“It’s the first machine we master as children and the one we abandon when the seductions of the automobile take over.”
Colman McCarthy, journalist

The feeling of joy. Of confidence. Of freedom. Mastery of the bicycle is a watershed moment for many. It’s the means by which we can explore the world beyond the boundaries of our homes – without our parents! Of course, they set the new boundaries. But it’s..ahem…”a whole new world” (my movie-loving daughters will appreciate the quote). At that moment we first had the opportunity to experience the world in our own way, in our own time, at least until dinner time!

And then, a few years later, it changes. “…when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11). The lure of the automobile. We put away the “toy” and get a car. Now we expand our boundaries even further, with greater speed. But did it really give us more freedom? Or did it take us prisoner? OK, perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but didn’t it, in some way, take away something, and didn’t we lose just a little bit in the process?

I suggest that the answer is “yes” to all the above. Yes, we had even more freedom to explore the world in our own way, in our own time. We could go further and see more in less time. And the building of even more, wider, faster roads allowed us to explore and learn and live further and further away from each other. Yes, and at the same time, we were saddled with so much more. The cost of the vehicle. Paying for gas. Insurance. On the grander scale, road-building. Repairing bad streets. Designing bigger, wider roads to move motorists faster and more easily through to their destinations. Yes, at ever-increasing cost: in dollars; in lives; in lost neighborhoods; lost towns! Cost in marginalizing all road users, except the motorist.

You may be thinking, “well, aren’t the roads for motorists?” Yes, but they are also for bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users…and on it goes. But do we design them to be used by all who need or want to get from one place to another?

No. We design them to get more motor vehicles through, faster. All other users are pushed aside. Not pushed to the side, but pushed out of the way! And we sit in our cars and get irritated when the bicyclist won’t move over so we can pass. [News flash: the law gives bicyclists the SAME rights as motorists] And we blow past the pedestrian standing in the crosswalk trying to reach the other side of the road. [News flash: pedestrians have the right-of-way at EVERY intersection, unless there is a traffic light and it is red] And we can’t get traffic patterns changed or signals installed at a known dangerous intersection until someone dies there. And towns can’t lower speed limits without state approval.

So the new boundaries are those we’ve allowed by subservience to the “freedom” of the automobile. Yes, it seduces us. And, once in a while, we see the true cost.


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