Beep-beep: a car-user's manifesto

The author, a native of Detroit, leans on his horn in protest against Mayor McSchwinn.

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Pronto! bikes at Occidental Park

The author, a native of Detroit, leans on his horn in protest against Mayor McSchwinn.

I’m becoming sufficiently irritated by Mayor Mike McGinn’s anti-automobile campaign that if he doesn’t back off, I might just drag myself out of happy retirement and mount an early campaign against his reelection.

The proposal to increase city revenues from the pockets of those of us who drive cars might have some credibility if Hizzoner hadn’t established an early reputation for disliking any mode of transportation that requires more than two wheels and a lot of sweat. After his election and a swift move to convert half the city streets to bicycle lanes, he now proposes to boost on-street parking rates to $4 an hour, extending the effective hours from 6 to 8 in the evenings, while throwing in a hefty amount of time on Sunday when parking rates also would be in effect. Then, for good measure, lest anyone get the wild idea that parking in a private lot or garage might be cheaper, increasing the taxes on parking lot fees, to boot.

All of this is ostensibly being undertaken in order to deal with the city’s budget woes. One suspects the budget shortfalls are merely a convenient excuse for advancing an agenda that has taken aim on all of us who find driving automobiles either a necessity or (gasp!) a privilege. This is a long-standing right that some ecologues ought not to be permitted to tamper with — at least not without incurring a good fight in the process!

This assault on those of us who persist in the ecologically incorrect practice of driving cars apparently assumes that city residents are all as fit as Lance Armstrong who could easily get around town on two-wheelers or public transportation, if we could be duly dissuaded from depending on gasoline-guzzling, air-polluting vehicles. For my part, I might have much more sympathy toward the cyclists’ side of this argument if the bike riders I encounter had a modicum of urban manners.

I followed one the other day down Second Avenue, which has a separate, well-marked lane for bicycles all through the downtown sector. This insufferable fop, however, drove his bike in the lane next to the bicycle lane so as to prevent any car from driving in the lane he had chosen to use — while giving the finger to anyone who got too close to him.

Anyone who pauses long enough to notice what’s transpiring on city streets will soon notice there are as many people who maneuver their way around town with the indispensible aid of a cane, as there are bicyclists. I am one of the former.  I do a surprising amount of my travel by Metro — and with great appreciation for the first-rate public transit system we enjoy in Seattle. But on occasion, there are places I need to get to that are not conveniently reached by bus, and there are chores (like buying groceries) when having my car at my disposal is more than a convenience: It’s a necessity.

On such occasions, I like to think I’m as much entitled to the use of the city streets as are thirtysomethings in leotards. But all this seems lost on a city administration that is aggressively enacting public policies as if the greater majority of Seattle’s populace is under 45 and those of us who are older are (or ought to be) properly sequestered in nursing homes.

There’s something else that disturbs me even more deeply about this anti-automobile endeavor. I hail from Detroit. I was born in what was, three-quarters of a century ago, the nation’s fifth largest city. I grew up when the Motor City was in its heyday, so I tend to treat automobiles with a little more reverence than they’re apt to get these days.

Today, Detroit is a tragic relic of the Industrial Era — a painful symbol of a bygone age when the automobile was the technological marvel of the age. But it was also a technology that, for hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers like my father, who worked for32 years in Ford Motor’s steel mills, provided the economic ladder to a good life — home ownership, college for his three kids, a cottage on the lake in retirement.

Weaning ourselves from the automobile does not require us to treat cars as mechanical demons from an environmentally profligate past. Carrying on an anti-car crusade may curry favor with a younger crowd that lacks appreciation for anything that can’t be held in one’s palm or stuck in one’s ear. But it’s hardly the way to advance the serious conversation we all have to be engaged in, regarding a more environmentally sensitive future.


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