Silly Season 2012

I often walk to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I do not head downtown first on those days. Plus, I like to mix it up.

Walking home yesterday — all of 3/4 mile — I saw five separate incidents of people being silly on the streets. Upon seeing the first one, I thought: Oh, good blog post! Then the silliness just kept coming to the point where I thought: Oh, different blog post! And the silliness continued this morning — the last incident being a guy who tried to squeeze me at a stop sign and then ran the sign.

So here’s my upshot: Cars and bicycles, as media that allow us to write and interpret a text called the street, are separated by massive differences but share at least one uncomfortable trait: both moving machines encourage humans to understand convenience as a primary value of writing the text of the street. Within this similarity in an important difference — perhaps only of scale.

Author Robert Pirsig once wrote that riding in a car was “just more TV” because one experiences the world through a screen. Indeed, one is separated from the world by the screen in a way similar to the separation TV creates. This situation encourages people to understand other street users as objects.

The bicycle has no screen. One of its greatest strengths as a mode of transportation, however, is also a problem: Bicycles are fun to ride and encourage us to move, and keep moving, based on the sheer joy of ease of movement and maneuverability. How can this be bad? Well, just hang out for a few minutes at the 4-way stop at Hammons and Cherry. (There are actually people who argue that stopping at stop signs is difficult because — and this is just a head-scratcher  — getting moving again is somehow inefficient and difficult.)

Both sources of bad behavior are equally self-righteous, and, therefore, utterly galling.

Among the silly incidents I saw yesterday was the near collision of a bicycle and a car at National and Grand in which both parties were displaying, in the particular ways of their given media, a self-righteous disregard for other road users.

We have a cultural problem on our streets that finds its expression in the media of bicycles and cars: lack of courtesy, civility, care — take your pick. To the extent that these qualities are lacking in the driver (of any vehicle and for whatever reason) is the extent that our streets are sites of fear and danger instead of a commons where we all benefit from our collective investment.

Now you’re ready to listen to my recent interview on KSMU. I used my grumpy voice.


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Comments 6

  1. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “(There are actually people who argue that stopping at stop signs is difficult because — and this is just a head-scratcher — getting moving again is somehow inefficient and difficult.)”

    Well, when your daily commute involves negotiating one of the many residential neighborhoods that have Stop signs at every intersection as traffic calming measures (presumably because Yield signs were simply ignored), and when 4-way Stop signs appear right at the bottom of one hill and at the beginning of a tough climb up the next, at an intersection that gets probably one car an hour, it can become a little frustrating.

    The fact that almost every single car treats Stop as Yield doesn’t exactly help matters – being the only vehicle operator to stop at a Stop sign in such situations just makes me feel like a patsy.

    So I stop at Stop signs when there’s a car or a pedestrian about (and I dutifully watch the motorists blow through them). Otherwise, I regard it as that ‘tree falling in a wood with no one to hear’ – I reckon if no one’s there to see, the Stop sign becomes a Yield sign. Do I break the law by doing a rolling stop while no one else is about? You betchya! Am I going to feel bad about it? Hell no!

    My question is this: whatever happened to the Yield sign: did it expire because (as I suggest) people just ignored it, or is there some other reason?

    Posted 25 Apr 2012 at 9:53 am
  2. Ian Cooper wrote:

    And I have to add, I actually don’t mind stopping often. Sometimes it’s nice to give my legs a rest and take in the scenery. I’m not addicted to moving – heck, I’m lazy – I’d rather not move at all if I can avoid it.

    But what I dislike is being told to stop at the bottom of a steep hill when my trip takes me up an equally steep hill, and I know full well that the Stop sign was only put there to stop cars racing through a quiet neighborhood at 40mph.

    Posted 25 Apr 2012 at 9:58 am
  3. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian… You’ll get no argument from me that stop signs are over-used. I’d love to see more use of yield signs and shark tooth paint.

    Posted 25 Apr 2012 at 12:13 pm
  4. Khal Spencer wrote:

    We still have some yield signs here. Wish we had a few more of them and fewer stop signs.

    Roundabouts basically function as four-way yields. You go if it is clear, and yield to those who have the right of way. A sizeable fraction of motorists in BombTown object to roundabouts. I think they resent having to make active decisions in traffic rather than have a traffic light or stop sign make the decision for them. Just my theory, anyway.

    I first read Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in graduate school on the prompting of a post doc working in my advisor’s lab. Once you read that section on the car vs. the motorcycle (or make the easy leap to car vs. bicycle), its hard to drive a car without being cautious of adopting that objectification of others from inside the cage. Perhaps, Andy, you should make that section of the book the basis of a class project along the lines of your post above. I like it.

    Posted 25 Apr 2012 at 4:58 pm
  5. Keri wrote:

    Hey Andy, have you seen this yet?
    She’s speaking your language. 🙂

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 2:50 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Keri… Yep. I saw you posted it on FB.

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 10:20 pm