…and (transportation) justice for all

Yesterday morning I had a rather lively discussion about the prioritization of streets, and whether bicyclists and motorists should truly “share the road.”  From this group came a range of opinions, including, “if you can’t go as fast as motorists, then stay off the road,” and, “all but freeways should be designed to allow slower travelers such as mopeds and bicycles.”  As you might have guessed, my view fell into the latter.

It all started because I brought up this story about a teen boy who was killed in a car crash after untying the bikini top of the driver.  I wanted to gauge the others’ thoughts on who was at fault for the crash and what the punishment should be, if any.  I switched gears, then bringing up the regularity of crashes involving motorists and bicyclists, which usually result in no citation to the driver at all.

To my amazement, one of the debaters actually called bicyclists, scooter riders, and even passengers of Amish buggies, “safety hazards.”  I mean, I realize that riding a bike or a buggy does have some inherent risk unique from the risks of driving a car, but last time I checked we don’t use the words “safety hazard” to describe a human being.  Throughout the argument it became clear that this person sees motorists as having ultimate priority over the road network, and that all lesser modes of transport are subject to their mass and speed.

At dinner last night I lamented to my wife over the seeming ignorance of this one debater.  But in her usual wisdom she helped me to see that I might be looking at this all the wrong way.  See, this person’s frame of reference is the private automobile.  For decades, auto manufacturers, real estate developers, governments, and the media have all portrayed mobility through car ownership as a key tenet of the American Dream.  And, admittedly, the private automobile does provide a versatility that no other mode of transportation can match.  But, whereas I would argue this debater as being selfish in thinking her Suburban is better than my Jamis, she likely sees this as perfectly normal.  And that is where my wife helped me to realize my missed opportunity; that is, to help educate (rather than antagonize) the public on the benefits of transportation mode choice for all and creating a network of infrastructure to support that choice.

It’s easy for the motor-minded to think that citizens who get around via bike or transit are against cars and would rather recreate the built environment as it was before Henry Ford came on the scene.  But, at least for me, that’s simply untrue.  Rather, I want to live in the type of community that says wherever you want to go, however you choose to travel there, you will have a safe, complete, and convenient way of arriving.

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