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Mopeds Are Dangerous, and Other Island Reveries

Photo by Tom Vanderbilt

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.

Photo by Tom Vanderbilt
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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. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Mopeds Are Dangerous, and Other Island Reveries”

  1. Jeffrey Says:

    I ride a bike, but still see a point in scooters. Namely, the daily summer commute. Arriving to work with a sweat-drenched back = not cool.

    Granted, not sure scooters are a cost-effective in-between. Maybe. Maybe not. But I see the point.

  2. Colin Says:

    It’s a common theme among car drivers – labelling other forms of transport “dangerous”. What they really mean is that it is themselves, the car drivers, that pose a danger to the other forms of transport. Instead of changing their behaviour to reduce the danger they pose to others they instead seek to blame the others, labelling them “dangerous”. It’s a neat trick.

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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.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

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