Getting All Hung Up On Size

Further to my last post, Streetsblog has updated their article:

As I suspected, Transportation Alternatives did arrive at the idea that the number of SUVs in New York City is “up 21 percent” by counting the number of registrations in the “Suburban” or (“SUBN”) category. While big-ass SUVs do in fact get “SUBN” registrations, so do minivans, and station wagons, and various little hatchbacks, and pretty much anything that’s not a pickup truck or a car with a regular trunk. So Streetsblog added the following:

This had the effect of rendering the previously-fishy headline now totally false:

And I see they’ve now changed that too:

I’m not sure “similar cars” applies either, since a compact hatchback is pretty different from an SUV, but at the same time most cars are pretty damn similar (you might even say indistinguishable) these days so I’m not sure that it matters.

Stil, because I am a total dork I’m now obsessed with how the New York State DMV classifies cars on their registrations, so for two days now I’ve been peeking at windshield stickers on my rides. Here’s an example of a distinctly non-SUV-ish vehicle that nonetheless gets the “SUBN” sticker:

[I’m referring to the car, not the bike.]

Note this car is so small that you can see it retreating back into its parking space in fear of my garishly-hued RockCombo. Now, I should point out that not all Mini Coopers get the “SUBN” designation–some are designated as two- or four-door sedans–but certainly this is a good illustration of just how sweeping the category is. There also seems to be some inconsistency: for example, a Subaru Impreza hatchback is a “SUBN,” but a Ford Focus hatchback is not. Why? I dunno. But that’s the way it is.

So why does any of this even matter anyway? Why go against the narrative of the Smugness Mafia? Well, for one thing, I’m a pedant. For another, the last year has destroyed my tolerance for spurious reporting designed to bypass people’s logic circuits and instantly make them angry and/or scared. (For example: everything written about the v*rus, everything written about the climate, everything written about politics, everything written about everything…) And then there’s the fact that, in addition to being inaccurate, the study also completely ignores cars like this:

Drivers of cars like these are responsible for their share of mayhem, though they get the same registration categorization as all those other much “safer” sedans whose disappearance we’re supposed to be lamenting.

Of course, there’s no question that drivers of motor vehicles of all kinds are wreaking havoc on the streets of New York, which is why last year the City Council passed the Reckless Driver Accountability Act:

The Reckless Drivers Accountability Act will force drivers who receive 5 red light tickets or 15 school zone speeding violations within a one year period to take a safe driving course. Failure to do so would result in seizure of their vehicle.

Basically, traffic camera data means that, with the push of a button, we can see who the most dangerous drivers in the city are. It requires no speculation about what style of car people happen to be driving this year and no scary half-baked statistics about SUV ownership. Whether a dangerous driver is speeding and running lights in Tahoe, an Accord, a Challenger, or a Prius doesn’t really matter that much–what matters is doing something about it, which is why a bill like this makes so much sense. Granted, a reckless fuckwit in a Tahoe is liable to cause more damage than a reckless fuckwit in a Prius, and thus it is useful to know what kind of cars are out there these days, but to that end filtering registrations by some other metric such as weight seems like it would be more enlightening.

[By the way, I should mention the TransAlt study and Streetblog article was part of a media push for the Crash Victim Rights & Safety Act. Please don’t confuse my annoyance with the article with a lack of respect for this worthy legislation.]

As for what the most popular cars actually are in New York City right now, I was able to find this list for 2020:

So basically a normcore assortment of SUVs, crossovers, and sedans, which I imagine isn’t too radically different from years past.

Finally, let’s not forget that, anecdotally anyway, one big reason New Yorkers bought cars in the last year was Pando Fear (which the Smugness Mafia was pushing along with everyone else, which was why I had to unfollow them all on Twitter):

All that changed in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The thought of getting on a packed subway train with any of the 8 million and counting people here was clearly something to avoid if possible. Before the pandemic, New Yorkers wore the sacrifice of being packed like a sardine in a rush-hour train as a badge of honor. I never thought I’d see the day that wasn’t a common occurrence.

Suddenly, a personal vehicle crossed my mind.

For what it’s worth, according to the article, she’s really enjoying driving 20 blocks to the museum and sitting in the car for an hour and a half on alternate-side parking days. Hey, whatever works for her, though I suspect she may be suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

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