Monday, November 30, 2009

Why I Hate Pedestrians...The Cartoon!

Dr.Ian Walker, a traffic and transport psychologist and lecturer at the University of Bath, who is now very well known in the cycling circles for being that guy who did the study on how drivers respond to helmeted, un-helmeted and female (if him in a wig fooled anyone) cyclists -- and yes, his findings indicated that drivers take greater risks when passing helmeted cyclists -- wrote this tongue-in-cheek rant on why he hates pedestrians.  It has made the rounds on the cycling blogs and it's great. I was going to post it here as well but thought, why not tamper with it.  So I employed's cartoon engine to set his little diatribe to a cartoon.  There is nothing earth shattering here and if you want to just read it, and his other writings, go to his site.  For some reason it appealed to me to make it the ranting of an old English guy.  Some of the language gets lost in the computer voice but I thought it was fun.

So with apologies to Dr. Walker...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Car Ads Suck...

I will admit without any apprehension that I am no fan of internal combustion engines, nor of the often arrogantly piloted steel boxes that encase them.  I will also admit that I have on occasion made hopeful (if not positive) bleatings regarding electric and hybrid vehicles.  That said, I can add that I have never felt anything less than disgust and outright anger in relation to the manner that this means of transportation is being marketed.

A case in point:

What’s wrong with this picture – beyond illegally passing while speeding on a blind curve, or the preposterous helmeted guy trying to negotiate a crowed public street on a friggin’ Segway?  C ‘mon! Helmet... Segway... He’s not even moving faster than the bloody pedestrians!

Not only does this ad encourage dangerous driving like so many ads before it, but it once again requests that you not consider why you make your transportation choices other than to ask you what’s more fun.  The assumption is of course that the answer is a fast car, and in particular one that is driven with reckless abandon.  Speed = Fun.  Fun = Speed! What is also interesting in this ad, however, is that they have chosen to mock those who might choose otherwise.

They would likely argue that they are not mocking at all, but that they are merely wanting to point out the better choice, or differentiate themselves from the competition.  But of course anyone who has made the choice to ride a bike or use public transit (I can’t speak to the ridiculous man with the Segway... so I think these things are pointless -- sue me) has likely already made that choice for reasons financial – therefore the car industry isn’t interested – or, for whatever personal reason, they believe it to be the better choice – again, a crowd that would be of little significance to the car industry.  So why slag the biking, public transit crowd (I’m surprised we didn’t see a pedestrian awkwardly spill into a huge puddle) if you really are only speaking to the speed-loving car-addict horde anyhow?  Is it possible that they think they have something to worry about?

Mahatma Gandhi  said’ “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”  A very likeable quote, but if there is anything to that sequencing then we know we’ve passed the being ignored phase, and with the kind of resources that the auto industry could bring to bare, I find it difficult to imagine that this is the “fight” stage. So they laugh.  And of course, they lie.

Do they really think that even the dullest motorist thinks that cycle commuters don’t bother with rain gear and can’t hold a straight line in traffic.  And you’ll notice no mention of rain, or crowds (or even any suggestion of commuting) when their gleaming white-knight is high-speed slaloming along his practically abandoned highway.  My daily commuting experience is quite the opposite.  It’s not uncommon to find myself pedaling gleefully past lines of frustrated, seething motorists (oh, I've seen the glares).  And some of them in very swanky high-end autos that I’m sure are capable of speeds that they rarely get to experience due to those maddening real-world traffic laws.

Automakers spend almost $9 billion annually in advertising in the United States to promote their products, including $6.5 billion on television advertising.  Young male drivers are the demographic group targeted by automobile commercials and is the very demographic group that is involved in 70 per cent of driver deaths in North America. Advertisers in Canada are supposed to be bound by the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards which in part states, "Advertisements must not display a disregard for public safety or depict situations which might encourage unsafe or dangerous practices, particularly when portraying products in normal use."  But neither the automotive nor television industries follow any  specific guidelines on automobile commercial content, including the depiction of potentially dangerous behaviour, such as speeding. In contrast, the advertisement of other adverse health behaviours, such as tobacco and alcohol use, is limited by either voluntary codes of conduct or legislation. This is the case even though the total annual economic cost of motor vehicle crashes has been estimated at between 7.5–20 billion dollars in Canada and 230 billion dollars in the United States.

So the fight is coming if it isn't already here, and if Gandhi has anything to say about it; we win.

Hold onto your helmets kids, it's going to be a rough ride.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sue meets the cheese and all...

When I first heard of the case of Sue Abbott in Australia fighting a helmet ticket and posted a link to the original video I really didn't think that very much would come of it. Unfortunately my instinct on this account was confirmed. Sue isn't the first person to lose a court challenge to a helmet ticket and she won't be the last. Even though it's a rather more melancholy story then I hoped for I believe that there is something to be learned from this event. And fortunately Michael Rubbo has created another short film; with an expected less upbeat tone than the first but well done none the less.

I received an e-mail from Michael Rubbo last night and in it he said: "Her's as you say, is a touching story. She's a courageous lady, especially since she plans to appeal with no hope for better treatment than last time. I told Sue that I think it's silly to appeal unless she/we can get her story into the media beyond our blogs, which would be great of course. If she can do that, its likely the court will pay her and her cause more respect, even if she loses." He added, "Here' s an Idea, do you know any bike sympathetic journalists in Vancouver?  It would be neat to have someone write a piece from there in part about the woman who's a non person in her own country. It would be a legitimate angle, and the wider questions could easily be brought in."

Unfortunately I don't know any bike sympathetic journalists but if any one does, please point them in his direction.

Like Sue says, this is something that we have to solve at the political level.

Mike Rubbo's blog

As seen on Google StreetView...

It's official Google StreetView has come to Vancouver.

I recalled spotting one of those Google cars trolling around my neighbourhood last May (as I noted in this earlier blog post) so of course when I heard that things were up and running, I flipped open my laptop and went looking for my house. Then I remembered the Google car passing me around Fraser and 10th and went looking for that.  Well what do you know.

I guess I'll have to get an "As Seen On Google StreetView" sticker for my bike now.

And one weird note; as the car passed me I was too close to it for my entire bike to be clearly photographed.  There is this weird blurred out circular area at the bottom of all of the shots.  I'm assuming this is to hide any details of the Google car... but if you get caught in it look out -- or it's off with your head!


I've embedded the actual StreetView link below so you can tour around my hood.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Culture of Fear

... or How did I ever make it to 50?

I turned the big Five-O this past January. I’ve lived a life (so far) of fairly average activity with the possible exception of above normal cycling. As I have gotten older, riding a bike has become an even bigger part of my life. I made the move to a recumbent about a year and a half ago; partly because they have always intrigued me and partly because my aging body was beginning to complain a little too often about the very un-ergonomic up-right bikes that I had spent such a great part of my life getting around on.

My cycling love-affair and career began long before not wearing fluorescent vests and polystyrene helmets became the moral equivalent of child abuse. In fact the only bike helmet I had ever seen as a kid was one of those soft “hair-net types” that were on the head of just a handful of riders in the Tour de France. My mother worried about sun burns, breaking a leg and cursing, but never a word about my noggin. Outside of a few minor scrapes (mostly from trying to jump something that was un-jumpable) and those sun burns (I was warned!) I rarely came home with anything more than a beaming smile and two very tired legs. Was it less dangerous to be a kid in the sixties? Or were we all just a rabble of reckless and irresponsible punks who got very, very lucky? How did we ever manage to survive? Because surprisingly enough, the vast majority of us did.

From “Danny and the Demon-Cycle” produced by the highway safety division of Virginia in 1972

Over the past two decades the obesity rate for children has doubled. The average 10-year-old in the United States weighs 10 pounds more than the average child in the 1960s. Kids are suffering from type two diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, asthma, menstrual abnormalities and heart problems. They may not live lives that are as long as their own parents. We learn about school boards banning children from cycling to school because they fear that it’s too dangerous. At a recent Vancouver bike film festival, attendees were entertained with a video produced by school children on the dangers of cycling without a helmet that explained if you take that risk you will end up being bald and wearing a diaper for the rest of your life. What is clear is the message that we are teaching : cycling is very dangerous! But is this true? It certainly isn’t responsible for what is ailing today’s children.

When you tell a child or parent that death or permanent brain damage hangs in the offing if you don’t follow the new moral imperative – wear a helmet – will they feel safer riding and wearing a helmet, or simply not riding at all? If riding a bike is that dangerous, can an inch and a quarter of polystyrene in a thin plastic shell be the difference between a long, healthy, happy life or eating through a straw? What choice would a rational parent make? Cycling has been around for 150 years or so. It was in the late 19th century that the invention of the ‘Safety Bike’ and mass production established the bicycle’s place in modern transit, several decades before the age of the automobile. Helmets for the non-competitive cyclist have only been around since the late seventies and only used regularly for the past twenty years. The first all ages mandatory helmet law in Canada was passed in British Columbia 1996 – thirteen years ago. Are we any safer for it?

Not according to an examination of data covering the period 1975 and 2003, from Transport Canada, where no effect of increased helmet use among cyclists can be detected from prevailing fatality trends. By the time Canada had its first mandatory helmet law, helmet use was already around 30%. A 1999 study in British Columbia showed helmet use as high as 70%, and it continued to increase from that time forward. With all of this helmet-wearing, why does the data indicate no appreciable reduction in cyclists fatalities? One estimation suggests that it takes over 3,000 years of average cycling for an individual to suffer a serious head injury. Of course defining an average cyclist, and average cycling, might be tricky at best.

In any case, the number of people dying annually of heart disease due to physical inactivity and from obesity both massively outweigh those who die while cycling, let alone those whose deaths result from head injuries which a helmet is only rumoured to prevent. A British Medical Association study in 1999 found that the benefits of cycling outweighed the risks by 20:1. Clearly cycling is a low risk, high benefit activity that we’ve been managing to profit from quite successfully for some time now. So why all of the hysteria over helmets?

Ronald L. Medford, the assistant executive director of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, was quoted in the New York Times in 2001 stating that, "It's puzzling to me that we can't find the benefit of bike helmets here." But why so puzzling? Unless your assumption is that there naturally would be a benefit. It’s just counter-intuitive to believe that a product sold as a protective device like a helmet may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. That could suggest several things, such as the standards to which the product is manufactured are too low. Again from the New York Times: Thom Parks, a vice president in charge of safety for the helmet maker Bell Sports, said safety standards could be upgraded and helmets could be designed to meet them. But that would make helmets heavier, bulkier and less comfortable [and more expensive]. "There are limits to what a consumer would accept.” Is the argument then that it’s better that we get more people wearing a product whose efficacy may be in question than fewer wearing something tested to a higher standard? Even the staunchest helmet advocate will grudgingly admit that helmets do not prevent accidents. But do they cause them?

A study by Dr. Ian Walker, a traffic and transport psychologist and lecturer at the University of Bath, concluded that there is evidence that passing motorists employ less care and pass at closer distances to helmeted cyclists – as opposed to un-helmeted cyclists -- putting the former at greater risk. ‘Risk compensation’ is a term coined by Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde in the 1970s to describe the behavioural adjustments of people to perceived changes in safety or danger. With regards to bicycle helmets, it suggests that cyclists would be less likely to ride cautiously when wearing a helmet owing to their feeling of increased security, therefore eliminating some, if not all, of the alleged benefit. Wearing a helmet increases both the size and mass of the head, and for many is an uncomfortable experience. Do we understand how this can affect how we cycle, how we fall, how we impact? There are studies and there are studies (and there will be more studies) but what is clear is that if the jury is out then the efficacy of bicycle helmets – and certainly the legitimacy and merit of helmet promotion and mandatory helmet laws – must remain seriously in question.

So, if it’s difficult if not impossible to demonstrate that a bicycle helmet can mitigate serious injury yet it’s entirely demonstrable that it may cause increased risk. Since the promotion of bicycle helmets and specifically mandatory helmet laws have been proven to reduce cyclists numbers on the road and there is abundant evidence that the concept of safety in numbers is a real phenomenon while our children get fatter every year and less healthy day by day. What should we do? Turn to the most efficient and sustainable form of transportation ever invented which also happens to have a massive health payback (on a personal, societal and planetary level), that is as safe if not safer than any activity we choose to do – not to mention fun. Or (for whatever reason: misguided altruism or monetary gain) create fear and invent obstacles that for the preceding century few seemed to have any need for.

All you need to ride a bike... is a bike!

When I was a boy in the sixties and seventies we would never had needed to ask that question. We just got on our bikes and rode. It probably would have remained like that if some clever motorcycle helmet manufacturer, with slumping sales, hadn’t smelled a pot load of cash just waiting to be plucked. So how do you coerce people, who have never needed something before, to suddenly believe they need it now? Welcome to the culture of fear.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Feisty Sue Abbott ...

Mike Rubbo an Australian documentary film maker has gotten together with Sue Abbot to document her case in which she is fighting a helmet charge in Scone Australia.

I first heard about her case as did Mike Rubbo and as most did from the blog

We learned that:

She has always cycled and when Australia passed mandatory, all-ages bike helmet laws in the 1990's, Sue kept on cycling while many Australians parked their bikes in the garage. Despite the helmet laws, Sue continued to cycle without a helmet and she has never felt as though she needed one.

It took the better part of 15 years before Sue was finally stopped by the Austalian police earlier this year and ticketed for not wearing a helmet.

"One of the policemen expressed interest in why I wasn't wearing one. I mentioned I had done some research which had confirmed my view that helmets put me at risk. He was somewhat surprised, and so I continued that there was further information to show that there is a correlation between fat nations and helmet laws, and that in some parts of the US, much of Europe, the UK and Asia there were no such laws. I mentioned that now I had been issued with an infringement ticket I intended to take this matter to court.

Both he and his mate were really startled at that, and he wished me good luck in my quest and hoped I got somewhere with it. He admitted that he had given up cycling when the legislation became enacted in the early 90s, and that his bicycle had sat in his garage since that time."

Here’s the film that they made together.

The film, above, is the first installment in a series about Sue. Her case goes to court at the end of the month. I wish her all the luck in the world... she's gonna need it.

Sue, you rock.

The original post about Sue can be found at:

MIke Rubbo's blog is:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Recumbent riding with GPS

This guy from Toronto, JHG Redekop tracked his biking for several years with a GPS. He put it all together in this amazing animation light show. You have to view it in full screen to get the whole effect.

Here is what he has to say about it:

"A time-lapse animation of my recumbent cycling in Toronto, spanning 2004 to 2009. In all, about 650 hours of cycling totalling almost 8100km.

This is the total record of all my recumbent riding. Individual years are also available as separate videos, and there are more details in the comments on those.

The red path represents five minutes of cycling. Rides outside the borders of the map are represented by a red arrow; the longer the arrow, the further the bike is from the border."

If you look up in the left corner you can see that he begins his journey on a Rans VRex but finishes on the same bike that I ride, an HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte. It looks like he covered a lot of the same ground that I did when I lived in T.O.

Nice job eh.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How do you promote cycling?

... or the only safe citizen is one that's scared shitless!

On the way to work this morning I saw an advertisement posted just as I entered the Skytrain Station at VCC that read: "I don’t think I’ll need a helmet today – just cycling for a short distance," with the web address '' below. You don't have to be Steven King to catch the implied; be afraid -- be very afraid message. Since I normally commute by bike (my poor bike needs a new rear hub) I don't usually get to see these promotions. I had to know who these people were.

Their web site says this: "A registered non-profit organization, The Community is governed by a board of directors representing organizations including the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, Insurance Bureau of Canada, London Drugs Ltd., BC Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services, Pacific Blue Cross, TELUS and WorkSafeBC. In addition, The Community’s work is made possible through the financial and in-kind support of over 30 other companies and organizations."

The list of supporters seems to be a general collections of safety minded organizations, medical associations and groups who generally have some involvement in our health and well being (BC Coronor et al). Sounds Ok doesn't it.

A search for articles relating to helmets brings up a varied collection of stuff that cheers on (with a nice dash of scaring the bejesus out of you) the wearing of helmets when cycling, skateboarding, and ice skating but interestingly states, "helmets are NOT to be worn when on playgrounds, as loose straps may lead to strangulations." You mean they are not the be-all-and-end-all word on safety? The rest of the site is one fear-mongering tactic after another. Promoting physical health through emotional terrorism. How anyone could overcome their fear and want to particpate in any activity after sifting through this site is beyond me.

These articles are not designed to inspire a rational appreciation of risk or an honest discussion of the facts as their response to a post in the Vancouver Province by someone daring to challange the status quo on cycle helemts shows when they retort: "Research has shown that bicycle helmets, if worn appropriately, reduces the risk of injury by 88%." Oh gawd, not that one again.

Although you can very easily find the facts on this oft regurgitated little stat, I'll let Mikael at do he honours: "Virtually every bike helmet advocacy group out there quote the same statistic like it was carved in stone. They repeat it endlessly, like a broken record. No advocates question it - it is merely The Truth.

The statistic in question is that "cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries". This 'fact' is the foundation on which all bike helmet advocacy and helmet law advocacy is based upon. The populations of entire cities and states have legislation in place based on this 'fact'. This statistic dictates the lives of millions of people. Some websites try to tone it down a bit by writing things like "up to 85%" or "around 85%", but the message is the same."

"It originates from a small study in Seattle back in 1987, romantically entitled: A case-control study of the effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets - Thompson, Rivara & Thompson. New England Journal of Medicine 1989, Vol 320 No 21 p1361-7."

Those who have taken the trouble to analyse the paper in detail, however, have found it to be seriously flawed and its conclusions untenable."

"What? Sorry? Untenable? But it is The Truth! All studies since this infamous one have shown less or NO benefit from helmet usage. The guys who wrote that study should be in marketing, branding toxic waste as tasty and healthy."

"They've done their job well. Never mind that it was a flawed study with little merit on a scientific level! It's an impressive statistic. Just start quoting it and hope that nobody checks up on it. And nobody has, by the looks of it."

And clearly the oh-so-caring people at couldn't be bothered. Nor were they bothered to mention that in a British study (that has not been condemned as scientific lunacy by the rest of the scientific community) states that only 1 in 350 emergency admissions to hospital are due to any kind of cycling injury. Around 1 in 1,000 are due to head injury. How's that for just tossing out numbers. It should also be noted that the majority of those are children under the age of 15 and they more often then not involve a motor vehicle. And remember bicycle helmets are not designed or tested to deal with the impact of a motor vehicle -- in fact they are not rated to withstand anything more than a standstill drop at less than 20 kph for which they can not guarantee anything more than protection from minor cuts and bruises. If they are tested at all. Or how about the fact that scientists have estimated that it would take 3000 years of average cycling to suffer a serious head injury (helmeted or not). I'm sure they shy away from mentioning in their fund raising material things like, the British Medical Association has estimated the health-benefit to risk ratio of cycling to be 20 to 1. 20 to 1! That's better than almost any other human activity we undertake and it kicks the crap out of driving or being a passenger in a car and even walking. Yes, you are more likely to sustain an injury -- head or otherwise -- as a pedestrian than as a cyclist.

Well in London England they have decided that real science has merit. Not only have they come to the conclusion -- againts heavy pressure from pro helmet advocacy groups (not to mention the multi-billion dollar helmet industry) -- that cycling is healthy and safe for individuals as well as beneficial environmentally and financially for society as a whole, but they have also realized that you can't promote cycling with fear. You can promote cycling or helmets; you can't do both.

So here is how they have decided to get you on your bike:

Now that makes me want to ride!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cyclists unite!!

This article by John Gibbons was published in the Irish Times this past month.

I usually feel the need to steel myself when I see another piece about cycling appear in the media. They are more often than not uninformed, apologetic on behalf of motorists and littered with poorly veiled scaremongering regarding the over-blown and often invented dangers of cycling. Not so here.

Although he writes about Ireland everything he says is applicable across the cycling world -- especially right here in British Columbia where my sense is that the fight for cycling justice is just heating up. Read it and feel refreshed.

Cyclists unite - you have nothing to lose but your chains.

The seemingly irreversible long-term decline of the bicycle may at last have been arrested, writes JOHN GIBBONS .

‘WHEN I see an adult on a bicycle”, wrote HG Wells, “I no longer despair for the human race.” When asked to choose the world’s most important inventions since 1800, three in five respondents to a BBC radio poll picked the bicycle.

Although a product of the Victorian era, it has a timeless quality. The humble bike is arguably the most efficient machine ever invented.

What other device allows a person to move three or four times more quickly than walking, for the same modest effort?

In an age of energy profligacy, the bicycle is a bewitchingly efficient device. Learning to ride a bike is one of life’s great rites of passage. The expression of unbridled delight and pride on my five-year-old’s face last summer when she first learned how to master her bike was priceless. As adults, most of us can still vividly recall our own two-wheeled independence day.

In 1986, some 23,600 children cycled to primary school. Just 20 years later, that number had plummeted by 83 per cent to just 4,000. The decline in bike usage among children transfers directly into adult life. Today, fewer than one in 50 Irish adults commute by bike. Two wheels good, four wheels better?

Rising prosperity led to huge increases in car ownership and usage; this in turn made the roads feel more threatening for those who still chose to cycle. Many parents began to insist on driving their children to school, even for very short journeys. This means yet more cars on the road, and even less room for bikes – a vicious cycle, if you will.

And let’s be honest: since cars are often as much about displaying wealth and status as a means of transportation, cycling is on the lowest rung of the pecking order. For years, the argument has been that if you have the money, buy a car. If you’re an adult on a bike, out in all weather, you must either be broke or a bit eccentric.

Even public transport seems part of the problem; there is no provision whatever on Iarnr√≥d √Čireann’s new intercity trains or urban rail systems for bicycles. Little thought has gone into integrating cyclists with public transport. Clearly, few planners and even fewer politicians actually cycle. Bicycles actually increase the catchment area for public transport nine-fold, so the gains from joined-up thinking are truly dramatic.

The wheel may, however, be now turning. In the last five years, the number of cyclists in Dublin city grew by 30 per cent; the seemingly irreversible long-term decline of the bicycle may at last have been arrested.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey clearly thinks so. His department published the first ever National Cycle Framework Policy (NCFP) earlier this year. Dempsey aims to have 10 per cent of all commuting done by bike in 2020. What’s equally clear is that a multiplicity of factors killed off the bike, and only what the NCFP calls “strong interventions” can reverse these.

A major roadblock is the persistent notion that cycling is dangerous. The British Medical Association calculates that its health benefits far outweigh any hazards cyclists face on the road.

A Danish study found 40 per cent lower premature mortality rates among adult cyclists than their car-bound counterparts.

Lifestyles dominated by the car are not just a health risk to car users; traffic is the number one cause of air pollution in urban areas, while over a fifth of Ireland’s total CO2 emissions are from transport. Then there’s the traffic noise, danger and congestion that are an unfortunate feature of urban living.

As more and more people are feeling the financial pinch, switching even some of your journeys to a bike will save a packet. Regular cycling also provides all the exercise needed to stay fit and keep the flab at bay. Cyclists also shine at work, with lower absenteeism, better timekeeping and improved mental alertness.

Probably the biggest obstacle towards cycling is the attitude of some other road users. Impatience and lack of awareness on the part of drivers (including so-called professionals such as bus and taxi drivers) greatly adds to the sense of hazard for cyclists. In Scandinavia and Germany, a “hierarchy of care” places the onus on motorists to drive cautiously around vulnerable road users. After all, cyclists don’t kill truckers, so the legal duty of care must reflect this inequality of risk.

The other great enemy of road safety is speed. In order for cyclists to use roads safely (many, including Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne, object to cycle lanes, which are often badly designed and maintained) we need to reduce the urban speed limit to 30km/h.

It will require serious political cojones to take on the car lobby, yet it can be done. Every day, half a million people cycle to schools and work in Copenhagen, a city that 40 years ago was as car-choked as Dublin. Cycling is now seen as chic and cars are just not that cool.

Cycling is also innately sociable. I recently found myself striking up a conversation on the street with a fellow cyclist – Dr Mike McKillen of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, as it transpired. That simply doesn’t happen when you’re in a car.

In the words of author Iris Murdoch: “Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Frog Jumps Out – a guest post from Trout in the Milk

Well, I can sure pick 'em. Hey, readers of BentGuy's blog -- here are a few thoughts I had that I was going to put in a comment, until they grew and grew, and then grew some more until I started to have thoughts about the thoughts themselves, and then thoughts about the thoughts about the thoughts...

And it all starts with cell phones.

Specifically, with the rather odd fact that our provincial governments seem reluctant to ban their use in motor vehicles. B.C.'s own Attorney-General offers the explanation that a law against cell phones in cars would be too hard to enforce. My father, though he voted Liberal, finds this funny: "the seat-belt laws were hard to enforce, too" he points out, and he's right. But such is the state of things today that there's even a better example, of a more basically unenforceable law, with far less justification behind it, that nevertheless gets followed.

That would be the ban on smoking within six meters of doors, windows, bus stops, awnings (awnings!) , the windward side of ferries, etc. etc. etc. BentGuy, the bastard, thinks this is funny, because he isn't a smoker (and I am, I should be careful to point out)...but I think it's funny for quite a different reason. I think it's funny because there is no cop so slack-ass that he or she can afford to waste precious time enforcing this unenforceable law, pulling out tape measures to make sure the magic six-meter limit isn't challenged. Because you know, within the six meters you can get cancer! But outside the six meters it's totally safe. Hey, and you can't smoke in a car with a kid who's under sixteen years of age, that's not safe, that's poor parenting! Soon as the sixteenth birthday comes though, you're on your own, kid.

A lot of these laws are stupid. Cars can idle within six meters of a doorway, window, awning, what-have-you, but people can't smoke there. Hmm. Of course we wouldn't have this problem if the government just banned the sale of tobacco, would we? Dangerous stuff, this tobacco. Health Canada says it kills innocent bystanders, the province says it's too dangerous to be smoked under an awning, where people might go...and yet it's an over-the-counter product. Pretty much sounds about as safe as plutonium. And yet anybody can sell cigarettes, just so long as they don't DISPLAY THE PACKS.

So...does that sound right to you?

This all ties together in a minute or two, I promise. But before we get started, I'd just like to say that, as a smoker, I would fully support a ban on the importation and sale of tobacco. Fully. However, I think the current law is awful, pernicious, Draconian bullshit.

But then again I guess it really doesn't matter what I think, because you know what? Everybody mostly obeys that unenforceable law, anyway. That's right; even though no one's gonna catch you breaking it, and even if they do it'd have to be a mighty slow news day for anybody to want to do anything about it, and even though you've got to figure there's just about no way in hell you'd ever walk away from a courtroom having to pay any sort of a fine because you smoked publicly when you know perfectly well we've got a girl coming over in 2010 and come on you guys, we've got to get this place cleaned UP...!

Yes, EVEN SO...!

...Still for the most part, people choose to obey this law. Even though they quite plainly do not have to.

And therefore, the obvious question: so why would it make any difference if a law banning cellphone use in cars was hard to enforce?

It wouldn't make any difference, and yet the government won't contemplate passing such a law, and that's a red flag, and I ain't joking. Twenty years from now Jane Fonda's going to be taking home a Best Actress award for her work in the movie about the cell phone conspiracy, and how awful it was, how compromised they all were in the governments, the regulatory agencies, etc. etc. Because, look, these cellphones really are the cigarettes of the twenty-first century, you know? And maybe they're even worse than that. Because microwaves scything through your skull is probably at least somewhere on a continuum with smoke swirling in your lungs; whereas secondhand smoke is probably NOT on a continuum with two tons of metal being ineptly piloted down the street at forty kilometers an hour. I mean we can't even get this behaviour banned in a SCHOOL ZONE, for heaven's sake! And people can't even cross the street competently while talking on a cell phone, I've seen 'em try and they can't do it. George Romero's zombie-as-consumer stuff looks pretty out of date, now...and as for the supposedly dangerous nature of zombies themselves, did I mention that people talking on cell phones can't even cross the street with a sufficiency of skill? No one notices, because they're all on cell phones too. They're zombies too, and just like in the movies there's fast zombies and there's slow zombies.

The fast ones are in cars, right?

But the slow ones are VERY SLOW INDEED, and you can see it. Man, I might worry about a zombie cat, or something. Sure, a cat; a cat might get me. But a zombie human-person? Never in a million years, my little friend. I'd already be three blocks away before they even realized I had once been there. SLOW. Mindbogglingly slow. But very nimble when it comes texting, I suppose......And you know, something's sure as hell screwy around here, isn't it? Because I've been thinking about this for about a month or so now. I've been kind of musing aloud about the dark side of cell phones, to friends, family, even strangers. About waste disposal problems, for instance! These things are little sachets of lead and mercury, nightmares waiting to happen, and we've not only mass-produced them but we've made them disposable. DISPOSABLE PHONES. Nobody even pays for them, they just give 'em away for nothing with the contract. New contract, new phone, throw the old one into the landfill. If you built a house out of these things, the government wouldn't let you live in it. But if you just wanna hold one next to your ovaries for a couple years before tossing it on a pile to get rained on, that's fine. My God, we treat 'em like they're plastic bags, trillion a year, no problem, we just throw 'em in the sea and watch 'em kill our fish. NO PROBLEM. Jesus. We're through the looking-glass here, people. And (again) you know what?

No one wants to know about it.

No one wants to know about it. I've talked to dozens of people about cell phones over the last few weeks, and NONE of them want to hear it, to the point where they do what little kids do, they ostentatiously change the subject and pretend you won't notice. Which is very serious business, because that's practically the sort of behaviour we normally associate with big-league taboos, like CRIME. They don't want to know, and they're not GONNA know. La-la-la can't hear you. You could get in a fistfight over this kind of thing. That's how bad things have already gotten.

And that's why it took me so long to write all this down, because none of it adds up. Even cigarettes were never as touchy a subject as this, you know, so...what the hell's going on? That's what I asked myself.

What the hell IS all this nonsense? Where's it all coming from?

And then I figured it out: cellphones and all their wireless-telegizmo cognates aren't the cigarettes of the twenty-first century, after all. They're the BIG OIL of the twenty-first century, instead. And the reason governments don't want to regulate them is because they've got an AWFUL lot invested in them. Because every time someone's not using their cellphone, somewhere money is not being made; and if we all threw away our wireless gizmos tomorrow, the next day Apple and Microsoft would both get their stock price chopped in half, and people would lose their homes. Two out of every three dollars slated to come down the pipeline of the Internet wouldn't arrive on anything like schedule, should we all toss our Blackberries back into the bushes on Monday morning. And so this isn't just big business anymore; like oil, it's become our life's blood. And it's polluted as hell, but we can't afford to notice. We can't afford to notice, until it's too late to do anything about it. Once it's too late, we can notice, and that'll be fine, because we'll already be screwed, and therefore not responsible. But right now, just as all this stuff's just set to go absolutely stratospheric, no: no, no, no. Don't you dare look. Just shut up about it. Oh, look, a pretty birdie...! LA-LA-LA...!

I think a good rule of thumb would be: nothing really serious ever gets done about a problem on a governmental level until food shortages hit. Seriously, if cancer caused food shortages it'd probably be cured by now. Food shortages: where salami tactics turn and start slicing the other way! It is the one thing people will always pick up torches and pitchforks for, the one thing that can topple any government, anywhere. Hey, why do you think Lenin starved his millions? To prove it could be DONE, of course: his greatest proof of success. How proud he must have been. And then after he successfully took away food, he started to take away step: oxygen! The Soviet Union never did get quite that far, though, and just look where it is now, eh? But once you've starved a few million people just for, y'know, kicks...well, you're pretty much committed to a course of action at that point, aren't you? At that point you're sitting on a big time-bomb, basically, I would imagine...And, sorry, where was I? Oh, yes: hey, thanks for letting me guest-post, BentGuy! Hmm, just thought I ought to get that out there, before you got tired of reading...

But there aren't going to be any food shortages caused by cellphonoid the revolution she is not happening I t'ink, senor. Because one thing propaganda's not any good for is when you're starving to death...but hey, for everything else it works pretty well! The Internet is "clean", you know; every piece of hardware that supports it is filthy as smoking itself, but the Internet ITSELF...! Is perfectly clean. Green and enviro, all the day long. This is the same sort of thing you hear all the time. I caught a guy near my place basically driving a truck with a projector mounted on it, shining fashion ads on the sides of buildings. "Guerilla marketing," he called it, and with the biggest dare-you-to-do-something-about-it shit-eating grin I have EVER seen plastered on his face he told me:

"Hey, it's just light, right?"

When actually it isn't, of course. I mean undeniably it is, in fact, light -- hell, it's BRIGHT light, goddamnit! -- Asshole! -- but it's nothing like "just" light, it's also camera, lens, bulb, projector components, computer set-up, office supplies, freakin' BIG-ASS TRUCK...a can of paint would probably be more environmentally sensitive, once you total it all up. And what "guerilla marketing" means, it means the guy who owns the building that the ads are projected on hasn't been paid for the use of his space, nobody doing this stunt's got a permit, he needs to get a police scanner so he can stay ahead of the cops...etc. etc. These guys also powerwash stencils for Telus Mobility -- hey, we're back to cell phones! -- into the sidewalk near my house.

"Hey, we're just cleaning the pavement, right?"

Actually, wrong again; cleaning is what I do to it when I go down there with a wire brush and obliterate your ad. See, now we're both Boy Scouts! Hooray! I was so inspired by your volunteer efforts to clean up the city that I decided to pitch right in, and in honour of your cleaning pattern I chose one that duplicated it in negative!

What am I gonna do about it. Shessh. I'll tell you what I'm gonna do about it, if I catch him at it again. I've going to take the business card he STUPIDLY gave me, and I'm going to take it down to City Hall and I'm going to register a complaint. "Sustainable advertising for a greener tomorrow", is what it says on the card. "Sustainable advertising", pfeh. You know, maybe propaganda isn't good for absolutely everything shy of a food shortage, after all...

But for cell phones that line's more than likely gonna work. It's just how you get to the Internet, it's "just light", obviously, eh? It's just a screen and some buttons.

It'll kill millions, but outside of that it's harmless.

And this is why governments hesitate to regulate this activity, because just like Lenin they would then be committed to a course of action. Sitting on a time-bomb. Just ONCE regulate it, and you've set a precedent for regulating it, you've admitted it can cause harm, even though it's "just light"...that's where the "too hard to enforce" thing comes from, and the "but hands-free is okay" thing too -- it ISN'T too hard to enforce, and clearly hands-free is NOT "okay", but my God if we can just find one way not to have to LOOK at what the problem is, just for ONE MINUTE MORE...!

Then maybe we'll be able to say later that we TRIED to do something about it, but y'know WHO KNEW, am I right people?

Big Oil. Of course to you and me they are known by their street name: cars. We totally lost the whole battle over the car thing. Haven't yet lost the war, but the first few skirmishes, oh yeah. Definitely lost those. And just relatively recently, with the whole helmet thing -- and God I'm glad BentGuy's writing about that, because I swear I never THOUGHT of it before, but it's all so flippin' obvious now!! -- there was a bit of rhetorical dirty work going on there too. "You're the ones who aren't being safe, where are your helmets! I thought you were all "into safety", but you have no helmets? WHAT A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES, YOU'RE JUST BLAMING THE POOR CAR FOR YOUR OWN RECKLESSNESS...!" Textbook stuff, straight off the playground. No, you are. No, you are. I know you are, but what am I. La-la-la!

Even if somebody gets killed while wearing a helmet, see? "Well, I can't understand what happened, he was wearing a helmet as you're required to do, so I guess it must've been some sort of FREAK ACCIDENT..."

But I think at some point the time-bomb goes off. And by the way, did you hear? Amazing news: apparently if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and then bring it slowly to a boil, THE FROG JUMPS OUT! Yeah. Frogs: they're not stupid, people.And neither are we.

So here is something we can all do, and it's easy. Turn to the person next to you wherever you may happen to be, and say this:

"Hey, ever notice that on the news when there's a car crash, no one ever says whether or not the person driving was on their cell? Maybe that's because they don't think to say it. Like, it just doesn't come up. I mean, if none of the drivers were talking on their phones when they crashed, you wouldn't mention it, right? It's be like saying "the driver was fully clothed", you just wouldn't say it. So...I guess that means it's only the people who aren't on their cell that get into crashes, eh? Like, it's safer to drive while talking on the phone. It's safer. It's SAFER."

"Anyway, that's what I told your son and daughter yesterday."

And just like that, ladies and gentlemen: the frog jumps out.

Hey, thanks for having me!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What's next... Google pooch view?

An article in USA Today explains that: Now Google Maps is expanding to biking and hiking trails. A Google employee on a tricycle rides around to snap the same wide-area views. "Much of the world is inaccessible to the car," says Daniel Ratner, a Google senior engineer who designed the trike. "We want to get access to places people find important."

Hiking trails eh? Well, I'll wait to see how this vehicle manages its way up the Grouse Grind. Apparently they've also considered Google boat view among other ideas. I suppose once they've mapped the entire globe from top to bottom we can enjoy crawling down the back alleys of the downtown east side from the comfort of our laptops.

It's not that I can really find much wrong with this whole Google viewing but cycle paths are for riding your bike on and hiking trails are for exploring on foot. I fear that as western countries get fatter and fatter we continue to find new ways to keep our ever expanding backsides planted on the couch.

And by the way; I have no idea how fast this guy will be going but does he really think that there is the remotest chance that he will hit his head. Unless he's just worried about that camera contraption tumbling down on his cranium. Another liddite rides again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Not such a new-fangled invention...

Here's a collection of old bike films that demonstrates that the standard seen-one-seen-them-all diamond frame bike didn't always rule the road. Although I wouldn't want to necessarily see all of these strange vehicles out there in traffic. That guy with the giant wheels strapped to his feet should stay off of the bike paths for sure. You've got to love the crazy tandem, trailer race with the trailer rider leaping out at the checkpoint and then having to chase the bike and hop back in.

I'm regularly stopped and queried about my bike; usually did I build it or how much did it cost? Often people are surprised to learn how long recumbents have been around. Well, as you can see, it's not such a new-fangled invention after all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Now why didn't this idea take off?

If you can get a car driver to wear this... well that's not happening.

Cool, Light and Comfortable... really, they look cool don't they?

Even if you re-designed it to look moderately cool, if that's even possible, no driver I have ever met would be caught dead in one; especially the ones who drive hopped-up, super cool machines and love to go insanely fast. It's interesting that even the idea of this makes you laugh out loud but the idea of a bike helmet is such a serious one that laws are made to force cyclists to wear them. But it's the drivers and pedestrians who show up in emergency wards with the majority of head injuries. Should we make a law to force them to wear one of these? Can't you just hear the outrage now?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Things I saw on my day off...

I took the day off last Friday to celebrate Bike-to-Work week by biking instead of working (there's a logic of sorts to it) and I saw a few things.

First there was our cycling Mayor of Vancouver Gregor tuck-in-those-pant-cuffs Robertson who I spotted crossing Broadway at Yukon looking every bit the perfect ad for the commuter lifestyle. Too bad about the message that the helmet gives off (cycling is scary and dangerous) but it's the law and I suppose as a civic employee he has to toe that line and it's likely that he agrees with helmet use anyhow -- sigh.

I didn't have my camera ready so I didn't take this shot,
but this is essentially what I saw.

And he walks the walk too. Not only can you catch him biking around town or spot him at a Critical Mass ride but Vancouver city council has now voted to close one of the Burrard Bridge’s six lanes to traffic in favour of cyclists. Whoo-hoo! The six-month trial is scheduled to begin some time in June. The southbound curb lane will be dedicated to southbound cyclists only and the eastside sidewalk will be dedicated to northbound cyclists only. While all pedestrians will be directed to the westside sidewalk.

Then there was the Google camera car which I saw coming out of an alley about a block from my house and then again about two blocks away near 10th & Fraser. At first I had no idea what I was looking at, but hopefully if I'm in the shot they'll blur out the stunned look on my face.

Again, camera not ready, but it looked just like this.

Google has announced that its cars will be driving around taking photos in the coming weeks in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and Saint John. Google is now rolling down the streets of Vancouver in time for the 2010 Games. There has been quite a bit of controversy regarding Street View in other countries, notably the United Kingdom, but I haven't really heard an argument against it that I can agree with... yet.

And then while cycling along the bike trail around Sunset Beach I was stopped by a camera man and reporter doing a video survey of some sort for BCAA regarding their new service called Bike Assist. They talked to me and filmed for about 5 minutes or so. So as of June 1, cyclists in B.C. -- with BCAA memberships -- can get the same services as motorists when they run into trouble on the road. A phone call will bring a BCAA mechanic with bike tools and training to fix common problems, from a flat tire to a broken chain. If the problem is more serious, the mechanic will put the bike onto the truck’s bike rack and bring it, and its rider, home or to a bike shop. Apparently they draw the line at picking bike locks. Unfortunately they couldn't tell me if you could get a BCAA membership if you didn't have a car.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Should Distracted Drivers Face Jail Time?

Yet another news item in the growing list of distracted driving crimes. In this case, we have a woman doing her nails killing another woman on a motorcycle. And her motorcycle helmet (not the light-weight, plastic-sheathed, styrofoam toys that we cyclists sport) could not save her life.

There is also a reference in the article to a driver killing a cyclist while downloading ring-tones.

Or how about this "caught on tape" texting bus driver?

It's hard to imagine what other evidence is required before our lawmakers take notice and deal with the issue of distracted drivers. Distracted drivers are impaired drivers and it's time that the law saw it that way. But instead of dealing with real safety issues like distracted driving they'll pass knee-jerk reaction laws to force cyclists to wear ineffectual styrofoam buckets so they can say they did something. Dealt with public safety... check... next issue.

That said, it sounds like Ontario may be the first province to get its feet wet in the area. A bill to make distracted driving an offense has passed third reading in Queen's Park and the government hopes to have a law in place by the fall. Essentially, drivers in Ontario will not legally be allowed to use hand-held devices to talk or to send e-mail or text messages. Well that's a start but unfortunately there's still plenty of fine tuning to do on the legislation due to lobbying by commercial transportation companies (and you just know there will be others) to get an exemption. Maybe they need to look at the bus video above.

So now I'm informed that Newfoundland has banned cell phones in moving vehicles. Well well, there is hope yet.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bike Trials in Scotland

Normally I'm not a big fan of this kind of cycling. When I see guys trying to pull this stuff off on the streets or bike paths I secretly want to run them off of the road. That said, if you can watch this video without being in complete awe of this this guy's amazing skill and fearlessness then you may have forgotten what adventure means.

I love how they show him actually waiting for a light to change at one point. Beyond that it would appear that the city doesn't hold too many obstacles for Danny MacAskill. This is definitely one thing that recumbents certainly can't do... I'm still trying to master hopping up onto curbs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Does cycling make you truly happy?

If you commute by bike every day it can become a labour. There are likely days when you look out the window and the weather says, "Take the bus dopey." But once you've strapped on all of the sweaty rain gear, covered your panniers with little shower caps and checked that all of your lights are blinking away, you're off. If you're actually out there doing it in those conditions then it's fair to assume that it probably it makes you happy.

Charles Foster Kane was not happy.

Because I ride a recumbent I smile like an idiot all of the time anyhow, but I can honestly claim that during some of the happiest times in my life I was riding a bike.

Twenty years ago I rode across Canada and although I was none to enamoured with the persistently consistent landscape of Saskatchewan (not to mention the wind), that cycling introduction to this impressive country is one of my fondest memories. I'd have to concede that cycle touring in general has given me some of my most cherished memories.

I get a very similar pleasure these days from my daily commute. When I took my current job I readily admitted to my employer when he asked me how I liked the place that my favourite thing about it was my daily commute. I see aggressive and angry people from time to time riding bikes and I really don't know how they manage it. For me commuting is one of the best parts of my day. In my life 'Rosebud' was a bike!

Soon to be on a t-shirt near you.