Thursday, August 28, 2008

Notes on the News

Leah Garchik's column in the San Francisco Chronicle reports this tidbit from the Democratic Convention in Denver:
Scattered Denver observations from Noah Griffin, veteran of seven previous conventions: He's never seen such a police presence ... helmeted, on horseback, hanging on the running boards of humvee-like vehicles in full riot gear." They're nice to delegates, but "they surround the bull-horned protesters in a massive show of force."
Sounds as though we learned something from the Beijing Olympics, but I'm not sure it's the right lesson. Whatever happened to the First Amendment? At least we don't seem to have sent anyone to a re-education camp for requesting permission to protest.

And Jon Carroll of the same paper has a column on resentment, related to bicycles, that is worth reading. In my neighborhood there's been a great deal of concern over bicyclists, riding on the sidewalk, running red lights. Pedestrians (including, once or twice, me) feel threatened. Bicyclists feel unjustly accused. In their defense, this neighborhood has very narrow streets and no bike lanes. Speaking for the prosecution, I see them run lights and stop signs all the time.

I'd like everybody to memorize this column. I particularly like this remark:
Inferred arrogance is a way of enabling bad behavior. He's being a jerk, so I can be a jerk."
Why is that a good thing? The last thing any of us needs is more jerks around, even if it's us. Especially if it's us.


  1. Did I mention my own militant biker incident?

    I was driving home one evening, tootling down a winding lane at about 7 PM, when I encountered two bicycles. These were serious bikers, with outfits, special shoes, and helmets. They were going pretty slow, so I gave them two short warning beeps and passed around them on the left. As I did, I heard some angry yells. Three blocks away, I pulled into my driveway. Suddenly, one of these bikers pulls up to my driveway, throws the bike down on the pavement, and strides over to where I'm just getting out of my car. He's spouting a foreign language--Russian, I think--and he's mad as a hornet. As I start to rise out of the driver's seat, he shoves me back in and pushes the door against my leg (ouch!). In between the "broshki-droshki" gibberish I make out "you never treat bikers this way again, see!" I manage to get out of the car, brandishing my cell phone, and telling him to get off my property, or I'll call the police, etc. He's livid. I make a motion to go towards his bike and he puts up his fists (this is going to get very nasty very fast, I can tell), but I say again "you better hustle, fella, 'cause I'm calling the police right now." And he does, then, hurriedly, pedal away as fast as he can.

    Twenty minutes later, our Kensington Policeman does show up. "Where is he?" "He didn't stick around to wait for you." Etc.

    Last Sunday, I was driving East on Vine one block West of Shattuck in Berkeley. I came to a stop, and proceeded. Meanwhile, a lady bicyclist lazily ran the stop sign on Milvia, causing me to brake hard to avoid hitting her. I honked. She looked both surprised and disdainful. Pedestrians on the corner yelled and flipped the bird. Then the bicyclist flipped me the bird too. How dare I honk at a bicyclist!

    Bicycling is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can get out of hand, as anyone who has travelled to India can verify. Cars and bicycles are a dangerous mix. Our transportation culture is at a transition point. When I was growing up in the 1950's, bicycles were mostly ridden by kids, and their behavior was neither a matter of much concern, or in need of encouragement. As the petroleum age begins to wind down, it's going to become more of an issue. Bikers still cling to the old bad habits--running stops, riding on the sidewalk, riding in pedestrian lanes, speeding, challenging walkers--while committing new sins, such as groups blocking suburban and rural roads, and getting uppity like my Slavic boor. There are vehicle laws for bicycles, which they would do well to follow.

    Bikers aren't winning any friends by acting-out the way they are doing these days. A bicycle is a flimsy vehicle, and a lethal instrument in the hands of an irresponsible rider. In the East Bay of the Bay Area, they routinely ride way too far out into the middle of the lanes (on the right), putting themselves into considerable jeopardy. This is some new form of hybrid ignorant arrogance?

    I live on a steep hill, where bikes hardly ever venture. But in the flats, it makes a lot of sense. How many bikes can our streets safely accommodate? Not many. Two or three to a block? More than that and it really gets dangerous, depending on the auto traffic load. If I were a bicycle rider, I'd be very careful. It's your life, after all. How much risk is worth the risk?

  2. Anonymous8:32 PM

    Perhaps part of it is a misconception on the part of the cyclist. We used to have a chap in our department who came to work one day in a major huff. He’d run a stop sign on his bicycle and been nabbed by a highway patrol cop. Now, we might ask just how stupid can one idiot be? As he was on a bike, and the cop was in a car, it stands to reason he should have been able to see the cop. Can you imagine a cop car chasing a cyclist? Well, anyway, he was mad as hops. Seems he didn’t think the cop had any jurisdiction over bikes, let alone the right to hand him a ticket. He was going to court to “fight for his rights.”

    He went to court, but was mighty silent about the experience, so none of us got the story of what resulted. That was okay. The silence was worth it, and we were quite able to create a possible scenario on our own. He has since move on to peddle his bike in lucky St. Louis, and there have been occasional humorous conversations about him running stop signs there as well. Can you imagine “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Bicycle Built for Two” sung in a most un- Judy Garlandish manner? I didn’t think so.

    Now I wonder, if many cyclists really think they are exempt from traffic laws? Okay, anyone who thinks that and travels the roads riding something that offers no protection at all in a vehicular encounter is an idiot, but I am beginning to think there are number of idiots with secret death wishes riding around on bikes. I merely suggest that this possible feeling traffic rules don’t apply to them is bolstered by the fact they are traveling in an ecologically responsible manner instead of burning expensive imported oil. None of this excuses their stupidity, but this might give a possible window into their tiny mind set.

    When I was a small, normally obnoxious kid, I was in the hospital busy being ill. A kid was brought in and put in the bed next to mine. I remember this in some detail, as I hadn’t realized it was possible to have so many tubes running in and out of a human body. He’d been riding his bike and grabbed onto a trolley car for a free ride. I don’t know the details of the accident as the inert body on the bed next to me was impressive enough that my parents didn’t offer details. He died that night. You can well believe it, I stopped at stop signs and used hand signals when on my bike after that. If a small kid can be impressed, what in the name of [put in your particular deity] is wrong with these bike riding adults? After all, it is kids who are reported to think they are immortal.