Anger and Frustration with Car Culture

I get angry. There is enough bad news out there being reported at a higher frequency and in more types of media than ever before, and I can get caught up with it. Like the cabbie who severed the foot of a British tourist, then blamed it on a bicycle while holding a press conference saying he’s the victim right outside the hospital where the young woman who lost her leg was laying. Things like this story out of Chandler. Look at the headline. “PD: Man struck, killed by car while attempting to cross Chandler street.” He was killed by a car. Not by a man or woman driving a car. Not by a motorist. A car is to blame.

I’m reasonably confident this person in Chandler feels absolutely terrible for having killed someone. I can’t imagine having to go through that and hope I never do. What I’m angry about is the car culture, that this is an acceptable cost to let make people go fast. I’ve been in arguments with people who accuse me of hating cars. I’ll say I don’t like cars, and suddenly I get thrown into accusation alley about ruining capitalism and killing democracy and a bunch of ignorant stuff. That’s where I start to get irked. I sold my car in January, but my wife and I do still own a car and find it useful to go to Coyotes games or visit family in Cave Creek. The car has a purpose.

But our culture has made the personal automobile the ultimate idol. Maybe accumulated wealth is a bigger idol, but the automobile has affected our culture and physical landscape more in the last 70 years than anything else during that time. I was heading south on Signal Butte crossing University on the way to meet up for a group ride. I pushed the beg button and waited for three minutes for the light to change before it finally did because a car showed up driving northbound. As our group left the shopping center at which we met, we were turning left off Baseline onto Signal Butte; about 10 of us, all in the left turn lane. The signal skipped over us leaving us with a red left turn arrow which we decided to ignore once it was safe to proceed*. I’m working on a post on the history of bicycle law (I’m not a lawyer) but somewhere in the 1910’s and 1920’s those laws that were created to regulate cyclists in the late 1800’s started to shift toward being for cars. More to the point, engineering specifics followed suit and the vast majority of our public space is restricted either by design or by law from use by people unless they’re in a motor vehicle.

Roads have been engineered and designed solely for cars for 60 years; to move as many as possible as quickly as possible. In the last twenty, we’ve seen some engineers start to embrace bicyclists and pedestrian**, but even when they do design something well enough for cyclists, they still forget how bikes operate. Signals are timed for motor vehicle traffic, sensors at lights don’t pick up bicycles, and the beg button is there for a pedestrian to push to cross but doesn’t actually do anything to change the signal until the cycle’s run its course. Today is a day I’m choosing to vent. I’m mad about how much work there is to be done and how much resistance we face pushing for those changes. But I choose to vent here so when I am around traffic engineers and designers and government officials, I’m able to maintain my composure a little better and have a constructive dialogue as we continue to build Phoenix and the surrounding cities into something livable for people, one street at a time.

*The looks we got were standard “arrogant bicyclists” looks, of course. Furthermore, I don’t have a problem doing this because of my interpretation of A.R.S. 28-645 and considered the traffic signal to be inoperative (I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice).
**Okay, like one or two


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