[Editors note: Old Guy had the idea for this post during a recent dental
torture hygiene session. His face was numb and the hygienist was doing distressing things to his teeth.]
Last week sometime I had a
discussion debate argument oh-yeah-well-point-counterpoint comment exchange with somebody on Facebook. The post that started the whole thing was about the new two-way bikeway recently installed near an elementary school here in Austin. Somehow the comment thread came around to the theme that this kind of facility is dangerous. I commented that the words “dangerous” and “safe” are ambiguous and not useful when discussing bicycle facilities (including plain old streets and roads). My antagonist suggested that I meant they were subjective. I stood my ground with ambiguous and then our argument devolved into how “dangerous” or “safe” various roads, streets, paths are.
am·big·u·ousadjective1. open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations; equivocal: an ambiguous answer.2. Linguistics . (of an expression) exhibiting constructional homonymity; having two or more structural descriptions, as the sequence Flying planes can be dangerous.3. of doubtful or uncertain nature; difficult to comprehend,distinguish, or classify: a rock of ambiguous character.4.lacking clearness or definiteness; obscure; indistinct: an ambiguous shape; an ambiguous future.
sub·jec·tiveadjective1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought ( opposed to objective).2. pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal;individual: a subjective evaluation.3. placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes,opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.4. Philosophy . relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.5. relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.
I would never ride there.
That road is so dangerous!
I flew an aircraft that most people label “dangerous.” In point of fact, the Harrier has the highest mishap rate of any military aircraft currently in service. I often see amazement that I’m still breathing. I find this attitude annoying, as if chance or luck had anything to do with why I’m alive. I’m alive because I paid attention to what I was doing and with full knowledge of how to manage the risks.
This is the same approach I use when riding my bike. I ride on some objectively risky roads. That act is not “dangerous.” Nor is the act of riding on less risky roads “safe.” Some of the closest calls I’ve experienced have been on low-speed residential streets.
I ask that we stop using the ambiguous terms “dangerous” and “safe.” They are not useful or helpful. This desire comes from the same motivation that begs people to stop using the word “accident.”