the biblical case for safer streets and #deckthehighways

According to Don Kostelec, this advert dates to 1953 – incidentally, a time when automobile use was on the rise and then-President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System was taking shape.

While Ford used Scripture to promote the automobile, I dare say Scripture makes a better case for safer streets and #deckthehighways.

Let’s travel to Isaiah 58:5-12 (ESV) and do some digging:

Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

In many cities, driving is (mostly) a matter of convenience. Subject to infrastructural constraints, motorists have incredible freedom while on the road; not only can they choose their own creature comforts (e.g. music or no music, climate control, seat adjustments, etc.) and their own routes for travel, but they can also insulate themselves from most of the noise of the outside world.

Transit users aren’t so lucky, and thanks to infrastructural limitations, cyclists can’t get around with the ease that motorists can.

So what does this have to do with a Bible verse on fasting and humbling oneself, anyway? It’s simple. Fasting, while mostly associated with giving up food for a time, also means giving up needs or wants voluntarily for a time. So giving up driving for a time – even if such is the most convenient form of travel – is an act of fasting; examples of humility include yielding the right-of-way to pedestrians and cyclists and supporting safer street designs (i.e. traffic calming, protected bike and bus lanes, and #deckthehighways – highway burial and/or removal).

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Forget whether or not motorists would be free of traffic jams (inevitable in a city as large as NY without radical changes in infrastructure and policy) – what of the plight of the communities adjoined by these pollution-inducing traffic sewers? Is there something we can do to break their yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

New Yorkers are hungry for a functional subway, and all they have to show for it is free Wi-Fi and USB ports – and dangerous crowding conditions.

Meanwhile, motorists will enjoy repaved highways and cashless tolling for faster commutes. Now don’t get me wrong – cashless tolling is great; however, seeing that most New Yorkers don’t drive or commute by driving, this means most people aren’t getting fed.

Worse, we all see the subway’s nakedness – its flaws out in the open – but few are willing to clothe it (and, by extension, those who depend on it). Same goes for buses.

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

Imagine a world where more of the powers-that-be hear the cries of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users asking for a bigger slice of the pie served almost exclusively to motorists – infrastructural improvements!

At this rate, it may literally take an act of God.

If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

The Streetsblog article above suggests that the NYPD – whose motto is Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect (CPR) – has an issue with “the pointing of the finger” – namely, at cyclists – when it comes to cyclist-motorist crashes. This only exacerbates the dangers cyclists face when navigating NYC’s streets.

Just as subway riders are hungry for a subway that isn’t perpetually broken, cyclists – among many others – are hungry for an NYPD that metes out fairness and impartiality in its policing.

And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

Though they faced much resistance, and though there were mistakes, proponents of highway removal and highway burial were instrumental in restoring once-barren places such as the Embarcadero and the Central Artery.

As it turns out, mass transit and pedestrian (and cyclist)-friendly treatments – not cars – are the real lifeblood of cities.

Now, all of this isn’t to say there’s no place for cars or their drivers; nor am I suggesting pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users are angels beyond reproach. However, we simply give too much deference to cars – and we do so at our own peril, as New York’s subway and bus crises show.

Safe streets advocates, #deckthehighways proponents – keep fighting the good fight. If you fight hard, and stay the course…

…your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;


…you shall be called the repairer of the breach… 

(Imagine if we “repaired” this breach in The Bronx by burying or removing it entirely!)


…the restorer of streets to dwell in.

Bring on Streetopia.

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