Park(ing) Day in Hamburg was extremely relaxed, as I’m sure it was in many other cities. Originating in San Francisco, activists and advocates reclaim parking spots on the street for pedestrian use for a day, clearly contrasting public space used for public purposes versus public spaced used for large parked private possessions. Hamburg was one of two German cities with Park(ing) Day participants, Munich being the other. This particular spot was organized by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy – Europe (ITDP,) an organization working for equitable forms of transportation as well as sustainable development in many different countries. You can see more pictures from ITDP – Europe’s Park(ing) Day here.
I enjoy the philosophy behind Park(ing) Day, re-inhabiting and transforming a public space that is more often than not contested territory, with users of various modes all competing for just enough space to get around. I think one of the things I enjoy about walking or cycling, and what Park(ing) Day helps to emphasize, is just how human and personal these modes are. As pedestrians or cyclists we can make eye contact with each other, speak to each other easily of we choose, or catch interesting bits of other peoples’ conversations. In short, we can remain human and are open to the critical gaze of others. In an automobile we surround ourselves with a heaping pile of plastic and metal that’s whatever times our size and often take to the streets like our actions don’t have consequences and therefore aren’t open to criticism. And many automobile commercials in the United States support this logic, particularly the one that starts off saying something like: there’s no angle on an automobile that was designed for impact with a human being. One would hope that would be the opening of an add that supports pedestrians’ safety, but what the auto manufacturer is referring to is the driver, that their automobile is now safer on the inside, for the driver. And the add for the automobile with the extra-wide headlight range, claiming this will help increase safety for the driver, which then proceeds to show a driver going around a turn and narrowly missing the oncoming tractor trailer, theoretically because of the headlight range. Yet the driver wasn’t looking at the road to begin with, and only narrowly missed a head-on collision with the 18-wheeler because he had finally chosen the CD he wanted to listen to and had just put it in the CD player before returning his gaze to the road and oncoming semi.
I feel these kinds of adds subconsciously support the distracted-driving populous in the U.S. I believe there are exceptions out there, that not all drivers are totally irresponsible, but I also believe that we don’t hold each other accountable enough for our reckless actions, or aren’t held accountable by anyone, as this report from Transportation Alternatives in NYC shows. And this holds true for cyclists, as well. Fed by the same automobile-tinged culture, many cyclists ride just as irresponsibly. Often, however, this can be due to situational attributes, yet falsely written off as a character attribute of cyclists in general, that all cyclists yearn to cut off drivers and maddeningly ride outside of the painted bike lane, if one even exists. What the driver often misses from his/her windshield perspective is the suddenly-opened door from that guy not paying attention in the parked car, or the idling or parked vehicles in the bike lane, making the bike lane unsafe for travel. And if the now-angry driver doesn’t yell, his/her only other option (from the windshield perspective) is the loud abrasive sound of the car horn. And then everyone’s stress level is high. Tom Vanderbilt’s blog post about ‘bikeism’ is quite relevant here. One other thing to pay attention to, which I’ll be posting about a little later, is what’s being taught in drivers-ed. Looking at the basis for our driving education could play a big role in just how seriously we take our responsibilities as drivers.