Op-Ed in 11 Tweets: The Hypocrisy of Car Culture

Former Aussie national bike planner Tony Arnold punctures all the contradictions that car drivers don't even realize they spew.

Not a legitimate road user! Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Not a legitimate road user! Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Tony Arnold
Tony Arnold

It hasn’t always been this way.

In the early days of motoring, the automobile was treated as an interloper on city streets that were otherwise dominated by human activity. To ensure the safety of the people, “red flag laws” were enacted in the U.K. and U.S. requiring a walking chaperone to wave a red flag or carry a lantern in front of every automobile to warn others of the approach of these “horseless carriages.”

Now the automobile is calling the shots. Some changes have been major, such as the recasting of the legal act of “walking across the street” as the criminal act of “jaywalking.” However, most changes have been gradual. Just a little bit of footpath shaved off to allow a road to be widened over here. Or a newspaper headline blaming a pedestrian for being killed by an automobile over there. Soon, like a frog unwittingly boiled alive in a pot of water, we found ourselves in a hostile, car-dominated environment.

The most significant change to our environment has not been the physical territory that has been won by the automobile, although these territories are vast. Instead, the most significant change is the dominant position that the automobile has won over our psychological territory. This process has occurred so gradually that few have noticed, but the depth of change over the past 100 years is profound. Without the dominance of the automobile in our psychological territory, it would be impossible to overlook the negative externalities imposed by automobiles on society and to welcome their dominance in our physical territory.

Today, the majority of the population is so heavily subscribed to the constructions of “car-culture” that they are unable to recognize its obvious contradictions and hypocrisies. But this car-culture hypocrisy (or “carpocrisy”) affects attitudes to cycling. Let’s examine it in a few tweets:

Perhaps by recognizing this carpocrisy, we will take the first step towards improving our cities: admitting that we have a problem.

Tony Arnold is director of Transportology, a transportation design firm. Arnold was responsible for coordinating the Australian National Cycling Strategy between 2013 and 2018.