Who is Chris Boardman?

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

For those who follow cycling, the answer is no doubt obvious, just as “Who is Frank Shorter?” would be for a runner.[1] But for me, Chris Boardman is a new-found national treasure, albeit one that belongs to Britain.

Chris Boardman
From the current home page of his web log: https://www.chrisboardman.com

Listen to what he says in an interview on the BBC, an interview occurring in the eighth month of the covid19 pandemic:

I’m very, very wary of using the term ‘opportunity’ in the midst of a pandemic, where people are dying, but I think we’d be very foolish not to notice some of the things that happened when we effectively turned off global traffic, and I suppose in a sense we started a worldwide consultation on how we use our roads. And we found that when you gave people quiet streets and you can hear the bird song and we took away the traffic—people wanted to ride bikes and they did that in the droves. And we saw an increase across England, I think, Department of Transport tagged it at over 300%.[2]

Lauren Laverne, the host of BBC’s “Desert Island Discs,” rightly sets him up as a spokesperson for biking: “British cycling is currently booming, and he’s arguably the man who lit the fuse.”

Super Boardman

On his web log, he writes, “Trained as a carpenter, nobody outside of the sport of cycling would have known who I was until 1992, when I took Great Britain’s opening Gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics astride the infamous Lotus bike.”[3]

Boardman 1992 Olympics
From Boardman’s web log, https://www.chrisboardman.com/about/

After he won the first British gold metal in cycling in 72 years on the revolutionary carbon-frame bike, he became, according to Laverne, the “first Brit to win the Prologue in the Tour de France two years later; then set the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] absolute hour record in the now-famous Superman position with his arms stretched out to minimize drag.”

Citizen Boardman

The competitive achievements continue; they are well-documented and well-known. But it’s the non-competitive side that gains the attention of Person vs. Automobile. After retiring from racing and pursuing several ventures (including the creation of his own line of bicycles), Boardman has become the Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester. According to a Manchester government web page: “Cycling and Walking Commissioners from across the UK have today called on the government to empower them truly to do their jobs by giving cycling and walking the funding it deserves, making a political commitment to minimum quality levels and accounting for the true cost of car use to society.”[4] And I ask myself: does anything like this exist in the United States? Or has the love of driving rendered that unpatriotic?

In this role, Boardman says, “I just want people to use bicycles to get around, and I care more about that than gold medals by a million miles. My definition of success isn’t winning; it’s the guy using his bike to go to the shops.”[5]

He continues, stating that being Commissioner of Cycling and Walking has “got nothing to do with cyclists; I think this is the weird, almost perverse bit; this is for people in cars, because it’s not people who already ride a bike that need convincing. You need to be able to look out of a car window and think, ‘Oh, I quite fancy that,’ because if you don’t, why would you get out of the car?”

As was clear to Boardman, what people needed was a safe space, so what they set out to build in Manchester was a fully connected network that could safely be used by a competent 12-year old. It will take 10 years to complete. It will bring Britain closer to the Nederlands, a country successful at self-propulsion because of how they use their streets. Somebody walking has precedence over someone on a bike, who has precedence over public transport, which has precedence over people driving. “Everything they do from legislation to the streetscape reflects that.”

If all were well in the world, this Person vs. Automobile site would not exist, nor would this final biographical note. Speaking to the British television, ITN, Chris Boardman said it was his mother who inspired him to ride.[6] This statement is, unfortunately, part of the story of his mother’s death when she was run over by a pickup truck in a roundabout. Both Boardman’s parents were bicycle enthusiasts. His mother, 75, was out riding and fell off her bicycle. Before she could clear out of the way, a driver, who had 4 seconds earlier been on the phone, ran over her. He went to jail for 30 months and lost his license for about 18 months. This loss of his mother, according to the “Desert Island Discs” interview, is something Chris Boardman continues to grapple with. He advocates for harsher penalties for careless driving, not wanting prison sentences as much as permanent revoking of driving rights.

In Memoriam

It is the elderly who are at greater risk of most things, and that may have contributed to the passing of a friend of a friend, Anne Seller, 79. She lectured at the University of Kent in Canterbury throughout her professional life. She visited Boulder several times, teaching at the University of Colorado as an exchange professor. After retirement, she practiced art and “sang in the Amici choir, contributed to reading groups, and was actively involved in the St Paul’s Church community.”[7] On November, 11, she was hit by a van on a street outside a Waitrose grocery store. The street does not look menacing, but only a week earlier a 20-year-old man was struck and killed by an automobile on the same road. Darkness probably played a role in both collisions, happening as they did at night.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Incidentally, in 2009, Boardman “took part in the London marathon, finishing in 3hrs 19min 27sec.” according to Wikipedia Chris Boardman.

[2] Chris Boardman was interviewed on “Desert Island Discs,” October 25, 2020, Chris Boardman, cyclist.

[3] Chris Boardman, About.

[4] Empower Us to do Our Jobs….

[5] Again, from the interview on “Desert Island Discs,” October 25, 2020, Chris Boardman, cyclist.

[6] Motorist jailed for 30 weeks over death of cyclist Chris Boardman’s mother.

[7] In memoriam: Anne Seller.

Incidents #1 (Boulder, Denver)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

The honeymoon is over: even a pandemic cannot clear the streets for long. I know, I know, it’s a sign that national economies are surviving. But, my, for those who spend most of their time on their feet or on their bikes, the quiet, clear streets were wonderful.

A couple of incidents have come to my attention lately: a bike fatality in Boulder and an apologetic driver in Denver.

Bicyclist Fatally Hit

Last year, I mentioned the role of the ghost bike—a white bike placed where a car or truck has hit and killed or seriously maimed a bicyclist.

Driving on South Boulder Road, which connects Lafayette and Louisville with Boulder, I recently noticed a ghost bike.

ghost bike
“In Memory of Perry Nelson   –   1963-2020”


South Boulder Road has by far the widest, safest shoulders. Unfortunately, there had been construction when the accident occurred, with plenty of orange barrels and constricted lanes. A photo from The Daily Camera shows the construction in progress: construction on South Boulder Road

The report in The Daily Camera succinctly summarizes the event:

Perry Nelson, 57, of Louisville, was biking west on South Boulder Road at 11 a.m. July 11, according to Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis.

A 67-year-old man from Boulder was driving a BMW SUV east on South Boulder Road when he made a left turn at 76th Street, striking Nelson in the intersection.

Nelson was taken to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital, but was declared dead upon arrival. The driver of the SUV was not injured.

The article continues to explain that at the time of the accident, bikes were required to merge with the traffic but were not disallowed.[1]

An obituary provides happy facts about Mr. Nelson’s life and family, as well as a photo:[2]

Perry Nelson

Apologetic Driver

This post from nextdoor·com was passed onto me from someone who lives in Centennial, Colorado. The incident probably occurred in Highlands Ranch. It closely echoes an incident in Louisville, Colorado where a woman also nearly hit a bicyclist whom she didn’t see and apologized profusely.

TW
Highlands Ranch Golf
I didn’t see a biker. So I was driving in my minivan with my kids in the car, in our neighborhood. I stopped at a stop sign, didn’t see any cars so I went forward. I did not see a man biking, dressed in bright orange and yellow. He must have been right in my blind spot . . . . I didn’t see him . . . . Luckily he swerved I think and I didn’t hit him [sad face]. I want to find him, apologize and tell him I will be so much more careful. . . . so I turned around to find him and apologize. Unfortunately when I did find him and pullsed over to apologize he was still extremely angry and yelled in my face. [More apologies follow.] Please forgive me [praying hands and heart] Your neighbor.

It’s refreshing to have that kind of honesty, the kind that mentions “dressed in bright orange and yellow.”

Good for her! (And good for him, having dodged her.) Stories like this appeal to me in part because often when a car or truck hits a bicycle, there’s a tacit (or spoken) assumption that the bike wasn’t following the rules or any wisdom. Often the initial newspaper story will suggest the driver was not at fault (at times because the police report leans that way), and only later, after the news has become a short revision or retraction, does it come out that the biker was doing everything right. Anyway, good for her!

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Mitchell Byars, Boulder Daily Camera, PUBLISHED: July 21, 2020 at 11:15 a.m. | UPDATED: July 21, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.: Louisville cyclist hit and killed in crash on South Boulder Road

[2] Originally published in the Daily Camera, the obituary can be found on an aggregator, Legacy.com

Running While Black

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post initially was entitled “Person vs. Two Pickups, a Pistol and a Rifle,” until I saw a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Running while black.” One of its footnotes cites an article, Running while Black: Why we are not all in this together, in which the author, Dewayne R. Stallworth, states something that must haunt many black runners:

As an educated black man who enjoys taking contemplative runs in my neighborhood, I must confess that I leave my home with the thought that I may not return (and this is before Arbery’s killing). I think about my attire — would this shirt cause someone to think I am a burglar.

Jogging as a black person in the US is a thing. Being black imposes new risks on top of the usual difficulties with urban running: effort, breathing bad air, possible sprained ankle, collision with cars….[1] Driving in the US is also a thing. It imposes new risks to the environment, pedestrians, bikers, and animals. Where the two meet in this post is the power differential that automobiles offer. Cars and trucks make it not only easy, but extremely easy to injure nature and society with almost no effort at all.[2]

This power differential demonstrated itself vividly in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery (age 25). While he was out running on Feb. 23, 2020, he was chased by two pickup trucks and hit by one of them before that other power differential so loved by some Americans, the firearm, made the chase lethal. It’s not that violence would stop with the eradication of pickup trucks or firearms, but the terms of engagement would alter radically, creating a more level playing (or battle) field.

Consider the suspects (they’ve only been videotaped and charged, not prosecuted). Two heavy-set white males, Gregory McMichael (64) and his son Travis McMichael (34). Assume they see Mr. Arbery take his short detour into the home construction site, from which he left, carrying no stolen goods. They think he’s the same black man that Travis reported to 911 on February 11, as a burglary suspect. So they put on their Hoka One shoes, grab their baseball bats, and start running after Mr. Arbery. At the same time, a neighbor, William Bryan (50), grabs his smart phone and jumps on his mountain bike to start videoing the incident.

Nothing except embarrassment to the pursuers would have likely come from this. Gregory’s energy may have flagged first, while his son, Travis, could keep the chase up longer. Knowing that Ahmaud frequently went running, I doubt either would have caught him, and even if one had, if Ahmaud were willing to wrestle a shotgun (as he did in the actual confrontation), he certainly could wrestle a baseball bat from Travis’ hands. And William, the videographer, would have been more the witness he originally claimed to be (before it became known that he corralled and hit Ahmaud with his truck—which is why he was later arrested and charged with with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment).

In short, Ahmaud would likely be alive if these men had relied on their strength and not their machines. This post neither attempts to address the deep racial problems rooted in US culture nor pretends to offer a practical solution for even the more recent and less sinister problem of relying far too much on cars and trucks. It only stands to remind us that many problems are interrelated and addressing one may often bring another one to light. Racism strikes most of us as the greater evil because it blatantly involves human will and intention; the general ruin of the environment, however far reaching its effects, will seem to many as something inadvertently done, something that may be looked back on in history with a sigh, “if only we had known….”

epilogue

While searching the Internet for incidents of “assaults on joggers united states,” I was reminded that one of the most vulnerable classes of outdoor runners are women. The preponderance of search results about assaults against female runners stunned me. Technology, again, often accompanies the assaults. One headline that captures the breadth of assaults is from the BBC news site, From catcalls to murder: What female joggers face on every run. Being black, female, and a runner poses a confluence of bad possibilities, at least in the US. As Tianna Bartoletta, three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field said, “I’ve run through streets in Morocco, Italy, Barcelona, Netherlands, China and Japan . . . and it’s only in my home country that I wonder if I’ll make it back home.”[3]

short bibliography in no particular order

Some sources may be pay-walled, but often if you re-search for the title, the search result may allow access for various reasons:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Either word, running or jogging, suggests people who are involved in a healthy activity for the improvement of their bodies and minds and who are not out looking for a fight. Among the many articles from my search on “assaults on joggers united states” was this one, Stop Calling Women Runners “Joggers”. This article makes a point relevant to any group of runners who are being dismissed or belittled, howsoever unintentionally: “‘Running’ defines a motion. ‘Jogging’ implies a speed—a leisurely one, devoid of intensity.” The only justifications the word “jogging” has for my concerns is that it (1) suggests an outdoor, urban setting, as opposed to indoor track runners and long-distance trail runners, and (2) it is used in most of the headlines about Mr. Arbery. Outside of that, “running” seems to be the better choice unless you know the runner’s cadence.

[2] The danger of cars and trucks merits an FDA warning on every commercial and advertisement, as well as on every dashboard of every vehicle. It would be similar to the cigarette warning, “caution: Driving May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” We know, however, that the cigarette warning is often ignored, which is one reason its expansion includes thirteen proposed warnings (Cigarette Health Warnings). If you scroll down on that page, with its photos of cancer, a dead heart, a child gasping—then you get the idea of what kind of warnings our next automobile czar should make mandatory.

[3] New York times, After a Killing, ‘Running While Black’ Stirs Even More Anxiety

Wait, Wait, Peter, Don’t Run From Me

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post offers some quotes from Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running (2018), a confessional book, both humorous and insightful.

covers: Incomplete Book of Running

Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! is also a notable amateur runner in his own right. At the age of 46, he ran a sub-40 minute 10k, a sub-90 minute Half Marathon, and a 3:09 Marathon. In his words, “Sub-three [hour marathon] people, while not quite the separate species that sub-2:30 marathoners are, are still different from the rest of us. If you run a 3:09 marathon, you’re a great amateur runner and you should be very proud, as I was. If you can run a 2:59 marathon, then you can do anything, including, perhaps, depending on the day and the field, winning the thing” (143).

Some of the readers of this web log are “different from the rest of us,” but even they would probably appreciate the book for its humor and honesty. One of my daughters lent me the book and said Peter was not as snarky in the book as he is on the radio show. I completely agree, and this makes him more lovable.

Peter Sagal also qualifies for “person versus automobile.” One day while riding his bicycle, an “Orange Nissan of Death” failed to yield to him at an intersection, with the result that he left a Peter-shaped impression on the car and had to recover from a broken back. His critique of the American dependence on machines is worth quoting at length:

Citizens of these United States don’t so much travel as we are processed through space, like some sort of industrialized, extruded meat product, human Slim Jims. Metal boxes carry us to processing centers that put us on conveyor belts that put us in metal tubes that take us to other processing centers and conveyor belts that put us in different metal boxes that take us to temporary storage cubicles, many of them with lovely minibars for overpriced sustenance. Like hamsters in Habitrails, we think we’re free, because that’s what the enclosure’s designers want us to think. If we didn’t do something drastic to punch through the walls, we’d never even know we were trapped. (xii)

While Peter, as do many of us, finds running a way to explore a city, he concluded some cities are not worth exploring that way, such as Los Angeles: “Eventually, I realized all that brown stuff hanging around the horizon was being sucked into my lungs whenever I ran, and I gave up running to devote myself to more practical forms of exercise, like failure” (32-33).

Running appeals to the minimalist within us, the part that sees no need to accessorize:

No: you have everything you need to begin. If you don’t have sneakers, just grab your most comfortable shoes, or go barefoot on dirt or sand. If you don’t have shorts, get an old pair of jeans and cut off the legs. If anybody judges you for wearing ratty clothes, one of the privileges and benefits of running is leaving people behind. (35)

Before setting his personal record on the marathon at the Philadelphia Marathon, he realized he had “no notion of what the course would be like…”:

So I consulted Ian Chillag, a Wait, Wait producer, onetime Philadelphia resident, and 2:39 marathoner.
I asked him, ‘Any advice on the marathon?’
Chillag said, ‘Yeah, don’t be stupid.’
‘Don’t be stupid?’
‘Yeah, you’re always stupid. You always go out too fast. So don’t be stupid. You want to negative split this course. If you cross that halfway mark fasther than 1:37:30, I’ll hit you.’ (137)

He did cross at 1:33, wasn’t hit by Ian, didn’t bonk—but it is refreshing to hear the sometimes snide host of a radio show allow others to call him stupid.

Part of the impetus behind his 46-year old effort at a new personal record was to refute an economist (Professor Ray Fair) who predicted that, “on average, marathon times inevitably decline about a minute per race for every year of age past forty…” (129-130). And so it was that on finishing the Philadelphia Marathon, while he “had not reversed time, or gotten any younger,” he had shown, at least to himself, “that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped” (143).

During this amateur running career, Peter’s marriage was failing terribly, and he occasionally likens a marriage to a marathon for which one has not trained. The two were not related only metaphorically: running was what kept him above water, mentally, during this period:

The next year, 2012, was the last year of my marriage, with its many and increasing trials, and during that time, and in the years since, I have often tried to hold on to that feeling from the early miles of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Not the confidence, or even, God help me, the sense of having been well and truly prepared for what I was enduring, because I knew, as my divorce unfolded, that I had never trained a single moment for that. No: what I have tried to remember, and occasionally achieved, is that sense of handing myself over to the moment I was in, trusting that what had brought me there would carry me through, allowing things to transpire not with effort, but with something like ease, even grace. (144)

Peter then ran two (and about 24/26) marathons in which he guided runners who had severe vision problems. The first provides the epic story that is important to the book but also has been told outside the book: he was guiding William Greer whose occipital lobe had been damaged years before, with the result that while his eyes worked fine, his brain could hardly interpret the images it was receiving. This run occurred, epically, in the 2013 Boston Marathon, co-inciding with the bombs detonated at the finish line.

The second runner he guided was Erich Manser in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Erich suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, which narrowed his field of vision to the point that it was as if he saw the world “through a cardboard toilet-paper tube” (146). It became clear to Peter that “Erich never complains, about anything, despite his surfeit of reasons. Maybe I could absorb some lessons from him; after all, he also found it difficult to see his kids. (I was known around Team With A Vision for my tasteful sense of humor.)” (156)

Guiding Erich became problematic when Peter began to get dizzy, either from dehydration or from not taking some medications he had left in another city. Luckily, another available guide, Monte, joined him, so he was able to hand Erich off to Monte. They continued while Peter drank Gatorade.

This was worse than death; this was failure. In the end, just as I had feared would happen when I guided William the year before, I had promised somebody I’d be there for him and I couldn’t do it. I cheesed out. I hadn’t been strong or dedicated enough. I’d blown it. Well, add the 2014 Boston Marathon to a long list of things attempted but not conquered: marriage, fatherhood, lawn maintenance, baseball…
I got another cup of Gatorade, and as the runners streamed by, I thought about Jacob Seilheimer. (162)

Jacob was a man who, in 2007, “ran” the Boston Marathon course, after the race had ended, in roughly eight hours, due to his obesity and lack of training. He was someone Peter, in his cockier years, hated for not applying himself. But later Peter got to know him and realized “Jacob has carried with him more burdens, handicaps, and back luck than I…Could imagine” (167). Inspired by these reflections and refreshed by the Gatorade, Peter began running again, catching Erich and finishing the race as his guide.

The book ends happily, as many do, with the acquisition of a couple of dogs, something Peter’s marriage disallowed because of his wife’s allergies.

Post script: I would be remiss not to mention what is likely the most useful chapter in the book, Chapter Five. It covers both his anorexic tendencies and his discovery of what a good diet consists of. He writes, “At the age of fifteen I looked into the mirror and saw somedoy I didn’t like, so I started to run away from him. I used obsessive running as a way to make my fat self disappear, as quickly as could be managed” (83). The problem was deeper than fat: he couldn’t see or accept himself; he couldn’t even see that he had become thin.

On dieting, he writes, “One thing that will help of course is diet, and that too, is something your running will affect, and something that will affect your running. By diet, I mean what you actually eat, not what some magazine or author or murdered doctor or celebrity or wife of Jerry Seinfeld recommends you should eat” (89). This sentence is followed by common good advice about eating well without swallowing a new neurosis in the process.

Covitality – Signs of Life on Earth Day

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

When Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, announces his marriage to Hamlet’s mother, he (an incestuous, murderous villain) has the political wherewithal to admit the timing of the wedding wasn’t ideal, since it came “With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage.” So much more must I lament the fact that the mission statement for this web log is being realized around the world. People are driving less so all may live more.

It would be absurd to talk about the silver lining of the present pandemic (or, as several preachers I’ve heard say, the “global pandemic”). The cost is too high and, really, the effects will probably be short lived. Two days ago, a barrel of crude oil was worth negative $35 or so; today you must pay upward of $20 or so for the same barrel. This pandemic too will pass.

In the mean time, however, it is worth pointing out that here on earth (on Earth Day, also) the virus has given us a picture of what the world could look like if people chose to drive less instead being forced by legal mandate to drive less.

Any one of these links provide a glimpse at what the world could look like over time if the practice of minimal driving (and less industrialization) were retained long after the face masks were doffed.

The hope for environmentalists is that this transient clear air and water will whet the taste of communities to maintain the change. One practical step being considered is giving preference to green technologies for business bailouts. Meanwhile, like the mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage, environmental regulations are being rolled back to keep highly polluting companies alive. Hamlet is a tragedy in the end, and I hope we don’t stick to the script we’ve been following for the last 70 years.

Happy birthday to all those born on Earth Day!

Covidiocy, Covidity, Covitality

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

I was pretty sure I had invented all those words, but that’s not the case. Covidiocy refers to people who make inane statements or perform inane actions relative to covid-19. Covidity refers to having a proclivity toward respecting the guidelines for slowing down the spread of the virus. Covidity has its own Facebook page. Covitality predates covid-19. It is a kind of therapy for adolescents (especially). It phonetically contrasts with co-dependence. In Person vs. Automobile, however, I give it a new meaning.

Covidiocy

The facts do keep shifting concerning the virus, but that does not exculpate conspiracy theorists concerning covid-19. The theory that comes to mind is the one that states the threat is manufactured by the US or a consortium of governments. I’m thinking of Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, who said, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated.”[1] If I thought my faith could keep 1,000 people safe from the virus, even though that’s a tall order, I guess I’d keep meeting with them, as he has been even after being cited on six counts of violating the governor’s executive order.

There’s a bitmapped message floating around on Facebook that generally seems to be posted to show that the covid-19 threat is minor compared to well-known causes of death. Generally, I like that approach: we often fear the unlikely dangers while we ignore the most likely danger. While a fear of flying is involuntary, it was the drive to the airport that put us on the statistical radar.

However, I decided to check the sources for this info graphic, since some of the causes of death (starting with the beginning of 2020) seem dreadfully high (and they are). But in the process, using the same source, worldometers.info, I compared the 2020 world-wide-death-count numbers as of 4/2/2020 with those of the 3/25/2020 info graphic (an additional 8 days). The count of ALL of the causes of death was 109% greater except covid-19, which was 249%.

Here’s the info graphic:

Here’s my comparison (except I couldn’t find hunger statistics):

It is this rate of covid growth that concerns epidemiologists (but not perhaps conspiracy theorists).

Covidity

Not every pastor—in fact very, very few—has ignored the mandates and recommendations to avoid public gatherings. Take my sister, for example. She resides in Oklahoma as a Methodist pastor. Oklahoma is among the five states that had, as of April 3, done the least to prevent social gatherings.[2]

She, herself, is a woman of faith, but she doesn’t take chances. After her husband returned from a trip in his automobile that required him to leave the state, she quarantined him for 14 days just to be safe. (Don’t read too much into this!)

In my peer group, I occasionally hear millennials dismissed unfairly through a kind of bigotry and over generalization. This irritates me because when I dream at night, I’m usually a millennial by age. It also irritates me because in several respects, millennials are on top of their game, including recognizing a social threat when it wanders into town. My daughter and her husband returned from China (and Paris) only to find Colorado becoming a hot spot. They quarantined themselves for 14 days. When we took our first carefully distanced walk, they were quick to note how I and a few other, older passersby failed to cover our mouths when we coughed. Kudos, sharp witted millennials.

Covitality

Covitality, as I use it, refers to the hidden physical opportunities during this time of distress. No doubt, many of us breathed a (perhaps contagious) sigh of relief when Governor Polis issued the order to stay at home. It of course allowed for essential services, such as liquor stores and dispensaries, to remain open. That was nearly a given. But it also allowed for going outdoors to exercise at a safe distance.

Meanwhile, the amount of drivers on the road subsided drastically. First in China and now in places such as San Francisco, the air is becoming notably cleaner.[3] Los Angelas has now cleaner air than it has had since World War II.[4] Similarly, the number of car accidents is plummeting.[5] Finally, life is quiet. In fact the earth is quiet, allowing seismographs to detect smaller earthquakes.[6]

While the cause for this freedom from traffic is truly awful, the result has been heralded by bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians as a long-sought advance in society. I used to seek the trails to avoid cars, but now I seek the empty roads to avoid all the people on the trails.

A friend of mine who (like many) cannot visit her aging parents and who has had to learn to teach her students online—in other words, who is paying a price for the pandemic—remarked to me that she thought it good that we have to slow down. She hoped—as I do—that when the virus subsides some of the good habits it caused us to acquire will not.

One Good Habit

Closing with a video as I often do, here is one from Don Bushey (who authored a post about almost dying on his bicycle) that might cheer you up:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] He’s quoted in an online site, Reason, which, quoting Christianity Today, provides this: “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” pastor Tony Spell told CNN affiliate WAFB. “We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

[2] According to an April 3, 2020 article in the Guardian, Which states have done the least to contain coronavirus?, the states are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

[3] The stunning impact of COVID-19 social distancing on air pollution.

[4] As of April 6, 2020: As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades.

[5] See, for example, Traffic collisions are plummeting in several US cities and Car crashes down by 75% in Phoenix metro area as COVID-19 pandemic continues.

[6] According to this article, the Earth has quieted down to the level normally reached on Christmas day: Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves.

Presidential Candidates, Cars, and My Predictions

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This, I admit, is a quixotic post, in that my critique of the automobile industry touches only tangentially on electoral predictions, but it’s an unlikely union I chose to make. Hopefully, I’ll soon be riding an electric kick scooter so I can finish that short series and forget about politics for a while.

Transportation and the Candidates

It’s becoming likely that Joe Biden will face off with Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders remains in the picture although it appears the established, moderate Democrats have teamed up against him and settled for Biden. The Libertarian Party holds its primaries toward the end of May, and the Green Party late spring and early summer.[1]

Relevant to this post is a tweet of a press release from President Trump:

Clearly, this position stirs the hearts of many Americans who believe the automobile is a right, a necessity, and an unmitigated blessing. In short, the Americans who do not consider that automobiles are in ways destroying the world. The statement lumps all Democrats together (“who all want to get rid of…”). And it offers as a boast something Person Versus Automobile would consider highly controversial if not downright confessional: that the President is having new automotive plants built “all over Michigan.”

In response, Greg Shrill (whose article “Should Law Subsidize Driving?” is summarized in two earlier posts on this site), responded:


Seventy-five billion dollars is a significant investment for Bernie Sanders to make under his Green New Deal. It’s a funny shade of green but one that seems burned into the American soul.[2]

Shill’s comment makes suspect both the characterization by President Trump of Democratic transportation schemes and of Sanders’ commitment to a green revolution.

How, then, does Joe Biden fare on the national transportation issue? According to his own web site, “Biden will propose to immediately spend $50 billion over the first year of his Administration to kickstart the process of repairing our existing roads, highways, and bridges.”[3]

Of course, read in context, both Sanders’ Green New Deal and Biden’s plan for rebuilding the infrastructure pay significant attention to the need to move away from the gasoline automobile toward cleaner, safer options. Both, in short, are a breath of fresh air for those who see that America’s dependence on the automobile is at best annoying and at worst destroying.

The Presidential Election

However, none of these candidates gets the endorsement of Person Versus Automobile, a loss not quite tantamount to losing the endorsement of The New York Times, I’m sure. None of the candidates is coming out openly and stating that America has gone astray in a very big way from the beauty and natural harmony of self-propulsion. Both the Democratic candidates see electric cars as a significant part of the future. That’s probably a factually true. But it’s not revolutionary. The electric cars still have many downsides, and always will be a problem for those who don’t want to be run over by them or listen to their tires roar against the sounds of nature.

Having come this far, perhaps I’ll make my November prediction, which is something few do before the Democratic primaries have concluded. First, Bernie will for the second time be over-ruled by those with the greater corporate interests (the elite establishment). Then Biden will try to find a running mate who has all the appeal he lacks: perchance a woman whose imagination and courage can interest the multitude of young Democrats who were looking for Sanders on the ballot. Finally, President Trump will win again. Why? Well, surely many Americans like a president building new car plants all over Michigan. He’s fixing the rust belt and making America(n traffic) Great Again. And, finally, for single-issue voters who believe that the unborn are fully human, Trump is the only candidate.

I may be wrong in this prediction, and I hope I am. While I will stand up for the unborn until I lie down in my grave, I am not a single-issue voter, nor do I think destroying the environment and removing EPA regulations is in any way innocent. But I may be right: it seems that the Democratic instinct to offer a Trump-lite candidate—i.e. someone entrenched in corporate interests, yet with an eye on the margins of society—is always going to drive independent voters away, even if it’s in electric cars.[4]

 

____Footnotes____

[1] See the following Wikipedia articles: Libertarian Party Presidential Primaries; Green Party Presidential Primaries

[2] This article in Streetsblog USA, which is highly critical of this aspect of the Green New Deal, says that 80% of the $75 billion will go to highways themselves: Bernie’s ‘Green New Deal’: What’s In It For Transit?

[3] Invest in Middle Class Competitiveness

[4] Biden’s stance on abortion is less clear than Sanders’. See Trump Is a Disaster for Abortion Rights — but Joe Biden Can’t Be Trusted to Fight for Choice for a discussion that worries Biden might slip back into his Roman Catholic bias against abortion.

Scooters (Part 1 of 2)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This web site promotes self propulsion above all forms of transportation. Other forms of transportation should of course be considered as an advancement. However, an advancement doesn’t entail perfection.

Before we consider kick scooters, take electric cars, for example: they may be potentially fossil fuel free, but any plastics in their design are likely petroleum products and, currently, natural gas (a fossil fuel) provides the electricity for the bulk of electric cars in California, a forward-thinking state that admits humans have a pollution problem.[1] In addition, electric cars may involve manufacturing pollution[2] and disposal pollution[3]—as well as human rights abuses.[4]

Eventually, I assume, the gas/diesel powered car will become a museum piece, not that electric cars address the primary concerns of Person vs. Automobile: they still impinge upon the environment, menace people and animals, and make annoying tire noise at highway speeds.

Onto the Kick Scooter

Vosh, Stockholm ( 1090722)

On one hand, electric scooters address all the negative aspects presented by electric cars: they don’t make annoying highway-speed tire noise (rarely reaching highway speeds, as well as lacking the mass and surface area to generate much noise); the materials required for manufacturing and disposal are markedly less than for automobiles. Furthermore, although we will look at collisions with pedestrians, as a pedestrian, I’d sooner be hit by a scooter than an SUV any day.

On the other hand, scooters have established a gnarly reputation at best. One hears of homicidal and suicidal driving habits, as well as rivers and lakes being polluted by scooters that make their home in these watery beds. Rules are unclear. Helmets? Sidewalks? Streets? Gutters? Some jurisdictions require them to avoid streets, while others insist they use the streets. In Ireland one cannot insure them, but the police reportedly confiscate them precisely because they are not insured.[5]

Scooters make bicycles appear as a well-accepted form of American transportation (and anyone who rides a bike knows that isn’t true).

In an extensive interview, I asked four people about their experience riding scooters. Three of them said it simply felt dangerous, one of whom rode for less than a minute before returning to ambulation. These three were millennials. The fourth person was a grandfather. He said that where he rented one (at a touristy waterfront), helmets were both legally required and unavailable. But the clerk did hand him a piece of paper with the name of a company that would take a mail order for a helmet.

Between 2014 and 2018, among millennials, injuries on micro-mobility devices increased nine-fold. “One quarter of injuries included a broken bone and one-third of injuries were to the head, double the rate among bicyclists. A separate 2019 study found less than 5% of e-scooter riders wear helmets” (“Electric scooter injuries tripled in one year among US millennials, study finds”, Guardian, January 8, 2020).

Companies such as Lime and Bird have injected electric kick scooters into major cities with the result that by downloading a smartphone app and (I assume) including a credit card number, users can rent a scooter and, in a matter of seconds, be riding a low-polluting vehicle. At the same time, they may be endangering the lives of pedestrians and other scooterists, as well as bicyclists. Finally, after the scooter gets parked wherever its driver needed to go, the scooter may be picked up by a disgruntled citizen and tossed into a river, lake, or ocean.[6]

As Carlton Reid notes in his book Roads Were Not Built for Cars, bicycles had an uneasy reception, endangering and aggravating pedestrians as scooters currently do. Lobbyists and the sheer elegance of the bicycle won the day (for the most part). The history of bicycles demonstrates that a form of transportation that initially threatens the public may find eventual acceptance. Whereas bicyclists were first considered the aggressors who endangered pedestrians, now they are more commonly the victims, assaulted by careless and belligerent automobile drivers.[7]

Not every technically sweet form of transportation makes the transition though. As Reid points out, in spite of its capabilities, the Segway encountered many difficulties as it entered the market. The price ($3,000-$6,000) was a deterrent. Worse, cities provided no infrastructure for these vehicles. They were fit neither for sidewalks nor streets. As it has turned out, they remain popular as service vehicles for policemen, security guards, and medical personnel (i.e. those who can do what they want), but not for the consumer.[8] As Jordan Golson remarks in an article in Wired: “No, the problems that sank the Segway weren’t technological. They were social.”[9]

Segway Polizei 4.jpgPhoto by Reinhold Eder, posted on Wikipedia

It is easy to see how kick scooters have circumvented the problems encountered by the Segway: they are rented, not owned. Moreover, they have been injected into some cities in such great numbers that it is a matter of asking forgiveness, not permission when it comes to riding them. The smart phone, no doubt, has been indispensable in assisting their popularity.

What, one wonders, is the net effect of electric kick scooters on society? Are they completing the transportation line, picking up riders where trains and buses leave off? Is there one documented case where the use of an electric scooter supplanted the use of an automobile? Are they primarily an alluring substitute for a healthy walk or bike ride—with the added disadvantage of ending up in and polluting urban waterways? The people who throw these vehicles into rivers, lakes, and oceans—are these people concerned that the scooters are cluttering sidewalks, sometimes parked carelessly (which still doesn’t explain cluttering waterways), or are they, dare we say, envious that for one reason or another they cannot join in the fun (low fear threshold, no smart phone, bad balance)?

The answers to these questions elude me. I’m new to the business. Part 2 of 2 of this investigation will involve my first (and probably last) ride on a scooter. As the reflections on the history of the bicycle suggest, the jury is still out on the role of kick scooters in urban areas. But, judging by the 2018 data graphed below, my bet is that with increased regulation, along with scooter vandals being fined stiffly, scooters will become respected as a relatively innocent form of urban transportation. After writing the previous sentence, I bought some kick scooter stock—just to make good on my prediction.[10]

Applying the popularity test among US cities, scooters get a net win, as this graph from statistic illustrates (2018):

Infographic: Majority of U.S. City Dwellers View E-Scooters Positively | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

 

____Footnotes____

[1] “Electric Cars Mostly Run On Electricity From Renewable Energy Or Natural Gas”, February 6, 2018.

[2] The production of electric cars—as a result of their massive batteries—may increase the greenhouse footprint 15% above producing gasoline cars. “Electric cars may be the future, but they’re still critically flawed in a key area”, February 6th, 2018. This view is challenged, however, by an article on Forbes.com: “Are Electric Vehicles Really Better For The Environment?”, May 20, 2019.

[3] This review article in Nature provides a hierarchy of preferred responses to the problem of both creating and disposing of lithium batteries. The goal is to reuse as much of the battery as possible, which action addresses both manufacturing and disposing issues.“Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles”, November, 6, 2019.

[4] “The dirty secret of electric vehicles”, March, 27, 2019.

[5] “Motorized scooter”, Wikipedia, last updated January, 21, 2020.

[6] All these points, as well as a discussion of the reception of bicycles, is mentioned in this excellent article: “What the Fight Over Scooters Has in Common With the 19th-Century Battle Over Bicycles”, December, 2019.

[7] I appreciate the reminder of Reid’s work provided by the aforesaid Smithsonian article: “What the Fight Over Scooters Has in Common With the 19th-Century Battle Over Bicycles”, December, 2019.

[8] Roads Were Not Built for Cars: How Cyclists Were the First to Push for Good Roads & Became the Pioneers of Motoring, by Carlton Reid, 2015

[9] “Well, That Didn’t Work: The Segway Is a Technological Marvel. Too Bad It Doesn’t Make Any Sense”, Wired, last updated January, 16, 2015.

[10]As it turned out, I couldn’t find a publicly traded company, so I bought three shares of Lyft stock instead, since they now rent scooters.

Man vs. Motorcycle

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

Collision

My friend Charles visited Spain in 2016. On the evening of September 14th, he and his friend Robert were walking through Bilbao. They were in a densely packed area, crossing a cobblestone street. Robert was walking a few feet ahead. Suddenly, he saw a body come over his head and fall in front of him. It was Charles.

That’s what the motorcycle did. Hitting Charles, it launched in him the air with the result that he landed on his head.

Charles after traumatic brain injury.

Rushed to the hospital, he was diagnosed a traumatic brain injury (TBI). That was his diagnosis, but he doesn’t remember it. Few with that diagnosis remember much at the time. He lost about a month of his life as a result. He wasn’t in a coma. He could converse, but could not remember. His brain had bled in several spots, with the result, perhaps, that it had more important matters to attend to than to simply remember.

Medical Care

He was in the hospital in Bilbao for a little over a week, as best as he can tell. His wife flew to Spain to be with him. Finally, he was put on a medical jet and flown to Tulsa, to St. John Medical Center, a fitting choice not only because of its trauma center, but because he had been president of that organization until a few years earlier.

After about a week at St. John, Charles was sent to Craig Hospital in Denver, a renowned rehabilitation center. A team of specialists created a care plan for him, and he began speech, occupational, and physical therapy. In addition, he began eating eagerly after having lost significant weight over the past few weeks.

Part of his therapy provided him with an address nearby the hospital. The therapist would then walk with him, testing whether or not he could locate the address. He found this exercise useful, not only for the exercise and the proof-of-recovery, but because a small Italian restaurant caught his eye.

A few evenings later, he eloped, leaving without medical approval, and walked to the Italian restaurant. Treating himself to a steak dinner and a few beers, he was finally enjoying life again—that is, until his wife called from Oklahoma asking him where he was. Soon, Craig sent a male charge nurse to the restaurant to fetch Charles. A cooperative suspect, he returned to rehabilitation center.

The next day his physician, with whom he had already experienced some friction, was visibly upset with him, unable to accept the fact that the adventure had a happy outcome and wouldn’t happen again.

After about three weeks, Charles was discharged and returned to home in Tulsa.

Recovered

In March of 2017, I visited Charles for a few days. Nothing in his appearance, speech, or personality betrayed the fact that he had nearly lost all those attributes. He was, in short, a fully recovered person, something he remains grateful for (as do I).

Charles in front of the Guggenheim museum at Bilbao, Spain. This was of course before the accident, but it’s how he looks today (minus the museum).

During my visit he received a letter from the attorney (we’ll call him Rafael) of the motorcyclist (we’ll call him Javier). It included a handsome check to remunerate Charles for his injuries. Oh, no! That wasn’t a check. It was a bill for 6,079 euros (about $7,300). It included damage to the motorcycle and some kind of 52-euro-per-day disability pay to the cyclist.

Letter from Spanish attorney.
Letter from Spanish attorney.

Of course, collecting the money after nearly killing a pedestrian is a difficult task. So difficult that later the attorney made a second attempt to coerce Charles into action, but, alas, he remains immovable in this respect.

What We Learn

As dangerous as it is to be a pedestrian in the United States, it is often more dangerous in other countries. In California the pedestrian has the right of way both in a marked crosswalk and an unmarked intersection.[1] Other states may not be as generous to pedestrians but they generally side with the pedestrian who is run over (vehicular homicide). By contrast, in Spain the pedestrian is subordinate to automobiles. Not only must the pedestrian be in a crosswalk with the light signalling an approved crossing, but the pedestrian must gesture to drivers that the pedestrian intends to make a crossing.[2]

Outside of Spain, things become even more precarious for the pedestrian. I was walking around downtown Denver with a friend from Costa Rica, ranting (mildly) about the traffic. He cautioned me, saying that if I stepped off the curb in Costa Rica as I had just done in Denver, no one would stop, not even after they hit me. I’m not sure how accurate his account is, but I do not plan to put it to the test.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] “Do Pedestrians Really Have the Right of Way in California?”

[2] “Walking the streets of Spain”

David Byrne (Talking Heads) and His Bicycle

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

He owns a very nice bike helmet, he says, and even wears it if he needs to ride in gnarly traffic. However, with dedicated bike lanes, such as along the West Side of New York City, he lets his (now) gray hair blow in the wind. He doesn’t want to unnecessarily risk “helmet hair.”[1]

David Byrne on bike, nice helmet in basket (from NY Times interview on Youtube )

Continue reading “David Byrne (Talking Heads) and His Bicycle”