A Thought Experiment on Bike Commuting Safety

Josh King’s guest post, “10 Rules for Urban Commuting” sparked a lively debate, not just in our comments, but across the blogosphere. Well, the bike-commuter corner of the blogosphere anyway.

If you missed it, the essence of the article (if I should hazard a summary) is this: If safety and survival are paramount to an urban bike commuter, then laws and civility are secondary niceties. King was praised as well as criticized for his style and substance–and people reacted strongly to both.

Let’s Go Ride a Bike posted a thoughtful and passionate critique of King’s article, and it’s “macho tone.” This article drew more comments than King’s original article. (And yes, we’re a little jealous about it.)

Here at our world headquarters, we’ve had multiple discussions about King’s 10 rules (plus one), as well as the reaction to it. One of those discussions developed into this thought experiment.

Thought Experiment: The Bike Commuting Robot

Think of the most fragile and precious thing in your life that could be carried on a bike. It could be your child, your cat, or your Tom Selleck collector plate. This precious thing is to be carried along your regular bike commute, during the time of day with the busiest automobile traffic, on a bike operated by a robot.

Trust me.

For example, you can tell the robot to:

  • Obey all traffic laws, with no exceptions.
  • Obey all traffic laws, except for certain nonsensical ones.
  • Obey all traffic laws unless certain situations arise.
  • Be indifferent to traffic laws, but stay upright and avoid collisions.

And in case you are looking for loopholes: The robot looks like a human (so it won’t draw attention of anti-robot militias). It’s also is no stronger or faster than you, and has the same reaction time as you. Like you, it can usually tell the difference between a person, a dog, a car, a mailbox, etc. No, it can’t fly. It’s unarmed. It can’t turn invisible, transform itself into a tank, a sofa, or anything else. Enough with the looking for loopholes! Suffice it to say that the robot has the physical abilities of a human, but it will behave exactly as you tell it to behave, with no judgment.

Oh, and you will be liable for any damage or injury caused by the robot.

Your precious thing is loaded, and the robot awaits your instructions.

Post navigation