Tag Archives: engineering

Jim Melcher and America’s Perestroika

Jim Melcher at a Boston Area bicycle Coalition rally on Boston Common, 1979. Photo by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Jim Melcher at a Boston Area Bicycle Coalition rally on Boston Common, 1979. Photo by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Jim Melcher was one of my professors at MIT. He was also was a year-round bicycle commuter and in 1977, one of the first 25 members of the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition, In the 1980s, his activism expanded into issues of national economic and military policy.

Jim died of cancer on January 5, 1991, weeks before the outbreak of the first Iraq war. In his final months, he composed a long essay, “America’s Perestroika”, which includes stories that have a familiar ring for any bicycle commuter, a discourse on the role of academics in formulating national policy, and an uncompromisingly straightforward description of political issues as well as his disease.

Jim’s wife, Janet Melcher, gave me permission to publish “America’s Perestroika” on the Internet, and I have made it available on my Web site.

Equal rights = equity?

Equity, or sometimes equality, is the 6th “E” most recently added to the original three in traffic safety programs which were used as far back as the 1930s: engineering, education and enforcement, and two other E’s which were applied to bicycle and pedestrian programs, in the 1990s or thereabouts: encouragement and then later, evaluation.

Equity and equal rights are not the same, and neither is equality.

This distinction has surfaced repeatedly in struggles over civil rights of minority groups, with some people (generally more conservative) demanding only equal rights, and others (generally more left-leaning) demanding what they see as equity, including set-asides and restitution awards.

This distinction is similar to the one between bicyclists’ demands for the right to use the roads on the one hand, and demands for special bicycle facilities, on the other.

It can be argued that equity requires more than only equal treatment when the group in question is inherently different (for example, disabled people) or has been placed at a disadvantage, but it also can be argued that providing more than equal treatment is to acknowledge inherent inequality where it doesn’t exist or is irrelevant, invites backlash and is likely to lead to abuses.

There has to be a reasonable solution somewhere along this continuum, but opinions differ.