I Like My Mobility The Old Fashioned Way

Mobility. The dictionary defines “mobility” as follows:

I, however, define it thusly:

Alas, the dignified nature of my conveyance is often in stark contrast to the city in which I pilot it. The streets are full of deadly pitfalls, and you may not even know it until you almost step into one. Consider:

If you’re a safety minded rider, you might think at an intersection like this you should stop at the line, where the rider pictured above is. (He didn’t actually stop, but conveniently he was right there when I snapped the photo.)


See, there’s what’s supposed to happen, and what the lines on the street tell you should happen, and then there’s what really happens. What’s supposed to happen is that the drivers who are turning left from the roadway perpendicular to this one are supposed to continue straight, go past that subway track support girder with the “keep right” sign on it, and then make the left:

But what really happens is that they gun it, cut the corner, beat the naive drivers who are making the turn properly, and speed right over the meaningless yellow paint, which is why it has tire tracks all over it:

I know this because I’ve been in that spot when a driver is bearing down on me–it’s exactly the spot in which the city would have you wait, and it’s the most dangerous one it’s possible to choose. (Well, technically they want you to use the signed bike route a few blocks over, but those don’t always get you where you want to go, now do they.) These days I know better–and clearly so does that other rider, who has taken up the safest possible spot, right next to the support girder. In fact, this is one of those traffic lights it’s almost always safest to run if you’re on a bicycle, since when you’re running a light at least you can be one hundred percent sure no drivers are going to stop.

Yes, whether it’s lines on the street, or traffic lights, or anything else, it’s important to remember they’re mostly just suggestions and wishful thinking, and that the only thing that really stops a car is a wall–or maybe a Dunkin’ Donuts:

Unfortunately, when it comes to building walls, it’s really hard to get everyone to agree where they should go. Sure, most of us agree we should have them around where we eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, but beyond that everyone’s got a different opinion. The result is that we don’t have as many walls as we should, which is why as soon as you step outside your home it’s a total shitshow out there. Plus, even the walls around your home don’t aways work, because sometimes drivers find alternate means of ingress:

God never closes a door without opening a window.

Anyway, since the business of arguing over where cars should and shouldn’t be physically permitted is such a fraught one, advocates have recently turned to language to sort of reframe society’s perceptions from within. This is what’s behind the whole “Crash Not Accident” thing:

I happen to think this is a very good campaign. If you think about it, it’s crazy that we all simply call car crashes “accidents” before we even know what happens–and that includes the police and the media. We don’t do that with shootings or plane crashes. (I mean we might call something an “accidental shooting,” but only after we know all the details, or the shooter is a sitting vice president.) So why should car crashes be any different?

However, I find the nascent movement (so nascent that it only consists of one person as far as I can tell) to do away with the word “micromobility” considerably less compelling:

The idea here is that “micro” suggests scooters and all that other stuff are weirdly small, but Chevy Tahoes or whatever are normal size:

Therefore we should stop calling the little stuff “micro,” and start calling the big stuff big, only pejoratively so:

Alas, this silly for a number of reasons. For one thing, auto makers already describe their products in exactly this way. This one’s called a “Big Horn:”

BIG, see?

This thing’s called an Armada, which is a fuckload of ships:

And this thing’s called a Raptor, which is an actual dinosaur:

Not only do automakers already embrace the whole oversized concept, but people totally love it. “I can fit my kids and their friends in my Armada where they will be safe!” “This Big Horn will make people think I have a ‘Big Horn!'” And so forth. Welcome to marketing, Streetsblog!

Conversely, with the exception of microphallus (a condition suffered by 4 out of 10 Big Horn owners), “micro” doesn’t have a bad connotation at all; in fact, people love micro stuff! Micro means portable, convenient, efficient and futuristic:

It’s all the stuff that internal combustion vehicles aren’t, and there’s no reason to shy away from it. Should we also call microphones “phones?” Should we just call microscopes “scopes,” since the “micro” makes it seem like you can’t do real science on them, and reframe these things as “big stupid overcompensating space-hogging scopes?”

Going all Starbucks with sizing isn’t going to change anything. An electric scooter is an electric scooter whether you call it micro, grande, or venti. Anyway, isn’t making the smaller stuff normal just basically “shrinkflation?”

Yes, I realize the idea with focusing on the largeness of vehicles instead of the smallness is partly to stigmatize big cars the same way Morgan Spurlock did the “Supersize” menu at McDonalds, but people who love big cars unapologetically love them, and people who ride around on these things love them too:

I do agree that the term “micromobility” is bad, though–not because it implies big vehicles are normal or anything like that, but because it’s designed to make it seem like it’s a social movement rather than people simply doing what happens to be convenient for them in a way that can at times be really annoying. I don’t begrudge Uni-Tron up there his electric unicycle, but I also don’t think his choice of gizmo is necessarily going to make cities better or make streets safer or end car dependence or whatever else they say micromobility is going to do. If anything the people who ride these things are dangerously battery-dependent and are tethered to a lithium-ion existence by their USB umbilicals.

A wise person once dubbed riders of recumbents and the like “Contraption Captains.” Maybe it’s time to repurpose that term for the current generation of battery bros.

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