Speaking out against lesser evils

The trick to looking like a vital activist is to rally people against an unarguable evil that they’ll never be able to change. Movie stars, politicians and crowds will always come out to walk against “want”, or say they don’t like child soldiers, or say isn’t it a shame that cyclists keep getting hit by cars on the road. But of course, nothing is ever achieved.

AR-140619911

What makes it so hard by comparison to rally people behind a small wrong that could be righted, with a show of just a few hundred people? I say this as the only person in my whole city who, I believe, ever phones the council or police to complain about parked cars blocking footpaths. This is not a clear cut evil, that can be compared to rape as a tool of war. It is an inconsiderate kind of behaviour that exacerbates the inherent dangers of walking in a city where lazy pricks drive. There may be shades of grey too. Some cars blocking footpaths belong to new mothers, struggling with their babies and groceries. And sometimes the risks posed to pedestrians when they have to walk on the road to go around, may be nonexistent.

Nevertheless, cars parked across footpaths is on balance a scourge, and the revenues from fines would exceed the cost of policing. The issue just needs a few hundred people per city to rally, and it would be fixed. I could get hundreds to a walk against want by just sending a text to 10 friends. If I tried organising a rally against inconsiderate parking on footpaths, I know I’d be the only one there.

Author Angus Kennedy casts light on the issue in this article, and this radio interview. He identifies a tendency among people today to be proud of the fact they “live and let live” unless faced with universally reprehensible views, like racism or pedophilia. He says the reason we do this, is because we are lazy. It takes mental effort to form an opinion about cars parked on footpaths, and courage to be publicly seen to have a position. Any dumb coward can join a mass rally against racism, a view for which they can’t be accused, and an issue about which they can’t make a difference.

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore.
This entry was posted in Behooving Moving, 1000+ blog posts since 2009. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Speaking out against lesser evils

  1. James says:

    I don’t see many pedestrians inconvenienced by parked cars on the footpath, however I have never been able to use marked bike lanes in the area in which I live, because selfish pricks park their friggin motor vehicles there. And I’ve complained plenty.

    http://seeclickfix.com/issues/943983-not-a-bike-lane-when-it-is-always-occupied-by-parked-cars

  2. Luke says:

    I would have thought Australians were good at that sort of thing. Contrast the wet English (rather than British) attitude well parodied in a tweet/cartoon -I can’t remember which:
    “Am in the 5 items or less queue behind person with 8 items. Wish there was an American to complain.”

    Yes, fine the buggers. Good source of revenue. Drivers complain, but less than about higher local taxes.

    • Steven says:

      The good news is, you don’t have to spend long in the US to cultivate their persnicketiness. A semester in New York was enough to change me. I don’t fit in at all among the doughy of Tasmania, but being liked never pays anyhow.

  3. crank says:

    Hey, I called the council this morning about this! I suspect part of the problem is the ‘me’ not ‘we’ attitude we have in the west. I think we accept people are acting in their own self-centered way and can’t be changed. I wonder if it is less of an issue in societies with a strong social conscience, say Japan?

    I also wonder if people would bother calling their council when they implement bullshit like this: https://maps.google.com.au/maps?q=abbotsford+victoria&ll=-37.802759,145.002261&spn=0.001918,0.002411&hnear=Abbotsford+Victoria&gl=au&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=-37.802734,145.001518&panoid=bSPlIfUWPURdHUTcqdOHpg&cbp=12,262.29,,0,25.45

    And this is common: https://maps.google.com.au/maps?q=abbotsford+victoria&ll=-37.803833,144.998277&spn=0.000017,0.009645&hnear=Abbotsford+Victoria&gl=au&t=h&layer=c&cbll=-37.80363,144.996261&panoid=X9C8L38O6VxQkaBWmIUxFA&cbp=12,357.86,,0,6.63&z=17

    (And we have a ‘parking problem’ in our council… uh yuh…)

    • Steven says:

      Keep phoning them! I’ve become more aware of this since moving to Tasmania where state law permits cycling on footpaths. Suddenly it’s my bike lane they’re blocking!

    • Mark Donnellan says:

      The problem with Abbotsford and other inner suburbs of Melbourne is that residents expect to have at least one car, even though their actual street frontage is narrower than one parking spot is long. Older suburbs were set out before cars and over time we’ve had to endure increasing car ownership to the point of stupidity–much like boiling a frog. Still worth complaining to Council; then Councillors if nothing improves.

    • James says:

      Absolutely correct, Mark, and the problem is creeping further out. Original blocks that may have been 1/4 or 1/3 of an acre out in the suburbs, and housed parents and young adult children with cars, had enough room for them to (mostly) park their cars off the road. Kids could still play kick to kick in street, without leaving dents in the neighbours car.

      Now everyone with an older large block wants to cash in on the subdivide and build 3 units boom. It’s a grab for cash. The result is that there are far to few spaces for off street parking, and the cars then spill out on to the streets. Where I live, 30km East of Melbourne, the street is often clogged with cars on both sides.

      Ok, we have footpaths, but are not allowed to ride on them legally. Instead we have to dodge the cars.

      I think it should be a council by-law that you must no own more cars than you can park within the bounds of your property. Visitors may obviously park on the street temporarily, and you may be able to apply for a temporary permit if you buy a new car and still need to sell an old one.

      Car ownership could be curtailed.

    • Steven says:

      Singapore has gotten parked cars off the road, and are about to have little trouble rolling out a separated bike network. But the low hanging fruit here, is to simply change the law to let people ride as guests on the footpath.

Leave a Reply