With their new podcast The War on Cars, hosts Doug Gordon, Aaron Naparstek and Sarah Goodyear had me at “Hello.”
As most people know by now, I haven’t owned a car since 1994 and I’ve been getting along just fine without one. In New York, it was easy. Between congestion and cost, car ownership in that city is just a highly impractical money drain and a migraine on four wheels. Since I moved to Cleveland two years ago and settled downtown in 2017, the going is a little trickier since the “downtown lifestyle” is a new language for Cleveland and so much of the city’s offerings are sprawled out into the suburbs. But even there, public transit and Uber have served me just fine, while saving me about $700 per month by not owning a car.
I’m a shameless proponent of car-free living in the city. In terms of traffic, cost, safety, air quality and the availability of other options (walking, bicycling, public transit, etc.), cars in cities and downtowns make no sense to me. In a city that aggressively accommodates as many cars as possible, going without one is anathema to a very hardwired value system that frames the car as an essential part of adulthood and freedom.
As I see it, ownership of and reliance on a car in the city is an enslavement, not a freedom. I’m a weirdo here. When I tell Clevelanders I don’t have a car, most reactions live in a tight space between surprise and disbelief. My hashtag for this, which unsurprisingly gets no traction here, is #CarFreeInCLE.
A few years ago while I was still in New York, I had the pleasure of getting to know a group of people behind Streetsblog, arguably the country’s best resource for better transportation advocacy. Doug Gordon and Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek are two of those people. When I saw a tweet from Doug about the pilot episode of this new The War on Cars podcast, I naturally had to investigate. They and their third co-conspirator Sarah Goodyear did not disappoint.
As described in their Soundcloud profile, The War on Cars is a “podcast about the Hundred Years War between the Car and the City.” Gordon, Goodyear and Naparstek take a shameless, honest and unapologetic dive into the toxic relationship between cars and cities and how, contrary to how we are trained and hard-wired in our country, the car has consistently proven to be a liability for a successful, efficient and effective city.
The discourse on the show is engaging, informed, unabashedly irreverent and often hilarious. I love the conversation these guys are having. Not only are they validating so many of my feelings about cars in the city, they’re sharing knowledge. They’ve been at this debate for a long time, they know more about this than most elected officials in local city governments, and they can go toe-to-toe with any car proponent, backing up their argument with data, statistics and case studies. While they’re not shy about expressing their feelings on the show, they can back up those feelings with facts.
The War on Cars and the views expressed on it are sure to irritate many, which is one of the reasons I appreciate the work they’re doing. They’re punching up, speaking truth to the profound power of car interests that lord over all of us. They’re also not silly with a ban-all-cars agenda, fully understanding that in deep suburbia and remote rural areas where there is no discernible public transportation option, cars are a necessity. This is about cars in cities and downtowns, where there are other options.
As I listen to each episode, I often think of two of my local transportation heroes here in Cleveland. One, our old family friend Jack, lives in the suburbs and took the bus to work downtown every day for decades, even though he could’ve afforded a chauffeured Cadillac if he wanted. The other, my friend Thomas, who also lives in the suburbs, drives his car to his local RTA train station, where parking is free (and abundant). From there, he takes a pleasant 25 minute train ride into downtown, during which he reads his news and gets a little work done. His office is a two block walk from the station in Terminal Tower. Thomas is spending about $90/month in transportation as opposed to the $200 + headaches + road rage he’d spend on parking, gas, traffic, irritation, etc.
I have another friend who also lives in the suburbs, but, unlike Jack and Thomas, drives his car to his downtown office. A couple of times when he wasn’t feeling well, driving the car back home to the suburbs was not the smart choice. (No, he wasn’t drinking.) On those occasions, he asked if I would drive him (in his car) back to his house and then Uber back downtown on his dime. Of course I would and did. He was a friend asking for help that I was able to provide. But the reason he didn’t just take Uber home himself was that he didn’t want to leave his car downtown overnight. The car. We had to deal with the car. The car and all of the ceremony and sanctity around it was officially interrupting more lives.
Then there’s me. I live downtown, where driving over to the theater district, Heinen’s grocery store or a restaurant in the Flats when I can walk, take the free trolley or ride my bike would be a bit overindulgent and unnecessary. And on the occasional excursion to the suburbs? Uber or the bus.
I realize that the language of the podcast’s title itself may seem strong. But the phrase “war on cars” actually comes from former Toronto mayor and train wreck Rob Ford, a proud car guy who stated in 2009 “There’s no secret about it, there’s a war on cars in the city!”
So thank you, Doug, Sarah and Aaron, for the work you’re doing. The podcast is terrific. Consider me enlisted as a soldier in The War on Cars.