urban biking: a critique

Monday 31 August 2009

So in my previous blog, I shared just how much I love urban biking.  Here, in part two of my writing sample, I share some of the concerns I and others have concerning bikes being on the road.  It’s good now, but how much better it could be!

Urban biking does, however, have its share of detractors who complain about those who choose a bicycle to fit their transportation needs.  It is not surprising, though, that a society both figuratively and literally constructed around the automobile would take issue with those who don’t follow the norm.  Major cities construct roads and direct traffic patterns with respect to the masses of cars driven during rush hour, while those who would take to the streets on a bicycle are lucky to find a bike lane or trail that comes anywhere close to approximating their commuting route home.  However, the urban biker must also take responsibility when at fault for certain complaints.  Because everyone deserves to be heard when it comes to urban biking, I want to address some of the critiques and concerns that surround the issue.

Perhaps the most widely voiced complaint about bikes sharing the road with cars and other vehicles is that bikers regularly fail to observe applicable traffic laws.  I must confess that I have in my life biked through a red light or breezed through a stop sign without stopping, but if bikers are to earn the respect of automobile drivers, they need to begin to obey the rules of the road or face the same consequences to which vehicular drivers are subjected.  By law, bicycles are given equal privileges to motor vehicle traffic on most roadways, and with equal privilege comes equal responsibility.  This means respecting all traffic on the road by obeying the laws required.  Automobile drivers must also recognize that bikes have equal privileges and respect those with whom they are sharing the roadway.  However, it’s understandable that drivers look down on those who continually disobey the law, and for this reason, bikers must be implored to obey the rules of the road and call upon other bikers to do the same.

Another critique of bikers and biking is that bicycles clog up the road for cars and cause traffic to become even more congested that it already is.  However, it must be noted that bikes obeying traffic laws have just as much right to use urban roadways as cars do, and much urban traffic on roads where bikes are present, especially during peak hours, travels at such speeds as to not be affected a bicycle’s presence.  Cars and bikes certainly have different sizes and abilities, but that doesn’t mean bikes need to leave the roadways.  Instead, the use of bikes should be encouraged through the creation of bike and shared lanes that make it safer and easier for all traffic.  Bicycles actually reduce congestion and pollution by removing automobiles from the road, creating a better environment for all involved.

A third critique not widely held but still of concern is that cyclists pay nothing toward the improvement or upkeep of roads in the way automobile drivers do through licenses, car registrations, or taxes on gasoline.  While some might desire the registration of bicycles or cyclists for a small fee, since bicycles have such a small impact on roadways, minimal taxes on the general population should be all that is needed to procure the necessary funds for any roadway upkeep due to bicycle traffic.  This, too, would work as an incentive to get drivers out of their cars and onto a bike, knowing that they are already paying for services of which they are otherwise not taking advantage.

Finally, I have a personal critique, which I know is shared by others, regarding the use, or extreme lack of use, of bike helmets.  I know there is the “cool factor” we all have to worry about, but there is no good reason why one should bike, especially in an urban setting, without a helmet.  Even when all on the road are abiding by the law and attempting to drive safely, accidents can and do happen, and just as someone in a car is required to buckle up, a biker needs to wear a helmet.  If bikers are to be respected on the road, not only will they have to abide by traffic laws, but they must also show others that they take safety seriously by wearing a helmet.

The sharing of the road by automobile drivers and cyclists is a sensitive issue for both constituencies, and all parties need to recognize the concerns of others involved.  Compromises may have to be made by all, but there is no reason why cyclists shouldn’t be able to ride safely side by side with those who drive by choice or necessity.  Indeed, I have no doubt that through organizing and promotion, the streets of and cities around the world can become safer and more efficient for all to enjoy.

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i love urban biking!

Saturday 29 August 2009

(Part of a writing sample I wrote for a recent job application.  I decided it could be used here, too — hopefully I caught all the typos, as it’s too late now if I didn’t!)

I must confess: I have an intense passion for urban biking.

I have always enjoyed biking, especially as a form of transportation, but it wasn’t until a recent trip to Philadelphia after a significant break from urban biking that I realized just how much I miss biking in a city and discovered my growing need to return.

I grew up in a small town and then spent some time in suburbia before embarking upon urban living and urban biking. As a child, I used my bike to visit friends, deliver newspapers, and get to the local swimming pool during the summer. Any time I could use my bike to get somewhere, even after I had my license, I would do it. I enjoyed biking during college, both for transportation and leisure, and when I graduated, a new, reliable bike was my requested reward.

Living and working in suburban Chicago for two years, I subscribed to public transportation for work and entertainment opportunities and slowly built up my biking prowess before moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where biking would take on a significant role in my life. Living in Milwaukee, my bike was my transportation. I biked 7 miles round trip to work each day, even braving freezing temperatures when snow and ice didn’t make the ride more hazardous than was prudent. In addition to the daily commute, I could be found biking to buy groceries, go curling, see a movie, watch a baseball game, attend church, or explore the city. I even biked to the DMV to renew my driver’s license! In Milwaukee, I discovered how rewarding and invigorating it is to depend on a bicycle to get you where you want to go – no petroleum necessary.

When I subsequently moved to Washington, DC, I knew that biking would be an important part of my time there. I spent my first month, however, without a bike and rediscovered just how many opportunities open up to one with a bicycle. Once I obtained a bike, I was able to see my friends with greater ease and regularity, schedule activities without having to worry about fighting automobile traffic or dealing with public transportation schedules, and explore the city faster than I could on foot and in a more intimate way than when stuck behind the glass of a car or bus. A bicycle allowed me to take true ownership of the city, transforming it from a tourist attraction to a city I called my home.

For the past nine months, I have lived away from urban biking opportunities. I make it a point to bike weekly on local trails, and I even traveled with my bike to Syracuse in June, biking with a friend around the city. However, it wasn’t until I packed up by bike for a recent trip to Philadelphia that I was reminded of all the glories of urban biking and just how much I was itching to return to city biking on a regular basis.

The friends I was visiting were located just outside the city and busy during the day, so I decided to bring along my bike and use it to explore the city. Wednesday morning, I drove my car into the city, found some free parking a mile or more from downtown, and unpacked my bike to begin my day. A few days earlier, I had investigated the city’s bike map online and prepared my route as to make the best use of bike lanes and other bike-friendly routes.

When I biked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it was easy (and free) to park my bike and quickly take pictures and ascend its famous front steps, a la Rocky Balboa. Then it was off to a movie theater across town, mainly in bike lanes, where I again found parking only steps from my destination. With my movie viewing complete, I hopped on my bike to cycle amidst the evening rush hour, sharing my lane with buses and traveling just as fast, if not faster, than the cars beside me. On that day in Philadelphia, I was transported back to the times when I would bike every day and the opportunities for exploration and transportation seemed unlimited.

It is now obvious to me just how much urban biking is beckoning for my return, and I can hardly wait for that day to come.


ELCA moves forward to include committed homosexuals as clergy

Saturday 22 August 2009

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about how the media created shocking headlines that tinted the facts a bit about an ELCA vote regarding homosexual pastors.  Well, hours after more big steps were taken by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the media titans were at it again, this time with an AP story title being pretty blunt and shocking (and, of course, not the whole story): “Lutherans to Allow Sexually Active Gays as Clergy“.  There were also some factual errors in the story, which are likely explained due to the quickness of the writing, but one also has to wonder who just wants to grab your attention so you will read their story!

Luckily, by morning, story titles had calmed down and content appeared accurate.  Here are a few examples, if you’re into reading all about this topic:
“Monogomous” Gays Can Serve in ELCA (Washington Post – good but short)
Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy (NY Times – good, a bit longer)
Lutherans lift barrier for gay clergy (LA Times)
ELCA votes to allow gay pastors (Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Conservatives  mull future after ELCA lifts gay ban (AP’s “updated” article)
ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans (ELCA news release)

While those articles, as a whole, give a good idea about the changes, let’s quickly look at what actually happened in Minneapolis this week, using actual words that were approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

First, a social statement, basically a declaration of belief, was approved on Wednesday .  It needed 2/3 of the vote, and actually got exactly that with a vote of 676-338.  I’m not going to get into that here, as it’s a long, though important, document, but you can read the statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” as well as a news article and the legislative summary from the ELCA website.

Now, in terms of gay clergy (all references ELCA website):
First, the assembly agreed to “respect the bound consciences of all,” thus basically allowing for those willing to agree to disagree to remain united under one organization.

Secondly, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”  (This vote passed by about 60%, 619-402.)

Thirdly, a few hours later, the assembly agreed: “that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”  (This vote passed by about 55%, 559-451)

And finally, the assembly basically allowed for individual churches to be flexible in their implementation of the previous resolutions and directed necessary formal changes be made to implement the previous agreements.  (See specifics here.)

So that’s the news, but what’s the big deal?

What we have now might be viewed by many as a “local option.”  As a whole, the ELCA will not exclude anyone who is in a “life-long, monogamous” relationship from being called as a pastor.  However, it allows particular congregations to do as they wish in recognizing same-gender relationships and calling pastors in such relationships.

So what’s the critique?  How can people not be happy if everyone can basically do what they want?  If I believe same-genedered relationships to be sinful, I don’t have to accept them in my church, and I certainly don’t have to have a pastor that is in one.  And if I believe all is well with the Lord in such relationships, I can be a member of a church that expounds this belief, too.

Well, that right there is the critique.  ELCA members who do not condone same-gendered relationships feel that by this action, the ELCA is saying same-gender relationships are OK.  Even if one doesn’t believe such relationships are supported by God, why would she or he remain part of a church body that (essentially) does?

It’s unfortunate for the sake of Christian unity that the “bound consciences” way of thinking is hard to follow through with.  If it does, somehow, find a way to work, that’s certainly a good sign for those looking to further unite the “holy catholic church.”  But Martin Luther, seeking to reform the Roman Catholic (capital “c”), simply made a new church, from which sprang many, many more.  And the growth, prominence, and flourishing state of non-denominational churches in this country shows, I think, that many who call themselves Christian aren’t that interested in unity any way.

It’s likely that those who can’t accept this new turn of events will go elsewhere, with churches and individuals leaving the ELCA, possibly creating a smaller Lutheran church body or finding some other group to join up with.  One could hope that it might bring about ties across denominations that actually do bring further Christian unity, but in this age of individuality, that seems unlikely.

I welcome your thoughts and views on the subject: your feelings about the action of the ELCA this week, your plans of action (if they be any) in response to this vote, and your thoughts about the future of the ELCA as a whole and its current (some of which are sure to be former) congregations.

Can a denomination survive and “agree to disagree?”  I don’t know, but the ELCA appears to be the petri dish for such an experiment.


let’s (actually) talk politics

Thursday 20 August 2009

Written last week, but I think still very timely:

It was an innocuous breakfast table comment to start the day: my grandfather simply mentioned that, as is happening across the country, people were out in full force at a local town hall meeting to declare their views on the current health care reform situation.  But then he took a breath and showed sympathy for one side, saying he, too, disagreed with a plan that called for euthanasia.

I spoke up, a little too quickly and rashly, and said simply, “That’s not true.”

A few more sentences were exchanged between the two of us before he declared, “That’s it.  I’ve always made a point to not talk religion and politics.”

And that was that.  No more opportunity to share thoughts and ideas.  No time to see what beliefs we shared in common and how we differed.  No chance to try and separate truth from fiction.  We left the table carrying the same beliefs, opinions, and likely some falsehoods, that we had held minutes before.  Did he understand that I, too, have issues with euthanasia, but it was his facts I was questioning?  We never got far enough for me to find out.

I know my grandfather isn’t the only one to avoid the topics of politics and religion.  Every Thanksgiving, we are reminded that a civil gathering will include no mention of the recent election, the new Supreme Court justice, and whether God ordained marriage to be only between a man and a woman (just to name a few taboo topics).  Everyone knows that it never ends well when people “talk politics.”

And that’s just the problem.  We don’t talk politics; we scream them.  The recent congressional forums are just the latest example of groups staking out their ground and shouting their beliefs to anyone who will listen, or at least so that no one else can be heard.  Everyone is talking, but no one seems to be listening.

When I moved in with my grandparents this Spring, I decided to attend a discussion at their church that connected current events to the Bible.  Religion and politics, all in one place!  The first week I attended, I quickly discovered that many participants held political convictions contrary to my own.  As I listened to them talk, I thought to myself how easy it would be to simply not show up next week and find some people who felt like I did, who “understood me.”

But as I thought about it, I realized just how much we needed each other.

In our current society, we insulate ourselves with people who think just like us and believe exactly what we do.  We watch talking heads or listen to radio commentators who reinforce our beliefs,  who reassure us that it’s not we who are crazy, but it’s “those people.”  Religious figures either avoid anything that could be called political, so as not to alienate any of their followers, or preach loud and long a particular ideology to tap into one group or another.  And because we cannot choose our family, we simply avoid hot button issues with relatives altogether.

Should we really wonder why the political divide continues to widen and people become more entrenched in their views and ideologies?

I decided to stick with the current events discussion group, and it became the one place where I can have civil discussions with people I disagree with politically and still leave with no hard feelings.  We talk and we listen.  We make no commitments that we’ll agree with one another or change our minds about topics, and that’s OK.  We respect one another, recognizing that while we might not hold a similar view or opinion, that doesn’t make it any less valid for that person to hold their particular beliefs if they have the facts straight.

If there is hope for this country (I personally remain unconvinced), it’s not going to be found in one “side” taking power over another and imposing their will upon the minority.  Instead, it’s to be found in people sitting down with those they disagree with and openly listening to what others have to say.  Nonviolent communication is a practice where you engage with others, recognizing that you each hold some piece of the truth, listening for what exactly that might be, and moving forward with newfound insights toward a positive outcome.  If our communication continues to be the violent yelling of fundamentalists unwilling to listen to those who believe differently, we are doomed to fail.

We face many intricate and difficult challenges as a country, but they have still not reached insurmountable status.  Instead, we find ourselves at a turning point, all the more reason to put down our sandwich boards and get off our soap boxes right away and engage in some constructive conversation.

The fate of the country depends on it.


union vilification continues

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Have 8 minutes today?  Check out how one company is working to keep unions out of their workplace:

CVS anti-union employee video


Pigeon on the El

Sunday 16 August 2009

In lieu of any new writings (there is one, but I’m trying to get in into a newspaper first, so you’ll have to wait a little longer for that one), I went back to the archives for a short little piece I wrote about 3 and a half years ago.  It’s not as powerful as it could be, but I’m not in the revising/editing mood today (and it’s a Sunday, so I’m not going to do more than I feel like).  Enjoy!

I rode with a pigeon on the El today.  I don’t mean “pigeon” as some slang that may be out there – I mean the kind of pigeon my mom finds so cute.  The kind of pigeon you find in big cities, strutting around, eating food scraps, and disregarding all the “NO LOITERING” signs.  ((But let me start again.))

Now, because I live in Evanston, a little bit north of the Chicago city limits, I have to catch a train, the Purple Line, so I can go about 8 blocks to catch another train, the Red Line, that will take me the remainder of my journey.  On this particular Sunday, I was about 8 seconds from making the train I need to get to assure myself that I’ll arrive at church on time.  But as it was, I saw the train pulling away as I ran up the stairs.  I had to wait, reading some Anne Lamott for the 10 minutes until the next train came.  Usually this meant I would get to my final El destination at 10:00, just the time church was starting, but as it worked out, I arrived to the front of the door of the church about 8 seconds before the service began.  So in the end, it all worked out.

But let’s not forget about the pigeon.  I missed my normal train, so thus I had to take the second, arriving at the Howard El platform and changing to the Red Line, looking at my clock and hoping I would be able to make it on time.

Now, you might find it weird when I say this, but it happens to be an integral part of what occurred this Sunday morning: Whenever I ride the El and will be stopping at a familiar location, I try to position myself on the train so that I might be as close to the stairs or escalators as possible as to limit my time of walking up and down the platform after arriving at my location.  In this case, it meant walking a little bit back before boarding an empty car on the Red Line train.  I decided to sit facing backward in the middle of the train, but I soon moved a few seats away so that I could have some more legroom.  And as I sat there, doors of the train still wide open, waiting for departure, the pigeon walked in.

Now, I have heard of a few instances where a bird had somehow flown into the open window of a train or bus and then struggled to get out, but this was nothing like that.  The pigeon simply walked onto the train and looked around, as if making sure this was the right train to get it where it needed to go.  And when the train’s voice bellowed, “Doors closing,” the pigeon didn’t even take notice, instead strolling over to investigate some interesting bits of nothing on the floor across the way.

All I could do was sit and smile, not able to decide what I wanted to do more: laugh or cry.  This was one of those moments where you realize, as it is happening, that you’re experiencing something that will probably never happen again.  The pigeon was so nonchalant about it all, too.  It had pretty much taken over the back half of the train car, the portion I was facing, pecking away at whatever caught its attention.  I glanced behind me to see if anyone else was enjoying this once in a lifetime event, but the only passengers behind me, two men, were busy reading, something I couldn’t yet bring myself to do with the excitement of the pigeon.

Both then, in the moment, and now looking back, I have to liken my experience to the scene in the movie American Beauty where we get to see a video of an ordinary plastic bag doing its little dance.  Ricky, the character who recorded the incident, proclaims, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”  Ricky is actually showing another character this video because it is so special to him and he wants to share that with this other character.  And as the bird pranced around, taking ownership of the train as if it were its new home, I wished I had brought my video camera with me that morning.  But as I think about it now, I’m actually glad I didn’t.

One of the things that made that experience so special was knowing that, no matter what, it was a finite experience that would not last forever.  Even if the pigeon held its ground and refused to leave as more and more people entered the train, eventually I would arrive at my destination and leave the pigeon behind.  Or if I decided I would continue to ride with my new friend, the train would sometime reach the end of the line and I’d have to get off then.  There was no way to make this experience last forever, though I was enjoying it so much, I probably wouldn’t have minded if it did.

And if you think about it, isn’t life full of those types of moments?  While not every moment may be exciting and delightful, many are.  But we usually don’t care to realize just how amazing our experiences are, not when we’re in the moment and not even when the moment has passed.  We’re so concerned about what’s coming next, we choose not to live in those moments of joy and bliss.  But that doesn’t stop us from living in those moments of sorrow and agony.

My pigeon experience didn’t last forever.  In fact, it couldn’t have lasted more than about three minutes.  As we approached the next stop, the pigeon started to mosey over to the doors of the train.  The doors opened, and the pigeon slowly crept toward the cold air that was rushing into our car, into an area of the train where my view was obstructed.  I didn’t think the pigeon was walking fast enough to get out in time, but as the doors closed, I looked out my window just in time to see this bird dart from the train and fly away in the direction from which we had just come.  The pigeon had had its fun, and it didn’t even have to wait until the next train to get back to the Howard stop.  For all I know, that pigeon does this kind of thing a few times a day, taking a little joy ride to keep life interesting.

I stared in awe at the floor where the pigeon had been wandering, enjoying my thoughts as I pondered why that crazy bird had wandered onto the train with me.  Once again, I almost wanted to cry.


something to be aware of

Wednesday 5 August 2009

I’m just saying…

Psychologists repudiate gay-to-straight therapy

(And a question: Has anyone developed straight-to-gay therapy?  There is that song that says, “you can’t have one without the other…” c: )