Monday, June 07, 2010

Semantics and car dependency

Cyclists who set out to argue with opponents of bicycle lanes and other facilities for cyclists have a problem: our opponents tend to speak a different language, to a different purpose, than we do. Many cyclists who argue for bicycle facilities also drive, but many motorists who argue against us do not cycle. That means many of our opponents have little if any experience choosing their transportation mode. To go any medium distance (one to a hundred kilometres), to them, means to drive a car. They know, in a sense, that they could cycle, but someone who has not cycled for transportation in their adult life has no actual experience of actually weighing the two transportation modes and choosing the one best for the purpose.

In practice, this often means that when cycling activists speak of the problem of car dependency, our opponents often answer us by talking about the advantages of "auto-mobility". I can't speak for other cyclists, but I do know about the advantages of the automobile. When I have a computer CPU, or other heavy gear, or a bunch of kids to schlep, I use a car. When I have just myself and something I can fit in panniers, I generally use a bike. But for someone who has never biked as an adult, in their practical experience cars mean mobility (and vice versa). The different experiences of cyclists and motorists cause us to speak a different language, and I believe it helps to both discuss the question of what purposes the private car will prove useful for, and to affirm the importance of choice in modes of transportation.

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