Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The "anti-unsafe-pass wobble"

That's what I call it anyway. Not something I like to do every day.

Today, cycling with my daughter in front of me (in much the same situation as is shown in the image above), a car was approaching and pretty clearly moving to overtake, but way too closely even though there was an open lane to the left. In a situation like this, controlling the lane doesn't do the trick - he's hell-bent on leaving us a few inches. Sure, if he does it, I have room to move right, but I don't want him to make me do that, and my daughter may not have seen him.

So before he gets too close I do a quick 2ft jink left - just enough to make him think twice. I've found that if I do this, motorists either give me a lot more room or they slow down and stay behind me. Today, the latter is what happened.

Not sure if it's accepted procedure among the vehicular cycling cognoscenti, but I find it works and is safer than letting them pass too closely.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cletus Asks Cyclists #5


"Another cyclist dead in London, when will these cyclists learn to obey the law and rules on the road?"

My response (note that the question was asked in the UK, so I've used British rather than US spelling):

Thanks for the opportunity to shed some light on this issue. Troll posts like this reflect common prejudices and ignorance, so I think it's actually a good thing when such posts are made, as they help us to educate those who hold these common prejudices and false beliefs.

Cyclists obey the law with about the same frequency that motorists do. The difference is, scofflaw cyclists are not driving a 2-ton chunk of metal incompetently at speeds of over 30mph. Studies show that scofflaw cycling is not the primary cause of collisions - distracted and incompetent driving is. According to a 2009 UK Department for Transport report, "‘Failed to look properly’ was attributed to the car drivers in 57% of serious collisions." (see first link below). This is not only the case in the UK: according to a report of bicycle collisions in New York City, "Traffic-law violations by motorists are the main cause of fatal bicyclist accidents in New York City." (see second link below).

Most cyclists killed on the roads are killed while they are cycling perfectly legally. In fact, the mistakes cyclists make that get them killed are usually made because the cyclists are trying to stay out of motorists' way. If cyclists would take control of the lane rather than riding close to the kerb or avoiding the road entirely and cycling on the footpath or in a bike lane or path (where they are less visible to other road users), they would be seen more easily and thereby avoid being hit by distracted drivers.

Unfortunately, the vehicular cycling strategies that help cyclists ride more safely and avoid collisions on the road are not taught in the world of populist cycling advocacy, and are in fact derided by many cyclists, who ironically (and suicidally) believe that staying out of the way of cars is safer than asserting their right to the road and riding more visibly.

Right now, cycling advocacy seems to be focused on bike lanes and getting more bums on saddles. Safety comes a distant 3rd to these issues. Unfortunately, I fear many more cyclists will need to die before cycling safety becomes a true priority in the populist cycling movement.


 Collisions Involving Cyclists on Britain’s Roads: Establishing the Causes

THE ONLY GOOD CYCLIST: NYC Bicycle Fatalities —Who’s Responsible?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Levi's "Commuter" Jeans Review

Recently, Levi's came out with a pattern of jeans specifically made for commuter cycling. The "commuter" has the following attributes:

3M Scotchlite reflective fabric tape on cuffs for increased visibility in the dark.
NanoSphere treatment for water- and dirt-resistance.
Sanitized tech, an anti-microbial coating, for protection against odor.
A raised back for increased butt coverage.
A reinforced crotch.
Double layered back pockets.
A U-lock storage system.
Hidden cellphone pocket.

I've been toying with buying a pair of these "commuter" jeans, but the review at Bikehacks.com started to give me second thoughts. When I looked at the product critically, I have a few more issues to add into the mix.

The raised back is, in my view, a good feature. It's there for the same reason motorcycle jackets and pants have increased coverage at the back - in both motorcycling and cycling, the riding position is one in which we're bent over, so we are more exposed in that area without it.

The reinforced crotch is also there for obvious reasons of increased wear and tear. Not sure about the reinforced back pockets or the hidden cellphone pocket, but as I see it, they don't detract from the product, so why not.

But in terms of the other features, I have no idea what kind of cyclists Levi's spoke with in the planning stages of this product, but in my view, Levi's should have consulted more all-weather commuter cyclists. Then they might have learned a lot more about the realities and the requirements of cyclists. For example:

1. Why did they choose to avoid wool?. I'm a big advocate for wool for cycling (I think with good reason), and as I see it, making the jeans from a nice comfort-oriented Merino wool blend would remove the requirement for both the water-repellant and the anti-microbial coatings, because wool retains its warmth and comfort even when wet AND the lanolin in the fibers repels water, resists microbes and prevents smell. Also, wool naturally breathes well and moderates temperature in both hot and cold conditions. Levi's have been experimenting with wool jeans, so it's a little frustrating that they haven't seen the possibilities of wool in terms of cycling.

2. Levi's should have kept the leg opening the same as regular 511s. Unfortunately, because Levi's widened the leg opening from the standard 511 width of 14 1/2 inches to an opening of 16 inches, it forces cyclists who wear these jeans to either use bike clips or roll up the jeans above the level of the chainring. If the leg opening was a proper 511 width of 14 1/2", neither of these would be necessary. I wear regular 511s to commute on my bike and in my experience, you simply don't need to roll them up: because they hug the calf, they stay about an inch away from my chainring. I don't know why Levi's made the decision to widen the leg openings on these jeans from the regular 511 size - it seems to me to ruin the biggest advantage of 511s when cycling - i.e. not needing to roll them up above the level of the chainring.

3. If Levis are going to include a bike lock attachment feature, I think it should be easily accessible, either on the thigh or on the side. Placing it on the back makes it difficult to access. I dunno - I just think there ought to be a better place for it.

As things stand, the only reason I might be tempted to buy these jeans is for the higher rise in the rear of the jeans. This is not enough for me, given the drawbacks of poor design elsewhere and the high price. Hopefully, someone influential at Levi's will see the negative reviews and institute changes, because with a few tweaks these could become a good product that every cyclist might benefit from owning.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

What does 'practicable' mean?

Unfortunately for cyclists, it means different things to different people, and the folks who decide in courts what it means are usually not cyclists. This is, in my view, why we need to remove such weasel words from the law books and allow cyclists to choose a lane position that the CYCLIST HIMSELF - and no one else - judges to be safe. In other words, allow the cyclist the same lane position rights that every other road user enjoys.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK and in the Commonwealth. On this day, I like to spend a little while thinking about members of my family who died in the wars of the 20th Century. Today, I'd like to remember my 1st cousin twice removed Nicholas Surtees.

Nicholas Surtees was the son of Nicholas and Catherine (nee Harkes) Surtees. He was born in South Hylton, County Durham, England in September 1890. His father worked in a shipyard as a caulker. By 1911, Nicholas had joined his father as a ship caulker.

The Great War

After the Great War began, Nicholas Surtees was probably conscripted under the Military Service Act, sometime after March 1916.

In June, Nicholas married Eliza Priscilla Thaxter. Their son, also called Nicholas, was born the following August. At this time, the family was living in a row house at 9 Rosalie Terrace, Hendon, a suburb of Sunderland.

Nicholas was called up and initially trained with the Northumberland Fusiliers with the Service Number 5/40387. However, he was sent to France in November 1917 as a Private in the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with the Service Number 35815. At some point Nicholas was moved on to the 9th (Service) Battalion and then, in the summer of 1918, to the 1st Battalion.

From 15 July 1918 Nicholas' battalion was attached to151st Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division. This division was being reconstituted after the battles of the spring and summer. It took the field in October and took part in the final advance in Picardy.

German resistance was falling away. Unprecedented numbers of prisoners were taken in the Battle of the Selle, and a new attack was quickly prepared. The French First Army and the British First, Third, and Fourth Armies were tasked with advancing from south of the CondĂ© Canal along a thirty-mile front towards Maubeuge-Mons, threatening Namur. Together with the American forces breaking out of the forests of Argonne, this would, if successful, disrupt the German efforts to reform a shortened defensive line along the Meuse. 

Battle of the Sambre

At dawn on November 4, 17 British and 11 French divisions headed the attack. The Tank Corps, its resources badly stretched, could provide only 37 tanks for support.

Despite heavy casualties, the battle objectives were reached on the 4th or the following day. The successful attacks resulted in a bridgehead almost fifty miles long being made, to a depth of two to three miles deep.

The 1st battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry war diary for 4 November describes the day as follows:

Bousies: 05.15. Battalion “stood to”.

07.45: marched to a point in the neighbourhood of Fontaine-au-Bois.

10.30: the battalion was ordered to pass through the 150th Infantry Brigade who had attained their objective in the Foret de Mormal. The battalion moved by the Route de Fontaine through the forest, meeting a considerable amount of opposition from enemy machine gun fire. The enemy retired in front of the battalion until dark to a post in the vicinity of Rue du Pont Routier have dug in for the night.

Nicholas Surtees was killed on this day in the same battle and on the same day as Wilfred Owen, just a week before the Armistice was signed, Nicholas's body was never found. He is commemorated on panel 8 of the Vis en Artois Memorial to the Missing.

From this point, the northern Allies advanced relentlessly, sometimes more than five miles a day, until the Armistice Line of November 11.

A War Office telegram would have advised the family that Nicholas was missing, soon after the event. 


Nicholas’ medals would have been sent to his family after the war. The next of kin would also have been sent an illuminated scroll and bronze plaque (the “death penny”) after the war.

Nicholas Surtees' remains are likely to remain to this day in the Foret de Mormal although it is possible that he lies in one of the military cemeteries in the area, marked only as an unknown soldier.

Campaign Medals

Nicholas Surtees was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  Inscribed on his medals should be the following:


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 
We will remember them.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Cletus Asks Cyclists #4

Why are bicyclists so selfish?

Not everyone who bicycles is this selfish, but some are and really need to read this!
I live on a two lane highway with no shoulder AT ALL yet people come from all over to ride on it because it's a beautiful, scenic place. I have numerous times had to put my truck in the ditch because a logging truck was in the other lane and the bicyclist was just pedalling away in the middle of my lane. Bicyclists should ride responsively! It just plain rude and dangerous to ride on this kind of road- dangerous for drivers' as well as the bicycle. Parents: please teach kids to only ride on roads that are appropriate and safe for bicycle traffic.
I'm more than inconvenienced by this- I'm frightened. At the least, I will have expensive repair bills for my truck by flying into ditches. People have already been killed. I'm worried a child will be riding on a bad stretch (in a lot of places, it's big river on one side and steep mountain on the other) and will be killed because a driver can't get out of their way. This is a 70mph road with a lot of big trucks heavily loaded who cannot stop quickly.

My response:

You have "had to put your truck in the ditch because a logging truck was in the other lane and the bicyclist was just pedalling away in the middle of 'your' lane"?

How about instead of acting stupidly, you SLOW DOWN!

The lane is not 'yours'. It's every road user's - including cyclists'. Ownership of the road does not depend on the type of vehicle you choose to use on it. When a cyclist is in front of you, it's technically 'his' lane, by the rule of priority. Didn't you learn this in Driver's Ed before you got your license? You are required by law to slow until it's SAFE to overtake. Attempting to overtake while a logging truck is in the oncoming lane is not safe.

Cyclists use the whole lane when it's not wide enough to share - precisely so that impatient motorists are prevented from overtaking. This is for the cyclist's protection.

The speed limit of the road is irrelevant: if cyclists are allowed on it, they have every right to take measures to increase their safety - one of these is taking a central position in the lane - this makes the cyclist as visible as possible to other road users and prevents unsafe passes. Besides, the speed limit is an upper limit, not a target speed. Speeds are limited by the vehicle in front - another thing you should have learned in Driver's Ed.

For your sake (and for the sake of all the road users who might be unfortunate enough to be using the road around you), read and commit to memory your Driver's Handbook. The rules are in there. It's not rocket science.

By the way, if trucks cannot stop quickly, they should modify their speed so that they are following the vehicle in front at a safe distance so that they have room to stop in an emergency - this is a legal requirement.

The post and all the responses, good and bad, were at Yahoo Answers but as is often the case with questions like this, it was deleted, presumably by the person who posted it. I'm guessing this happens because the questioner either is getting too many answers he doesn't like, or (less likely) he realizes his question/rant makes him look ignorant.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Thought for the Day

Motorists: just do what's expected of you, A.K.A. "Don't fuck around".

Today as I was riding home, a car pulls out of a driveway to my front left and backs out towards me. Nothing wrong with that - perfectly normal. I'm 100 yards away and the driver has plenty of space to complete his/her turn. There are no other vehicles or pedestrians around. I ride up behind, slow down and wait for the driver to complete the maneuver.

Then the driver sees me and, presumably, panics.

Instead of just completing the turn and going forward, he or she pulls into the oncoming traffic lane and just stops. All that was needed was for him or her to apply gasoline and go, but no. Now I'm presented with a situation that is not a part of normal road usage. Do I stop and wait? Do I overtake on the right - moving into the blind spot of a car whose owner clearly wants to move forward into my lane? Maybe this bozo is on a cellphone, in which case anything could happen.

Eventually, I rode past, very carefully on his/her right, and sure enough, the motorist pulls into the lane behind me. The motorist was waiting for me, because as every motorist knows, acting stupid out of some panicked sense of courtesy is precisely what a cyclist wants to see motorists do.

If I stop for you, I'm fricken waiting for you to go. I am not waiting for you to stop to let me go.

Trust me, motorists, I already think you're incompetent. You don't need to prove it to me every single day. Give some days a miss, okay?

I mean, am I crazy, or should the road be simpler than this?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Who's Crazy?

Although we were called 'crazy' yesterday for cycling in the rain, my daughter had an absolute blast cycling home in the torrential rain this afternoon. At the first crack of thunder, she yelled 'Woo-hoo!' at the prospect of cycling in a thunderstorm (but that one rumble was all we got). Cycling through what she called 'flash floods' (3-4 inch deep rivers of rainwater), and past what she called 'waterfalls' at every storm drain made her day. She turned our neighborhood streets into an imaginary rainforest.

Yeah, every bit of us that wasn't covered with a rain cape got soaked. But we
had an adventure.

And most cyclists actually avoid cycling in 'bad' weather. That's what I call

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Chuckin' it dahn

On this morning's commute to my daughter's school one of the other parents called us crazy for cycling in this weather - it was, as we Yorkshire folk say, "chuckin' it dahn" (raining really hard). Still is, actually. Probably will be for the rest of the week and next week too according to the forecast. And I'll be out there actually experiencing it every day, unlike 99.9% of the folks around me, who are apparently afraid to get a bit wet. Why? Because when I get an excuse to experience real actual life on this Earth, rather than sitting in the dead, dull, sterile and uninspiring air conditioned environment that we've built everywhere for ourselves, I take it.

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to tell the parent who called us crazy that I thought she and all the other parents are crazy for NOT cycling to school. Life is for living - it should be an adventure, and adventures sometimes involve doing stuff that isn't all that comfortable. There's weather out there in all its glory, and it's at its best when it's experienced at first-hand, with (at most) a rain cape, not through a car windscreen.

Not that I don't like comfort - I do - too much. And so does pretty much everyone else. But unlike most folks I realized that our desire for comfort is not all that healthy. So I denied myself one comfort - just one - the automobile. Never learned to drive, never will, because occasionally we need to live life rather than sleep through it.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Thought for the Day.

Motorists, if I'm traveling at 25mph on a road with a 25mph speed limit, you don't 'have' to overtake me. You'll arrive at a road with a higher speed limit soon enough. Then you'll be able to overtake me without looking like a total wanker.

But if you do decide to overtake me, for goodness sake COMMIT! Don't pussyfoot around wondering if you should accelerate while you drive next to me in the oncoming traffic lane for ten seconds. Call me crazy, but I've heard that the oncoming traffic lane can contain oncoming traffic.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

GTA V, Cycling and Ethics.

As an avid gamer, I went out and bought GTA V the day it appeared on game store shelves. In my opinion, this is the best of the series so far - and it features cycling (yay!), so I have an excuse to do a blog post about it. So let's get the cycling bit out of the way before moving on to the more juicy stuff.

For those of us who might want to see how far the game can be pushed into being a cycling simulation, the game suffers from the same major problem that the game's cars suffer from - twitchy steering. It takes a while to get used to. Also, there are no gears, but it's not really a problem - going up hills is just slower. Riding itself, which involves pressing a single button over and over again like a maniac (to simulate pedaling) can get tiring.

In terms of bikes, you get the choice of a couple of variations on mountain bikes, a few racing bikes, or a cruiser. So far I haven't seen a touring bike (shame!) or a BMX. Oh well, you can't have everything.

In terms of places to ride, only a few of the game's side missions involve cycling. But there are lots of places to cycle. The game takes place in 'Los Santos' - GTA's version of Los Angeles and the surrounding countryside, so you get cityscapes, mountains and rural areas to cycle in. The mountain biking potential would seem to be a good chance to enjoy cycling in the game - there are a lot of areas that would be fun for the mountain bike enthusiast. The problem is, I'm not sure that there are bikes available at the top of good mountain bike routes - you'd probably have to cycle out to the good places.

One area of the game that really does focus on cycling is the triathlon side missions. These are fun and have good replay value - but there are not all that many of them.

All-in-all, the game gives us cycling that's just a bit more than an afterthought (and given the fact that there's no other cycling game out there I guess that's pretty good). Cycling can be done in the game, but it's a bit tedious and not all that rewarding. But it can be fun for a while, and hey, at least it's there.

I've also been interested to see how the usual videogame blame game develops after the game's release. It is, after all, the latest iteration of the series that is considered by anti-gaming activists 'Public Enemy #1'. So far, the standard straw man arguments are appearing - boiled down, they amount to "The ability to murder virtual prostitutes is WROWWWWNNNNGG and will turn 10 year-olds into violent psychopaths". The fact that the game's prostitutes are game code and not real, the fact that the game is rated 'M', meaning that parents are warned that it might not be appropriate for kids, and the fact that real life crime statistics have dropped like a stone since videogaming became a popular form of entertainment, apparently count for nothing.

Contrary to the way videogame detractors see these games, I have a bit of a different perspective, in that I've actually played every GTA game since GTA II: Vice City. So I know all about how the game approaches ethical questions, and it's a bit more complex than the critics seem willing to admit.

For instance, I think GTA V does a great job of allowing players to experiment with how they would handle certain ethical situations. Sure, players 'can' engage in all sorts of virtual immoral acts, up to and including mass murder. But do they? In my experience seeing people play the answer is most often "No". In my case, what I notice is that even given the ability to kill without consequence in a game where nothing is real, I choose NOT to do so unless severely provoked. I'm NOT going around killing lots of people for fun. In fact, I try to avoid doing so unless someone does me harm. I may drive way too fast, but I'm not purposefully ploughing down pedestrians on the sidewalk. I think many players do the same - acting in ways that would be seen as dangerous in the real world, but not actively trying to do harm to the game's innocent civilians.

So I think maybe the game's detractors are looking at this the wrong way - instead of looking at what's possible and criticizing it, they should be looking at what's really happening with players in the game - I think they might be surprised at how often we bring our real life ethics into these games, and at how invincible our personal ethics are when assailed by a virtual world filled with the potential for mayhem in a consequence-free environment.

And when we are forced to participate in scenes where our characters do bad things - GTA V's infamous torture scene, for example - the game makes it pretty clear that being unethical is stupid. Even Trevor, the game's complete psycho, understands this and explains at length to the corrupt FIB (FBI) officer who is forcing him to perform the torture. Far from being a game that plumbs the vicious depths of an amoral virtual reality, GTA V has a strong moral core. While you 'can' and sometimes 'must' make your characters do things that are not nice, the game helps players to understand WHY unethical behavior is counter-productive.

I have now reached the end of the game. The major characters go through some moral turmoil and the game's finale involves an interesting ethical choice. I'm not going to spoil the ending in case anyone reading this is a gamer, but I was happy to see a game present the player with a lot more than the usual "These are obviously really bad people, now kill them". While the GTA series is often accused of 'Mother Night' syndrome - i.e. blurring the line between satirizing bigotry and engaging in it, the latest version gives players a lot more to think about than the average shooter.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Should Cyclists Be Licensed?

As a cycling advocate, I often see the argument made by motorists that cyclists should be licensed, taxed, forced to buy insurance, etc. I try to take this in my stride - motorists see a cyclist using the road and they assume that because motorists are licensed, taxed and insured, fairness demands that cyclists should be too, despite the fact that cyclists rarely kill or cause serious damage to other road users, and despite the fact that cyclists rarely damage other people's property or the road surface.

But it kinda irks me when many of my fellow cycling advocates respond with the argument "But most cyclists ARE licensed", as if the whole idea that cyclists should be licensed is a valid argument.

I have never owned a driver's license. Should I stay off the road? In arguing that most cyclists have a driver's license, cycling advocates are in effect conceding the point that cyclists should be licensed before they use the road. This is nonsense - everyone has the right to use the road, whether they are licensed, taxed, insured, or not! Roads are a public facility, built for all, not just for an elite few (or even an elite many).

People who meet certain requirements have merely the privilege - not the right - of using a motor vehicle on the road. Motorists are licensed and insured because, while operating their vehicles, they have proven over the last century to be routinely deadly to other road users. Motorists cause a million deaths per year worldwide and when there is a collision, a motor vehicle can do lots of damage to property. Mandatory licensing for motorists came into effect in the early 20th Century, not due to a general push to license road users, but due to the mass carnage that motorists - motorists specifically - caused on the road: it was an attempt to prevent deaths by forcing motorists to achieve a very basic level of competence. Clearly, considering that the death toll on the roads has continued to increase decade by decade, it did not work (not that I'd advocate removing the requirement - I'm sure it does some good).

Motorists are taxed because their vehicles weigh 2 tons or more and they do an enormous amount of attrition damage to the road surface, resulting in high maintenance costs. Cyclists do very little damage to road surfaces, and the damage they do is covered by their contributions to the general tax fund.

If ever cyclists cause even a hundredth of the deaths and damage on the road that motorists cause, maybe that might be the time to discuss licensing, insurance and a higher tax burden. Until then, I believe we cyclists should not concede an inch on this issue while we occupy the moral high ground.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

German National Cycling Plan

Carlton Reid, of Roads Were Not Built for Cars fame, has posted the German National Cycling plan.

Interesting read. I've skimmed it so far. Mostly it's a lot of vague promises of improvements. Two things stood out for me:

1. As far as I could see, there was no mention whatsoever of the inherent danger of segregated bicycle facilities.

2. It seems there are no plans to phase out the mandatory use laws regarding segregated facilities - at least, the document doesn't mention any.

So German cyclists are still mired in their government's outdated segregationist thinking, despite the fact that Germans have been well aware of the problems inherent to segregated bicycle facilities for over 25 years.

The German rules of the road are laid out in English at the US Army Schweinfurt's Installation Safety Office website. I find it interesting that they state quite clearly the problems of segregated facilities:
"The mandatory-use requirement is troubling, because it is generally more dangerous to ride on side lanes than in the streets. This is especially true of side lanes on the left side of the street, where the crash risk is nearly twelve times as high."
Maybe the US Army could pass that bit of wisdom along to transportation officials in the US. Maybe they could also do a bit of Deutsche-Amerikanische Freundschaft and pass it along to German transportation officials too, because obviously they don't seem to be listening to German cycling groups.

In short, same old story: transportation officials clueless or incompetent, and cyclists (usually the novice and fearful ones) pay the price in injuries and deaths.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The New American Dream

The American Dream, 20th Century style:

The American Dream, 21st Century style:

Well, okay, maybe the house doesn't have to be quite that small, but you get the picture.

My point is, despite the economic issues that declining energy resources may bring, the future is looking pretty good.


...is coming to your town, and maybe sooner than you might think.

And one thing is certain: it looks, smells, sounds, feels and IS a heck of a lot more attractive than this:

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Shady Grove Access Bike Path Completed - whoop-de-fricken-doo!

According to 'The Paperless Airplane',

"Completion of the Shady Grove Access Bike Path was celebrated by officials, bikers and walkers, alike, because it means there is a safe pathway to the Shady Grove Metro Station for bicyclists and pedestrians and a connection to other area sidewalks and bikeways."

Apparently, getting to the Shady Grove station was 'unsafe' before, though I've never read of a cyclist getting hit there. Also, apparently I'm 'celebrating' right now, though since I know that such facilities are unsafe, I'm actually quite concerned that the new cycling facility will cause more accidents.

Cyclists should be aware that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) ‘Guide for the development of bicycle facilities’... cautions against building two-way paths along, but physically separated from, a parallel road. AASHTO states that sidewalk bikeways are unsafe and implies the same about shared-use paths parallel to roads, listing numerous safety concerns and permitting their use only in special situations.

I'm not sure how bike tracks like this continue to be installed when everyone who's involved in the process ought to be well aware of the AASHTO guidelines. But they do keep popping up, and cyclists who should know better do keep using them rather than avoiding them like the plague, which is what I do.

Cyclists are usually safer taking a central position in the general traffic lane in situations like these, as is recommended by the Maryland state Driver's Manual (see page 30), which states,

"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)."

The roads around Shady Grove all have two or more lanes in each direction - motorists can easily change lanes to overtake. Or, if there isn't enough room to overtake, they can wait behind the cyclist, as they are required to do by law.

If the problem is that cyclists from Gaithersburg have no access except for the quasi-freeway that is N. Frederick Road, then what's needed is a ROAD, with a 20-25mph speed limit and connected at each end with a standard intersection. We do not need a bike path with fricken pedestrian crossings at each end. A bike is a vehicle, not a toy.

Alternatively, and admittedly this idea might be shocking and appalling to some, but what if we reduced the speed limit on N. Frederick Road, say to 25 to 30mph, so that people don't use it as a raceway and so that all users can feel safe on it.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Law and Order Magazine, July 2013

Just noticed a great post at Bikelounger's site:

Law and Order Magazine: Bicycle Law Enforcement

Brilliant stuff! I wish all police officers knew all of this and kept it in mind during their patrols.

Here's another bulletin by a Florida police officer who understands the reality of what's safe and legal for cyclists:

A Department Bulletin to Help Officers Understand Cyclist Safety and Lane Use

Friday, 19 July 2013

Cycling and Chess?

A weird combination?

Two of my favorite things, cycling and chess are combined in this article about cyclist Tim Krabbé, author of 'The Rider'.

Supposedly, 'The Rider' is one of the classics of cycling literature. I wouldn't know, as racing cycling leaves me cold. Maybe I should read it anyway - maybe it would explain the allure of racing.

Or maybe I should hope that there's some touring cyclist out there who's also a chess geek. Touring is more my style.

Another recent cycling + chess story comes from Russian Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk's website. Apparently, Anatoly Karpov invited players to a game during the 2012 Tour de France. Cool!

Then there's the 'Chess Bike' that was spotted in Bonn in 2008:


Friday, 12 July 2013

This Stuff Makes Me Wonder Why I Bother...


Sometimes I read reports like this and I wonder why I keep going with this cycling advocacy lark. It seems there are so many more depressing stories than there are stories of cycling victories. I wonder whether it might not be a better idea to just ride - that way I might be able to maintain a healthy mindset about cycling, rather than worrying that what I'm doing might result in either me or my daughter being killed by one of these drunk or distracted drivers. Not only that, but it seems that even when cyclists get their day in court, they are met with ubiquitous prejudice on the part of witnesses, jurors, police and judges.

What chance do cyclists have when we can't even gain a conviction for a motorist who killed a cyclist while proven to be drunk behind the wheel?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

League of American Bicyclists Education Videos

Today, the Los Alamos Bike blog featured a link to a set of videos from the League of American Bicyclists. I've watched the videos and although the majority of the videos are good stuff, overall it's a bit of a mixed bag. I think the following videos show practices that all cyclists should find useful:


However, in my opinion, three of the videos encourage questionable cycling practices.

1. http://www.bikeleague.org/content/bike-lanes
The video titled 'Bike Lanes' shows cyclists riding in the door zone and gives the impression that riding in a door zone bike lane is okay, but it isn't. Many bike lanes are of substandard width and the entire lane is often in the door zone. I think such bike lanes should be ignored and cyclists should ride well into the general traffic lane, operating as if the bike lane does not exist. The video skirts this issue instead of giving clear advice to avoid using such lanes.

Note that every bike lane in the video was either a door zone lane, or filled with debris, or the video showed the approach to an intersection where LAB should have advised cyclists to merge left into the general traffic lane to avoid right hooks. Instead, the video advises cyclists to "keep an eye out for drivers approaching from your left" (by which they mean the left rear) - not exactly helpful, as I'm sure many cyclists do this and still get hit. Since motorists often approach from the left rear and then turn without signaling, looking out for them won't exactly help. The right answer is to either ignore the bike lane completely and treat it as a shoulder, or (if we must use it), simply merge into the general traffic lane whenever there's any potential hazard.

In my view, at no point in the video should any of the cyclists have been in those bike lanes. The final scene in the video shows a cyclist merging out of a door zone bike lane for about 3ft, then unsteadily merging back into it -  LAB needs to find some competent cyclists, and they need to be sending a clear message AGAINST the very kinds of lanes they feature in this video.

2. http://www.bikeleague.org/content/riding-sidewalk
Regarding the video 'Riding on the Sidewalk' - I think the League is far too easygoing. If sidewalk cycling is dangerous - and I agree with LAB that it is - then the League should be absolutely against it. Bicycles are not built to operate at pedestrian speeds and doing so makes them far less stable, which means they need wide, empty and unobstructed pathways, which is precisely what sidewalks don't offer. In my opinion, simply sticking to riding the bike on the road is the safest way. My philosophy is this: if my bicycle is being operated on the sidewalk, I'm walking next to it.

3. http://www.bikeleague.org/content/sharing-trail
Then there's the 'Sharing the Trail' video - yuck! In my opinion, a cycling organization should not be mixing itself up in the issue of multi-use trails. I think such trails cannot possibly be used safely by cyclists (for some of the same reasons I mentioned above in reference to sidewalks), and while I do use them when I can't easily avoid it, I wish they would either go away, or be made for pedestrians only, or made wider and for cyclists only. I think it's folly to try to make narrow trails work for both pedestrians and vehicles.

Sorry I can't find the links to make the videos show up here - I will do so when I can figure out how.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Petting an Owl Looks Like Fun.

 So cute!

It might not be a good idea to get too close to that beak though - you might never play the piano again.

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Response to 'In Defense of Cyclist Salmoning'

Jake Dobkin, of The Gothamist, wrote an article that my trusty bicycle news radar picked up today: 

It's an interesting read. Incredibly stupid and liable to get unskilled and naive cyclists killed if they take it seriously, but interesting. First, as a counterpoint to an argument for salmoning that he never actually makes, the author claims that salmoning is suicidal. Then he recounts a story in which he rides against traffic because he's late, gets yelled at by a woman for doing it, then asks said woman why it's too dangerous, she is too angry at him to answer coherently, so I guess he figures she's just ignorant. After all, he can salmon safely - he's done it a few times - it's fine when you're late, if you do it slowly and carefully - and hey, New Yorkers live for danger anyway and (presumably) 'Danger' is Jake Dobkin's middle name.

Now Jake's probably never going to find his way to my little corner of the internet, so I've posted the following to his article's comments section. And I recognize that I'm kinda preaching to the converted here, but that is my stock in trade. What I hope is that other 'Jakes' will come here, find this and maybe it will do some good. So here's my response to all the Jakes.

So, Jake, let's make one thing clear - salmoning is not suicidal - no form of cycling is. Cycling is very safe, no matter how stupidly we choose to do it, though that is no guarantee that even the safest cyclists cannot be hit and/or killed in a collision. No matter what you do, as snake oil salesman Allardyce T Meriweather says in Arthur Penn's great movie 'Little Big Man', "life contains a particle of risk".

Many people ride against traffic all the time and they don't die. They do tend to have lots of accidents though, and a few of them do die - probably 9-12 times more of them die than those of us who travel confidently on those "scary" streets with "hairy traffic" and past "popular corners to die at" where realistically only about 1 in every 10,000 cyclists die. However, salmoning does increase danger - it has been shown in studies to be 9-12 times more dangerous than riding with traffic. So if salmoning cuts your trip length by a factor of 9-12, then I guess it would be arguably just as safe as riding in the street with traffic. The problem is, in most real life cases, salmoning reduces trip length by only a factor of 2-3 - if that.

I don't salmon because I prefer survival, and I prefer to reduce my risk as much as possible, so that I can survive longer and in a healthier state. So far I'm doing okay - 40 years cycling in the road, mostly in big cities and not a collision, not a fall, not even a scratch so far, so I must be doing something right.

The fact is, those cyclists who are liable to salmon are already in the group that is far more likely to be killed while cycling. This group does not understand the real risks of cycling, so they already ride in ways that greatly increase the risk they're taking. These people fear traffic so they try their best to avoid it by riding on the sidewalk (3x more risk than riding in the street, well away from the curb with traffic), by riding on the sidewalk against traffic (6x the risk), by riding in the gutter (2x the risk), etc. No one who seriously considers salmoning rides well into the travel lane to avoid the gutter and the door zone - many probably don't even know what 'door zone' means, and they certainly do not know that the way they fear to ride most - well into the travel lane with cars, fully visible to other road users - is actually safest.

So, Jake, you ride how you want. I admit I don't like seeing news articles about folks like you getting killed, but I recognize that it's your life and you have to make your own mistakes: nothing I've learned, no study I've read, no safe cycling courses I've taken, and nothing I say based on those things can change that. I suspect that everyone has to come to the conclusion that vehicular cycling is best on their own - when experienced cyclists try to tell others about it, they tend to be seen as either elitist or worse.

At some point, Jake, you may come to understand that heavy traffic and the design of a certain intersection are only small parts of what makes it "a popular corner to die at" (as you put it). How you ride through the intersection is the biggest part of the equation that determines whether you survive to get to the other side. Hopefully you'll find that out sooner rather than later, or soon enough rather than too late.

In the meantime, I advise you to always leave for important deadlines on time. If you can't and you're late, ride with traffic on the streets, or walk those wrong-way streets and be late. Is your boss going to kill you if you're late? No. But a motorist might accidentally do so because of your suicidal desire to be early when you failed to start out in time, and if that happens, your boss, your family and friends (and me, as it happens) might not be too happy.

Bicycle Infrastructure Studies

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Cletus Asks Cyclists #3

This question wasn't even up for a day before it was deleted. Still, it was a classic, so...

"let me be clear; I don't mean to offend anyone, but why do cyclists use the road?
- Most of them don't obey the rules of the road (just today, a cyclist almost got hit because he did not stop at a stop sign and give way to the car stopped before).
- they are a real pain for car drivers, cyclists do 20 km/h in a 50 km/h zone, and getting around them is just a hassle and very dangerous for both the cyclists and other drivers.
wouldn't it be safer for everyone if cyclists use sidewalks and just swerved around people using that sidewalk? or, if cyclists wanted to use the road, they should get a license plate on the bicycle and learn to follow the rules of the road and pedal faster. what do you think?"

Hot dang! Cletus has got hisself a car! No more sittin' in the dirt at the drive in!

Poor motorists! It's such a pain to drive a car with cyclists in the way. And what's the deal with having to turn the steering wheel when passing cyclists anyway? If only motorists could all point their cars in the desired direction, then choose their desired speed and just go - life would be so much easier (and shorter).

Cyclists just need to ride on the sidewalk and 'swerve' around pedestrians (sounds REALLY safe). Or they need to get a license plate and pedal faster. Lazy goodfernothins!

Alternatively, Cletus could just get a copy of his state's Driver's Handbook and learn his responsibilities to other road users - stuff he should have learned before he got his driver's license. But who am I kidding? Cletus don't want nothin' to do with all that booklarnin'.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

I'm Getting Tired of This!

We were honked at on the way to school again today by a Taxi driver - a professional driver who one would think should know the rules better than most. We were honked at for taking a central position in a lane that was too narrow to share, which is perfectly legal. The most common problems I see on the road relate to the following:

Many motorists are unaware of...

Maryland Transportation Code § 21-1205. Riding on roadways or on highway.
(a)  Riding to right side of roadway.- Each person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter at a speed less than the speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing on a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable and safe, except when: 
(6) Operating in a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motor scooter and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

Maryland Transportation Code § 21-1209. Throwing object at bicycle, motor scooter, or EPAMD.
(a)  Drivers to exercise due care.- Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, the driver of a vehicle shall: 
(2) When overtaking a bicycle, an EPAMD, or a motor scooter, pass safely at a distance of not less than 3 feet.

Maryland Transportation Code § 22-401. Horns and warning devices.
(b)  When to be used.- The driver of a motor vehicle shall, when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation, give audible warning with his horn, but may not otherwise use the horn when on a highway.

There was no necessity for the taxi driver to use the horn. Nothing bad was happening, UNTIL HE HONKED, at which point I was startled and swerved. The horn caused the danger.

Since this has been an almost daily occurrence over the last few weeks, I made a sign the other day with quotes from the Maryland Driver's Manual:

Showed the sign to the guy today, told him he was supposed to know this stuff. It didn't make any difference. He was using a cellphone to film me as if I were the one breaking the rules! I'm really getting sick of this.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Hassled Again Today

Riding home from my daughter's school, we got hassled again. We were taking the lane approaching a stop light. I usually take a center-left position here in what is a wide lane, to leave room for cars to legally turn right on red, because we go straight through the intersection.

The light that had just turned red when I heard a honk behind me, and then another as we stopped at the light. I pulled back alongside the car and this older guy is motioning that my daughter and I ought to be riding far right or on the sidewalk. It's hard to have a conversation with a man who is afraid to open his window, but I did my best to inform him that we have both the right and the responsibility to be on the road and to take the full lane for safety's sake and to facilitate the movement of right-turning traffic - I mean, heck, in part I'm doing it to be nice for crying out loud! He wasn't having any of it though and he obviously thought that what I was doing was unsafe even though this particular road gets about two cars per minute. I mean what can you do with people like this?

It would be nice to simply be able to cycle on the road without the risk of being hassled by morons.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Cletus Asks Cyclists (part 2)

Here we go again. This time, a question from the UK:

Why is it that some cyclist choose to cycle on the road when there is a cycle lane available for them?
"I am not anti-cyclist as I myself often use a bike as well as car but I cannot fathom why it is some cyclists choose to ride on the road when there is a cycle path made for them. Can anyone think of what their reasons for this might be?"
My answer:
"The road is wider, better maintained and the cyclist is in the general traffic lane, meaning that he's less prone to intersection collisions and passing collisions and has safer and faster access to right turns (left turns outside the UK). I've never understood why so many cyclists prefer a bike lane or a bike path when the option of using the road is more efficient and shown in around 85% of studies to be safer.

Also, you say you're not anti-cyclist, but why would anyone who's "not anti-cyclist" be urging cyclists to use a less safe choice of road position?"

Interestingly, cycling questions on Yahoo Answers are usually asked in one of two categories: 'cycling' or 'cars and transportation'. When the questions are asked in the latter category, the answers are often ignorant, anti-cyclist rants. When they're placed in the 'cycling' category, the answers are often more knowledgeable.

Sunday, 26 May 2013


We found three lovely sky blue robin's eggs in a nest in one of our bushes just outside our front door last week. One of the eggs got stolen on Friday, maybe by a squirrel or another bird. The two remaining chicks hatched on Saturday.

Today (Sunday), when the mother was hunting, we had to chase off a Crow who was paying a bit too much attention to the nest area. Strangely, a Bluejay and a Catbird also gave the crow a hard time. It was almost as if they were trying to protect the baby Robins.

Tuesday: sadly, this morning the nest is empty. The chicks were still way too young to fly, so they must have been taken by a cat or a crow. Very sad. Sometimes things just don't work out and for many animals, the odds are stacked up against them. Robins apparently have only a 20% chance of surviving a year. Even so, it would have been nice to see the little guys fly. Sometimes life seems so unfair.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

No War on Cyclists?

Emma Way, a motorist in Norwich, UK tweeted this on Sunday:

Police are investigating and the internet is all in a flurry:






Apparently, someone spotted the tweet, wasn't amused and tweeted the police. The police were also sent other examples of her poor driving: she had taken cellphone photographs of herself tailgating other motorists, and even photographed her speedometer showing a speed of 95mph. So, she's not exactly the brightest bulb.

Somehow, I think karma is going to be a big factor here. In response to internet anger, her employer, the 125 year-old chartered accountant firm Larking Gowen, wrote:
“Please be assured that this is not a view held by the firm and we most certainly do not condone this behaviour. We are taking the incidents very seriously, and a full and detailed investigation will be carried out and appropriate action taken. We have already spoken to Norfolk Police.”
Larking Gowen apparently sponsored a charity bike ride in 2010. Four of the five charity riders are partners, the other is a Managing Partner. I wonder how they feel about one of their trainees calling them 'bloody cyclists'?

Somehow I think Norwich's unemployment line will soon be a bit longer. In the meantime, I'm sure Emma Way is learning a lot about road tax and the rules of the road, courtesy of the Norfolk Constabulary.

[EDIT] The incident has now been picked up by mainstream media:





Ms. Way has now deleted both her Twitter account and her Facebook page. I suspect this week is not going to go down as one of her best.

Update: Emma Way escaped without being convicted of driving without due care and attention. She was punished with only a small fine and given seven points on her licence for failing to stop and report an accident.

The 2012 Teschke Study - When Scientists Get It Wrong

See that 'cycle track' data point in the above graph? That's what they call an outlier. It's just way out on its own there. I wonder why? Well, John Forester saw the study and he figured it out:
"...what we actually have before us is the result when total ignorance of traffic engineering combines with bicycle advocacy ideology."
"In the much more impressive cycle-track issue, the authors proclaimed enormous crash reduction without informing the readers of the two relevant facts. First, that their data came from only one installation. Second, that that installation was not along a typical city street but in the only situation in which a plain cycle track could possibly be safe, a place without crossing or turning movements by motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians"
Mr. Forester was mistaken on one point - there was more than one cycle track in the study, but all had minimal or no cross streets, so are not at all useful in predicting the results of cycle track installations on standard roadways

The Teschke study (‘Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study’ is yet another example (like the many so-called ‘studies’ done by John Pucher, Ralph Buehler, Anne Lusk, Conor Reynolds and other health and wellness advocates) of how cycling advocacy within the scientific community can create unscientific research that is marred by expectation bias. Dr. Teschke and her associates are involved in public health research and while cycling does have overwhelming health benefits, neither Dr. Teschke or any of the people involved in the study appear to be specialists in transportation injuries or collisions.

In fact, Teschke, Reynolds, Lusk, Harris et al seem to have built much of their careers around support for bicycle infrastructure that most respected researchers find to be dangerous. These folks are essentially paint and path advocates whose advocacy undermines their attempts at science.

The study is based on self-reporting, which is prone to volunteer or referral bias, and nonrespondent bias. Also, like the infamous Lusk study of 2011, it is based on a route comparison, and these have proven to be very prone to selection bias. I would urge cyclists to be very wary of this study, as 85% of studies done by those who ARE experts in the field of transportation find that cycling infrastructure INCREASES the risk of injury, especially at intersections. Almost every study finds that the increases in injuries at intersections more than counteract any safety gains between road junctions.

See the following link for details:

Friday, 17 May 2013

Adventures on (Motorists) Bike to Work Day

So today, my daughter and I went to downtown Silver Spring to pick up our (Motorists) Bike to Work Day T-shirts. No problems on the way there. On the way back, this was part of our route:

On the way back, we took Sligo Creek Parkway, which is a very nice but narrow 25mph road with a bike path running next to it. We did not use the path because I wanted to get past Colesville Road without using the pedestrian crosswalks that cyclists using the bike path must use. Amusingly, as we passed Colesville Road (at point A on the map) one motorist started honking continuously for a good 30 seconds behind us (I enjoyed this) and then, as he passed, he yelled, "use the bike path!" I yelled back with the "Fuck off!" that I reserve for idiots when I have only time for a very terse phrase. I actually saw him flinch when I yelled it, so I think he heard me.

All of this happened as we passed this 'Bike Route, Share the Road' sign:

Until today, I had never been urged to use the bike path on Sligo Creek Parkway. Under Maryland law, bike path use is not mandatory. I'm hoping that this sort of thing isn't a regular problem on this road, because in the summer of 2014 our commute to my daughter's middle school will take us on this road every day of the week.

A couple of minutes later, on the way north up Brunett Avenue (at point B on the map), a very quiet 30mph residential road, a cyclist approached in the oncoming lane and yelled "Use the sidewalk!" I yelled back, "No!" This took place about here:

I have never been urged to use the sidewalk by a cyclist before. While Montgomery County allows cyclists to use sidewalks, it is not required for anyone. Yes, I was cycling with a 10 year-old, but she is very competent on the road now. I can only assume that the cyclist in this case was not really a cyclist - (Motorists) Bike to Work Day is probably the only time he cycles, other than vacations, so he assumes that kids should always cycle on the sidewalk. This supports my theory that (Motorists) Bike to Work Day is not really a day for cyclists.

After we got home, my daughter asked me to cycle with her to school, so I caved. The original plan was to walk with her to school today (my pitiful way of protesting), but the kid got caught up in the energy downtown and she really wanted to bike to school. So I cycled with her to school as usual. The journey to school was uneventful.

So although I didn't mount my (Motorists) Bike to Work Day protest, I did have some adventures to do with motorist anger and incompetence.

In closing, I figure I'll repost an article that states how I feel today, but does it better and with less blood-pressure-raising.

From Jack R. Taylor's blog Devil's Bicycle Advocate:

WASHINGTON DC— The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) announced today that it is beginning a campaign that the League hopes will double the amount of bicycling being done by that organizations 40,000 members. The campaign will attempt to convince LAB members that cycling can also be done on Saturdays. "We want to see our members out there both days," said LAB spokesperson Patrick McCormick. McCormick said that the League also hopes to expand its annual "Bike to Work One Day" held each May, by asking members to individually commute a second day, probably a nice cool day in the fall.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

My Ideal Bike Lane

My ideal bike lane is one that's wide enough for the relatively wide turn radius of a bike, one that gives us plenty of room for safety and one that can easily be integrated into the existing traffic system.

So I propose a bike lane that's 11ft wide. It's even wide enough so that motorized vehicles can safely and fully merge into it for turning right (so that we avoid the problem of right hooks that today's bike lanes have) and buses and other motorized vehicles can merge into it and stop to pick up passengers. On roads that do not have multiple travel lanes in one direction (and even on those that do), I'd be happy to share the bike lane with slower moving motor vehicles, as long as they allow me to share their lanes on multiple lane roads when I need to turn left or overtake. Fair is fair.

The best thing about this novel bike lane proposal is that it will cost nothing - not a penny - to implement. We already have laws in place that support the use of these lanes as I've explained above. We also have millions of these lanes already in place, so  Heck, we don't even need any new government scheme implementing the change, because this type of bike lane exists on every road in the world: it's called 'the curbside general traffic lane'.

Yeah, this is the bike lane. Get over it!
So is this.
So is this, when we're turning left.

And hey, if bike lane advocates and government want to paint my proposed bike lane green or blue, or some other color (as they have a tendency to do), I'm okay with that, as long as the paint doesn't get slippery when wet.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

What if Cars Suddenly Disappeared?

I read a quote this morning on the blog Roads Were Not Built For Cars. The quote, by Senator Chauncey Mitchell Depew says:

“I imagine that one fine morning we shall wake up with apparatus ready to take us to our offices by an automobile carriage…But…I cannot conceive our active Americans adapting themselves to the pursuit of pleasure in carriages moved…by any other motor but the horse. What has made the bicycle so universally popular but the one fact that it permits of action on the part of the rider, that it affords excitement?”

It made me think about the fact that cycling is indeed a whole lot of fun. However, it becomes less fun because I must share the roads with 2-ton motor vehicles whose drivers have both a deep sense of entitlement to the road and who are, more often than not, less than competent to operate their vehicles safely (at least in my experience).

It got me to wondering how life would be if cars were simply gone - taken up by some kind of supernatural force. All of a sudden roads would be a lot safer. People wouldn't have any reason to be afraid of cycling - there would be little to fear apart from maybe a few bumps and bruises from the occasional collision with another cyclist, or from the occasional fall. I wonder how many people would take up cycling if our national road system existed purely for cycling? Even if there were a faster alternative mode of personal transport (hey, whatever happened to the flying cars we were promised in the 1960s anyway?), my guess is that there would be a whole lot of folks who would choose to pedal.

It seems to me that the automobile is little more than a burden on society. Over the past century we've built a dystopia based on automobile dependency, and it's ruining us. I reckon the sooner we're rid of motor cars, the better-off we'll be. Sadly, I don't think it will happen in my lifetime. But thanks to rising gasoline prices, my daughter may be a bit more fortunate (as long as our society can effectively manage the decline of the age of oil).

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Staying Comfy in a Post-Peak World

With oil prices ten times what they were a decade ago, and with all energy prices set to soar even higher (if not in actual dollar terms, then at least in terms of our ability to pay) over the coming years, I've recently being trying to change my mode of thinking about comfort as it applies to heating and air conditioning.

Since the age of fossil fuels began, it's been ever more ridiculously cheap and easy to keep warm and cool without doing it with clothing - so we've become lazy - we wear shorts and T-shirt indoors and in the car, because why wear bulky sweaters and coats when you can keep your house and car perfectly (and cheaply) air conditioned?

The only problem is it's incredibly wasteful to be heating and cooling 50,000+ cubic feet of home and driving around 2 tons of air-conditioned car to ensure that a mere 3 cubic feet of human being stays comfy. After the current shale oil bubble bursts (which it must), and with the coming age of energy insecurity, such luxuries are going to seem more and more unreasonable, and the more we try to deny and ignore the coming changes, the harder and more expensive it will be to adapt to the coming reality.

So I've decided to make some efforts towards personalizing my comfort (and conserving energy) rather than socializing it (and wasting energy). As a cyclist, I'd already done this when it comes to my commute - and I already don't drive, so no wasteful spending there. I just have to start doing it at home. This winter I took to keeping the heating a lot lower and wearing a sweater indoors - not a huge change, but it did reduce energy use (and our monthly bills). This summer I'm going to see if I can install some ceiling fans to recirculate cooler air rather than losing it through the ceilings. I'm also going to make some efforts to add insulation so that whatever desirable heat and cool there is in the house stays here. Baby steps - get the low-hanging fruit first.

Maybe next year I'll look into cheap ways of implementing passive solar and doing some strategic plantings around the house to help keep the house warmer in winter and nicely shaded in summer. There's lots that can be done without spending tens of thousands on the rooftop solar and passive radiant heat slabs that are en vogue with the Jet Set environmental crowd right now. Heck, if I were a millionaire, I'd be able to spend $100 grand and ensure I didn't need to pay another bill for heating and air conditioning in my life, but I'm not, so I have to do what I can with what I've got.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Thanks to All This Effort, Utopia is Just Around the Corner! Or not.

If it were real, that ad would be looking pretty tempting right now, because the future's looking none too bright.

Tomorrow is Earth Day 2013.

Yeah, I guess it's that time of the year again - a period (for me) of vague disappointment that lasts from the ides of April through the ides of May. Time for all the world's hypocrites to celebrate their engagement in two 24 hour periods where they say a big 'Fuck you!' to anyone who makes more of an effort to be kind to the planet. The first in this 'axis of hypocrisy' is Earth Day, where they spend 1/365th of their year in a gargantuan pseudo-effort to save the planet (will that be enough this year - or any year? I doubt it). Next month comes Bike to Work Day, when many of these same arrant hypocrites try REALLY HARD to reduce their dependence on foreign oil by 1/365th, to reduce pollution by 1/365th, to reduce traffic congestion by 1/365th, to become 1/365th fitter, etc., etc.


Maybe this year the 1/365th effort will pay off and we'll achieve some kind of environmental event horizon, where all this far-less-than-half-assed effort finally pays off and we emerge into a new utopian dawn.

On the other hand (and more realistically), maybe not. This is what the aftermath of last year's Earth Day looked like in Fort Mason Park in San Francisco:

So... yeah.

On the bright side, at least I spent the weekend in good company (my wife and kid). Yesterday we watched last year's classic time travel movie Safety Not Guaranteed. Today, with the kid at a friend's house, I spent the afternoon in a Benadryl-induced stupor being driven around suburban MD in search of a home improvement store and berating my wife for trying to defend both Earth Day participants and lycra-clad cyclists. I have recently had the... oh let's call it 'opportunity'... to cycle-commute together with some folks who wear 'the lycra'. They're such nice people, which makes it hard to ask them if they really must wear that get-up on our commute. I've considered starting out with them and slowly letting them get far ahead and sneaking onto an alternate route. I'm not sure if the embarrassment of cycling with people who choose to camouflage themselves as bumblebees is overwhelmed by the pleasure I take in ridiculing their attire when my wife gets home. I'm thinking it does. And the kid enjoys it, which counts for a lot (and she seems able to overlook the fact that her new commuter-mates are oversized members of the bee genus Bombus).

So life has elements of humor, and things could be far worse. It would be nice though, if the kid had a bit better than a 1/365th chance of inheriting a better world. But the vast majority of people don't even try that hard, so let's face it - she doesn't stand much chance at all.

So, to paraphrase the main character Darius from the aforementioned time travel movie: "How do we eject?"

Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher 'Milk Snatcher' Finally Dead



Ding Dong! The Witch is dead.

For those of us working class Britons who had to endure years of class warfare, Thatcher was no hero. I was 9 years old when I got my first taste of Thatcherism, when free school milk for the over sevens was removed in 1971. Edward Short, Labour education spokesman said it was ‘the meanest and most unworthy thing’ he had seen in 20 years.

It got worse from there. Thatcher sold off public businesses, destroyed trade unions and eroded workers' rights, slashed public services and tried to destroy the National Health Service, increased the gap between rich and poor and installed the basis for today's right wing political philosophy of "I, me, mine".

In my view, her policies destroyed Britain. I left in 1984, partially because Thatcher's England was no longer the England of my dreams.

Britain finally had enough when, in 1990, Thatcher instituted the Community Charge or 'poll tax': a tax which took no account of ability to pay. The resulting unrest forced Thatcher to resign as Prime Minister in November, defending a tax which an opinion poll had found only 12% favored.

Apparently, even in death she's still sticking it to the working class - she's getting a ceremonial funeral with military honors paid for with working folks' taxes.

No tears will be shed on this site over her demise. I just wish her policies would have died with her, but Britain is stuck with them.

Still, I should be thankful for small mercies. So party tonight at my house. Everyone's invited. The (English) Beat, Elvis Costello, Chumbawamba, Morrissey, The Exploited, Billy Bragg, and many, many more are on the jukebox and I aim to get legless.






Brixton, where poll tax riots took place.

Glasgow: Scots suffered the poll tax for a year
before it came to the rest of the UK.

My family comes from the area around Aughton, Treeton and Orgreave, villages outside of Sheffield.

When the Guardian stopped to ask a local man if this was Orgreave, he said simply: "It's supposed to be." It's not just the pits which have gone, said Mansell, who worked underground at the Treeton colliery for 22 years. But with it the "camaraderie, the community spirit – the sense that we were all looking out for each other." He believes Thatcher didn't just destroy his village and many others like it, but also paved the way for the political climate of today.
"It was class war," he said. "The people above didn't want us to win. The people with money didn't want us to win. If we had won, they wouldn't be able to get away with what they are doing now, cutting benefits for disabled people and things like that. The unions would have stopped them. But we lost."

Hell has now frozen over, because by now, Thatcher will have closed down the furnaces.

11 April Update: Russell Brand puts it nicely in an article in The Guardian today:
When all the public amenities were flogged, the adverts made it seem to my childish eyes fun and positive, jaunty slogans and affable British stereotypes jostling about in villages, selling people companies that they'd already paid for through tax. I just now watched the British Gas one again. It's like a whimsical live-action episode of Postman Pat where his cat is craftily carved up and sold back to him...
All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn ceremonial funeral, are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.
I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship – it's just not British.