Edge Cases

Jason   Nov 19, 2015

You do not want to be an edge case in this future we are building.

Hilary Mason tweeted the above comment a few weeks ago, and I've found it a fascinating statement to ponder. Her comment was directed at the tendency for computer algorithms to make life difficult for unplanned situations, but it contains significant insight when applied our built environment as well.

I've also been reflecting on some notable local pedestrian deaths from earlier this year, and find the injected bias astonishing. Take KPTV's coverage as a prime example, although it's certainly not unique:

There have been several accidents in the last two weeks that have similarities. They all involved pedestrians getting hit by cars and police said it's because they were difficult to spot.

Another interesting similarity of the accidents collisions? They all involved cars.

How is it that we've arrived at a place where pedestrians behaving entirely lawfully are blamed for their own deaths? How do we determine clothing choice was the primary contributor to their death? Why do the "safety tips" exclusively address pedestrian behavior and are mute in regards to driver behavior? Why should pedestrians be expected to dress up like traffic cones at Christmas because drivers choose not to drive in accordance with conditions? Why should the assumed burden of responsibility not fall to those capable of causing the most harm?

I can't think of a single additional example where this kind of thinking or behavior would be tolerated.

Not that I believe a driver education campaign is a complete solution. Far more insidious is how the very design of the environment around us contributes to these deaths. The stroads where these deaths occurred are wide streets designed for high vehicular speeds and not cyclists or pedestrians. The future we are building is an environment designed for cars instead of people.

The attitudes expressed in the articles above and in the design of our cities are unambiguous: if you choose not to drive, you're an edge case. Edge cases that many see as an annoyance, a hindrance to "efficient" automobile travel that ought to be eliminated. Tonight, riding home on my bike, I had a driver yell "Get out of the middle of the road" as I made a perfectly legal left turn in front of him. Why should I not be allowed to traverse my own neighborhood unless encased in a two ton steel cage powered by explosions?

Walking is the atomic unit of transportation. Cycling is the most efficient means of transportation devised. These are not edge cases, these are fundamental mobility options that must be given equal access in the built environment. Not just in law and on paper, but in culture and practice as well.

walking cycling bias

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