It happened. I already wrote about my personal dread of this event.
I send D an SMS (text message) on his cell phone just now:
"Having a good day?"
He replies, "I guess."
I reply, "That doesn’t sound very enthusiastic."
He replies: "I saw a person this morning who had been run over by a truck. She looked to be in a lot of pain."
For us, end of story. There’s nothing we can do about it.
Or is there? When something terrible happens in our lives, can we change the future by using that experience to gain insight and live accordingly? So, how would I change things?
Well, did you catch that? A bicycle flattened by a truck.
Bicycles getting flattened by trucks is not unique to China. One of my law school buddies was severely injured as he bicycled from Jacksonville, FL, to Greenville, SC. While he was pedaling along a back country, Florida road, a semi truck ran his bicycle off the road and didn’t stop. His bicycle was destroyed and my friend was left unconscious, deep down in a ditch. Fortunately, a stranger passing by noticed him and took him to a hospital, where he spent several days. I once witnessed a car in my home city run a bicyclist off the road. He fortunately was able to jump off the bicycle and grab it to pull it, too, out of the way of the aggressive driver, and then I saw him go angrily over and pound on the window of her car.
But, in the USA it’s already too late, in a sense, to set things up so they are bicycle friendly. Cars are deeply entrenched in the culture and bicycles are an anomaly. Deep cultural and infrastructure changes would be required to create tree-shaded streets and reduce urban sprawl so as to make bicycling more convenient. Here, it’s the opposite. Bicycles have been the norm for a long time and cars the anomaly. Cities are already compact, streets are already lined with shady trees (a wonderful feature of China). China is in the midst of an industrial revolution-type boom, with all the risks and opportunities inherent in that rate of growth and development. The country could adopt transportation policies that remain friendly to bicycles, or it could adopt policies that are hostile to bicycles and favor motorized vehicles.
Would it be a good idea to encourage bicycles? Why or why not? And, if it’s a good idea, how can we keep it safe for bicyclists while meetng the needs of truckers to be able to transport goods?
Hmm. Okay. In a country with an energy crisis, no huge infrastructure already built around cars and urban sprawl and parking lot issues caused by cars, and with serious pollution issues, wouldn’t it make sense to encourage people to use bicycles? Especially since everyone already owns and uses bicycles.
And, common sense says it’s dangerous for bicycles to be weaving in and out of heavy automobile and truck traffic. Especially when the automobiles and trucks have no respect for vehicles smaller than themselves (in China, size does matter).
Let’s imagine for a moment that we are the "powers that be" in a communist country. That means, whatever decisions we make happen. If we say, "move this mountain so we can run a road through here," by golly it will happen. If we say, "Let’s take this small fishing village called Shenzhen just over the border from Hong Kong, build skyscrapers and turn it into a city of 8 million people," well, that will happen too. If we conclude certain geographic locations have always been a part of our kingdom through all of history and that there is no precedent to claim otherwise, then by golly every web site or book that says otherwise will be blocked or banned (e.g. now including not only all of English language Wikipedia but also Lonely Planet China, apparently). If we say, "let’s reduce pollution by eliminating all motorcycles from Guangzhou city," that will happen too.
And not only this, it will happen expeditiously, with no pain in the rear public debate, no nosey press and no Freedom of Information Act compliance to worry about. Whatever our decision, we can just make it happen. So, what do we want to happen, when it comes to transportation policy?
Well first, let’s build good public transportation. Check, done. Trains and buses all over China. Air transport, too. Second, let’s build roads. Done. Now, how to help people move themselves and their goods locally.
Well, wouldn’t it make sense to have some roads devoted only to bicycles, with different, larger, roads available only to trucks and large vehicles? You wouldn’t have to "change" anything, just make certain roads off limits to heavy vehicles, only allowing them to use the road the next intersection up from here. And since we already know that drivers don’t obey "rules" about dedicated vehicle lanes, even where we decide to allow both light and heavy vehicles, separate the lanes by dividing them into separate roads, even if they run parallel to each other?
I guess I didn’t make the world. And besides, bigger is better isn’t it?
Perhaps the view is that she should have just gotten out of the way. I guess she is now out of the way, so in a public policy sense the objective of efficiency of transport has been achieved. Score: Truck — one, Bicycle — zero.
And then, at 6 PM, I get another text message: "I had M [translator] ask A [driver] about the person that was run over. It was a 20 year old man. The truck I saw had stopped to help. He was hit by a car that left. The man died."
For one person, anyway, it really is end of story.
For what it’s worth, approximately 100,000 people per year are killed on China’s roads, with another 400,000 injured. And that’s just the reported ones.