The New Yorker:
We’ve all been there. You’re walking down the sidewalk, minding your own business, when, hurtling toward you, threatening public peace, safety, and sanity, is that horror of all horrors: a bicyclist. Bicycling on the sidewalk is illegal in New York—not to mention dangerous!—and your sense of righteous indignation grows and doesn’t subside until you speak your mind, profanely. Of course, the same scenario can unfold from a different angle. You can be biking along peacefully, following the rules (hello, bike lane!) when, out of nowhere, against the light, a pedestrian walks blithely into the street, with no regard for the rules or your safety. You swerve; cue the expletives. Or you can be driving when a cyclist or pedestrian dashes across an intersection against the light, showing an obvious contempt for your right of way. (Can you get a ticket for that?) Unprintable words follow.
From urban design to interpersonal psychology, a number of factors shape how we experience these vehicular encounters. In his history of bicycling and the politics surrounding it, “One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility,” Zack Furness points out that, almost as soon as automobiles were invented, they became the focal point of urban development: for over a century, cities have been planned around thoroughfares, and cars have been their reigning kings. But automobiles don’t rule only because they’re convenient; they also confer social cachet. From the Model T onward, cars have conveyed a level of power and prestige that’s beyond the reach of other modes of transportation. As the Times put it, in 1922, “As a rule, automobility implies higher individual power, better economic distribution and a potentially higher social state.”
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