Look at the constellations…

“If the constellations had been named in the twentieth century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”
Carl Sagan

It’s all a matter of perspective. And life experience.

The ancients named the constellations, those ephemeral collections of stars that happen to be just in the right place when they looked. They’ll all go away, you know. The stars that make up constellations are light-years away from each other, and traveling in different directions. We see the same thing the ancients saw, only because our time frame is too short. Give them a million years or so, and they won’t look like a dog, or a bear, or a hunter, or…

Enter the bicycle.

First, an observation about roads. Remember, it’s all a matter of perspective. Roads are for cars, right? Nope. Roads were built for bicycles. Yep. Google it. The League of American Wheelmen (that later became the League of American Bicyclists) advocated for paved roads because the ruts caused by the horse-drawn carriages were a problem for them.

And you I know the rest of the story. Along came cars, and the roads became the province of the motorist. Bit by bit, bicycle drivers were relegated to the side of the road or to sidewalks. Car-makers lobbied for rules (like no jaywalking) to make sure those pesky pedestrians didn’t keep motorists from getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible with little interference from bicyclists or walkers. It’s all a matter of perspective.

And now, here we are in the 21st century. Nobody knows the history. Roads are for cars. Bikes should be on the sidewalks. And yes, pedestrian, I DO see you in the crosswalk, but you should wait for me to pass. I can’t be inconvenienced by having to stop for you to cross… It’s all a matter of perspective.

Civil engineers design roads that are designed to get motorists from point A to point B as rapidly as possible, regardless of the human cost. Complete Streets documents are prepared, and even enacted by ordinance in some places. Complete Streets programs are designed to ensure that planners and engineers take into account the needs of ALL road users. Who are the road users? Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and yes, even equestrians, rollerbladers, skateboarders, scooter riders… It’s all a matter of perspective.

…and what happens? In all too many cases, engineers say we’ve looked at accommodating everyone (as required by the ordinances) but we can’t do it. Or it’s too expensive. Or there’s not enough space to accommodate a bike lane. Or they paint a line next to the parking lane and say, “Look, we’ve put in a bike lane” (in the most dangerous position possible!). It’s all a matter of perspective.

Meanwhile, many people, especially young adults, are deciding not to get drivers’ licenses. And moving back to the cities. And not buying cars. We need to rethink this whole paradigm. More to come in another post…Let’s look at our perspective…

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