Category Archives: CarNage

Anti-Car (not anti-driver) and Proud

On Friday I was at the SF Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) to give a talk with Bruce Appleyard entitled The Legacy of Livable Streets: Four decades later, what have we learned? Bruce is the son of Donald Appleyard the UC Berkeley professor who led the 1969 study on the social impacts of motor vehicle traffic in San Francisco that I replicated for my dissertation at the UWE Centre for Transport and Society.  Tragically, Donald Appleyard was killed by a speeding car in 1982, a shock that reverberated throughout the urban planning world.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Bruce is finishing up his PhD at UC Berkeley and looking to release a second edition of his Dad’s seminal work, Livable Streets.   He and I just met when I returned to the States in October.  He’s a really sweet guy, and I feel like I’m almost getting to know the father through the son.    Bruce and I have been traveling around the Bay Area talking with high school students, planning organizations, and anyone else who will listen about the importance of his father’s work, and how we can take lessons from Livable Streets to help us get us out of this mess that we’re in.

Josh Hart and Bruce Appleyard at Santa Cruz High School Dec. 17th 2009

David Baker, architect of sustainable housing and longtime bicycle advocate, moderated the session on Friday and introduced me as being ‘one of the old guard transportation activists from San Francisco- someone who has, over the years, remained unabashedly anti-car.’ (or something like that)

Thank you David Baker.   Honestly, that is the kindest thing you could possibly say to me.  As readers of this blog are well aware, there is no love lost between me and ol’ four wheels.  Unfortunately the potentially healthy relationships we could have had with the car have (almost exclusively) been usurped by relationships of dependency that have proven devastating to our health.  Devastating in ways that are now being documented and measured like never before.

I have no problem with coming right out and saying it.   I am anti-car.  I am vehemently and totally against our society’s current relationship with the automobile.  The expectation that everyone can own a car and use it as one’s primary transportation is delusional and dangerous.  However, I am not anti-driver. And there is a big difference.  Love the patient.   Hate the disease.

What I said by way of introduction at the SPUR event, was the following:

Imagine that you grew up in an alcoholic family, watching your sisters and brothers beaten, your parents so drunk they couldn’t stand up, watching them collapse in the gutter puking their guts out, watching them neglect the ones who they loved and gamble the family’s nest egg just so they could get one more bottle of booze.  If this was you, I imagine you’d be pretty anti-alcohol, despite perhaps enjoying a glass of wine with dinner on occasion as an adult.

Our society is like that family- but the drug of choice is of course, fossil fuels, with the most potent method of administering that drug being the motor vehicle.   Sadly, the addiction is that much worse because it goes undiagnosed (and like many other drugs is extremely dangerous when combined with alcohol).  The side effects written off as “tragic accidents” and “natural” disasters.  Somehow we have grown numb to the impacts.  The biggest killer of our kids.  The greatest threat to our future.  Doesn’t get much bigger than that.

To confront the reality directly would require difficult questions about the morality of our society- especially questions of class and corporate power, and require an initially painful period of withdrawal.  For most people, that transition is too much to take on as long as social norms and current land uses continue to require that human adults individually purchase and operate a vehicle with five or more seats.  Though as a new generation grow up into a senseless motorized and suicidal society, this dynamic is perhaps gradually starting to shift.

We need an intervention of historic proportions- a way to shake ourselves out of our complacency. But how, when, and where?  Who?  You?

So why am I anti-car?  So glad you asked.  Let us count the reasons:

Top Ten Reasons I am Anti-Car:

Cars are killing our kids. Motor vehicles are the number one killer of California children and UK boys (1).

Cars are poisoning the air. We sacrifice the air that we breathe to exhaust pipes, the toxins from which kill up to an estimated 2.4 million people/ year and degrade the health and quality of life of billions more. (2)  One’s right to breathe is now considered less important than one’s right to drive.

Cars are destroying our mental health Worsening road noise causes an unknown epidemic of stress, sleep deprivation- even heart disease and depression. (3)

Cars are destroying our local social lives and communities. The volume of traffic on your road largely determines the number of your neighbors with whom you are acquainted,  and particularly the number of close friends.  (4)

Cars are terrifying billions into lives of inactivity and disease. Cars not only allow people to live virtually exercise-free lives, they also scare countless others away from walking and bicycling and into sedentary (and often solitary) lifestyles.  Lovely stuff.   Skyrocketing obesity levels in the developed world are a predictable outcome of our car-friendly planning and transport policies over the last 60 years.  In the United States, 70% of the population fails to meet minimum recommended physical activity (5), a deficiency that leads to over $77 billion per year in hospital costs. (6)

Cars destroy human and animal life.  We kill or seriously injure 50 million human beings (7) (more than 200 Haitis) and somewhere over 1 billion wild and domesticated animals every year which we dismiss as “accidents” on the world’s roads. (8)  The truth is that this massive suffering and death toll is a preventable tragedy.  Deaths and injuries are strongly linked to the number and speed of vehicles on a given roadway. (9)  One less car will actually save a life.

Cars are jeopardizing our stable climate.  We are endangering the very foundation of our civilization- a stable, productive climate, just so we can continue to put the pedal to the metal.  Despite clear warnings from scientists, we persist in selfish and self-destructive behaviors like individual, habitual driving- not because we are evil, but because we think that someone else is paying attention to the problem.  Cars are responsible for more CO2 emitted than any other sector in California. (10)

Adolf Hitler LOVED cars. And yes, what top ten list would be complete without Hitler.  It is true that the man himself really was the driving force behind the Volkswagen, the Autobahn, and ultimately the technique of killing 6 million Jews and other undesirables efficiently with the use of the internal combustion engine.

On that note, happy cycling.

Sources

(1)  ONS, 2002. Social Focus in Brief: Children July 2002. London: Office for National Statistics/TSO. Available from: http://www.statistics.gov.uk [Accessed 8 April 2008].  For US: http://www.disastercenter.com/cdc/111riskc.html

(2) WHO, 2002. Estimated deaths & DALYs attributable to selected environmental risk factors. WHO Member State, 2002.

(3)  YAMAZAKI, S., SOKEJIMA, S., NITTA, H., NAKAYAMA, T., FUKUHARA, S., 2005. Living close to automobile traffic and quality of life in Japan: A population-based survey, International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 15:1, 1-9.

(4)  APPLEYARD, D., 1969.  The Environmental Quality of City Streets: The Residents’ Viewpoint.  Journal of the American Planning Association, 35, pp. 84-101.

and

HART, J. (2008) Driven to Excess: Impacts of Motor Vehicle Traffic on Residential Quality of Life in Bristol, UK.  University of the West of England 2008.

(5)  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, 2000. Healthy People 2010. Washington, DC: USDHHS.

(6)  PRATT, M., MACERA, C.A., WANG, G., 2000. Higher direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 28 (10), 63–70.

(7) WHO, 2004. Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

(8) http://culturechange.org/issue8/roadkill.htm

(9)  ROBERTS, I., NORTON, R., JACKSON, R., DUNN, R., HASSALL, I., 1995.  Effect of environmental factors on risk of injury of child pedestrians by motor vehicles: a case-control study.  British Medical Journal. 310:91-94.

and

IIHS, 2000. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report 35 (5), May 13, 2000.

(10) http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/solutions/cleaner_cars_pickups_and_suvs/californias-global-warming.html

Walk 21: Pedestrian Blackjack Claptrap or Sustainable Transport Agenda?

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I was invited to present my research Driven to Excess, on motor traffic and neighbourhood social decay, at the Walk 21 conference in early October.   The conference was inspiring, if a little corporate.  In particular, the choice to invite a speaker from the Global Road Safety Partnership, an auto industry front group, rang alarm bells.    It was great though to be able to meet the people behind much of the research that I had read as part of my Transport Planning Masters program at UWE.   People like Daniel Sauter, who together with Marco Huettenmoser conducted research on the social impact of various speeds of traffic, an important addition to the literature.

Leinberger and Aspirational Housing

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Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institute, spoke about the emerging public preference for walkable urban environments compared to driveable suburban layouts.  He discussed the ‘walk score’ from 0-100 that real estate agents are increasingly using in the states to identify walkable residential neighbourhoods, where 0-20 represents the need to drive anywhere for your daily needs, and 100 represents walkable corner shop tree-lined urban utopia.  Apparently 1 walk score point now represents $500- $3000 in value on a new house.  And this insatiable demand for walkable urban housing units in the United States is forecast to increase by 56 million by 2025 (!!!).

Leinberger spoke about how television provides a glimpse into the kind of residential living that our culture desires.   In the 1950’s and 60’s it was all shows based in the suburbs- Leave it to Beaver, Brady Bunch, Addams Family etc.  People wanted a large yard and detached housing. That has largely been replaced by the dense urban ideal, represented by Seinfeld, Sex and the City, and (blech!) Friends.  The dwindling exurbs of California, foreclosed and emptying of people, are the outward manifestation of this aspiration.   Somewhere deep down, we can intuitively sense the type of urban planning that is killing us.

The American Love Affair Cools- Industry Responds

With the warming to dense, urban, walkable environments, there has been a corresponding cooling of the love affair with the automobile- particularly among the young generation- those born in the 80’s and 90’s.  If this is happening in LA, as reported in the LA Times, don’t doubt for a second that something significant is occurring.

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Good- then start manufacturing streetcars and bicycles!

All this combined with the recession has likely generated not a little bit of panic in the auto industry boardrooms.   Interestingly, Toyota has just launched its ‘beyond cars’ advertising campaign.   This is what car companies do when their focus groups start talking about bicycles….they try to convince us they’re not selling cars- they’re selling all the things that cars have taken from us, like “local lunches, social networks, safer kids, clean drinking water, etc.”  A page out of the official corporate greenwash manual to be sure.

“The Global Road Safety Partnership”

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The "Global Road Safety Partnership" at Walk 21

Speaking of a desperate industry, needing to associate itself with the walkable communities movement…..for the final plenary session, the conference organisers invited none other than former Daimler Chrysler employee Kathleen Elsig of the “Global Road Safety Partnership”, an organisation set up by the World Bank and car companies to influence the global road safety agenda.  Not too unlike the programs the tobacco industry funds to discourage teens from taking up smoking.   Lots of good pr allowing them to unload millions of cars onto roads in the global south that aren’t prepared for them.   As a result, millions of vulnerable road users will be maimed or killed every year so that Daimler Chrysler can make a buck.

Just to make sure I’m not getting all hot and bothered over nothing here, I did a search of the academic literature.  Something interesting came up in the respected academic journal Injury Prevention, entitled Car manufacturers and global road safety: a word frequency analysis of road safety documents- showing that the GRSP attempts to de-emphasize lower speeds and discussion of the safety of walkers and cyclists.

Here is an excerpt from the research:

“After the establishment of the GRSP, there were some concerns that car makers would be unlikely to promote initiatives that conflict with their commercial interests. Our analyses provide little reassurance in this respect. For example, whereas the World report emphasizes the importance of speed reduction, particularly to promote the safety of pedestrians, a recommendation that is based on strong evidence, the GRSP documents emphasize driver training and safety education campaigns, which is contrary to the available research evidence.

Compared to (the World Health Organisation’s) World report on road traffic injury prevention, the GRSP road safety documents were substantially less likely to use the words speed, speed limits, child restraint, pedestrian, public transport, walking, and cycling, but substantially more likely to use the words school, campaign, driver training, and billboard.

In other words, in response to a health crisis where 30,000 people get seriously injured every day, where mostly poor, mostly brown, mostly self-propelled people get hit by cars, the industry- through its front group the GRSP- advocates not for policies that are proven to keep children’s hearts beating in this hostile motor-filled world of ours, but for programs that are unlikely to affect car sales or the dominance of drivers on public roads.  Not to be dramatic about it or anything.  But to prevent the heartbreak of a parent just one time. One less car sold. Twenty seconds in the journey of a driver.  These things make a difference, but to the car industry the risk of allowing auto-hegemony to slip is apparently not worth it.  The GRSP has also been scrutinised by the always vigilant George Monbiot.

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At the very least, a mistake on the part of the Walk 21 conference organisers to invite her.  At the worst, a dangerous willingness to provide a platform to a group that lobbies against peer-reviewed evidence, putting millions of brown, voiceless people in harm’s way just to sell a few more million set of wheels.  Hardly the kind of image the conference needs as it tries to include the majority world, while inducing a new generation of expense account consultants, city planners, and starry-eyed urbanists to shell out for 2010 and fly thousands of miles to pat each other on the back and eat fancy corporate-funded hors d’oeuvres.

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Kathleen Elsig

When it came time for questions, I gulped down a sushi roll, walked up to the microphone and asked, “Ms. Elsig, do you think an effective strategy in the fight against the global road safety pandemic would be to sell fewer cars?” A muttering rippled through the hundreds in the audience- how would a representative of the auto industry answer this one? She answered, “well that’s a loaded question…..hah hah hem hah….local communities should develop their own sustainable transport plans blah blah….”   So thank you, Ms. Elsig I’ll take that as a yes.  Nice to know we have you on the record on that matter….

Steve Heminger Maintaining Tremendous Carbon
Steve-Heminger

A ghost from my Bay Area bicycle advocacy days, Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the MTC), gave the plenary talk on the Thursday about how (NEWSFLASH!) carbon is an important consideration for transportation planning in Northern California (41% of CO2 emissions are from transport in the Bay Area, compared with 14% globally) .   And something about how pedestrian planning was about people stepping in doggie doo, and how cars run over not only the poo but the dog as well.  Subsequent chuckles of semi-comprehension from the audience.  (Did he just make a joke about dead pets?  Cringeworthy…)

Steve showed a pie chart of how the Bay Area spent its transportation funds, with more than 80% going to maintenance and operations, and how the burden of maintaining the region’s highway system grows more onerous each year.   Of course it’s not helping our carbon emissions that 10% of the region’s federal funding goes toward expanding those highways, placing a progressively greater burden on planning agencies.

He went on to moan a bit about how the carbon reductions for the transport sector seemed insurmountable, but boasting about how the Bay Area was at least beginning to worry about the problem.  Yes but, continuing to expand the system that we desperately need to begin to wind down would make it more difficult, wouldn’t it Steve?   There was the sense from his talk that all was fine and dandy with our current transport system, if only we could deal with those pesky carbon emissions.

So, I hear now from sources in the Bay Area, that under the leadership of Heminger, the MTC has scuttled its climate protection initiative that would have funnelled money into non-motorized projects and re-channelled it into Heminger’s dirty little baby- a ‘freeway performance initiative.’

So much for bold leadership in a time of crisis.

This is really a reflection of the ideological position held by the elected officials that make up the MTC- that Earth’s atmosphere is a troublesome burden better put off for another day- kinda like the US/ UK attitude toward the Copenhagen conference.   The truth of course, as many people are realising on their own- is that climate presents us with an opportunity to really kick the fossil fuel habit once and for all- and the dangerous, polluted, noisy, and anti-social streets that result from it.  Real green shoots, signs of spring, not corporate false-solution offset it to another day empty greenwash.

It’s not our current government’s fault that the decision was made decades ago to give the green light to personal motoring, but it is their cowardice to admit we were wrong that is hurtling us ever closer- making it more and more likely ever day that the eventual outcome will be catastrophic- perhaps terminal- for our human species.

A good reason to walk in the street I’d say….

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The Greenwash:

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-From Toyota’s “Beyond Cars” Greenwashing Campaign

The Reality:

“The street is quite anonymous- we only know our immediate neighbours”

“Our 4-year old girl has a constant cough and we limit the amount of time she spends outside…..we’re constantly breathing in pollution”

-From my research in Bristol with residents of Muller Rd (21,000 cars/ day)

Spring in New York

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Washington Square Park (from an NYU stairwell)

After disembarking from the cruise ship and all its excesses, I spent a couple of days in Brooklyn, four days in Vermont and New Hampshire, and then returned to the East Village in Manhattan for four days of the Walk 21 Conference at NYU.

You might be asking yourself, Spring?   Isn’t it Fall?  And yes you would be right.  But before you accuse me of getting my seasons horribly muddled, let me explain.   When I arrived, there was the sense that something new was afoot in New York City.  That the long, frigid, and hostile winter of relentless and dehumanising domination of motor traffic in our public spaces was slowly beginning to thaw.  The warming climate itself contributing to a reawakening of the appreciation of pubic space, and with it, a new possibility of self-propelled transport through the densest urban environment in the richest nation on Earth.

Instead of cursing the ‘snow’ all around, (as my inner cynic urges me to do), I decided to spend some time taking a closer look at the ‘green shoots’ where New York has decided that- oi vey- perhaps it went overboard in accommodating motor vehicles and that there may be social (and economic) value in remaking sterile asphalt dead zones into thriving social spaces.   There’s been a lot written about what New York City has been doing over the last couple years, so I won’t belabour the point, but it was really exciting to see firsthand.

Broadway

The Greening of Broadway

The Greening of Broadway

All along Broadway, the NYC Dept. of Transportation (DOT) has transformed former motor space using an inexpensive surface treatment of pebbledash and green paint to reclaim former car territory.  Beach chairs and tables are interspersed with new plants and trees.   Amazing how effective this is.  It shows how well trained we are most of the time, yielding space to cars just because it’s asphalt colored and has white and yellow lines on it.  Drivers also behave well in this new order- very rarely do their tires seem to stray onto these new areas, even when not protected by bollards.  Good drivers- you get a pat on the head, and a biscuit!

Street Life on Broadway

Street Life on Broadway

Times Square

It's about time!

It's about time!

The pedestrianisation of Times Square has perhaps received more coverage than any of the other improvements and somehow the city managed to make the new space just as gaudy as the flashing billboards surrounding the square.  Using the same design as used along Broadway- except the large dots are red instead of green, the effect is appropriately amusement park themed.

This same formula has been followed in a number of NYC neighbourhoods, generating quite an international buzz, which Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, as well as the campaign groups Transportation Alternatives and the Limewire mogul Mark Gorton funded Livable Streets Initiative can take appropriate degrees of credit.  Really though, it was the people of New York- the grassroots- who demanded action, and once it began, resoundingly voted with their feet.  According to the DOT, as soon as the chairs were installed, there was a rush of people who came to sit in them.  Citizens enjoying the new public space:  reading, chatting, drawing, or just watching the world go by.   Clearly New Yorkers have been deprived of adequate open space for too long and a huge latent demand has built up, beginning to be satisfied by the courageous and timely transport planning at the DOT.  Healthy Cities- 1  Carmageddon- 0

Ninth Avenue Bike Lanes

A bike lane my mom would ride

A bike lane my mom would ride

The 9th Ave. bike lanes are another example of where New York is re-allocating space from cars to green modes of transportation.  Though I didn’t get a chance to ride them, I did observe how they work and they have indeed transformed the look and feel of this formerly motor dominated street.   They’ve prioritised cycling, made crossings shorter for pedestrians, and softened the streetscape with new plantings.  I was skeptical of how left turning cars would interact with cyclists, but this seems to have been addressed through the use of dedicated signal phases, as has been done- after much lobbying- in San Francisco where Masonic crosses the Panhandle Path.

The High Line

Getting above it all on the High Line...

Getting above it all on the High Line...

Another reclamation of public space- in this case from abandoned railroad to pedestrian- has occurred in the Chelsea district, where an elevated rail line has begun a transformation into a walking path and native species oasis.  It really is great to see this project come to fruition.  When I worked for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in San Francisco at the beginning of the decade, I received a call one morning.  “Hi this is Ed Norton, and I’m interested in getting involved in the High Line project in New York.”   I said, ‘Oh hi.’  He said, “Yeah this is Edward Norton the actor…”  I said (totally ignorant of who he was), ‘ok well you can contact our east coast office at this number….”   Sorry Ed- I hadn’t seen Fight Club yet and didn’t know who you were.   Anyway, thanks for your support of the project.  No doubt the involvement of celebrities like you was instrumental in making the project happen.

And now for the feature presentation...the street!

And now for the feature presentation...the street!

As part of the project NYC Parks in cooperation with the Friends of the High Line have built what appears to be an amphitheater with wooden benches where people can sit and gaze at the traffic going by below.  Not exactly thrilling, unless you are an urban studies nerd like me, though it seems to be a popular place to sit and relax.

Reclining chairs along the High Line lead to socializing

Reclining chairs along the High Line lead to socializing

Further on, there are wooden benches that were built to roll sideways on the old rails until they realized that people could get their fingers pinched.  So they fixed the wheels in place.  Oh health and safety, don’t we love thy inconsistent application?   Do they know the thousands of metal boxes rolling around the city can result in worse things than pinched fingers?  Perhaps they could apply the same treatment to them as well.  Denver boots all around!

Industrial heritage.....green future

Industrial heritage.....green future

The plan is to extend the conversion of the High Line, creating a mile and a half traffic free walking artery above the noise, danger and fumes of the street.   A glimpse of what the streets below could become one day…

On the Level Blog approves....

On the Level Blog approves....

I love NY!

I love NY!

Until further notice, please feel free to ridicule the Bay Area Air “Inequality” Management District

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This memo was sent out in August to employees of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the government agency in charge of improving air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area, and revealed to the public on Jon’s Bikescape blog. Following is my response. Please feel free to write to the human resources officer at the address below, and post your letter in the comments section.

To: mrich@baaqmd.gov

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Dear Michael Rich, BAAQMD “Human” Resources:

I understand you are the author of a memo (dated August 9th) that has gone out to BAAQMD employees telling them they won’t be allowed to cycle during work hours. By the grace of God, tell me this was a prank. A sick joke perhaps? A late April Fool’s Joke?

Now I’m beginning to fear this memo was actually for real. If this is true, do you realize how ridiculous this makes you look?

There are thousands of kids throughout the Bay Area who are suffering day and night from asthma because of motor vehicle traffic, and you are chastising the very employees who are living the kind of lifestyles that would begin to reduce this shame? Perhaps BAAQMD needs a fleet of Hummers to protect their employees when they go about the very important business of improving air quality in the Bay Area. Why not tanks?

Your memo is currently making the rounds on the internet and you have become a laughing stock. Congratulations. Can you even begin to see the absurdity of your words or are you and your agency simply too wedded to personal automobility at any cost? Perhaps you are suffering from carbon monoxide inhalation, and need a long bike ride down the coast to detox?  Oh but that would violate your policy wouldn’t it?

I know now why you call it the Bay Area Air Quality MANAGEMENT District- you don’t sincerely want to IMPROVE air quality- you just want to MANAGE it. Manage the toxic soup we are all forced to breathe at a level of toxicity where the federal government won’t take away our precious highway funding. Manage it at a level that will allow rich people to continue driving their 4×4’s through poor neighbourhoods and causing cancer, asthma, and premature death without mothers and fathers sisters and brothers picking up sticks and stones and confronting the blindly habitual motorists slowly killing their children and leading us into climate chaos for which we will be judged without mercy by perpetuity.

Perhaps instead of worrying about liability for collisions, you could provide cycle training to reduce the risk. And as you would know if you did any actual research on the topic, cycling is much safer than driving when cyclists ride safely and predictably. But I imagine that in your closed minded little world, cyclists are just in the way of your Lincoln Navigator.

Navigate this:

Your policy is shortsighted, uninformed, and counterproductive to the stated policy and aims of your organization, as well as your moral duty to protect our air quality. You are failing the taxpayers of the Bay Area who pay your salary. You should be fired. Better yet, the social norms that allow a memo like this to go unquestioned in an agency like yours should be systematically dismantled for good.

It is 2007, not 1955. Wake up.

Sincerely,

Joshua Hart
Bay Area resident currently living in Bristol UK

(currently forwarding your memo to all my European friends. Do you hear that sound? It’s their chins dropping in disbelief, because they didn’t believe me when I told them that Americans could be this far in denial about cars and their impact on the environment.)

Stop at Red? The Ethics and Politics of Cyclist Red Light Running

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A new campaign has been launched in the UK called Stop at Red encouraging cyclists to sign up to ‘pledge’ their obedience to traffic signals. This campaign raises a whole host of issues for me.  I think it is well intentioned but unfortunately wholly misguided.  I guess I should start out by saying that I run red lights all the time, routinely, and I’m not ashamed of it and I won’t apologize for it.  Of course I never take anyone else’s right of way, and I only run the light if there’s no one coming.   There are a hell of a lot of lights in Bristol that seem to stay red for no particular reason.  Everyone just sits and waits.  We’re very well trained.

The sponsors of this campaign are confusing safe behaviour with law-abiding behaviour.   You can follow every law and still put yourself in a terribly dangerous position (i.e. in the door zone).   By the same token, you can slow and look around carefully at red lights and stop signs and proceed when no one is coming and you’ll likely never get into trouble.   Blindly following the law is a recipe for getting hurt on your bike.  Better to trust your own hearing, sight, and instincts than the government’s rigid idea of ‘health and safety’ which is quickly spiraling out of control, as evidenced by the recent replacement of a Guy Fawkes Bonfire with a video of a bonfire in Devon.

Cyclist red light running to me falls into the category of a victimless crime.  If a cyclist runs a light and no one’s coming, who is harmed?   The moral sensibilities of the people sitting in their cars at the light?  Please.  Where’s the habeus corpus here, people?

I think it is a noble goal to have every road user obey the law and get along great, but unfortunately we live in a society where the needs of one class of road user are prioritised at the expense of more vulnerable road users.   Cyclists are consistently hit, threatened, maimed, their air polluted, environment degraded, and then we say, oh you must EARN the respect of the car driving classes and they may offer you a few more crumbs off the table.  This is a little like saying to oppressed minorities, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “if you only acted in x, y, z ways you’d be equal, and all the -isms would vanish”

You know what- look at crosswalks- pedestrians running red lights is rampant.   Why isn’t anyone running a campaign to “improve the image of pedestrians” or raise the lowly image of the pedestrian as a “social out group”?  Of course this sounds ridiculous, about as ridiculous as this ‘stop at red’ campaign would sound to the Dutch, where cycling is a normal part of life that practically everyone engages in.

How did cyclists gain an equal, even elevated status in the Netherlands?   It wasn’t from some preachy campaign to encourage Dutch cyclists to follow the law.  No, it was because air pollution and gridlock was becoming so bad in the 1970’s that the population, and their politicians said enough is enough.  As car traffic was restricted, cycling and walking were prioritized. Now the Dutch have some of the most accessible, livable city centres in the world.   We can only hope that our pols here in the UK see the same light.

Cyclists in the Netherlands are some of the most law abiding in the world.  Why?  Because the law is reasonable and the government treats cyclists as if they have a right to the road.   In order to level the transport playing field, cyclists and pedestrians must be prioritized on account of the sheer physical weight, speed, and danger of cars– their parasitical effect on the body of urbanity.

Cycling groups such as the CTC have led the fight for cyclists to be treated the same as vehicles on the road.   These rights have been hard fought and won.   But being treated the same as a vehicle is a double edged sword, and the sharp end is hurting cyclists more than ever, I would argue.  Cyclists have de jure access to the entire road network (aside from motorways) yet more and more roads are de facto off limits to cyclists and pedestrians.   This is an extremely serious problem in rural England, where villagers who have walked or cycled along country lanes for years now find themselves excluded because of the rapidly growing traffic.  And of course these people often drive as a result, adding to the problem.  Exclusion of anyone not burning petroleum on our ‘public’ rights-of-way while our Arctic ice caps are melting is a scandal and injustice of epic proportions.

The bicycle is a kind of a hybrid animal– somewhere between a pedestrian and a vehicle, and we need to treat it as such.   Blaming cyclists for driving the wrong way down a one way street or running a stop light is a little like telling pedestrians to walk one-way on pavements.  Let’s stop trying to fit the round peg of cycling into the square hole of overly regimented traffic regulations.

The bottom line is that red lights and other rigid, auto based traffic rules are only necessary to keep the awkward and clumsy movements of cars packed into an urban area from killing and maiming more than they already do.  Why should cyclists, who aren’t the cause of this madness, be caught up in the same wide net as cars?  The solution is not to campaign for cyclists’ obedience to traffic lights, but to change the law to better reflect the reality of our transport systems.   In Idaho, the law allows cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs.  What a sensible idea.  Let’s focus our energies on the suitability of our laws rather than putting our energy into preachy campaigns that blame the victim.

This long line of cars…..is all because of ME

The traffic is horrific, but this song by Cake is AWESOME!!!  Thank you car culture! Also check out the official video here.

Thanks to Jon Winston and his excellent Bikescape podcast, based in San Francisco, for reminding me about this song.

My Home Is Melting

Climate news just keeps getting worse. First off was the report last week that the rate that we are emitting carbon into the atmosphere has dramatically increased since the start of the 21st century. Now there are reports of the cancellation of world cup ski events in Europe because of abnormally warm temperatures in the Alps. Not really the most inviting time to take a cheap flight to your ski vacation, is it? Is that knot in the pit of your stomach guilty knowledge that your gluttony is responsible for this mess we’re in? Nahhhh must be the out of date mayo on your pre-wrapped in flight sandwich….now sit back, relax, and enjoy despoiling your planet.

 

My roommates Alastair and Lizzy were down on Gloucester Rd. the other day and saw a stuffed polar bear in front of the Poundsavers store. It was plugged in to the wall, and was dancing and singing Christmas Carols. Struck by the irony of a fake polar bear using coal fired electricity to dance around for amused humans while causing its real brothers in the Arctic to drown amidst the melting ice caps was too much for us and we had to take action. As you can see, we made our own addition to the poor bear, and slyly added it while no one was looking. Point being that activism against climate damage doesn’t have to be illegal or spectacular, it can be ordinary everyday actions that remind people that burning ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels are leaving us a very uncertain and undesirable future. From the point of the Stern Report forward, ignorance is no longer an excuse, and we can all be held individually responsible for the carbon we emit. You have been warned…

 

Speaking of activism, you’ve got to check out this example of online teamwork to track down an SUV driver in NYC who was using his vehicle as a weapon. People think they are anonymous in their cars, yet with a license plate and a little ingenuity, these assailants can be publicly embarrassed for their threatening actions behind the wheel. Too bad we can’t put these people in stocks in the public square.

 

It is still totally unbelievable to me how lenient society is with dangerous drivers. What exactly is the difference between a man shooting rounds of ammunition from an AK-47 around a crowded high street, luckily missing everyone, and a man driving recklessly and aggressively down that same high street, apart from the latter also screwing up our air and climate? In this article from the Bristol Evening Post, a man is arrested for driving 90mph in a 40mph zone, driving on the pavement (sidewalk) and clipping a mother and child in their car:

 

“A judge sentenced Dale Kennedy today to 14 months in prison (way more than he would get in the US) and “banned him from driving for a year, told him he would have to take an extended driving test and endorsed his driving licence.”

 

Can you imagine the same scenario, yet with a gun instead of a car as the chosen deadly weapon? “A Judge sentenced Dale Kennedy today to 14 months in prison for firing his AK-47 in a crowded high street, banned him from shooting for a year, and told him he would have to take an extended firearms test, and endorsed his gun license”

 

This man who risked the lives of dozens of people should never be allowed to drive again after an incident like this, yet juries and judges are brainwashed into thinking that to deprive someone of their drivers license is akin to taking away their very lives. Amazing how poor public transport and non-motorized transport facilities allows society to justify letting people who are too reckless, young, old, or disabled to obtain drivers licenses.

 

Whatever the case, our car and oil addicted society is on its way to hitting rock bottom. There is a palpable excitement in communities that provide alternatives to this insanity– bicycle subcultures being a prime example. As one of the participants of the SUV justice team says: “There is something in the air, though, and we bike commuters are at the vanguard of whatever it is.”

 

Like the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement, where social norms turned on a dime and what seemed ordinary and acceptable one day was a horrific crime against humanity the next- we are soon to witness a sea change on how we see energy use, transport, and the organization of communities and commerce. It will be a different world, and many people aren’t prepared. Check out this fascinating report about how we’ve lost basic living skills in the last two generations, and how some are retraining themselves in preparation for the end of cheap electricity and fuel.