This Sign Says It All

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To you, it might be a car that accidentally clipped a crosswalk sign. To me, it’s everything that’s wrong about the prioritization of cars in our society.

enlight913

The following PSA from New York State encourages walkers to wear bright, reflective clothing, use crosswalks, and to face oncoming traffic. This sign that has been the victim of a vehicle crash is bright, reflective and faces oncoming traffic… and it warns the driver of a crosswalk.  And yet here it is, on the ground.  My guess is that if the sign was a pedestrian, he or she would be dead regardless of these well-meaning but inherently victim-shaming suggestions employed here.

“But Arian, pedestrians and cyclists have the same responsibility to safely navigate our roadways as cars.  We are all bound by the same laws.”

One of the hardest things for people to realize about why we advocate for the prioritization of pedestrians and bikes over cars is that they are simply not equal.  Take bikes for example… legally, they have the same rights and responsibilities on the road within the framework of the law.  But to see them as “equal” on our roadways is to believe that humans will create a natural equilibrium when given the same set of rules, laws or responsibilities. The reality could not be further from this assumed equilibrium.

When we bestow one human with a 3000 pound steel cage on wheels capable of high speeds and enormous power, and another with a 25 pound bike and call them equal, I assure you, the driver, overcome with the power that surrounds him, will quickly assert his dominance and claim the space for himself.  I know this because I drive and bike on our roads.  When the disparity of size and power between two people plays itself out on what is assumed to be an equal playing field, even in the eyes of the law, the results are rarely, if ever, “equal.” The human with power will use it to dominate the space, the match, the venue and “win” the day. We do this without knowing, every day in our lives and on the road. It’s why we buy bigger cars than we need, it’s why we drive faster and honk the horn and beat the steering wheel… because we assume that our financed vehicles of power give us the right to control our surroundings, and anyone who doesn’t comply is a challenge to this power.

enlight912

“But Arian, I see cyclists and pedestrians breaking the law all the time!”

Yes indeed, cyclists and pedestrians break the law.  Just like drivers do every time they go 5 miles over the speed limit (which is always), or roll through a stop sign, or stop in a crosswalk, or park in a bike lane… you get my point.  The fact that people are so quick to point out when a pedestrian or cyclists is breaking the law, and so quick to ignore or dismiss the blatant infractions we constantly make while behind the wheel is yet another testament to the sense of power and entitlement that our cars and our car-prioritized roads give us.

Furthermore, the ability to cause damage and harm to others is FAR greater for a driver than a pedestrian or cyclist. If a car rolls through a stop sign and hits a pedestrian, the pedestrian’s life will likely be in grave danger, while the driver is perfectly protected.  But if a pedestrian or cyclist breaks the law, the resulting risk is only to himself or herself.  Whether the pedestrian or the driver makes a mistake, the pedestrian will always be far more likely to suffer a serious injury.  Thus, the greater responsibility should always fall on the mode of transportation with the greatest potential to do harm.

For decades, cars have been prioritized on our subsidized roadways, creating a nation of individuals who equate driving with a “right,” as if bestowed by our constitution. And when this right is even mildly challenged, we as a nation rage in defense of our perceived endangered right to drive our cars when and how we want. We ironically claim government overreach, when in fact the overreach of government in the form of subsidies for oil companies, automobile manufacturers and highway construction has helped create the belief in “the right to own the road” in the first place. Renewed interest in improving pedestrian, bike and transit infrastructure is a serious threat to an artificially fueled system meant to guide the automobile to dominance over all else, disenfranchising all who might choose or be forced to utilize a different method of moving about our communities and our country.

It’s narrowing roads and it’s adding bike lanes. It’s removing parking and replacing it with something that activates our urban cores. It’s building more iconic crosswalks and bump outs and curbing and traffic calming measures. The reason we talk about prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists and transit systems over the automobile is simple… we have long since built an America where the car is THE ONLY mode of transportation that is prioritized, subsidized and worshiped without regard for societal impact, public safety, sustainability, and the ever-growing financial gap between what we need to maintain and what we can afford.  We advocate for the prioritization of pedestrians and cyclists over cars because equality in the eyes of the law does not equate to equality on the pavement.  We demand the re-prioritization of our right of ways, and the slowing of cars because they are overwhelmingly more dangerous than any other mode of transportation on the road.

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Finally, this is another pedestrian sign that was recently clipped by a car.  Every time we see this, we must come to terms with the fact that signs, crosswalks and PSA’s putting the onus on pedestrians to protect themselves doesn’t solve the problem.  We must create safer roadways that favor a new prioritization, one that slows traffic and enables safer and more equitable travel for all.