The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Cars are the new cigarettes: America’s other deadly habit

Posted by on October 22nd, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Stop Sign in Vancouver BC.jpg

Stop sign in Vancouver BC (click for
larger version so you can
read the fine print).
(Photo © J. Maus)

Close readers of this site might recall that on several occasions I’ve written that, “cars are the new smoking cigarettes.”

It’s something that came from my continued bewilderment that, while most everyone realizes the multitude of negative impacts that come with America’s love-affair with cars, we are just now (and hardly still) beginning to think of them in the same way as cigarettes. That is, as something that is very dangerous, has broad public health implications, and claims the lives of thousands of people each year.

Way back when, cigarettes were cool. Everybody smoked them. From housewives to movie stars, nobody considered the negative impacts of puffing away (like lung cancer, asthma from secondhand smoke, and so on). But, as people started dying by the tens of thousands (including two Marlboro Men), suspicions grew.

Suddenly, the health care community caught on, the government started warning consumers, and popular culture eventually followed.

Now, cigarettes are banned in many public places and the number of people smoke regularly has dwindled to a much more sensible amount.

But there’s another silent killer in our midst — cars. They pollute our air, they kill tens of thousands of people each year (usually in “accidents”), they contribute to obesity, climate change, sprawl, and oil dependence, they degrade our public spaces, and so on.

Fortunately, people are starting to make the connection between cars and cigarettes. They’re beginning to understand that there are serious consequences for all of us because of our high rates of car usage.

Today, I came across even more validation that the comparison is valid while reading the excellent blog, How We Drive. The blog is written by Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why we drive the way we do.

In a post he titled, Changing Entrenched Behaviors, Vanderbilt shared a slide from a talk given by Michael O’Hare, a professor of public policy at University of California at Berkeley. In the slide, O’Hare compares cigarettes in 1968 with cars in 2008. Check it out below (click for larger version):

Taken from a slide presentation by Michael O’Hare via the How We Drive blog.

Vanderbilt wrote on his blog that, “I imagine there would have been few people in 1968 predicting that by 2008 smoking in public places would largely be a thing of the past.”

I hope everyone realizes that I’m intrigued by the ‘cars are the new smoking’ idea not because I simply hate cars and don’t think anyone should drive them. Cars have their place, just like cigarettes have their place. There’s nothing wrong with them, the problem is with us.

I drive my mini-van now and then and I have nothing against taking a drag from a cigarette, a cigar, or other rolled tobacco product if the opportunity presents itself.

It’s not the cars (or the cigarettes), it’s how we choose to use them. I just hope it doesn’t take 40 more years for America to kick this deadly habit.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • T27 October 22, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Cars are more like wine than cigarettes. I find no redeeming quality to cigarettes, but a glass of wine shared with friend and good food enhances life. Drank straight form the bottle by yourself rots life away. Likewise using your car to visit somewhere exciting with friends enhances life. Stuck in traffic by yourself, rots life away. Some find that their lives are best with no wine at all, others in moderation, but addiction is never good.

    How different would our lives be if you had to answer the following question before your car would start: will using the car today make your life better? This little question works for purchases too.

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  • dan Kearl October 22, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    This is like an anti smoking commercial in 1960. It will take 40 years for the public to catch up with the health hazard effects of driving.

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  • amy aka orange como October 22, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Check out the movie – Thank you for Smoking – the tobacco lobby is interesting and didn’t we loose all those street cars when Ford bought them out and tore up the streets.

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  • Hart October 22, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Can I still smoke cigarettes while riding my Peugeot?

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  • Coyote October 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Likely it will take two generations to change our attitude about cars. It is just too ingrained to drive, and to believe not only that driving harmless, it is actually good for society. Providing jobs, social equity, mobility to the disabled, increased leisure time, and safety.

    All of the above are false. In fact cars consume a great deal of productivity, enforce class distinctions, are a real barrier to the disabled, cars enslave us to a pattern of travel that diminishes our free time, and kills and maims hundreds of thousands of people every year.

    A change in these attitudes quicker than a few generations will be forced by economic change and the realization of the limits of industrialization. Forced changes in society’s attitudes are are convulsive and rarely pretty.

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  • GLV October 22, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    T27: very well put. Cars are not evil. And cigarettes are easily avoided, cars are not for most people. We have built our entire civilization around them.

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  • Val October 22, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Silent killer?! One of my chief gripes with automobiles is the godawful amount of noise they continually generate. Hardly a day goes by without the question “Do they have to be so damn loud?” springing to my lips. Aside from that, I still remember going to speech meets in high school (late ’70s) and actually winning trophies with a speech about the harmful nature of our Car Culture. A freind of mine had died that year driving his offroad truck, and it made me think very hard about what cars are and aren’t good for. These days, I do consider myself to be at war with The Car (or cars, whatever), but no, this does not mean that I want to wipe them from the planet (I still own one, but only use it when necessary – less and less lately). Winning a war means gaining control of the conflict and being able to dictate terms to the other side. So far, the Car Culture has been dictating most, if not all, of the terms. We can change that.

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  • joeb October 22, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    An OPB program last night, I didn’t catch which one, talked about America’s transportation and energy issues. I didn’t watch all of it, but what I saw was bleak. Transportation infrastructure nationwide, especially bridges, is nearing the end of serviceable life. Of course there is no money to repair roads. Road user fees may be a good free market solution… that will never be allowed to happen. Government subsidies will continue to hide the cost of transportation from consumers who will continue to complain about high taxes. Maybe China will take ownership of more of our roads and bridges.

    Corn growers in the Midwest lobby for ethanol (E85) requirements for cars. Corn ethanol is higher carbon content than fossils, the fertilizers and pesticides are horrible, GM gets subsidies and tax breaks for manufacturing cars that use E85, but no service stations sell the stuff and food crop shortages increasingly require foreign imports of agriculture products from fields formally known as carbon-absorbing rain forests.

    Of course, none of this is new. We all know about it, but to see this program string it all together was really disturbing.

    Oh, and I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. Sheesh!

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  • Joe October 22, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Warning sticker inside the car, may cause
    heart disease!

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  • Anonymous October 22, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    I don’t think the analogy has much merit because the utilitarian value of the automobile is great, while the utilitarian value of an automobile is enormous. For instance, in much of our state a lack of access to a personal vehicle effectively eliminates your access to the labor market. I remain of the opinion that bicycle transportation is a great lifestyle choice for many, but not most individuals. The comparison I would make would be between autos based on the internal combustion engine versus autos based on electrical systems.

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  • mabsf October 22, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    I find it scary that in only a hundred years we got so dependent on one technology that we can’t imagine life without it anymore. It influenced every aspect of our life from city planning to health. I do think that most individuals could participate in a car-light lifestyle by overcoming the social isolation that cars put us in – often imagined inconvenience and the fear of being indebted stops us from asking the neighbors/friends for rides…
    Biking might be not always be the solution, but we can share rides to work & play and use public transportation when possible!

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  • GG October 22, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Argh! Driving is the new smoking. Or, cars are the new cigarettes. I’ve always refrained from commenting on your phrase but I can’t this time!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 22, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    “Argh! Driving is the new smoking. Or, cars are the new cigarettes.”

    I agree GG. that’s been bugging me ever since I wrote that headline.

    I’ve changed it. thanks for the comment.

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  • Andy B from Jersey October 22, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    As drugs can cure diseases there are many who abuse them. It’s called drug abuse.

    Same with the car. I have a fun little sports car. I use it to go out on the weekends, to go hiking in remote locations or other places that would be difficult to get to in a practical, timely manner. I even, dare I say, like to just go for a drive in the countryside every once in a while.

    However, I do not “abuse” my car (or the privilege of having one), like an alcoholic might abuse alcohol. I do not use it to go to work, school, store and most other nearby locations where my bicycle (or walking or transit) is clearly a better more efficient choice. Come the weekend, I actually look forward to the “pleasure” of driving since I do it so rarely, just like I look towards the pleasure of a fine beer that I drink only occasionally.

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  • Mark C October 22, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    I agree with mabsf. Cars have their place, it’s just that they’re way, way, overused – especially in Portland where other alternatives are easily available. An able-bodied person using a car to go a mile or two to the bank or post office (especially on a day like today) is like using a sledgehammer on a thumbtack. If everyone would just stop and ask themselves if a car is really necessary before leaving the house, instead of just automatically grabbing the keys, things would improve significantly.

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  • Mark Allyn October 22, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    This reminds me of the ‘CARS STINK’ stencils that I saw on the bike lanes on SE Belmont Ave back in 03 and 04.

    Any one else remember those?


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  • Maculsay October 22, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    @joeb #8

    That was Frontline, episode “Heat”. Watch it anytime on and navigate to Frontline on demand. It was a pretty good show, and good thing I didn’t have any razor blades near me while watching it. On the other hand, makes me pretty damn proud to be carfree most of this decade…

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  • Ian October 22, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Negative pressure will not get people to change. By showing people how bad their driving habits are, they will only be made to feel guilty and therefore resent those putting pressure on them to change their habits. By linking driving to the addicting habit of smoking you are essentially creating an atmosphere of animosity where people cannot give up their car, not because it is a habit, but because it is a necessity. How do you tell people who live miles and miles from their job with no access to public transportation and no money to move closer that they are essentially killing themselves and others out of ignorance? The most you can hope for is to change policy decisions to give people more access to public transit and positively reinforce the image of cycling as a form of transportation by showing how great the act of cycling can be, not how bad the act of driving is.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 22, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    “Negative pressure will not get people to change.”

    thanks for your comment.

    I just want everyone to realize that this is a concept I like to think about simply as a way to start conversation.

    “Cars are the new cigarettes” and the editorial above does not reflect my general style of advocacy (as anyone who knows me well can attest).

    I think it’s interesting to look at the history of these to cultural “habits” in order to notice their similarities. that is all.

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  • matt picio October 22, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Ian (#18) – Not quite true. While I’ll agree that negative pressure is not the best tactic, negative pressure can and does get people to change. Many smokers stopped not because of health reasons but due to the enormous amount of social pressure from all corners of society. In the last decade, the tobacco industry has had their “happy smoking” advertisements and mascots (Joe Camel, anyone?) removed and replaced by warnings, and hard-hitting anti-smoking ads. Friends, neighbors and families ask people not to smoke, smoking has been banned from the workplace, restaurants (in many cities, and next year in Portland) and public buildings.

    Dedicated smokers have been vocal in their opposition to this massive negative pressure, but it *has* worked, whether for good or ill.

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  • Joe October 23, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Back in the day in SF, they use to have shirts that said ” your car stinks ”

    ONE LESS CAR stuff! ohh with this gas lowering in price watch how much we see people just driving more.. sure i own a car, just feel driving these days is abused!

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  • Velo Vanguard October 23, 2008 at 8:08 am

    Yeah, it’s just plain wrong to say that negative pressure will not get people to change. It does, and ironically – as Matt points out – smoking is a *fantastic* example of such effectiveness. Duh.

    Some people just can’t stand any push-back to the status quo. You know, like that uppity one running for President.

    “I don’t think the analogy has much merit because the utilitarian value of the automobile is great, while the utilitarian value of an automobile is enormous.”

    Very wise. Things are never analogous when they are the same. Kidding.

    Actually, one of the reasons cigarettes hung on so long is that the corporate world knew they had utility. They were shown to have a stimulant effect – you’ve heard of nicotine, right? – that speeds up cognition and increases worker productivity. Sure, take that 7 minute (average time to smoke a manufactured cigarette) smoke break and come back ready to work!

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  • poser October 23, 2008 at 9:56 am

    GG and Jonathan – any good marketing pro will tell you that grammatically correct phrases aren’t always the best phrase to use.

    “Cars are the new smoking” is the catchiest phrase of the three. It’s just a fact. Produce all three phrases as t-shirts and bike-stickers and see which one sells the most. I predict that “Cars are the new smoking” would outsell the other two combined (except among former English majors).

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 23, 2008 at 10:13 am

    “any good marketing pro will tell you that grammatically correct phrases aren’t always the best phrase to use.”

    argh… you’re right poser.. that was sort of my hunch, but I caved into grammar.

    maybe i’ll do a flip-flop and change it back… i’ll certainly put more thought into it the next time I use it or when I start making stickers and shirts ;-).

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  • Drewid October 23, 2008 at 10:23 am

    The analogy of driving to cigarettes is appropriate. Many in health community have been trying for years to label all the trauma on the road as the nations major health emergency. With 45 thousand killed in car crashes and 2 to 3 million people injured every year in this country, it ranks as the leading cause of trauma; just ahead of gun violence.

    Trauma is a disease that affects us all. Very few car crashes can be regarded as accidents. In time (and not soon enough) the public will wake up to this.

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  • Vance October 23, 2008 at 10:25 am

    If you don’t like cars, don’t drive one. If you don’t like cigarettes, don’t smoke them. Seems pretty simple to me. I fail to see what business one has in the personal affairs of others.

    Catchy analogy though. Really.

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  • Joe October 23, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Please leave the bad grammer for me 🙂
    hehe, stickers? shirts? nice!!

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  • Robert Broughton October 23, 2008 at 11:19 am

    “Cars have their place, just like cigarettes have their place. There’s nothing wrong with them, the problem is with us.”

    Nonsense. There is a LOT wrong with cigarettes.

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  • red hippie October 23, 2008 at 11:27 am

    I ride my bike to and from work 5 days a week and mostly walk for groceries and the like, but I’ll fight you to death if you try and take my car away. To me Car=Personal freedom.


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  • bahueh October 23, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Velo Vanguard…your knowledge of the smoking and anti-smoking lobby is very limited, as is your knowledge of how smoking is INCREASING in many other parts of the world (the same places a higher % of people ride bicycles too).

    negative pressure didn’t work towards a reduction in adult smoking prevalence…unless you’re referring to pressure from the AMA and medical establishment who received money from the NIH to study the long term outcomes of tobacco use…then passed along those findings to clinicians who then participated in created clinical diagnoses and treatment guidelines amongst themselves. do you think “negative pressure” is included in those guidelines?
    1/5th of the US population still smokes..down from 42% about 50 years ago, so how well exactly do you think its working? a 20% reduction is NOT a successful intervention technique by any measure.

    education is working, but that really doesnt’ fall under the auspice of “negative pressure”…

    cigarettes are still “hanging on” you probably just personally don’t see them much I’m guessing…out of sight, out of mind. You’re welcome to come visit the COPD ward at my hospital…see how many people _aren’t_ in there gasping for their last breath…and wanting a cigarette at the same time.
    keeps a lot of people employed…

    cars aren’t going away until people are financially penalized to drive them…more than 4$/gal gas…

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  • Ian October 23, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    In response to post # 20.

    Anti-Smoking ads do not work. If they did, why are young people still smoking in great numbers despite all the available information telling them not to? A study at the beginning of this past summer by the American Journal for Public Health actually found that public service ads aimed at getting kids not to smoke are actually having the opposite effect. Hard numbers are probably hard to come by regarding the lack of an impact that negative pressure has in effecting change, but its something that I think taps into human nature and everyone can think of times when the line between constructive criticism and negative criticism has been blurred.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with pushing against the status quo. Changing societal norms can be done, for sure. But there are better ways to do it than highlighting what someone is doing wrong and instead focusing on what they could do better.

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  • Velo Vanguard October 23, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    “If you don’t like cars, don’t drive one. If you don’t like cigarettes, don’t smoke them. Seems pretty simple to me. I fail to see what business one has in the personal affairs of others.”

    Didn’t you read the piece? Cars pollute the atmosphere that we all share. They impose costs on me that their owners and operators do not pay for. I agree with the general sentiment that you should do what you want, but the limit to that is that it doesn’t hurt others. Driving cars does hurt others. Hazardous air pollutants from automobiles kill thousands of people in the US each year.

    Bahueh, how do you know that my knowledge of the fact that smoking is increasing in other parts of the world is limited? I didn’t even mention that. At least read the post if you’re going to try that ‘gotcha’ style you’re so bad at.

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  • jim October 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I would rather live in a country where we are free to make our own decisions. Personally I don’t like smoke or the smell, and as much as I hate it when my neighbors smoke is coming in my windows I realize he is sitting on his own porch enjiying the freedom to smoke. Hopefully he will get cancer and die soon as I hate to close my windows on those hot summer days. I guess if it gets too bad I will just jump in my suburban and go for a long pleasure drive

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  • jim October 23, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    How come you guys are on the net in the middle of a work day? Goofing off at work? Not working? Get paid to goof off? Whats your story?

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  • Anonymous October 23, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    This insinuation is ridiculous. I understand that you claim it’s a way to start a conversation, but it certainly has a holier than thou insinuation that isn’t going to be good for biking in Portland.

    The main difference I see between cigarettes and driving is that for some people, in their life, driving is a necessity, and smoking is not.

    Those who say that driving is never a necessity should consider their live luxurious. I’ve written on here before that I am the main medical caretaker for my grandfather, who was diagnosed with cancer. Being in that position requires me to drive, or use the driving abilities of someone else. I am not going to subject my 87 year old ill grandfather to public transportation or strap him to a bike.

    Are cars overused? Absolutely. I don’t deny that. But to launch this sort of campaign is going too far.

    Do you know how many other besides driving cause the things listed on the stop sign photo in your article? How many things do you do in your lives to cut down on other things?

    Example: I don’t eat meat. I do drive a car. If I were to eat meat, and stop driving a car, my carbon foot print would be higher than my current lifestyle. (I’ve calculated it out).

    Would I like to do both? Sure. Can I? Nope.

    Would I be a better person to you if I stopped driving my car? What if I still ate meat? My impact on the world would be more negative, but I wouldn’t be driving!

    The reason I first came to is because I had a very bad experience with a cyclist who was driving into oncoming traffic. He then blocked my car and called me every name in the book simply because I was driving a car. This was unprovoked – I was simply driving down the road and he lucky that I was able to stop in time. I came here to reach out. I came here to talk, and to discuss.

    But that doesn’t happen here if you are on the otherside of the issue. I’ve read so many posts that say things like “gasholes” and “you aren’t human once you sit in a car!” and “Fatties in steel cages!”

    And now this. Jonathan, I usually respect your reporting even when I don’t respect the commenters. This is over the top.

    I came here to reach out. I don’t know why I keep coming back.

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  • Elly October 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    While transportation is partly habit-related, it’s also not entirely a matter of choice, which the anonymous commenter above points out well, and which is the real difference between smoking and driving. Cars would only be like cigarettes if nonsmokers somehow had trouble finding work, or getting groceries, or seeing your friends, or getting your kids to school/parents to the doctor. Maybe this would have been a better analogy in the 1960s, when people smoked in hospitals, classrooms, offices, homes, etc, actually creating a non-choice public health hazard. In this day and age it doesn’t really work.

    With all respect to Jonathan and the author of Traffic, I think the analogy is only useful in places where transportation choices exist more plentifully. We all lose out because there is no reasonable way for Anonymous to get his dad to the doctor without driving, or for people who are priced out of the inner city to find work, childcare, groceries, etc close to home. A lot of us can choose (and it’s not just based on income) but a lot of things are still cumbersome, even with a car, since we have spent the past 50 years plus in this country heavily subsidizing a highway-based transportation system at the expense of just about everythin else.

    Anonymous, it sounds like what you might want to hear is a bunch of bikers apologizing for your bad experience on the road, it’ll never happen again, etc, but what I hope you actually see here is not just one post in a vacuum suggesting that people change their habits but rather that as part of a much broader, multi-faceted effort to understand how to make our transportation system work better for everyone, including you. Yes, that includes educating road users about safety, but that’s again only one part of what has to happen.

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  • jack October 23, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    re: #35


    this analogy is laughable at best and hate mongering at worst

    no way to see this as anything but a contribution to the us v. them mentality Jonathan claims to oppose, or did I miss the flier put out by the ‘share the road’/’eye to eye’ campaigns

    however, to expect anything put a subjective view from this website will be dissapointed and the overall theme of promoting bikes as safe alternative transportation is beneficial to our community so bash on if it makes ya happy Jonathan just be open and realistic about your agenda

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 23, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    “this analogy is laughable at best and hate mongering at worst…

    so bash on if it makes ya happy Jonathan just be open and realistic about your agenda”

    wow. hate mongering? my agenda?

    folks, I am sorry if some see this story as being my personal judgment against people who drive.

    Let’s be clear:
    — I drive a car and I have nothing against others that do the same thing.

    — However, I think our over-reliance on cars and our cultural love-affair with them has done massive amounts of bad things to our world (understatement).

    — I think the automobile lobby and the auto industry should be held more accountable for these bad things they’ve encouraged and exacerbated for decades.

    — I think it’s long overdue that society begins to wonder about and question these bad things.

    — I think it’s sad that my kids are afraid to cross a residential street near my house because so busy with cars going way too fast…a product of the culture i referenced above.

    I could go on… the point is, I have some serious misgivings about the degree to which cars and car culture has infiltrated american life.

    can you refute any of the things I mention in this comment?

    Do you disagree that cars are a drag on our society in many ways?

    Do you disagree that our entire culture has bent over way too much for cars for the last 100 years?

    Do you disagree that cars kill and injure way more people than they should?

    I have nothing against cars in and of themselves… but we’ve gone way beyond using them responsibly in this country… so much so that I have to resort to provocative phrases to get anyone’s attention.

    Just like I have no problem smoking a cigarette if I feel like it, but society shouldn’t have to deal with lung-cancer from chain smokers and kids getting asthma from second-hand smoke?

    my agenda is for more balance in our transportation systems and for more healthy, happy people and less injuries and deaths. that’s all.

    —– Now, who wants to buy some stickers? ;-).

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  • Val October 23, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    You got it right Jonathan – I fully agree with the sentiment, and I smoke. I also drive sometimes. I try to do these things conciously and concientiously, and to keep them within what I consider reasonable limits. I’ll be checking into the stickers, and no, they don’t make me feel hated.

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  • Joe October 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Jonathan Maus (Editor)
    I agree with you 100%, since i have kids
    that don’t seem to understand why they can’t ride in the bike lane yet! red light runners, people talking on cells. Im not anti-car, but we need to wake up and make a change. my girls are not like most kids. * growing up with the windows rolled up *

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  • jack October 23, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    re: #38

    — I drive a car and I have nothing against others that do the same thing.

    Then why the sensationalist title and a comparison to a habit that has no redeeming functional utilization. This is also a direct gut shot to any real support of the ‘share the road’ message that is about equality on our roadways not I can’t wait till your gone you evil deathmachine loving bastages.

    — However, I think our over-reliance on cars and our cultural love-affair with them has done massive amounts of bad things to our world (understatement).

    No argument there, but I would argue that painting this black and white is not the complete story. Without the ‘deathmachines’ embracement our society has displayed for the last 60+ years there would not be the level of economic, educational, cultural, and technological growth which is unparelled in human history – good and bad, to look at only one facet is to promote ignorance and in this case to further a subjective agenda

    — I think the automobile lobby and the auto industry should be held more accountable for these bad things they’ve encouraged and exacerbated for decades.

    agreed, but I think this avoids the reality that to a significant degree production and funded r&d is dictated by demand by consumers, by our choices when buying cars, it’s easy to blame the lobbyists/ceo’s, but how often do we point in the mirror at ourselves and at our parents/grandparents generation in our outrage of the results of this industry

    — I think it’s long overdue that society begins to wonder about and question these bad things.

    agreed, but i dont think the only conclusion is that cars are to be done away with, even the wet dream of similar mode share as amsterdam/copenhagen doesn’t represent 100% bike/public transport method. Instead technology and policy changes should be affected to deal with this, cars dont = cigarettes current car technology + transportation policy + commuting choice = cigarettes

    — I think it’s sad that my kids are afraid to cross a residential street near my house because so busy with cars going way too fast…a product of the culture i referenced above.

    agreed, there are also numerous significant other causes for this reality that exist completely outside the car culture you point to – population growth, depersonalization of the stranger, self-centred cultural mores, attention deficit via video games/tv/adrenline sports habits of the current adult population, etc.

    I could go on… the point is, I have some serious misgivings about the degree to which cars and car culture has infiltrated american life.

    can you refute any of the things I mention in this comment? its not about whether your comments are right/wrong, its about your lack of a wholistic and objective assesment/potrayel of the current situation devoid of the priviledges your current life structure allows and the subjective lense your current job/lifestyle creates

    Do you disagree that cars are a drag on our society in many ways?
    nope, but I like ambulances when they save lives, firetrucks, cop cars (kinda anyway), food at the grocery store, medicine at the pharmacies, bikes/accessories at bike stores, beer everywhere (for the love of god do you want good beer to stop being easily purchased – thats frickin cruel man), and the degree of movement and the funtionality this brings to the common person lives (daycare, school choice, hikes in the gorge, job choice, going to see family on holidays, etc.)… how cool was it to have an affordable method to follow your wife this summer on the sprockettes tour, would that have been available to you without the embracement of the car culture you have so clearly demonized

    Do you disagree that our entire culture has bent over way too much for cars for the last 100 years? Not an easy answer, and as I have tried to explain this is a very narrow view point of the evolution. Could we have the advancements in medicine and technology without having ‘bent over’ for the car culture? How does this change my evaluation of the ‘too much’ portion of your question? If we could brilliantly amend motor technology and public policy would it be sunshine and rainbows? Is the car culture evil or dysfunctional? Who is responsible for the current structures? And what is the best route out of the current structures while maintaining the positives that this transportation mode allows for? Your title and story boil this issue to a very narrow summary, and that was the stimulus for my original comments

    Do you disagree that cars kill and injure way more people than they should?

    of course, but I tell you what, take that number and subtract the number of lives that are saved by emergency responders and if it were possible quantify the illnesses that are ended/ prevented by access to healthy food/medicine. what is the net number? An even better question is how do we reduce the number contributing to death/injury while boosting the number contributing to the saved/prevented

    I have a great deal of respect for your work in advocating for a very positive transportation methodology, I enjoy reading the stories regarding events that promote a healthy lifestyle/commute choice/and hobby. the subject of this post is over the line, counter productive, and yes among the fringe of the cycling community can be raised as a focul point to express ignorant hate. it is a direct contribution to the ‘us v. them’ you regularly rail against in the mainstream media, this piece merely puts on the other side of the coin. i’d call you on it in your living room as i have here. this site is a virtual representation of you and your beliefs, so how does a reader understand this thread and correlate that understanding to the threads about ‘sharing the road’, ‘eye to eye’, ‘us v them’?

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  • Coyote October 23, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Jack, nice swordsmanship. Slice off a sentence, and respond with two paragraphs. is it a normal sword or a troll’s cleaver?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 23, 2008 at 8:23 pm


    I hear your points. I wish we were having this exchange in person so it was easier for me to explain my perspective.

    A few things I want to address.

    First; you’ve missed my point that I’ve got nothing against responsible car use.

    Yes, I love having a car for a road trip with my family. Yes, I love emergency vehicles. NOTE: I have not said I believe motor vehicles are evil.

    Also, I still don’t quite agree with your connection that this article is in conflict with my articles saying we should not have an “us vs. them” mentality when thinking about our transportation system.

    I’m just saying we should all have the right to safe and efficient travel… but cars and the culture/industry/lobby that supports them has made that impossible.

    I’m glad you’re a loyal reader and I hope you stick around and continue to read and comment.

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  • Opus the Poet October 23, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I’m putting a link to this post in my blog, more people need to read this. I personally love cars, but I quit driving in 1995 because it wasn’t fun any more, just another chore I had to do (transportation as another job). If people would use some sense in their transportation choices and only used private motor vehicles when there was no other logical choice, then the roads would be a whole lot less crowded, and driving would be fun again. But since the city took my car away after it had been parked for 5 years I really don’t have the choice any more, I have to use public transit and ride my bike.

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  • Zaphod October 24, 2008 at 11:25 am

    I respectfully disagree with Jack (#41) but his points are well articulated and thought out. But this gets at the fundamental issues with what cars have done. Car culture is on the surface *and* deep within and then deeper still.

    What did we have prior to the car? Our cities and towns were very compact with additional dense circles radiating from train stops. That was how it was. In that environment, we were a fairly tight society as a necessity, a reality of the time. This created both good and bad aspects of community. But community existed in a real tangible way.

    The car has singlehandedly rearchitected the entire nation (never mind the world) such that we are spread out into suburban and exurban spaces. We’ve lived this way for enough time that conceiving the old way of cities, towns and villages is difficult. Supposing one wanted to attempt to design like in days past? Given how the land has been sliced, this is effectively impossible without calling upon eminent domain – a rather drastic measure. So we’re now working in the reality of lots of low density housing and lack of mixed use for much of the country.

    Living some distance away from your neighbor changes the level of interaction and depth of *community* such that we retreat into our homes. A casual hello from a neighbor is impossible when the car rolls right into the garage and the door automatically closes behind.

    So it is my opinion that the ills of driving not only have immediate consequences (accidents, smog, noise, stress, commute times, costs to operate, cost of infrastructure) and physical ramifications (restructuring of land use) there also are societal costs that change how we behave as a society. It’s wayyy worse than smoking.

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  • Kt October 24, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Coyote, I don’t think you read Jonathan’s post that Jack is replying to.

    He didn’t slice and dice, he answered the questions put to him– questions that were put to all of us.

    Personally, I agree with Jack. And Eileen.

    Yes, I ride…. but I also drive. I’ve never smoked, but now Jonathan is making me feel like a filthy smoker for driving.

    Hey, does it make it all better if I apologize to the smokers in the room for calling them filthy?

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  • Velo Vanguard October 24, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    “I’ve never smoked, but now Jonathan is making me feel like a filthy smoker for driving.”

    This is the essence of what is causing people to react so strongly to this post. People know that their choice to drive has costs to others that they are getting away with not paying. And they feel guilty. And they don’t like people pointing it out because if they admit this they will have to change their lifestyle and, hey, cars have done some good things and it’s not all my fault – why should I be made to feel like a hypocrite? Well, Jonathan’s telling it like it is. You gotta deal with your own emotions.

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  • Anonymous October 24, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Elly – Never once asked for an apology. The incident I was involved with signified that there were bigger issues between cyclists and motorists that needed to be discussed with and I came here to do that. I included that info in my post in case people wondered why the heck I was on a biking blog when I don’t actually bike.

    Kt – Agree with you completely. I would never smoke, and I think Jonathan’s phrasing implies that I am a hypocrite for driving but that thinking smoking is filthy. Again for me, it comes down to the fact that smoking is never a necessity, while sometimes for some people, driving is.

    Zaphod – The car did not singlehandedly rearchitect the entire nation. Suburbs were created as the direct result of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial revolution came about as technology increased for Transportation, but also just as much for agriculture and manufacturing. Since these advancements occurred in the city, people moved away and created “suburbs” to avoid the smog created by the plants. Again – MUCH MORE than car plants, it was the whole rise of technology for a multitude of things. Cars are in no way single handedly responsible for this. Alot of these technologies are really important for the development of society, including the car.

    So – with each good thing generally comes something bad.

    This takes me back to my issue with Jonathan’s claim that Cars are the new Cigarettes, or smoking, or however it eventually ends up. 😉 If that is going to be your line of thinking, Then you really should have a slew of stickers which read things like “Meat is the new smoking” or “Construction is the new smoking” or “Technology is the new smoking”… or if you really want to be honest about it “Humans are the new smoking”… because the fact of the matter is that it really is our inability to use everything that has an impact on the earth responsibly that is the true problem.

    There are plenty of things on this earth that have just as big of a negative impact as cars do – And when you single out cars there are going to be alot of people, myself included, who feel that this perpetuates the same us vs. them mentality that you complain about the rest of the media instigating.

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  • jack October 24, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    re: #42

    ha, I hear ya coyote, passion and a platform tends to make me a bit wordy – or as I would hear from my high school buddies ‘shut up ya damn tree huggin hippy and get me another beer’ as for the troll comment, I’m relatively ignorant of blog/comment society so my response may fit the definition, dont know, but it was an honest reaction without malicious intent and as kt mentioned i was doing a comprehesive inline response to Jonathan, not cherry picking lines I could manipulate

    if the complexity surrounding this issue has peaked anyones interest i would really recommend some research on the ‘deep ecology’ movement. i had the luck of being introduced to this concept/ideology many years ago and it dramatically shifted my world view, in particular the human/nature interaction and imbalance that currently exists

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  • Happy Friday - Cult of the Bicycle October 24, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    […] thing to do, but over time the public perception changed. Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland wonders if this shift in thinking might now by occurring towards automobiles. And the Wall Street Journal reports the largest year on […]

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  • Grace October 24, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    I really wish many of you would at least consider why some people may have to drive cars… I have extreme rheumatoid arthritis that attacked me at a very young age. I really, really wish I could be out riding my bike, but some days it is so bad I can’t even walk far enough to take the bus. Many days I am forced to drive, and the dirty looks I sometimes get make me quite sad. I understand your passion, but to those of you with a vendetta, please think twice before cutting me off or being so quick to judge.

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  • Jett October 24, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Great analogy and a great discussion. (I wish I had thought of it!)

    As with any analogy, there are matches and mismatches and the matches are brought out brilliantly.

    The individual pleas and arguments that a car is a necessity are what I find especially interesting. I don’t want to knock anyone who finds the car necessary — it’s mighty convenient and allows us a lot of freedoms — but it is still a choice. This choice was not available a few generations ago. This choice remains unavailable for most of the world’s population.

    We can argue that we’re better off having this choice — and in many ways I would agree — but that would avoid this interesting discussion.

    Yes, many of us — including myself — are dependent on cars to enjoy much of modern society, but until we realize we have a choice and understand the trade-offs in making that choice, we are no different from the cigarette smoker who remains unaware of the risks.

    The respondent who doesn’t eat red meat wouldn’t give it up if there weren’t other sources of nutrition.

    I would always buy beer shipped across the country if I didn’t know how to make my own.

    I would always buy produce that is trucked across the country if there wasn’t a market for locally grown produce nearby.

    And probably the most drastic choice I’ve made: I don’t accept jobs if I can’t ride my bike to the office.

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  • Anonymous October 25, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Jett –

    I suppose you are correct in nearly everything is a choice. However, in the case of my Grandfather which I wrote about in Post 35, I don’t consider it much of a choice. In this case, it is not a matter of convenience or enjoyment, it’s a matter or life and death and I will not feel guilty about it.

    I assume you are talking about me when you say the respondent who doesn’t eat red meat wouldn’t give it up if there weren’t other sources of nutrition – First, I don’t eat any meat, or fish or anything that was at one point alive. True, if there were not other sources of nutrition I would have to eat it, but that has NEVER been the case as far as human existence is concerned and therefore don’t consider it a valid example.

    But at any rate – my point originally was this: Yes, we all make our choices as to how we want to decrease our impact on the environment. The choice I made that suited my life was to not eat any form of meat. It drastically reduces my carbon footprint. Some people make the choice to stop driving, thereby drastically reducing my carbon footprint. In my case, I could reduce my carbon footprint further by not eating any form of meat than I could by not driving (I chose to buy a house close to work so I don’t really rack up a ton of mileage).

    We’ve both made choices to drastically reduce our carbon footprint. I would say we’ve both made a good decision.

    However, we’ve chosen to do it differently. When Jonathan chooses one thing to single out and liken it to smoking when there are many negative things to our environment other than cars, it becomes more of a attack than a discussion point.

    And how anyone (Not that you said this, but other posts have) can say that a bunch of cyclists wearing stickers that say “Cars are the new cigarettes” isn’t going to further this Us vs. Them mentality is beyond me. I think it’s a bad idea.

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  • jim October 25, 2008 at 11:14 am

    There is a liberal path that this country is on right now to take away your rights. Wealth redistribution, Free speach is in danger, Right to bear arms is in danger, Govt is controlling the thermostat in new houses in CA, Banning fats in restaraunts, They want beacons in cars to tax your mileage, Oregon state is driving away business’s. Someday we will all walk to work to make hemp shopping bags because our politicians cant smoke the plastic ones.
    Ow and don’t forget Portlands new title “most car unfrindly city in the country”

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  • Jett October 25, 2008 at 5:38 pm


    No doubt, your choices are limited with regards to your grandfather and your grandfather’s life is certainly far greater because of what the automobile offers.

    I don’t feel guilty when we are able to drive our daughters to soccer matches that we wouldn’t be able to participate in otherwise (although I do feel bad when we miss a chance to carpool and we bring more cars than we need).

    I appreciate your choices regarding animal flesh and how this impacts your carbon footprint — particularly since most people are not aware how those choices negatively impact the atmosphere and how much fresh water is required. I consider your choices wise and well-informed.

    There are many more costs than our carbon impact however.

    Jim had mentioned wealth redistribution. I’m not sure what he’s referring to, but to me, it means sending $700 billion each year to other countries to purchase foreign oil. This is the largest redistribution of wealth in history. No one is talking about taking away that “right”, but a wise choice would be to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

    Car “accidents” are the leading cause of trauma injuries. When you add to that cost our nation’s obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure — all associated with a sedentary lifestyle — these costs drive up my insurance bills. It doesn’t matter that I do exercise, do not suffer from these diseases and the car is usually sitting in the driveway. Is rising insurance part of the redistribution of wealth?

    It is also interesting to ask, when you purchase, operate and maintain a car, who are you giving your money to and are they using that money to build the world we want?

    Us vs. them: I think it is useful to draw lines for the purposes of discussion and to highlight how certain behaviors have certain consequences. I agree that where stereotyping and labeling occurs that it detracts from an honest and forthright discussion of the topics at hand. Perhaps because I am both a cyclist and a motorist, I’m not seeing that the analogy is detracting from this topic.

    I grew up in a time cigarettes were as socially acceptable as cars are today. As knowledge of the costs of cigarette smoking gained a foothold in the public’s awareness, their acceptance waned. Today, I’m seeing the same pattern with automobile use, 40 years removed. For me, the analogy is on target.

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  • jim October 25, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    The purchase of foriegn oil is a perfect example of wealth distribution.
    Not to make anyone upset but liberal policies I am upset about are both democrate and republican, A 2 headed beast.

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  • Jett October 26, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Jim, I’m with you. If 80% of the US population voted for the party closest to our political ideals, we’d be voting Libertarian, but I think most people want to associate with the winner instead of vote on the issues.

    We’re probably getting off-topic, but partisan/political reader’s may enjoy this:

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  • jim October 26, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Watch out for new sin taxes for cars.

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  • tro October 26, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I agree with the analogy, and think that if our nation wasn’t built exclusively for traveling by car and our population conditioned by same, we’d be in a better, nicer, healthier, more technologically advanced present time. Cars make great sense, but fueling them with gasoline doesn’t. Fueling a really tiny vehicle with breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be a fun and effective way to travel short or long distances, depending mostly on the time available, but if we had spent the recent past researching and building alternatives, we wouldn’t feel like our options were only us cyclists or them gashole (sorry but I just discovered that and I love it) motorists.
    Imagine comfortably and safely driving the same car that you do today, but running it off of energy collected from geothermal, solar, tidal, wind, or whatever. I do just that on my bike without fancy technology, but if it were a priority, surely there’s a way everyone could be better accommodated with personal transportation than by burning dinosaurs to move thousands of pounds of metal per passenger.
    A friend of mine was complaining about her knees, and I told her she should try biking as a way to have low-stress exercise. She was uncomfortable with the idea, because of the danger from cars on the road, and unwilling to even try, because she’s been driving everywhere for 45 years and doesn’t imagine she’s capable of going anywhere by her own power. She may or may not be right, but that is the result of her life choices.
    I’m fine with people doing what they gotta do, but wish there were more responsible ways. I’ve been told so many times that I “can’t get there from here, not on a bicycle, butcha might catch a bus and that’ll run ya down the highway, take ya right there”.
    That makes me angry because we built it that way, and still think that way. You have to buck traffic sometimes to get anywhere.

    ps – I’m not from portland, but want to ride my bike there. I like what I’ve heard of it, and I like this forum.

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  • Kt October 27, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Velo Vanguard, you miss my point.

    I don’t feel guilty about driving. That’s my choice, there’s no point to feel guilty about.

    What makes me feel guilty is when other cyclists make me feel like a hypocrite and a bad person, with their looks and their words.

    For instance, when J.Maus, who I usually respect, says that my transportation choice is like smoking. I mean, that’s like saying my transportation choice of the day makes me a bad person.

    Personally, I hate smelling tobacco smoke, and I think it looks disgusting. So apparently, to cyclists, I smell bad and look disgusting.

    Personally, the bad people and the hypocrites are the people who perpetuate this myth that there is an “us” to be vs “them”. You could make the case that the “us” is the darkness behind your eyes and the “them” is everyone else. That’s not as catchy and easy to perpetuate to the mass media, though, and perpetuating the bikes vs car conflict is. Easy.

    So, J., I realize that this blog is more about your editorializing than straight journalism…. but you’ve said before that you don’t want to perpetuate the us vs them myth.

    Guess what? You just did.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 27, 2008 at 11:12 am

    “So, J., I realize that this blog is more about your editorializing than straight journalism…. but you’ve said before that you don’t want to perpetuate the us vs them myth.”


    i regret that this article made you feel bad. In hindsight, I wish I had posed the article as more of a question instead of a definitive statement from myself.

    But again, I can assure you, it is not my intention to make anyone feel bad.

    (I drove to Eugene by myself in my mini-van on Saturday.)

    What I hope to do is spark awareness of how pervasive car culture has become in America…and also to remind folks of how deadly that culture is and how if we don’t begin to see it as such, the culture will never change.

    This is a much easier concept to discuss in person!

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  • Velo Vanguard October 27, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    So Kt, you don’t feel guilty about your own choices that cause harm to others, but you do feel guilty about someone else pointing out that your choice harms others. Makes no sense to me. Seems like you’ve got it backwards.

    Go look up how many Americans are killed each year from the lung diseases caused by the hazardous air pollutants spewed from automobiles, then you won’t need anyone else to explain to you how your transportation choice is like smoking.

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  • Coyote October 27, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Kt, nobody who has ever faced an addiction, thinks an addict is a bad person. As this thread continues, the analogy becomes more robust: Guilt is typical of an addicts thought pattern; as is thinking that your behavior hurts nobody but you; so is thinking you have no other choice but to continue your behavior.

    Fascinating, I have faced more addictions than I care to admit here, but the comments here have opened my eyes.

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  • brettoo October 28, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Well, Jonathan, you wanted to start a discussion, and, boy did you succeed! Great job. It’s too bad that some people misunderstand the goal of making cities people-friendly. Actually, it’s not a misunderstanding — cultivating a false sense of victimhood has been a tremendously successful part of the whole Rush/Lars/Fox right wing strategy for a decade or more. (e.g. “defense” of marriage from those want to get married like everyone else; providing sustainable alternatives = “attacks” on drivers.)

    Where people have real choices not to drive, they will reduce or eliminate their driving. All most of us are asking for is to have the city design (and re-design) our streets so that those choices are viable.

    For example, in the case of the disabled grandfather — I sympathize, as my wife uses a wheelchair and we have a lift-equipped van. But because we chose to live in a part of Portland well served by public transportation, we almost never use the van inside the city. (Yes, that choice meant giving up some square footage in our house. It was worth it both for our quality of life and to do our little bit to protect the planet from the consequences of sprawl and the inefficient, unsustainable car-centered lifestyle.) She’s never more than a few blocks away from a bus or streetcar or Max connection. This is the case in many European cities, too.

    Cars are going to be part of the mix for emergency responders, some deliveries, people who really must drive, etc. But cities can be and have been made much more bike- and pedestrian friendly than the current American model. It’s not really rocket science: Check out those livable European cities where people manage to get along with much less driving, or even the NYC video in yesterday’s post.

    People who say they must drive because there’s no choice are simply acknowledging the fact that the bad choices of traffic engineers and previous generation, car-headed city planners have left them with no choices. Now, we in Portland have planners and advocates who understand that we can choose to provide more alternatives so that people who don’t want to drive don’t have to. When that happens, we will find, as other cities have found, that a lot more people will choose not to drive as much, or even at all, and we will have more livable cities as a result. And funny thing, when people do have safe, convenient choices, a lot of them will choose to go by bike.

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  • chelsea October 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    in response to the medics arriving by vehicle…
    how many of the people that they are treating are in that position because of a)vehicular accidents or
    b)heart disease/ cancer/ stroke etc. brought on by a sedentary lifestyle and overconsumption?

    not all of them, certainly, but a pretty hefty chunck. anyway, NO ONE is saying “get rid of ambulances” or anything even remotely close.

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  • jack October 28, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    before i reply to specific points i want to reiterate my issue with the analogy and the use of this analogy in respect to a progressive attitude towards transportation choices:

    this analogy is incorrect. smoking has absolutely no redeeming social/utilitarian value. period. while i too could draw similarites at specific points in this analogy the base connection is false because there are socially redeeming values to car use. the issue i believe jonathan is trying to point out is that their is unresponsible behavior indemic to our society that has a negative resulting effect on health, safety, and environment. this being the overuse of the automobile as a personal transportation option that hopefully with time can be compared to the change in social mores and public policy that came with the realization of health effects of tobacco.

    from my perspective the use of this analogy to promote the understanding and change of this unresponsible behavior is negative. it is an overbroad and inaccurate brushstroke that becomes a damaging catchphrase to a positive environmental/social movement. this method promotes a prejudgement that dehumanizes our fellow roadway users regardless of the life structures that sometimes force the use of cars as a transportation method. this, as a result, is counterproductive to more positive methods that advocate an eye to eye connection and the awareness/education ‘share the road’ campaign.

    Jonathon, in no way shape or form do i really think your a hatemonger. i think that this post is an outlet of frustration for the slowness of societal change to this lack of responsibility by our fellow citizens. i meant it when i said bash on in my first post. you are so personally connected to this movement, so aware of the tragedies that come with car use and how these could be limited by responsible behavior, intelligent public policy, and structural adjustments to transportation design that i encourage you to vent what must be a significant burden to yourself. if this type of post assists you in continuing to inform and inspire us with your blog – here’s a bat – there’s a car – smack it 20 times and write about it in the morning. a vocab clarification for you. agenda is not a bad word. if you think you don’t have an agenda your wrong. from my perspective, simply put, it is to inspire and inform the biking community and those interested in the biking culture. my posts on this thread have been my attempt of saying I think you may be outside or counter to your intended agenda when writing this article. i regret that my initial post was a bit too harsh, and salute your giving of life energy to further this cause that benefits us all. plus there’s sexy vidoes. cheers.

    velo/coyote, in regards to your comments to kt. i don’t read him having guilt for having bad behavior or coping with an addiction. i read his guilt as his reaction to living a lifestyle of responsible choice, and when one of those choices involves driving a car being classified as ‘them’ by the very community in which he actively participates. plus he obviously has disdain for smokers, so that groups association just sucks for him. this would be like a biker giving jonathon attitude while he was driving his minivan because its an environmentally unresponsible choice (dude, a minivan? people please, support this man’s site so he can get outta that thing). a nonempathetic action/statement that targets an ally in this movement.

    chelsea, excellent point about the adjustment to the killed/saved calculation. i would, however, like to adjust your adjustment by asking you to calculate the effect of tv, mcdonalds, and sodapop on the sedentary/overconsumption. what i’m trying to get at is that cars as transportation are one thread that supports the current cultural state that we find in modern america. one could easily treat your b) points with a smart diet and a treadmill. regarding ambulances, if you re-read my post hopefully you will gather that this was merely pointing out that there are positives to ‘deatmachines’ that negate the accuracy of the cigarette/car analogy and complicate the ’embracement of the car culture’ as a negative.

    Grace, #51, your post exemplifies what i’m trying to communicate. that you would be made to feel bad when coping with pain is illustrative of the nonempathetic effect this type of bumper sticker phrase can cause and advance.

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  • jack October 28, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    ps. someone told me you win if you use the most words, and get bonus points for the number of words with more than two syllables. is that true?

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  • Velo Vanguard October 29, 2008 at 8:42 am

    No. And just because smoking and driving are not alike in every respect does not mean the analogy isn’t useful or appropriate. That’s why the two things are analogous and not identical.

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  • jack October 29, 2008 at 2:05 pm


    agreed velo with the discrepency between analogous and identical, but i think my post clearly points out how this analogy is neither useful or appropriate. as i mentioned in my novel above:

    from my perspective the use of this analogy to promote the understanding and change of this unresponsible behavior is negative. it is an overbroad and inaccurate brushstroke that becomes a damaging catchphrase to a positive environmental/social movement. this method promotes a prejudgement that dehumanizes our fellow roadway users regardless of the life structures that sometimes force the use of cars as a transportation method. this, as a result, is counterproductive to more positive methods that advocate an eye to eye connection and the awareness/education ‘share the road’ campaign.

    and out of curiosity were you a supporter of the analogy that myra made this summer comparing the portland bike community to natzi’s?

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  • Velo Vanguard October 29, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Your perspective is that the analogy is not useful, and I respect that opinion. But mine is the opposite, and is best summarized by Jonathan’s post.

    We, including other posters, have provided several reasons why the analogy is useful, all supporting the basic premise that driving has become a bad habit – something that causes many negative health consequences which many people do out of ritual when they need not. For me the most compelling one is that they both produce carcinogens, specifically ones that cause lung cancer, as a result of proper use.

    Your reasons for why the analogy is inapposite are conclusory, i.e., inaccurate, dehumanizes, counterproductive, etc. Where’s the evidence to support any of those conclusions? They are “just” opinions (informed, perhaps). Perhaps it will prove counterproductive, but on the other hand perhaps making people more aware of how they are harming their fellow Americans in countless ways by their thoughtless behavior will help push the change we need just a little bit. And being counterproductive or dehumanizing (humans smoke, don’t they?) donesn’t make it a bad analogy.

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  • jack October 29, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    for evidence check post #51 and your interactions with kt on this thread.

    your right it is my perspective, i’ve always been a bigger fan of mlkjr than of bobby seale. do you favor an ‘ends justifies the means’ mentality? if you look back historically at every major social upheaval/progress positive methods have brought successful achievement of goals, while negatives cause trauma to a great extent without significant progress

    this bumpersticker phrase alienates those we seek to recruit, harms those on our side, and permits us to feel rightous about our choices when they aren’t neccesarily possible for others

    i’m not trying to promote or defend car culture, just trying to point out you dont have to be douche to get your point across, and by being a douche you make it more difficult to get someone to listen to you.

    and again are you a promoter of myra’s analogy to address anyone riding a bike in portland regardles of their actual behavior? from my persective the negative reaction in the biking community to this analogy negates the accuracy it may contain on some very specific points. from yours it is valuable because it will effectively alter the behavior of the biking community?

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  • Velo Vanguard October 29, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    So, being a douche is bad is the extent of your argument? And you’re calling me a douche or Jonathan or everyone who thinks this is a useful analogy? Now that’s counterproductive.

    Again, just because you say it’s alienating doesn’t make it so.

    And you’ve already heard the response to #51. Are you just choosing to ignore it?

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  • Val October 29, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Gadzooks, people – it’s a bumper sticker. I’m sure that any number of people were offended and alienated by the “Republicans for Voldemort” stickers, too, but they were enjoyable and they were just bumper stickers. Get over yourselves.

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  • jack October 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    o my, being compared to something unpleasant that in no way really reflects who/what you are offends you. that is your perspective and i respect that, but i’ll need some more evidence before i believe that it is counterproductive.

    hmmm…this interaction has made me sad

    i suppose i’ve taken this thread to heart because it symbolic of many threads i’ve read on this site. hate, hurt, prejudgement, depersonalization, irrational condemnation, self-rightous indignation, and a strong participation in the ‘us v them’ mentality. this is an attitude i find counterproductive to something i believe in very strongly, empathy. it truly offends me to use negative tactics to affect positive ends.

    in reading your last comment and scanning some of the others i realized that i’m an outsider here. i don’t fit the mold that gels with the tactical ideology professed by blogger and the majority of posters.

    jonathon, good luck with your work and thanks for providing a place that assisted me in focusing on getting back on a bike this summer

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  • Coyote October 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Jack, at the risk of being a douche, I think your arguments are not as well developed as you think they are. By and large you are talking about larger issues than the analogy presented here. I highly recommend tacking down a copy of “Energy and Equity” (Illich 1974). Technocracy is not the only viable path.

    As I scan the posts here I do not see the hatred, etc. that you seem to see. I will leave that to you to figure that one out.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 29, 2008 at 10:57 pm


    sorry you feel that way… but I still don’t understand your characterization that this “many threads” on this site are full of “hate, hurt, irrational condemnation,” etc…

    Also, please realize that Velo Vanguard is just one person with a certain (ahem) way of arguing his/her points.

    I personally have found your comments on this thread very interesting and they are helpful to me in trying to find my way in my increasingly complicated role here as journalist/activist/leader, etc…

    Your comment #66 (fourth paragraph) was particularly insightful. You actually nailed many of my feelings/thoughts right on the head. I am frustrated and I am getting increasingly cynical about things… it’s a complicated mix of why i’m feeling this way… but your comment reminds me that I have to be vigilant in making sure my frustrations do not unduly impact my work… once that happens, I lose a lot of what I’ve built… including readers like you and KT whom I value very much.

    All that being said, I also feel that our community is lacking an aggressive and confrontational (yet respectful and tactful) voice and I think that such a voice is necessary to make the change we all want to see.

    we can’t sit around and keep playing nice when our priorities remain so completely out of whack. This is an issue of public health and safety and I feel the needle must start moving… and that means even if the political winds aren’t quite right yet.

    going forward, i will be very careful to judge the impact (intended or otherwise) my words might have on everyone in the community.

    thanks again for your feedback.

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  • El Biciclero October 30, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Necessary driving = smoking medical marijuana?

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  • kfl November 1, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    This piece completely ignores the fact that as of right now, the wheeled vehicle is an integral component to this economy however bad it may be. Cigs do not have this component nor do they even come close. The cigs/cars analogy isn’t very strong in my opinion.

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  • kfl November 1, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Sadly, this blog post is either too short or lacks depth because the author doesn’t have much to say in the first place. As I stated, it is quite a weak argument to equate cars with cigarettes. Sure, there are drawbacks to both, but one so reflects the structure of society while the other (cigarettes) is essentially a recreational activity. Also, bikes could in no way replace cars/wheeled vehicles in the short term. This is important to mention. In cities, bikes may function perfectly well for the shorter distances, but I think we have to be a bit more inclusive. Are we to completely ignore the people that live out in the country? I love Portland, but for all of the progressiveness many individuals there could use a counterbalance.

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  • Cars Are The New Cigarettes | Cities of Vision November 15, 2009 at 11:16 am

    […] by Tom Vanderbuilt, How We Drive. The phrase “Cars are the news cigarettes” was coined by Jonathan Maus at I love the analogy and though it is a stretch to assume that […]

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