Today’s discussion is brought to you by Grantᵀᴹ. Grantᵀᴹ, when you feel like commenting, and do.
Let us begin.
“The way I think about it, Australia must be the best and safest place to ride a bike in the world.
This is because we have the world’s best drivers.
The evidence I present to support this assertion is that I have never met anyone who has told me they think they are a bad driver.
So yes, that’s a completely ridiculous idea but it may play into our hands. No one admits they are a bad driver – there’s too much shame in that. But what if some authority called you a bad driver?
“Sorry mate I didn’t see you”, “I didn’t see the cyclist” or “I didn’t see the child on the bike” are expressions that we know are used instead of the truth – “I didn’t look”. But it seems that “I didn’t see…” has developed into an accepted excuse – mostly because it subrogates all responsibility onto the cyclist, and motorists are generally comfortable with that.
They shouldn’t be. It is an admission of a basic failing in a responsibility in operating a motor car and society is too complacent about that.
What if instead the default response to a local government councillor that admitting to nearly hitting two children on bicycles wasn’t about the child, but instead about the driving competence of the councillor? What if he was called out and referred to police as someone that has admitted that they may not be fit to operate a motor vehicle. And what if the consequences of such an admission was mandatory re-examination? Who would admit to “I didn’t see…” if they knew that they would be re-tested as a result? Who would be happy to be re-tested – having to explain it to friends and employers and family and the like? What would people do if they could no longer simply use “I didn’t see…” as a flippant excuse because it had some consequences?
Would people change their behaviour and instead start looking out for bicycles?”
Ok, so, first of all, the above idea would be amazing, if applied.
I mean, looking at a problem and then rationally applying the rules of sound logic and moral responsibility should be the default method of addressing said problem. Are you in a machine that can travel at many times the speed that humans can naturally travel at, made of things that are many times less breakable than things that humans are made of? Well then, the responsibility of safe conduct shall lie on the person who is in the position to cause greater danger.
But, sadly, that is not the world we live in. For this to work, we need people who are interested in things that are greater than their immediate sphere of interest. Who have in mind the interests of those who may not have the same priorities as they do. Who aren’t primarily looking out for number one.
It is from my cynical opinion of the human race that I believe that we cannot be left to our own devices or simply allow mob rule to form our policy. Lord of the Flies isn’t a work of fiction. When people who are granted the responsibility to govern on our behalf have their own interests at heart, in this case, the subjugation of all forms of transport, and indeed, social engagement, to the rule of motor vehicles, then we get Councillors who cite personal opinion as proof and who bear an uncanny resemblance in their line of arguments to shock-jocks on actual, important issues.
Above all, the suggestion from Grant is that we act reasonably, which is, not to overstate things, fairly reasonable.
But what is reasonable? What are the first principles that we are reasoning from? In this case, it is unfortunately the same bunch that has guided our cities into the congested, dirty, sprawling, fractured, and costly places that they are today. It is that we deserve whatever our little hearts desire. It is the contradiction that I want what’s best for me, even though what’s best for me isn’t what’s best for you.
It’s not working. In this context, some cities around the world are waking up to the fact that continuing to allow our built environments and policies to be ruled by the primacy of motor vehicles isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t good. It’s the same human trait that continually cuts off our nose to spite our face. Over-fishing. Unchecked consumerism. The availability of excessive or bad credit. We do what suits us in the moment. The problems attached to this are either yours, or they are for tomorrow.
Because I want to drive wherever I want, whenever I want, and however I want, everyone else has to deal with it. In 2011 70% (and declining) of Londoners did not own a car, and as of 2015, and depending on the neighborhood, anywhere from only 11%-36% of Manhattan residents own a car. The point is that, for a group (motorists) that carries-on about how a minority population (cyclists, and to a lesser extent pedestrians) demand a disproportionate amount of resources, it certainly seems as though motorists have a disproportionate command of urban, public space, among other things.
At any rate, I’m with Grant on this, but I struggle to think of a way that we can realistically achieve such a reasonable way of life.
Any suggestions? Any useful perspectives?
Header image: source