Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Just Because You're Paranoid...

A few weeks after bicyclist Christopher Evan Rock was run over by a semi-truck trailer on Mission Street, I am still feeling extra cautious around cars.

A friend has insisted that due to the aftermath of having another guy on a bike killed on Mission and Bay, drivers are being extra careful around us. But I don't buy it. To me, the whole "good responsible driver" argument will forever be negated by the technology of the automobile - i.e. cars are heavy machinery that move quickly and have blind spots, the intentions of the driver has little to do with it.

That being said, the folks at People Power are excited at the prospect of Cal Trans giving in to their demands that large "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs be added to Mission Street. It is for them a political victory, one I must admit, may help our cause.

Then again, a few days ago as I was trying to cross the intersection of Western and Mission (where Western ends from a steep downhill), a cement truck made a left hand turn right in front of me, even though I had the right of way. Fine, I figured, it's a cement truck, it was going downhill, I won't get upset. Right after the truck though came a woman in a Mercedes who did the exact same thing, I had to brake to avoid her, and gave her the open handed gesture I've seen in Arab countries. She responded w/ a sheepish "my bad" look and kept on driving. Ah, the romance of Spring.

Two words for folks riding out there, "stay alert."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Screeching to a halt

This morning, while sitting at a red light stuck behind another big ass SUV, I noticed two drivers squaring off. Young guys - stereos booming, one in a mustang, the other in a compact. Well dressed, good looking. Part time drag racers.

The light turned green, SSSCRREEECH! As I watched them peel away I didn't immediately think of the multiple accidents Los Angeles streets have been subjected to due to this juvenile shit, no, instead I thought, "10 years from now, those guys will be remembering this time as the good ol' days." Then, for a moment, I twinge of sympathy hit me.

As the American auto era slowly draws to a close, I've often delighted at the thought of middle class suburban soccer moms having to forgo their appointment at the estheticians cause' gas prices have gotten too high. But what about the 60 years (approx) worth of urban auto culture? What about all the lowriders, the detailing services, the blue collar shop mechanics?

For folks in the inner city (at least from the city where I come from), cars are everything. I mean, where I grew up, people would spend hot L.A. summer nights sitting in lawn chairs NEXT to their cars with the stereo on. For capitalist America, cars are one of the few acceptable expressions of ethnic pride - for Persians, the center piece of the Iranian flag as a decal; for Mexicans, serapes in the back window; for Chinese, red and gold good luck charms from the rear view mirror; for Jews, a mezuzah on the dashboard, and for Chevyists, a "fuck Ford" sticker on the bumper.

There's little doubt in my mind that the urban subcultures that have evolved around automobiles are going to have a real hard time adjusting in the years ahead. It would kind of be like Hinduism having to cope with a mass extinction of elephants. Maybe cars will become like trains, and parents will take their kids on buses or bikes to see the parking lot museum where the remnants of Hondas and Chryslers will lay, deteriorating under the sun. Okay, maybe not.

Who knows what the future holds once gasoline hits $5 a gallon? I hope for emptier streets where pedestrians can walk and not have to shout over engines to be heard. Oh yeah, and the only folks challenging each other to a friendly race to the next light will be bicyclists - you ready?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Road lite!

"Esteemed council members, while I can't speak for other bicyclists, I'd like to say that for me, the 3 most important safety issues I am concerned with are cars, proper roads, and cars."

This is the scenario running through my head as I'm racing downhill close to 10pm on a Monday night. Only, there are no cars around - just darkness and a deteriorating bike lane I can barely see but definitely feel.

thunk, crack, thunk.

I need to slow down, there are no streetlights here.

thunk, crack, thunk.

What is that up ahead? A pothole? Damn this whussy headlight and the rechargeable batteries in it!

I run over a heavy crack in the pavement, my whole body shudders. The fat wheels of a mountain bike sound pretty good right now. Even with my hands on the brakes, I'm still moving at emergency room speed and I know there are more cracks and potholes up ahead, I just can't see them.

When I am safely at the bottom of the hill, teeth and limbs still intact, I start to figurin' - okay, cars get big ass street lights, what do bicyclists get?

It seems like a fair question, as installing those alien probe looking streetlights on the aforementioned stretch of road would definitely take away from the lovely hills and trees that border it. Plus, there's the whole other issue of light pollution. But what about low level bike path lights? Like the soft and welcoming 2-3 foot ones rich folks use to highlight the paths to their noble estates?

I picture a scenario where bike lanes or paths are lit up with these lights and conclude it could enhance the space. Especially when contrasted w/ the nasty orange lights that tower 30 feet over most residential streets. I also picture a scenario where bike paths are kept separate from car roads with dividers and therefore require much less maintenance due to our lightness. It's a nice scenario, but one I try not to let distract me too much as I continue on home in the dark....Thunk, crack, thunk.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A bad experience, and a little sunshine

When the memorial ride for bicyclist Christopher Evan Rock started shortly after 5pm in downtown SC, I was already feeling emotional. In less than a year, 4 bicyclists had been offed by cars in our city - 2 in the same spot we were riding to. As 100+ riders waited for the lights to change, I spotted a Hummer in an opposing lane and gave him the bird - Immediately, I felt disapproving eyes on my back.

There are as many kinds of bicyclists as there are people. Some ride because they can't afford a car, others ride for exercise, still others as a statement against cars - of the latter kind, there runs a spectrum of those who avoid any direct confrontation w/ automobiles and those who welcome it. I happen to fall within the "welcome" group.

Usually the differences between these two groups of bike advocates aren't that pronounced as the mainstream folks tend to be busy lobbying city council members for more bike lanes while those of the more radical ilk are busy getting arrested and tying up the streets during Critical Masses. Usually these two sides of the same coin get along just fine, sometimes they don't.

"To the right! to the right!" I am being yelled at by fellow bicyclists. You see, the plan was take up only one lane of the large street, thereby letting cars pass us on the left, and um...not making them angry. The thing is though, scoring points w/ people in cars isn't the reason I'm riding and I never said I'd adhere to the "plan."

As we reach the next intersection and stop for a red light, some folks also spill out onto the left lane but are quickly reprimanded by other bicyclists shouting, "stay to the right! We're only taking up one lane!" Most of them comply, I don't.

The stretch of road from downtown Santa Cruz to the site of Tuesday's accident is maybe a mile, 5-10 minutes worth of riding, tops. 5-10 minutes of riding in the middle of the street outside the confines of painted lanes vs. a lifetime of riding in the gutter, wincing as giant semi trucks roar past you, hoping the filthy exhaust you're breathing won't be your last taste of air - Um, I'll take option A thank you.

I articulate this loudly to everyone around me, "Come on guys! Take the whole street. When are we ever gonna have another chance like this?!"

This is met w/ a level of indignation I would think should only be reserved for cars.

"There are tons of cops out here, you're going to get us in trouble."

"This is part of the plan, you're being a jerk!"

"This is not about you."

My response: "I'm sorry I didn't hear the plan, but even if I did, I wouldn't have agreed to it. And no, this isn't about me. A guy died yesterday, we should be angry, we should be confrontational. And hey, you guys are yelling at me, I'm not trying to pick a fight with you." Or at least, that's what I try to say but I'm met with more yelling. A woman who I really admire says, "fuck you," and it feels like a butcher knife cutting my jugular vein.

What the hell? Maybe she's right, maybe I am making this about me. I want this to be about freedom though, I want this to be about not compromising with the machines under any circumstances. What would Christopher think? What about John Myslin? What about Benjamin Mora? What about Lucian Gregg?

I back off, and move a little to the right. A million thoughts run through my head - why are the majority of folks here more willing to get into a confrontation w/ me than they are with cars? Is it the Democrats-blame-Nader game? Are these the same spineless middle class liberals who sold the anarchists out in Seattle 99? Or am I really just egoizing?

By the time we reach the intersection where Christopher was killed, most of us have moved to the right lane and cars are beginning to pass. Rather than circle around and tie up the intersection in a show of strength, we are directed into a parking lot across the street. All the while, a small platoon of cops watch at a distance.

It occurs to me that the organizers of the event probably notified the police about the action and most likely assured them that car traffic wouldn't be impacted very much. The thought of this makes me sick to my stomach. A young bike punk walks up to me and asks if this is it, if we're going to stay here or are we going to take the street? I don't know I say, I think this is it. I recall a 2006 May Day march where thousands of students held the very same intersection for a good 20 minutes while cops had to look on; I conclude that this is not going to happen today.

But I try to focus on the bright side - this is a great turnout of bicycle solidarity. Though the message about bicycles being allowed full use of the lane was ignored by the local paper (, at least the signs that got posted up stating this will stay up for a while. Christopher Evans Rock will hopefully be the last dead bicyclist we memorialize this year and that's what this is really all about.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Don't Sell That Bike Just Yet...

The last few days, I've been switching between the Benotto (road bike) and Trek (mountain hybrid) and realizing I'm way over the latter - For daily rides, road bikes win hands down.

Which has brought up the issue of ditching my two mountain bikes and trying to upgrade to another road bike that isn't as old as the Benotto.

This may still be a good idea - I already grapple w/ the guilt of owning 4 bicycles, even if I use them all, even if they're all hand me downs...

But then I read this headline:

"Energy Dept. Sets Aside More Oil"

and I think...maybe I oughta hold onto all those bicycles. They may be very valuable in the near future...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Oil Execs In The Frying Pan

At least, that's the headline as I would have written it given the chance...

"I'm reee-atch bee-atch!"
- J. Stephen "Swine" Simon, Exxon Mobile

Seriously though, after listening to the top 5 oil execs of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ConocoPhilips and Chevron snub their noses at the Select Committee on Oil Prices and Energy Independence (the best reporting on this can be found at, it's hard not to feel like our so-called elected representatives aren't really the folks in charge.

"Politicians are there to give you the idea that you have freedom of don't. You have no choice, you have owners." - George Carlin

For the most part, I tend to view the central function of contemporary governments in industrialized nations, as an enforcement agency for property rights. The majority of written laws and corresponding judicial system revolve around this premise.

True, on occasion, the 4th estate finds a juicy story exposing the injustices perpetrated by our corporate rulers upon poor working folks, the corporations back off, and we all celebrate how the system works. (

The problem though, is the system itself. And, to that end, what I find disturbing is that while the people at the end of the economic ladder are already the first to be suffering the fallout from record high oil prices; no one, at least not the Select Committee on Oil Prices and Energy Independence, seems to be interested in challenging the premise of cars and our dependence on 24 hour electricity itself.

It is a difference between starlit skies and streetlight pollution; the enormous spatial requirements of a car culture vs. the humble spatial requirements of bicycles; the flush toilet vs. the composting toilet; the noise of lawnmowers on Sundays vs. drought resistant landscaping; the reliance on written laws, courts, police, and punishment vs. encouraging autonomy and public trust.