“Smokin’ in the Boys Room” — recorded in 1973, decades before the University of Florida banned all smoking from campus in 2010 — is the tune I’m scold-singing to law-breaking drivers as I cycle to work: “Drivin’ in the bike lane!/Blowin’ through the crosswalk!”
Hey, drivers: Speeding is not a right. It’s illegal.
To achieve change, it’s going to take more than my energy spent yelling at drivers from the safety of the sidewalk. Just like the smoking cessation advocates who took on big tobacco, I’m up against billions of dollars in advertising for the automotive industry.
In 2019, the automotive industry in the U.S. spent $13.8 billion on digital advertising and $70 million on lobbying in this country. Who is funding that big money? You are, sucker. And you’re dooming our children to climate-changed ruin, not to mention robbing them of a childhood of outdoors mobility.
More from Emily Hind:
I don’t dare transport my child to most of the places we go on the bike because I’m afraid one of you will murder him by car. Vehicles are more lethal now: The higher off the road they sit (thanks for nothing, SUVs and trucks), the higher the odds that an impact on the human body will be fatal.
Because car culture costs us too much, it’s strange that non-drivers can’t catch a break.
Right now, any driver at any time for any reason can drive onto the UF campus by way of Buckman Drive. (Something something construction, is all I can make of the explanation.) I’m embarrassed for UF and its lack of 21st-century leadership. And I feel for the bereaved families.
It is shameful that Florida Department of Transportation and UF Police Department workers (wearing bright safety vests because standing on the sidewalk is dangerous!) at the start of the semester were handing out safe walking and cycling pamphlets to pedestrians at the lethal corner of Buckman and University Avenue.
Victim blaming is unacceptable. The hypocrisy is enraging. “If only those pedestrians would walk more safely!” says FDOT while refusing to lower speeds on any road but University Avenue. “If only those cyclists would look out!” says UPD while rolling around in SUVs.
The tobacco-free campus reminds me that I’m not living a rerun. It is a new era, already, and it’s time to demand leadership for a sustainable Gainesville.
To be sustainable, we need equitable infrastructure. We need mobility justice.
We need protected bike lanes, dedicated transit lanes that allow the bus to move faster than cars, bans on single-occupancy-vehicle parking on the UF campus and lower speeds across the city that will buy my 4-year-old something like the quality of life we older adults enjoyed.
It’s so lethal on so many scales that it’s almost enough to scare a wealthy citizen onto the bus, even if it only runs once an hour, or once every two hours — or not at all on evenings and weekends. Even if there’s no bench at the bus stop — and even if there’s not a crosswalk at the bus stop.
It is strange that we can spend untold sums on cars, but we can’t build bus shelters. If you took the cost of one parking garage and split it up among the unsheltered bus stops in Gainesville, would there be money left over after you put in some benches to think about a roof or two?
If the fight against big tobacco is any indicator, we’re in for a long slog against the obvious untruths spun by the automotive industry. Like smokers before them, drivers are likely going to defend self-defeating habits by standing up at public meetings and railing about the “right to drive” and “right to park” no matter whom it hurts — or kills.
At present, no driver will even honk at someone for “Drivin’ in the bike lane” or “Blowin’ through the crosswalk,” much less for speeding, because — like a “non-smoking” table missing the ashtray and placed at the edge of a smokers’ room — any concessions to non-drivers are merely a rhetorical gesture: a sign of false tolerance for the uncool.
But I am cool on a bicycle and on my pedestrian legs. And since you know as much as I do about the risks of second-hand driving, I’ll turn to you with the part I cannot figure out.
Why is there no safe haven for commuting car-free in Gainesville?
What’s so cool about murder that we’re willing to put up with this?
Emily Hind is a professor of Spanish at UF.
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