I often walk to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I do not head downtown first on those days. Plus, I like to mix it up.
Walking home yesterday — all of 3/4 mile — I saw five separate incidents of people being silly on the streets. Upon seeing the first one, I thought: Oh, good blog post! Then the silliness just kept coming to the point where I thought: Oh, different blog post! And the silliness continued this morning — the last incident being a guy who tried to squeeze me at a stop sign and then ran the sign.
So here’s my upshot: Cars and bicycles, as media that allow us to write and interpret a text called the street, are separated by massive differences but share at least one uncomfortable trait: both moving machines encourage humans to understand convenience as a primary value of writing the text of the street. Within this similarity in an important difference — perhaps only of scale.
Author Robert Pirsig once wrote that riding in a car was “just more TV” because one experiences the world through a screen. Indeed, one is separated from the world by the screen in a way similar to the separation TV creates. This situation encourages people to understand other street users as objects.
The bicycle has no screen. One of its greatest strengths as a mode of transportation, however, is also a problem: Bicycles are fun to ride and encourage us to move, and keep moving, based on the sheer joy of ease of movement and maneuverability. How can this be bad? Well, just hang out for a few minutes at the 4-way stop at Hammons and Cherry. (There are actually people who argue that stopping at stop signs is difficult because — and this is just a head-scratcher — getting moving again is somehow inefficient and difficult.)
Both sources of bad behavior are equally self-righteous, and, therefore, utterly galling.
Among the silly incidents I saw yesterday was the near collision of a bicycle and a car at National and Grand in which both parties were displaying, in the particular ways of their given media, a self-righteous disregard for other road users.
We have a cultural problem on our streets that finds its expression in the media of bicycles and cars: lack of courtesy, civility, care — take your pick. To the extent that these qualities are lacking in the driver (of any vehicle and for whatever reason) is the extent that our streets are sites of fear and danger instead of a commons where we all benefit from our collective investment.
Now you’re ready to listen to my recent interview on KSMU. I used my grumpy voice.