Sarah Goodyear writing for the Atlantic contexturalizes modern pedestrian and cycling woes with the help of Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic. Goodyear notes that the current attitude that the street is for cars is anathema to the historic uses of are effectively the arteries of public movement. It is this attitud which has made it impossible for cyclists or pedestrians to seek proper protection from the occupation of the roads by motordom.
It wasn’t always like this. Browse through New York Times accounts of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles.
Also of interest is the fact that vehicle accidents were treated within the traditions of common law: the larger, heavier vehicle was always at fault. Lack of due care was the call of the day. Today we’re lucky if a driver sees a fine in the event of an altercation with a bicycle.
Even in places where cyclists are supposed to reign supreme – cycletracks – they are forced out of the tracks by cars double parking in them, parking with their tails entering the lane, motocycles using the cycle-lane as a passing lane in traffic … you get the picture. The abuses of motorized traffic while not the only abuses do come with a hefty weight advantage in a tangle with a human being or bicycle.
I expect to be considered at fault in a run-in with someone who is walking or running. I have a goodly amount of responsibility as a consequence of my momentum on a bicycle. I have no such expectation of drivers taking that kind of responsibility – with myself or pedestrians. That is not only wrong. It is hypocrisy underwritten by bad laws.