Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Morning Commute: Metro, Again

The bike is once again out of commission. I managed to install my new brakes, yet I did not have the tools to adjust the brake pads so they wouldn't rub against the rim of the wheel (which, if ridden, has the effect of making it feel like you are dragging a small army on your bike). Alas, I relied on the trusty Metro once again, which on a day as humid as this, isn't all too bad. Thankfully, there are two bike-related news snippets today that I thought would be interesting to share.

Warner Breaks Hand After Bike Fall: Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a Democratic presidential contender, recently broke two bones in his hand after falling off his bike during a 24-mile ride. The story has it that Warner was holding a water bottle with his right hand, which controls the rear brakes, and in a spur of the moment need to slow down, applied too much pressure to his front brakes. The result? A painful yet all to common and mildly acrobatic flight over the handlebars, known as an "endo" in cyclist lingo. The article points out that Warner is an avid and experienced cyclist, yet any "experienced" cyclist knows that your left hand is your lifeline, the only thing stopping you from running into stationary objects without launching you head-first over the handlebars. Governor Warner, you should have been holding your watter bottle with you left hand.

On a related note, this is another prominent politician who is an self-professed avid cyclist. Both John Kerry and George Bush rode over the course of the 2004 campaign, the former an expensive Italian road bike (Why not buy American, traitor?) and the latter an expensive American mountain bike (purchased from the store I currently work at). And if memory serves, Kerry is the only one of the three who hasn't bit it while riding. Not necessarily a news-worthy trend here, but an interesting side-note.

District Officials To Enforce Bike Laws: In news that is both good and bad, the Metropolitan Police Department has received additional funding from the District Department of Transportation to enforce traffic laws for the benefit of pedestrian and cyclists, four of which were killed last year. The program will include the enforcement of pedestrian and bicycle laws, and officers will target cyclists who run red lights, ride the wrong way down one way streets, or ride on sidewalks downtown.

This is undeniably good, in that safer streets tend to benefit pedestrians and cyclists. At the same time, so much of bike riding is the constant give-and-take between wanting to get somewhere safely and wanting to get there quickly. One of the benefits of riding a bike is that you exist in gray area when it comes to the rules of the road -- while legally speaking you are to obey traffic signals, you are similarly more mobile, of lower profile, and more able to respond quickly and dynamically to the ebb and flow of the city streets. Cyclists do not run red lights because they tend towards being anarchists, they do so because they can often do so with relative ease and safety. Of course, one stupid move by a cyclist badly reflects upon us all, so exceptions like these cannot be made by those committed to enforcing the law. A police officer cannot naturally assume that I run red lights safely -- he will simply assume that I ran a red light, a violation of the rules of the road regardless of whether or not I can argue that I did so quickly and in a manner that threatened no one else.

This ties into a larger philisophical debate that divides cyclists, whether they know it or not. Many cyclists believe that they have every right to use the roadways, but in so doing they bind themselves to obey the rules of the road in the spirit of reciprocity -- you don't want cars getting in your way, so why get in theirs? This tend to be commuters, recreational cyclists, and the faint at heart. They are the one likely to slap "Share The Road" bumper stickers on their cars. Then there are those cyclists who for some reason or another see the roads as battlefield between cycle and vehicle, who presume that there isn't enough room for cyclists and drivers to peacefully co-exist. These tend to be seasoned city cyclists, especially bike messengers. They tend more towards the school of thought that "We're not in traffic, we are traffic." I fall somewhere in between. I don't believe that the roads are the exclusive province of cars and their drivers, but I am also realistic enough to know that tons of steel moving at high speeds is much harder to stop on a dime if I choose to dart into moving traffic to gain a little time on my commute home. As I have said before, I am not content existing at the bottom of the commuting food chain, but I also recognize that in the Social Darwinist way of looking at the world, I'm the one most likely to be seriously hurt if push comes to shove.

Anyhow, I will say this much: I won't stop running red lights, but I won't run red lights when I know it is going to endanger traffic and/or pedestrians. I recognize that a tenous balance exists between those on foot, those on bikes, and those in cars, and that we've all established basic yet unwritten rules of conduct for the roadways. I'll do my part to uphold those rules, but I hope I'm not the only one.

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