Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More Thoughts About Cars and Bikes

As a follow-up to the Ghost Bikes post from last week, I'm posting a column that appeared in the latest issue of Sustainable Times. It was written by Bob Allen, the same guy who wrote the Cargo Bikes article that appeared here and in the Sustainable Times back in April. He does a pretty darn good job of expressing what I'm sure a lot of cyclists are feeling, including me...

Cars Are Like Glass Houses

By Robert Allen

Bicycles are for transportation, not personal transformation. Riding a bicycle won’t turn a sinner into a saint.

But this doesn’t stop some motorists from expecting more than normal human behavior from every bicycle rider they see.

Anti-bicyclist letters to the editor in local papers are becoming drearily common, denouncing all who dare ride bicycles because of the antics of a rude and careless few. Of course, such letters are a benign and preferable form of backlash compared to the aggressive messages delivered along the road by some impatient motorists.

But I wonder why the letter writers, or anybody, would think bicyclists should be held to a higher standard than the rest of society.

Of course some bicyclists are rude and dangerous and they are wrong when they act selfishly and stupidly.

Riding a bicycle can help you shed pounds, save on gas and have more fun -- but it’s not going to change the content of your character. If you’re a rude and selfish jerk before you get on your bicycle, you’ll probably remain one no matter how many miles you ride.

People who focus their invective on bicyclists seem curiously complacent when it comes to dangerous and distracted motorists, who pose a much bigger threat to the health and welfare of any community.

Motorists are armed with tons of metal capable of much higher speed. The simple physics of the equation spells trouble. Add distractions like the scourge of cell phone addiction to this motorized mix and there are plenty of reasons for concern, if not a Sisyphusian stream of angry letters.

But there is something about the sight of a lone bicyclist blowing through a stop sign that sends the motoring public over the edge.

Perhaps it’s because bicyclers who ignore stop signs seem to be saying to the world that they think they’re above the law.

It’s a point well taken. Bicycles have an equal right to the road in Wisconsin, and with that right comes the responsibility to observe the same laws motorists occasionally observe.

But while I don’t condone it or recommend it, I know why bicycle riders are reluctant to scrub all the speed they’ve worked to build up at stop signs guarding empty intersections.

They aren’t doing it to thumb their noses at the world. They roll through intersections when the coast is clear because the cost of stopping for bicyclists is more directly felt than it is by drivers.

For a bicyclist, starting from a dead stop requires a considerable physical effort, much more exertion than simply maintaining pace. A driver who stops merely has to press down on the gas pedal a bit and, Bob’s your uncle, you’re back up to speed (never mind the extra blast of hydrocarbon emissions you’ve just delivered).

This isn’t an excuse, but maintaining hard-earned momentum is a compelling reality for the self-propelled.

A stop sign, however, means stop. It shouldn’t be treated like a yield sign.

I do my best to make a point of stopping fully, especially when being observed, not just because it’s the law; as a bicycling advocate, I try to be a decent ambassador out there on the road.

Not that my efforts to ride lawfully and courteously are going to change anybody’s mind. Courteous riders, like courteous drivers, are certainly in the majority. They just aren’t the ones anybody notices.

There are all kinds of people riding bicycles and driving cars. The next time one of them does something foolish, don’t hold it against the rest of us.

Allen is a commuting and recreational bicycler who lives in Middleton.

Thanks Bob.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Heat Wave

Here it is, the 2006 community garden space. Some things are doing better than others, but nothing was an outright failure. So far I've gotten radishes, lettuce, broccoli, peas (lots of peas) beets, kohlrabi, onions, carrots and summer squash. Not much in the way of quantity (except for the peas) but lots of lessons learned. Lessons like don't plant corn where you've just buried a large quantity of coffee grounds:

The rest of the corn was knee-high or better when this was shot, and this stuff wasn't past your ankle. I suppose I should know better than that, but part of the purpose of having this garden is to learn. Too much nitrogen, and probably too acidic. I'll compost the grounds thoroughly before digging them in next time.

The corn that was planted in the regular soil is doing pretty well, especially now that we've had a couple of 90-degree days. The indian corn is about 8 feet high and the sweet corn is almost 3 feet high. The soybeans, bush beans (Top Crop and Masal) are just about ready to be picked, and the bush beans I planted around the 4th of July are doing reasonably well also. Tomatoes and peppers will soon be ready. No rain predicted until Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ghost Bikes

It was me. I designed these lovely signs, which cropped up all over Dane County on about June 23. They're part if a public awareness campaign launched by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Since I have a reputation as an avid cyclist, quite a number of people asked for explanations. I told most of them that it really amounts to asking motorists to please pay attention to what there're doing, in hopes that fewer cyclists will be killed and injured in traffic crashes.

Invariably, the response was some variation on "but...cyclists violate traffic laws all the time!" Okay, fine. I'm sure that's true. But just the same, there are plenty of law-abiding cyclists who are just at much at risk when it comes to inattentive driving. No one involved with the project is asking that anyone be allowed to violate any traffic regulations with impunity. If some cyclists violate the law, how does that vindicate motorists who violate the law?

I think there's a common willingness among people who drive regularly to overlook the asymmetrical consequences of car-bike collisions. The harsh reality is that inattentive motorists are far more likely to kill than inattentive or even scofflaw bicyclists. That's really a hard one for many folks to swallow.

Funny though, how when a truck driver reaches for his fallen cigarettes, plows into a car and kills a 4-year old and her grandmother, he gets time behind bars. Somebody looks down his throat in his rear-view at highway speed and kills a 30-year old cyclist? Hung jury. Where's the sense in that?