I hit a moving car the other day. Not with my own car — with my hand. More of a reproachful slap, really.
I was on my bike, squeezed perilously among traffic-stalled cars. A zombie driver, briefly reanimated by the thrill of a green light, nearly drove me off the road. I swerved into a parked car, wondering as I caught my balance and my breath — did anyone in this rush hour hellscape even care if I was, ya know, fatally injured?
At the next red light, I caught up with the car and, in a decisive moment of self-righteous rage, enacted a bit of corporal punishment on its right bumper. It felt amazing.
This feels like an opportune time for a record scratch freeze-frame and an “I bet you’re wondering how I got into this situation” voiceover.
This wasn’t the first time a car had given me a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment of panic, and it certainly won’t be the last. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 5 to 34, making cars a menace not just to cyclists but also pedestrians and even other drivers.
When you combine the grim safety stats with the motor vehicle’s myriad other sins — one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions, the utter depravity of paving paradise to put up a parking lot and so on — a portrait emerges of the car as not an achievement of human ingenuity, but a pretty good scapegoat for… just about everything. And it turns out I’m not the only one coming to this particular conclusion.
Two wheels good, four wheels bad
About a year ago, I moved to a very bike-friendly neighborhood in bike-friendly(ish) Sacramento — decent infrastructure, flat roads, temperate climate, good building density — and almost overnight became a smug cycling evangelist. “We are within biking distance of three grocery stores,” I tell everyone back home, “and Target.” I notice things now like well-placed bollards and accessible bike parking, and I often indulge in delicious indignation when someone blocks a bike lane with their trash can. My local farmer’s market has a free bike valet. I’ve even realized a latent yet lifelong dream of biking my son to school every day.
Speaking of my son, my little sponge-brained 3-year-old now regularly asks why people are driving when they ought to be biking, and I couldn’t be more proud. The two of us accidentally stumbled upon a vintage car show one morning and he turned to me and said, in his earnest toddler lilt, “We don’t like cars, right, Mama? We like bikes and walking.” And I was just like, yes, child, yeeeeessss.
But it wasn’t just my new two-wheeled lifestyle that stoked my dormant disgust for car dependence. The story of my radicalization really begins, as these stories often do, on Twitter.
Back when my Twitter feed actually showed tweets from people I have elected to follow, I noticed that two of my IRL acquaintances from past lives had begun to post often about their own bike commutes, advocating for better infrastructure and occasionally complaining about entitled drivers. I was intrigued by their car-free existences and fancy e-bikes with endless permutations of cargo racks and child seats.