The brouhaha over temporary increased bike lanes in Geneva puzzles me. As someone who does not ride a bike or use a car to go to work, I have no dog in this fight. What I do see, and definitely hear, are vehement comments on both sides. Some say: “Traffic is piled up. We can’t get around Geneva to go to work without traffic jams.” Others comment: “The new lanes are encouraging people to use bikes instead of polluting cars. And, it makes it safer to bike around.”
There might be elements of truth in both arguments. What is true and above argument is the level of vehemence in the positions. During a time of pandemic, with high unemployment and thousands in Geneva lining up for food when it’s available, why are people so worked up about cars and bikes?
None of the arguments has been rational. If so, we would have asked: Do we know how much more time it now takes a car to go from point A to point B? Do we know how many more people are now using bikes instead of cars? Has there been a reduction in air pollution? More or fewer accidents? Is there a survey of the general population to record their preferences?
Beyond the vehemence of the emotional arguments is a decided parochialism. Recent marches against racism and equal opportunities for women are international as well as local issues. They seem to have been drowned out (overtaken) by the problem of mobility.
Why is this so?
While it is obvious that getting around Geneva effects the entire population, so do racism and equal rights for women. How much time it takes to get to work or shopping effects us all in the short term. Whether one is black or white, racism is a societal blight that concerns all members of society in the long term just as equal rights for women is a societal phenomenon that we all must strive to achieve.
The problem is one of perspective and proportionality. Getting around Geneva is an immediate problem of mobility. Racism and equal rights are more than individual problems; they touch society in general while they may only directly touch certain individuals. Although an individual may be harassed because of her color or a person denied promotion because of gender, racism and equal rights are larger problems than how much time it takes to cross the Mont Blanc bridge.
In the long run, racism and gender equality are more important than bikes or cars. Although they may only have an indirect effect on my daily life, they are part of my belonging to a larger community. While it may take me twenty minutes longer now to get from point A to point B, that inconvenience in no way measures up to racist actions or taunts and gender discrimination.
Since I do not ride a bike or drive a car, you can easily say I have the wrong perspective. I am neither suffering inconvenience nor profiting from more space. But my neutrality on the issue allows me to observe how emotional the issue has become.
And it is those very emotions that worry me. Are people reacting proportionately? For a police officer to kneel on someone’s neck for over eight minutes to keep him down over a possible fake twenty dollar bill is not a proportional reaction. To shoot someone in the back three times because he was drunk in a car, resisted arrest, stole a taser and ran away is not a proportional reaction. Neither police action was proportional to the situation.
Let’s keep things in perspective and not lose sight of proportionality.
The people of Geneva have waited over 100 years to have a second bridge or an eventual tunnel to cross the harbor. That problem, which causes huge traffic jams, has yet to be solved. Isn’t that the major mobility problem? It seems much more important to me than a couple of kilometers of bike lanes. But, as I said, I have no dog in this fight. However, I will get very emotional on the day a new bridge or tunnel crosses the harbor. (If that happens in my lifetime.) To me, that will be a valid reason to let the emotions flow.