Confessions of an Urban Cyclist
I hate to admit it out loud…but as an Urban Cyclist here in Toronto, I actually enjoy city traffic! Now most people can derive vicarious thrills from the safety of sofa’s or when securely held in by seatbelts, but I’ve come to only appreciate a true challenge if I know I’m risking something real. Of course I would never endanger others, and only ever gamble with my own hide, bike, and pelt because the constant challenge of NEVER impacting the smooth flow of people and traffic around me is what keeps me honest. But that’s not the main reason that I can enjoy traffic…
It’s mainly because, like almost all bicycle riders in the city, I actually bend the rules just enough to make MUCH better time through the downtown core by slipping past those who need to queue up at signal lights, and crawl along in traffic. I also get enormous satisfaction from the challenges of slaloming through obstacles and dangers, and putting my ass on the line with every calculated gamble I make. Since the consequences for a misstep by a Cyclist will always be far worse, the hard pavement keeps me dead honest.
But I digress…
Let’s get back to finding our way past our collective hatred of Traffic…
Like most people who live within 50 miles of an off-ramp, I’ve got some issues to deal with when it comes our prevailing “Car Culture” and all the traffic, dirt, and destruction that comes from it.
I don’t hate traffic because I get to breathe in more than my fair share of exhaust and dust just so that my lungs can feed my legs. Nor because my brain balks at the concept off wasting hours each day stuck in the traffic that takes the pleasure out of driving…Rather my disdain stems from what our prevailing “Car Culture” does to otherwise rationale citizens, and what it says about us as people.
What can we learn from Traffic?
Like most Commuters might already suspect, people’s poor behavior in traffic might actually a reflection of what’s wrong with our self-absorbed Society in general! Luckily for a cynic like me, this same analogy (Traffic reflecting Society) also offers us some hope for Humanity as well. Because in searching for real solutions to traffic, we might figure out how to make Society work better in the process!
Effectively, the traffic conditions, congestion, and ecological damages that affect all our lives could force us to collectively figure out how to live more peacefully and productively with each other. Since by all estimates, we’re looking at 65% increases in urban traffic over the next decade, (and double that increase in smaller communities!), this dilemma could also serve as a kick-start in developing not only new automotive and communications technologies (CB radio revival?), but also new educational programs for drivers, and even encourage new socio-political views. Mass Transit might not be the final solution in it’s current forms, but if people see enough trains moving past them while stuck in traffic, their basic logic should kick in eventually and prompt some progress around the frustrations and failures of our current Transportation methods, and ultimately improve Modern Life in general.
This future outlook would be the end of my positive spin on ‘traffic’ if it wasn’t for all the sobering facts and destructive side-effects that continue to pile up. Since traffic “accidents” have killed almost half a million people in United States in the past decade, and we clearly can’t just sit back and let this experiment in social engineering play itself out over more time…Especially with stats to show that road rage incidents are rising at an alarming rate.
Basically, there are just too damned many dangerous and pervasive acts of selfish stupidity that grossly outweigh the much more rare acts of decency and Humanity between drivers. Perhaps this is all due to the fact that shared public roads are essentially open laboratories for these ongoing social experiments that use live Humans as test subjects – Humans who are all legally allowed to drive dangerous vehicles that can wreak havoc, and destroy lives, by doing nothing more than proving that they’re capable of parallel parking, and finding the turn signal at least once during a driving test. A test that grants lifetime privileges, and requires no refresher courses, or followups to check against sloppy habits.
So where do we go from here?
Despite that ridiculously low barrier to entry for Drivers, I still have faith that some greater good can come from this big sloppy social experiment. I firmly believe that by figuring out how to work better together behind the wheel, and somehow rid ourselves of the road hazards (and self-absorbed or sociopathic menaces) that exist on our shared roadways, we can actually, and collectively, pave the way to a better Society! Yet, before you dismiss me as a Dreamer, let’s establish a baseline for Reality first…Which will also explain how to start “Loving Traffic”!