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April 21, 2013

The Real War on Cars

Dear Warring Factions:

The Washington City Paper’s cover article this week is a nasty piece of work, "There Is No War on Cars," by the paper’s new Housing Complex columnist, Aaron Weiner. The article isn’t journalism or reportage, because doing reporting requires observing and describing what is in front of one’s eyes, and Weiner’s pretense that there is no war on cars requires him to deny, distort, and ignore what anyone can easily observe. The article is simply anti-car and anti-driver advocacy, another skirmish in the war against cars written by a combatant.

The article stands on three legs. First, Weiner says there is no war on cars because, unlike in the early, introductory days of automobiles in the first decades of the twentieth century, no one is actually throwing stones at cars or slashing their tires. This is simply pretending ignorance of one of the most common idioms in the English language, "to declare war on, or to war against." Nonsense; the "war on" idiom just means there’s a serious campaign against something. There’s the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war against crime, the war against waste, and so on. The anti-driver movement’s war on cars aims to make it more expensive to own and operate a car and to park a car, either downtown or in any residential or commercial neighborhood in the city. The second leg on which the article stands is a failure of logic. Weiner argues that the urban planners and politicians who want to make it more expensive and difficult to drive and park cars in the city are actually doing a favor for drivers, because they want to reduce congestion and the number of cars on the road in order to make it easier for the remaining drivers, who haven’t yet become sensible and given up their cars in favor of using bicycles and public transportation.

The third leg of Weiner’s advocacy is an ad hominem attack on those poor benighted people who dare to point out that the lifeblood of the city is a healthy transportation system that includes policies that make it easier to move people and goods in and through the city. Weiner describes them: "The loudest criticism tends to come from a group of about half a dozen Upper Northwest residents, who not only raise a stink on neighborhood E-mail lists and at community meetings and DC Council hearings, but also trekked resolutely to meetings on the zoning update in nearly every ward to make their voices heard. (All of them declined to be interviewed for this story.)" If there were really only a half-dozen people who objected to the city’s war on cars, there would be no reason to attack them so vociferously. But these few people, Weiner admits, were all wise enough to decline to sit still for his ambush, so instead he interviewed John Townsend, who as the spokesman for the local chapter of the American Automobile Association had a professional obligation to endure fire from the enemy’s camp. Weiner’s one-sided, misleading, and unfair blitzkreig against Townsend has already aroused a campaign by bicyclists and fans of David Alpert and Greater Greater Washington to pressure the AAA to fire him.

For evidence of Weiner’s bias on this issue, read two articles by him, "There Is No War on Cars,", and "How to Help People Park (by Charging Them More),", and for more evidence of the war on cars read an article by Martin de Caro for WAMU, "Why It May Soon Become Harder to Park in Some DC Neighborhoods,", in which Harriet Tregoning, the Director of Planning, explicitly spells out her illogical idea that making it harder to park makes it easier to park: "I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion."

Gary Imhoff


Ward 3 Democratic Committee Passes Resolution on Parking Requirements
Shelley Tomkin,

The Ward 3 Democratic Committee has passed a resolution calling for the DC Office of Planning (OP) to withdraw its proposals to eliminate and reduce current parking requirements in new private development projects. The resolution was approved in a vote by a broad majority taken April 11 by the Democratic Party group. It was drafted in reaction to recommendations made as part of a Zoning Revision process that is currently underway.

This is a quality of life issue for many residents — if finding parking is challenging under current zoning rules that already build in parking minimums, the elimination of required parking in new regulations will only make matters worse. Vehicle ownership has increased over the past few years and our current minimum parking requirements are below those of many other jurisdictions. The resolution represents the outcome of a research process that a Ward 3 Democratic Committee Task Force has undertaken over the past several months. Task Force Chair, John Chelen cited the supportive vote in the Ward 3 Democratic Committee as a telling sign of community resistance to the ill-considered and overreaching proposals made by the Office of Planning. Other civic groups have indicated that they intend to take up similar resolutions to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Office of Planning’s proposals.

Other objections to the Office of Planning’s proposals cited in the resolution include their potentially adverse impacts on businesses and their inconsistency with the District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Plan. Mr. Chelen and I have written to Mayor Gray and the DC council requesting that they exercise their oversight authorities to urge the Office of Planning to rework its proposed parking provisions to make them better reflect community needs for adequate public and private parking.


The V Street Pop-Up
Tom Grahame,

I finally got around to reading about the V street pop up on Greater Greater Washington, a blog I hadn’t gone to before, Way down at the bottom of the comments was this gem from Edward Abbey, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." This building would be a good submission for James Kunstler’s architectural "eyesore of the month" contest at

Abbey was the author of Desert Solitaire, and was probably speaking (at the time, 1985) of the growth of the suburbs, chopping down forests, building roads, traffic pollution, and congestion. What most of the country at the time saw as progress, he saw as destruction. That said, his quote about growth for the sake of growth being the ideology of a cancer cell holds just as much for blind growth in the city today, regardless of the consequences for established neighborhoods and established ways of life.


The Next Election
Earl Shamwell,

I am a registered DC Democrat and vote in all elections as a general matter unless out of town or otherwise unavailable. I have received campaign materials from Dems, Bonds, Frumin, and Silverstein. I have received no materials from Mara or the Statehood candidate Redd. Bonds in her latest distribution exhorts "us" not to let Mara steal "our " seat. She otherwise rests her candidacy on her community activism, support for Obama’s reelection, head of the DC Dems, worker rights, and affordable housing. Silverstein’s campaign literature boldly depicts what appears as headless men in suits, each labeled with some offense against good government, to include criminal charges. Her message to me suggests that the men currently on the council are corrupt or inept and that what we all need is a woman- herself — to set things right. Frumin’s materials include his being depicted smiling with kids and his family and stating his work for the public schools and the betterment of the community in general.

I have tried to inform myself about the candidates as well as time and interest permit. I am a person who has worked practically all of his life and without public assistance, educated his children, and avoided contact with the criminal justice system; in short, just an average guy supporting himself and his family. So what do these folks have for me? Why should I vote for any of them? One wants me to vote for obvious racial solidarity , but she does not know — I think — the race of those receiving her materials. Another candidate striking another divisive tone wants to be elected because of her gender superiority. Another thinks he can help the "community," which to me is simply code for more government spending on "poverty" programs. So I ask what does the average working stiff stand to gain by voting for these three?

Not one of these candidates to my knowledge has addressed the issues most of us residents talk about, for example the high residential property taxes, the four hundred million dollars surplus, the whys and wherefores of this over collection of funds, crime and punishment, the police manpower issue, high unemployment in the black community, the high out wedlock birth rate here. There are lots of substantive matters that the candidates simply do not raise. Notably, none of these folks specifically and directly speaks of ethical behavior of elected officials. After all two members were convicted of crimes and another has been determined to have committed ethical violations. The mayor continues under a cloud. I have not seen or heard where any of the candidates are concerned about the awful reputation of the council and what steps each would take to clean things up.

I could go on, but what is the use. These Dem candidates, at least from the materials I have read seem to be basically just parroting the usual bromides and slogans with a little racial or feminist twist. If either of these candidates are elected I do not see any reason to expect anything different. In another posting in themail I took issue with Gary regarding the desirability of an open primary system. I for one am watching this election very closely because it may offer an opportunity for a break from the usual one-party domination of the election results, with the possibility that 33,000 Republicans and 88,000 independents may come out and vote. We shall see.


Perry Redd: Forceful Advocate for Citizens, Not Developers
Debby and John Hanrahan,

We heartily endorse Perry Redd of the DC’ Statehood Green Party in Tuesday’s special election to fill an at-large seat on the DC council. For starters, Redd — as is true of all Statehood Green candidates — takes no corporate campaign contributions. With Redd on the council, we would have a much-needed forceful advocate for citizens, a firm believer in complete openness in government (he has pledged to post on-line a database of all of his phone calls as a council member), and a watchdog over and critic of the developer and corporate interests that have held such sway over the council for far too long. And we would have a vigorous advocate for DC Statehood, rather than the mere lip-service that many of our elected officials and office-seekers pay to that issue. That’s full statehood — and not the incremental "a-vote-for-Eleanor" in the House that has distracted too many people from the statehood goal for far too long. Please go to Redd’s web site to see his views on these and numerous other issues —

If you favor easy access to your councilmember for yourself and other citizens like you, rather than for the corporate elite, Redd should be your candidate. Those of us who remember the late Hilda Mason’s two decades on the council fondly recall her open-door policy to those who one current candidate — in an earlier reincarnation — disdained as "rag-tag activists" and the "usual suspects." That is, those groups and individuals who served as campaigners on behalf of the city’s poor and working-class people. Perry Redd is in that mold.

And Redd should be the candidate of those of you who advocate for true affordable housing, for environmental justice, for a more equitable DC income tax system in which the city’s wealthy pay their fair share (yes, that means higher taxes for those of you in the upper brackets). And he should be the candidate of those of you who agree with him that there should be a moratorium on any further charter school expansion and who oppose the pending neighborhood-wrecking closures of fifteen public schools. (He is the only candidate to take this position.) And you should vote for Redd if you are alarmed by the tax breaks and property giveaways for corporations, developers, and sports teams that are handed out like Halloween candy by the DC Council or agencies that are supposed to be overseen by the council. He has all that corporate welfare in his sights.

As people who have attended any of the numerous pre-election forums have undoubtedly noted, Redd — whether they agreed with him or not — does not dodge tough questions with evasive answers. As for those who are looking for reform and tougher ethical standards on the council and think it would be a good idea for local democracy to have someone other than a Democrat elected this time in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, we would hope that you would see that Perry Redd is the only non-Democrat in this race who would aim for true reform as well as bring progressive values that are shared by many Democrats and independents.

Lastly, Perry Redd feels passionately about some issues that aren’t much on the radar of other candidates, or that they are seemingly too uncomfortable to talk about. For example, he notes the city’s overall unemployment rate of around 8 percent, but what is overlooked is the 28 percent unemployment rate for African American residents east of the river. As he says on his web site, this amounts to "a crisis . . . an inequality that’s heavily unspoken . . . so I’ll speak it." Please go to his web site and see the full range of solutions he proposes to reduce poverty and inequality for residents — including ex-offenders who are particularly impacted by the unemployment crisis — as well as to see his biography and views on other issues:


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