“Denying” use of cars is “evil”: How to respond to a carfree naysayer

Posted by on June 20th, 2008 at 10:02 am

“I seriously disagree with… taking an entire neighborhood and denying them the use of their cars, which I think is an evil thing to do to people, even if just for one Sunday.”
–talk show host Lars Larson

On the opening day of the Towards Carfree Cities Conference, right-wing talk radio personality Lars Larson invited Meghan Sinnott, one of the event’s organizers, onto his show.

In the interview (mp3 below) Ms. Sinnott provides a textbook example on how to handle someone with a pro-car mentality who is opposed to the ideas and concepts that define the livable streets and carfree movements.

In the interview, Larson asks Sinnott a series of questions about Portland’s upcoming Sunday Parkways event (this Sunday!) in hopes of getting her to argue with him (a stance hosts like this thrive on).

Here are a few of his questions (listen to the interview below for her answers):

Lars Larson
(Photo: LarsLarson.com)
    Why was the city willing to close down 6 square miles of streets that people have paid for and people are used to being able to drive on?

    What about the people who can’t get around on bicycles or for whom the weather is an impediment, what do you say to them?

    95% of people commute in automobiles every day, how is it that cars are in the way?

    Meghan Sinnott
    (Photo: CarfreePortland)

    So, the people stuck in rush hour traffic would be better if they were just walking up the freeway?

    Since 95% of the people commute in cars, do you ever think we should make it easier for people to drive cars?

    Why is it desirable to move in that direction [encouraging transit and biking], rather than allow people the individual freedom to go where they need to go, when they want to go there?

The final exchange is the best part of the entire interview. As if frustrated that Sinnott never gave him the opening to express his displeasure with Sunday Parkways, at the very end of the interview (after he already said goodbye to Sinnott), he encourages this final exchange:

Larson:

“By the way, the thing I seriously disagree with you in doing is taking an entire neighborhood and denying them the use of their cars, which I think is an evil thing to do to people, even if just for one Sunday.”

Sinnott:

“I’m sorry if you think we’re evil Lars. encourage you to join us on Sunday and see how not evil we are.”

Larson:

“No, I won’t be doing that, because when you take an entire neighborhood and you say, ‘you are denied the use of your automobile’, I think you’re taking away somebody’s ability to travel and I think that’s the wrong thing to do. I think that’s the wrong way to get your message across, but, it’s pretty typical of people who’ve decided they know the right for people to live is just to force them to live that way.”

Sinnott:

“That’s the way a lot of people who bike and walk feel about car drivers.”

Larson:

“But see, I don’t deny anybody the use of a bicycle*, in fact I pay for the roads they ride on and they don’t pay for the roads.”

And of course, Larson gets the final word:

“That was Megan Sinnott, who is one of those people who believes that we’d all be better off if society was without automobiles.”

Listen to the entire interview below (it’s about 8 minutes long):
[audio:meghanandlars.mp3]

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Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

Lars is such a knob

Leeman
Guest

Those are the exact words I was going to use.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Look up \”douchebag\” in the dictionary and there\’s a picture of Larson. Where to start? OK, 95% do not commute in automobiles every day, at least not in Portland. There\’s the low-hanging fruit. Anyone else care to pick up where I left off?

a.O
Guest
a.O

Oh, and *nice work,* Meghan!!

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Lars gets so many things wrong it\’s hard to know where to start.

First, 95% of Portlanders don\’t commute by car… he has totally forgotten the transit users and the walkers.

Also, he does prevent people from riding bikes.. the number #1 reason people don\’t ride is out of fear from car traffic!

And the big one is the \”bikes don\’t pay\” line. That is just a silly argument that has been refuted many times already.

but in general, his tone (and that of others like him) is sounding more and more out of touch with reality.

T Williams
Guest
T Williams

Lars who?

Just kidding. I used to listen to his show (\”know thy enemy\”), but don\’t any longer for no other reason than it got to the point that listening to him was like sticking an icepick in my ear – and then banging my head sideways against a wall. I don\’t believe that he\’s clinically insane, but it seems like his show panders to those who are.

Myself and most folks I have as friends find plenty of reasons to laugh at him (and his core listeners) without intelligent, forward-thinkers going on and giving us fodder for comedy. Why people who don\’t share his outlook still go on his show is beyond me.

Let him and his brain-drained listenership die out with the rest of the car-worship culture… there\’s no need to feed them with progressive thoughts.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

Hey Jonathan,

Perhaps you could do an article that would refute the \”drivers pay for the roads\” thing. A nice point-by-point, with good summaries of what money comes from where would be nice.

Something that we could then link to when we are having this argument with the car-centric complainers.

bob
Guest
bob

Truth is Meghan did not have very good arguments against Lars.

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

Lars Larsen, he\’s always just been a poor excuse for a grammatically challenged limbaugh anyway.

I\’ve been encouraging my automobile-centered friends to attend this event. I think they\’ll finally understand what I\’ve been talking about. Our streets can be peaceful, and safe for children. They can be fairly quiet, while still moving people, with very good efficiency.

Things are changing. I can tell. My friends that thought buying a hybrid was pretentious are now asking me for ideas, on how to survive unrelenting energy costs. to be honest, I\’m excited about $5 fuel this summer. we may not have to close off roads, as cars will make excellent planters in peoples driveways.

Mark C
Guest
Mark C

\”listening to him was like sticking an icepick in my ear – and then banging my head sideways against a wall\”

Funny, that\’s exactly how I feel when I hear George Bush\’s voice.

I think Lars and others like him know deep-down that the car-dominated era is drawing to a close, and they\’re not going down without a fight. Cars have (and will continue to have) their place, just not their historically dominant one to the detriment of everything else.

Brian Johnson
Guest

Lars is such a joke. It seems like every time I hear him on the radio he\’s harping on about how we need MORE and BIGGER roads.

Plus he\’s so close-minded and rude!

Meagan? She\’s my hero. Totally unflappable. Awesome job, Meagan!

a.O
Guest
a.O

Perhaps you could do an article that would refute the \”drivers pay for the roads\” thing. A nice point-by-point, with good summaries of what money comes from where would be nice.

Something that we could then link to when we are having this argument with the car-centric complainers.

Boy, wouldn\’t that be useful…a conclusive refutation of the last remaining tether of an argument of the cars-first set!!

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

Meghan, I love you!

Great interview, especially considering what you had to work with.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

\”Truth is Meghan did not have very good arguments against Lars.\”

That\’s sort of the point, bob.

She killed him with kindness and didn\’t fall into his traps. Larson did not likely want to engage in a real argument anyways… he is more interested in confrontation in situations like this and he cannot function like he wants to when someone (who he sees as an activist) does not play into his game.

ambrown
Guest

Won\’t it be great when our boy Earl is secretary of transportation under a pro-bike obama presidency and Lars will have to just wither and wine to fewer and fewer bigoted listeners…

While I know the \”bike lobby\” gets the occasional crank going on bojack, Cato, and a few of the other right-wing nut jobs, I think we have to take a moment to recognize that the level of vitriol against the Sunday Parkways is higher than expected.

Todd Waddell
Guest
Todd Waddell

Jonathon, you\’re absolutely right, this is a model of how to handle these situations.

Meghan did a fantastic job defusing this jerk!

Thanks to Meghan, thanks to Jonathon. And thanks to Lars for allowing Megan to make a him look like a complete a**.

What? You mean he wasn\’t trying to be a cartoonish, right wing reactionary buffoon? Oh, what a shame.

Pete
Guest
Pete

I just saw today\’s Oregonian\’s Business section. There\’s a cover on how more and more people are \”losing two of their wheels\” to get around. Let\’s talk about that, Lars – sounds like free will to me!

It\’s too bad it\’s taken a punch in the wallet to inspire so many people to get on a bike, but hopefully they\’ll see the other benefits (and ignorance in the anti-cycling attitudes) once they get time in the saddle and pay attention to what others are saying about it.

kiwimunki
Guest
kiwimunki

On behalf of the less eloquent bike advocates among us, I would like to offer my thanks to Meghan for being such a savvy, quick-witted voice for all of us. I laughed to hear her foil Lars\’ antagonistic remarks, one after another.

Carfree Conferences did well in choosing their spokesperson.

Toby
Guest
Toby

His voice has that same chortled, fat dripping out of his ears, mouth full of raw sausage sound that Rush has that makes me nauseous. Fortunately, Meagan\’s voice is the angelic polar opposite. I wonder if he thinks parades are evil? After all, they deny him his freedom of using that road in the name of liberty.

Jonathan, I second tonyt. It would be nice to have a detailed write up of where our road dollars come from.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Truth is Meghan did not have very good arguments against Lars.

There is no good response to the question, \”How often do you beat your wife?\” except \”F*ck you.\” Meghan did a fantastic job of that.

RyNO Dan
Guest
RyNO Dan

Economic analysis ?
Yea, we need a whole lot more of that to fight back with.
To start, how about an economist that
can make the case that our country might
just be better of with a LOWER GDP ?
That we can do better by spending LESS.
Help end the \”consumption is better\” myth.
Yeah ! Great job Meghan. Angel of the week.
See you all on Sunday !!! –DanS–

Brent
Guest

It\’s hard to understand why someone would be so upset about some roads being shut down for a few hours on a Sunday morning. Roads are often closed for parades, marathons, and other civic events. What\’s the big deal?

erin g.
Guest
erin g.

Wonderful job, Meghan! I would launch into a diatribe about how dated and ignorant Mr. Larson\’s remarks are – not to mention socially, environmentally, and globally irresponsible – but his utterances are so out of touch that they don\’t deserve that much of my time. Thanks to your masterful handling of this interview, many of Mr. Larson’s listeners are likely having similar feelings about how unwarranted his remarks were.

One thing: the faulty argument about tax dollars and infrastructure, bikes versus cars, is as tired and out of touch as Mr. Larson himself. As a good law-abiding American and business community member, a large chunk of my monthly salary goes toward myriad taxes, and a portion of that is expected to cover streets and pedestrians ways. I also happen to bike commute nearly every day of the year. It is untrue that only car owners and car users fund roadways and repairs, and therefore an inherent right to dominate them. At the turn of the 19th Century, the cycling craze was at its peak: bikes filled the roads long before automobiles did. The time has come for citizens to reclaim the right-of-ways that were originally intended for all who wish to use them. The car-centric focus that has become the norm cannot sustain itself. Global warming is unquestionably upon us. 30% of children in the U.S. are overweight and unhealthy. Things have got to change.

I am proud to be an example of how viable, healthy, and enjoyable a virtually-carfree life can be. I do own my first car ever, but I use it about four times per month. It is not about black and white; there are shades of gray to fit each comfort zone, and it is time for all citizens to reevaluate and determine what works best for them.

Finally, as for taxes and equality, we bike commuters, pedestrians, and responsible mass transit users will be spending tax dollars in the future to pay for the attempted clean-up of the grandiose mess that those who needlessly overuse cars have imposed upon our environment, community, and world. Thus, Mr. Larson might want to reconsider the platform from which he launches future arguments.

Erin Greeson
We are ALL Traffic

Brad
Guest
Brad

Remember that Lars is brought to you by Timberline Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge where right now now you can choose from a large stock of gas guzzling pick-ups and SUVs at DRASTICALLY reduced prices! In fact, these rigs are so popular that Chrysler is giving away cards that guarantee you $2.99 gas for the next three years on select models. Why do we have to subsidize your gas bills on these fine motor vehicles? Because they are that good and that eco-friendly!

Please, for the love of God and country, buy a gas guzzler and keep us from going out-of-business!!!

foote
Guest
foote

One thing i\’ve noticed about the portland area is that it seems like roads are being closed for all sorts of things. Especially during the rose festival.
I\’m a runner, and it seems like every other weekend during the summer there\’s some event that has Front st to Barbur blvd closed. Every October, the Portland marathon closes almost the entire 26 mile route.
It doesn\’t seem like a big deal to me anymore, and I\’d bet that most Portland residents would agree – even those who live along frequently closed roads. In fact, during most road races I\’ve done, people hang out on their front porches to cheer runners on. It\’s a pretty cool community feeling.

Anyway, i don\’t really get why Lars is so upset over six miles for six hours on a Sunday morning, except that the event is being promoted by cyclists. If it was some kind of motorcade, i bet he\’d be all over it.

Austin Ramsland
Guest

That was just brilliant.

I can\’t imagine what it must have took to go on the radio, know that the person doing the interviewing would abandon all logic and civility, and still be a clear and positive voice for cycling and livable cities.

Nice work Megan. Will you be leading a \”Ninja-like Interviewing Skills\” workshop anytime soon?

Brad
Guest
Brad

Thanks Brent (#21) for pointing out all of the other \”evil\” whacko liberal events that circumvent the freedom of driving that millions of brave Americans made the ultimate sacrifice for.

Brian E
Guest

Lar\’s is a country boy from Tillamook. I don\’t think he\’s tuned into what works in the metro area.

When ever I listen to him I get a laugh out of his black and white position. All in an effort to get better ratings.

It\’s sad (he\’s sad) that he doesn\’t use his influence to make things better for us all.

ben
Guest
ben

even though i haven\’t seen lars biking up a hill in lingerie, i\’m pretty sure meghan has him beat from all angles.

maybe a lil bike porn can show him the error of his ways.

Troy
Guest
Troy

It takes some serious self control to keep from calling that buffoon out on his BS. I\’d be infuriated talking to that douchebag… which, of course, would fall right into his trap. Good work, Meghan.

bobcycle
Guest
bobcycle

Lars and others are entertainers not political commentators. They have found a market niche where if you can be aggressively right winged enough you can earn a good living, but you need to maximize the anger you raise in folks. Be absurb, anger the crowd and make a good living. Rush Limbaugh, Lars and David Reinhard are all of the same mold (no pun intended) My advice ignore them. The more attention they get the more money they earn. Peace.

KT
Guest
KT

I loved the \”the weather is an impediment\” thing– because we all know that summer in Portland has such crappy weather!

A little sun is an impediment?

I can understand 95+ degree days and out of shape people overworking themselves… but that\’s people not heeding their limits.

Lars is such a tool. I don\’t listen to him. Except this interview here.

He goes for baiting his interviewee, trying to start a fight, and I\’m glad she didn\’t fall into his trap.

He fosters the \”us vs them\” argument to no good end.

Bob
Guest
Bob

The reason that Lars and his ilk are so up in arms with Sunday Parkways is that they don\’t just see this as a one time thing for six hours in a six mile stretch. They are paranoid that this will eventually lead to a world in which they can\’t drive their cars anywhere. And that is horrible because it is their God given right to burn fossil fuels as these please. They make the same tired arguments with light rail, streetcars and anything that isn\’t an automobile. The best way to refute their outdated thinking is to actively participate in a non-auto lifestyle. Take part in the Sunday Parkways, bike commute to work, use TriMet, and limit your use of cars. Show the world that there is a better way.

aaron hayes
Guest

wow, Meghan you are certainly brave to go on this show knowing how poorly you would be treated. Excellent work in not falling for the antagonistic questioning!

Loree
Guest
Loree

That\’s the first (and I hope only) time I have ever listened to that show, but it was worth it. Great job keeping the conversation positive, Meaghan.

It was educational to hear the host\’s opinions about public transport and bicycling. I think it\’s surprising that someone who touts personal freedom could be anti-public transport or anti-bike.

Anyone living in a car-centered community should know the limits that type of infrastructure poses to personal freedom. Ever wanted to drive across LA to meet friends in the evening? Forget about getting there in under an hour if you\’re meeting around rush hour. And good luck finding parking once you get there.

The host might argue that they just need more, bigger, and better roads, but at some point you just can\’t have big enough, wide enough, enough enough roads to accomodate a car for every person.

Public transport gives personal freedom to people who are too young to drive or to people who can\’t drive for whatever reason (sight or physical impairment, for example). For those who can bike, bicycling gives the freedom to go anywhere at any time, and to be able to park close to their destination. Dang, not having a car to park is one of the most freeing feelings there is!

Anyway, I hope there are more conversations like this to start convincing people that a carfree life, at least in urban areas, isn\’t just some crackpot dream.

Jason P.
Guest
Jason P.

Wow, tough audience! She handled a very hostile interviewer with grace and dignity.

Chad
Guest
Chad

The fact that he, and others like him, are so upset about the emergence of the new \”transportation culture\” is proof that we are all doing our job.

And our job is to keep riding bikes.

His is to be upset about things.

(I think he got the fuzzy end of the lolly-pop no mater how many zero\’s are on his paycheck)

Jerrod
Guest
Jerrod

I\’m having a panic attack listening to this guy. I\’m literally shaking and wishing that this \”Lars\” fella would not cause me to shake anymore, thank you very much.

jr
Guest
jr

Also, the people who live in the 6 mile radius are not being denied the right to use their cars, there will be volunteers on hand to help them safely get in and out of the event. Liberty for all.

Moo
Guest
Moo

I actually feel sorry for the guy…negative attention is better than none I guess- huh Lars?

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

My advice ignore them. The more attention they get the more money they earn.

Well, actually, the correct thing to do would be to establish poignant and (where possible) factually verifiable talking points to refute their talking points, because their listeners tend to embrace it all as fact – particularly if the host in question throws around terms like \”mainstream media\” (itself quite laughable; having a large-audience radio show makes a show pretty damned mainstream media to be certain). This way, you can not only cut into their listener base and effect the number of advertisers funding the show through the purchase of commercial slots, but *much more importantly*, you can get people to stop believing absolute B.S. and it turn stop them from making decisions based upon said B.S..

Really, I think Meghan did a fine job, but if there\’s one point that calls for a tremendous amount of assertiveness, it\’s this last-ditch \”bikers are freeloaders\” garbage: folks, if you pay employment taxes or contribute to property taxes (either directly or through a portion of your rent) and you *DON\’T* drive a car, you are paying more than your fair share. Why no overwhelming \”user pays\” cries among the bicycle community? Simple: most of us understand that our contribution to infrastructure is important because it ensures that roads why might not use ourselves are still available to other people who do stuff that can possibly benefit us. It gets workers to work, which helps ensure the availability of services — much the same as people who bike to work might be doing things there which people who only drive need. This sort of cooperation is how society friggin\’ works.

And, you know. Don\’t forget the part involving the motorvehicle and oil industry subsidies that make these finger-pointers\’ favorite mode of transport possible. Because they sure as hell always *do* forget.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

Additionally: ever notice how the word \”evil,\” when invoked in instances not involving murder, rape, or other forms of bodily harm, is scarcely more than theatrical hyperbole aiming to mask the fact that the utterer realizes they have no cogent argument?

John
Guest
John

I like Lar\’s attempt to use age and the need to carry gear against Meghan. She handled that very well.

I\’m 46 and my attitude is that I\’m getting to old to be sitting in a car, I bike to stay healthy. And obviously Lars chooses to ignore (I don\’t believe he is ignorant) that things like cargo bikes and panniers exist that allow us to carry bulky items.

Chad
Guest
Chad

Jerrod #37…must be your first time hearing the Lars…don\’t worry, the anger you feel will change into pity for him once you realize his words are meaningless to even most of the people listening to him. He is a running joke, even among people who tend to agree with him.

We all have (or have had) occupations that we are \”trapped\” in due to the circumstances, but can you imagine having a job where you are forced to be angry to make a buck.

I honestly feel sorry for him and hope that someday he has the sense to realize that his own happiness is worth more a buck made from hatred of people that are different than himself and his listeners.

We reap what we sow and he\’s got a bumper crop of misery.

mbsf
Guest
mbsf

“But see, I don’t deny anybody the use of a bicycle*, in fact I pay for the roads they ride on and they don’t pay for the roads.”

I as a biker don\’t pay for street? Does he mean I get some of taxes back? Where can I apply? Where do I get a form?

StevenA
Guest
StevenA

Also notable for his distortion of \”six *square* miles\” when it\’s actually six linear miles
.

(If it were really 6 square miles, at 24 streets per mile, that would cover 288 linear miles of streets! The event planners are not so dense as to keep cars off that much even for 6 linear miles of fun.)

k.
Guest
k.

A good point to bring up to these right wing crack pots is that the whole car free movement isn\’t being foisted upon them. It\’s being demanded by the market place. The movement away from cars towards alternative modes of transportation is being driven by the free market!! How can they argue against that? It\’s the cost of fuel and maintaining the infrastructure devoted to cars that has society looking for other alternatives. Not to mention all the other ills that comes from having a car centric society. That last thing in the world it is is some commie conspiracy. Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it Lars!

Zaphod
Guest
Zaphod

Nicely done Meghan. While the guy is completely off base, at least he had the civility to, generally, allow her to finish her thoughts uninterrupted. Meghan made her case extremely well.

One thing that everyone is focused on is the *content* of the interview. It\’s important to note that mainstream or whatever this is felt compelled to discuss this in the first place.

In other words, his attempt at refuting the intent of the carfree conference has given more legitimacy to the cause. By not ignoring it and having Meghan speak so eloquently on the subject, seems a win in our column.

SG
Guest
SG

I loved it when Meagan suggested that the disabled person in a wheel chair roll themselves to church from a designated entry area…giving no consideration for how for that may be. Unbelievable! This sounds like a well planned event, especially given the number of phone calls that came in after the interview was over from business owners and residents who were not notified of the upcoming transportation restriction until they read the article in the Oregonian.
Too bad we don’t have a dictatorship form of government so we could just make people stop driving their cars. Is that what you really want? Who needs freedom?

JRP
Guest
JRP

These radio shows exist only to fill the space between Gold Bond Medicated Powder and used car commercials and aggravate people enough so that they relax and absorb the pitch.

peejay
Guest
peejay

SG:

You sound like you really know what you\’re talking about. Perhaps you can name one dictatorship where they took away people\’s cars and forced them to ride bikes. Just one would do, and don\’t say China, because in case you haven\’t realized, they have a huge problem right now with cars, and some particularly stupid solutions, like banning bikes from Shanghai streets recently.

I thought you liked to call us socialists all the time. Kinda funny, since the biggest socialist spending program is the American highway system, paid for by everybody whether they drive or not, but serving only those who drive cars, with a few bones thrown in for those who don\’t.

And I\’m sure you were right there with Lars complaining about the ADA, and the \”dictatorial\” requirement to put in handicapped-accessible ramps in privately-owned buildings, so I\’ll take your torch-carrying for wheelchair users with a grain of salt.