The rise of Motordom and how we learned to blame the victim

Privileged Sport in Puck

Recently, as I was once again honked at with no place to move, I thought of the recent 99 Percent Invisible podcast on The Modern Moloch. In it Roman Mars interviews Peter Norton who describes how the powerful forces behind the automobile aka "Motordom" had a major public relations victory as it convinced us that the person responsible for safety was the victim rather than the operator of the vehicle. Today it's considered normal (at least in North America) that streets are for motor vehicles primarily and that people are only tolerated at best. (Photo credit: Privileged Sport, Puck. Library of Congress, The Invention of Jay-walking.)

In the early 1900s, before the advent of mass usage of the automobile, things were quite different. Nothing went faster than 10 miles per hour. People crossed the street wherever they wanted because it was easy to avoid collisions in slow moving traffic. Like in this early film of Market Street in San Francisco:

The arrival of cars changed this and people were outraged by the children and adults being killed. It's hard to believe it but there were calls to ban or put tight controls on automobiles. There were even comparisons of automobiles to Moloch, the god to which the Ammonites sacrificed their children. And reminiscent of modern ghost bike memorial rides for killed cyclists, "cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars" (link)

But powerful forces behind automobiles (which called themselves "Motordom") created a shift in public consciousness through some crafty public relations. "Don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness." As Mars notes, "this subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t." So this is where the term "Jay Walking" went from being applied to a country bumpkin to being "rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time".

The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. (The Atlantic Cities)

Putting people first
We are now looking at this from the opposite end. Advocates are attempting to kick the car off its pedestal. The two pronged tactic involves changing mindsets on the one hand, and changing the infrastructure on the other.

Streetsblog has been working long to change mindsets with their regular online feature Weekly Carnage which shines a light on car crashes and traffic deaths/injuries. Inevitably very few drivers are changed. Transportation Alternatives of NYC also has an ongoing "Vision Zero NYC" campaign that wants the simple goals of zero deaths, zero injuries, zero fear of traffic. Like Motordom's PR campaign to blame the victim, the Vision Zero campaign is most powerful in changing peoples' mindsets. And in many cities, including Toronto, there are memorial rides whenever a cyclist is killed by a motorist.

The mindset isn't enough. Just as Motordom successfully rebuilt our cities around the automobile, now nothing less than a major restructuring is necessary to take back some space. That includes proper cycling infrastructure, better sidewalks and calmed streets so kids can once again go play in the middle of them.

Indirect lefts: how to improve what most cyclists do anyway

I came across this diagram from the well-produced NYC DOT bike guide. It describes how cyclists can perform a "left hook turn" or "indirect left". Cycling education in Canada (like here and here), however, encourages cyclists to make "vehicular-style" left turns, which means to make left turns like motorists do. If they are uncomfortable with such left turns they can make a turn like a pedestrian, a "pedestrian left turn", by walking their bike on the crosswalk. This is encouraged as well with the new bike boxes on Harbord Street, as pointed out by James points out.

Vehicular-style left turn diagram:

Making streets for walkers, cyclists, young and old: Complete Streets Forum 2011

The Complete Streets Forum 2011 will be taking place this Thursday at Hart House, University of Toronto. Organized by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, the Complete Streets Forum will have representatives and speakers from many different cities.

the theme for this year's Complete Streets Forum is “Building Alliances”. The Forum brings together a diverse group of professionals, policy-makers, researchers, advocates, and thought-leaders from across the GTHA and beyond. It will be of particular interest to those in the transportation, public health, urban planning/design, public policy, and non-profit sectors.

It will feature speakers such as Mia Birk of Alta Planning + Design, who contributed greatly towards the current awesome cycling infrastructure in Portland, Oregon (in her former job as staff person at the City of Portland); Eleanor McMahon, Founder of Share the Road Cycling Coalition, and Michel Labrecque, a former city councillor and radio/television commentator, who was involved in the creation of Maison des cyclistes, the Tour de l’Île de Montréal and La Route verte (4000 km of bikeways – the longest cycling route in the Americas) as President of Vélo Québec. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong will also speak briefly about what the city is doing and his initiative for the separated bike lane network.

Getting to complete / shared streets is not that hard

My idea of what a Toronto street should look like. Nice and slow. Everyone still gets to where they want but with no stress. We've got everyone sharing the same space and keeping an eye out for each other: pedestrians, streetcars, horse and buggy, cars, cyclists. See folks it's not that hard to have complete streets (or this is more like "shared space"). (Thanks to Tino for link).

Complete Streets Forum this Friday - it's about mobility for all

The Complete Streets Forum is taking place this Friday. It's not too late to sign up. Even the Mayor is going to be there!

What are complete streets?
From Wikipedia (as of April 21, 2010):

In urban planning and highway engineering, complete streets are roadways designed and operated to enable safe, attractive, and comfortable access and travel for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transport users of all ages and abilities are able to safely and comfortably move along and across a complete street. Proponents claim that Complete Streets also create a sense of place and improve social interaction, while generally improving property adjacent land values.

Here's the media release of the forum:

(Toronto, Apr 20, 2010) -- Transportation stakeholders from across Canada will meet on Friday, April 23 at the inaugural Complete Streets Forum to discuss how to improve city streets in Toronto and other municipalities across Ontario to take into consideration all users including pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users and motorists.

Date: April 23, 2010
Time: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Location: Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Ballroom, C floor

Complete Streets Forum is organized by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT), a project of the Clean Air Partnership, in partnership with Transportation Options and the City of Toronto with the generous support of our sponsors.

How's my Driving?

This interactive on-line “Driving Challenge” from the United Kingdom’s Department for Transport raises some great points about driving distractions, especially the widespread usage of mobile phones.

I missed 8 questions and 5 pedestrian points… think you can beat the Marginator?!? Take the test and post your score in the comments area. No spoilers please! Thanks to Anthony for bringing this link to my attention. Drive safe!

West End Bike Blitz

Last week, Toronto Police Services 11 Division sent out an email regarding a week-long bicycle safety blitz starting today. The blitz covers various parts of 11 Division, including The Junction, High Park, Roncesvalles, and Bloor West Village.

They will be cracking down on cyclists who disobey traffic rules, especially sidewalk cycling. They really made sure to spell out the details of the sidewalk cycling bylaws and how they are enforced. No word on whether they will also crack down on motorists parked in the Runnymede bike lane, joggers in the High Park bike lane, or motorists doing crazy stuff pretty much wherever they please.

You can read the text of the email below.


blockquote>The 11 Division Traffic Unit has received a number of community complaints related to traffic safety issues within the division. In High Park both bicycles and motor vehicles frequently speed and fail to obey stop signs within the park. Additionally, bicycles ridden on the sidewalk endangering pedestrians is a problem in Bloor West Village, The Junction and in Roncesvalles Village.

A traffic safety initiative to address these concerns comprised of both enforcement and educational components will commence on Monday 05 May 2008 and conclude on Sunday 11 May 2008. Any traffic related concerns can be directed to 11 Division’s Traffic Unit by phoning 416-808-1100.

The Other City Council Decision

As mentioned earlier, Toronto City Council votes today on whether or not to support the recommendations in the Sustainable Transportation Initiatives report. (Today's agenda is available online.) Whether it's because of a certain other vote, or because of widespread support, I haven't heard of any opposition to the ideas proposed.

The recommendations are available online as part of the October 3rd Public Works Committee meeting (pdf). To save people from searching through city documents, I've pasted the recommendations in our forum for convenient perusal.

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