I read the book Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes soon after it was published in the spring. I was going to write a review, but then David Byrne and the New York Times scooped me. Suffice it to say that anyone interested in reading this blog also would be interested in reading the book.
Mapes brings up many interesting points in the book – the kind that made me read and re-read, fold down the page, and want to talk about it with someone. I picked up my dusty copy this morning and started flipping back through the folded pages. My mind started sparking again, so I thought I would explore these ideas more through discussion here.
The first topic I want to address is America’s ingrained car culture and resulting unwillingness to confront the dangers of cars to ameliorate the risks. From Pedaling Revolution, pages 207-210.
I’ve talked to countless numbers of people over the years who say they moved as far out of the city as they could to provide their children with a safer environment. But, oblivious as most people are to the dangers of driving, they never think about the greater risks to which they may be putting their family.
…we don’t even like to own up to the full toll of automotive mayhem, which is the equivalent of two jumbo jetliners crashing every week and killing everyone aboard.
Bike activists are much less likely to be oblivious to the risks. There’s something about cycling next to the warm metal of a two-ton vehicle that focuses the mind.
From this comes a section on a “traffic justice movement” that “would focus on improving the safety of not only vulnerable walkers and cyclists, but of all other road users as well.” This would include enforcing traffic laws more aggressively and shifting responsibility to drivers in crashes with vulnerable users (pedestrians, cyclists). The movement has had limited success, due largely to America’s ingrained and automatic car culture: “…it becomes really difficult to have a rational discourse that might call into question certain aspects of that attachment.”
I admit that I am stumped by this problem. I know people who have lost family members to car crashes, and they do not seem to question car culture as it exists in the United States. Almost all American drivers and passengers – including me – have been in a car collision at some point and continue driving, yet after I chipped my tooth in a mild bike/train-track crash, several non-biking people were shocked that I was back on my bike so soon and commented on how they would never ride a bike in the city because “it’s so dangerous.”
How can safety advocates get through these ingrained and irrational beliefs? MADD has done a fantastic job of changing public opinion on drunk driving – is it possible to do the same with all types of driving? This should make everyone happy, as it would result in fewer deaths on the roadways all around. From the book it seems that some parts of Europe have achieved this.
Cars will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future and have a lot of positive impact on our culture. Nothing is black and white, but we have to transition into a more thoughtful society when it comes to traffic justice.
(All of these pictures are from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center Image Library under the tag “problems”)