Reihar's capsule

Welcome to Reihar's gemlog. This page is originally available on my Gemini's capsule but has been made available on the Web. Hope you enjoy it.

The cost of doing the right thing


First article and I'm ready to ramble on human nature. I can't decide between Rousseau and Hobbes, are people intrinsically good or evil? Despite my overall mostly pessimistic outlook, I can't let go of the hope that seemingly random chance that people would do good. I think enough people have been asking themselves that question since the dawn of time, so I doubt I could come up with a satifying enough answer by myself.

However, what I've noticed is that people often seem to take the path of least resistance when they don't have a significant enough reason to do otherwise. Since I don't have the opportunity, nor the desire, to throw people into life and death situations to see how they react, I usually limit my observation to the little things – everyday occurrences. What I've noticed is that people aren't really nice to each other, or phrased differently: the path of least resistence rarely leads to good.

So now's the time for the disclaimer: I'm French. To people who've been to France and at least one other coutry, the significance of this disclaimer should be self-evident; for the others: have fun figuring it out!

I'm in the rather priviledged position that I can commute to work using a quick train and a bycicle. Before that, I could just walk to work. With both of those situations, I was able to make a few observations. Whether you're walking or cycling, cars will seldom make space for you at a crosswalk or an intersection if they don't have to. It's been years – things do not change. Bycicle lanes are added to big cities, sidewalks are redone, but nothing changes. If you are not driving a car in a city, your life is in danger, day after day, always.

"But Reihar, don't you have traffic lights where you live?" you're certainly about to ask me. And a very astute observation that is, my dear imaginary reader. Yes, we do, but those are ultimately for cars. Because you see, when your little walking guy light becomes green it means that the light for cars that are perpendicular to the crosswalk is red. What also happens is that basically any number of lights from nearby roads, notably intersecting ones, will turn green leading to cars getting onto that road. And those cars will not stop for you to cross the street. After all, their light was green, and stopping for you is costly: they have to brake and stop, getting later for work, while making sure the car behind also stops. What the fuck!?

From what I remember from my graph theory classes: designing roads is hard. Adding side and cross-walks probably makes the endeavor more complicated. I would venture to say that making sure that pedestrians don't die is a good idea, so why do you make this so hard, oh wise city planner? Surely having a red light for a few more seconds would lower the cost of "not killing pedestrians" for the cars, wouldn't it? There are other solutions such as decorelating pedestrian and car lights, adding one more turn in the system, but this is a detail. The core of the solution remains the same: lower the cost of doing the right thing if you want people to do good.

Deep down, I know the reasons come from ideological problems: that cities are designed as a car-first system, and that the reason why is deeply rooted in culture. The car is a vector to move workers to their work space. Furthermore, it also acts as a reward for being part of the system: the freedom of movement granted to you in turn becomes part of your identity.

I don't have miracle solutions to deeply change the ways of the world. I know that at most my applicable ideas are slights mitigations, but I keep thinking about it.