Sunday, September 09, 2007

Human-Powered Travel and Human Rights

If anyone asked whether the government has the right to sentence any person to house arrest for any, or no, reason, most of us would answer no. But consider the wastes of car-dependent suburbs in North American and several other places in the world, places where road builders include no sidewalks and discourage cycling. A mere administrative action, the revocation of a driver's license, can effectively sentence a person to such restricted bounds that it amounts to imprisonment. The constitutions of free countries, implicitly in the United States and explicitly in Canada, forbid governments to do this.

Yet governments cannot deregulate the operation of cars. Unless you manage to acquire a machine gun or a rocket launcher, you will never own a weapon with the destructive power of an ordinary automobile. No government can treat access to that kind of potential weapon as a civil right. If we cannot accept an inalienable right to drive cars, but we do have a right to move about, to not have the state arbitrarily imprison us, then we must logically decide what form of transportation to define as a right.

Anyone who has read this blog with attention will know that I consider the freedom to use human-powered transportation, primarily cycling and walking, one of the great blessings of an open society. I also see the right of human beings to move about under our own power as an essential compromise between individual freedom and public safety. We must license cars, we must license motorized drivers, for our own safety. But we need not license bicycles or cyclists, and we can, and must, have the freedom to move about, on wheel and on foot, under our own power. Ordinances and policies that forbid cycling and discourage walking can have no place in a free society.

1 comment:

Allison MacDuffee said...

This is a good post, John. I am curious: are there "ordinances and policies that forbid cycling?"