Cars declare war?

I’m commenting here on an article in the Washington, DC City Paper blog,

R. Crumb's history of America

R. Crumb’s history of America

There is No War on Cars.”


“Except that there was a car war. It was just in reverse: Cars were declaring war on cities across the country.”

And a commenter on an e-mail list adds:

I’d add “and people” after “cities”.

Cars are machines and cannot declare war. Mischaracterizing the degradation of street use as a war makes it harder to understand. It is a tragedy of the commons — misuse and degradation of a resource held in common, where individuals reap the benefits but society at large is burdened with the costs. Sometimes the very residents who once walked the street now drive and park cars in it — but also outsiders do, as cars are mobile. On local streets, this typically occurs slowly, by degrees. The classic cartoon by R. Crumb describes the situation well enough. (Click to enlarge).

Hmm, not the first time I’ve said something like this.

The transition occurred in US cities in the early and mid 20th century, but I’ve witnessed a more recent example: over the years, where I go on vacation, more and more people have built cottages farther away around the lake. These people are more hurried, and they and have little investment in the safety of children crossing the street in the middle of town to get to the lakefront. War? The change is hardly noticeable from one year to the next, but it is dramatic now compared with 60 years ago.

On the other hand, political battles — between people — do occur over destruction of neighborhoods to construct highways or widen streets, and over reclaiming streets.

I often see similar anthropomorphizing of machines in descriptions of traffic incidents e.g., “the car didn’t see me”. That wording may become more appropriate with self-driving cars but Heaven help us if cars are programmed also to be able to declare war!

One response to “Cars declare war?

  1. I have seen a similar thing applied to cyclists: “cyclists are vehicles”. Erm… no, they’re not.

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