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Should We Launch an All-Out Assault on Car Culture?

Bring it on say authors of a new book. But you're more likely to find bicyclists and pedestrians working for peaceful coexistence.

There's a war on cars? Really? Who's waging it?

Rob Ford is certain it exists. Upon taking office last winter, the conservative mayor of Toronto declared "the war on the car stops today." His declaration echoes an international trend. In the UK, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond promised to "end the war on motorists" when he took office last May.

But in Vancouver, cyclist Mayor Gregor Robertson, who over the last few years installed controversial bike lane trials in the downtown core and on other major thoroughfares, hasn't claimed to be waging any wars.

In Seattle, they may call Mayor Mike McGinn Mike "McShwinn" for city planning policies that promote cycling and walking over driving. But he's denied being gripped by battle fever, saying, "This 'war on cars' thing is just silly."

So who really wants a war on cars, and even seems ready to lead it?

Very few, it turns out, even at conferences all about making cities more bike-rider friendly. Most of the wonks and activists at such gatherings spend their time discussing ways to clear a bit more safe space for pedestrians and cyclists rather than hurling inflammatory rhetoric against drivers. We'll take you to one of those confabs later so you can hear for yourself.

In the meantime, meet two renegades who do urge a rush to the barricades. Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler are authors of a new book, Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism: On the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, a war-chest of facts, figures and arguments identifying cars as enemies of the people.

Carnage and Homo Automotivis

Stop Signs depicts a land of despair, where a mutation of the human being called Homo Automotivis forms an evil symbiosis with a destructive, resource-hungry beast of metal and glass. All the while the underclass of non-drivers is slowly building momentum to ultimately rise up and overthrow the dominant automobile culture.

Mugyenyi and Engler embark on a car-less journey across America to tell the story of Homo Automotivis, whom they describe as "the result of a century of people living with cars and capitalism," and its symbiotic relationship with the automobile.

"Neither can survive without the other and both define themselves through the other," they write of this symbiosis.

The two authors cite a litany of facts and figures and draw on examples from major cities across the U.S. in defence of their primary thesis: the age of the car must end.

Seven-hundred cyclists and 6,000 pedestrians die every year in the U.S. at the hands of the automobile, another 110,000 are injured, they write.

The average American works from the beginning of January till the end of March to pay for his or her automobile and spends about a month per year traveling in it -- one of every six waking hours.

Aside from some of the more obvious negative aspects of the automobile -- like automobile fatalities and injuries, noise and air pollution and urban congestion -- Mugyenyi and Engler find a lot more to blame on cars. Climate change, obesity, cancer, unemployment, racial segregation, poverty and even terrorism, they write, are all the result of cars and car culture.

It can't last forever, say Mugyenyi and Engler of car-domination. "It is easy to forget that evolutionary dead ends are more common than successful species," they write. "It seems likely that this will be the fate of Homo Automotivis."

'A crash or a whimper?'

"Will the end of automobility arrive with a crash or with a whimper?" they ask. "Are humans smart enough to see the signs of imminent destruction and change before it is too late?"

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