Friday, February 26, 2010

Cell Phones, Bicycles, Unemployment

Thursday evening I find myself at the Bike Church, looking for a run down beach cruiser. As usual, I end up spending as much time shooting the isht w/ the bike mechanics as I do testing out rides and of course we get to talking about bike issues, life and the like.

One amigo knocks out the high Santa Cruz rent by piecing together old bicycles and selling them to friends or other folks w/ the financial means. It helps too that he lives with a lot of people and scrounges free food the big corporate grocery stores throw away. Obviously he ain't rich but he's damn good at fixing up bikes.

My other amigo also has many skills but as he points out, unemployment in Santa Cruz is like 13%, in SF it's 9% (don't quote me on these numbers....even if I'm quoting him) and he may be skipping town as early as next month as he can't find a job. It's a crappy situation and I end up steering the conversation to something not as pressing, at least not yet: Penalizing bicyclists for using cell phones.

Both amigos have ambivalence about state senator Joe Simitian's proposal to start penalizing bicyclists for using cell phones while riding...then again, neither of them have read the newspaper report about it (I've taken the liberty of printing out a copy and posting it at the Bike Church).

Homie #1 points out that it's hard to ride a bike and talk on a cell phone in the first place, and most of the time, folks are going super slow, like dragging one foot on the ground slow. They also unfortunately tend to weave around when doing so and he would rather fellow riders put the phone down and focus on the road. I totally agree I say but ask if this merits declaring the behavior illegal when there are so many other ways to discourage it? I mean, you aren't required to wear a helmet (if you're over 18 that is) but that doesn't mean helmet use can't be encouraged and statistically increased via public safety campaigns, as most bicycle advocacy groups already do.

Homie #2 says people are going to do stupid things no matter what the laws state and that you can never get everyone to comply. Bicyclists should be accountable to the same standards as cars. I counter that traffic laws should be proportional to the type of vehicle being used - Bicyclists aren't allowed on freeways for obvious reasons, so what we're talking about here is really parity - Bicyclists on cell phones don't kill anyone, cars do. Yes, but they can still cause accidents he says. I agree, and say this doesn't mean we need to give the police another excuse to pull us over and fuck with us. Public safety campaigns can be just as effective and certainly not as punitive as fines. Homie #2 says, okay, fine, you won me over. He then admits he does ride and talk on his cell on occasion. I laugh.

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