Saturday, January 12, 2013

Weekend Musing: Asking the mayor of Freedonia to walk the walk

Asking the mayor of Freedonia to walk the walk

groucho at deskFreedonia City Hall, 12-Jan-13.09:00. The mayor is comfortably seated  at his  imposing desk, looking fondly at an unlit cigar.  The editor of World Streets knocks lightly and waits timidly at the door, entirely drenched and  more than a bit disheveled. Not a pretty sight.

The Mayor: Well sir, you are a fine mess. Careful, you are dripping on my favorite chair.

Editor (a bit hassled): Sorry about that Mr. Mayor, but I came by bike and it started to rain just as I got underway. Worse yet I was unable to find a safe parking space for my bicycle near your city hall so I got caught in the teeth of the storm. Sorry about that.  I will try not to drip.

Mayor: Enough wasted time, Sir, let's get on with the interview and your article. The media are very important to me and I have other appointments waiting.

Editor: Mr. Mayor, thank you for receiving me. Do you have an opening  statement to share with our readers, many of whom live and work in your city?

Mayor: Certainly!  Fellow Citizens. You have just elected me mayor of your city. Thank you.  Now down to business.

Editor: What is going to be your transport improvement strategy for the city. in terms of the basics over the course of your four-year mandate?

Mayor: I have assembled a strong and entirely new team to deal with the mobility problems of people in our city.  They are a fine group and they are very loyal to me.  All of the top people from the old team have been let go.  We  decided to take a fresh start.

Editor: Interesting, but what's the strategy? At least the main points?

Mayor: I recognize that we need to make major improvements to our transportation  system. We have to deal with the problems of increasing traffic congestion, insufficient parking, slow downs of traffic, and unnecessary harassment of drivers by radar controls and excessive policing. That's the main line of action. We are ready to pay for these improvements, expensive though they may be.

Editor: All cars? Hmm.  Have you given any thought to looking into Congestion Charging as a way to limit car use in the center?  As they have done in London and Stockholm.

Mayor: absolutely not Sir.  You know what we say in Freedonia: "Free rides for free men".

Editor: But what about people who do not have cars.

Mayor: Yes of course, on the public transport side we are going to need some more buses and maybe we should be thinking about getting government support for some new rail systems to help all those of my fellow citizens who do not yet have their own cars.  Fortunately some of those bus lines can be closed down since they are not really carrying that many people.  Economy is the word. And yes, we need more traffic lights and policing of the cyclists and jaywalkers.  These people need to be dealt with firmly.

Editor: Hmm, interesting. But can you tell me Mr. Mayor, how do YOU get to work each day?

Mayor: Well, as you can well imagine I am a very busy man, so to save time I am picked up by my driver every morning in front of my home, who then drives me to the office and during the day to my many important appointments. And when I am out there in the traffic stream I can see for myself what is going on and what we need. I am my own transportatoin consultant. I don't need to have some busybody from some foreign group of so-called experts to tell me what we should be doing with our money. I'm the mayor and I'm the expert -- and my team is going to be sure that we get what I tell them to do.

Editor (with trembling voice and still dripping): Please forgive me Mr Mayor but have you heard about this?  There is a new group of mayors from many different parts of the world who have signed something called the World Streets Real Mayor Mobility Pledge. They pledge to  use either public transport or walking or cycling to get to work every day of the week. To improve the classic forms of public transport, put carshare services in front of their city halls, and make adequate provision for safe bike travel and parking all over the city.  And in parallel with this they pledge to refuse all new road construction or widening, to lower tops speeds on their streets, to convert road lanes from cars to public transport, and to develop and implement a real parking strategy.

D you consider that you are ready to sign the World Streets Real Mayor pledge and then respect it?

Mayor: I really do not understand you Mr Britton. I thought you wanted to hear my transportation strategy. Instead you are asking me why I do not take public transportation or even bicycle or walk to work?  That is not a realistic question. First of all, I would lose a lot of time.  Th people of our city  expect their mayor to be dignified and not get around like a common day laborer. Then there is the weather.  Look, there may be mayors on that list of yours who live in nicer climates, who are close to city hall.  But I live quite far out in the country and even by car it takes me more than half an hour just to get to work each day.  I see no reason to even consider this sort of wild impractical idea.  Let's be serious.

Editor: I understand Sir, but I have been told by several of your local residents and user groups (public transport users, cyclists, pedestrians, school groups) whom I have interviewed  in the last days that they are already  organizing an all-comers civil society group for your city that will ask any future candidates for mayor to sign a binding pledge to use public transport, if not walking or cycling, to get to work each day.  Not just on Car Free Days or once or twice a month. But every working day of every week. And anyone who does not agree to sign it, simply will not get their vote.  And they look quite serious to me.

Mayor: Mr. Britton you clearly do not understand the importance of my function. I cannot allow myself to be influenced  by a few probably left-leaning voters.  I am afraid you are wasting my time.

But if they have enough people behind them, then I will sign that pledge too -- if that is what it takes to be mayor again. Sign it, that is and get reelected.  And now goodbye Sir.

Editor: Thank you Mr. Mayor (bowing his way out the door backward, at the same time wincing at an enormous clap of thunder and the sound of pounding rain.)

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