April 10th, 2011

The man who stole the world's seat belts

Once there was a billionaire, who realized the greatest thing he could do for humanity, would be to correct the asymmetry between cars and gentler ways of getting around, such as walking and cycling, or riding a skateboard. So he bought every patent pertaining to seat belts, and denied car manufacturers the rights to use them again. That's right, there were no more seat belts in cars. And of course, there was mass outrage, our billionaire being branded a monster. Soon though, people stopped taking their children in cars. Indeed many adults said no more to driving. Soon the only people on the roads were those drivers who thought their skills would protect them, and road cyclists like me, who have had no choice to likewise pretend we're the Phantom.

As the death toll rose, it became apparent that windscreens, roofs and the side walls of cars had to go. Radios too. And power steering. Drivers needed their wits to survive. But still people were dying. Our billionaire friend wouldn't budge though, so eventually cars were required by law, to be speed limited. Nowhere in the world, could cars go faster than roughly the speed of a bicycle.

Well of course, car sales plummeted. Why pay for a car, when you could get there quicker by bike? Within time it became normal for children to cross streets without an adult's hand to hold onto. But then somewhere, a billionaire died, and his estate sold off those patents.
I would be interested to know how you think this story might end. Would city streets be given over once more to high speed traffic? Or would a population on foot and on bicycles refuse such a thing? Perhaps the cars would once again be permitted to go fast in our cities, but only on a select handful of streets. The real question, is what do we want now? 

Exposing class tensions wherever they impact on cycling

To we yuppies, the slow looking bicycle is as essential an accoutrement as the pooch, and clothes with paint splatters. Our desirable inner city neighbourhoods (please, don't call them "suburbs") attract so many hermit crab types—you know, they bring their children in from "out there" to play in our children’s parks, then go to our local cafés, as if they're actually from around here—that it grieves us to be counted among them. Ha, but let’s see them come in from burbs on a Gazelle!

From left: Gazelle; Gazelle; Gazelle; Gazelle.

Oh and they would never think to wear paint splattered old shirts to the café, as we do on Sunday, on our Gazelles, with only thongs on our feet, wearing no helmets, all things they could never do if coming from far away. The painting shirt is to show Barry Barista there, that you have bought in. He only rents. The dog of course—that followed you down, not on a lead—has been an essential accessory to we agents of gentrification for as long as gentrification has been occurring. I believe in New York, tourists can rent dogs, to not look like tourists.

On left: a dog. On right: "Oh shoot, did I really come to the cafe forgetting to take off this belt?"

Place inner city bike paths into this discourse, and you can see why those dears out in the burbs get so irate. Those of us living here in the city, lobbied the mayor for these paths. We needed them, to play on, with these go-nowhere bikes. They're like little mini-ten courts, only parading as holy transit.

Of course I'm not being 100% serious here, and I know I'm only speaking for a handful of wreckers. Wreckers they are though, and they have a way of seducing you onto their team. Thanks to my friend over at ArchiTakes, for this link to an article with far greater probity than I have been able to bring to the topic. Suffice to say, I'm not the first to observe that cycle paths are a site of class bickering.