I live in an old European town. The road layout of my neighbourhood probably follows the layout of cart tracks winding their way around fields set down thousands of years ago. Today this is all built up and covered in an urban landscape. Blind curves, endless junctions, blind spots, narrow points, one way roads etc etc and of course littered with cars parked on double yellow lines. One result of all this is that it is not car friendly. Drivers used to driving in a straight line at speed on the phone, listening to music whilst picking their noses and talking to their passenger (not necessarily in that order) often run into trouble. My house is on a crossroads on a bend where one of the roads has only space for one car but two lanes and a pedestrian crossing added just to spice things up. There is a crash here about twice a month where people find out that there really isn't room to fit two cars, or that speeding round a blind corner on the approach to crossroads is a bad idea. I spent most of yesterday evening listening to the shouting match that usually follows the now familiar squeel of tires and sound of crunching metal. I had a look at both parties who I thought might end up rolling in the gutter throwing punches by the sound of things ( the cops showed up and stopped that). They looked respectable members of society and were over fifty. Yet they behaved like three year olds, shouting in the street at perfect strangers, jumping around, swearing, threatening, telling lies. Out of context it would be funny. But if you acted like that on foot they would come take you away for a drugs test... why is it acceptable to behave like that if you are a motorist ? Often through my kitchen window I hear near misses then honking and really nasty swearing. And we have all done it...
I think this behaviour comes from our belief in god given rights as motorists to huge freedom and superhuman speed that places us above pedestrians and cyclists and the resulting superhuman frustration that slowly builds up with obstacles, laws and other people "getting in our way". Add money (the cost of running,buying and repair) and watch us all turn bad.
This post sprouts from two things. Firstly I read a few days ago on citysimplicity (a really fantastic blog on all levels)
A Dangerous Annoyance (to read the blog post)
a post on how motorists treat cyclists. And secondly today I was on the way back from the Post Office on my hack bike (no cargo so no need for the Yuba Mundo) at a junction waiting to turn left facing oncoming traffic, just as I would in a car, when a woman in a huge 4x4 screamed through her windshield "get out my F*%!ing way" and raced round me missing me by inches giving me a look of disgust. She wouldn't have done that if I was in a car (Or we were both on foot). I am so used to this sort of thing, and people's attempts to clip me with wing mirrors or drive really close to show that I am a dangerous annoyance, that I don't even react outwardly any more. It was when I pulled away from the junction towards home that a few words in citysimplicity's blog came back to me, and started this train of thought ;
"As previously implied, I think everyone has their right to own and drive a vehicle..."
This is almost universally accepted even amongst cyclists. Shaken and angry, I looked up a few numbers. Cars don't just pollute our streets, but injure 50 million people and kill 1.2 million people worldwide a year, thats 2.2 percent of all deaths... motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among children worldwide.
Motor vehicle accidents are the sixth leading preventable cause of death in the United States (45,800 people died and 2.4 million were injured in 2005).
You can bet that tomorrow if you invented an activity that killed and injured as many people as cars, polluted as much and restricted everyone's freedoms in so many ways, that it would soon be banned and that you would be jailed pretty quick...
This is about rights alright. Those who are free to do as they will, and those who have to adjust their lives to fit around the automobile and give up their freedom. We have two cars in our household... I am so sick of all this that I will be looking at ways to go without.