I have used the term “rules of safe movement” many times in discussing bicycle infrastructure. My usual link for it is this excellent essay by Chip Seal: The Steps of the Dance. I will continue to refer to this essay. I have secured permission to reproduce it for Carbon Trace readers — something I plan for the near future. But now comes another essay — approached a bit differently — that takes these rules to a new level of understanding.
Go read Mighk Wilson’s essay China Cups and Butterflies; Options and Ethics right now.
Here’s a taste:
The rules we have are based on the limits of human perception. Our eyes are at the fronts of our heads and we don’t have x-ray vision. They are also based on years of practical experience, first on open waters where boat captains needed to avoid collisions, and then on roads and streets when cart and carriage drivers needed to do the same. It was only when the industrial revolution came that cities got large enough and traffic got thick enough that the rules needed to be formalized into laws. Eventually traffic control devices were created to help manage the movements and reduce delays. For those who think the rules of the road were created for motor vehicles, note that less than 10% of urban traffic was motorized when William Phelps Eno wrote the first formal traffic codes for New York City in 1909. Eno thought cars were a fad and would be gone in a few years. He wrote his code for horse-drawn vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, with autos, the horse-drawn and bicycles all categorized as vehicles.
The essential fairness of the rules of the road is based on the idea that all people are equal, no matter their mode.
Again, the rules are these (one way among a few they may be expressed):
- First come, first served
- Travel to the right
- Pass on the left
As Mighk notes above, these rules are based on much human experience that is necessarily grounded in the kind of critter we are, i.e. how we are built to perceive the world and interact with it.
The beauty of these rules is that they are easily understood and followed because they fit so nicely with who and what we are.
What it means: Violating the rules mucks up the system and leads to, among other things, collisions with other users of the traffic system.
Now imagine the kind of Twilight Zone that’s created when traffic controls are used that require (legally or socially) traffic users to violate the rules of safe movement.
This is what it looks like – you collide with a car because you’re not where the motorist expects you to be. You are where the transportation planners told you to be. Why would they tell you to be there?
I’m still trying to figure that out.