Consider the gladiatorial amphitheatre as a model for justice and equality.
The warrior is not subject to the whims of an arbitrary or artificial power. He (and occasionally she) lives or dies by his own strength, agility and cunning. No liberal intervention will decry the acts undertaken as “brutal” or “disproportionate”. The fighter will not be interrupted by state-armed goons who consider it their duty to “police” the population according to some sort of irrational legal code. In many ways, the arena is the only example of an equal realm, and the most natural form of justice.
Is this convincing? It might have a romantic allure, but I’m not sure it should be the foundation of public policy.
The Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members seem to feel differently. This week, they distanced themselves from the rest of the London Assembly in a report entitled The Future of Road Congestion in London.
Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users.
And in a comment on the Cyclists on the City blog, Tory Assembly Member Andrew Boff tells us:
It is true that we [the Conservatives] are, by instinct, anti-hierarchical and I agree with you that we should be making decisions to accommodate people’s choices not what we think their choices should be.
Street users, like those in the gladiator’s ring, are not created equal. Put them in a situation of conflict and some will suffer and others will thrive.
Sadly (and I mean this), most pedestrians are not Russell Crowe. Look what happens when there are more people than there is available space for them:
And when there are more motor vehicles than there are space for:
When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the motor vehicle wins. When a pedestrian is in a motor vehicle’s space, the result is the same.
The Conservative claim that they are anti-hierarchical is deceptive in two ways:
- It is based on idea that not explicitly creating a hierarchy of road users means that you will not end up with one naturally.
- Andrew Boff’s quote is even worse, because it is implicitly based on the premise that there are transport choices which are independent of (or prior to) infrastructure. People’s choices are what they are because of the streets which are available to them.
If you avoid an “artificial” hierarchy, you end up with a natural one. I’d prefer our streets to be designed for people who want to use them, than for us all to be subject to some sort of will-of-the-stronger struggle for power where, naturally, it is given to large, fast, heavy vehicles.
But I’m beginning to feel that we’re being left with little choice.