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.


before I head out…

Monday 24 March 2008

Hi all — I just wanted to let all of you faithful readers of my blog (or not so faithful ones) that I will be leaving shortly for some work outside of the country and am unsure how often, if at all, I might be updating/writing in my blog before June, so I just thought I’d let you know that in case you were wondering where I was.  (If you don’t get alerts on when I put up a new post,) Do check back though every so often, as I may have the opportunity to connect you with other blog entries I find interesting or maybe even write a few on here — I just don’t know.  Until then, read some of my old blogs you may have missed along the way!

Peace — eric

Verizon sucks (or: never trust your cell phone)

Sunday 9 March 2008

So I’ve been at a conference this weekend and using my cell phone as my alarm, as I have been since I consciously left my alarm clock in Ohio in August. I’ve come to trust my cell phone (even though I switched to a new one recently) for waking me up on time and helping me tell time in a variety of situations. When they warned us at the conference to set our clocks ahead an hour during the evening’s last session, I didn’t really even think or worry about it since I knew my cell phone automatically switches times when I enter a new time zone, and I figured this night would be no different. So last night, like all others, I set my cell phone alarm clock and went to sleep.

I woke up, got ready, and arrived at the dining hall about half way through what I thought was the 8-9 block set aside for breakfast. The room was very empty compared to the other meals, but I just thought everyone must have had a long night and decided to skip breakfast. I saw a clock that was an hour ahead and then remembered there had been a time change, but I must have still been in morning mode because I didn’t realize what exactly that meant. Instead, I thought, “Thank God for my cell phone” and started thinking about the blog entry I would write on the topic (one that would have a much different tone than this one).

As I walked from the dining hall to the room where the workshop I wanted to attend was being held, I saw another clock that showed 10 o’clock instead of 9 as I thought it should be. I must have been waking up because I started to think, “Now if they were going to spring the clock ahead, why would they have moved the clock ahead two hours? That just doesn’t make sense.” It wasn’t until I peered through the door window to see the packed room that I realized that I, in fact, was the one who had screwed up the time change – or at least by putting my trust in my cell phone, I had messed up and would only get to hear the last 30 minutes of the 90 minute workshop. I was disappointed to say the least, but I tried to stay present and take in what the conversation had to offer me.

It’s event like this that challenge my attempts of practicing detachment. It is so easy to cling on to things and let their existence or nonexistence control how you’re feeling about life. This happened later in the day when I was going to security for my flight back to DC and they decided to confiscate my letter opener. They had pulled it out before and asked the supervisor, even on the flight up to Boston, actually, but had always let me keep it (maybe because I’m a white male — though maybe my hair is too long these days); I should have know it was a problem and left it or put it in a checked bag, but I’m forgetful. And though I told the TSA officer, “They’ve let me take it before, but if you’re not going to, I guess there’s nothing I can do,” it was still hard to just let it go. (I wonder what they do with all that stuff they confiscate in that manner?)

In talking to other Verizon customers, their phones did change time, so it might have been a “user error,” but I still blame them. It just is another reason for me to continue to avoid getting too much into the cell phone world.