Porto Alegre Brazil. 25 February 2011. At least forty people were injured when a mad driver slammed his car into a pack of more than 100 cyclists in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil. The cyclists, mainly young people, were staging a peaceful demonstration calling for a reduction in the number of cars on the streets. The 47-year-old male driver fled the scene of the incident Friday evening and was later arrested after authorities found his abandoned car over the weekend.
[Please, upon completing this article turn to Part II of 2 March in which we seek for something strong and positive (and permanent) to be gained from this unfortunate experience: “Seize the moment: A Street Code for Porto Alegre“.]
Many of our readers will know about this, but for those who do not a quick click just below will put you in the picture. What happens when a mad (quite literally) motorist drives his car on a murderous attack through a group of young people on a slow bike ride through the streets of their own city? Is this just an odd story of one person, one day and one event? Or are there more profound, more universal lessons that we should be taking the time to try to learn and share.
We have some clues. And with then some questions to be asked. Perhaps we can in the coming days look at them together in this and other fora. It would be a pity to miss this opportunity to put our heads together and learn from this awful, stupid, inhuman, but somehow dreadfully familiar event.
The first is the sheer irony of the fact that these free citizens of the city were peacefully demonstrating to reduce the number of cars on their city streets.
The second is that they were young, sweet, happy and interested enough to take their bike and ride together for what they believed to be a good cause for their city.
The third is the sheer mad fury on the man at the wheel. Will it not be useful if we try to take the time to find out what exactly was going on in his head? He made the point to the police that the cyclists had threatened him and that he was frightened. Frightened enough to plow through a defenseless crowd? One wonders about his past and earlier examples of anti-social behaviour.
And then — naturally enough given the scenario — that he fled the scene and had to be sought out and arrested by the police. That too is pregnant with meaning.
I would guess that if we can come to understand his process of derangement and furious action, we will be wiser for it.
Should perhaps the city have accompanied the cyclists in the first place, as often happens in other places that have taken the measure of the potential dangers?
Is Porto Alegre a place in which acts such as this meet a certain level of public approval or at least connivance? Is it the only such place on the planet?
And if so — and it has to be the case in many other cities of all levels of economic and social variety when confronted with such anger as in such cases of road rage — what do we as intelligent, hopefully open-eyed proponents of sustainable mobility have to learn from all this — so that we can in the future seek and find ways to lower the temperature and bring reason into the debates and the behaviour of all involved?
And what about all those around the world that are shocked and wish to weigh in with their thoughts for those who were injured and so badly frightened? How can we send them our messages of love and support? Shouldn’t we be sending them tens of thousands of messages of solidarity over Twitter and Facebook. We do not want them to feel alone or abandoned. And we all need to learn the lessons. So off we go. Tweet!!
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Bio: Britton is an American political scientist and sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest book, "BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transport to Your City" focuses on the subject of environment, equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions. A pre-publication edition of Better Choices is currently undergoing an international peer review during Sept.- Oct. 2017, with the goal of publication in English and Chinese editions by end-year. If you wish to participate drop a line to BetterChoices@ecoplan.org .