[The latest and most compete posting of this aritcle will be found in World Streets, along with extensive comments, at http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/a-street-code-for-porto-alegre/]
Dear Porto Alegre and Brazilian Friends,
With all due respect, I propose that you give some thought to organizing to get strong citizen and multi-party support to exact “appropriate compensation” for Friday’s horrible, dumb and indeed tragic event on the streets of your beautiful city. I would imagine that this is an ideal opportunity to get something very important and far-sighed out of a shaken city administration. Time counts here. You should thus, be able to exact what you need today far better than just one week ago. Or a month or more from now once the heat has dissipated.
(I put this before you with the proviso that I know zero about the actual state of the law regulating drivers’ behaviour in Brazil nor in Porto Alegre. Of course it would be my great hope that this has already been done. In which event the excellent banker, driver and criminal Ricardo José Neis will be handled by the law in good order. He certainly should go to prison or ordered to do community service in medical wards for a couple of years in your hospitals for his heinous crime. And of course forfeit his driver’s license for at least ten years.)
The city should in response to this near tragedy adopt a “Street Code” . Let me define it quickly.
The idea is that in the event of any collision or accident on street, sidewalk or public space, legal responsibility to prove innocence is automatically assigned to the driver of the heavier faster vehicle. This means that the driver who hits a cyclist has to prove his innocence, as opposed to today where the cyclist must prove the driver’s guilt (something that is not always very easy to do and can be very expensive. As Mr. Neis will find out when he settled with his lawyers).
There is a good article in Wikipedia on this in French at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_de_la_rue, the high points of which I have quickly translated below. You can also find an article on the street code in the pages of World Streets, under the title ” “Street code: A World Streets Campaign for 2009” — http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/street-code-a-world-streets-campaign-for-2009/
If there is anything we can do to help in this you know where to find World Streets:
Extracts from ” Code de la rue“
In Belgium, we call street code (Straatcode in Dutch) Royal Decree of 4 April 2003 amending the Royal Decree of 1 December 1975 laying down general rules on police road traffic. This order has significantly changed the rules of the road (highway), considered unsuitable for urban traffic.
The main elements of the street code are:
* The full weight of responsibility impinges on the stronger vis-à-vis the weaker. Thus, a truck must adapt its speed and keep a safe distance when approaching a car, the car when it approaches a bike and the cyclist before an approaching pedestrian.
* Pedestrians have 100% priority at intersections.
* Bicycles are permitted to travel in both directions on a (designated) one way street.
* Skaters and people on push scooters must give way to pedestrians.
The Belgian example has been followed almost to the letter in France, starting with a study in 2006, and implementation in steps through this date.
Now is the time for Brazil, lead by the mayor and the people of Porto Alegre. Once city at a time.
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About Critical Mass and Civility
If we are to learn the lessons from this experience we will do well to dig a bit into the overall situation. Truth to tell, we have seen a quite large number of incidents in which Critical Mass rides have been conducted in ways that are more conflictual and less civil than they might be. Many of us who cycle and love city cycling run into problems with the “in your face” attitude that can crop up on the part of some of the participants. From a psychological point of view this is natural enough – indignation in the face of a situation that could use being changed — but that is not excuse. IF we get these rides wrong we risk only to disserve our shared and noble cause.
Here is what one long time cyclists and cycling activist – Dave Holladay – had to say in a message on this score this morning:
Whilst this is a regrettable incident I have felt both embarrassed and scared by the confrontational behaviour that some participants on CM rides exhibit. Let’s see what emerges after the dust settles. Something obviously escalated the issue with the car reported to have followed the group for some distance and the driver claiming the cyclists were slapping the car – presumably part of an escalating situation of mutually antagonising action.
I contrast the cycling CM in London with the mass line skater nights where the skaters make no attempt to block the traffic for the sake of it but slip smoothly through the congested streets, making a far more effective call to those trapped in their tin boxes “join us, have fun, and get home more quickly” I’ve seen a US clip where a cyclist makes a deliberate effort to obstruct a driver and ends up with the bike crushed. If you want to take the moral high ground you don’t sink to the level of those you seek to shame.
Life in civil society can be complicated with all our contrasting points of views and preferences. But that is where our sense of community and dialogue come in.
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Livable Streets discussions of Street Code
What is Street Code? (Thanks for use of your graphic)
Code de la rue – Belgium (Use Translate here as needed)
Code de la rue – France
Code de la rue – Wikipedia