In fact, it’s often not when it comes to the equitable division of our public roads.
Charles Montgomery pointed out in his pop urban planning work, "Happy City," that the faster and larger a vehicle is, the more real road space it consumes. Technically, the same car tooling at 25 miles per hour or cruising at 65 miles per hour occupies the same amount of space at any given time, but in practice, other users of the road give the car more space in the latter example.
As the weather gets colder and I spend more time in my car and less piloting my bike, I’ve become more aware of how my (relatively small) car is a highway vehicle. It’s great for making the hundred mile trip back home to Robeson County with a trunk full of luggage, but it’s overpowered and oversized for a two-and-a-half mile jaunt to Harris Teeter.
What I really need for grocery trips on cold days (and what would make more space for others) is a well-enclosed golf cart, or something like it. Of course, no one — including me — is likely to invest in such a vehicle when they already have a car that can go faster and is more versatile. But what if we changed the conditions? What if the inner city speed limit was 10 miles per hour, for example?
The point here isn’t to suggest a specific policy prescription — I’ll leave that to the professionals — but to point out that we have the opportunity to make such regulations as a society. As a shared resource, the public roads are a perfectly appropriate place for politics.
It’s my job, and yours, to agree on a basic vision for our public roads and the trade-offs we’ll have to make to achieve them. For university students, this is especially true, considering that many of us will leave here and move on to influence places where the people have less time and resources to think about stuff like urban planning. Do we want more space for bikes and pedestrians (and people, period)? We’ll probably have to leave less for space-hogging cars and make them go slower.
Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that roads are somehow owned by cars. That's understandable given that automobiles are the dominant transportation paradigm in America. But it's just not true.
The roads are ours, and we can regulate them to make them more fair and more fun.