Friday morning, I was very nearly run over by a car while walking to the train.
I was crossing the road at a T-intersection. A woman in a white ute wanted to turn right into the road I was crossing. She decided she had right of way. She beeped at me and shouted profanities when I kept walking. I was on the road before she even was ready to turn and this was a suburban road with a 40 km per hour speed limit. I had right of way. The adrenalin was rushing through my veins, as she accellerated past behind me.
Australians love their cars. It is an Australian birth right to own and drive a car – preferably fast – irrespective of the cost to the community and the world. Though car ownership in Australia and many western countries peaked in 2004, Australians still have more cars per 1000 people than the OECD countries on average. Seventy one per cent of adult Australians commute by car to work or study every day. On the balance sheet, car drivers take up space on the road, cost CO2 emissions, incur road construction and maintenance costs and kill over 1300 people in Australia each year.
Car drivers sit in the traffic jam cursing the traffic, curiously, not realising that they themselves are the problem they are cursing, not the solution. Often their solution is wider roads, fewer busses that have to stop and slow traffic down, no cyclists on the road and generally cities that favour cars over people.
Yet this is not only selfish – it is also stupid. We know that the most liveable city in the world preferences ‘soft traffic’, the pedestrians, cyclists and public transport options, over ‘hard traffic’. A ‘new world city‘ would do just that.
I could drive to work every day and park under my building – but I choose not to for the sake of my own sanity and for the future of the planet. I cannot stand to sit in the traffic with frustrated drivers all around me, raging and swearing at the delay. Even though it would probably costs me less to drive into work every day than the overpriced GoCard fare, I prefer the walk – keeps me fit – and the train which takes so many cars off the road each morning.
It seems that in Australia every conversation about our role in global warming needs to start from scratch. In spite the overwhelming evidence supported by 97% of peer-reviewed climate scientists, our dominant discourse is still that fossil fuel mining is a crucial pillar of our economy, that we have a right to choose to drive our cars – and once in our cars we rule the road.
A young Danish girl was killed on her bike at Wooloongabba a few weeks ago. She was here as an overseas student, paying handsomely into our economic prosperity (I know, I was once also a full-fee paying student) and her preferred mode of transport was the bike, just as it would have been back home in Denmark. Clean transport, health-and-fitness-inducing transport, small transport. Yet she was clipped by a truck and died instantly. It is life threatening to ride a bike in this city – not because of the fact of riding a bike, but because you truly are soft traffic against raging, hard car and truck drivers. One could hope that this young girl’s sacrifice will make town planners and purse-string holders sit up and change the cityscape, but I am not sure the calls for better and safer bicycle lanes will be successful. Australians just love their cars too much.
The woman in the white ute probably went on to have a really horrible day. I hope the people arround her were not too badly affected. I wrote this post and got her bile out of my system. I wish she was a rare exception in this town, but sadly I know she is not.