Mopeds Are Dangerous, and Other Island Reveries

As the somewhat startling image to the right would suggest, I decamped recently to Martha’s Vineyard for some R&R (thanks to all those who have written, and I hope to be in touch soon). I was intrigued to note that the nav system kept navigating, even as the car sat suspended in the hold of the car ferry. It was rather mute, of course, stripped of its normal turn-by-turn street references and cast into an unfamiliar landscape of shoals and eddies, but there was something almost touching in the idea that the nav system kept wanting to show me where I was, in some strange homage to the sea-borne European “discoverers” who had first landed on this island — and the word “navigate,” one might note, has as its primary definition “to sail.” The image also recalled those half-dreamt moments aboard trans-Atlantic flights, when there’s a thin slice of white on the horizon, you’ve exhausted your books and the in-flight entertainments, and you gaze up at the video monitor at the little icon of the plane, which hovers terrifyingly over open ocean somewhere to the east of Iceland.

It didn’t take long to stumble upon the traffic folkways of this small place; e.g., the perpetually crowded and uncontrolled intersection at the corner of Main Street and Edgartown Road in Vineyard Haven, where drivers politely take turns in some improvised ritual, one that newcomers seem to grasp intuitively, a piece of self-evident social decorum not unlike, say, the shoes left at the entrances to the town beaches. It was a welcome respite from the agita of New York’s streets, and on a week mostly on a bike the biggest hazard I seemingly faced was a squirrel that darted out in my path, in search of some enticement across the road, but thankfully reversed course before things got ugly.

I soon began noticing curious bumper stickers that read, simply “Mopeds Are Dangerous,” showing an image of a moped in a circle with a line crossed through it. At first I took this to be some kind of ironic, Napoleon Dynamite sort of thing, not least because I haven’t seen much in the way of mopeds since the Puch I rode in the early 80s, and the scooters I did see on the island seemed sans pedals (not to put too fine a point on it). And then I saw the weird riffs: “Moms Are Dangerous.” “Jellyfish Are Dangerous.” But after talking to a local constable, I learned that the stickers are the result of an actual campaign, one that has organized after a number of motorized two-wheeler fatalities (and can I just point out the most absurd sentence in this article, describing an anti-moped rally: “One man apparently mistook the demonstration for an anti-war rally, and shouted obscenities at Mr. Feldman.”)

I’m of several minds about this. One the one hand, it’s a bit ironic to a find a sticker calling attention to the dangers of another form of a transportation on the bumper of the form of transportation that itself is responsible for the largest number of traffic fatalities (scooters pose most of their danger to their riders, and to no one else, unlike cars). On the other hand (oh, for a one-armed traffic blogger!), as I mention in Traffic, a place like Bermuda, which is similar to the Vineyard in certain respects (i.e., an island with relatively low speeds), has comparatively few traffic fatalities, but these are disproportionately comprised of foreigners riding motorized two-wheelers. It’s not hard to imagine why: Someone riding a vehicle they’re not particularly familiar with (and there’s little to no education process), on roads they’re not particularly familiar with, perhaps with another person riding on the back, perhaps after a long day in the sun and one-too-many blood-orange frozen margaritas down at Sharkey’s Cantina. And while I personally find scooters a fairly superfluous form of transportation (if you’re going to risk two wheels, why not at least get some health benefits — for yourself and others — out of it and ride a bike? Cue angry Vespa-driving reader response!), as an island cyclist I’m not sure I’d rather swap all scooters with cars.

In any case, I mostly clung to my bucolic up-island environs, where the traffic concerns were of a gentler nature.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 27th, 2009 at 9:13 am and is filed under Traffic Culture, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
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September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
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September 11, 2009
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October 8
Honda R&D Americas
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INFORMS Roundtable
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October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
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January 19
Yale University
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Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

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University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
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April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
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Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
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Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
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Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



July 2009

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