News of the Road


Yesterday during my lunch break I noticed at least a half-a-dozen news vans from competing TV stations parked on the grassy bank of the Charles River off Soldiers Field Road. If it was one news van I’d figure they’re just filming location scenery for the weather report, but with so many vans on the scene it had to be something big. What the big news was I could not determine, and finally decided it must be geese-related.

As it turned out, I missed quite a bit of excitement. A driver who may have had a seizure collided with another car and then he and his SUV plowed into the river. The most touching part of the story is that passersby jumped into the river to try to help rescue the driver. They commented that the water was cold and I personally consider it a blessing that the weather has been so mild for this time of year. Usually by this time the Charles is frozen over which could have caused almost instant death to the driver and his rescuers.

Another Boston Globe article suggests that driving could be made safer if there were fewer signs telling drivers what to do.

According to some researchers who study the psychology of driving, an overabundance of traffic signs makes drivers less likely to pay attention to any of them. And yet at the same time, drivers also pay less attention to their surroundings, secure in the knowledge that there will be instructions quite literally at every turn.

The researchers say the solution to this problem is to reduce — or perhaps even eliminate — traffic signage. It’s a solution the European Union, for one, is giving a try.

It immediately puts in mind of Leonard Wibberley who writes in The Trouble With the Irish that one of the differences between the English and the Irish is respect for signs. His example is that in Hyde Park there are no signs that say “don’t throw rocks at the swans” and no one throws rocks at the swans, but in St. Stephen’s Green there are signs and yet people do throw rocks at the signs. Since Boston is an “Irish” city I figured this might explain Bostonians casual indifference to road signs. But perhaps psychology explains it better.

The final road-related note comes from the Newton Streets and Sidewalks blog where Sean Roche makes a good case for why bicyclists need to be nice to motorists even though they tend to be careless and hostile toward bicyclists.

Objectively, we cyclists are far more put upon than putting upon. But, practically speaking, it’s irrelevant.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if we want to live in a world that is more bike friendly, we really have to be model citizens. Being model citizens is not enough. We have to be active in our communities to create a more bike-friendly infrastructure and culture. But, if we want allies (or at least neutrals) in our activism, we also have to be nice to motorists. The world is generally hostile to us. Nice people like my mother-in-law are looking for reasons to dismiss our concerns.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It just is.

Last night, I dropped my bike off for a tune-up with the wonderful people at Broadway Bicycle School so I won’t be on two wheels again until after I return from my holiday travels, but it is something to think about for the new year.

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