending a lot of time worrying about his choices....

[Sentence removed for violating comment policy]

by Hag of beare on Sep 16, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

I have now deleted sentences in 2 comments that used namecalling, a direct violation of the comment policy. I don't agree with Thies' statements in his article, but namecalling is not appropriate regardless. Normally we don't post comments calling attention to violations being deleted, but since it has happened twice so far I am mentioning it.

by David Alpert on Sep 16, 2011 11:57 pm • linkreport

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