Duncan Wilcock


e-Bikes: No Traffic.
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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Cars Dehumanize Us

I don't love cars. I drive one fairly often, and have since I was 16. So I'm a driver too, and not always an angel behind the wheel.

With a long time passion for sustainability, that was a key reason I bought an eBike 4 years ago.  I quickly started to notice however how much more engaged I can be with the people I see biking or walking when I'm on my eBike.  Also how much more engaged my 4 year old son is with the world around him.  Not to mention healthier, more fun, and in most cases faster - yes, faster door-to-door than driving!    

A quite complete vision of "more livable" cities is outlined in this book I highly recommend: Curbing Traffic. Here I'll focus on one aspect of a more livable city life: communication, and how we treat each other on our streets.  As both person riding a bike, and a person driving a car -  I've observed how hard it can be to communicate - both for conflict, and even for pleasant/friendly interaction - through the walls of the metal-boxes we use to cart ourselves around our cities.

Communication is our Super Power

The complex and nuanced communication we have evolved is one of the most defining features of being a human, and therefore surrendering our ability to communicate effectively - makes us something less than we are - it dehumanizes us.

Some specific examples, of typical (ineffective) communication in a car:

  1. Communication is reduced to honking, or gesticulating - rudely or otherwise.   Consider the attempt to "beep" vs. HOONNNK - it's absurd!
  2. Eye contact is hard at best, often impossible due to glare and speed
  3. You are reduced to "body language" of "inching forward," or moving the vehicle aggressively (or if you are kind - perhaps allowing someone to pass)
  4. You often only have fleeting moments for that communication because:

a. You are likely travelling at some speed so only are close enough for audible or visual communication very briefly

b. The press of the queue behind you, including the large amount of space your vehicle blocks in the road way, and the willingness (as well as cultural acceptedness) of blaring horns behind you, doesn't permit you to stop and communicate more clearly.

No wonder many drivers seem frustrated and inconsiderate!  Compare that to walking on the sidewalk, or biking at lower speeds (10km/h to 20km/h):

  1. You can speak to someone - in a friendly voice, or urgently, sharply, etc - the full-range of human vocal communication & nuance
  2. You can clearly make eye-contact, and any body language you want to communciate - the full range of human gestures & body language.  Perhaps a bit less if your hands are steering a bike.
  3. You can stop, and engage in a fuller communication - either friendly or to express your discontent.  Assert yourself.  Even if the person walks away - you have a much more innate sense of whether you were heard.

More effective communication potential

I'm writing this from a place of self-reflection. I drive a lot at times, and do try to ride my bike a lot, as well as transit, but I'm very much pointing the finger at myself too. I'm not always a friendly driver.

Cars are great at times.  They are useful for medium to longer trips. However the more people populate a given city, the bigger problem they become.   Cities get less pleasant to be in.  More space, bollards, sidewalks, and infrastructure needs to be built to keep the rest of us safe from the cars & trucks.   If you think about it - bollards, sidewalks, "pedestrian overpasses" are all car infrastructure.  We wouldn't need them if we didn't have the cars & trucks there!

The reason we have that infrastructure is to protect the people who aren't in cars, from people who are in cars -  behaving badly.  

Why are the people drive cars & trucks behaving badly?  Because we have become less human.

So walk more. Take transit more. Get a bike, or an eBike, and be the change you want to see in the world.

I'm trying. ✌️