Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bring it on

Brace yourself for busy bike trails this spring. I read a report this week that said gasoline is averaging $3.15 per gallon, which is near the record price set last May. And this is only February. With oil over $100 per barrel, experts are saying a gallon of gas could cost $4 by summer.

Except for my plans to drive to Canada in June, I'm ready for another season of pedaling by gas stations with a smirk on my face. I can already imagine the scene on the bike trail I ride to work—every time gas prices take a steep jump, the number of bike commuters goes up, if only for a few weeks.

I like seeing the newbies out there. It gives me hope that a few of them might find that they actually like riding a bike to work.

It gives me hope that a few of them might realize that maybe the big-ass SUVs in their driveways weren't such a good idea. That maybe bikes, buses and carpools are viable alternatives.

Hey, I drive, too. I don't like dumping money into my gas tank any more than the next guy. But the way I figure it, it's time to get used to it. Gas ain't gettin' cheaper from here on, folks. The supply's runnin' out, and there's about a billion people in China who can't wait to dump their Flying Pigeons so they can kick the tires and light the fires when they finally "modernize" and buy their first cars.

So bring on the new bike-commuting converts. I want to see them swerving across the trails as they get reacquainted with their long-neglected bikes and try to comprehend a route to work that doesn't involve smelly traffic and idling at red lights. I won't even mind being extra careful so they won't run into me while they're distracted and confused. Better to dodge their bikes than their Ford Excursions.

I often ride bikes for the peace and solitude.

But I'd love to see the bike paths get crowded at rush hour.


Frederick Ingram said...

Have a little compassion for our motor-bound brethren. Practical biking is not for everyone. As things are today, it is extremely dangerous, scary, and often leaves me hating humanity. It requires skills, equipment, and commitment. It is nevertheless how I chose to get around for trips of five miles or less. At one point I even went a couple of years without owning a car. However I don't recommend it to friends because I don't want to see them get killed trying it. I'd like to see things less as an us-vs.-them situation and more in terms of trying to find some harmony with the hard facts of life.

Tim said...

If we got a lot more people out of cars and on bikes, things would be a hell of a lot less dangerous and scary. Can you imagine how much nicer things would be if every motorist rode a bike to work even three or four times a year? It would give them a new perspective. People would be more careful around cyclists and more supportive of spending public funds on safe bike trails and bike lanes.

If it takes high gas prices to force a few people off their fat asses and onto bikes, buses, etc., then I'm going to see that as the silver lining around the dark cloud of higher prices for fuel and all the other prices it affects, such as food. If we get more people to understand the idea of NOT driving to work alone every day, we'll find more harmony.

I always recommend bike commuting to my friends. I'd rather seem them happy and physically fit than dying of heart disease, or in car accidents.

The "hard fact of life" is that oil is running out and things are going to have to change, sooner or later. The sooner we get people to try alternative forms of transportation, the better off we'll be.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind, too, that many people chose to live far from the city -- that is, far from any destinations they must regularly visit -- during a time when the ecological consequences and unsustainability of the car-intensive life was unknown (or being seriously denied). Vast urban areas were planned with the assumption that sensible people wouldn't want to live densely or in the hearts of cities. Now the people who have bought there -- perhaps because property in the suburbs was all they could afford -- are trapped in homes outside reasonable walking or biking distance from anything. And it's hard to plan viable public transit when people are scattered so far and wide exactly according to the dictates of their zoning.

I also bike to work, though only in the warmer half of the year, and I take the bus in the cold half. It's easy for me to get smug; I certainly do, sometimes. But try to remember that most people made what seemed like the most sensible choice available at the time -- based on zoning, property taxation, availability of public transit, and the perceived quality of city life versus "country" life.

Frederick Ingram said...

Tim, you represent the idealist view. Yes it probably would be safer if more people biked. It would also be a much nicer and more civil society if we all wore a fresh daisy in our lapels every morning. I look forward to that day. Suggesting cars are more dangerous than bikes... that seems ridiculous. In my experience they seem a hell of a lot more forgiving. And there is also the crime factor to consider.

Paul, I agree with your observations about zoning and suburbs. In many ways it doesn't make sense to me (I live very close to downtown, near a "greenway"---my ideal situation.) People move to the suburbs or the country to have a big house where they can let their kids outside to play. The SUV is the tool to keep it all together. It's been that way as long as I can remember. Still, a lot of zoning doesn't make sense from the ecological perspective.

I see biking more like aviation than driving. Even a single mistake can kill you. You really need to be very professional, for want of a better word.

Anonymous said...

fridrix: Sorry, but you're coming straight out of bizzarro world. This is based on not only my experience, but on the expeirince of the World Health Organization, and we both have, indeed, easily arrived at the conclusion that cars are much more dangerous than bikes. If over 40,000 deaths every year in the US do not convince you of this, try talking to a few EMTs about their experiences with car crashes in contrast to bicycle crashes. As far as the results of "one mistake" are concerned, I'll take the consequences of a bicycle any day (as I have, frequently) rather than the much more severe consequences of a mistake in a car. Ridiculous it may seem to you, but bikes are clearly, statistically, patently safer than cars, even when sharing the same roads with cars. Val

Unknown said...

That excursion remark was aimed at me wasn't it? HUH??? It's OK, I'll let it pass, I won't slug you in the hallway THIS TIME....

Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Love the cartoon. I also disagree with the idea that more bikes & less cars on the road would be inherently safer. All it would do is shift the risk to other bikers. You may not die in a bike collision but I've personally learned that it can break my arm...

lemmiwinks said...

All the bicycling nirvana fantasies aside, $5 per gallon isn't going to make a difference. It's been as near as makes no difference to $5US per gallon here in Australia for years now and it's more than that in most of Europe. Believe me, you wont notice a reduction in the number of cars on the road.

Frederick Ingram said...

Val, you're comparing apples & oranges. There's no way it's more dangerous for me to drive my truck to the market than my bike. Giving me an absolute figure of auto casualties is meaningless since so very few people ---less than two percent in my estimation---actually ride bikes as practical transportation.

Also, I presume the car stats include highways? Of course it's dangerous to wreck at highway speeds. Bikes hardly ever operate at those speeds, or those distances. Can you survive a 10 m.p.h. crash better in a car or on a bike? Ask the EMTs about car vs. bike wrecks.

Your "statistics" don't agree with common sense, instincts, or my real life experience. Clinging to these nonsensical notions does not do anything to make cycling any safer. I think it's better to admit that it is in fact dangerous and difficult so that these issues can be properly addressed.

Anonymous said...

fridrix: No, I'm comparing cars and bikes. Yes, speed is one of the factors that make cars more dangerous. If bikes travelled at those speeds, they would be that dangerous, or more so. Yes, I feel much more confident of not only surviving, but also of not injuring anyone else in a 10 mph bike crash than I do in a car. I have survived both, and the car crashes were always much more serious, and more of a threat to the rest of the populace. Since you don't like my abbreviated statistics, try: or: Even when adjusted for participation, cycling is safer than driving. This is why the World Health Orginization considers automobile related fatalities to be a major problem worldwide (not just in the US), and has no such concern for cycling, even though a much higher percentage of people ride bikes worldwide than in this country. This is not a "nonsensical notion" and I am not clinging to it in any attempt to make cycling any safer. If I want to make cycling safer, I do what I can to help people travel without cars. As for properly adressing your imagined issues of the extreme danger and difficulty of cycling, I think that I will continue to show anyone who wants to find out just how easy and safe it can be, rather than fostering the missaprehension that we would all be safer in cars. I am truly sorry that your personal instincts tell you that riding a bike is actually more difficult than driving a car safely, and I am also sorry that it scares you. Hopefully, there's a chance for that to change. Val

Frederick Ingram said...

I tried reading your sources. Your guy Ken Kifer lost me when he said flying isn't dangerous. I know it is inherently dangerous.

Maybe he was referring to riding as a passenger in a plane. In that case it would compare to being a stoker on a tandem I guess.

The reason it is relatively safe to fly as a passenger on a plane, is because the pilots know that flying is indeed inherently dangerous, and they take a disciplined approach to mitigating the risks. They don't pretend they don't exist.

Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Ken Kifer is dead; the victim of hit-and-run.

Tim said...

Because this post touched off such a debate, I'd just like to clarify my original point:

Every time gas prices go up, I see more newbies riding bikes to work along my regular route. I believe that's a good thing.

I'm not living in a fantasy world. I don't expect millions of Americans to abandon their cars and start pedaling to work. But if I see five, or 10 or 15 people try bike commuting, I take encouragement from it.

More bike commuters is a good thing, period.

As for the argument that cycling is as dangerous as commuting, I'll say only this:

I've crashed bikes more times than I could ever possibly count, and never had an injury that required an overnight stay in a hospital. Show me a live pilot who can say that, and then I'll listen to the argument that aviation and cycling might be comparably dangerous.

Frederick Ingram said...

That is sad news about Ken Kifer, whom I did not know. I looked over his site and saw an awful lot that I agreed with.

Tim, I didn't mean to imply that cycling (in traffic) was AS dangerous as flying, but that they were both inherently dangerous by nature. Anything goes wrong with the bike, you could end up lying in the middle of the a busy street (true story).

I like to see people biking too. Pretending to ignore the dark side of cycling doesn't make it go away. The idealism needs to be balanced with caution.

Anonymous said...

Tim: I would like to apologize for using your blog as a soapbox; I can only hope that you at least partially approve of my sentiments. Somehow, I got distracted from my original purpose, which was to say: Amen, brother! I'm right there with you. Cry Havoc! and let slip the newbies of spring! I'll be happy dodging them, I'll give them advice if they really want it, and I may even stop to help them fix a flat, if the mood strikes me. It wouldn't be the first time. Val

Tim said...

No worries, Val. Sparking a little debate is never a bad thing, and I enjoyed your comments.

Bring on the bike commuters!

Amber said...

I'm just upset now because you took my fantasy away from me. I got VERY use to being the only one on the trails on my way to work. Now your telling me once the snow melts and the weather warms up I have to share?

Damn the bad luck.

I guess I'll have to adapt and share.

lemmiwinks said...

Tim: "Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race. ~ H.G. Wells"