What is the right balance between freedom and safety (as in regulations) in an urban land use setting? We travel to see cities with unique and exotic features such as rickshaws, street vendors, open air market places, sidewalk cafes, and so on. We even think fondly of the cacophony of signage in places like Hong Kong and Times Square. Yet the U.S., ‘freedom central,’ is relatively restrictive when it comes to municipal ordinances. Perhaps its not so much that we are ‘freedom central’ but that our democracy allows us rather, than a king, the freedom to issue restrictions. That’s a lot of people creating a lot of restrictions. As a result, U.S. cities often lean towards uniformity rather than diversity or uniqueness. For example in downtown San Diego, California, where there are an abundance of sidewalk cafe’s (albeit behind railing bars to ensure the public safety from their four legged creatures, i.e., tables and chairs), a new law proposes to further regulate the city’s once numerous “pedi-cabs.” Although a long simmering issue, when an Illinois tourist recently died falling off a moving pedi-cab, their detractors seized the day. They are proposing a new state law that would require pedicab drivers to possess California driver’s licenses – not unreasonable on its face. However, the law threatens to eliminate the local pedi-cab trade altogether while doing little for safety, if you believe its participants. Pedi-cab advocates point out that pedi-cab businesses rely on foreign students as their drivers. They argue that automobile licensing would do little to create safer pedi-cabbies. They also argue that the Illinois passenger death fails to indicate an overall safety problem. Is the new law a reasonably tailored safety regulation or is it an over-broad regulation that will eliminate a unique trade while doing little for safety? There’s also the broader question – what level of safety risk or nuisance do we tolerate for greater freedom and diversity?
About Bill Adams
Bill Adams is the founder and chief editor of UrbDeZine. He is also a partner in the San Diego law firm of Norton, Moore, & Adams, LLP. He has been involved with land use and urban renewal for nearly 25 years, both as a professional and as a personal passion. He currently sits on the boards or committees of ,The Public Interest Advocacy Collaborative, San Diego Historic Streetcars, The Food and Beverage Association of San Diego County, and the Heal the Gash Committee (reconnecting communities divided by freeways).