City Desk

Chatter: Auto-Da-Fé

What you said about what we said last week

Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric that seems to accompany the painting of every new bike lane in D.C., car ownership is not actually under assault in the Washington area, as Housing Complex columnist Aaron Wiener argued in the cover story “There Is No War on Cars” (April 19). But thanks to combative comments from American Automobile Association MidAtlantic spokesman John Townsend quoted by Wiener in the story, the level of invective surrounding D.C.’s transportation policies got unusually heated last week. Responding to Townsend’s characterization of Greater Greater Washington editor and urbanism advocate David Alpert as “a nerd” who is “developmentally retarded,” reader KM wrote, “Makes me glad I dropped AAA like a bad habit. First they started making horrible maps. Then they refuse to rein in or replace John Townsend.” On Twitter, several users demanded that the AAA dismiss Townsend, while We Love D.C. Editor-in-Chief Tom Bridge wrote on his personal blog that he had canceled his membership with the organization. “There’s no excuse for that sort of behavior from the spokesperson of the company,” Bridge wrote. “None. Sorry.”

The tête-à-tête also drew response from Greater Greater Washington, where 39 of its contributors attached their names to a blog post that called Townsend’s comments “beyond the pale.” They wrote, “We look forward to the day when AAA ceases using antagonistic language and begins working toward safety, mobility, and harmony among all road users.”

On Twitter, AAA MidAtlantic offered an apology—sort of: “The remarks attributed to John Townsend reported in the City Paper article are inappropriate, and in no way representative of AAA Mid-Atlantic’s views. Mr. Townsend apologizes for comments attributed to him that were offensive. It was never Mr. Townsend’s intention to be insulting and agrees that there is absolutely no place in the public discourse for personal attacks.That said, Mr. Townsend believes that many of the statements were presented out of context and mischaracterize the discussion.”

Out of context? Wiener had plenty of more context to share. On Housing Complex, he wrote: “At the beginning of my long conversation with Townsend, I described the story I was working on and mentioned a few of the recent heated debates over cars in the city ... At the mention of Alpert’s name, Townsend said, ‘He is a nerd. I think that he’s developmentally retarded.’ Then he continued to attack Alpert, nearly uninterrupted, including the quotes in the story. He also called him ‘reptilian,’ ‘pedantic,’ and ‘childlike,’ and suggested he had a ‘Napoleonic complex.’ That is the context for the contentious quotes in the story.”

Not among the article’s fans? Gary Imhoff, who in Monday’s edition of his newsletter themail called Wiener’s story “a nasty piece of work.”

“The article is simply anti-car and anti-driver advocacy, another skirmish in the war against cars written by a combatant,” Imhoff goes on, later adding, “The anti-driver movement’s war on cars aims to make it more expensive to own and operate a car and to park a car, either downtown or in any residential or commercial neighborhood in the city.”

Department of Corrections. Due to an editing error, an editorial containing endorsements for the April 23 special election (“Vote or Sigh,” April 19) swapped the dates of two past elections. The last Democratic primary was in April 2012, while the Ward 5 special election came a month after that. And due to a reporting error, a review of the show “Next” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (“Art School Consequential,” April 19) misidentified artist Andy Ives-Nieczyperowicz as a woman. He is a man.

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Comments

  1. #1

    Here's a correction for next week - got Brian Flahaven's name spelled wrong in the Hill East story.

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