No Room on the Road?

‘Coexistence is futile’, as a group of superheroes (the Borg) didn’t quite say. Coexistence, harmony, peace are all difficult. War, violence, dangerous conflict seem so much more normal. We celebrate peace when it happens, though it took the maker of explosives to give it the importance it deserves, it’s rare and we have to fight for it, please don’t excuse the violent metaphor. Many superheroes work for peace, but it takes a tremendous amount of thumping to bring it about!

People sometimes talk about war on the road – cyclists vs. pedestrians and the mighty car, or better still, juggernaut against everybody. We don’t talk about peaceful streets, though we do have ‘traffic calming’, islands of calm on a dangerous highway. It needs calming because it’s deadly out there. Sometimes ‘calming’ makes people worse, they drive aggressively in the calm zones and make no allowances for the elderly and infirm struggling to cross the road. We associate calm with peace but some of the protagonists have not been pacified.

So what of coexistence? Another odd notion, foreign even. The Dutch can do road safety, cyclists are privileged and cars aren’t allowed to impose themselves. Of course where things really are calm then calmer modes of transport predominate. We see it in reverse in this country, a small percentage of people use their bicycles for regular transport. Who wants to ‘get on their bike’ when they have to share the road with hurtling steel death boxes. We still manage to kill an unheroic number of pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers on the roads every year. It’s encouraging to see the cycle tracks on roads in cities, better still where it is separated by a kerb or an island of safety. But they highlight how we can’t get along safely, though granted some cyclists, like car drivers, aren’t fit to be on the road. If people drove considerately and according to the spirit, or even the law, of the highway we wouldn’t need safe routes, either on or well away from the road. Are we solving the problem or perpetuating it?

We do need to put ourselves in the other person’s rubber. Very few things do not benefit from being able to share in the other’s experience, whether a place of worship or a mode of transport. Sometimes people need to be plucked out of their situation and brought to their senses. Admit it, we all do. And not with malice. We can imagine the superhero gently stopping our raging road user and extracting him (or less likely her) from the vehicle and taking him to bicycle boot camp or car control training. Now most cyclists do also own a car so have little excuse, the other way round is less encouraging, many car drivers have access to a bike but are too lazy, or scared, to use it.

So we must ask ourselves, do we want to coexist? Can we put all the nonsense behind us and do it properly, give way, yield, have patience? Yes, we can. But all this is a metaphor, it could be anything, any scenario where we look down on the slower, the less ‘successful’, the foreign. All the negative behaviour that we act out both conceals and reveals what’s really going on. Almost inevitably ego is behind it all, it can be a dangerous force, it might knock you off your bike, or crash your car. Take care out there!