The war against the car is not a war

I recently encountered a car on a cycle path. It’s not as common as men riding around bare-chested on e-bikes, but it does happen. It turned out that someone was behind the wheel of that car. We often forget that people drive cars. In the newspapers we regularly read headlines like these: “Pedestrian fatally struck by vehicle in Ottawa” or “2-year-old girl in stroller fatally struck by vehicle in Montreal North”. As if it was the vehicle’s fault and not the driver’s fault. I’m not the only one to have the impression that we are disempowering the people behind the wheels by presenting things from this angle.

In short, I met a person who had parked her vehicle in the middle of the cycle path and who took no offense at seeing people on the handlebars of their bicycles having to take a detour while she talked about rain and good weather. with another person in the passenger seat of his BMW. I indicate the make of the car because a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently found that drivers of luxury cars were much more likely than others to break traffic laws. In particular, they are more likely not to yield to people on foot in pedestrian crossings. It is quite possible that this also applies to bicycles, although the study does not mention it.

It is as if for decades motorists have tightened their grip on the city so much that they feel that anything goes. Columnists and some ministers sometimes refer to what threatens this stranglehold as a war on the car. In March of last year, Minister Éric Caire referred to it as follows: “The mayor of Quebec says that he does not want to wage a war against the car, that he proves it and that he stops polluting the lives of drivers. with projects like this! He spoke about the railway project in Quebec. He later apologized for the animosity his remarks had caused. It is difficult to judge whether these apologies were made “without his own free will knowing”.

The occupation of the city by cars is very real, and every attack on this reality is presented as an attack. However, it is cars that have invaded cities over the past century, to the detriment of cyclists and pedestrians. And it is cycle paths that win municipal elections, as we have seen in various cities around the world. It could also be what happened in Montreal. We saw people on TV complaining about Réseau Express vélo, but Projet Montréal was re-elected and these routes are attracting more and more cyclists.

But the media more often give voice to those who oppose new urban development than to those who agree with them, giving the impression that the discontent is generalized. Regarding the negative reactions to the announcement of new cycling facilities, the English talk about ” bicycle rockers (I couldn’t find such a good pun in French, sorry).

The surrounding discourse is thus driven by this tendency to give voice to people who detest a project. In the case of cars, there are also media hosts or columnists who can afford nice cars and want to spend too much time finding a parking spot when they leave their McMansion for the city. It’s a caricature. Like winter cyclists in ponchos, these people exist, but they are not the majority. Unfortunately, you don’t hear much from people in between. Outrage always pays off.

But think again. I’m not against cars, quite the contrary. I come from a family of car dealers (this is my “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” moment). I am a driver myself. I only object to the media discourse around the car. This warlike language, where every initiative is blamed on war, even if it only aims at better coexistence, a better balance.

It is very difficult to change this paradigm (yes, I wrote “paradigm”). Changing the message to put people’s minds at ease and then people who listen to a columnist talk about the war on cars while stuck in traffic are less inclined to park in a bike lane. Let’s breathe a little and if possible away from the exhaust pipes.

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