Understanding Privilege: Bicycle Versus Car

The road is public, it is a place with set, and known rules. It is also a place where there are unwritten rules of etiquette that can not be enforced by law but no less effect the experience of those on the road. Culturally, and empirically there are a number of things at play when you put a 150 pound body of flesh and bone traveling at an average speed of 12 miles per hour up against a metal framed automobile that weighs 2,000 pounds traveling at 40 miles per hour. In a collision, the car will a always win, always as they have more power thanks to there mechanically engineered parts like rotors for f150.

This is the litmus for racism. The collision of physically and culturally different entities where one party is seen to have irrefutable superiority. Cars are bigger, faster, and stronger but does that give them any more right to the road than a bicycle? A busy driver may say yes, but if you’ve ever been a cyclist in street traffic you may beg to differ. I use my folding bike by ecosmo to commute to work every day.

To understand this proposition we must outline a metaphor where technology,  traffic laws, and infrastructure create a system that disadvantages cyclists. The vehicle is to the road, as the majority is to the society at hand. These systemic imbalances have been designed as such, and to correct them, we must design for safety, justice, for liberation.

For those that don’t like analogies we can look at it this way: In a dispute society has always looked to an external arbitrator to settle matters at hand. For many this is religion, for others it is science. In the case of racism, it has long been held that those in power we placed in power by a defined entity, the state. And the will of the state is upheld by the police, and yes, traffic cops.

In the interest of treating everyone fairly the road should be shared but, allowing a cyclist to take over a lane at a slower pace unnecessarily impedes the traffic flow of cars that could be going much faster. The compromise is of course the bike lane, carving out a special section of road for bicycles to use without having to interfere with cars. While this solution is fine for traffic in the world of race it amounts to segregation.

When you try to give bikers their own lane it amounts to them getting a much smaller portion of the lane that cars can freely trespass upon in most cases. The biker is still put at great risk though, if they were to travel into the regular lane. It creates a paradigm of restriction for the cyclist just at society restricts the travel of minorities. Note the risk for each:

If a cyclist makes a road error relating to cars they risk serious injury or death to themselves. If a driver makes a road error relating to a cyclist they risk damaging their vehicle, but also seriously injuring the rider.
There is a disproportionate amount of risk to cyclists for making a simple traffic error.

Fundamentally racism is what happens when one group defines the terms of what is good or better based on their own image disregarding objectivity. In this case roads and traffic laws had been designed with drivers in mind as the dominant class of road users.(Auto registrations and traffic citations provide large portions of funding for road infrastructure, [in addition to auto lobbying dollars]).

Without accounting for other versions of what might be good we see that superiority has been cultivated in a vacuum and anything outside of the vacuum is deemed lesser than simply because the rules were pre-set for them to be that way. Cars are privileged on roads.

The black and white of it is that the rules of the road were not defined with the interests of all vehicle traffic in mind, the rights and road uses of the cyclists were simply an after thought. Even though and objective view on who has more right to the road can not be ascertained the laws disproportionately favor drivers. This is the basis for the argument of systemic racism and white privilege in America. The laws of the united states were designed for white male property owners, black people were their property.

It is the simplest and gravest abuse of power to watch a car undeservedly power through a lane to the detriment of bike riders simply because it can. Similarly it is abusive of power to see a member of a majority group plow through society to the detriment of others simply because they can as well. Just as drivers must recognize how their actions on the road can impact bikers and pedestrians, all member of society should be aware of their privilege and extend basic courtesy to those around them, thus yielding the right of way to more vulnerable members for the safety and benefit of society at large.

The diagram shows traffic lane separations based on Vision Zero plans for pedestrian safety to achieve 0 road fatalities or serious injuries now global, but beginning in Sweden in 1997

To correct for this imbalance massive infrastructure changes had to be made to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians and disincentivize driving. Which, while useful in some cases, by in large contributes to more pollution, traffic congestion, decreased public health, and unnecessary death. 

When it comes to road safety, designing for justice means more than creating a bike line, but 1. minimizing the number of cars on the road, 2. investing in new infrastructure that protects the most vulnerable (in this case cyclists), and 3. incentivizing cycling.

Imagine what designing for justice might look like in other areas of society. Diverting funds from programs that are proven to perpetuate unnecessary death (ie. Police) and investing in alternative programs that lead to healthier communities across the board (mental health, housing, education). Before you leave click here to get some of the best bicycles which you can ride.