Posts Tagged ‘safety’

Road Right

13 May 2011


Dear J-

The car is sometimes a blunt instrument, shouldering the air out of the way, aggressively gulping gas and oxygen and expelling it with a bellow as they roar around you. Then there are the eerily quiet-at-city-speeds hybrids running silently on electric like some submarine slipping into convoys undetected. Me, if they don’t hear my asthmatic old-guy wheezing as I puff my way up hills, I’ll take the bike even if it isn’t bike-to-work day or week or month. It’s a more efficient use of my time, combining exercise with distance, and I enjoy the fresh air but at times I wish that I had a better handle on my safety. You have to make some assumptions every time you jump on the bike and chief among them is that you’ll be seen and not seen as an impediment.

You want to be visible and yet you don’t want to obstruct, which is sometimes the point. If you have an equal right to the road then when the bike lane disappears where do you go? There’s a lifetime of thought that tells me to scoot over and not get in the way and the bike commuter advocacy that says to take up as much room as you need to feel safe. One of the people I ride on the vanpool with tells me that, having lived all over Southern California, she’s seen all kinds of drivers, and by far the prevailing mode for San Diegans is oblivion. In other words, our local drivers are either clueless to what’s going on around them (this is the charitable explanation) or the worst kind of passive-aggressive I’ve seen. Here’s my litmus test: driving in the right lane on the highway and someone’s trying to merge in. What do you do? Here in San Diego the norm is to stay the course or maybe speed up to make sure they get behind you, even if you’re getting out at the next exit or if the next lane over is free and it would cost you nothing to get over.

So is that clueless or just discourteous? It doesn’t matter if the results are the same, and that’s what freaks me out about San Diego drivers. The car-bike accidents I read about are generally judged to be the bicyclist’s fault, but even if they weren’t there’s little recourse for the bicyclist — either gravely injured or killed. Truth is I always told myself that it happens to other people, or that collisions from behind are rare, or any number of excuses to make myself feel confident and safe. The lack of pavement striping on Genesee is starting to freak me out, given the unperceptive nature of some of the motorists I’ve seen and I don’t know what to do about it. Is it just a mental block or actual fog to cut through?



Double Nickel

24 July 2009

Dear J-

Continuing on the car theme, I’m starting to hear proposals on a new national speed limit of 55.  The idea is that when the limit was raised to 70, traffic fatalities and accidents also went up.  The initial limit of 55 was imposed in response to the oil crises of the 70s, and provided a quick way to impose fuel economy improvements; aerodynamic drag scales with the square of velocity — in other words, the drag force on your car doubles for every forty percent increase in speed.  Forty percent sounds like a lot, but it’s the difference between 55 and 77, and I’m pretty convinced that lots of folks out there touch 77 pretty regularly.

55 has reached infamy (pre-Van Halen Sammy Hagar immortalized it in I Can’t Drive 55) as an example of the nanny state run amok, and as one of those laws folks flouted with relative impunity.  Despite regular improvements in safety (side-impact standards, passive restraints, advanced structural designs), injuries and fatalities have risen; even if we discount those numbers by accounting for increased traffic volumes, aren’t we jeopardizing public health with an increased limit?

I’m not going to advocate a return to 55 as a law, though.  It reminds me of the questions your consicence used to ask:  if no one’s around to see it, do you still do the right thing?  Last year when gas hit record highs, folks switched to mass transit, carpools, and slower speeds where they could; this year, we’re back to touting big cars and flaunting overpowered engines.  Apparently the right thing for most is rooted in thrift; so long as it coincides with increased safety, I’m all for it.


Press Pass

16 July 2008

Dear J-

As the presidential campaign winds on, I wonder if Obama has run afoul of the fickle press; where he used to skate by on charisma and offering vaguely hopeful talk of change, now it seems like his every move is challenged, every breath scrutinized for deeper meaning.  Honestly, it’s probably less the fickle press and more the lesson we the public have taught them:  controversy moves media — hits on websites, copies off newsstands — so give them what they want.  We only have our own trashy appetites to blame for the fare we receive, right?

I doubt it.  If it was, then blaming victims has come back in vogue.  “We’re just giving you what you want” smacks of overconvenient passive-aggressive behavior and a decided lack of anything resembling, say, a spine.  When we rely on the press to ensure transparent government, yet the government, by offering special press access essentially controls that content, where are we headed?

It’s fashionable to deride the press as old-fashioned, and just as easy as it is to dismiss blogs as lacking credibility.  There’s a lot to be learned from both approaches; there’s a lot of room for improvement.  Beware those who’d tell you answers instead of arming you with questions.  Everyone has an opinion that colors the tone of any writing; I was recently reading an article regarding how the FDA was making it more difficult for pharmaceutical companies to market new drugs by requiring additional safety studies, grudgingly admitting that prior standards (thanks, Vioxx!) were a bit lax, and arguing that profits were going to take a hit.  The article was published by the Wall Street Journal — no surprise there — yet published on the front page, rather than as an editorial.  Why should corporate welfare rank so newsworthy?


Cold Water on Your Back

5 November 2006

I must have really been homesick those two years in Boston. That’s all I can excuse myself for.


All the same, I really enjoyed grade school. You got crayons, glue, pencils, and a notebook in September. You listened to stories after lunch. You wondered what was on top of the roof, over the fire escape, past the fences, behind the bushes, under the slides, inside the teacher’s lounge. I personally had a huge fear of being in the sunlight with the bloodstones present. As my friend described it, it would suck the blood right out of your body, much as lab reports and midterms were to do in a few years.