Sunday, May 10, 2009

We've come a long way, baby

Die Zeit has reprinted an excellent article from 1969, in which the author quite reasonably argues that bicycles should be banned from most roads in large cities -- for the sake of the cyclists themselves.

Der Weg mit dem Wagen oder mit der Straßenbahn ist jedenfalls sicherer. Ein Autofahrer übersteht rund eine Million Fahrkilometer ohne Verletzungen. Und in den öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln passiert so gut wie nichts.
(Translation: It is safer to take a car or a tram.) The article does not contain any of the pedantic tone that now used in the battle raging between car drivers and cyclists, especially in towns heavily laden with bicycles, such as Freiburg and Münster (Germany). In fact, it is completely outdated in its thinking -- that's what makes it such a good read. If anyone tried to publish something like that in Germany today -- 40 years later -- they would be laughed at.

As both a car driver and cyclist (and occasional user of public transport), I come down heavily in favor of bicycles, as a growing number of people do today. But the thinking in the article above reminds me of how people (used to?) think in the States when I lived there: roads were built for cars, and bicycles should get out of the way -- for their own good. Even in "green" Austin, Texas, I was once nearly run off the road in the early 1990s by a public bus trying to overtake me while I was cycling. And around 2000, a German friend of mine was actually hit by a driver overtaking him on the road apparently with almost no traffic in the US (the driver did not even stop).

The general thinking nowadays in (most of) Europe, fortunately, is that everyone has a right to use the roads, which are certainly not just built for cars, and that car drivers cannot simply bully everyone else just because they themselves are not the ones who get hurt the most in the case of an accident.

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