Tuesday, March 18

You Have the Right to Remain Mobile

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with colleagues and peers for the transportation region where I work and one high ranking member of the group lauded me with kudos for speaking a particular thought.  I've got to confess, I wasn't looking for praise, and I am not now telling you this to bang my own drum unnecessarily, but to point out a couple of things:

1) even in transportation circles this idea is not the norm and,

2) despite not being part of the collective consciousness of professionals in the field--once articulated--it's welcomed as a sound principle.

Yes! Yes! You exclaim, What is this wonderful idea you want to take credit for?!

I hate to burst your bubble, but I can't take credit for it.  I read it somewhere and filed it away for just that moment when I would get a gold star from the chief district engineer for sharing it.

The idea is this: We don't distinguish between recreational and utilitarian uses when we plan for the automobile, and therefore we should stop doing so when we plan for other modes (i.e., bike-ped infrastructure in particular). 

I really did get a gold star for my idea.
Is this kindergarten, or is it transportation planning?
Despite the best efforts of those on both sides of the car-versus-bike debate* to do so there is no reasonable way to draw that kind of line.  To suggest that we should restrict access to anyone based on their purpose…well, that just smacks of totalitarianism.  To bestow a greater right to the road based on nobility of need goes against the American principle of “freedom.” 

No one is willing to abdicate their own right to the road under any circumstances and rightly so.  To do so would be to endorse the notion that we do not share in the human right “freedom of movement.”   Freedom of movement specifically addresses the basic human right of citizens (with respect to the rights of others) to move and reside within the borders of the state that they are a citizen of, to travel from that state, and to return without arbitrary restriction. 

Typically laws concerning this concept don’t delve into the mode of transportation used either to convey a specific right to a preferred mode of transportation or to restrict any mode of transportation from being used.  Laws that address this sort of issue are typically related to specific circumstances, such as the case of limited access highways not allowing slow-moving traffic or cars being prohibited from travelling upon sidewalks.

I’m a firm believer in allemansr├Ątten, but what I’m talking about is a different concept.  

To paraphrase Gavin de Becker: Motorists are afraid that bicyclists will inconvenience them. Bicyclists are afraid that motorists will kill them.

"But I AM a responsible motorist!" the unenlightened motorists counter, before showing their big "but cyclists..."

...are unpredictable.

...break laws.

...ride in dangerous places.

...shouldn't be on my road.

...bless their hearts, could do a lot more to keep me from hitting them with my car.

Isn't that what they're really trying to say? "I'm too busy/lazy to be troubled with thinking about how to deal with the unexpected factor in the roadway."

And while some may argue that only cars have a right to be in the road there is nothing implied in all of the drivers' manuals in this country that absolve motorists of their responsibility to take their foot off the gas when a living human being appears in front of their gas powered wheel-chairs.  In fact, it may be necessary to come to a complete stop and suffer a mild inconvenience to do the right thing and not hit that cyclist/pedestrian/child-chasing-a-ball-into-the-street.

Let's forget about bikes momentarily. Some people in my community (and yours) don't own a car. They have needs beyond their own property. They have two options (since there are no shoulders or sidewalks): 1) walk in the road, or 2) trespass across private property.

Many people don't have the option of driving everywhere. Some choose to walk. Some choose to ride bikes. Should they not be able to use the roads and be forced to trespass in order to go about their normal lives?

What's the solution?

Don't Slow Cars Down
Don't Slow Cars Down
Don't Slow Cars Down
It's practical for me to ride my bike, a legal vehicle (and this is an important point in this matter), anywhere I want to go. It costs almost nothing to operate, has almost no pollution, is easily and cheaply maintained, is pretty fast for local trips and improves my health.

Walking would be even better for me and my community. But I'm held hostage to the false notion that I should drive everywhere.

In a recent Book of Face discussion, an out-of-state relative suggested that bikes shouldn't be allowed on roads with more than a 25 mph speed limit.  This is a ludicrous assertion.  25 mph roads don’t connect all of the important places in our lives.  At least they don’t unless we’re very fortunate.  To restrict bikes (and in his estimation pedestrians as well) to roads that are 25 mph or less is to take away the usefulness of the bike or feet. 

Using the logic that we should  restrict slow-moving bikes from public roads would mean that that we should also prohibit pesky farm machinery, oversized loads, mail trucks, and schoolbuses from our roads; all of which can unnecessarily slow down traffic for miles (I'm all for eliminating buses altogether and making everyone line up in their cars for hours before and after school to clog the pipes).

I won’t argue that freedom of movement bestows the right to travel upon a bike anywhere you want, but I would argue that you can’t steal the right to travel on foot from ambulatory people.  At it’s very essence freedom of movement implies this basic mode of transportation while not expanding further.  It most definitely does not imply the right to travel anywhere by car.  It’s really not about how you get there.  So the car necessarily is left out of the argument.  As is the bicycle.

Since allemansr├Ątten (the right to roam) is not the law of the land, and typically the only public place for people to travel is the roadway, it stands to reason that people have a right to be in the roadway.  The argument that roads are designed for cars is simply dodging the real underlying issue that roads have been mistakenly designed for cars and not people for far too long. 

In modern Americaour freedom of movement has been fundamentally threatened.  We’re nearly forced—by circumstances beyond our control, by pressure to succeed in society, by threat of being typecast as bizarre—to own automobiles.  Our small towns and rural areas cannot support a modest citizenry with employment, and our urban areas can’t allow affordable densities, and because of this suburban areas, autocentric wastlands, have overtaken the landscape and by design mandated our extreme dependence on the car. 

Clogging up our roadways with socialist ideology

The idea that individuals should be allowed to travel without being impeded by their government is a fundamental right.  Our right to travel freely has been restricted because for decades automakers have sold us the lie of success through car ownership.  We’re being controlled because our conformance ensures the wealth of the few.  As long as we buy into the lies of planned obsolesces, annual fad upgrades, the need to own a car with a five year, fifty-thousand mile warrantee, and the peer pressure to keep up with those darned Joneses…well, as long as we let ourselves be led down this path we are most definitely being controlled whether we want to admit it or not.

My MoDOT subject cousin argues that pedestrians and cyclists should stay off of roads that have speed limits higher than 25 mph but then complains about money spent on segregated facilities.  And then argues that no one is demanding that we all have to drive cars, or that if I don’t like it I can move to someplace where I don’t need a car.  If only it were that easy.

I laugh at the notion that I’m tilting at windmills (as he charges).  Tilting at windmills or arguing for social justice, freedom of choice, local resilience, and against outdated “conventional” wisdom?

As overwhelming as it seems to face the task of untangling the mess that we find ourselves in now I’m glad to be in a place where I can affect change.  I’m glad to be included in meetings where people are talking about making the right kinds of change and open to reason and new ideas.  I’m glad to hear others saying that we need to face down the dragons, so I can be certain I’m not tilting at windmills.

Does this look like a windmill to you?

*Which really needs to cease

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