Monday, July 14, 2008

The Opinions of 10,000 People

First it was this post over at The Dredge Report. It's a fair-handed account of the problem of cyclists versus cars versus pedestrians. This led me to a post over at Manifest Density that tacts a bit against cars in favor of cyclists. The trail goes on from there to a post by Andrew Beaujon over at the Washington City Paper that points to a site listing photos of cars violating cyclist lanes in D.C. Beaujon returns to a more olive-branch approach by calling on cyclists not to complain only about cars but about other cyclists violating traffic laws. He links to another posting by Matt Yglesias, who moves back toward a pro-cyclist position. The link-path stops there along with the addition of two separate posts by Megan McArdle who takes a no-prisoners approach to the cyclist/pedestrian versus car war.
The first thing I notice about all of these posts are that they focus on Washington D.C. primarily while making the obligatory nods to cities like Portland, Boston, NYC and San Francisco. The second and more important thing I notice is that it appears as if few of these bloggers have lived in a city where a car is the primary means of transportation. With the known exception of Adrock over at the Dredge Report, it's as if driving a car were a foreign concept to this menagere of bloggers. In their eyes, the car is the problem while the pedestrian/cyclist is less at fault based almost entirely on the idea that the cyclist/pedestrian has more to lose (their life, say) than a driver in a car if an accident occurs.
I can agree with that position. It's entirely sensible. And drivers should have a greater appreciation of patience and awareness as they drive. Now here comes the 'but'. I live in Dallas. We once had street cars and such up until the 1960s when the city council made the huge error of favoring buses over rail and cutting rail service. As a close friend of mine can attest, taking the bus is not a viable option for many since it usually add another hour to one's commute, if you make the right bus. Only now has the city moved back to favoring light rails as a mean of reducing congestion. Still, building a functioning rail network in an urban space not designed for rails is long and difficult work. The planning and financing alone is enough to table almost any rail proposal.
That all said, the denser areas of Dallas have slowly realized the advantages of walking and biking. Unfortunately urban Dallasites have yet to learn cyclist traffic laws. Plus, there's a glaring example in the middle of the wealther part of the city that puts most of these pro-cyclist arguments in a rather sticky position. The city intentionally built a walking/cycling trail called they Katy Trail as a way of greening the city. Sadly, there are a few places where this trail crosses streets with deadly deadly cars on them. My experience with the trail commonly comes at a heavily trafficked street called Knox. I don't mind the trail cross streets, even major ones. But I will feel no sympathy at all for the pedestrian or cyclist who comes flying across the hood of my car, not even if they die as a result of their injuries.
Let me explain, if you will. About a hundred feet to the west of the trail is a T-intersection where Knox ends. Coming from the east toward this intersection is a single-side speed bump. In addition, the trail itself is raise above the street level; acting as a speed bump in its own right. A lot of traffic comes through this point, particularly at rush hour when I usually drive through. So, to make it clear, there's not much room for a car to reach more than 20mph and even then you have to slow down for the trail's speed bump.
So, here's the problem and the reason why I lack sympathy for pedestrians or cyclists who get injured or killed at this intersection of trail and street. On both the north and south point of the trail there is a stop sign. No sign exists in the direction the street moves in. I have nearly clipped three cyclists, a mother with a baby carrage and two walkers crossing this intersection. Why have these near-accidents almost occured? Because every person I've seen on the trail crossing that intersection has ignored the stop sign. This blithe ignorance of a stop sign when cars, SUVs and heavier vehicles cross this part of the trail is just plain stupidity. It's not as if these vehicles are screaming through the intersection; they can't by both design and circumstance. And yet the walkers and cyclists continue to glide right through.
I'm not against an urban area becoming more favorable to pedestrians and cyclists. In point of fact, I'm all for it since it reduces congestion while making people healthier. I'd love to see a white-bicycle program in the center of Dallas. That said, I shrug my shoulders at an instance where cars are clearly given the right of way and are consistantly stopped by people violating a traffic law. It's the same as if a pedestrian stepped out from inbetween parked cars into a street and has their brainless ass thrown forty feet in another direction by the driver who never even had the chance to hit the brakes. Actually, it's less like this since the pedestrian/cyclist can see the cars coming well before the drivers can. And ignorance of a law is no defense against violating it. Thusly, not only will I yell at the person or cyclist who either hits me or I hit them, I'll make them pay for the damages to my car. Everything the city can do to protect the pedestrians and cyclists on that trail from colliding with a car has been done. It's only by virtue of a driver's fear of hitting a person do the pedestrians and cyclists continue to cross this intersection injury-free. If and when someone does have their law-breaking ass landed on the hood of an SUV then perhaps the pedestrians and cyclists will start paying attention and taking some personal responsibility for how they cross that intersection.
All of the following rant isn't my full position on how cars, pedestrians and cyclists can get along. Rather, it's a useful example of how the supposed ignorant drivers actually do pay attention to those on foot or bike while just the opposite occurs with the cyclists and pedestrians. Moreover, it's a consistant and continuing problem. Yes, the city will need to make changes to city streets to further protect pedestrians and cyclists, but not in this case. And this all comes back to the first thing I noticed about the liteny of bloggers complaining about ignorant drivers. You already live in cities incredibly favorable to cyclists and pedestrians. Try the shit you do in D.C. in Dallas and you're liable to end up pulling bits of chrome grille out of your body.
So I have a question I'd like to pose to those who live in cities with decent public transport, cycling paths and lenient pedestrian laws: what would you have a car-centric city like Dallas do to make itself friendlier to those who would rather walk or bike than drive?