Monday, August 18, 2008

Gas prices are down....*sigh*

I'd like to think that if someone from another planet were to arrive in the United States and spend a couple of weeks talking to folks and taking in all our amenities (Wallmarts, shooting ranges, freeways, etc), they'd quickly deduce that one of the most important tasks we are faced with as a society is keeping the economy healthy....that and low oil prices.

At least, that's been my take on things over the past few months. The relationship between plentiful, cheap oil and the viability of industrial societies is so intertwined, so deeply ingrained in everything we're taught, it's rarely discussed at any length. But as many Peak Oil folks point out, Hubbert's Peak isn't something up for negotiation - as oil production peaks, industrial economies go down, and very possibly, completely crash.

Even small cent by cent increases in the price of gasoline over a few months for example, are enough to give the economy a conniption of epic proportions. So, you'd think, with gas prices easing down (still of $4 a gal here on the Coast) now, perhaps this would be a good time to take stock of how we've been living and start to steer a new course, right?

Wrong. As a friend pointed out a few years back, knowing the mentality of Americans, it's very likely that when the going gets tough, most folks are gonna be willing to support anything to bring back the status quo. Even if the behavior exacerbates the problem.
Even if the status quo of freeways and fast food sucks.

Case n' point: Off shore oil drilling. Late last week, Nancy Pelosi, the biggest disappointment out of the Bay Area since Jerry Garcia, said she's considering allowing legislation to go through that would permit new offshore oil drilling.

According to the L.A. Times, Pelosi, like Obama, is softening her stance on a longstanding offshore oil ban enacted by Congress. The fact that only a few weeks ago, the golden asshole in the white house made a symbolic rescinding of the ban in an effort to influence public opinion in our oil oligarchs favor is really only salt on a wound. No, I take that back, it's more like being beaten by a meat tenderizer just before being put on the grill.

I'm old enough to recognize that most politicians are unprincipled, power-hungry, egotistical-swine, who will whore themselves out to anyone who can deliver votes or campaign contributions (whichever comes first) but come on Nancy, how can you even look at yourself in the mirror?

Then again, to use the language of our ever-accurate pollsters, the democrats and the American public deserve only 40% of the blame. The rest really goes to the oil barons, the republicans, and the 4th estate. The former, for buying up ad space to push more lies about "clean" coal, offshore drilling, etc; the latter for selling the airspace to them in the first place and running front page stories (SF Chronicle in particular) with headlines reading "More Americans Support Offshore Oil Drilling Now"; and the GOP, for placing a higher priority on political power and the "health" of an economy destined for failure rather than on the health of the planet.

In a future where oil supplies are uncertain, there will be simply no shortage of blame,
and if there's one thing I'm sure of, we ain't seen nothin' yet.,0,4387266.story?track=ntothtml

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taking the Lane

These past two weeks I've had the opportunity (misfortune?) to test out People Power's call to take the full right lane when riding on Mission Street.

It's been a couple of months since the aforementioned local bicycle lobby held two separate group rides down the right lane on Mission, one, to commemorate the death of Christopher Rock and assert our legal right to take up the full lane when no bike lane is available, and another to lobby the city council to support putting up signs that read, "Bicycles May Use Full Lane."

But taking up a lane with over 100 bicyclists is one thing, doing it by yourself is another. And believe me, it really wasn't by choice - Out of the 3 or 4 times I "reclaimed the lane", it was only because I had businesses to visit that were on the street. In any other circumstances, you'd have found me on King or Delaware.

Instead, I found myself hauling ass between Almar and Union (where the shoulder starts to get real slim), trying my best to keep pace with the autos, not piss anyone off, and not get killed. Enjoyable? When the road was all mine, hells yes. When cars were present, which was most of the time, it was kind of like being chased by pit bulls, naked, across a football field...during the superbowl.

Bike lanes, bike lanes, bike lanes - why oh why aren't there any bike lanes here?!

At stop lights, in keeping with the principle of acting like and taking up as much space as an auto, I decided not to cut ahead on the right side. The idea really being more about making my intentions clear to the drivers than "playing fair." (If there was any parity in infrastructure between automobiles and everyone else, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog).

This worked and it didn't - I mean, as the light would turn green, it was pretty easy to sense how the drivers were barely tolerating me. Traffic congestion not being too bad, most drivers kept a good 10 foot distance behind, and when the opportunity presented itself, passed me on the left. It's hard to tell how different this scenario would have played out had it taken place during rush hour.

As for me, it's annoying enough to be in the bike lane and have to listen to and smell engines running, it's worse being wedged in between cars at stop lights. But feeling cozy just isn't an option when you're doing as cars do when you're clearly not a car. Riding in the middle of the right lane is really just a last resort, it takes much of the joy out of riding. Maybe it'll get better with practice...I dunno.

That being said, so far, I've only gotten honked at twice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Riding Past Traffic Yesterday...

Passing car after car. My bike wagon full of groceries. What a great feeling. I start to head downhill where Soquel splits into Capitola Rd, there's a Lexus in the bike lane, trying to merge to the right. I ring my bell but I don't think he hears me. The weight of the wagon working with gravity makes me break hard, I move real close to the Lexus and politely tap on the trunk.

The guy turns around and gestures that he can't move. If I could speak to him face to face, I'd point out that this is clearly the bike lane and that the right lane for cars is still at least 15 feet ahead. But there's engine noise, steel (or whatever metal they make cars out of), and glass between us; there's really not much I can do other than wait for the light to turn green or for him to get back in the car lane. The light turns green and he pulls forward. I pass him half expecting to hear some indignant swearing but nothing. I continue riding home...

Upon reflection, this is a relatively common occurrence. Cars want to get a head start in making a right turn OR think they can squeeze their way past but get stuck. They don't see bicycles in the bike lane so they figure it's okay. Then I come out of nowhere, honking my horn or ringing my bell (depending on which bike I'm riding) - If they can, the driver usually moves back into the adjacent lane and I ride past, sometimes giving them a dirty look. Can you relate?