Why cars are winning
This week I rode my Dahon folding bicycle to Newstead and picked up my brother in law's car from the dealership service centre, on my way home. Luckily I had taken the Dahon to work that day.
I own a car, or perhaps half own a car, but is most often driven by my wife (who owns the other half) while I ride a bike everywhere. By that I don't mean if we're off to the shops, she'll take the car and I'll go separately by bike ... that would be silly ... I mean I just use the bike when we have to go our separate ways, or when I have to go somewhere on my own or with the kids, or with the wife and kids if wherever we're going is nearby and doesn't involve crazy roads. Anyway, the point is I hardly ever drive the car.
So getting into a car and driving home in Brisbane peak hour was an unusual experience for me. And I noticed a few peculiar things. First and foremost, of course, it sucked. It was often maddeningly frustrating sitting in a parked car in a big long line of parked cars, staring at the back of a van, creeping forward a couple of feet every minute or so, for what seemed like forever. I really don't understand why people choose to do it.
But other than the obvious suckiness of it all, I noticed a couple of other things too. I noticed that (when not parked in the line of parked cars as above) I consistently drove about 10-15 kph under the speed limit, which seemed plenty fast enough to me, but no doubt was a source of great irritation to other road users who kept swapping lanes to get round me until I realised what I was doing and tried to speed up a bit.
I also noticed how annoying it was trying to see what was going on around me with a whopping great dashboard and bonnet in front of me, big thick A pillars which seemed to block out about half of my vision, and teensy weensy mirrors that pretty much only showed me two tiny spots of road just off either side of the back of the car. I also noticed how the seat, headrest, armrest and seatbelt all seemed to conspire to make it a huge effort to turn my head and shoulders to really see what was happening about me. No wonder I was driving so slowly, I couldn't see anything! It really, really bugged me not seeing what was right in front of me. For example, pulling out onto the road, it wasn't until I turned right that I realised I'd crossed a double line (I couldn't actually see the short section of double lines from where I was ... I couldn't see anything closer than a lane width!
Once I got going, I also noticed how nice it was not to have to manoeuvre about the road, dodging parked cars and crossing lanes. It seemed like someone had worked out how much space I needed and made a nice wide lane especially for me, wherever I wanted to go, and I didn't have to share it with anybody or anything else squeezing in from either side. All I had to worry about was stopping behind cars stopped in front of me, and going when they went. What a dream! Except for the bits where I had to stop and wait behind others ... but even then I got to relax in the comfy seat, watch the pretty displays in the dashboard, listen to the radio and such.
I also noticed how so many other drives just casually disobeyed the road rules, blocking intersections, speeding, rolling through stop signs, racing through amber lights and generally maximising the advantages of the car.
But this last bit really didn't sink in until I had got home, taken the folder out of the boot, and then took the dog for a walk. I live in a 'local street' in a suburb built a little over 60 years ago. So nice wide streets, grid pattern, all connecting to major arterials either side of the suburb. Within 3 minutes of leaving my front gate I saw the following:
- two young blokes rat-running in a Commodore ute, race round the corner next to my house, and race up the street at about 60kph;
- three mums in SUVs take 'the racing line' around two connected blind corners, resulting in them being on the wrong side of the road for about 30 metres leading up to the second corner;
- a postie on a motorbike do a right turn off the street, race across the grass for about 100 metres next to a kids' playground, and cross across a footbridge onto a back street, I'm guessing to avoid the traffic backed up on Sandgate Road; and
-two parents park in a signed no parking zone, so that they were a few metres closer to the school gate closest to the after-school care building.
Actually, I saw the two rat-runners in the ute scream by just before I even got out of my gate. But the point is, cars are often the most attractive option because people don't have to play by the rules. If everyone followed the road rules, and (although disturbingly not against the law) stuck to the main roads when they should and not rat-run, cars at peak hour would be maddeningly frustrating more often than not. As soon as it gets frustrating, people don't choose another form of transport, they just choose to ignore the rules.
On another note, I felt like a pig in a synagogue riding into the dealership service centre on my Dahon. It might have been my imagination, but I felt like all the fat blokes in suits and ties were looking at me with disdain and hostility. The fellow serving me at least tried to be polite: "Oh, you cycled here?" Yep. "That's nice, it's lovely weather for a cycle." He even offered to pull the back seats and parcel tray arrangement apart for me, until he turned around and saw my leisure toy had somehow folded up into something a bit more manageable.