Waiving the orange flag

Dispatches from the front: The War On Cars is flagging.

The cars are winning.

Oh, I know, it’s been a grueling, grinding, soul-and-body crushing campaign. But steel and velocity ultimately prevail over mere flesh and bones. 

The phrase “War On Cars” reportedly arose in Toronto as a handy rallying cry to mobilize concerned commuters against local efforts to give pedestrians, bicyclists and other living things a fighting chance of survival in a city dominated by traffic.

““The city’s undeclared but very active war on cars is really a war on people,” the Toronto Star fumed in a 2009 editorial that sounded the alarm against misguided traffic calming efforts.

Oh the humanity!

From there the War On Cars spread to Seattle, where misguided liberals conspired to make cycling, walking and transit viable forms of personal mobility. And then to London, which dared to deploy the nuclear option – congestion pricing – to reclaim its central city. Next the Heritage Foundation accused Washington, D.C. of waging a “war against cars and suburbia.” And pretty soon the Wall Street Journal, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institution, Fox News and other reliable conservative warriors were all piling on in a blitzkriegian effort to protect vulnerable cars against the cruel tyranny threatened by the insidious forces of walking, cycling and…well, living. 

I only bring this up as a faithful war correspondent to let you know that the Freedom Of The Road forces are prevailing. 

Pedestrians are taking a pasting: Inching upwards toward 5,000 deaths a year.

Cyclists are on the ropes: A death rate of 800 annually. And rising. 

Big picture: Some 40,000 Americans a year perish in traffic. 

On the other hand, the cars are doing fine.

So how badly is the War On Cars going? Increasingly, cities are handing out surrender flags. 

From Honolulu to St. Augustine to Seattle bright orange or yellow flags are being stockpiled at pedestrian crossings for the benefit of people who aspire to get to the other side with minimal chances of bodily injury. 

“Grab a flag,” pedestrians are advised. And as if to remind them that losers are expected to display humility comes the admonition to give a “thank you” wave to the cars that don’t kill you as you cross No Man’s Land.

Do the flags work? Not really. 

The California university city of Berkeley deployed them for a while before throwing in….um, the flag. In an after-action report, Berkeley staffers concluded “flags were used as intended by only two percent of pedestrians, and the use of the flags did not have a noticeable effect upon driver behavior.”

But that’s not really the point, is it? In autoAmerica orange flags serve the same purpose as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter.” 

Hester Prynne’s moment of indiscretion cost her the burden of branding herself unclean. Similarly pedestrians and cyclists who come bearing orange flags or yellow safety vests or “Please Don’t Kill Me” jerseys self-brand themselves as firmly outside the autoAmerican mainstream. Freaks, oddballs, eccentrics…literally rebels without a car. 

And now you see variations of the scarlet letter popping up all over the place. Signs in Jacksonville depict a skid-marked pedestrian figure next to the caption: “If only I’d watched out for cars.” Another sign I’ve seen shows a pedestrian running recklessly out in front of a car….very much like the deer that occasionally blunder in harm’s way out of sheer animal ignorance.

Lawmakers in Missouri have considered forcing cyclists to display orange flags visible “not less than fifteen feet above the motorway.” Talk about a scarlet letter. And Tampa’s Bay-To-Bay Blvd has gotten such a reputation for lethality that children afoot are brandishing flags in the hope of getting to school alive.

But never mind all of that. The cars are winning. A clear victory for autoAmerica.

And the losers are waiving orange/yellow flags of surrender.

Is this a great country or what?

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