Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, March 01, 2013

The moral authority of the motor vehicle operator (is bunk)

Washington Examiner cover, 2/28/2013
So in college, I used to say that activists could waste all their time just writing letters to the editor in response to various articles in the student newspaper.  I guess we could make the same argument with the Washington Examiner, not just on sustainable mobility issues but many others, and in fact I've written probably more than 100 such pieces.

In previous posts I've made the point that the newspaper is owned by a company where the principal started out, and made considerable money, in the oil business.

And the point that newspapers tend to rely on local automobile dealerships for a significant amount of revenue.

Suburban Examiner mastheadAnd the point that the Washington Examiner specifically grew out of what had been a desultory chain of suburban newspapers published in counties in Virginia and Maryland, but after a couple ownership changes and after the European free tabloid newspaper publisher Metro entered the North American market, the new owners repositioned the Suburban Journals to a city-labelled if not focused Washington Examiner, focused on the DC market, which allowed them to sell to larger and national advertisers, but while still possessing the editors and sensibility of a suburban newspaper.

As that relates to the city, it means the editors (many of whom were with the paper when it was suburban-based and suburban-focused) care more about easing the way into and out of the city by commuters, than they care about what is best for "the city" in this case, Washington, DC proper.

And that's despite the fact that more DC residents likely read the Examiner than suburbanites, and that for the most part, the paper is distributed at subway stations.

With regard to yesterday's article, "DC waging war on drivers," and the lurid cover, the Washcycle blog has an excellent takedown of the piece, calling the article "a war on solutions."

The so-called moral order of the motor vehicle operator (is more about entitlement)

Separately, one of my jury mates had called my attention to a pretty ridiculous piece on BBC Futures, "The psychology of why cyclists enrage car drivers," which argues that motor vehicle operators are the equivalent of the Knights of the Roundtable and followers and arbiters of strict codes of behavior, that the rules of the road are inviolate and bicyclists are hippie anarchists challenging the moral order. (Note: my words not his.)

From the article:

Driving is a very moral activity – there are rules of the road, both legal and informal, and there are good and bad drivers. The whole intricate dance of the rush-hour junction only works because people know the rules and by-and-large follow them: keeping in lane; indicating properly; first her turn, now mine, now yours. Then along come cyclists, innocently following what they see are the rules of the road, but doing things that drivers aren't allowed to: overtaking queues of cars, moving at well below the speed limit or undertaking on the inside.

Now this is a crock of course, and I say this, not as a bicyclist, but as someone who also drives.

Most motor vehicle operators break laws, every day

Something that both the writer and the Washington Examiner miss is that typically, most motor vehicle operators violate the law all the time:

• driving faster than the speed limit;
• driving faster than the conditions support;
• driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs that can impair the ability of the driver;
• not yielding to pedestrians;
• not signalling turns;
• not fully stopping at stop signs;
• not properly yielding to other traffic;
• stopping in the crosswalk (clearly this has been a problem for more than 50 years judging by the 1957 Saturday Evening Post cover pictured above);
• illegally stopped/blocking a through traffic lane;
• illegally stopped/parked/blocking a bicycle lane (I got in an argument with someone about this on Friday on 5th St. NW -- he was blithely parked blocking the lane, texting, and he could have pulled over to the right very easily);
• illegal parking; etc.

How is that not a big F.U. to the "moral order?"

When motor vehicle operators break the law they put other people at risk and sometimes kill

What I don't get about the animus about speed and stop light cameras and the fines is that the people and newspapers who criticize the ticketing that results from this is that they are condoning breaking the law.

Sure, on a rural road or freeways, mostly, speeding doesn't impact others.  Although we learn about plenty of accidents, crashes, and deaths resulting from speeding in those places.

But in the city, when the streets and sidewalks are full of pedestrians, and bicyclists also ride on the streets, and buildings are close to the street, speeding and red light running are particularly dangerous activities that endanger others.  (Left image: New Yorker Magazine cover from 1928.)

Motor vehicle operators "suffer" few consequences when they break the law

I and my fellow grand jury mates were surprised to learn that "reckless driving," is a misdemeanor, not a felony.

If you brandish a gun at someone or threaten them in particular ways, that's a felony, and if found guilty, the term of imprisonment is for more than one year.

How is not using a car--weighing many thousands of pounds and capable of being used in very destructfull and harmful ways--as a weapon not deserving of a felony charge, when so used?

And I think of that not just as a bicyclist who has been recklessly treated by motorists plenty of times, but as a pedestrian and a citizen familiar with the reality that unless a driver is impaired, if a driver kills other motor vehicle operators, pedestrians, or bicyclists that there is very little in the way of consequence, maybe a fine (see "Driver in fatal accident receives fine" from the Bowie Blade-News) and the inconvenience of a rise in the cost of their car insurance.

You'd think that given how driving is exalted, at the very least, motor vehicle operators ought to be severely punished if they kill another motor vehicle operator...

So I can't help but scoff at the arguments of Tom Stofford.

Ruling the road vs. rules of the road: why motor vehicle operators resent bicyclists 

The reality is that motor vehicles resent bicyclists in the same way that the US Army and most of Congress refuses to acknowledge the reality of asymmetric warfare (see "Knowing the Enemy" from the New Yorker) and how small bombs and people willing to die while conducting their mission makes having large standing armies mostly irrelevant in the age when a small band of "terrorists" can blow up trains or buses (did you see this particularly chilling article in the Post?, "Elaborate surveillance operation raises concerns about broader Hezbollah attacks"), buildings, take over vital installations (like the natural gas plant in Algeria), hijack planes, etc.

A bicyclist is more mobile.

US15, VirginiaThat doesn't matter so much in the far suburbs or places where motor vehicles can be driven very fast.

But in the city, with lots of traffic lights and stop signs and traffic backups, bikes can move more quickly--and in more places--albeit topping out at 20mph and cover more ground.

In a car, in the city, by the time you get to the area of your destination, find a place to park, park, and then proceed to your final destination, it's often faster to go by bike.

People driving cars, from a hoopty/beater to a sweet Lexus, Mercedes or a minivan (etc.), resent the freely moving bicyclist, believing not in the moral order of the rules of the road, and instead are perplexed and resentful that after spending tens of thousands of dollars on a car, plus insurance, maintenance, gas and all the rest, that they aren't the rulers of the road and not able to drive unimpeded.

Differential laws are appropriate for differential conditions: bikes vs. cars

Women get pregnancy care as part of health insurance programs.  Men don't.  There are reasons for that.  Women get pregnant.  Men don't.

Similarly, bicycles don't have the same capability to damage and maim as does a motor vehicle, and should be allowed to follow different "rules of the road" from motor vehicles.

That should include proceeding through stop signs and traffic signals when the conditions safely allow such progress.  Which is commonly referred to as "the Idaho Stop."

In Idaho, bicyclists can proceed through stop signs and traffic signals if there is no oncoming traffic, and the world hasn't come to an end there.

That being said, the Idaho Stop is very specific about when bicyclists can proceed through stop signs and against traffic signals.  Running stop signs and traffic signals in the face of oncoming traffic is still against the law.

And bicyclists shouldn't condone operating a bicycle (nor motor vehicles) in a manner which puts other people at risk, which ought to be the foremost rule of the road.

And I don't have a problem with mandatory training and testing for bicyclists so that more, rather than fewer, bicyclists operate their vehicles properly in the face of mixed traffic--cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, and other bicyclists--of all different skills and abilities.

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

Do Motor Vehicle Operators follow a Moral Order equivalent to the Knights Code of Chivalry? You decide

The Knights Code of Chivalry described in the Song of Roland and an excellent representation of the Knights Codes of Chivalry are as follows (bolded are those rules particularly relevant to operating a motor vehicle):

- To fear God and maintain His Church
- To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
- To protect the weak and defenceless
- To give succour to widows and orphans
- To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
- To live by honour and for glory
- To despise pecuniary reward
- To fight for the welfare of all
- To obey those placed in authority
- To guard the honour of fellow knights
- To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
- To keep faith
- At all times to speak the truth
-To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
- To respect the honour of women
- Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
- Never to turn the back upon a foe

How anyone can argue that car ownership doesn't foster as sense of entitlement is beyond me.

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At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop starting sentences with "So"!

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'm not sure the BBC article is so off. I have zero problems with bikes advancing up to a stop sign past blocked cars. That isn't a violation of "the rules". I do have problems with bikes that aren't following any rules at all -- salmoning and blowing through stop/lights.

And we are a very rules based society. Don't believe that -- go to Egypt. Or India. Or hell, even Europe. Europeans are constantly amazed that Americans stop at lights and generally follow traffic rules. Are we perfect -- no, not even close.

And as with all rules, it is drawing the lines. I certainly can see why bikes should be treated differently with some traffic rules, but how do you determine whether it is same to go through a red light?* And how do you come up with a rule that will be followed -- right now I constantly see other bikes that are on headphone, not looking, and blow through stop signs and lights. That goes for everyone, and that is a sign of a good rule is that it CAN be followed. (as oppsed to the three foot rule and 55 federal speed limits)

And biking advocates need to be cracking down on their own bad followers -- making it sure that we know that salmoning should be ticketed -- in order to create space for biking specific rules that help everyone. Again, we are a rules based society and as large part of the thrill of biking is breaking said rules you're not going to be treated fairly.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Bill Lindeke said...

I agree with you completely. Also, I'm pretty sure "eric P. newcomer" is a fictional person.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to me, a bicycle is not a motor vehicle and should not have to follow the rules set down for them at all. Too many cyclists want to be on par with car drivers and seek to ride in the roads"share the road" nonsense perpetuated by vehicular cycling advocates. We need to reformulate the rules for cyclists and PRIORITIZE cycling over car driving in certain locations such as towns and cities. Cyclists should be ALLOWED to use sidewalks and there should be separated bikeways on all sidewalks as they have in Germany and Holland where cycling is done in a safer way. We are extremely regressive here in the USA and we seek to make cyclists to be on par with cars- and too many male cyclists buy into this craziness which excludes most portions of the population and is one of the main reasons we have so few cyclists.The rule that makes it illegal to use sidewalks for cycling in downtown DC was written in the times when cyclists were seen as a big problem and not part of the solution. They need to dump that rule and paint off areas on DC's wide sidewalks for cyclists to use- the PaAvenue bikelanes are a total waste and badly conceived- do away with them and put a new set on the wide sidewalks instead and more people will use it.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Jacob Lynn said...

You've misinterpreted the author's use of the term "moral order."

It's being used to indicate that there is a certain way that things happen -- the de facto "rules of the road," as opposed to de jure (which you seem concerned with here).

What's relevant here is not that cyclists violate the de jure rules, but that they violate the de facto rules.

The author (who cycles daily) has posted a clarification to his personal blog, linked here.

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

In terms of tying this to something larger than just the War on Cars:

1. The Motorist as a Knight Errant might be an appealing motif of the Recreational Driving Era, although in reality motorists there were the most dangerous -- again, you can see that in India today where motoring across the country is truly an adventure.

2. How much did the Code change when highway driving became prevalent? And how much is it degraded now several generations later when this stuff is not taught.

3. Because of the lack of endorphins except in motor sport situation, driving makes everyone very cranky.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Unknown -- what bothers me is not which type of rules that bicyclists break, in this case "de facto" rules. It's that motorists break all kinds of de jure rules all the time, but give themselves a pass. Then, the de facto rules for bikes, which make more sense for bikes, than it does for following car rules, are determined to be out of order (so to speak) and irrelevant.

So car operators get a pass, operate de facto so to speak, because they only drive faster because conditions not the law warrants it etc., which bikes are determined to not be eligible for similar de facto interpretation.

wrt some of charlie's points, I agree about policing, and training, etc., "bike endorsements" on licenses, etc.

I think the Idaho stop would work fine, but it would require a lot of widespread training before it would be safe.

the headphones, etc. I wouldn't even do that while walking...

At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

Regarding the difference between reckless driving and threatening someone with a gun -- my uncle, a former long-time police officer, tells of a training video he once had to watch.

It compared the weight and speed of the standard-issue police cruiser and a bullet fired from an officer's standard-issue pistol.

The point was that the car was more dangerous than the gun since it actually had more force behind it, despite its much lower velocity.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Scott, that's my point too.

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