Lately, I have been wondering it it’s possible for reconciliation between infrastructurists and vehicular cyclists (I’m not going to waste time on all of their guises from now on so when I say VC, I mean Savvy Cycling, and so on. Basically, anyone who if for classes and treating bicycles as motor vehicles, is VC).

This came about due to a friend of mine who is highly intelligent, and yet considered himself VC while at the same time, he was open for bicycling infrastructure.

This made me realize that there was a HUGE communication failure on my part.

I have always felt that it was blindingly obvious that the two positions were polar opposites. It was like talking about purple smells or toothpaste that tastes like D minor. The two just don’t go together.

To paraphrase, as we are in the middle of the lane having this conversation, “What are we doing now?”

And that was the point: it would be nice to have cycle tracks everywhere, but for now, we should learn how to ride in the conditions that we are given. After all, it is how I live my own life. What could be simpler?

To sum it up, there are two belief systems in cycling advocacy. Savvy cyclists do a nice job at breaking down the differences, but they are so harsh in describing infrastructurists point of view, I feel that they have not demonstrated that they totally grasp our position.

First, I’ll explain the Vehicular Cycling position.

People are rational, intelligent, and moral beings. There are norms that our society has and if we are brought up right or “educated”, we will act in the proper way.

This view leads to talk of stricter enforcement both for cycling past stop signs and running over cyclists with Hummers. It leads to an obsession with “fault” as if there is one identifiable cause behind something so complex as a traffic collision. It leads to talk of overcoming fears and changing one’s mindset. There are smart people and stupid people as well as good people and bad people in this universe.

Sounds good.

However, studies show that humans are, for the most part, good or bad depending upon the situation. There are scientfic studies which prove this. This makes sense because we need to survive, and sometimes it’s better to be good and sometimes it’s better to violate some social norms. We have also learned that whether people are good or bad and whether they do something as pay attention while motoring has a lot to do with their environment. I thought that this was super obvious, but IF YOU BELIEVE VC PHILOSOPHY THEN THIS CAN NOT BE TRUE. If you can change your mindset or resolve to be a good person, you should automatically do the right always. There would be few traffic collisions because we always pay attention all the time.

There are many sources for this belief. A great start is _Predictably Irrational_ [].

“Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.”

The key part of this is that though humans are irrational, much of this can be predicated. This is the basis of traffic calming which among other things relies on motorists driving slower on narrower roads.

Knowing this also allows us to realize that if one builds infrastructure then people will ride on it. This is the core tenant to infrastructurism: no infrastructure no right to cycle.

The fact is that cycling is legal on all surface streets yet it’s less popular than illegal drugs. Why is this?

It’s because cycling is uncomfortable. That’s not a rational thing to say. Who cares about comfort?

Pretty much everyone which is why we sleep in beds and drive cars places and sit on couches. In fact, if one could pick a slightly higher risk with a payout of massively more comfort, we’d jump on that.

Another tenant of infrastucturism is that the main reason that people don’t feel comfortable riding their bicycles is because they don’t like to mix with high speed traffic. This is because most people have a belief that the most likely thing to kill them is a high speed car.

Studies show that this belief that people have is true.

This leads to another difference between VC and infrastructurism. (Let’s just call it the Big I.) The Big I believes that people’s emotions are good and normal. We believe that people should be rewarded for their natural behaviors. All of this requires tailoring the environment to the human being rather than recreating a human being around surviving around machines.

The way that every other hazard known to humans is treated this way except for motoring traffic. Smelting steel is done behind closed doors and only certain people are allowed on the factory floor. You don’t have office workers walking past molten steel on their way to lunch and then blame them for burned because they didn’t follow an esoteric rule nor would you comment on their black clothes nor anything else. And the helmets and other equipment would actually protect a worked in the case of an accident unlike a flimsy bicycle helmet which is useless in a high speed motoring collision.

A good example of how we should deal with machine is the iPhone vs. the punch card computer. In the 70’s computer scientists didn’t think that normal people should use computers because they were too stupid to do so. They wanted to teach programming in schools so we’d all become programmers. They went on to design languages so that business people could simply talk to computers like COBOL. Anyone know COBOL? How about those people who use an iPhone. Know any of these people? How do they use their phone? They just figured it out.

The streets should be like an iPhone. You should be able to figure it out. If you think that a certain feature means to ride in a certain way, you should be right more often than not. This is called the Princliple of Least Surprise, another tenant in the Big I.

So let the VCers teach punch cards and insist that we should all adust our clothing, our way of thinking, and our lifestyle so other people can ride in comforable machines.

At the same time, the Big I is created quieter, safer, more efficient, and more fiscally prudent environments all around the world.

When both sides are done, one will have knowledge of punch card technology and COBOL. The rest of us will be enjoying our iPhones.


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