Friday, September 06, 2013

Cars are people too

Owning and traveling in a car have become prerequisites to full citizenship in this country. Anyone who walks, rides a bike or uses public transit is viewed as transportationally impaired rather than drivers being viewed as transportationally privileged.

I've seen nothing in the media about this phenomenon. It's at least as burdensome as the cost of a college education -- if not more so -- because every working stiff needs wheels to get to the job, no matter what the job pays or what education was needed to secure it. Owning a car has become the norm. Therefore, anyone who does not go by car is subnormal.

Plenty of people go to their jobs without using an automobile. In cities the carless don't stand out as conspicuously, although the bicyclists among the carless do.  Bicyclists always stand out, except when someone doesn't see one before, during or after a collision.

With the least bit of open driving room, motorist domination takes full effect. The road is almost a sacred space, consecrated to their unimpeded speed. Many of them do accommodate cyclists, but in many places it takes a special effort to do so. If there were no cyclists, motorists would not miss them or invent a substitute.

If we had gone straight from four legs (equine) to four wheels (automotive), the evolution would have been methodical and complete. In rural areas one might have to drive past someone riding a horse, but equestrians are rare on the public right-of-way. The old way would have been neatly eradicated by the new. The bicycle screwed everything up. It was much cheaper to have and to house than a horse. It proliferated before the automobile did, and has refused to disappear. It has many practical and fun applications. And it's far less expensive to have and to house than an automobile.

I admit that sitting on my ass in a car and hopping out at my destination in normal clothing can be seductively convenient. When I took to the bicycle I lived in a town and had no money. I needed to travel cheaply and I could ride my short hops in regular clothing. Only when I moved to the boonies did my commute turn into a longish open-road ride. Bike clothing is important for comfort and efficiency.

Anyone who has not gotten hooked on cycling can't possibly understand how compelling it is. Normal people, normal drivers and the young tads who yearn to become drivers, find us incomprehensibly stubborn and willfully stupid to forgo the vast benefits of motorized transportation.

As summer ended I noticed the seasonal uptick in motorist aggression that comes every year. SADS, September Asshole Driver Syndrome, occurs as everyone gets back to the humdrum grind of school and work. A cyclist seems to mock these toilers. They can't understand how anyone gets to go play around in the street, blocking traffic on a wobbly two-wheeler, when everyone else is getting back to virtuous labor.

Even those who get paid to enforce the law don't really understand the ones that pertain to cyclists. One of Wolfeboro's finest actually hit the lights and yelled at a cyclist to "use the crosswalk" after the rider legally entered traffic from a side street onto Main Street. Down in Rye, the police chief raced out to stop a group ride on Route 1A, an immensely popular cycling route, because motorists had phoned in to complain that the bike riders were impeding traffic by not riding single file to the far right. The RSA he cited is only a fraction of the laws relating to cyclists, but it's the little piece of scripture he held firmly to support his point of view. The cars must get through.

We all need to get along. The public right-of-way and the transportation system in total need to work for all modes of human transportation. The system needs to be adaptable enough to accommodate shifts in usage, too. If a whole lot of people suddenly decided to ride a bike or walk, they should be able to do so. At the same time, those who really must drive -- and even those who merely choose to -- should not be grossly restricted in their ability to take advantage of the capabilities of their machinery. Maybe the answer is to adjust the capability of the motorized machinery to restrict it to cooperative sizes, speeds and maneuverability.

I would be willing and happy to put my car on a train for the long cross-country hauls, rather than put up with the hours of driving required to travel faster than the speed of enjoyment across hundreds of miles. I would be equally happy -- more happy, in fact -- to be able to roll onto a train with my bike when time does not permit me to pedal a long distance to a place where I might like to have my independent wheels when I get there.

I realize that surrendering the speed and the schedule to a mass transit system makes it harder to peel off at that enticing exit to see something that catches your eye. This is more a concern for the motorist than the cyclist. If we had roll-on access to all passenger rail systems a cyclist could ride the rails for only the selected portion of any normal rail route and hop off to explore various destinations. An auto-train would be much more expensive and restrictive because of the size of cars. Those trips would need to be much more fully planned. A car-train would have to maintain speed and limit stops in order to get antsy drivers across the wide-open spaces at a speed as good as, or better than, they could make by themselves.

Meanwhile, I have to go annoy people by pedaling to work. I'm late as usual.


RANTWICK said...

SADS is indeed upon us, I'm afraid. Something you touched on there is really important:

"Anyone who has not gotten hooked on cycling can't possibly understand how compelling it is."

I think this is at the heart of most driver impatience or agression. What we do just seems so stupid! I get what they don't get, if you get me.

cafiend said...

I dig what you're saying.