Last night, really closer to late afternoon, we were sitting around at the Bicycle Committee meeting talking about this and that, including that thing we always eventually get around to talking about: Which of the eleventy zillion projects that could make cycling around Burque better/safer/easier should we advocate get done first, second, third…
You know, a handy-dandy list of Bike Steps to Cycling Nirvana in Burque, one that we could put on a single piece of paper with big boxes next to each prioritized job, #1, #2, #3 and so forth, in which we could eagerly put checkmarks or X’s, depending on preference, to indicate they are “done.” We’d have this piece of paper on a clipboard, and walk around town checking/X-ing things and life would be swell.
In my mind, I always volunteer to be the guy with the clipboard. I prefer Xs to checkmarks, now that you ask. I might wear one of the doctor/scientist smocks while performing this civic duty, but with a bike helmet on to maintain a connection with cycling heritage.
So I’m having the above daydream while we’re talking about prioritizing bike infrastructure improvements last night, and I’m thinking that using a big, fat Sharpie would be the best instrument to demonstrably X our way to cycling Nirvana. Big strokes; wide impact.
And, as always happens in these discussions, eventually everyone’s dreams, including my reverie of being “X-Man o’ Bike Projects,” is ground, literally, back to reality by three simple words:
Right of Way
Sometimes these three simple words are written in a way that is technically just one word, Right-of-Way, but either stated as a single curse word or term of doom, many a roadway project, bike improvement included, is slowed and/or killed by the need for jurisdictions to obtain land from private citizens or other governmental jurisdictions.
This is not to say the government should be able to willy-nilly eminent domain itself into ownership of all land anywhere close to existing roadways, although this thought does cross my mind. No, we do not live in a Socialist Paradise, one in which Scot could live out his dream of making big/wide X’s in boxes denoting completion of prioritized bike infrastructure jobs with complete abandon.
No, we live in a governmental system in which staffs of governmental systems must create roadway projects that involve as little private/other jurisdictional land as possible, then arrange convoluted taxpayer funding to purchase/swap such land in a labyrinthine process similar to negotiating nuclear weapons treaties or opening shoplift-proof store packages.
Thus, there is the inevitable ever-growing list of projects roadway advocates demand, the constant desire to prioritize these projects (with vast difference of opinion, ultimately, about the priorities), and Right of Way considerations that negate much/all action toward establishing such priorities.
So in a grinding, dream-popping group realization, pretty much every meeting where we sit around talking about such stuff devolves into a communal sullen realization that the list will always be long, completion of many jobs on the list will take years if they are ever done at all, and we will never be able to truly set priorities of which job goes #1, #2, etc.
Okay, change “pretty much every meeting” to “every meeting.”
One interesting outcome from this communal sullen realization is that someone will mention some “low hanging fruit” project that doesn’t require Right-of-Way and other complexities, and we will almost literally run to advocating for that project, as if it is the greatest project in the history of projects, even though, sadly, it actually isn’t and wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of our dreamed-up list of priorities.
To quote Kurt Vonnegut and every realist (misanthrope if you prefer): So it goes.