The funny thing about the Urban Cycling Movement and the people who cling to its paradigm is the lack of imagination contained within the group. After all I have admitted that cyclists are to some degree Luddites. We are clinging to ideas that are familiar to us and hoping that the lessened degree of technology in cycling will keep thing simply and most importantly sustainable.
The wheels come off this way of thinking when you reach the level of completing the whole picture regarding transportation for the future. Yes, you can wrap yourself up in warm clothes for that bike ride into work. But what you really cannot do when it comes to Mass Transportation is ‘turn on a dime‘.
When you need buses or trains here rather than there, it takes decades to move a train line. But trains are by far the most economical and least disruptive of the ground transportation system because of the way they are built.
Here in Chicago they are either above ground level or underground. But this is not a recipe for a system that can readily adapt to the needs of a changing demographic. For that you have often needed to rely on automobiles riding on highway system that further branch from the city into suburban areas that are fast growing. That is indeed the problem faced by Atlanta as it tries to find ways to ‘adapt quickly‘.
Buses are difficult to use because the routes the ply need to be cost-effective. That is to say you need a certain-sized load to make the routes sustainable. And for that reason here in Illinois lots of suburban areas go without much in the way of Mass Transit.
I have written before about the flexibility that SDAs bring to households. You can program a car to take one person to work (or at least part of the way) while another person uses the same car (returned to the home base) for additional uses. It is clearly an idea way of idea things.
If you live in an area with existing commuter train service you can have one parent drive to the train station and another using the same car to do errands or reach yet another mass transit option that goes in a different direction (or even the same one but at a different time).
But for anyone who is part of the ‘War on Cars‘ world this sounds like a nightmare. And I can understand that. It is new and it is high-tech and most of all it cuts through the bullshit that Luddites like to sling about the death of the automobile and the ride of bicycles. But I keep asking myself, what kinds of vehicles are going to perform transfers to hospitals, answer police calls and generally provide services in all kinds of weather if not automobile and trucks?
Removing Complexity Is Not A Real Solution
The Pope of Bicycling in his ivory tower loves to point out that his kids (evidently suffering from the same lack of thoughtfulness) always suggest that ‘clearing up congestion means getting rid of automobiles‘. Lots of really significant and memorable thinkers have looked at life this way. Most notably the Nazis. You identify the persons you think are creating the problem and you get rid of them. And frankly if you are not a very well-developed thinker it all makes sense. You just simplify.
But modern life involves lots more moving parts than that. In fact every one of the Luddites I know is the proud owner of a SmartPhone. SmartPhones are evidence that something as simple and straightforward as the ‘land line‘ is not a very good solution.
What hampers land lines are the same things that make Mass Transportation such a bummer. Land lines require poles with wires or cables buried underground. And once you install your infrastructure you are stuck when things change. That is to say you have to go back and either dig up the wires or install a new set of poles and string new wires.
But a SmartPhone is based off an idea developed by my former employer. What you do is broadcast the signal from one or more towers and allow the small radio sets to pick up the signal and behave as if they were attached to land lines. But the SmartPhone goes a few steps further. Because you can broadcast internet data over the airwaves you are suddenly provided with a means of tapping into information on a global basis.
Someday when we all have teleporting modules we will be able to dispense with something as simple as the SDA in favor of teleportation. That is going to put a crimp in the style of boats and airplanes but every single technology is always supplanted by something else. At least in the world of the non-Luddites. They are going to be riding bicycles in the Arctic tundra to deliver packages in frozen cargo bikes.
Leave The Luddites Alone
I can imagine many changes to the way things are done. Personal automobiles may soon segue into group leased vehicles. Imagine a suburban community or for that matter a rural one that uses SDAs in the manner of ‘yellow bikes‘. You could call it CarShare. If you need a car then you do not have to access it via something as primitive as what we have today.
You simply use you SmartPhone to have a communal vehicle delivered to your home for use throughout the day and the system that runs the operation figures out how many folks can use that car each day and when. Then you find a monthly or weekly check or charge in your mailbox or on your phone to show that you either used someone else’s car or they used yours.
But the Luddites who just love to call themselves Active Transportation Alliance members will find all this sort of thing objectionable. Why? Well think of all the things you miss by not riding the current Mass Transit system in your area:
- You might not get groped or assaulted as often when you are the only one in a small car riding along reading the paper or drinking that latte.
- You probably won’t find as many ‘hot messes‘ left on the seats by someone who lacks perspective on the proper places to exercise personal waste evacuation.
- You won’t have to deal as often with crowds of festival and game goers who are drunk off their butts and trying to sneak a toke of weed while shouting and generally making more noise than you care to listen to.
- You won’t be able to wear you city living as a badge of honor amongst the other Luddites you know. They will hold it against you that you could listen to a Classical Music station rather than some dissonant heavy metal or whatever crap passes as cool among the Luddites.
- You will be able to take that same short-assed trip into work without having to search for a place to get a shower and hang up soaking wet clothing.
- If you are a lawyer who likes to bore the heck out of people with dumb-ass videos of yourself running stop signs while proving that you slogged into work in the bike lane where the snow was three-feet deep, SDAs are going to be a buzz-kill for you.
- If you are one of the Luddites who cannot wait to show off the same tired clothing selections from years past and make videos of yourself getting dressed layer-by-painful-layer so that others will be impressed with your perseverance, then you are not going to like SDAs.
- If you idea of cycling fund-raising is gathering at a local brewpub to drink yourself into a state of personal equanimity before having to wrap up again and go in search of your bicycle under three-feet of snow, you are gonna hate SDAs.
Meanwhile back at the ranch everyone who is comfortable with SmartPhones and either electric, hybrid or gasoline powered vehicular travel is focusing their brain cycles on solving some ‘real problems‘. But hey, being a Luddite has its advantages:
- You can avoid having to shave your underarms ever, regardless of gender.
- You can amaze your friends with how much facial hair you can grow without having your skin slough off onto the floor.
- You can amaze your friends and family with how many wool socks you were able to knit with the facial hair you shaved off during your annual use of a safety razor.
- You can swap stories about the new uses you have found for all the inner tubes lying around your apartment.
- You can amaze your friends with all the furniture you have managed to weld together using old bicycle chains gathered from all the abandoned bikes in your neighborhood.
- You can amaze your friends and family with how many children you can stuff into a cargo bike before tottering off to the grocery store less than a half mile away (it would have been safer to walk while pulling a foldable grocery cart) where you slide into the bike corral on our side and avoid taking out that senior citizen exiting the automatic doors.
- You get to prove that you are really cool by riding around naked once a year and having some fool idiot record the sad decline in your muscle/skin tone.
- You get to prove that even though you look disgusting (not for nudity reasons, its just that you are ugly without clothes) you are proud of your sagging naked body.
- I could go on, but why shoot fish in a barrel…