The War on Cars
The War on Cars
Oct 14, 2020
America's Love Affair With Cars
Play • 28 min

It’s often said that Americans have a “love affair” with cars and driving. Where did this oddly specific expression come from? Most people probably assume it was something that developed organically, like so many common sayings. But Peter Norton, the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, credits a little-known 1961 NBC TV documentary starring Groucho Marx for popularizing this famous phrase. It’s a fascinating story that finds the wisecracking comedian pitted against anti-automobile activists such as Jane Jacobs and proves that America’s so-called “love affair” with cars is more like an arranged marriage.

***This episode was sponsored by our friends at Cleverhood. Receive 20% off your purchase of stylish, functional rain gear designed specifically for bicycling and walking. Enter coupon code WARONCARS when you check out.***

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Purchase Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City as well as titles by all the authors who've appeared on the podcast at the official War on Cars page on

Watch NBC’s Merrily We Roll Along, which originally aired on NBC on October 21st, 1961 (Part 1 & Part 2).

Read “The Myth of the American Love Affair With Cars” (The Washington Post)

Find us on Twitter: @TheWarOnCars, Aaron Naparstek @Naparstek, Doug Gordon @BrooklynSpoke, Sarah Goodyear @buttermilk1

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Strong Towns
The Problem with Creating “Slow Streets” Too Fast
In the first few months of the pandemic, many towns and cities moved quickly to create “slow streets,” streets that restricted vehicle access in order to make room for socially distanced walking, biking, play, etc. While the thinking behind those adaptations may have been justified, the speed with which they were implemented often came at the expense of meaningful public engagement and buy-in from residents. As Laura Bliss writes in a recent article for Bloomberg CityLab, slow streets have drawn “controversy, community resistance and comparisons with racist urban planning practices of earlier decades.” Bliss quotes Corinne Kisner, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, who said, “I think there’s a tension between planners wanting to act fast, because their work is so critical to reduce fatalities and greenhouse gas emissions — the reasons for this work are so compelling and historic. But the urgency to move fast is in conflict with the speed of trust, and the pace that actually allows for input from everyone who’s affected by these decisions.” This article is the topic of this week's episode of Upzoned -- our first episode of 2021 and our 100th episode overall -- with host Abby Kinney, an urban planner from Kansas City, and regular co-host Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. Abby and Chuck discuss why improving how streets and public spaces are utilized isn’t worth much if you get the process wrong. (“Robert Moses tactics can’t achieve Jane Jacobs goals.”) They also contrast the one-size-fits-all solutions that create resentment with the benefits of iiterative, truly collaborative approaches. Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about finishing The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and recommends a blockbuster new religion podcast by a hometown host. And Abby talks about why climbing is the best sport for understanding incrementalism. Oh, and also about skydiving, which prompted Chuck to recommend this video. Additional Show Notes * “‘Slow Streets’ Disrupted City Planning. What Comes Next?” by Laura Bliss * Robert Moses Tactics Can’t Achieve Jane Jacobs Goals * Abby Kinney (Twitter) * Charles Marohn (Twitter) * Gould Evans Studio for City Design * Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud) * Select Strong Towns content on “Slow Streets” and “Open Streets” * “Oakland’s Open Streets Programs Are Still a Work in Progress. That’s a Good Thing.” by Daniel Herriges * “The Bottom-Up Revolution is... Working Together to Make a Street for People” (Podcast) * “How’s that temporary street redesign your city started this spring doing now?” by Rachel Quednau * “The Evolving 2020 Open Streets Movement, or What if We Threw Out the Rule Book and Everything Was Fine? By Daniel Herriges * “Hearing One Engineer's Call to "Sit in the Ambiguity" of Transportation Planning,” by Daniel Herriges
30 min
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