COMMEMT & ANALYSIS: Picture this: it’s the year 3200. About a hundred years ago an alien race, the Sploodge Monsters, started settling on earth. They’d engaged an extremely effective public relations company, so the settlement was welcomed.
However, it should not have been. Sploodge Monsters resemble jelly fish, and get around through a weird sound-related propulsion. They’re also about the size of elephants, so their houses are huge. Over the century since their arrival, urban centres have changed beyond recognition, as houses have been demolished and replaced or gutted and rebuilt to suit the needs of the Sploodge Monsters.
Humans who started pushing back against the displacement were met with confusion: surely humans can live in Sploodge houses? It’s roomy enough, and as for the sound-propulsion-friendly floors that humans find so wobbly to walk on, well surely they’ll get used to it.
And as for the enormous toilets with the weird spouts and dips designed to accommodate Sploodge anatomy, special ladders have been invented to adapt these for human use, a massive advertising campaign was launched to instruct humans on how to manage their needs with the Sploodge-specific plumbing, and a lot of hand-wringing takes place every year about all the unfortunate flushing deaths (which are actually sucking deaths as Sploodge toilets are upside down… it’s complicated).
Some Sploodge Monsters have responded to human complaints by building houses custom made for humans. Yet mysteriously, these specially provided homes are unpopular or avoided altogether among humans, and most Sploodges argue there’s no point providing for humans’ housing needs, they just ignore what they’re given.
Now, just to reiterate: Sploodge Monsters move around through a weird sound-based propulsion system. They have twenty sticky tentacles instead of two arms with hands and fingers.Their sensory organs are located in the tips of five further, shorter tentacles spaced evenly around their bodies.
Would you like to live in a house designed for you by a Sploodge Monster?
Say a Sploodge architect realises their limitations and asks a human to help. That human is not an architect, has none of the specialised knowledge of door width requirements, placement requirements for plumbing, electric outlets, wall thicknesses, and so on that a trained architect has.
Would you like to live in a house designed by a Sploodge Monster architect with the advice of the lay human?
Or would you prefer to live in a house designed by a specialist human architect?
Earth was invaded by something like Sploodge Monsters about a hundred years ago, when cars roared onto our planet and took over. Transportation networks were adapted or newly built first and foremost to serve cars.
Engineers who only drive are as equipped to design decent cycling infrastructure as a Sploodge architect is to design a human house. Those who only drive and design infrastructure for cyclists are likely to do more harm than good, as they serve us with goods that are useless, near useless, outright dangerous or inadequate.
Consulting with cyclists, or even being a cyclist yourself if you’re a road designer, is a good idea, but it’s not enough in and of itself.
Cycling infrastructure must be designed by specialists in cycling infrastructure design, not by specialists in road design. It may cost to hire a specialist consultant right at the beginning design phase of a cycling infrastructure network, but it costs more to invest in cycle lanes that are avoided by cyclists due to inadequacy, ridiculous demands for something kin to gymnastics to use some complicated, winding route, or outright danger due to poor design.
No more Sploodge Monster architects, please, and no more amateurs. Cycling deserve better.
Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.
IMAGES: Stills from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
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