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

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.

Road, Rage, and Peace

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

Road Rage

While I enjoy embedding a good video in a post, I will spare you any road-rage videos, although if you search YouTube on “road rage compilation,” you can view to your heart’s delight, or until your stomach turns (as mine did). However, because it captures so much of the road-rage mental state, this animated video by Your Favorite Martian is worth a view (it would get an E for explicit lyrics on iTunes, so, kids, you might not want to play it for your parents).

As I watched some of these road-rage videos, I began to wonder whether being a jerk as a driver or being a jerk as a human being is the bigger problem, and it seemed instructive that sometimes the “good driver” documenting the bad driver got so distracted that the good driver flipped off the road. One video captured an incident where two drivers had stopped their cars at an intersection and were yelling at each other until one of the drivers started walking down the road taking a poll from all the other cars being delayed, asking who was at fault—the democratic approach.

Most of us don’t need videos, because we can replay scenes from our own experience, scenes that include doing something wrong (or even right, such as going the speed limit) and being flipped off or worse, as well as scenes when someone irritated us to the point that we cursed them, gestured violently, sped around them, or stomped on the brakes.

Me? I learned my big lesson while driving a friend to Denver International Airport. Driving east on I-70, I found a red pickup truck tailgating my very small car, dangerously so. I tapped my brakes multiple times to remind him (it was a he) that we live in a universe governed by nuisances such as mass and momentum. Before I knew it, he had passed me, gotten back in my lane, and slammed on his brakes, bringing me to the brink of an accident with the thought that it probably would have been my passenger—the person least involved—who would suffer the greatest physical harm.

Since then I usually just pull off the road or move over a lane and let the jerks express themselves unhampered.

Rage

While some of us find driving a pleasure, most of us drive in a state of irritation, with occasional moments of rage. Frequent ragers don’t survive so well.

In addition to the righteously indignant, like myself, who take upon themselves the task of correcting the world, a dominant element behind all this scuffle is time. Both the bad drivers and those who are outraged at the driving (becoming bad drivers themselves) are in some kind of hurry, or are on some kind of schedule. The inconvenience of being slowed down by some another car (whether that car is slow, cutting in front, or tailgating) triggers a reaction that escalates into a full-blown challenge to one’s worth:

  • “Who do they think they are?”
  • “I’ll show them…”
  • or the transcendental “To hell with them!”

Surely, ignorance and lack of training lie behind much bad driving. But, for example, even people who have discovered the lever that actuates their turn signals are often just a little bit too busy to touch it. In true mimetic response, the driver who is inconvenienced by the sudden merge and has to tap the breaks—the victim in this scenario—becomes fixated on the laziness and impertinence of the driver. Soon a device invented to make driving safer becomes the basis for anger and its consequences.

Peace

When I was learning to drive, we were taught to be defensive drivers who expected others to drive dangerously and to be prepared to counter their moves with self-preserving maneuvers. The problem with this approach is that it implies a necessary antagonism and encourages opposition. “Watch out for the other guy!” Put differently, it encourages engagement. We are now knee deep in military terms, so bring on the rage.

A different approach has been coined as “supportive driving.” The concept is that the driver takes the whole traffic picture into consideration and seeks to keep things flowing as well as possible. Thus, getting out of the way of a tailgater is supportive, as is laughing off—or, better, ignoring—another driver’s rudeness. Supportive driving lends itself both to self-preservation and to the preservation of the rest of the cars on the road who may otherwise become collateral damage to winning one’s war with a nitwit. Peace presides over the supportive driver.

No driver, of course, can be fully supportive when time is of the essence. Most likely the good Samaritan had a shorter to-do list than the priest who ignored the man in need. Or at least the Samaritan left for his destination a bit earlier than necessary. Delays could be expected.

The practical step, then, is to build in a little extra travel time. Figure out when you should leave, and then leave earlier. On my best days when I’m driving, my phone is out of my reach and I have a little time to kill.

Road Rush

This need to get somewhere as quickly as possible betrays a loss of perspective. Even a slow car is generally faster than self-propelled forms of locomotion, such as walking, running, and biking. The impatient driver has lost sight of his or her position in the world of locomotion. In the words of God (in the words of Milton), the impatient driver is an ingrate. Why not get out and walk about five miles and see how that goes for speed?

When we rush through life, it is ultimately toward our graves. Where else do we plan to end up? The corollary, of course, is that a good piece of road rage can hasten the whole affair.

At one time C.S. Lewis referred to himself as a dinosaur, and I don’t think he ever learned to drive, so it’s not surprising that he looked askance upon speedy transportation. That position allowed him to make an observation that the rush to cover as much ground as possible shrinks our world, which is another way of saying it deprives us of life:

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space’. It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.[1]

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, 1955, HarperCollins Publishers.

The Most Dangerous Activity in which I Engage (guest post, Don Bushey)

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

[Don Bushey, owner of Wilderness Exchange and, along those lines, quite active in rock climbing and skiing, wrote the following in an email.]

I honestly think that recreational road riding is the most dangerous activity I engage in—at least statistically this seems true. The main difference is that with the other dangerous things I do—rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and surfing—there are behaviors and actions that can minimize and reduce my risk. With road biking, it is entirely out of my control (except for wiping out), and getting hit by a car from behind is a purely objective danger. I should tell you sometime about my near death experience that I had on a road bike up Sunshine Canyon . . .

[So I asked for more, getting the account along with his theory of risk ~ Louis]

Near Death in Sunshine Canyon

One cool crisp Fall evening about eight years ago, with the light reddening through the slot of Sunshine Canyon, I reached the end of the climb up Poorman’s on my road bike and pointed my front wheel down the steep [Sunshine Canyon Drive], winding through the canyon.

Don's road bike
Don’s road bike: “Her name is Tomi. She’s Italian and dreamy!”

This is where the thrill lies with road biking—the stoke—the rush. I took a deep breath and performed a little self-assessment, as I always do when embarking on an experience like this. Do I feel balanced? Strong? Relaxed? Are there anxieties and apprehensions? If so, are they real or imagined? This will determine the speed and commitment level I am willing to give to the descent. I exhaled and realized that I was tuned in and feeling great. I launched into the descent and quickly gained speed and velocity.

I love this [particular] downhill because there is such light vehicular traffic, and the grade and the angle of turning are perfect—allowing the rider to push speeds as fast as a bicycle can travel (~50 mph) with only one mandatory switchback to brake.

I quickly gained full cruising speed, feeling my sweet Italian handcrafted steel frame flexing and carving beneath me. I felt like I was flying!

You try to zone in and out, gaining a new hyper-awareness of your surroundings; your visual perspective increases, and you begin operating from an intuitive place, rather than an analytical one. Do the movement of bushes on the roadsides indicate a deer hazard? Does the rustling of leaves in the trees suggest a breeze that you may need to counter? Is that water on the road or a mirage? What are the options and ways out if so?

In this hyper-aware state, I saw a car several hundred yards down the canyon making a left turn on Timber Trail, directly in my path of travel. They saw me, and completed their turn (meaning they got out of my lane and were now headed up their dirt road), so I continued on, without needing to brake.

The very next moment, now only a couple dozen yards from that intersection, a second car sped up and initiated the same left turn.

This can’t be happening!

map of sunshine canyon
Larger-than-life Don sees second car immediately in front of him, and, as he describes, narrowly misses death. (both the bike and car icons created by macrovector – www.freepik.com)

In a split second, my awareness changed from enjoying the thrill of a recreational road ride, to facing an almost certain head-on collision with a car at full speed. I vividly remember seeing myself from above, like I was watching a movie. I was not in my body anymore. Operating on some form of primal intuition which I’ve never before or since been able to access, I saw myself turn into the lane of oncoming traffic, bearing down on my front wheel, initiating the deepest and fastest carve (as we skiers say) and immediate deceleration I have ever achieved on a bicycle.

I miraculously stayed on the bike and did not lay it down. Fortunately, there were no other oncoming cars. Still mounted on my bike, I slowly came back down to earth, body coursing and shaking with adrenaline and endorphins. Pulling over, I buried my face in my palms, weeping uncontrollably.

Death on Lookout Mountain

Several years after this incident, my friend Tom was killed on a similar descent down Lookout Mountain in Golden. A car swerved into his lane, ending his life, while leaving behind a widow and a son. Road biking is like Alpine climbing—so full of objective dangers. It’s guilty of subterfuge—an objective danger fox dressed in subjective sheeps’ wool. The actuary rate far exceeds the 8 in 1 million chance I have of dying rock climbing. Person vs. Automobile? Auto wins every time. It’s the most dangerous damned thing I do. But I love cycling and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Why Don Rides Again and Again

“With great risk, comes great rewards”
-Thomas Jefferson
“Except when road biking”
-Don

Bicycles are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all mankind, except for the wheel, of course, which was only a small step forward in the invention of the bicycle. It’s hard to imagine a more direct union of human and machine—the stuff of dreams and imagination.

They allow us to become faster than we are; we soar, we carve and bank into turns, experience g-forces, exhilaration, acceleration, and an overall sense of fun and well-being—all generated by gravity and our own power.

Riding bicycles—whether engaged in recreation or transportation—is a risky proposition. The outcomes of interactions with cars have been sadly topical on this blog, and, leaving cars in their garages, the possible outcomes of mountain biking at 40 mph down steep forested trails over rocky mountainsides are obvious. Acceptance of risk is highly individual, and our relationship with risk is at play with almost every decision we make; in a way, it shapes the way that we express ourselves in the world.

Outdoor adventure sports like climbing, backcountry skiing, and surfing have informed and shaped my relationship with risk in almost every way—except, perhaps, running a business, which is ten times scarier than any of these sports.

But recreational road biking is not one of these activities where the Jeffersonian risk-reward ratio quite meters out.

Road biking is rife with objective risks, as I conclude with references to mountaineering and climbing. Subjective risks are risks that can be mitigated by an individuals’ judgement, behaviors, and decision making. Objective risks are risks out of an individual’s control. In Alpine climbing, which takes place in remote high mountain areas, objective risks like rockfall, icefall, lightning strikes, and avalanches, although mitigable, are an accepted part of the game. In sport climbing, where there are fixed anchors and a controlled environment, there are almost never objective dangers, and with proper use of equipment, the accepted risks are perhaps a sprained ankle, or an overuse injury. Tragedies in this environment almost always involve human error. Every climber quickly comes to a place where they are comfortable with their level of risk, decides what is acceptable and not acceptable, and works at exercising good judgement to ensure a long career.

None of this explains why I continue to ride my road bike. As I said, “acceptance of risk is highly individual.”

“Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement” -Mark Twain.

It’s Easy Not to Drive…

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

It’s Easy Not to Drive if You Don’t Own a Car

I should know. I didn’t have a car for five years.

For years my house looked like this:
house, no car
Now it looks like this:
house, car in front

I bought the car for a host of reasons, including the reason that my friends nearly gave it to me; that another friend, who is elderly, needs me to drive him places increasingly; and that I have to run or bus to a different town (Broomfield or Boulder) in order to rent a car.

The mission of this web site has always been to urge people to drive less. It has never been to outlaw cars.

The phrasing of this site’s mission statement “driving less so that we all might live more” is a deliberate echo of the more elegant, “the rich must learn to live more simply, so that the poor may simply live.” Both are a call to moderation.

Today I took two trips, one to the hardware store on a bike and one to the grocery store on foot. The car, as a travel option, isn’t prominent in my mind. This diminished role arises from those years of auto abstinence.

Some people like myself have a hard time achieving moderation. We are, as my dad described rabbits, bimodal, either running or frozen in motion. So it’s easier for us, at least for a while, to abstain nearly completely in order to break the gravitational pull of a habit, whether it’s driving a car or drinking a beer. Later, we might add the practice back into our repertoire, but with fear and trembling, lest we open the flood gates wide, once again.

Happily, the default mode for me is to propel myself, rather than be propelled. The car (which happens also to be a Rabbit) obtains a ghostly existence:
house, transparent car

What My Friend Said

A few days after getting the car, I told a friend about it. She immediately quipped “you’ve gone over to the dark side.” On one hand, that statement puts me in good company with Google and Bob Dylan, to name a couple of successes. But on the other hand, it doesn’t fit the case. It implies that a few of us should go our lives without cars as we protest the majority who drive relentlessly. By contrast, the solution is for everyone to drive less, no matter the number of cars one owns (reminding me of Jay Leno’s 169 cars).[1]

Of course, making and burying cars is polluting, including or perhaps especially electric cars (the jury is probably out on this one). But once a car is made, it does little polluting when not running.

If we were going to define “the dark side” of automobile use, we would each draw the line in a different place, and often for good reasons. According to the concerns circulated on this web site (noise pollution, air pollution, carbon footprints, pedestrian and animal safety, health, and a keen sensibility for the general art of living), the definition might go something like this:

I Drive…
only when the distance is too great, the weather too dangerous, or the payload unsuitable to walk, run, bike, or bus
on errands but not daily and not to work
to work, which is necessary since there are several stops in various places I must go every day, but also I drive on errands, even to the grocery store which is a half mile away
to work; I know there’s a fairly direct bus or train, but public transportation would add a half hour each way and I’m too busy—I need time to read and think…lots of people to text
any distance and every opportunity, including the neighbor’s for a dinner party, the gym, and joy riding, all of which are a bit more fun in my big vehicle that can hold six to eight people but usually carries only myself
the biggest, loudest, meanest truck, SUV or Humvee that money can buy, and I do it with a vengeance whenever possible to show the stupid environmentalists that I’m… well, not to boast, but I’m king of the road! I’m proud to be an American, I am, and if you question that, I’ll gun my engine and drown you in a cloud of black smoke, but I won’t hear your expletives because I’ll turn up my radio with my windows down to prove that I dominate you

I doubt the table above would change many people’s driving habits. I doubt it would change some of my friends’ habits! Guilt raises our defenses, and, besides, we all know we cannot fight every battle in life. A better motivation than guilt, for me at least, is a sense of being alive and having adventures.

What’s More Exciting than a Car?

While I was touched by my friends’ generosity, while I always liked their VW Rabbit (I had asked them a year ago to let me know if they ever were selling it), and while I will relish driving it occasionally, I didn’t get as excited when I bought it as I did with this device. Walking through my neighborhood this summer, I found it set out on the curb with some trash. For several days, I kept my eye on it. I called Foxtrot (a local bike shop) to let them know they might be able to flip it, but no one grabbed it, so I finally did. All it needed was air in its tires:

My second Gary Fisher bike; this one with street shoe pedals for quick jaunts around town

 

____Footnotes____

[1] “Leno owns approximately 286 vehicles (169 cars and 117 motorbikes),” according to Wikipedia (8/29/2019).

Leo Kottke vs. Automobile

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

For those who do not know, Leo Kottke is one of the best and quirkiest acoustic guitar players of the last fifty years, an American Treasure whose sense of irony and sarcasm might undermine anything I quote below.

That said, I was recently watching a DVD, Leo Kottke: Home & Away, Revisited, during which he talks about cars, reminding me that my heart sings when I consider a world with more music and less noise and air pollution.

[sitting in a boat that is on his lawn, no trailer, just a boat on the lawn]
I had a lifelong hatred of cars, so I bought a boat. Now I hate boats. Still, when I’m on the road I meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily run into—like guitar players I listen to. And when I’m home, I get to go out and sit in the boat.
[onomatopoeia] Vrromm, Vrromm.

[driving in his car]
Well, I’m late again. I’m driving again as you may have noticed this.
[wiggles steering wheel, zig-zagging back and forth]
I do this to irritate the other drivers ’cause they generally irritate me, and I’d rather beat ’em to the punch.
The fact is if I spend too much time yelling at ’em, I take my life in my hands, not that I care when I’m driving. There’s something about being encapsulated like this that convinces us we’ll live forever … instead of running into that bridge abutment there [points right] like I might tend to if I’m looking back here like this [turns around to talk to the camera man in the back seat] and I know there’s a curve coming [points left, passes it], or was coming.

[continues to speculate on life after death and deprecate other drivers]
(2005, www.reconstructedarts.com, approx. minute 44)

For the entertainment section in today’s post, Leo singing his frustration at his car mechanic: