High gas prices are accelerating this online anti-car movement

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Jason Slaughter started making YouTube videos to document his family’s move from Toronto to Amsterdam a few years ago. That’s how the 45-year-old IT professional inadvertently became a hero of the growing online anti-car movement.

Posting on his orange-themed channel, Slaughter focused on the differences between transportation in North America and the Netherlands, which he chose for their car-free lifestyle. A video details a short but dangerous walk in Houston that required pedestrians to cross a bridge with little separation and speed through traffic.

The 17-minute video, which was uploaded about a year ago, hit a nerve with r/fuckcars, a fiercely anti-car Reddit community advocating urban design less dependent on driving. The members quickly took to the Slaughter aesthetic, rewarding new converts with a “pilled orange” badge after experiencing an anti-car epiphany. (The orange pilling is a reference to The Matrix movies, in which the hero sees the truth about the world after taking a red pill.)

“It’s been kind of a wild ride ever since,” said Slaughter, whose video now has 4.3 million views. The subreddit, he says, treated him like a “fucking messiah.”

The popularity of Slaughter’s videos on r/fuckcars comes as more Americans and Canadians question the way the continent is organized. A spike in the price of gasoline and automobiles has prompted many to re-examine car-dependent suburban and exurban lifestyles. A younger generation more interested in clean energy also rejects car ownership, favoring densely populated cities with public transport.

Car anxiety is spreading online. In addition to r/fuckcars, whose membership has more than quadrupled to 283,000 since gas prices began to skyrocket earlier this year, podcast The War on Cars, Bike Forums and the #CarsSuck hashtag on Twitter have all given voice to automotive frustrations. They helped create a vocabulary for the confinement and separation associated with car-dependent culture in North America.

Online discussions also link car addiction to economic inequality, an increasingly important topic for young people. A study, conducted by the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville, found that modest increases in public transportation provide more opportunities for economic mobility. Adrian Pietrzak, a Ph.D. student at Princeton who calls himself @zoningwonk on Twitter, frequently posts about cars being a tax on the poor.

“A huge concern, and one that also ties into online communities, is the nature of the community itself,” said Jeffrey Debies-Carl, associate professor of sociology at the University of New Haven, who has observed the phenomenon. grow.

Communities like r/fuckcars are mourning the loss of an America many of whose members are too young to have experienced. A common theme is that cities weren’t made for cars. Instead, they were bulldozed to accommodate automobiles.

Often, stock photos are used to show that even the most sprawling cities, like Los Angeles and Denver, were once compact, walkable urban centers. As car use increased, streets became congested and urban design adapted to new demands.

“Never forget what was taken from us,” reads an article featuring a mid-century photo of Dallas that could be mistaken for Manhattan.

Ford, GM, Stellantis, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen did not respond to requests for comment on the online anti-car movement. Honda said it is monitoring anti-car forums, as well as the wider global conversation.

Jay Joseph, who leads the Japanese company’s new energy business in the United States, said investing in robust public transport would make it easier for cities to raise barriers to cars. “You can’t just make the decision to stop using personal mobility,” Joseph said, “and then hope everything will be fine.”

Proponents of reinventing city life say social media has been key to getting the message across. Twitter, Instagram and other platforms allow people to travel the world from their sofa to European cities organized around bicycles or megacities in Asia where public transport moves people from place to place.

“When I started my career in the 90s, if you wanted to see your thinking transformed by another city, you had to take a trip to Copenhagen,” said Brent Toderian, an urban planning consultant who previously worked for cities. from Vancouver and Calgary. Social media, he said, “has given us all the ability to perceive and be inspired by these cities.”

Jacob Unterreiner, 27, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said online communities encouraged him to co-found Charlotte Urbanists, an activist group that aims to ‘combat destructive suburban norms’ . To encourage more public transport, the group has raised money online to build and install bus stop benches, attracting attention which Unterreiner hopes will lead to better bus stops in the future. .

Unterreiner recently landed on the front page of Reddit for a meme about the growing size of Mini Coopers over the past four and a half decades.

The post generated around 5 million views, he said, after landing on one of the internet’s most valuable real estate properties. “Views are skyrocketing on your posts,” Unterreiner said.

BMW, owner of the Mini brand, did not respond to a request for comment regarding Unterreiner’s Reddit post.

Aaaron Naparstek, co-host of The War on Cars podcast, said the anti-car movement will likely struggle to get SUVs and big trucks banned from neighborhoods, but can still make inroads by advocating for bike lanes and pedestrian streets.

“As cars have grown in size, power and distracting features over the last five to ten years, there has been this kind of equivalent growth in the realization that we need to push back the industry and the culture” , said Naparstek, whose 4-year-old podcast draws 20,000 listeners per episode.

Slaughter, the Canadian videographer, is a somewhat ironic hero of the online anti-car movement in North America. Although he continues to post on his channel, called Not Just Bikes, he has backed down from change in Canada and said activism at home would not achieve much.

“These people are willfully ignorant,” Slaughter said of the commuters at home. “They just found a bunch of excuses to maintain the status quo.”

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