Motorists will choose to sit in traffic jams for upwards of hours. Choose to pay outrageous fees for parking. Choose to speed around someone and cut them off in order to get to the red light first. Choose to spend 10 minutes looking for the perfect spot when they could just park one block away (or even the other side of the parking lot) and walk to their destination in 45 seconds. Choose to do all of the above even when the destination is 2km away.
Drive at 25kph or even 10kph for a whole 50-200 meters? Outrageous! Preposterous! Inhuman! contemptible!
I don’t really feel like I should have to tell anyone how ridiculous this is, but sadly, judging by the torrent of comments following all of the articles below, quite a few motorists don’t agree. The quick summary is that here in Adelaide, there have been two recent infrastructure blunders that have been making headlines. New pavers have been put down on short sections of road that, otherwise, look pretty good in terms of design: pedestrian friendly, cyclists friendly, people friendly. The balls-up is that the pavers are actually quite slippery, so speed limits have been reduced until that is addressed (but may possibly remain after the fact). Cars have to slow down, and that’s unacceptable.
All of the tired cliché’s come up for air for an issue like this. The ever popular, “but it will cause unbelievable congestion!”, when everyone knows that slower speeds decrease congestion:
This is another law of traffic: It takes exponentially longer to get out of a traffic jam than to get into one. Rather than having drivers go full-tilt into a jam at the tunnel entrance, drivers approach more slowly; even though their speed may be temporarily reduced, the system is now processing vehicles faster. (source: Slate)
The UK has been using variable speed limits for years to combat congestion on their motorways – if that even mattered for a distance this short. In any case, it’s more cars that cause congestion, not slower speeds. This must be the same person that harps on about how bikes cause traffic jams. I’ve yet to hear anyone explain how, exactly, that one works.
How about, “It will harm local businesses!”, even though there are more and more studies showing that more pedestrian and cycle-focused street layouts actually increase both the local economy as well as safety of all road users.
The speed really isn’t the issue anyway. Drivers (warning: huge generalization coming), collectively, get really, really defensive (offensive?) when there is a perceived challenge to their absolute authority on the roads. Instructing them that they need to operate at the same speed as bikes is like telling King Joffry to go and mingle with the unwashed masses.
A popular response is that if they wanted to take forever to get to their destination then they would get a bike, but for a significant number of people, they choose to take a vehicle for distances so short that they could cycle their just as quickly, or even quicker. My commute to work is about 7km, and for 5-6km of those I am usually still level with the cars that I started with. For too many people, their commute is far shorter.
However, we need to be completely fair. That last argument (drivers getting upset at having to travel at the same speed as cyclists), if we care to admit it, would be exactly the same from cyclists if they were forced to travel at the same speed as pedestrians. There is a difference here, however, which is that at this point in history, cyclists aren’t clogging the roads, causing congestion, pollution, and a significant number of deaths. There is no reason for cyclists to be slowed down. Nevertheless, I think that if we commit just a moment of reflection to this, we can at least understand the motorists frustration with being forced to slow down.
What needs to happen is that somehow, motorists need to see the situation for what it is. It’s not a case of denying you your right to do whatever you feel like doing. It is simply working out a solution to a problem that is a problem for everyone, but one that is caused overwhelmingly by motorists. Slower is safer, but slower is sometimes faster. Sometimes, the faster-slower is cycling (or walking) instead of driving.
Header Image: Ross/Flickr