While I’ve dedicated much of my adult life to having opinions and ridiculing others for theirs, I admit that given the current situation I’ve lost my tolerance for sanctimony and self-righteousness. This is because the acoustics of the room have changed, and voices with which I generally agree now sound jarring and discordant to me. Consider this Streetsblog post excoriating a New York Times reporter for buying a car:
Here’s the tweet that prompted the screed:
<smugness>Now, I feel very strongly that there are too many cars in New York City. I’m also horrified by how easy it is to kill somebody with one without facing serious consequences. Therefore, I’m strongly in favor of anything that makes it more convenient for New Yorkers to get around without using cars (bike lanes, bike share, dedicated bus lanes, blah blah blah), as well as policies (parking reform, congestion pricing, yada yada yada) that account for and endeavor to negate the externalities car ownership foists on everyone else. </smugness>
At the same time, I live in New York City and I own a car. (Well, technically the bank still owns it for like two more months.) I won’t bother trying to rationalize my car ownership, because there’s no point–whatever reasons I cite, there’s always someone out there who won’t think those reasons are sufficiently valid for my melting the ice caps or whatever the hell else I’m supposed to be doing every time I turn the key. Therefore, I’ll just be honest and say that I own a car because I want to own a car. Furthermore, I’ll always lend my full support to the sorts of policies I articulated in the previous paragraph, and should those policies render my car ownership unnecessary or untenable then you have my word that I’ll either ditch my car or move. But pending that, I don’t plan to divest myself of the car in the near future–especially now that our lives have been upended and the car helps us maintain our sanity by going on trips where we rescue seagulls and stuff.
As for the reporter, clearly she’s not too keen on the whole car thing, and she’s only buying one because the public transit system is getting totally and historically fucked like everything else is right now–and who can blame her for doing what she needs to as fistfuls of shit hit the fan? But that’s not stopping Streetsblog from smug-splaining why she’s being “self-centered” and “anti-urban:”
Fitzsimmons admitted in a follow-up tweet that her choice did involve “privilege,” but she was also widely assailed on social media by justifying her self-centered, anti-urban choice with a suggestion that transit is a problem (which it is not, as Streetsblog showed last week). Transit can, indeed, be improved (which is why the MTA is asking for billions more in federal support), but if the wealthy or media elite have the ability to opt out, policy makers will be far more likely to leave poorer transit users behind.
Or from making some pretty bold assumptions about what she’ll advocate for going forward:
If Fitzsimmons follows the path of other drivers, she’ll want lower tolls, more free parking, more lanes for cars and fewer for the more-vulnerable road users, lower gas taxes and no restrictions on where she can go (indeed, car-loving Queens Assembly Member David Weprin told the Times earlier this month that New York will need cars more after this crisis is over). Kadyrov will want more safety for cyclists and pedestrians, which will also have the benefit of reducing traffic so that public transit can work better.
I mean sure, I can kind of see resenting a New York Times reporter for being in a position to buy a car while everyone else is losing their jobs, thanks to the fact that she works for a publication that is milking pandemic-induced hysteria for all it’s worth. And yes, if she’d instead tweeted, “I’m getting a cargo bike and will dedicate the rest of my life to advocating for better bike infrastructure!” that would certainly have been more inspiring. But the fact of the matter is that this whole situation sucks ass, she’s extremely fortunate to be receiving a paycheck, and if using that check to buy a car is going to help her and her family to get through it more easily then good for her.
Also, as she says in her tweet:
It will be interesting to see how the pandemic changes where people live and how they get around.
It will indeed, and it seems like Streetsblog could have addressed that more compellingly without shaming her. Will the pandemic-induced bike boom stick? Will people who can afford it move to the suburbs? Will the idea that everyone has to stuff themselves into tunnels and converge on a tiny island five days a week become obsolete? All this remains to be seen. But whatever happens, it’s safe to say that Emma G. Fitzsimmons’s personal decision to buy a ’14 Corolla* will have little bearing on it one way or the other. Given this, Streetsblog’s decision to roast her feels shitty, like that dad who told his daughter off for buying a Peloton.
As long as she keeps her car out of the bike lane she should do whatever she wants.
*I just threw that in there, I have no idea what kind of car Emma G. Fitzsimmons is actually buying. And yes, I now a Corolla is a Toyota and not a Hyundai.