Thursday, September 27, 2007

People, Not Speed

You may have noticed that recently I've added the tag line "People, not speed" at the bottom of my posts.

I've been an active cyclist for almost a year now, and by active I mean I've been corresponding with other cyclists all over the country (and the world, on occasion), and taking part in (or trying to take part, if COBAC would ever return my requests to join them) as many advocacy efforts as I can. This blog is a big part of that for me - I've gotten to meet a few of my readers and I have to say it's a pleasure to have done so.

But being an active cyclist has also shown me the dark side of traffic policy in this city and country. Not only is traffic policy overwhelmingly in favor of automobiles and their use, but it's to the point where cyclists are seen as road hazards (as indicated by LA Metro Supervisor Mike Dunn in this article from the LAist).

The latest example of this that I've read is from Great Britain's Velorution, where the story of Emma Foa' serves to illustrate two things:

1. Motorists place much more emphasis on being able to drive unimpeded and without restrictions than they do on driving safely and without harming others.

2. In many cases, the law supports such claims.

I am in favor of the Dutch system of law, where if a driver hits a bicycle or pedestrian, then the driver is assumed guilty unless it can be proven that the cyclist or pedestrian acted in a way that the driver was unable to avoid them.

This law would totally remove the famous excuse of drivers who have hit cyclists: "I didn't see him." You know what? No one cares. It's your responsibility as the driver of a larger and more potentially damaging vehicle to drive carefully and to see the entire street before moving.

Does this mean you shouldn't be able to drive while talking on the phone, or drinking coffee, or putting on makeup, or shaving, or reading a map? Yes, it means exactly that. If you are doing any of these things while driving, you are impairing yourself from taking the whole road and all its operators into consideration and you are jeopardizing the safety of those around you. You have rights, but as soon as your rights infringe upon the life or limb of those around you, those rights vanish.

Now it's just up to the law to catch up with this thinking.

People, not speed.

5 comments:

  1. Advocacy is like climbing a mountain. It's difficult and sometimes we have to turn back and try another day.

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  2. Very true. And unfortunately, strategy is not something with which I'm particularly adept. As a computer programmer, my mindset is more of "hack away at it till it works the way you want." And that tends to be the way I go through life. If I can't get it to work the way I want, I'm likely to abandon it.

    So advocacy is a tricky thing for me to really tackle - I am fully aware that things don't change overnight, and also that compromise is going to need to be part of part of my lexicon. But my psyche doesn't work that way right now.

    I see a problem: our current road system causes injury and death at a rate of over 40,000 people per year. And I see the solution: remove as many motorists from the drivers' seats as possible and replace them with buses, trains, and bikes. The trick comes when you run into people who don't see that loss of 40,000 lives as a big enough problem to overhaul a broken system.

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  3. Good post Jamie. Long term and Strategic advocacy is what's required. The Dutch have emphasized cyclists and pedestrians safety over motorist convenience since the end of World War II because of economic and space restraints. The United States boomed during the time period, on the other hand, and bicycling advocacy didn't start on any level anywhere until the 70s in the San Francisco Bay Area -- it took over 20 years to see any results from that, but the laws, engineering and driver attitudes we have here are a direct result of the groundwork laid over 30 years.

    Ohio as a state has had some decent groundwork that began about a decade ago, but you guys also have the advantage of increasingly active advocacy and leadership through groups like the Thunderhead Alliance.

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  4. I've been working desperately to try to get COBAC principle to build/fix the membership program isues. Thanks for alerting us to the issue. I'll follow up with you soon.

    Thanks for all you do!

    Jeff Stephens
    Columbus Transportation & Pedestrian Commission

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  5. Thanks, Jeff. As you know, I've talked to the person you're referring to (I think) face to face and he told me straight up that he'd get me my membership information. And that was over a month ago.

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