I stepped off the paved part of the road onto the gravelly verge and pulled the dog next to me as a car came barreling past. The roadway was lined with young kids carrying violins and other stringed instruments, on their way to a youth concert in the park. I imagine it was gonna sound like a bunch of cats mating in a dumpster, but even so, the car was moving too quickly given the vulnerability of the other humans (and dog) using that narrow stretch of asphalt at just that moment.
Roads are for cars.
In fact, roads are SO for cars that we had to paint lines on them to remind drivers that roads might also be for bicycles. The best maintained and most direct roads, highways, are actually just for cars (and motorcycles I guess, but good luck with that). You can’t even ride a bike on the shoulder of a highway, because it’s not safe. The cars are moving too fast, and we KNOW they’re not gonna stay inside the lines, so you could die.
Once upon a time, roads were for horses and wagons pulled by horses. Any road that still looks like it was made for horses and wagons, that’s for gravel biking now. Also once upon a time, the streets of cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia were several inches deep in horse excrement. That’s not really relevant to today’s topic, but it’s the funnest fact I could fun up off the top of my head.
A couple paragraphs ago when I said, “Roads are for cars,” I was also just funnin’ ya, but my understanding is that many of the people who drive cars on roads think the asphalt is there for them and them alone. Cars seem to have this deranging power over their drivers, an effect, I would guess, of being encased in steel and glass and empowered by far too many horsepowers with which to get to the school drop off or the grocery emporium. In many ways, a car is like the one true ring. Maybe the only way to save ourselves is to huck them all in the fires of Mount Doom.
(Side note: If you watched that whole video, you’re a bigger nerd than I am, but it’s a scenario that implies that Elon Musk is Sauron, and Mordor is Texas, but this might be a whole ‘nuther post.)
In the solipsistic view of many automobiled road users, there is only their way and things that are in their way, like bicycles, bicycle riders, pedestrians, and even small children holding violins. In reality, the road is more like a school gymnasium in which both the basketball and volleyball teams have a playoff game at the same time. It’s common ground about which we find little common ground.
Roads are for hurrying. It’s much slower, most of the time, to travel by not-road. This is true for both cars and bikes. I only ride my bike on the road when I’m in a hurry, which is less and less often. I bring this hurriedness thing up, not so much to be cute, but more to point out that hurrying makes most things less safe, like shop class.
Statistically speaking, roads are not unsafe for cyclists. Even when you’re just protected by a strip of paint, you’re extremely unlikely to get hit by a car. Does it happen? Sure. But given the astronomical numbers of interactions out on the asphalt, our roads are pretty safe.
I’d almost go so far as to say that roads are really good at what they’re meant to do, but it’s hurrying that is the real problem. I could complain about potholes, but potholes are just a fact of paved surfaces (except in Germany), and the experience of rolling fast on roads is undeniably fun. I fully expect, once this whole gravel thing has run its course, we’ll go back to doing it on the regular and wonder why we ever stopped.