4/24/2013 12:55

A Matter of Respect

As I was riding through west De Pere I came to bright orange sign which read (more or less) "Bike Lane Closed. Become a Pedestrian." Close the automobile lane! Why should it always be the bike lanes that get closed? It's all about other people having respect for me and whatever I want to do.

Well, perhaps it's about more than only that, but that's included.

Just recently, with weather unconducive to bike riding, I've been obsessing about the internet instead, the information highway. On physical roads, the dominant mode (motorized vehicle) is favored over the less prominent mode (human powered vehicle). In a similar way, dominant modes or internet access are favored over less common modes of access. (Microsoft and sometimes other big-name, for-profit software is given more favorable support than the alternatives.)

The most common modes are less impacted and the cost is disproportionately put on the less common modes. There is no attempt to share the burden of road closures on a equitable, proportional basis among all the road users. Nor is much thought given to insuring that all websites are accessible to all users of the internet, rather than just the majority of them. Those of us riding bikes and using "open" software see this as unfair. We see it as a tyranny of the majority, trampling the rights of the minority.

In each case, an argument can be made that the less popular modes are more in the public interest. For example, more people riding bikes means that the total air pollution is reduced, the total impact on road building and repair is reduced, and so on. All at no cost to the motor vehicle drivers, a public benefit provided by a virtuous minority. From such a point of view, costs and services should be disproportionately allocated to favor the less common modes. So we bike riders and open software users sometimes see policies which favor motor vehicles and monopoly software not only as unfair (to us) but also as stupid at the least and quite possibly corrupt.

More likely, such favoritism is not truly corrupt and tyrannous only inadvertently and incidentally. More likely, this disproportionality results merely from its authors not taking a second look at what they are doing. The website works (for them), so why look at it any more? Only a few people are affected by the closure, so why analyze it further? But loking again is what defines respect. To respect others means to take a second look.

Sometimes it should be the bike lanes that are kept open while motorized traffic is detoured -- but not always. What should always happen is the second look, the respect. Does this traffic plan share the burden fairly? Is my website design open to everyone equally? Have I at the least tried to consider other points of view, other working conditions, other backgrounds and abilities?