Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 March 2017

No Matter What He Says, The Earth Isn't Flat!

Is she opining?  Or is she just whining?

That's a fair question to ask, sometimes. I am sure that I blurred, or even crossed, whatever line separates reasoned evaluation from mere complaint.

That line exists somewhere between recalling what was and lamenting that they aren't what they used to be.  I will attempt to straddle the line but will probably cross it with what I'm about to say.

Time was when being a celebrity meant being a kind of model for the public.  People--especially kids--listened to what they said and tried to emulate them; public figures acted accordingly.  Most of the time, anyway.  Today, though, it seems that being a celebrity is just a license to wear your silliness or stupidity--or display your vitriol--on your sleeve.  Or, as the folks in psychology might say, it gives you permission to live by your id.

During an election season that led to the coronation of hominem qui calumniatur, all some people could talk about was someone who got famous for being famous getting robbed of more than some developing countries own.  It is no wonder, then, that a celebrity who, not so long ago, would have been considered a world-class buffoon is considered to be a harmless side-show, or a cartoon cariacture, for embracing a notion that not even illiterates have espoused in half a millenium.

That notion is that the earth is flat.  And the celebrity who declared it to be a truth is none other than Shaquille O'Neal.

Now, just as El Presidente and Mrs. Kanye West (and, for that matter, Kanye West himself) have stayed in the public eye by being stupid, vulgar or, at times, simply gross, Shaquille's schtick, if you will, is his goofiness.  Even so, his declaration that our blue and green orb is shaped like a flapjack was even more ridiculous than anything else he's done.

From The Human Cyclist

To be fair, today "Shaq" walked back his absurd pronouncement.  Also, in the interests of fairness, I should point out that he is not the only one "who should have known better" but nonetheless made such a crazy declaration. There is, after all, a worldwide organization for those who still believe the notion that The Tall One embraced for three days.

Now, of course, as cyclists, we didn't need Columbus getting lost or photographs from space to prove to us the Earth isn't flat.  Some days, it seems as if we're always pedaling uphill!

23 March 2017

"Uber For Bicycles" Coming To Your Town?

As happy as I am to see bike-sharing programs, I have to admit that I haven't used one myself.  When I'm home in New York, I have my own bikes.  The Florida city where my parents live doesn't have a program and I have a bike (such as it is) there.  And, when I've traveled during the past few years I've rented bikes, even in cities (Paris and Montreal) that have share programs.

I rent bikes mainly for a few reasons.  One is that rental bikes are generally better than share bikes. Also, I figure that renting a bike is actually less expensive, given how much I ride, than using a share bike.  Finally, I would rather use my credit or debit card just once, when I pay the rental shop or agent, than to insert or swipe my card in a docking station every time I use a share bike. I'm no expert on cyber-security, but I reckon that the less often I have to use my card, the less vulnerable I am to theft.

But the main reason why I prefer to rent than to use a share system is that I like having the freedom to ride where I want, for as long as I want, without having to worry about finding a docking station.

Cyclists ride bike-share machines around Hangzhou's West Lake. 

During the past year a number of Chinese start-up companies, led by Mobike, have tried to solve the problem. Users of their services download an app that tells them where to find a bicycle, which they unlock by scanning the bike's code into their phones or using a combination they are sent. Then they can ride wherever they want or need to go, and leave their bikes wherever their trip ends.

Three years ago, Beijing's bike share program was deemed a bust.  Increasing affluence brought more cars, seen as symbols of prosperity, into the city and people started to see bicycles as primitive.  Now business is booming for the "Uber of bicycles", as the dockless bike program is called, in the capital as well as in other Chinese cities.

Share bikes piled up near entrance of Xiashan Park in Shenzhen.

In fact, some residents as well as officials complain that they can't park their own bikes when they ride to work, school or wherever because bikes from the dockless share program are parked, often haphazardly, in spaces designated for residents' bikes as well as in other areas--including, at times, the streets.  

Still, the proprietors of those startup companies want to export their service and expand the prosperity they have enjoyed.  They are looking at other Chinese cities, as well as municipalities in Europe and the US.  (Interestingly, of the world's fifteen largest bike share programs, thirteen are in China.  The other two are the ones in Paris, which comes in at number five, and London, which is twelfth.

While some would welcome an "Uber for bicycles", as the service is often called, others fear that they will suffer from the same problems of parking and congestion that are now seen in Chinese cities--especially since some of those places, like Hangzhou and Shanghai, have compact centers that contain historic districts with narrow streets.

N.B.:  Photos are from The Guardian.

22 March 2017

The Idaho Stop: A Women's Issue (Or: Does Obeying The Law Kill Us?)

I learn some interesting things from my students.

From one of them--a criminal justice major--I learned that the vast majority of crime is committed by males between the ages of 15 and 25.  After that age, the crime rate plummets, and there is an even more significant difference between the lawlessness of males and that of females.

Or, to put it another way, females are more law-abiding than males.  Of course, that usually works to our advantage, but there are instances in which it doesn't.

One of those areas in which it doesn't is in traffic law, as applied to cyclists.  In most municipalities, the law requires cyclists to stop for red lights, just as motorists do.  Of course, such laws are not evenly enforced:  A state highway cop in a rural or suburban area is more likely to give a summons for running a red light than an urban police officer, and in cities, Black or Hispanic cyclists are more likely to get tickets (or worse) than a White or Asian person on two wheels.

But, according to studies, women are, proportionally, far more likely than men to be run down by heavy transport vehicles while cycling in urban areas.  As an example, in 2009, ten of the thirteen people killed in cycling accidents in London were female.  Of those ten, eight were killed by "heavy goods vehicles", i.e., lorries or trucks.  That year, about three times as many men as women cycled in the British capital.

That stark reality reflected conditions described in a report leaked by The Guardian's "Transport" section.  According to that report, 86 percent of the female cyclists killed in London from 1999 through 2004 collided with a lorry.  In contrast, 47 percent of male cyclists killed on London streets met their fates with a truck.

In unusually blunt language for such a study, the researchers concluded, "Women may be over-represented (in collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights." (Italics are mine.)  They, therefore, confirmed what many of us already know:  We are safer, particularly in areas of dense traffic or in the presence of heavy vehicles, if we get out in front of the traffic in our lane rather than wait for the green light--and run the risk of getting smacked by a right-turning vehicle.

A DePaul University study of Chicago cycling and traffic patterns made use of the British study and came to a similar conclusion.  More broadly, the DePaul researchers concluded that it would be more practical and safer to mandate the "Idaho stop" for cyclists.  

In essence, the "Idaho stop" means that cyclists treat red lights like "Stop" signs and "Stop" signs like "Yield" signs.  It allows cyclists to ride through a red light if there is no cross-traffic in the intersection.  

Believe it or not, Idaho enacted that law all the way back in 1982.  Since then, no other state has adopted it, although a few Colorado municipalities have enacted stop-as-yield policies since 2011.  Interestingly, a 2012 decree allows cyclists in Paris to turn right at--or, if there is no street to the right, to proceed straight through-- a red light as long as they excercise prudence extreme and watch for pedestrians. Three years later, that policy was modified to allow cyclists to treat certain stop lights (designated by signage) as "yield" signs as long as they are making right turns or going straight through "T" junctions.

The funny thing is that you don't hear or read the kinds of flat-earth rants about cyclists in the City of Light that we regularly find in American discourse.  And, it has seemed to me, cycling is generally safer than it is in New York or just about anyplace else in the US I've ridden.

Now, back to my original point:  Allowing the "Idaho Stop", or even the policies of Paris or those Colorado municipalities, is not only a cycling or transportation issue.  It's a women's issue!