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Losing my balance…and finding my calling?

Losing my balance…and finding my calling?

“There is no reason why a man on a smooth road should lose his balance on a bicycle; but he could.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

There was no reason that I should have lost my balance; but I did. At least that’s what they tell me. I “wasn’t there.” My body was there, anyway. I don’t remember anything about what happened. Retrograde amnesia, I guess. The only thing I do remember about the time before my crash is being down at the southern end of the island and starting to head north. The only thing I remember after is thinking, “Wow, I’m in a helicopter.”

I don’t remember the medevac helicopter ride (what a shame, that would’ve been cool). I don’t remember much from the next couple of days. That’s probably because of the drugs they gave me to keep me from being in pain: my face was kinda scraped off. I broke multiple ribs in multiple places. Tore a bicep, and a rotator cuff. Broke a thumb. Road rash on both arms. Chest bleed. Brain bleed (not subdural, subarachnoid: a potentially serious one).

Why am I telling you this at all? Two reasons.

The first is to talk about “crashes” and “accidents.”

All accidents are crashes. But very few crashes are accidents. What difference does it make? A lot. An accident is “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.” But a crash almost always has a cause. The drunk driver, who hits another motorist or a person riding a bike or someone walking down the street, chose to drive after drinking. The bicyclist who runs a red light and gets hit chose to ignore the law. The pedestrian who ran into the sign or fell into a fountain (yes, you’ve seen videos like that!) chose to stare at the phone instead of where he or she was going. And sometimes, more than one party in a crash could have made different choices that would have changed the outcome. Like the motorist who decides to rush past a bicyclist and then make a right turn in the bicyclist’s path. The motorist could have waited the few seconds to let the bicyclist go through the intersection. The bicyclist could have scanned the traffic more frequently, or used a mirror, to see the approaching motorist sooner, and slowed or used an evasive maneuver to prevent the crash.

Doctors ran tests on me in the hospital. They weren’t able to find a cause for my crash, so maybe it really was an accident. Or not. Maybe I did (or didn’t) do something that may have changed what happened. Or not. Maybe mine is one of those outliers. Or not. If not, I don’t know what I might have done differently that day.

But usually we choose to do things, though sometimes the choice is not well-thought-out.

And now the second reason why I told you all this: because I think He isn’t done with me yet.

I was already committed to teaching others about safe road use. But if I had ANY doubts whether this was what I was supposed to do, they were certainly put to rest then. Since then, I started working towards educating potential educators. First, I became a coach for the League of American Bicyclists – training new instructors nationwide so they can educate others. And then, I found a real groove: working with some of our most influential educators: law enforcement officers.

Some people think of police as “enforcers,” as the “strong arm.” Yes, they are that, sometimes. But more often, they are educators. The stop you because a taillight is out. They direct traffic to help you avoid a dangerous situation. They respond when a crash happens, and, often, someone gets a ticket. Are these “punishments?” Perhaps, but these are also powerful educational moments…More often than not, just a discussion with an officer is sufficient to cause a change in behavior. The authority given these men and women puts them in a unique position to educate. That’s what I hope to tap into. If I can change the perspective of police officers, so that they see the world as it appears from the saddle instead of from behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, then they can better understand (and change) behavior of the citizens they encounter, both in cars and on bikes.

So maybe there was a reason I lost my balance. Maybe there’s a reason I had time to think about the next step. And maybe I’ve figured it out. But maybe there’s more…He hasn’t told me yet.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these: “GET OFF THE ROAD!,” “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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The same…but different

The same…but different

I was in Oklahoma this week. I did my law enforcement class in Tulsa on Tuesday. Representatives from several agencies in the region were in the class. It was a very rewarding session; good questions and comments, good participation overall. One officer even got up to draw scenarios and ask the other officers how they would deal with it! Another officer who commented early in the day that he’d “pull over bicyclists when they’re doing things that aren’t safe” left the class with a different perspective.

Wait! That was the point of the class, wasn’t it? The idea was to get officers to think about how the road looks when you’re sitting on a saddle instead of sitting behind the wheel of a big metal box hurtling down the road.

That second officer came up to me at the end of the day to say I had really changed the way he looks at bicyclists. Wow. He realized that, often, the things bicyclists do may look like they’re being unsafe, when in fact they’re moving in a certain way to keep themselves safe!

Safe…now there’s an important word. In Oklahoma, that word is used in the law. Bicyclists “moving at less than the normal speed of traffic” don’t have to ride “as far to the right as is practicable.” They have to to ride “as far to the right as is safe.” The same, but different.

As far as is safe. Not a weird word that no one understands anyway. Not a word that can be mistaken for “possible.” Not a word that causes confusion. Because who gets to choose how far right that is? The bicyclist does.

In the class I use a momentary diversion to illustrate that point. I talk about passing laws. I ask, “Assuming a motorist is in a place where passing is allowed, who decides when it’s OK to pass a slower-moving vehicle?” Of course, the answer is: the motorist who wants to pass. The passer decides when it is safe to move left and pass the slower-moving vehicle. Then I ask, “OK, then, who gets to decide where/when a bicyclist may move left, because any further right is unsafe?” Of course, the answer is: the bicyclist who is in the lane. And then I watch several heads explode as officers process that…

It’s one of the “AHA!” moments that I get to see during this class. It’s one of the moments that make it so worthwhile, because I can see the shift. In each of those moments, their viewpoint moves a bit further.

I had a rare opportunity to go even further with this scenario in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. I spoke at the Traffic Safety Forum of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. It’s a statewide gathering of LEOs, many of whom are police chiefs.

I had walked to dinner Tuesday night and noticed a streetcar track, across the street from the hotel. Someone in Tulsa had said that a bicyclist went down in OKC because the tracks “grabbed” the front tire and he was hurt when the bike went down. Here’s a pic of the layout I saw. I simply had to talk about it during my presentation. Why?

See anything problematic? Yep. The bike lane (lane 3) is against the curb and the streetcar tracks are in the next lane to the left (lane 2). Motorists can use lane 1 (hard to see in this pic) or lane 2. In Oklahoma, bicyclists are not required to use bicycle lanes, by the way. So, if there’s debris in the bike lane, or if a streetcar is coming, or if the gutter pan is part of the bike lane, bicyclists certainly would not want to be in the bike lane. What position puts them “as far right as is safe?” Is it lane 2, between the rails?

Just like train tracks, streetcar tracks are just about the right size to grab a bike’s tire. If that happens, the bicyclist may completely lose the ability to steer the bike…and fall. The fall is dangerous regardless, but if it is to the left, and there are motorists traveling in the left lane, it could even be fatal.

So the correct travel lane for the bicylist is…lane 1(the far left lane)! You should have seen the heads explode when I said that! And then I could see the heads nodding. An “AHA!” moment. I think even in that brief talk, I was able to get a bit of a change in perspective. I hope so.

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…a small step. And a big one…

Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with nearly two dozen officers in the New Orleans Police Department. On what? Traffic law and bicycling. Officers from every district came to the session wherein we discussed how traffic law applies to people driving bicycles rather than cars. The session was the culmination of almost three years of effort.

A bit of background: I am a League Cycling Instructor (LCI) for the League of American Bicyclists (LAB). I am also a National Coach for LAB, training other instructors nationwide. In conversations with friends who are law enforcement officers, several of whom are avid bike riders, the topic of police interactions with bicyclists arose. We agreed that many officers, like everyone else, are unaware of the difference in perspective when you’re on a bike. You don’t look at the world the same way as you do behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. So we put together a course for officers. It included classroom time to discuss what the laws are and how they apply to bicyclists, and when they don’t. We included sections on engineering (how road design can help…and hurt), education (what we teach citizens), and enforcement (how officers can enforce the law equitably). It also included time on a bike – to put that classroom knowledge into practice, for officers to experience what it’s like to drive a bicycle as part of traffic. We did a pilot program in 2014, then got a grant to conduct it in multiple locations in one state in 2015. We’ve done it since with close to 400 officers in 4 states.

When I first moved back to New Orleans three  years ago, I tried to get the program up and running here. Two steps forward, one step back. One step forward, three steps back…You know how it goes. Multiple dead-ends. A glimmer of hope, and then another brick wall. But I didn’t stop. And then…a small step. And a big one…I didn’t know it at the time, but a conversation in January led to yesterday.

After the deaths of Sharree Walls and David Hynes on March 2 of this year, New Orleans rose up to voice concern for road safety for all. And after a City Council meeting with hours’ worth of testimony by Ms. Wall’s family, friends, and many other concerned members of the community, my phone rang. That conversation in January planted the seed. The phone call was from NOPD. “Les, that course we talked about? We want to do it.” “Great, when?” “Now.”

Then yesterday happened! I co-taught the class with two officers who are active bicyclists as well. Their dual perspective made it even more real for attendees. We discussed Louisiana and New Orleans law. We discussed the bad behavior we see…in both bicyclists and motorists! We talked about how the road and motorists look to bicyclists, compared to how motorists see the road and bicyclists. We reviewed the most common violations they may see, again, for both motorists and bicyclists.

And after the talking, we got on bikes. And you could see the “Aha!” moment. “Why did the bike lane disappear?” “Riding here (in the door-zone bike lane) is dangerous….” “You expect me to go through all the water and debris in the bike lane?” “Wait – if I turn left here, the road markings say to go all the way to the right…and then cross an interstate on-ramp???” The theoretical knowledge turned into the practical reality of getting from Point A to Point B without the protection of a several thousand pound box of metal. And I think we made a difference. I hope that the officers who came yesterday will see things just a bit differently when they hit the road today. It was a small step. And a big one…

 

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bicyclist…road warrior…even if you’re not

bicyclist…road warrior…even if you’re not

“For the city bike to catch on we need a revolution in our society’s infrastructure. Right now a city rider needs to be a road warrior, and the bike needs to be cheap and ugly so it won’t get stolen. That’s not a bike-friendly culture.”

Gary Fisher

Yeah. That, and that. 

New Orleans is trying to be bike-friendly. There are over 100 miles of bicycle lanes in the city. The Lafitte Greenway now offers a way to get from downtown out to Bayou St John. There’s a sidepath on Wisner Boulevard for traveling out to Lake Pontchartrain. Crescent Park offers great riding.

But…

Many of the bicycle lanes are in the door zone, and/or end abruptly with few connections between them. The end of the Lafitte Greenway is tantalizingly close to City Park – but not quite close enough. The Wisner sidepath connects to a bike lane on the I-610 overpass – on one side, and there is no easy/safe way to cross over to reach it if you going the other way. Crescent Park has great riding – but you can only get in at one end.

So you need to be a road warrior. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t ride in the city. My bike was my transportation in the city when I was in college, long before anybody thought that bikes were any more than a toy for kids. I rode the pothole-ridden streets of the city, and, yes, the Wisner overpass daily in my trip to school. And there was no sidepath, no bike lane, no protected lane on the overpass. I just rode. I was, and am, in that group that is now known as the “strong and fearless.” I rode, and still ride, anywhere, regardless. But now I feel like I need to think about motorists way more than I did then.

Most motorists are incredibly considerate of bicyclists. In my experience, it’s rare that anyone acts with anything other than respect for me as a road user. And if they’re just being idiots, I can deal with that, too.

But what IS a concern is distracted drivers. No one claims to drive and text – everyone ELSE does that…Looking down at the phone while driving, even for a few seconds, means that a metal box is hurtling down the road UNDER NO CONTROL for those few seconds. If anyone or anything – a person, another motor vehicle, whatever – is in front of that projectile, bad things may happen.

In the protection of another big metal box (motor vehicle) a person may fall victim to a crash, but without that protection (a bicyclist or a pedestrian) there is a much greater chance of injury or death. At a “modest” 40mph, a crash involving a pedestrian is likely to result in the death of the pedestrian over one-half of the time.

…moving on. Bikes just seem to be a really tempting target of theft. A decent-looking bike (not even talking about high-end purchases) must be locked very securely, or else it will be stolen. In too many places, there is nowhere to store a bike safely. Bike parking, or even a bike rack, is simply unavailable in many places. And too many folks are unaware of how to lock a bike to minimize the possibility of theft, and too many others are eager to take a bike from its rightful owner.

The culture needs to change. On both fronts. We need to talk about moving people, not vehicle “throughput.” We need to relook at our streets to make them places that all road users can use, regardless of their mode of transportation. We need to provide space for parking bicycles in a safe way.

That’s the start.

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GET OFF THE ROAD!

GET OFF THE ROAD!

Two recent incidents prompted this post. I had to wait a bit to write about the first one because I was so angry. And then the second one came up…It’s still a somewhat angry post, but please read it.

Well, at least neither one blamed anyone for the crash. But wait. Let’s get into the articles:

Regarding the Tennessee crash, the reporter says, “According to a fatality report by Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Curtis Smith, (David) Abney was distracted while using a cellphone before striking McCurry, who was not wearing a helmet.” So Abney, who “traveled outside his lane in a 2005 Chevy Tahoe and struck Cletus McCurry,” was distracted, left his lane, and killed a man on a bicycle. But the reporter felt it was critical to say that the bicyclist was not wearing his helmet. Was the motorist wearing a seatbelt? Or a helmet (data show many brain injuries occur as a result of car crashes, too)? How about saying that Mr. Abney wasn’t controlling his 5,000-lb lethal weapon!?

But wait. By implication, Mr. McCurry shouldn’t have been on the road. The article goes on: “Meanwhile, Loudon County commissioners voted 6-3 to draft a resolution asking Loudon County Sheriff’s Office to enforce traffic violations for bicyclists.”

“Our hope is that enforcement of existing state laws will discourage bicycle riders from riding their bicycles on Loudon County roads that are far too narrow, winding and dangerous and will improve the safety and welfare of the traveling public on Loudon County roadways,” the resolution reads.

The county commissioner introduced the resolution. His bias is clear: Bicyclists just need to get off the damned road!

“Bicycles on roadways are just always going to be at a disadvantage in any accident,” Shaver said. “Bicycles on the roadways are going to be very hazardous to folks on bicycles and automobiles. Highways and roadways are not the place for people on bicycles.” So the bicyclists in the county are a danger to the 5,000-lb. hurling metal boxes, are they? Apparently, they are. God forbid a bicyclist should hit a car and kill the occupant. That would be just terrible.

Now let’s move on to the idiocy in Florida:

“A long-time cardiologist with Orlando Health was killed in Maitland Monday morning when his bicycle was hit by a car.” Apparently in Florida, vehicles can move about on their own. How the cardiologist might have died is unclear, since his bike was out for a ride, and was hit by a car. I don’t know whether either vehicle’s owner knew they were out on the road or if the vehicles had permission to go out on their own, unsupervised.

OK, I said that to make a point. Obviously, the doctor was riding his bike and a person driving a car hit him. But the motorist who killed Dr. Dalton is never mentioned!

What’s the implied bias in this case? Exactly the same as the stated bias in the Tennessee case. That the bicyclist was somehow at fault, and that we should shield the poor unfortunate motorist who was involved in this tragic accident. It was no accident. Crashes happen because people make choices, and sometimes those choices are bad. In this case, someone’s choice was fatal. I don’t know whether the bad choice was Dr. Dalton’s or the unnamed motorist’s.

Regardless, the bias, overt or implicit, in these articles is clear. And the words we use frame the way we think about things. And what do we take away from these two articles? That those poor unfortunate motorists had the misfortune of hitting a bicyclist…who shouldn’t have been there anyway.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these:  “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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Bicycling and Traffic Law 2018

A year later, and three more sessions in the books. If you’ve seen my posts over the last year, you know I’ve taught classes to police officers on how traffic laws apply to people on bicycles. The fundamental principle is the same as what the League of American Bicyclists teaches the public: “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

It’s appropriate to point out here that bicyclists have the same rights and share the same responsilibities as motorists. IN ALL 50 STATES. The wording of the statute differs from state to state, but fundamentally, they all say that people on bicycles should drive their bicycles. Yes, you read that right. There are some statutes that only apply to motorists, and some that only apply to bicyclists, and some that bicyclists cannot follow by definition.

And that’s what the course is about.

Over the past few weeks, the NJBWC educated nearly 40 law enforcement officers from 18 police departments in three New Jersey counties in the rules of the road for bike riders. Like last year’s course, “Title 39: A Bike’s-Eye View,” it comprised classroom learning, skills building maneuvers on bikes, and a group ride on local roads. The purpose is to help the officers understand how traffic law relates to bike riders, and to give them first-hand experience of what most of us who ride regularly already know: the road is very different when you are on a bike. The course, funded by the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety, was held in locations in Atlantic, Monmouth, and Morris Counties in May.

It was modified a bit this year to spend a bit more time on one of the trickiest part of riding on the road…the “far right as practicable” rule. Like many other adults, many police officers, not being riders themselves, do not appreciate how traffic looks to a bicyclist. They also don’t fully understand the challenges bicyclists face in dealing with motorists. With this course, these officers are now equipped to be more effective in working with bicyclists as drivers. The course was designed to help officers also work with motorists, who often do not understand that bicyclists have a right to use the road in the same way that they do.

The course, developed specifically for law enforcement officers, addressed the so-called ‘Three E’s of Traffic Safety’: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement, in a classroom session. Encouragement and Equity were also discussed – some of the new “E’s” that have come onto the scene.

A significant portion of the enforcement section focused on Title 39:4-14.2. This statute says that bicyclists must ride as far to the right of the roadway as practicable (AFRAP), and enumerates several exceptions to that requirement. First: What does practicable mean? It means safe and reasonable. It does NOT mean “possible.” Bicyclists do NOT have to ride as far right as possible. Several scenarios challenged the officers to determine where the bicyclist would be if as far right as practicable. Two scenarios showed that it was actually on the left edge of the lane! We talked a lot about AFRAP as situational. It changes based on both location and time.

After classroom discussion, many of the officers  got on bikes and practiced various drills to learn maneuvers that help avoid crashes. Finally, they participated in a group ride that took them on a variety of roads ranging from low-speed, residential streets to major highways, to help them understand what it’s like to be a bike rider on those roads. On the ride, several “side-of-the-road” talks were used to point out the potential problem areas, designs, and hazards. We also used  these talks to discuss AFRAP in various locations. At one spot, we pulled over near a parked car to show first, how dangerous it can be to ride close to parked cars, and also how far left a rider needs to be to avoid getting doored. Many were shocked to see that required the rider to be at the left side of the lane.

“The real power of this course is its dual approach: classroom discussion helps officers become more aware of the motor vehicle code as it applies to bicyclists. Then, getting the officers on bikes gives them a real taste of how the world looks from the saddle,” said Sgt. John Barbour (Princeton University Public Safety), a co-instructor of the course.

The course was created in consultation with police officers. Classes were led by Mr. Leathem, who is a national coach for the League of American Bicyclists, and by police officers who are also bicyclists. for information about other such courses I’ve done, click here(2017) or here (2015).

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Riding…and not seeing

Riding…and not seeing

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

John F. Kennedy

That’s right. Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. And many of us take that simple pleasure for granted. Why? Because we can do it any time. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then next week…

But what if that weren’t a possibility? What if you couldn’t do that ride next week?

That’s the real situation some of my friends face. They can’t just jump on the bike and ride. They used to be able to ride, just like the rest of us. But now, it’s just not something they can do. Because they can no longer see. Did you know that around 90% of people who are blind/visually impaired had sight earlier in their lives? They more than likely learned to ride a bike when they were young, just like you and me. And I’m sure they enjoyed it, just like you and me. But that simple pleasure is no longer one they can enjoy, without help.

A few months ago, I met a man who organized bike rides for blind people. He came down with retinitis pigmentosa some years ago. It is a genetic disease that results in gradual loss of vision because of the loss of rod and cone receptor cells in the eye. As they are lost, vision gets progressively more difficult. Total blindness is not common, but many sufferers, like my friend, eventually can distinguish only some light and dark.

He used to ride a lot before he developed retinitis pigmentosa. He wants to keep riding. So he tracked down a couple of tandem bikes and put out a call for sighted bicyclists who would be willing to pilot the tandems. He plans a once-a-month short ride (many of the blind riders have not been on a bike for many years).

I answered the call, because it felt like a great way to help bring the simple pleasure of a bike ride to people who might not think they could do that again. So in December, I went on my first “blind bike ride.” It was a terrific experience. I saw things I had never seen. I experienced the ride in a whole new way: I described everything I was seeing to the blind stoker on the back of the tandem. I told her about the giant Christmas wreaths that one homeowner put up between the columns on the large two-story house we passed. She told me about the car coming up behind us before I could hear it. I told her why we were moving left (to pass the motorist who was unloading the car up ahead). She talked about the aromas coming out of the restaurant coming up, and because she sensed that, she knew exactly where we were! The give and take continued, from Bayou St. John into the French Quarter, and back.

We enjoyed the ride; the sighted pilots and the blind stokers all. We’ve done a few rides now and we’re branching out. One ride was in City Park, with stops at the Singing Oak, Morning Call, and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. We’ve contacted the New Orleans Museum of Art about a more formal visit there. Next month we’ll be back at NOMA’s Sculpture Garden, meeting with a docent to teach us a bit about some of the sculptures…and the visually impaired riders will get to experience the sculptures by touch! We’re talking about a couple of new rides: a historical ride, with licensed tour guides, and a pub ride to some of the local craft breweries.

We’re all learning a lot, and are looking forward to more rides. What’s next? Riders who are challenged in other ways…Adaptive bikes? Trikes? Hand bikes? Yes, we’ve got ideas. We’re at the start of something good.

In the end, it’s about that simple pleasure. The joy of riding a bike.

P.S. Want to get involved? Send me a note. I’ll be happy to help you get involved.

 

 

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Wounded…

Wounded…

The problem is that you can be wounded in your mind as well as your physique.

Marco Pantani

A crash changes lives. The injury is real. The scars prove it.

For some, getting over it and moving on is not very difficult. For others the fear paralyzes. It prevents them from experiencing the joy they once felt. It imprisons them in a world that threatens, not promises. It causes them to deny that which they love to prevent further loss.

I understand the “wounded mind.” Let me tell you about two experiences in my life. In the 90’s, I was in a car crash. Later, even when the doctor cleared me to drive, I was afraid. I coudn’t bear to get behind the wheel again, until finally my wife told me I couldn’t stop living and she wouldn’t drive me anywhere. I had to face the reality, no, the fear, of driving in order to continue living my life. And of course, my wounded mind healed.

Then nearly six years ago, I crashed on my bicycle. It was serious. Broken clavicle, broken ribs, torn bicep tendon, broken thumb, chest bleed, brain bleed. Medevac to trauma hospital. In the trauma unit for 9 days. I have no recollection of the event itself. I “wasn’t there;” short-term amnesia occurred. I don’t remember falling over. I don’t remember hitting the pavement. I don’t remember the pain of my (not insignificant!) injuries. My first (fleeting) memory was opening my eyes and hearing (realizing? being told?) that I was in a helicopter. I don’t remember much else for the next few days. Just pain. People coming and going. Bad dreams. The sheer joy of seeing my family. Bad food. Friends beside me. LEGO candies (yes, really!)

The wounded mind, though.

After this crash, things were different. I didn’t experience the same prison I did after the car crash. I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. I was ecstatic when my doctor cleared me to ride again. But my mind was wounded that day too, and I was not the only one. My wife was wounded, too. Her wounds are just not visible…to you. They were and still are real. I still see them each time I say I’m going for a ride. But I can’t stop living. And I won’t stop doing the things I love. She knows that I take the utmost care when I go out on a ride. And she gives me her blessing. But like the scars I still have on my arms and the clavicle that healed out of kilter, our wounded minds are scarred as well. I still think about that day, and she still worries. It’s not the same as it was before. But we have healed.

A couple of days ago, I shared a meme on facebook that is relevant here: “God didn’t add another day in your life because you needed it…He added it because someone out there needs you.” There is something to be learned (and shared) in your experience. You may not know what that is right now. Search it out. Embrace it. Share it. And in that, you will heal.

So if you’ve been through this in some way, know that like your physique, your wounded mind will heal.

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Seduction

Seduction

“It’s the first machine we master as children and the one we abandon when the seductions of the automobile take over.”
Colman McCarthy, journalist

The feeling of joy. Of confidence. Of freedom. Mastery of the bicycle is a watershed moment for many. It’s the means by which we can explore the world beyond the boundaries of our homes – without our parents! Of course, they set the new boundaries. But it’s..ahem…”a whole new world” (my movie-loving daughters will appreciate the quote). At that moment we first had the opportunity to experience the world in our own way, in our own time, at least until dinner time!

And then, a few years later, it changes. “…when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11). The lure of the automobile. We put away the “toy” and get a car. Now we expand our boundaries even further, with greater speed. But did it really give us more freedom? Or did it take us prisoner? OK, perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but didn’t it, in some way, take away something, and didn’t we lose just a little bit in the process?

I suggest that the answer is “yes” to all the above. Yes, we had even more freedom to explore the world in our own way, in our own time. We could go further and see more in less time. And the building of even more, wider, faster roads allowed us to explore and learn and live further and further away from each other. Yes, and at the same time, we were saddled with so much more. The cost of the vehicle. Paying for gas. Insurance. On the grander scale, road-building. Repairing bad streets. Designing bigger, wider roads to move motorists faster and more easily through to their destinations. Yes, at ever-increasing cost: in dollars; in lives; in lost neighborhoods; lost towns! Cost in marginalizing all road users, except the motorist.

You may be thinking, “well, aren’t the roads for motorists?” Yes, but they are also for bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users…and on it goes. But do we design them to be used by all who need or want to get from one place to another?

No. We design them to get more motor vehicles through, faster. All other users are pushed aside. Not pushed to the side, but pushed out of the way! And we sit in our cars and get irritated when the bicyclist won’t move over so we can pass. [News flash: the law gives bicyclists the SAME rights as motorists] And we blow past the pedestrian standing in the crosswalk trying to reach the other side of the road. [News flash: pedestrians have the right-of-way at EVERY intersection, unless there is a traffic light and it is red] And we can’t get traffic patterns changed or signals installed at a known dangerous intersection until someone dies there. And towns can’t lower speed limits without state approval.

So the new boundaries are those we’ve allowed by subservience to the “freedom” of the automobile. Yes, it seduces us. And, once in a while, we see the true cost.

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Look at the constellations…

Look at the constellations…

“If the constellations had been named in the twentieth century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”
Carl Sagan

It’s all a matter of perspective. And life experience.

The ancients named the constellations, those ephemeral collections of stars that happen to be just in the right place when they looked. They’ll all go away, you know. The stars that make up constellations are light-years away from each other, and traveling in different directions. We see the same thing the ancients saw, only because our time frame is too short. Give them a million years or so, and they won’t look like a dog, or a bear, or a hunter, or…

Enter the bicycle.

First, an observation about roads. Remember, it’s all a matter of perspective. Roads are for cars, right? Nope. Roads were built for bicycles. Yep. Google it. The League of American Wheelmen (that later became the League of American Bicyclists) advocated for paved roads because the ruts caused by the horse-drawn carriages were a problem for them.

And you I know the rest of the story. Along came cars, and the roads became the province of the motorist. Bit by bit, bicycle drivers were relegated to the side of the road or to sidewalks. Car-makers lobbied for rules (like no jaywalking) to make sure those pesky pedestrians didn’t keep motorists from getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible with little interference from bicyclists or walkers. It’s all a matter of perspective.

And now, here we are in the 21st century. Nobody knows the history. Roads are for cars. Bikes should be on the sidewalks. And yes, pedestrian, I DO see you in the crosswalk, but you should wait for me to pass. I can’t be inconvenienced by having to stop for you to cross… It’s all a matter of perspective.

Civil engineers design roads that are designed to get motorists from point A to point B as rapidly as possible, regardless of the human cost. Complete Streets documents are prepared, and even enacted by ordinance in some places. Complete Streets programs are designed to ensure that planners and engineers take into account the needs of ALL road users. Who are the road users? Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and yes, even equestrians, rollerbladers, skateboarders, scooter riders… It’s all a matter of perspective.

…and what happens? In all too many cases, engineers say we’ve looked at accommodating everyone (as required by the ordinances) but we can’t do it. Or it’s too expensive. Or there’s not enough space to accommodate a bike lane. Or they paint a line next to the parking lane and say, “Look, we’ve put in a bike lane” (in the most dangerous position possible!). It’s all a matter of perspective.

Meanwhile, many people, especially young adults, are deciding not to get drivers’ licenses. And moving back to the cities. And not buying cars. We need to rethink this whole paradigm. More to come in another post…Let’s look at our perspective…

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