The word “right”, as in “my rights” or “the rights of …..” have cropped up a lot lately, thrown around as if this phrase carries little actual meaning. Rights used to be something that we had to fight for, such as the right to free speech, or the right to practice religion. So what happens when we take our rights for granted, so much that we fail to understand the different between a right and privilege?
Take, for example, a quote from a recent article about the fight for bike lanes in the New York Times:
“He’s taking away my rights as a driver,” Leslie Sicklick, 45, said of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Ms. Sicklick, a dog walker and substitute teacher, grew up driving with her father around the Lower East Side, where she still lives.”
What exactly is a “right of a driver?” I couldn’t really figure that statement. It seems as though because cars have dominated the city since the horrendous policy of Robert Moses, people who can afford to have cars feel as though they are entitled to use as much space as necessary to get them and their thousand pound vehicles wherever they please. At one point, not too long ago, people had a right to nice big sidewalks and safe places to cross the street. The M.O. of the New York City over the past century has been to slowly reduce the amount of space that an ever growing number of pedestrians have to use in order to accommodate those who drive.
As a population grows, cars are not an economical way of using our space – speaking from a purely space perspective. This graphic of cars vs. buses vs. bikes shows clearly what our streets look/can look like if we use the space better. Which would you rather see, a mess of cars or one bus or a few bikes? Which brings me back to my point – what is the “right” of those who live in this city?
The government has a job to help create and enforce policies that best allow a city to function, which means trying to get all 13,000,000 people from where they want to go to their destination with as few hiccups as possible. Time actually is money in this case, and the more efficiently we can move the more money is generated for region, which means better infrastructure. This role of the government should not favor one individual over another, it should take into account all of the needs of the population.
One element of this population, I will admit, are the people who are forced to live outside of the bounds of transit because of a financial situation. The city failed to build a complete transit system for those living in the outer reaches of the burrows, and it is clear where people want to live as New York continues to bulge with people. I don’t know what I would do if I lived more than a ten minute walk from a subway. I would probably have to buy a car. Nonetheless, the city could build free parking near transit hubs in Brooklyn and Queens. I believe access to transit should be a right in New York City.
Driving your car as fast as possible in the city, however, is not a right, and will never be a right. It was a privilege granted by a narrow-minded government whose work is costing billions and billions to undo and transform into a more efficient system. God bless America.