Is It Fair to Refer to Motorists as “Carbarians”?

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2018

I recently had a guest opinion published in a local newspaper regarding street design. I was criticized by one reader, who noted that it is tactically unwise to refer to motorists as “carbarians,” as this reduces the persuasiveness of my essay.

On the one hand, I agreed, and regretted using that term. However, it is also true that a great many in my community who consider themselves “enlightened” about transportation are all too happy to defend car travel way more than is desirable.

It is also true that there are a great many reasons why motorists should appropriately be called “carbarians.”

I published a book called The Car is the Enemy of the City. That book describes a large number of reasons why excessive car dependence is barbarically deadly to the health of cities.

Healthy cities need slower speeds, human scale and agglomeration economies. Excessive car dependence powerfully and barbarically undermines each of those things.

Excessive car dependence obligates all levels of government to obligate barbarically high levels (and ever growing levels) of funding to car needs.

Excessive car dependence induces high levels of barbaric rage and fury and extreme entitlement on the part of motorists. The Folsom Street road diet project in Boulder, Colorado in the mid-2010s exemplifies that. Loss of seconds or minutes of time was an outrage, even though that seemed to many to be a trivial trade-off compared to the many serious and deadly crashes that could have been averted.

Excessive car dependence induces judges to rule that a slap on the wrist is adequate punishment for many instances where a motorist has killed a cyclist, pedestrian, or people in other cars.

Excessive car dependence barbarically assaults communities with high levels of air pollution, noise pollution, and water pollution. Costs that most motorists selfishly feel they don’t need to pay for (they feel entitled to be heavily subsidized — studies show that gas tax revenue covers less than 50% of motorist costs).

Excessive car dependence bankrupts households and makes housing much less affordable due to the high costs and extreme land use dispersal they impose.

Many motorists, even when they are otherwise “nice people,” tend to feel like angry bullies when they get behind the wheel of a car. Other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians are outrageous obstacles in the mind of many motorists. “Road rage” is expressed at an astonishingly high level. Not particularly acceptable given the fact that motorists are operating a very heavy, high speed metal box that regularly ends up being a deadly weapon. Look up the “Goofy Motor Mania” YouTube video by Walt Disney, for example.

Finally, excessive car dependence leads to a very ugly community. Ugly roads, ugly strip commercial, ugly sign/billboard pollution, ugly parking lots, etc. It is barbaric how ugly car dependence has made our cities.

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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation

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