Thursday, 25 October 2012


After the many incidents in the past few weeks of honking (whether well intentioned or not) I've decided to (reluctantly) start using an Airzound horn again.

I attached one to my bike on my old commute, but the honking incidents were so rare that I never once used it, so I removed it. But since September I've had four or five incidents of honking - mostly friendly "Hey, I'm behind you" toots, but they're still loud enough to frighten the bejeezus out of me, and in every case, I've seen these idiots well before they decided to use their horn.

With the weekly incidents of honking and the fact that the occasional driver still tries to squeeze by me even when I'm controlling the lane, I need some way of sending a message and venting my frustration so that I don't have a heart attack before I'm 60.

Today I was shocked by yet another motorist who appeared in my mirror 100 yards away and as soon as he was 20 yards away, she gives me a friendly 'toot' which (once more) makes me nearly jump out of my skin. I need a way to let these bozos know that it's not alright to do that, and I think the Airzound is it.

I wish these morons would just read their driver's manual.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Aggression In Its Most Elegant Form?

Am I the only one who finds this ad offensive?

Okay, I've been on a bit of an anti-car crusade recently, probably because I've had a spate of incidents with motorists honking, revving their engines, passing too closely and generally behaving dangerously on my commute. And maybe ads like these are part of the reason for such behavior.

The subtext, as I see it: "Buy an Acura, and you have our permission to act like a fricken maniac on the road."

And this campaign was awarded Best Luxury Campaign by the Nielsen Automotive Advertising Awards.

I'm sure this car sold by the thousands. But as far as I'm concerned, this is a disgusting ad and it's only matched in douchebaggery by the auto dealers who continue to use it to sell Acuras.

One blogger (a marketing guy) has noticed.

One cycling blogger has noticed.

Yet there's been no criticism in the mainstream that I've seen, and what criticism there is on cycling sites has often been attacked as being an overreaction. Could that be because 90% of the population (and the vast majority of cyclists) drive, so they are drinking the Kool-Aid and don't see the problem?

Where's the disconnect? Is there a disconnect? Am I overreacting?

Then there's the ad that (I think) made its debut at the 2012 Olympics in which a motorist is driving a Cadillac like a fricken nutcase through a bunch of tunnels on a winding and very scary road (the Guoliang Road Tunnel in China). I can't find the actual ad, but here's an ad for the ad. The ad is far scarier:

What if a cyclist, a pedestrian, or indeed another car, were on that road?

Here's a video of a real life drive through the tunnel. There's quite a difference in speed when you know you don't have the road to yourself and you have to act responsibly. Also, notice the nutcase honking his horn because he wants to drive like a maniac (i.e. 5-10mph faster). Maybe he's seen the Cadillac ad:

Here's another video showing how the tunnel is driven in real life:

And then there's this:

I mean, WTF? The arrogance of the grin on that guy's face when (supposedly - I think the stunt is CGI) he's done a loop that ought to be regarded by any sane person as suicidal says everything.

I find the level of irresponsibility in these ads astonishing. It seems to me there is a deeply ingrained culture of profligacy in the motoring community that is reflected in automobile marketing campaigns. Arrogance, aggression and dangerous driving all seem to be 'en vogue' for motorists at the moment.

Do these things not bother anyone else? Are people who don't own a car the only ones who care about this stuff? Do these ads bother the cyclists who also drive?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Why Do We Glorify Cyclists and Scorn Motorists.

...because no one else will.

In a recent post on a cycling blog, someone said that people spend too much time and energy glorifying cyclists and scorning motorists.

I'm not sure that's true.

After all, there is something to be said for glorifying cyclists. Cycling does have a certain refreshing iconoclasm to it. In the US especially, it represents a kind of new frontier of independence and rugged individualism in a culture that has always secretly despised all those things even as it pretends to be defined by them. Essentially, in a world in which nothing has come along in 35 years to seriously disturb the status quo, cycling is the new Punk.

I don't have much patience for those who claim the bicycle is a one-stop utopia machine, but it certainly has a lot going for it compared with motorized alternatives in terms of its low environmental impact and its potential health benefits.

And what of the automobile and its acolytes?

Well, I think driving a car is very clearly a bad thing. Driving causes severe pollution problems, motorists kill a million people per year worldwide and injure millions more (because most motorists are incompetent). Driving makes cities and roadways stink, it creates a constant background roar that (if you stop for a minute and 'try' to listen to nature) can be heard anywhere within a mile or two of a moderately busy road. Finally, cars create in their users a sense of entitlement - of ownership of what is by rights a public space. How is any of that not bad? How is it not worth scorn?

And here in the US motorists are parasites. They get subsidized gasoline, they get specialized facilities like interstate highways paid for out of general taxation, motorized traffic flow is given priority on every road, motorists are provided with free parking spaces on public roads and in government buildings and businesses, and what do pedestrians and cyclists get in return? A few poorly designed pedestrian facilities, a few dangerously designed bike lanes and never enough bicycle parking. Oh, and 30,000 deaths per year in the US alone, pollution, stench, noise, bullying on the roads, overbearing motorist arrogance, a gross sense of motorist entitlement. Does that sound like a good deal? Maybe to a motorist, but not to me.

I don’t think for a moment that the freedom to drive an automobile is worth the cost in lives or the cost to the environment. The car, thanks to its immense popularity, has become a ubiquitous horror - a frightening presence on the road, a disgusting blight on the environment and on our health. Surely everyone recognizes that freedom from being run over and killed, freedom to breathe fresh air and freedom to enjoy peace and quiet are things we should work towards achieving. But a veritable internal combustion pandemic prevents any of that from happening.

And let's face facts: motoring is no longer cool or individualistic - it no longer inspires independence of spirit, as it used to do when car ownership was somewhat rare. Driving a car used to be special, but now anyone can do it - worse - everyone is expected to do it. Not only is motoring not special - it's boring! Despite the best efforts of marketing companies to make it appear cool, the car has become the modern equivalent of the pocket protector (if anyone had ever been foolish enough to make a pocket protector that emitted enough fumes to make a person gag).

The automobile 'was' a part of the new frontier back in the early 20th Century. Its invention was a revolution, but like so many revolutions, it eventually got stale and staid. It had its 15 minutes of fame but like so many celebrities past their prime, it outstayed its welcome. It just wouldn't get off the stage, and when something gets that annoying, people start to look at it more critically, and let's face it, the car (and motorists) do leave something to be desired. When people in the 'ingroup' kill so many people, when they habitually show no remorse for their victims, when they act so shamefully, when they actively lobby against efforts to curb their abuses, and when pro-car bias is so profound in society that a pedestrian can be convicted of vehicular homicide when a car kills one of her family, it kinda leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those of us in the 'outgroup'. If motorists would stop the killings, stop the polluting and take their responsibilities a bit more seriously, then maybe they would deserve a bit less scorn.

And if we poll motorists, we find half of them don't even like to drive! Even they find it boring, frustrating, distasteful. But they are like abused spouses - they keep coming back to their cars because they just can't imagine life any other way. The love affair was bound to end at some point. I'm just surprised the honeymoon lasted so long.

One thing is certain - when the last car finally goes the way of the dinosaur and if we ever get our natural world back again, a lot of people will breathe a monumental sigh of relief, and for the first time since the age of the automobile began, they won't risk choking as they draw in the air necessary to breathe that sigh.

In the meantime, at the very least, motorists deserve scorn. To be honest, it disappoints me that they don't get a lot worse than that. They should be publicly shamed. I don't scorn motorists. Scorn requires a particle of humor - it requires me to laugh (at least inwardly) at them, and I can't raise even a smirk. I despise them, I can barely tolerate them, and I feel ashamed that I am so inured to them that I no longer have the internal sensitivity to be physically sickened by them.

And I have to admit that there's an irony there, because I often get into my wife's car far too willingly. The thing is, while cars are disgusting and contemptible, they are also convenient and (in the words of John Lydon) I'm a lazy sod. But if my wife's car was gone, I certainly wouldn't miss it, which is why I've asked her, on a number of occasions, to get rid of the damned thing.

One more thing. When I was searching for an image to use for this blog, I was surprised by the number of photos of burning cars during riots. maybe it's just that cars are easy targets. Or could there be a deeper motivation lurking there?

And to the motorists, I think John Lydon might have said it best:

"There's no future, no future,
No future for you."

 And to the car: what is it I want you to do?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Maryland Driver's Manual - Dammit! It's Not Rocket Science.

Honked at again today by some imbecile. I was actually in what we Britons call 'secondary' position, inviting the driver to pass, but apparently the driver still wasn't sure her SUV's massive frame could fit through the extra-massive gap I left for her and she gave me a pretty loud honk, which was startling to say the least. So, for safety's sake, since the horn had alerted me to the potential danger of this motorist's poor driving ability and her lack of knowledge of the Maryland Driver's Manual, which says, "As you approach a bicyclist, slow down. Avoid honking your horn. Bicyclists can usually hear an approaching vehicle and loud noises can startle bicyclists, causing a crash", I glanced back, gave her the appropriate look of scorn, made sure it was clear to take the lane, then dutifully closed the gap so she had to wait behind me longer. I am damned if I'm going to let people pass me when they insist on showing me that they are a completely incompetent drooling moron.

The Maryland Driver's Manual is surely not a complex or difficult to understand document. It only devotes a few paragraphs to cycling, and one would think even the most stupid motorists could manage to read, understand and put these into practice, but apparently it is too much for many of them.

For any motorist here in Silver Spring or in Maryland who happens to run across this, and who is clueless as to what their responsibilities are when they see a cyclist on the road, here is the entirety of what Maryland's Driver's Manual has to say about bicycles:

F. Bicycles 

By Maryland law, bicycles are vehicles. Bicyclists are authorized users of the roadway, and have rights-of-way and the same duty to obey all traffic signals as motorists. But bicyclists are less visible, quieter, and don’t have a protective barrier around them. Motorists must drive carefully near bicyclists: even a slight mistake can result in serious injury or even death. 

Expect Bicyclists on the Road
Expect to find a bicyclist on all types of roads (except interstate highways and toll facilities), at all intersections and roundabouts, in all types of weather, and at all times of the day and night. Bicyclists may ride out in the travel lane for their own safety due to narrow roads, or to avoid obstacles or pavement hazards. On roads without shoulders, or with cars parked along the right side,often the safest place for a bicyclist to ride is in the center of the lane. In Maryland, a bicyclist may use the full lane even while traveling substantially below the speed of traffic if the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass a bicycle within the lane). Before opening a car door, check for bicyclists who may be approaching from behind. 

Following a Bicyclist
As you approach a bicyclist, slow down. Avoid honking your horn. Bicyclists can usually hear an approaching vehicle and loud noises can startle bicyclists, causing a crash. Bicycles do not have turn signals so bicyclists use hand and arm signals to alert you of their intentions.

Do not follow a bicycle too closely. Remember that small holes, glass, and other hazards can be particularly dangerous to bicyclists. Bicycles can stop and maneuver quickly so a bicyclist may swerve or change speed to avoid a road hazard that a motorist cannot see.

Pass with Care -- Give Bikes at Least 3 Feet
Pass a bicyclist as you would any slowly moving vehicle. Be prepared to slow down, wait until oncoming traffic is clear and then allow at least 3 feet of clearance between your car and the bicyclist when passing. The same 3-foot clearance applies if you are passing a bicyclist in a bike lane, on the shoulder, or in the same lane as your car. After passing a bicyclist, check your mirror to ensure that you have completely passed the bicycle with enough room before you move back to the right.

Use Caution at Intersections, Bridges and Driveways
Always assume that bicyclists are traveling straight through an intersection unless they signal otherwise, and yield to bicycles just as you would to any other vehicle. Bicyclists often ride on sidewalks and trails, so look both ways before crossing a sidewalk or trail. A bicycle may come from an unexpected direction.

Never make a right turn from a through lane immediately after passing a bike on a shoulder or bike lane. Try to avoid any chance that a bicycle will be to your right or in your right blind spot when you turn right. Before starting a right turn, move as far to the right as practicable within the bike lane, shoulder, or right turn lane.

Yield to bicycles as to any other vehicle proceeding straight. Do not turn left immediately in front of a bicycle. Experienced bicyclists often ride very fast (as fast as 35 mph!) and may be closer than you think. If you are passing a left-turning vehicle by moving right, first look closely for bicycles. Wherever a travel way narrows for a bridge, parked cars, or other obstructions on the right, be prepared for a bicyclist riding on the shoulder to merge left into the main traffic lane.

Driving at Night
If you see a dim reflective object at night do not assume that it is outside of the roadway. It could be a bicycle in the main travel lane. Bicyclists sometimes avoid shoulders at night when cars are not present because tree branches, potholes, debris, and even the edge of the pavement are difficult to see. Your headlights may provide enough light for the bicyclist to safely move into the shoulder for you to pass, but it takes longer at night. When approaching a bicycle, use your low beam headlights.

Watch for Children
Children on bicycles are sometimes unpredictable. Expect the unexpected and remember they are small in stature and may be hard to see. Young bicyclists are especially likely to make surprising changes in direction. Be aware of bicyclists entering the roadway from driveways or near parked cars. Strictly observe speed limits in school zones and in residential areas to allow time to see, and safely share the road with, young bicyclists.

Like I say, it's not hard.

Honestly, 25 years ago, I would be responding to this sort of stuff by adding a fricken sledgehammer to my pannier, so I could do a little subtle remodeling of these assholes' cars. They should be glad that age and familial responsibilities have mellowed my outlook a little.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

London Cycling Accident Statistics

Recently, London mayor Boris Johnson has had to backpedal (no pun intended) on cycling statistics.

The article is well worth reading, I think. Some highlights:

"London mayor's claim that two-thirds of bad cycling accidents were due to cyclist law-breaking is proved to be utterly false. Where's the apology?"

"TfL... figures show that in accidents were a cyclist was killed or badly hurt the cyclist was presumed to have committed an offence in just 6% of cases. The vehicle driver was assumed to have done so 56% of the time while 39% of the time it wasn't clear."

"Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they're also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that... views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile.... It's easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked... : vegetarians, for example."

To see a statistic that shows cyclists are almost 1/10th as much to blame for serious crashes as motorists - well, it's a shocking statistic to say the least.

What can we in the US learn from this? Well, unless London cyclists are incredibly careful and law-abiding, unless London drivers are unusually bad, or unless London's police are biased towards cyclists (none of which I believe for a second because, having lived and cycled in London, I've had experience with all three), it suggests to me that the general consensus among cyclists here in the US - that fault in collisions is split pretty much evenly between cyclists and motorists - might need closer scrutiny.

For a while now, it's seemed quite clear to me that there's a lot of 'outgroup'-fueled anti-cyclist and pro-motorist bias in the US legal system and even in the system that produces crash studies, but until now I hadn't seen any evidence to suggest that my opinion might have some validity. I think perhaps the difference in the statistics between the US and the UK might have to do with the fact that, in the UK, 'SMIDSY' (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) is much more likely to be regarded as evidence of motorist fault than it is here in the US. I think that needs to change in the US - when a motorist hits another road user and then claims he didn't see him, that is not an excuse - it's an admission of guilt.