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I’m rooting for Oxford, not for the cars

Bicycles at Oxford. Source: Wikimedia Commons. A third of the people of Oxford don’t have cars.

Slate Magazine has an excellent piece this morning on the town of Oxford’s plan to stop cars from overwhelming its medieval streets: How One City’s Traffic Plan Kicked Off a Global Right-Wing Freakout.

The problem that Oxford is trying to solve is easy to see. Too many cars in central Oxford are causing so much congestion that every other kind of traffic is obstructed. The streets have become more dangerous for people who are walking and cycling. And that’s not just a few people. More than 60 percent of the people in central Oxford are walking, cycling, or riding buses. Oxford came up with a plan to try to make the streets faster and safer by restricting cars during the day.

To right-wingers, it’s socialist tyranny. And not only that, it’s an opportunity to come up with conspiracy theories about how it’s all part of a global socialist plan to “herd people” and control their movements.

We all value individual freedom. But if individual freedom always overrides all other values, then how do we solve collective problems? Do those who are protesting Oxford’s plan acknowledge the problem? If so, what would they do about it? The American solution would be to put cars first, knock down some of those old buildings, displace a bunch of poor people, and build more streets. In a place like Oxford, that kind of solution is not an option.

Whether it’s a local problem such as Oxford’s or a global problem such as climate change, for every collective problem that we deny or refuse to solve we move closer to a Hunger Games world. If that Hunger Games world were a world in which individual rights were equally and justly preserved for all, then the miseries, as well as the individual rights, would at least be equally shared. But some of us know that that would never be the case. I think I know why. I think it’s because there are some people who assume that they’ll always be at the top of the order, as lords over those below them, whose portion of the order is the misery. So of course it’s not just bicycles and cars. It’s two incompatible ways of ordering the world. In a place like Oxford, I think I can guess who will win. But in a thousand other places that magazines don’t write about, I think I can guess who’s losing.


  1. Chenda wrote:

    It’s depressing isn’t it ? The joke of course is that mass car culture only exists because of lavish public subsidy, not least by bureaucrats using public money building free roads. It’s funny how they never have a problem with this type of socialist tyranny.

    I agree though that in Oxford at least these crazies will likely burn themselves out by their own absurdity. Indeed I know a number of card-carrying Conservative politicians who actually are supportive of traffic reduction methods, as they actually want to literally conserve things.

    Monday, February 20, 2023 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Chenda: The media didn’t have much to say about the protest in Oxford on Saturday. My impression was that most of the protesters weren’t from Oxford, that they came in from elsewhere. I wonder just how much resistance there is from people who actually live there.

    Monday, February 20, 2023 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Chenda wrote:

    Yes that could well be the case. At the very least their must be a lot of local support for addressing the problem of congestion.

    Monday, February 20, 2023 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

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