04 November 2009

Is Urban Mobility A Human Right?

Soft Traffic
The further development of Bubble Wrap Society seems to be in full swing all over the world. The buzz about the bicycle over the past 18 months or so has seemingly given rise to increased buzz about bubble-wrapping the vulnerable traffic users like pedestrians and cyclists. It's a kind of counter-attack, not unlike the Audi advert we blogged about recently.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic and the blog How We Drive has a telling article in Slate about the current cause célèbre among motorists and authorities - cracking down on jaywalking. In his In Defence of Jaywalking Tom covers the new hype about these foolish souls who dare to inconvienence motorists by crossing streets where they're 'not supposed to' are under fire.

Which brings us to the question. Is Urban Mobility a basic human right? Do we not have the right to move about the urban landscape as we see fit? It has been so for most of human history, after all.

If the answer is yes to that question, then surely allowing all citizens to exercise freedom of mobility involves making the urban landscape safe. Which means restricting the movements of the dangerous, life-threatening player in town - automobile traffic - instead of the movements of pedestrians and, in some ways, cyclists.

Should pedestrians and cyclists have the priority in cities and towns for choosing sustainable transport forms? Should infrastructure for cyclists of all ages not be a priority in urban planning?

Is Safe Urban Mobility a human right?


lluisa said...

Do you know Yehuda Moon & The K¡ckstand Ciclery comic strips?
This one is about Fear campaigns on the use of helmets:

Robert P said...

In Ireland and Britain, pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians have a Common Law right to use public roads. Motorists don't have this right- driving is a licenced activity, i.e. is not permitted as a basic right, and is only allowed by exemption / special dispensation.

In this regard, you could definitely say that (non-motorised) Urban Mobility is a Human Right, i.e. a right that attaches to us simply by virtue of being human.

portlandize.com said...


Kim said...

Robert P is correct that motorist do not have a right in law to drive. However the problem is that, for what ever reason, as soon as most people get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle they think that they have priority and the the ability to bully more vulnerable road users. Sadly they tend become Toad of Toad Hall, it is this tendency that we need to overcome.

Adrienne Johnson said...

With rights come responsibilities. It is the responsibility of the strongest to protect the weakest, even if it is from themselves. We talk about rights all the time but we don't talk about the work that goes into having the rights. Some of that work is undoing all of the crazy Cold War-industrial revolution thinking that got us to this insanity. (oh my, I may get myself black listed yet : )

portlandize.com said...

we also make up a lot of rights we don't actually have.

Communist Russia was a propaganda machine, but I don't think modern America is too far behind in that respect. It's rough to try to break through the system when the system teaches people not to think. The point isn't just to get people to side with us, but to get people to think about these issues and actually form an opinion.

"To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment." -George Orwell

Jonathan at Five and Dime Bicycles said...

"Is Urban Mobility a basic human right?"

Yes. Unless you ride a Segway.

Just kidding. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

A little essay by André Gorz: The Social Ideology of the Motorcar


Luis Peters said...

From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"Article 13.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement [...]"
"Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."

There are others articles that apply to the case, but the thing is that every human being has the right to freedom of movement with safety.

And, as that document states,

"[...] the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, [...]"

It seems that today one main source of tyranny and oppression to the citizens without motors is the car and the society of the car.

John Klein said...

No, it's not a right, but it's a bloody good idea.

John Klein said...

No, but it's a bloody good idea. Freedom to move about within a city, given reasonable laws designed to co-ordinate traffic. Most of those laws are way too car-centric, but some sort of order law is