Is this a street or a board game?

Los Angeles, California, USA --- Original caption: Jose Capablanca and Herman Steiner, chess masters engage in a game of living chess with Cecil B. DeMille as referee at Los Angeles, California. --- Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

I once heard a cute statistic that 40% of Americans do not believe they can be possessed by the devil.

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That’s what we’re dealing with. But don’t act surprised. The Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British empires had world views that were similarly out of kilter with those of their subjects out in the territories.

I have just had an article reposted on an American website with the following image inserted above to catch readers’ eyes:

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It illustrates an American madness with origins I will not even ponder. For want of a label, I’ll call it the mentality of: “you there, me here, her on this bit not that bit, him on his bit unless… and bla bla bla bla bla bla.” They’ve been exporting this shit for almost a hundred years now. Key intervals for us as cyclists have included: traffic lights (“you stop there, now you go, now you stop, now you go”); John Forrester’s edict that we should ride in the carriageway but never on the pavement and, god forbid, not beside rivers lest we dilute our collective road presence; and most recently the fussy-as-hell painting of bike lanes where they don’t belong.

Cycle tracks belong on linear routes and basic crossroads. As for congested nodal points, where dozens of desire lines all intersect, having an order imposed from on high, as though entering the city entails acquiesce in some kind of board game where we are the pieces—this really is madness!

People Acting as Chess Pieces in a Game

I was stopped on the bridge on my way to work recently by an American visitor to Tasmania. “Are you meant to be here?” he asked me. I think back on all the possible answers I could have provided: “No. I’m meant to be at work. So if you will excuse me!”

He was of course referring to the fact that I was using the pedestrian path on the edge of the bridge. The driving lanes are 3.3m wide so drivers can do about 60km/h with their eyes closed. That leaves less than one meter each side for slow cyclists (me), pedestrians, parents with prams and people in wheelchairs, all to make do.

I could lobby Harry Galea, my city’s own Robert Moses, about fixing the problem. I could stop riding to work. I could ride in the carriageway and risk the life of my kids’ dad. I could demonstratively push my bike over the bridge, and make myself wider and even harder to pass. Or, I could embrace this as my chance to ride at walking pace and say hi to people I awkwardly pass. In other words, I could embrace the opportunity our narrow footpath provides for a little amiableness in my day.

I shook the man’s hand. “Yes, you and me both.” I told him. “I’m Steven.” “I’m George,” he replied. I do hope he is relaying that story to some people back home. If each of us could convince one American that individuals’ judgements, made in the moment, are often to be trusted over judgements made for us from on high, we might even convince them that we are not pieces in a some divine chess game.

I wish to apologise to three of my best friends, Anne, David and Mark, who of course are American, and put it on record that the average Australian is an absolute cretin.  

1 Comment

  1. Jonathan R says:

    It’s hard to figure out how we can get out of this mire without recourse to Velotopia.

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