When cars aren't in charge

So at the beginning of October, Adam Rogers of Wired  published his manifesto Observation Deck: Designing Cities for People, Not Cars.  It is an interesting discussion of establishing parts of cities where people (on foot or on bicycle) are in charge rather than cars.  There are two very interesting parts of it that set things bouncing around in my head: He talks about how there is a visceral, emotional reaction as a pedestrian to doing something in today’s cities that doesn’t acknowledge that cars are in charge (i.e. crossing an intersection diagonally), andthe discussion of Disney’s Main Street as the seminal example of a streetBoth of these statements got me thinking about my own experiences as a cyclist or transit-commuter and about the nature of cities today.The emotion of bikes on roadAs a long time bike commuter, I’ve experienced a lot of hate from drivers as I try to use the roads as the traffic Act expects that I do when on my bike: exactly the same as a car.  It is interesting to watch a driver get frustrated and begin acting stupidly.  More frightening is the vitriolic reactions you hear on the radio when the topic is discussed.  Drivers, as a generalization not as a truism, assume that the road is theirs and that its unsafe (on one end of the spectrum) or insulting (on the other) that bike would deign to use the roads for themselves.  I’ve often wondered at this attitude, but Adam’s comments put it into perspective:”we’d lay on the streets, and even though we knew [we were safe] intellectually, we were so trained emotionally to think that the street belonged to cars, we had to get up”The same emotional training that keeps pedestrians from jay-walking diagonally across intersections and from laying in empty-nightime-downtown streets it the same emotional training that becomes a driver’s entitlement to the roadway.  Emotions are powerful things.Did Disney get it right?Adam cites a bunch of examples of cities where the paradigm is changing, Disney’s main street being the strongest example of this metaphorical street. I have chosen to live within 10 km of where I work.  I have chosen to live in a city with an extensive trail system easily accessed from a large area of residential development.  I have chosen to take public transit or my bike to work for the better part of a decade because even though cars have been”the predominant design paradigm for about a century”it is still often more convenient from a parking-rushhour perspective.  That said, I think I’ve been able to make that choice because along with the proximity to work, is the proximity to services.  I can walk to a major grocery.  I can walk to a mall.  I can walk to the kids’ schools.  I can walk to the library, pool, police and many other services.  If none of those things were present, I’m guessing the twice a day commute to work would pale in comparison to the infinitesimal trips to get things done (tm). So in the end, I don’t know that a focus on designing cities where people can convey themselves by foot and bike is a rational proposition, unless we design cities where there is a awareness and an economic incentive to localizing the services that we all rely on.  The mega-mall next to the ‘burbs is what is killing the pedestrian nature of our cities, and it is the predominant car-design paradigm with this emotional fear that roads are the domain of cars that leads us farther down that rabbit hole.


Jon Holt

A coach, an entrepreneur, and a no-bull advisor in growing small businesses through the use of practical strategy, light-weight governance and sitting back and thinking about running your business, regardless of what you do.

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