Saturday, April 17, 2010

Road Rights

Is driving a car a right or a privilege? Do bicycles belong on the road?
While pondering these questions I came across another question - Do we even have the right to travel?
Roads are the result of people beating a path through the wilderness. We generally assume these to be common public ground that would fall under roaming rights. Getting in & out of sovereign locales require traveling rights. The Magna Carta granted English citizens the right to leave & return to their nation in 1215. The original Articles of Confederation allowed citizens of the United States to travel freely between the states whose sovereignty was later eroded by the Constitution which grants no such right but gives the government some authority in inter-state commerce.
This was all well & good. In humanity's 6-10,000 year history traveling over land was accomplished by walking or riding / being pulled by a walking animal. Some etiquette of the road developed & some rules codified. Some of our current road rules date back to the horse & buggy that is largely absent from modern roads. Any licensing was pretty much for taxing commercial enterprises.
About 150 years ago, however, the bicycle was born. The bicycle runs on people power but it amplifies it. It was a bit faster than the pedestrian & a little more ungainly. The argument of allowing bikes on the roadways ensued & legislation here & there granted bicycles equal rights & responsibilities to the roads. Or the rights of citizens to freely choose their mode of transportation.
In the late 1800s the automobile started making it's presence known on the common roadways. This was a different beast altogether. It ran on it's own steam or battery or gasoline. It was faster & heavier than the previous modes of transportation that had served humanity well for millennia. The first "license" to permit an auto on the road wasn't due to it's dangers, however, Mr Benz' neighbors were complaining about the noise & smell. Some cities banned motorized vehicles entirely.
As more & more cars hit the roads, fatalities soared. It was deemed that a person wanting to operate one of these contraptions should prove sufficient skill & maturity to do so. Testing & licensing drivers began around 1910 in Germany & was quickly followed, due to public outcry, in the US. Municipalities started, then New York began licensing chauffeurs & New Jersey demanded licensing of all drivers in 1913.
So, it's pretty well established that people have an inalienable right to get around & sharing public pathways is pretty much a no brainer, but using these public thoroughfares carries responsibilities. Using big, fast machines to get around requires greater responsibility than walking. Using animals to get around carries unique responsibilities. :-)
Now, in our car-centric (addicted) society, the roadways cater to the machine more than the animal & drivers bear the brunt of maintaining the roadways. Modern roadways greatly benefit the cyclist. I would be glad to pay a tax to cover the wear & tear my bike puts on the roadway. Such a tax could be put on the bicycle itself at the time of purchase. If cyclists want signs & sharrows & special lanes such a tax should cover that, as well. Licensing cyclists or pedestrians is impractical.

sources, sources, sources, sources....

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