Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cyclist Down

Those are rarely words we cyclists like to read, but they flash across my email too often.

Dennis Dumm is dead. I did not know him. He looks familiar from the press photo that is circulating. I've probably passed him at some time or another. Such is the way of the Mpls bike community.

I know in my last post I said I did not give a shit about bike advocacy. Hopefully, if you actually read my words, you took away that I meant popular bike advocacy. What could pop bike advocacy have done for Dennis? What does it do for me or thousands like us? Another bike trail? Fuck off. A repainting of bike lanes? Too late. You people are missing the point.

Dennis Dumm died doing what he's probably been doing for weeks/months/years -- he was simply riding in the bike lane on Park Ave on his way to work -- where the city told him, through painted lines and signs, he belonged. But there he died. Bike lanes fail, and failed horribly in this instance. That is where pop bike advocacy can kiss my ass, and Dennis's dead ass.

I followed this story throughout the day and there was nothing new to report. Such is the case with mainstream news -- they focus on helmet usage, did a cyclist run a signal ... . Fuck you guys, too. If there are three things I've noticed from years of following bike/car incident reports they are thus: 1) Always report whether the cyclist (although maybe dead) was wearing a helmet; 2) Report whether or not the cyclist was at fault for breaking a traffic violation; and 3) Twist the language so that the cyclist was at fault. You penny-a-dozen journalists seeking the next Connie Chung award may not know you're doing it, but as late as this very night I watched the KSTP footage and heard "the cyclist collided with the semi" ... What?? The cyclist collided, meaning intentionally or not, "collided" with a vehicle some exponential amount heavier than him?? Please.

This brings me to my final point. The driver of the semi will NOT be issued a citation. That patent news phrase chaps my ass drier every time I read it. Excuse me, not issued even a ticket?? This dumb ass fucker cut into a bike lane to make a turn and KILLED someone but he will not be given even a slap on the wrist?

I have been issued one traffic violation, for speeding -- driving over the limit on a desolate section of Hwy 61 just south of Grand Marais. It cost me $135 and I thought it was unfair but I had little recourse to challenge it. I paid it with a smile the next day at the county courthouse and made the clerk's day because I was nice and she'd never had that experience before.

I have plenty of friends in the city who have been issued citations aboard their bikes for rolling through stop signs and lights. But you are telling me, in our American justice system reknowned for fair treatment and due punishment, that a person can KILL someone with their car and not get so much as a ticket?

Where is the justice in that?

A biker rolling a signal does nil damage, but a barely awake semi driver can kill. The former can get the Nth degree; the latter, nothing. Wow.

Dennis Dumm is dead. It was not an "accident," it was the result of an inattentive driver who killed him. End of story. I, personally, am tired of stories ending like this. I am sending a letter to our mayor, to state officials, to national legislators and to the bike advocacy guy that my corporation supposedly pays a lot of money to in order to make things better for cyclists. I suggest you get off your ass and do likewise.

Even if you're not an avid cyclist think about the disparities. A DRUNK driver strikes and kills someone -- s/he is charged to the maximum penalty. A driver strikes and kills a child and there's an outrage. However, it's all too easy to dismiss what happened this morning as an "accident."

Drivers are implicitly trained that all you have to do is say the stock phrases (that have been reported over and over in the media): "I didn't see her/him"; "I wasn't even aware something had happened." But, hello, driver, if you'd have been talking to your significant other on the cell phone you'd have heard it; if it had been your favorite team on the sports radio cast you'd have been listening. Accident, no. Negligence, certainly. Murder, yes. You have control, or should maintain control, over everything you do in your car. That is the implication of DWI, but the principle is thrown out the window as long as someone is "sober."

I maintain that double standard must be breached and eradicated.

Branching widely, where are you pro-lifers when things like this happen to adults? Could it be that you're only pro-life when it involves babies, and not adults or death-row inmates or any of the multitude others who "deserve" to die for misjudgments or poor choices? Hypocrites. Prove my judgment otherwise, please.

People are dying. The environment is wilting. Much is askew with the law but nothing is being done about it. EVERYONE deserves this chance to speak up.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tempered Thoughts

My blahg has undergone a bit of a metamorphosis from primarily a cycle-centric rant about the thrills and spills of daily life aboard a bike to a series of essays about family and expanding interests. I'm still on my bike, every day. I'm still thinking while I ride. I've been riding consistently for long enough now that perhaps I've chilled out a bit. And the other reality is I just take less time than in the past to sit at a keyboard and work it all out.

Last night I perused a recent edition of the Southwest Journal, a neighborhood rag that presents moderately insightful, if decidedly terse, coverage of the happenings in and around southwest Mpls. Mostly it seems to be chock full o' airbrushed ads for services I'd never patronize nor could ever afford. Our new residence is not included in this geographic area, but the issue caught my eye because it promised an interview with three Mpls "bike experts" concerning the state of cycling in the city. Gene O was pictured and I consider him a bonafide bike guru. The other two cats I didn't know from Adam.

Gene was Gene, camo Swobo hat and all. One guy looked like a pretty typical enthusiast -- screaming yellow attire and lycra toe covers gave that away. The dude front and center looked like a typical Wedge-dwelling, starving-artist MCAD student in thrift-store trendy duds, riding a 70's junker with no helmet. Turns out he's the "official" one of the group, the Mpls Non-Motorized Pilot Program Coordinator something or other. Go figure. (Hope you got a nice note from your boss about your stellar job representin'.)

I won't go into the article since it seemed to ask the typical questions. But as I was reading it something personally profound occurred to me: While not long ago I thought bike advocacy was my calling, right now I don't give a shit. Now that may sound harsh, but give me a minute.

I said I wouldn't go into the article but I'll mention one of the things that came up -- regulation. The idea, of course, is one of creating legitimacy through licensure and training. The inevitable result is fees and bureaucracy. Register the bike, license the rider and legitimacy will follow. Hold cyclists accountable to the (motorist created) rules of the road. I think many of us all know the intended cycle, certainly no pun intended.

This was the point where I had my slight epiphany. Advocacy means fighting for recognition, "fair treatment" or some legally protected notion of acceptance. When I ride my bike, sure I want to be accepted as a rightful user of the road. I want drivers to honor my place in a lane. I want to live -- get to work and do a good job, get home later and drink a beer, see my family and start a new project in the woodshop. I also want drivers to understand I am a different kind of vehicle, with a different vantage point, a different acceleration potential and a vastly different potential for inflicting harm upon others.

But you know what else I want to do? I want to have fun. I want to enjoy what I regard as one of the last vestiges of freedom readily available to everyone in our culture. I want to hop curbs and grab the sidewalk to beat traffic. I want to withhold my middle finger and instead pass that car who just buzzed me at the next light. I want to be faster and smarter and prove a point that I'm getting somewhere when those caged fucks in a car are stuck in a wallow of their own creation and demise.

But let's get back to freedom. I'd pay if it came down to it because I'm fortunate enough to be able to pay. But I resent with every ounce of bile in my body the notion that cyclists should have to pay to ride their bikes. What more ludicrous idea could there be? Our society is steeped in the idea that everyone should "pay to play." The cyclists I pass on the Lakes trails could certainly be beholden to that. But the folks I pass on the inner city streets are just doing what everyone around the world has the right to do -- get somewhere faster than on foot. I don't care if you landed 3 DUI's or haven't been granted a green card. More power to you -- ride a bike. And, brothers and sisters, ride with the freedom from governmental regulation and bureaucracy.

I'm not stuck on advocacy anymore because I think popular advocacy is missing the point. The point, to me, is why do we need to spend billions on new trails and bike lanes when cyclists already have a right to the road? I'm not opposed to greater bike-specific infrastructure but the point is we've let cars overrun our roads and drivers overrun our culture for far too long. Enough.

Quit saying bike paths and regulation will solve the whoas of the transportation cyclist. What will solve those whoas is a combination of factors. Ticketing cyclists for slipping through a stop sign; requiring them to pass a test or license their bikes will not, however. I've traveled enough around the globe to know that what works in other countries is placing the onus mutually on all users of the road. But the lion's share of the burden falls on motorists whose vehicles have the irrevocable power to mame and kill with one quick misjudgment.

Potato Chips

I love potato chips. If they're in the house I eat 'em up like they're W's latest out-of-office conspiracy. I love potato chips and that's why I rarely buy them.

I once knew a guy who couldn't stand potato chips. But he was addicted to heroin and used to bang it like a skeet shooter set loose on a pheasant farm. He's dead now.

I never knew that guy. But I love potato chips.

Long live you freaks who don't eat potato chips.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hey, Fleck, Why So Many Clamps?

You answer that question, smart gal. (Insert appropriate alternate gender expression here: guy.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rite of Spring

It's really spring in Minnesota. For many people the most important thing that kicks off this time of year is Garage Sale Season. Last weekend may have been the official start, in our neighborhood anyway. The Bryn Mawr Garage Sale Festival was in full swing Saturday and Sunday. Our normally quiet community was transformed into a chaotic frenzy of drivers circling like vultures, hunting for parking spots. They were joined by folks from all over the city crawling across lawns and up alleys in search of deals.

I let April talk me into accompanying the family into the milieu. We set out on foot for downtown Bryn Mawr. En route I convinced Sylvia we should take a short detour down a bank and along the railroad tracks. We quickly discovered that it was no shortcut at all but it did allow us to explore some of the urban "nature" around our home -- mostly reclaimed industrial and rail corridors that border Bassett Creek. We found a railroad spike (big excitement for a 3 year old). I had to carry Sylvia across the trestle over the water. But back on solid ground she jumped at my request to lead out and show me the way. We climbed back onto pavement into a cul-de-sac and found Mom and Willa at the first sale on the street.

Now, maybe all the good stuff went fast. When we first arrived I saw some potential and was hopeful that I'd stumble upon that unique old handtool or some other item that would really shout "Buy me!" Nope. As my patience wore thin and my hunger grew, I saw only junk, crap and more useless trash that should have been merchandised in a garbage can rather than on a sale table. But we plugged on, stopping briefly to refuel with corndogs and lemonade.

I didn't even bother thinking about what was in this decadent treat, but I couldn't miss what was dripping out of it. I had a small oil spill on the sidewalk at my feet.

Eventually I reached my breaking point at precisely the moment Mom was no where to be found and Sylvia announced she had to go potty. Impossibly long lines at the portable facilities portended a soggy disaster. I grabbed the stroller and marched toward home. April could figure it out.

She caught up before long. Exiting the throngs of deal-crazed corndoggers, I felt the homicidal desire melt away. We were able to coach Sylvia in the ways of discreet urban urination (a most valuable life skill) and she relieved herself under a bridge no more than 100ft from a crowded yard, but as private as our own bathroom.

Back home the kids ran around in the warm sun. April and I felt somewhat exhausted, but we hadn't come away totally empty-handed. At the third garage we snatched up a brand new Bialetti espresso pot complete with milk frothing pitcher -- unopened -- for $5. April stoked it and within 15 minutes we were sipping excellent beverages. April tried on some new, used clothes. Sylvia matched costume jewelry to her new tutu. Willa just bee lined it to the sandbox where she was happy as a clam.

Yep, it's officially spring, and so far it's been pretty awesome.