Friday, May 30, 2008

Exposing the media bicycle bias

Recently on a television program called "Fox & Friends," I caught the end of a report from a youthful correspondent, who interviewed other young people about their use of bicycles for transportation. Her conclusion: While there are some benefits to getting around on a bike, that doesn't change the fact that riding bicycles is, as everyone knows, for nerds.

Thanks for telling it like it is, Fox!

Yet this morning on "Today," NBC's man in Miami approvingly covered the "growing popularity" of bicycle commuting. Kerry Sanders was actually aboard a bicycle as he filed his report, which included an adult female who rides her bike to work and — get this — also rides the thing to the grocery store and uses it to handle other errands. No mention was made of her social awkwardness or fan fiction hobby.

I became suspicious.

Meanwhile, back over on "Fox & Friends," the crew welcomed "radio heavyweights Rick and Bubba" for a segment that Fox Friend Brian Kilmeade proclaimed "flat out fun." Take heart Americans! The "two sexiest fat men alive" have a three pronged plan to solve the problem of high fuel prices. And no, nerds, none of them involve bicycles:

1. Eliminate all taxes on gasoline.
2. Drill for all the oil that's sloshing around under our feet here right here in the U.S.A.
3. Invade other countries and take their oil by force. This idea, they admitted, might be "a little controversial."

Now that's some first class "family entertainment with Christian values" for you!

Inspired by Rick and Bubba, I set out to expose the "Today" show's pro-bicycle propaganda for what it is. I quickly discovered NBC is in the pocket of Big Bike. Don't believe me? Here's something the folks at the Rainbow Chicken network don't want you to know: According to my secret Internet source, Matt Lauer's father was a "bicycle company executive."

Still don't believe Lauer is a member of the shadowy bicycular elite, determined to use his position at the "Today" anchor desk to further the agenda of radical bicyclists? Check out this incriminating photograph of Lauer I found on a blog associated with a company that fabricates large aluminum tubes:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bike Month Update Part 2

Scofflaw cyclists or skewed perspective?

In a letter to the editor published last week in the Savannah Morning News (scroll down to "Cyclists need road manners, too"), a motorist catalogs traffic infractions committed by a pair of cyclists. While at least one of his charges is valid — riding without lights at dusk is a very bad idea — it's a little hard to follow our narrator's account of having "experienced" two cyclists. They are accused first of traveling fast and then of riding slowly. Our motorist claims the cyclists were riding side by side (legal under state law) but then identifies one of them as the "front rider." Did he encounter them on Habersham Street or Kensington Drive? And how could they turn "into" Reynolds? As far as I can tell neither Habersham nor Kensington intersects Reynolds.

Contradictory and confusing information aside, our motorist's chief complaint seems to be that the cyclists were "backing up traffic" as he "patiently waited," prevented from "swinging around them" by oncoming traffic. What if we look at the scenario from a different angle? Maybe these cyclists were every bit the rude, reckless and irresponsible individuals they are portrayed to be, but how does this chain of events appear when not viewed through the windshield?

Could it be that the cyclists were taking the lane to prevent our motorist from endangering their lives? State law allows cyclists to move to the center of the lane when it is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle. Our motorist notes that one cyclist made an impolite hand gesture as he overtook them. Is that such a surprise? Would he not be upset if he was in the midst of a left turn when another motorist passed on his left?

But the real question is this: Has our motorist written similar letters to the editor chronicling the hazardous driving he witnesses on a daily basis? Surely he sees many more examples of reckless behavior perpetrated by other motorists. If he doesn't see them, then he's driving around with his eyes closed. What makes the cyclists more suitable targets of a scolding letter than the inattentive and aggressive drivers, who are much more common on local streets and represent a much greater danger to our motorist and other roadway users?

Finally, our motorist warns cyclists that "they are not going to fare as well as the vehicle they come in contact with." I've not met a single cyclist who thinks he or she is going to come out on top in a collision with a car. That's not to say that cyclists don't make bad decisions. It's just that they are not motivated by the belief that they will emerge unscathed from a car vs. bike crash. And really, which party should shoulder the most responsibility? Seems to me it should be the operator of the vehicle most likely to cause injury or death.

Another commuting first

My commute to work yesterday was unlike any I've ever made. From Victory Drive all the way to Huntington Street, I saw only a handful of cars and none of them were anywhere near me. I saw them way up in the distance, but I never shared the same block of Lincoln Street with them. However, I did see a dozen other cyclists. Of course I recognize that a lot of people had the day off because of the holiday, but it sure was nice to imagine what it would be like if cyclists outnumbered motorists every day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bike Month Update

I've been warned

I awoke last Sunday morning to the sound of thunder. How far off I sat and wondered. Started humming a song from 1976 and for the rest of the day I couldn't get "Night Moves" out of my head.

Rain was in the forecast, so I jumped on the bike and went out for a ride. I figured I'd be inside for the rest of the day. I was heading east on Washington Avenue when a silver Crown Victoria overtook me. Just before it passed, I received a blast from its horn. I caught up with the driver as she was exiting the car at the corner of Washington and Waters. I said good morning and asked if she could please resist the urge honk at cyclists as she passed.

She said, "I honked to warn you that I was behind you."

I said, "I knew you were there. Blowing your horn wasn't necessary."

She said, "You were in the middle of the road and you should have a light on the back of your bike."

For the record, I was not in the middle of the road. I was actually farther right than I usually ride. And I did my Planet Bike Superflash was on the back of my bike. It wasn't on. But, obviously she saw me and honked so why was she suggesting that I needed a light? Somewhat befuddled, I managed this reply.

I said, "The problem with honking at a cyclist is that your attempt to warn them might actually startle them into your path."

She said, "You were in the middle of the road," and started to walk away.

I said, "Please, just think twice before honking at a cyclists again," and wished her a pleasant morning.

A mirror image commute

Monday brought a first for me. Despite the fact that I've commuted to work on a bicycle almost every day for a couple years now, I've never found myself in the company of the same bicycle commuter on both the way to work and the way home. But this morning, a guy on a gold Specialized mountain bike pulled up next to me as I waited for the light to change at the corner of Habersham Street and Victory Drive. That afternoon, he pulled up next to me on the other side of the same intersection. We started talking and I discovered he's the guy who wrote this excellent letter to the editor (scroll down past Tom Barton's head to "'Dump the Pump' is a great start").

Test riding the Wheelie

After work I quickly changed clothes and pedaled over to Historic Grayson Stadium to meet up with other members of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. Our purpose was to reconnoiter the route for Sunday's Savannah Wheelie ride, which will include the mysterious Police Memorial Trail and portions of the Parkside Historic District. Everyone who rides in the Wheelie can purchase a ticket to see the Savannah Sand Gnats take on the Greenville Drive for $2 off the normal general admission price.

Official Endorsements

While I'm very pleased that Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson and Chatham County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis participated in last month's Savannah Wheelie ride, I'm even more impressed with the ongoing commitment to cycling demonstrated by other city officials. Mary Landers catalogs some of them in her story about yesterday's Dump the Pump Coffee Break.

From the Bike Year Mailbag

Jason: Roc Bike is the first missing link that's no longer missing.

Christy: I'm presume you've tried Bicycle Link, Quality Bikes, Island Cycles and Star Bikes? If so, I guess your only other option is to keep an eye open for a trailer to show up on Craig's List or watch for a new trailer to go on sale from Nashbar or another mail order house. I have seen trailers at Goodwill, but not on a regular basis. Sorry I can't be of more help.

Matt: I'm glad you're OK. You should certainly get the driver's number if you are hit by a car. What's more, I'd say you should call the police as well. Why? To understand how many car vs. bicycle crashes occur, it's important that these incidents are reported. I didn't follow my own advice when this happened to me and I realize now I made a mistake.

Monday, May 05, 2008

In search of missing links/First Bike Month post

Last month I started work on a little rehab project here at Bike Year. As some of you may have noticed, I failed to measure twice and cut once. The result being I lopped off the links section. So, if you keep a bicycle-related blog and include Bike Year as a link from your site, please let me know in in the comments section so I can reciprocate.

In other news, I thought I'd celebrate Bike Month by returning to this site's roots. Throughout May I'm going to post boring accounts of my commutes and other utility cycling non-adventures. Not since the thrilling post about the guy pulling the lawnmower in the bike lane has this URL seen so much excitement. I'm sure everyone is hanging on the edges of their seats awaiting the first astonishing episode, so without further delay, away we ride:

I'm noticed that dispensing stations are charging higher prices for car juice these days. Some folks are saying the prices are too high, despite the fact that my fellow Americans and I don't even pay full price for the gasoline we use. In fact, two of my fellow citizens are floating a crazy scheme that will actually accelerate demand and increase prices!

Still, I didn't see much evidence that higher prices are influencing local driving habits this morning (nor did I notice any change two and a half years ago, when gas prices spiked to then record levels). Motorists still seem willing to burn extra fuel to escape the humiliation of driving behind a cyclist. This is the case even when the race to overtake a bicycle clearly ends just yards ahead at a stop sign or traffic signal. And vehicles of all types are left idling, sometimes in bicycle lanes.

As I approached the corner of Lincoln and Henry streets this morning, I received a warning horn blast from a woman piloting an westbound Jaguar. My speed on approach to the intersection was perhaps 5 miles per hour. Hers was — by my estimation — at least 45. Presumably she sounded her horn, to dissuade me from pedaling into her path. In doing so, she demonstrated a mindset I often detect in rants from motorists who claim cyclists' well-being as the basis for their exhortations:

"Don't these crazy 'bikers' realize they are not cars?"

"If they want to ride in the middle of the street, I can't be held responsible for running over them!"

"Why don't they ride on the sidewalk where it's safe? They must have a death wish!"

Truly, I don't think anyone wants to hit a cyclist. But there's a sort of cognitive dissonance at work here when motorists claim to have cyclists' best interest in mind, while operating (and storing) their vehicles in ways which endanger others. If the Jaguar driver above was seriously concerned about others' safety, would she be exceeding the speed limit in a dense urban neighborhood populated by pedestrians and cyclists, including children?