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All praise for the automobile in our urban environment, and it’s about time

The car was the Declaration of Independence of the so-called common man

Three toots on the horn of my 26-year-old sedan – equivalent to three forks in the Michelin restaurant guide – for Larry Beasley.

Beasley, a former Vancouver co-director of planning, shoved his intelligent take on the future of the car up the noses of the space travellers in Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Cambie Street funhouse.

Robertson, the most pedestrian thinker ever to occupy the chief magistrate’s whoopee cushion, surrounds himself with progressive reactionaries – as well-turned an oxymoron as you will find in the public prints this day.

Like Brent Toderian, Robertson’s lunar captain. He was quoted by Peter Mitham in these distinguished pages (issue 1192; August 28-September 3): “The future is not about the car. It’s increasingly about the bicycle and wheeled luggage and things like that.” (Wheeled luggage?)

Watch your step – a horse-drawn conveyance just went by, and that isn’t second base it left on the Robertson team’s cobbled, 19th-century street.

Mitham recorded Beasley’s shrewd retort to the Vancouver chapter of the Urban Land Institute: “My experience in the world right now is that the future is increasingly about the car. Everywhere I work, managing the car is the biggest issue that has to be dealt with.”

In contrast, Toderian, as noted in this shy space recently, praised an artist’s depiction of a future Granville Bridge – a broad thoroughfare of hearty cyclists and persons on foot (peasants?), perhaps spontaneously chorusing “A Bicycle Built for Two” or “Just Walkin’ in the Rain,” flanked by lanes bearing four ashamed cars obscured by greenery, doubtless driven by social undesirables.

Or also by hypocritical regional transit bureaucrats? In an earlier life, the undersigned belonged to the editorial board of a certain downtown daily, and when such persons gathered to explain the (obligatory) joys of public transit, innocently asked how they themselves had journeyed to our site.

They had the grace, and sense of humour, for guilty smiles.

One such transit exponent, a well-known figure during Gordon Campbell’s Vancouver mayoralty, took me aside and presented his defence. He was a smoker. Couldn’t function without his nicotine fix. Thus needed its enabler – his car.

Not a reason to stir much sympathy. But it opens onto a wider issue: The creeping Stalinization of bureaucrats, politicians and heavy thinkers seeing the travelling populace as faceless units, moved like chess pieces and given what’s good for them – and to ignore the stout resisters of all improvers and do-gooders, the human factor.

Which is actual people, in all their individuality, anti- conformity and determination to do a bit better for themselves.

The car was the Declaration of Independence of the so-called common man.

Even in gridlock, drivers are masters of all they survey within their cars – bubbles of liberation insulated from their fellow man and families. They can turn up the heat, turn off the radio, sing, talk to their dog, make nervous love. Such privacy alone will ensure the lure of the car, to the rage of the Stalinists.

This will infuriate them more: The beauty of great car design, standing tall with (or easily surpassing) most 20th-century art. The Mercedes Benz 540K of the mid-1930s, the Bugattis, the Jaguar XK 120, the Cord 812, Raymond Loewy’s elegant 1953 Studebaker, anything Italian, are exemplars of automotive art – heirs of Da Vinci, Beethoven, Shakespeare himself, even Dorothy Field’s heavenly “The Way You Look Tonight.”

Everyone wants cleaner cars. Energy will still be needed to build and propel them. Germans’ wind and solar-powered facilities proved costly failures; they’re building 23 coal-fired plants. I am a recovering enthusiast for Ballard’s fuel cell dream. Mitham states there are 40 mostly government-owned electric cars in Vancouver. That many? •