HELP! The only two states that allow recreational pot use are playing

Call it the Pipe Bowl

The new Mayor of New York has made it one of his first priorities to reduce the number of roadway casualties in that city to Zero, from the 271 who currently expire each year, in addition to the 65,000 who are injured. This is more than an ambitious and very difficult, though thoroughly admirable, goal. It is really an effort to evolve the entire population of this place, past the assumptions of unavoidable brutalities that this transportation system invariably provides, as a “normal” feature. It is gratifying that the Chief Executive seems to understand that the need here is tectonic and not cosmetic.

Partly this is a matter of enforcement. Setting up an operation in Brooklyn where cars were ticketed for failing to yield to pedestrians was a trial balloon, to see if the publicity surrounding this was sufficient to have an effect on driver’s behavior in the short and long run. Another much less successful effort, to ticket pedestrians for jaywalking, became a disaster when a Chinese-speaking man was apparently thrown to the ground by a police officer and sustained head injuries. Regardless of such anomalies, everybody understands that the ultimate purpose here is to reduce harm to unprotected pedestrians, and cyclists. In a city with a 30 MPH speed limit, 60 MPH is standard. The Mayor is the Commander in Chief of the Police Department and he can single-handedly direct a comprehensive overhaul of our traffic rules and how they are enforced.

I believe that the other most important factor in engineering this change will be the rapid proliferation of small, safe, human-scale vehicles, to replace the far more dangerous industrial-scale ones that currently dominate the landscape. Not only will this result in saving many lives and preventing numerous serious injuries, but it will also provide major health, environmental and other significant benefits to society. Regardless, It is not going to be easy reining in the taxis, flying down the street, the enormous garbage trucks and buses, and huge SUVs with their relatively limited vision.

In order to accelerate the process of providing ourselves with a new range of vehicles, we will need to incentivize the designers and builders of these devices with both recognition and financial benefits. Pavlov proved that animals are motivated by rewards and will respond to them in a predictable way. Since there is no marketing venue for these objects their introduction over time has been nearly impossible. The advent of the internet and its means to inform the public about novel ideas and attainable objects can help to overcome the historical resistance of the conventional marketplace, bike shops, and car dealers, to provide us with access to these machines. When Rob Cotter used Kickstarter to get his seed money to produce the first multi-modal ELF it signaled a new channel opening up between makers and those who know that this is a vital path to explore. Building on that realization is a new task and a welcome one. His current success in expanding his enterprise will alert many to the increasing value of these new opportunities. Hybrid human/electric-assist vehicles are the wave of the future, and nobody can deny it anymore.

It is not a motorcycle but it is a cycle with a motor, so even the language conspires against us. It is built on the scale of a bicycle, minimal, so the contribution of human power is relevant, and the stored energy is supplied through advanced design batteries rather than fossil fuels, petroleum, so it is considered exotic. In fact, many of the best designs were already made in the 19th century and will simply need to be updated for this day and age.

The contributions of creative people, artists, and craftspeople are the critical element. The importance of fresh thinking and the use of incredibly durable materials, like polycarbonate and composites, will change the game. Just this week it was announced that an important breakthrough had been made in the use of sugar in batteries, far more powerful than current ones and much cheaper. The amount of effort going into the research into nanomaterials, carbon fiber and all the rest is bringing home the relevance and importance of weight and scale in the design of better forms of transportation.

Mr. DeBlasio’s declarations about safety need to focus on the greatest challenge, reducing the throw weight of the lightly-guided missiles that fill all of our streets. As long as something has a certain bulk and weight, it is automatically a candidate to be regarded as an offending object due to its potential to do harm. The problem with industrial-scale vehicles is their momentum, calculated as weight times speed. Being hit by a multi-ton object moving at 40 miles per hour is often fatal. When the speed is reduced to 20 or 30 miles per hour this hazard is greatly reduced. When the weight of the vehicle can be measured in tens rather than tons of pounds, the risks are practically eliminated. Human-powered, electric-assisted vehicles are nearly on the same scale as a person walking along a road. At the 10-15 MPH that they normally move, the danger is further made smaller and the visibility provided by a relatively open design adds to their safety too. Of course, they must be operated responsibly.

The Mayor is to be commended for taking on such an important task but errs, at least modestly, in his campaign against carriage horses in this Year of the Horse on the Chinese calendar. We need to remember where we came from and to cultivate our awareness and appreciation of our ties to the rest of the animal kingdom. You don’t have to raise goats or love mice but making the connection to your fellow species and acknowledging this linkage is a good thing and along with such arts as handcraft and Yoga, puts you in touch with forces, otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Muscle-power is awesome, both our own and that of other creatures, and recognizing its appropriate role in a world ruled by mechanical and electronic forms of power is essential to our self-understanding and self-realization.

Whitey, the horse that pulled my Father’s fruit and vegetable wagon along, in the early years of the 20th Century, made it possible for him to cover enough ground to pay his bills, start a family and make his way up in the world. How could he have done it otherwise? The tiny One Horsepower motors required to help food deliverers and pedicab drivers do their jobs without having to punish their bodies are just as vital to our ability to provide a humane and decent world, as is our willingness to co-exist with our natural counterparts.

Banning little electric-assist motors, for no real reason, is just as cruel as it is to send the carriage horses to their doom, to erase them from our sight. Because of the excellent fertilizer that they manufacture can not find its way to a Community Garden nearby? It seems, in fact, that they are extremely well taken care of, at least at the current time. Replacing them with multi-ton “replicas” will only heighten our sense of artificiality, Disney on steroids, which is already far too prevalent, and permanently wipe out one of the few fragments of natural and historical authenticity remaining. Sadly, Mr. Mayor, It will do this harm while simultaneously reinforcing the mistaken and unhealthy sense of entitlement, that the oversized and overpowered urban-inappropriate forms of transportation, that are so hazardous to our health and which currently dominate our space, depend upon. Let’s hear it for muscle-power (with just a little electric-assist please).