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Is it time to opt out of the culture of speed?

All over the United States and indeed the world, people are riding bicycles. Forget about saving the planet, that is not the reason; it is a satisfying and civilized way to travel. Faster and more efficient than walking, and for not much more energy input; compared to driving a person is burning calories rather than gasoline.

A person riding to work each day on his bicycle is traveling for free; he gets there in only slightly less time that his colleague who drives. In some congested cities the cyclists gets there faster. He has not had to allot time to exercise or pay gym fees. When he gets to his destination he has fewer problems with parking.

Many more people would ride bicycles but they are afraid of being hit by cars. There are still a those who will try to intimidate and bully anyone in their way. The whole “Share the Road” concept is flawed in that it implies that the roads are for cars and cyclists are asking drivers to share space with them.

This is not the case; public roads are just that, “Public.” They are there for people to travel from their home to where ever they need to be. The right is for the person to travel, not according to the persons’ mode of transport.

There is no pleasure in driving anymore; it is the myth and the lie being sold to the public by the auto-makers.

Look at any car ad on TV and what do you see? The obligatory slow motion shot of a car sliding sideways in a controlled skid; cars driving at break neck speed on deserted streets and highways.

This is not reality; on today’s congested roadways, not only is driving fast impractical, it is downright dangerous. And what useful purpose does it serve? There is a legitimate argument for being allowed to maintain high speeds for long journeys on freeways that traverse miles and miles of open countryside.

However, when freeways approach cities and become congested, there is a definite need to slow to the same speed as everyone else. It is the driver trying to maintain his high rate of speed under these conditions that not only cause accidents, but cause people to brake and in turn lead to the stop and go traffic conditions that are all too familiar.

The best thing a person can do is to realize that getting from A to B is a necessity; so if you can’t make it a pleasure then at least make it stress free. Opt out of the culture of speed; slow down and relax.

Speed limits need to be lowered to 20mph in crowded city centers where there are many pedestrians and cyclists. Would such a speed limit have a great impact on peoples’ over all drive time?

In most cases drivers simply accelerate to race from one traffic light to the next. On long stretches of highway, traffic lights can be timed so someone driving the speed limit can have green lights all the way through a town.

The faster cars go the more space is needed between each car. Therefore, people moving slower but continuously in a procession can travel closer to each other. This means traffic is moving slower but on any given stretch of highway it is carrying a larger volume of vehicles. So is the overall flow of vehicles per hour that much less? Bottom line is; people still get to where they need to be.

The world is becoming more and more crowded; populations are exploding everywhere including the US. Every person who rides a bicycle is taking one more car off the road, making more room for those who choose to drive.

Wouldn’t life be a little more pleasant if everyone slowed down a notch? So what if it took you five or ten minutes longer to get to work, at the end of each day would that make a huge difference? Of course wishing for this is wishing for Utopia; but who would argue that it would be better if less people had to die on our roads.

The cities across America that have adopted a “Bicycle Friendly” program, have found that when more people ride bicycles the overall speed of traffic slows. With that comes less fatalities, not just for cyclists, but across the board for pedestrians and motorists too.



Reader Comments (13)

A good post
Its no coincidence that riding between about 4.30 and 6.00pm when everyone is rushing home in their cars from work is the worst time for a cyclist.
I got hit last year by a van who cut across me and I only just managed to flick my back wheel to avoid the hit being much worse.
The usual i didnt see you mate was his choice of words.
You could see he was in too much of a hurry to get home.
I personally would like to see more 20mph areas

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDarren h

Got that exactly right.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Dave writes,

...public roads are just that, “Public.” They are there for people to travel from their home to where ever they need to be. The right is for the person to travel, not according to the persons’ mode of transport.

Look here for a middle school that attempted (and, has been successful, so far) in determining what kind of transportation is allowed on a public road. As you might imagine, student bicycles aren't allowed.

An assistant principal, Robert Loggins, found Janette in front of the school, waiting for a lull in the traffic so she could depart. Adam [her son] had already gone inside.

"What are you doing here?" Loggins asked Janette.

Janette thought this an odd question. "It's Bike to Work Day," she said. "Did you ride your bike to school?"

"Bicycling isn't allowed at Maple Avenue School," said Loggins.

Janette did a double take. "You're kidding me," she said. "Right?"

Loggins wasn't smiling. He said that Adam's bike would be placed in the school's boiler room, and Janette should come back and get it later that day in her car.

The "need" to hurry up and be somewhere is surely part of the motivation for wanting to restrict access. A sense of entitlement because it's "always been true" that the roads were built for cars is also part of the access issue. I also think that it's just to darned "inconvenient" to accommodate, because that means, I have to change my approach, and I don't want to, is hidden among all the other reasons people might offer.

That culture of speed, Dave, permeates a good portion of American life. Faster computers, faster check out lanes at the grocers, faster assembly lines at the manufacturers. Efficiency = Speed. Except when it doesn't, of course. But, that's the default position; the underlying assumption. We can talk about safety, but when safety appears to interfere with efficiency, it's a tough concept to sell.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

I should amend that according to links at the school's website, they have adjusted their policies since that article was written.


In the Dear Parent/Guardian letter one finds this:

Enclosed please find a Bicycle Safety Agreement and a bicycle registration form. You and your child must sign the Bicycle Safety Agreement in order to be allowed onto school property with your bicycles. The bicycle registration form will be filed in the principal’s office. The district will provide a registration tag for each approved registration.

That agreement includes a checklist to which the parent and student must attest. I'm still bemused that compliance with these items can prohibit a student or a student's parent from being allowed on school property with their bicycle.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

I think that that Gandhi would agree. He said "There is more to lfe than increasing it's speed."

And in response to bystander, the roads in the US were not actually originally built for cars, they were built for bikes. Sadly, that has been forgotten, and cyclists have been relegated to second class road users ever since.

Please see http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I think bystander as a regular commenter here will be aware of that.

May 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Thanks, Dave. Yeah, Mark, I do know. That's why I put always been true in scare quotes. Apologies for the shorthand way of speaking; I wasn't clear.

A Philadelphia writer made this observation in response to a report of injury to pedestrians when two vehicles collided and lost control:

...whatever the laws are there's a bit of contrast of how an accident which occurred during the commission of another crime is treated (life in prison!) with the frequent way in which injuries and death are often treated in automobile accidents.

To which I thought, No kidding! Just ask any cyclist. It is intriguing to me that, given the average weight of a compact car (3K-4K pounds), and the speeds they can easily reach (80-90 mph), that the injuries and deaths which can result to pedestrians and cyclists carries so little penalty. Drivers ought to be expected to control those beasts.

The article reporting that accident observes:

People on foot have long been considered less important than those with four wheels, The Atlantic noted last month. In fact, the automobile industry lobbied to make jaywalking a crime in the twenties, leaving current traffic rules "like a brawl," according to one expert, "where the strongest brawler wins."

This was something I didn't know. From The Atlantic:

One key turning point, according to Norton, came in 1923 in Cincinnati. Citizens’ anger over pedestrian deaths gave rise to a referendum drive. It gathered some 7,000 signatures in support of a rule that would have required all vehicles in the city to be fitted with speed governors limiting them to 25 miles per hour.

Local auto clubs and dealers recognized that cars would be a lot harder to sell if there was a cap on their speed. So they went into overdrive in their campaign against the initiative. They sent letters to every individual with a car in the city, saying that the rule would condemn the U.S. to the fate of China, which they painted as the world’s most backward nation. They even hired pretty women to invite men to head to the polls and vote against the rule. And the measure failed.

And, not much has changed. The auto industry is still selling sleek looking cars (ever notice how the vehicle up close looks so different than the way it looks on the TV or in the glossy sales brochures), built for speed (looks like it's breaking the speed limit standing still), with pretty women. And, to appreciate anything else suggests the individual is as backward as the people in some less developed country.

Efficiency = Speed = Greatness = America

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

I have to laf at the Ford add that shows a FORD been driven on what looks like a track, Car going sideways driver SMILING! Is this what sells cars? Drive to your GRAVE is the only place you go driving like that. No wonder the kids to day drive like thay do, I pass the local Parker high school someday when school is getting out, LOOK OUT they pass me like I am a old man (I AM!) at speeds way over the limit, WHY NO POLICE around the school at this time of day?

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

One might argue that the school zone speed limit should be the standard city speed limit. After all, where are there not children?

I live in a car culture city with wide multilane roads with standard speed limits of 45 mph, which of course is routinely exceeded by 10 to 20 mph. Add drivers who are on their cellphones and the results are inevitable.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

Another thing people who don't bike cannot understand is that speed is not the only factor: you have to add variance or reliability.
In a congested city, the same trip can be 20min one day and 1:30h next day. By bike it will always be 40min. Imagine you have an important meeting : to make sure to be there in time by car, you'll have to leave 1:30h before the meeting, maybe arriving 20min later and waiting 1:10h. I'd rather know exactly how long it will take, even though it seems slower.

Another thing drivers often forget : it's not because you're faster on a short stretch of road that you are faster overall...

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterp

After years with nothing but a road bike, I bought a heavy duty industrial cycle that weighs at least three times what I had been riding. In traffic, my commute takes only slightly longer, but the advantage in durability on city streets is huge. It feels like a cadillac with a heavy cargo load. Its amazing how much better the ride is since I stopped fetishizing speed and weight savings.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn LaVere

I disagree with just one part of this article. Cycling is not free. It just costs less to operate. I ride approx 300 miles a week and I commute 5 days a week. I average about $100 per month between tires, chain, etc.. Still cheaper than a car ;-)

June 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay

As a pedestrian, commuter, runner, cyclist and motorist, I would like to see well-made road humps(wide and low) scattered in my city, Baguio, Philippines, to calm down traffic. No amount of road signs limiting speed will do that.

March 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterResty
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