the pedestrian experience in cities where cars rule

This image by Claes Tingvall needs to go viral.


I had many years living as a pedestrian in cities designed or managed for cars, including most big American cities in the least century, and I've never seen an image that better captured how that felt. 

The bottomless void, in this metaphor, represents the essential unpredictability of the reckless or distracted motorist (there only needs to be one) combined with the destructive potential of their machine. The sidewalk is a narrow ledge on the edge of extreme danger.  Crossing the street, even with a crosswalk, works when it works, but the rickety bridge perfectly captures the inherent risk; you're still relying on people to notice you even while they're texting, reading the newspaper, daydreaming, dozing off, flipping dials on the radio, trying to figure out the controls on their rental car, or doing any of other the things people do to handle the tedium of driving.

When we face this kind of danger in national parks, the government provides safety railings to keep us back from the precipice.  We tolerate this level of danger only for well-warned hikers in deep wilderness, and for almost everyone who ventures into the city without a car.

10 Responses to the pedestrian experience in cities where cars rule

  1. Craig December 15, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Would on street parking be the safety rails?

  2. Spencer December 15, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Nope – doesn’t ring true for me. I walk 20+ minutes each day to work through a significant Downtown and almost never feel at even slight peril. Occasionally annoyed sure.

  3. Carsinogenic December 16, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    everyday my life is threatened even to cross on a light or a x=walk
    i curse
    i swear
    i am in a constant state of fight or flight
    I am angry about the ignorance and the stupid design making us share the roads with automobiles
    I feel violated and violent
    worse than the stink of exhaust is the NOISE

  4. EngineerScotty December 16, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Shouldn’t there be spikes or crocodiles or acid or lava in that pit?

  5. Dave December 16, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Spencer – Perhaps you are one of the people who live in a city where cars don’t rule. Congratulations.
    However, as the headline states, this is an image of what it’s like to be a pedestrian in a city where cars DO rule. As a resident of that part of America… I can vouch for how well this image captures the experience of walking along suburban arterials and even suburbanized “city” downtowns, where traffic is allowed to pass by inches from you at 45mph and there is no street parking to provide protection if they jump the curb or you fall off the sidewalk. Instant death or multiple fractures.

  6. Brent December 18, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Maybe sharks with laser beams. Or liquid hot magma!
    To be more accurate, the bridges across the liquid hot magma should only appear in one direction at a time. (This is similar to Jarrett’s analogy of a gate at the end of your driveway representing transit service frequency.)

  7. Dexter Wong December 18, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    Perhaps a pedestrian crossing without a traffic signal should appear as a broken board (you have to jump across the void to get across). Also an intersection where pedestrian crossing is forbidden in one direction (e.g. you have to cross left, then right, then right again to continue on that side of the sidewalk) should be represented by a gaping chasm surrounded by three boards.

  8. Obama December 19, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    People are not supposed to walk! That’s why they made cars!

  9. Dexter Wong December 20, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    Hey Obama! So you’re never going to get out of your car? What happens if nature calls?