Photo by slambo_42 on Flickr.

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.”

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 Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. 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 lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.