Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fatal Pace

Oregon, Wisconsin USA

Our failure as a community to support and reward those who attempt to go about their lives at a walking or bicycling pace is bad enough. But the recent cyclist fatality near Brooklyn, Wisconsin reminds us that we-the-drivers often pose a life-and-death threat to non-motorists. The swift, the powerful, and the heavily-armored so thoroughly dominate most of our public thoroughfares today that merely walking or bicycling across them can be hazardous. (Walk or bicycle along them? Forget it!)

Our pervasive (if unintentional) disregard for the “least among us” – i.e. those annoyingly slow, small, vulnerable creatures called pedestrians and bicyclists – represents one of the most flagrant injustices in our society. Rather than joining the anthropogenically-motivated, we’ve made things even worse by withdrawing ever more frequently into our supersized vehicular exoskeletons. Many of us now consider a three-ton armored personnel carrier a practical necessity for conveying our youngster to extra-curricular activities. “My child needs to participate just like other normal children, and I need a big SUV to keep her safe!”

Unsurprisingly, our police and highway departments won’t slow drivers down enough to make it feel safe and be safe for non-motorists on our roads and highways. A more human pace would surely throw a wrench in our speed-addicted economy, and a voting majority that has become almost totally dependent on the automobile would not suffer any such disruption to the “Happy Motoring” way of life.

I cannot end this with a pep talk and some bullet-points. Not only is the Brooklyn cyclist’s death a tragedy; our sprawling, hyper-mobile, resource-gobbling way of life is a tragedy as well. And so long as we cling to our steering wheels; so long as our leaders deploy American troops all over Earth to ensure an uninterrupted flow of cheap energy into our tanks, nothing will change.

3 comments:

John Andersen said...

The good news is change is coming soon.

The resources that fuel our fast-paced lifestyle will no longer be available at prices most people can afford.

Technology can't overcome geologic reality this time.

The upshot?

We'll soon be forced to consider other means of transportation.

Suddenly then, the wisdom of walking and cycling will become obvious to people of common sense.

It's not far off now.

Nathan P said...

I support reduced speed limits wherever possible. This results in increased safety and efficiency. How about 45mph on "expressways" and divided highways, and 25mph everywhere else? On a bike, I can deal with cars whizzing by at 45 mph, but it gets scary once they exceed this speed.

How would Jevon's Paradox fit into a world of reduced speed limits, and therefore higher vehicle efficiencies (well, energy efficient, not time efficient)? I'm not sure it would apply here - we value time efficiency more highly than energy efficiency, in general (discount rate governs this).

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