I shared this analogy at an event in Oxford and was asked afterwards for a written version. Here it is…
When I notice that there is a mouse running around in my house I go out and buy a mouse trap, or I borrow a neighbour’s cat, and I block off the holes behind the sink, and the holes behind the washing machine.
I don’t do those things because I’m a mouse hater. I don’t hate mice. I like mice.
BUT left to their own devices – accommodated in my home – mice won’t just live in peaceful coexistence with me. They take over. They chew on electricity cables. They eat my food. And they leave droppings in the unwashed frying pan.
When I notice that mice are chewing on the electricity cables, or eating my food – I don’t respond by getting a special mouse feeder to distract them from the cables. I don’t get a special mouse sized bowl and fill it with tasty seeds to stop them noticing my bread. I don’t try to accommodate them. It won’t work. If I feed the mice to distract them then all that I’ll get is more mice. Mice in my kitchen, in my food, in my bedroom, perhaps even sleeping between my toes.
So why on earth am I talking about mice? Well of course that’s obvious…
The UK tends to try to accommodate motor traffic – with the same horrible results.
We know that there are issues – but what we do is to deal with the issues tends to be very minimal. We do the equivalent of distracting my house mice with some tasty food.
And it doesn’t work.
Motor traffic – particularly private cars, but also trucks and vans and motorbikes – have come to define our towns and cities – to define our lives. Everything works around this. It defines everything that happens once you step outside your front door (and for some, inside their front door too). When was the last time you were actually free – completely free – from the effects of traffic? Even if you go for a walk in the hills there is a good chance you can hear it. And the first lessons you’ll be teaching children about being outside is how to stay alive. And often as you’re walking through the city there will be a bit of your brain watching out for your life. And you’ll spend a huge amount of this life waiting for something to happen with the vehicles around you – whether you’re cycling, walking, sitting in a bus, or driving yourself – you’ll be waiting for the traffic to move, or to stop moving, so that you can carry on with what you’re actually trying to achieve.
So one my themes is always about us really getting to grips with this – making sure that we can really see this – making sure that we can imagine life without this – making sure that we can communicate to others about this.