Let’s Get It Right, People…


Ever notice how bicycle advocacy eventually gets around to blaming a lack of safety on the automobile? In fact this fellow talks about:

Moloch |ˈmäləkˈmōˌläka Canaanite idol to whom children were sacrificed.• (as noun a Molocha tyrannical object of sacrifices.

Well, I am here to tell you that this is pure balderdash! No automobile ever killed anyone, ever! I will repeat that. Automobiles do not kill!

Wait for it… People do.

Scapegoating The Machine

The approach Mark Martin is taking is age old. You find an insoluble problem and you pick a scapegoat to take the blame. For Hitler it was Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals.

Here in the United States it has been alternately: Native Americans, Niggers and Jews.

But when we are faced with having to find an other and there isn’t one handy we ‘blame it on the machine‘. Now before the advent of cars I am certain that many a horse was whipped to death because ‘it‘ was the cause of a runaway wagon that plowed into townsfolk crossing the street.

But once the conveyance was no longer a horse drawn wagon (i.e. horseless carriage) the problem of explaining away your personal guilt was to point to the ‘infernal machine’. In fact the entire notion of ‘the glitch‘ is precisely there to help explain how something that has no mind of its own (or will for that matter) could be the cause of something as heinous as the death of the village mayor walking his wife to church.

Luddites Are Us

I honest detect a strong whiff of Luddite in most of the arguments that come out of the Urban Cycling Movement. These arguments are intended to pit one infernal machine against another. And we give all sorts of explanations as to why the one labelled automobile is the worst.

For instance your favorite hipster notion is that cars weigh more, so that is why they are so deadly. So that should explain for instance why a mountain is more likely to kill you than a bicycle, because it ‘weighs more‘. Nope.

In fact how many deaths on our highways have occurred when a bicycle and a battleship collided? Okay. Few battleships make it onto our roadways, but I would wager that if we parked one on Michigan Avenue (right down the middle of the street) that nobody would ever bring a suit that read my loved was hit and killed by a battleship!

The weight of the ship has nothing to do with it. In fact if you could see your way to sitting the ship on a trailer with six hundred strong guys tugging at ropes moving it along Michigan Avenue you still might not ever engender a lawsuit in which the boat was cited as the villain.

What kills is speed, not weight (or more precisely mass). And furthermore if you can get the device up to speed then the next question is who is gunning the motor and aiming the steering. That would of course be you or some other human.

Humans Kill And Only Humans

So the next time you hear someone talking about machines in terms that refer to deities you should quietly slid to the end of the pew and sneak out the center aisle of that church and leave. I say church here because most of the bicycle advocacy language is quite frankly better reserved for pulpits than secular discussions.

But the current crop of Urban Transportation Idiots all want to use language that personifies the machine because quite frankly if you don’t do that and start saying things like ‘car drivers are the problem‘ those who drive cars will suddenly get the correct notion that you are about to use the Nazi Approach and round up anyone who owns and drives an automobile and have them gassed or shot. And they would be right in thinking this way.

So bicycle advocates soften their rhetoric and blame the machine. Silly!

In fact there is another really cool way of deflecting blame for collisions from humans altogether and that is to blame the infrastructure or the lack thereof. That gibberish works quite well because it is a bit like a reversible vest.

If you show up to an event and need to look dressy you can flip the vest inside out and voila you are ready.

If you find that people are colliding with one another then you blame the concrete, asphalt, and the painted lines for the problem. You never blame the humans! You say things like ‘we need more infrastructure‘ or ‘we need better infrastructure‘.

The latter of these two is the only one that really works. Why? Well if you have occur what occurred this year and you suddenly find that with more and more infrastructure being created that the death rates are still climbing, you look a bit silly asking for more of the same, right?

So rather than pointing to your neighbor and saying you are the problem, we point to the infrastructure which is not able to procreate so its very existence is on us and since it is inanimate it cannot fight back so we are well within our rights to place all the blame on it.

Who Builds and Designs Infrastructure?

Well, get this. Humans design, and build the infrastructure that when used results in deaths.

A Sharrow Lane

A Sharrow Lane

It would be humans who designed the placement of ‘shadows‘ and the shapes of intersections and the really crappy and stupid ‘bike lanes‘ that still result in ‘right hooks‘. And every time one of us dies while using this infrastructure and driving these bikes and cars we rush out into the streets to have a ‘die in‘ to blame either the car, bike or infrastructure. Never the humans!

The Enemy Is Us!

We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

Cars and bikes don’t kill, people do. Getting rid of your car only means that the next form of transportation you choose (other than perhaps your feet) will the weapon you aim at someone else to hit them, knock them over onto their noggins and begin the slow and painful process of inter-cranial bleeding that results in their deaths a few days later.

Stop the Luddite thinking folks. It is almost as silly as blaming guns for the shooting deaths that occur each and every goddam weekend in Chicago. There is no such thing as Gun Violence. What that term is intended to covey (albeit poorly) is that some asshole took a piece of metal designed to use gas pressure to speed up a projectile capable of penetration the epidermis of another human and rupture organs.

Getting rid of guns will not bring an end to the killing. It would be far more effective to simply execute anyone using a gun than to try to remove the guns themselves. If you think about it, that is exactly our approach to animals that kill. We ‘put them down‘.

But I fear that most animals who end up killing did so because some human decided to abuse them to the point of insanity and they found an opportunity to strike back and did so. So even animals are at the mercy of our uncaring attitudes.

Getting Beyond The Rhetoric To The Problem

I don’t care how high the barrier is between the bike lane and the automobile traffic to the left of it, you will never solve the problem of ‘right hooks‘ at intersections unless you can attack the problem at its source. That would be people driving vehicles who engage in stupid and thoughtless interactions.

SF Bicycle Coalition Right Turn Diagram

SF Bicycle Coalition Right Turn Diagram

If you are a truck driver and begin a right turn your mirror no longer allows you to see approaching cyclists. If you are a cyclist hellbent on making the driver wait until you have passed through the intersection and then mayhem will ensue.

And when it gets right down to it drivers of bikes and automobiles will never accept any responsibility for the mayhem if they can help it. They will blame each others machines until it becomes obvious that the machine was being propelled by their actions and then they will each blame the infrastructure. And if all else fails they will blame each other.

No humans ever want to take responsibility for their failings. As Flip Wilson used to say, ‘the Devil made me do it‘. Hey I can go with that.