“A ‘War on Cars’? Let there be Peace!” - transportation-engineers-debate-vision-zero


Part 2 is also included below.


Transportation Engineers Debate Vision Zero, Part 1: NMA E-Newsletter #563

October 28, 2019 • 0 Comments • Bicycle, Bicyclist, Complete Streets, Infrastructure, ITE, Mass Transit, PEDESTRIAN, ROAD-USER FEES, SAFETY, Traffic Congestion, VISION ZERO

Buckle up and get comfortable. This will be a bit of a journey.

We recently became aware of a fascinating thread on the ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) Member Forum titled, “A ‘War on Cars’? Let there be Peace!” Access to the Forum is restricted, but we were able to capture much of the debate and share it with you below.

The original post is from a die-hard Vision Zero proponent. Don’t let it deter you from reading on; it is the stage-setter for an interesting discussion that provides us with a glimpse at the thinking of true VZ believers as well as solid counterarguments by others from the same engineering community. Both viewpoints are valuable to us as we continue the fight against policies designed to restrict drivers and driving freedoms in favor of lesser — much lesser — used modes of transportation such as walking and bicycling.


Post #1

If you are involved in multi-modal transportation planning or transportation demand management programs, you may have been accused of waging a “war on cars.” The following column, posted on the Planetizen website, critically evaluates these claims.

There is no “war on cars.” Everybody, including motorists, benefit from a more diverse and efficient transportation system. Let there be peace!

Key Conclusions:

What critics call a war is simply more multi-modal planning that improves transport options and incentives for travelers to use the most efficient mode for each trip.
Current demographic and economic trends are increasing demand for non-auto travel. Multi-modal planning responds to these consumer demands and community needs.
In most communities, walking, bicycling, and public transit receive less than their fair share of road space and funding.
Motor vehicle user fees only finance about half of total roadway costs. Local roads and most parking facilities are financed through general taxes and subsidies that residents pay regardless of how they travel, so households that drive less than average tend to subsidize the automobile facility costs of their neighbors who drive more than average.
Credible research indicates that pedestrian and bicycle improvements increase use of these modes and reduce total traffic crashes, including risks to motorists.
Bicycle facility improvements allow but do not require people to bicycle. Motorists also benefit form multi-modal planning, which reduces their congestion delays, accident risks, and chauffeuring burdens.
Current policies result in huge parking subsidies, totaling thousands of dollars annually per motor vehicle. This is perverse: It forces many lower-income people to subsidize the parking costs of affluent motorists and encourages dangerous driving. Parking mandates are a fertility drug for cars.
Multi-modal planning tends to increase our freedom and opportunities overall.
Multi-modal planning creates healthier, happier, “free range” children, and reduces parents’ chauffeuring burdens.
Excessive parking requirements encourage drunk driving and discourage development of neighborhood restaurants, bars, and pubs.
No, traffic engineers are not conspiring to delay traffic.
Much criticism of multi-modal planning and complete streets is inaccurate, exaggerated or unfair. Abundant research indicates that they make communities overall safer, healthier, more affordable and inclusive, less polluting and more economically successful than automobile-dependent planning.
Bicyclists are not all irresponsible scofflaws. They tend to violate traffic laws at about the same rate as motorists.

I hope this information is useful to transportation professionals facing inaccurate, exaggerated or unfair criticism.

Post #2

Great column! I appreciate the directness [with which] you address each claim. I support your argument that automobile travel is subsidized by other modal travel because of its high costs, perverse incentives, outsized externalities, and insufficient use fees. I’ve already share the article with several people.


One comment, and maybe you were strategically treading lightly in light of recent Vision Zero discussion, I would expand the traffic violence aspect of automobile dependency. According to the World Health Organization, road traffic deaths and injuries are the 8th leading cause of death for people of all ages, and the leading cause of death for children and young adults 5-29 years of age. Traffic violence, like pollution and sprawl, is a characteristic of automobile use that proponents of automobiles would rather ignore. Multi-modal transportation is integral to giving people safety and the freedom of choice in their mobility in order to participate in society.

Post #3

I’m not sure we want to put wind behind the sails of this traffic violence spin. It is spin and it is intended to provoke a response, so my response is that using the term violence is loaded and in some way assumes intent. War, crime, etc., are examples. Violence: “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Any legal expert will tell you that intent is one of the hardest things to prove so do we really want to go throwing around the term “traffic violence?” I hope you and others will give it further consideration and/or help me understand how you think using such spin will be helpful to transportation betterment.

Post #4

Violence is a noun that absolutely implies intent…and if you choose to modify the noun violence with traffic as the adjective, you and others are absolutely choosing to use these words to elicit a desired response.

Some note that, “The truth is that even though traffic violence is usually unintentional, it is preventable.” This is a patently false statement. How would you prevent a drunk driver from barreling through a red light or driving off the road and hurting himself or others, or how would you prevent someone from having a catastrophic stroke while driving and wiping out a poor pedestrian on a wheelchair on a sidewalk? How would you prevent drunk or inattentive pedestrians from running into the street or otherwise crossing where they aren’t expected, such as between parked cars, and being struck?

These are only a handful of the accidents I have reviewed in an effort to evaluate what I can do as a professional in the transportation field to improve safety for citizens. Are these “traffic violence” incidents preventable…perhaps arguably so…but not by anything you or I can design or influence, short of removing the car, motorcycle/vehicle from the equation. Hence the perception of the “war on cars.”

I do not wish to steer this discussion away from the topic, but those who think they can legislate, mandate, or design away all the inherent danger from any activity we do on a day-to-day basis, let alone activities that mix pedestrians, bicyclists or any other infrastructure/roadway users with moving vehicles are fooling themselves, and worse misleading the public. There is no room for that in our industry, and I, for one, don’t want to live in the kind of sterile world that would be required to achieve what you espouse.


There are too many valuable perspectives in the ITE Member Forum thread to fit into one newsletter, so if you got a bit riled after these first few posts, be sure to look for Transportation Engineers Debate Vision Zero, Part 2 next week to further bolster your faith in the traffic engineering community.




Transportation Engineers Debate Vision Zero, Part 2: NMA E-Newsletter #564


November 3, 2019


Last week in Part 1, we shared some posts made on the Institute of Transportation Engineers Member Forum that started a debate about the efficacy of the Vision Zero goals. The discussion in that thread --- “A ‘War on Cars’? Let there be Peace!” --- was too varied and interesting to fit into the contents of one newsletter.


So here, picking up after Post #4 of Part 1, in which the writer argued that, “those who think they can legislate, mandate, or design away all the inherent danger from any activity we do on a day-to-day basis . . . are fooling themselves,” are additional responses in the forum to the premise that there is no war on cars, but cars are the problem.


Post #5

Our attempts to embrace and put into practice the tools and design that have proven to reduce roadway fatalities, injuries, and property damage is completely undone by the misleading sloganism of “Vision Zero.” That is the TRUTH about Vision Zero. It misguides the public and officials into thinking that ‘zero’ is attainable when it clearly is not.


Post #6

The problem with universal statement is that they rarely apply universally. Maybe the issue is distinguishing between multi-modal planning vs. multi-modal retrofits that put the car before the horse.


I’ll use New York City as one example of a city that penalizes drivers:

    •    Congestion pricing (regressive because if you have to drive in rush hour, you can’t reroute or reschedule to avoid the fine).

    •    Bridge tolls up to $19.

    •    Restrictive parking practices such as “alternate side of the street” regulations in place two midday hours a week for street cleaning that happens less often.

    •    Vehicle travel lanes removed and repurposed for bicycle storage, with no thought to replace the lost parking supply.

    •    Resistance to assigning blame to bicyclists and pedestrians who were inattentive or failed to yield the right of way.


Post #7

There is indeed a “war on cars,” and has been for decades. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people, when given the option, will choose the freedom, safety, and convenience of the personal auto over mass transit, bicycles, or walking.


Talking about traffic deaths is a straw man argument. How many people get assaulted walking? How many bikes get stolen? How many women feel uncomfortable being leered at on a public bus? Start throwing in crimes or deaths that could have been prevented if the victim had been in a personal auto, and then we can talk about the safety side. Until the anti-auto people are willing to admit that people prefer the private auto, and that personal safety is a big reason, then the discussion is nothing more than a Cold War style propaganda war about the evils of the auto.


Post #8

I think most transportation professionals agree we should invest more in alternative modes and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. I think most agree that we should encourage multi-modal infrastructure, density, mixed uses and shared parking, and not sprawl/chicken pox development. Where the concern about the war on cars…and parking…comes from is the hyperboles, like providing parking at restaurants causes drunk driving, that those who choose auto transportation are bad people because they (not the poor planning policies of the past) are imposing a burden on those who don’t use autos (aka the “huge” subsidy), and they are causing accidents and deaths simply by choosing to use cars.


Post #9

So, when did we decide that the role of the transportation engineer is to social engineer? A person will not walk from Chicago to Waukegan nor bike from Chicago to Milwaukee, and to assume the equivalence of these different modes for all trip purposes and length is fallacy. Until the non-auto advocates acknowledge these differences, that each mode is important and fulfills a genuine purpose, and that we are engineers and have no business being social advocates, people will perceive this advocacy as a “War on Cars” and an attack on capitalism and culture.


Post #10

We all know that this whole Vision Zero movement is a myth because it is, like perfection, unattainable. I personally also think the Complete Streets movement has transmogrified into a passion play between those self-righteous egalitarian planners favoring sharing street space for many users vs. hardcore traffic engineering traditionalists who eschew the emerging bike/scooter/motor-skateboard mode so cars and trucks and buses can remain the focus of moving people and goods. New York City is such a battleground…..bicyclists accuse drivers of killing them, while drivers say two-wheelers never respect traffic lights and other traffic control measures. The mayor wants miles of new bike lanes while adjacent residents and shopkeepers sue to stop him.


As in many cases, both sides are a little right. We engineers are called on to gather new data and issue findings…that’s it! We don’t dictate or write policy, guide funding, opine (as academics do) to influence, or declare war on a topic.




It is gratifying to watch a robust debate being waged in the transportation engineering community about Vision Zero, its goals, and the movement to get people out of their cars, or pay hefty tolls and fees for the “privilege.” The battle, however, must be waged with policymakers and legislators. On that front, we received good news recently from California where Governor Newsom vetoed SB 127, a Complete Streets bill passed by both the state Assembly and Senate to prioritize pedestrian, bicyclist, and public transit facilities in the asset management plan for new transportation infrastructure and capital improvement projects.


While such favorable decisions by California are influential, we still have much work to in other states and at the federal level, where Senate Bill 3663, Complete Streets Act of 2019, has our full attention. We hope it has yours too.