Mobility needs, rights and privileges

I am often drawn to think back to early days and consider my parents reaction to often made threats to leave home, usually after an ultimatum related to tidying my room, not bugging my older brother, washing my hands for fish-dinners or to sit still for a haircut. “You can leave. But you leave the same way you came in, so take off your clothes.”

I’m often also in a mind, due to my own circumstances, to consider Abraham Maslow’s concept of the hierarchy of needs and to notions of what drives my own contentment. Maslow explains that humans have an ascending group of needs ranging from basic physiological needs at the bottom to ‘self-actualization’ needs at the top. Makes sense to me and to most; first you need to be able to breath, eat, have water, intimacy, sleep and I’ll just say, to enjoy the results of a high-fibre diet which address your basic human needs. Maslow’s scale builds from Physiological, to safety, to love/belonging, to esteem, to self actualizing.

I believe Maslow would put guiding a 700-horsepower fire-engine red hand-built Italian around a curvy, traffic free mountain road somewhere in the lofty heights of self-actualization. The POS car that makes up the bulk of the national traffic fleet, and the mobility that it grants naturally sits somewhere in the second-to-third rungs of Maslow’s pyramid, with employment and even more and better sex with gradually more attractive partners. We’re concerned with quality more than quantity as with the thoughts about automobiles above, unless perhaps, you’re like Tiger Woods. These of course are broad arguments about human psychology and provide a framework, not a specific analysis of the way Maslow’s scale applies to individuals, though I’m admit I’m not an expert in psychology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

For instance, thinking about mobility and transportation, some will attain greater feelings of happiness, or at the very least an unconscious, thinking surface level of happiness from walking to work every day while some will achieve it by driving a vintage convertible. I’m thinking here about the concept of first world problems mostly.

My thoughts on these issues are not only driven when I’m engaging in them. I like most people I’ve met, am the most-important sidewalk, road or bike-lane user and that it is the most important mode of transportation, when I’m engaging in it. This behaviour reflects our lizard nature and many people know of the competitive feeling that arises when simply trying to get somewhere. I often find myself giving way to other modes of transportation, identifying that we all have deadlines and places to be other than where we are. I’ll stop at the corner of a street and let a car turn in to get home to their family. I’m not sure how common this is.

I am guided however by some of the observations and thoughts I’ve had over the years. First is that we as human beings have a right to walk and while we come in naked, we should likely do it in clothing. While walking once I came to the conclusion, personally, that we all ought to have the right to jaywalk. Pedestrians don’t require licenses and the carbon footprint of walking is only the difference between that of the food and water required to keep us breathing and the food we need to walk. In Cities, notwithstanding our desire for safety it should be an absolute right to jaywalk – the definition of jaywalking being ‘crossing between controlled intersections AND without causing delay to other vehicles.’ That doesn’t say that cars and bikes can’t slow or stop for people wishing to cross, or that a young athlete who can get across two lanes in 3 seconds, shouldn’t. This is one of my cornerstone beliefs. To the amount that one should be able to not participate in society, or to participate as an isolated individual, and notwithstanding notions of private property one should have the very basic right to walk where and when one wants to subject to the reasonable limit.

I recall an awareness campaign in Toronto that used the phrase “we are all pedestrians” which captures this idea. Perhaps my notions towards transportation and urban planning are not unique but they are guided as much by Maslow, and by the considerations of philosophers around the rights of [sic] man, as they are by Jane Jacobs and the growing body of knowledge that suggests walking is healthy both physically and mentally. Every person ought to have the right to walk, to the most unfettered degree possible.

This also sets aside for a moment, the basic needs of ‘air, water and homeostasis’ all of which are negatively impacted by the vexing problem of transportation system congestion. Those who walk in a City and even more dangerously from a respiratory-perspective, in suburbs, are subject to the negative local impacts of gridlock, those who ride bicycles too and we all are subject to the damages caused to water by over-use of road salt and toxic runoff from roadways. These are some of the external costs of our transportation system that we often subsidize openly as well as blindly and perversely.


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