Keep On Walking in the Free World

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Redesigning cities to encourage active or collective transportation (walking, cycling, public transit) is a fact of the future. Growing populations make the past 60 years of sprawl completely non-retractable – for reasons of social comfort AND available space, it is unlikely our cities will get smaller. And cars can’t be the only way anymore. Gas prices, road space, road damage and, not least, environmental issues make this both necessary and inevitable. So city planners and other professionals in the booming field of urban design are striving for effective means of ensuring access.

And there’s a backlash from cars, or rather those who drive them and plan to keep driving them for their own reasons. In spite of the obviously unsustainable car culture, politicians like Toronto mayor Rob Ford (previously mentioned for having so much more wrong with him than his size) are leading movements to insist cars and their drivers own the road. And as such, some say there has been less patience for people taking other modes of transport.

Ryan North, best known for Dinosaur Comics, discussed a recent death of a skateboarder struck by a car by speaking of it as a consequence of this backlash. Road rage damages lives often enough without political encouragement. Having two tons of mass to strike 150 pounds (give or take) of person is lethal, and there is a sad abundance of evidence to prove that. Having an outer shell that disconnects a driver from the outdoor reality, making the driver mobile but not in “public”, removes a deterrent to be kind and courteous and respectful. I’m willing to bet that an excuse to turn off politeness or consideration for others is an unspoken, whether subconscious or just seldom admitted, reason so many motorists insist on continuing to drive a car. It’s not the personal responsibility it removes, per se – drivers know they’re in trouble if they hit someone. It’s the immediate incentive to give a shit. Having more people on bike or board or foot will not remove that incentive, but strength in numbers will serve as a reminder that people not in their own vehicles are just as important as those encased in metal shells.

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