Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crossing the river for fish

(Above, Oakmont Park)

Good news for bikers and walkers in my neighborhood! (We sorely need good news.)

You can now walk safely from Oakway Street to Newman's Grotto for excellent fresh fish (also fish and chips) without taking your life in your hands.

Two years ago getting from our house to Newman's on foot meant a long slog or taking your chances across a river of nonstop traffic. I made a stab a citizen activism by calling the city and requesting a stop light, and called Newman's about agitating for the same.
My efforts petered out after that, but someone was on the same page. See above, just finished. Now it is possible to meander through Oakmont Park, down a quiet street rich with gardens and kids, safely cross Coburg road and ten minutes later, your takeout is ready.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Following the herd

Watching a video of a lion chasing a gazelle, it struck me: no wonder it's hard to ride a bicycle when everyone else is driving. I want to be in the middle of the pack. This want is separate from physical discomforts like being too cold, hot or wet. It is a base-level craving to simply fit in. Perhaps it's genetically coded. Who wants to be the most vulnerable thing on the block? A weakling to be culled? I want to follow the crowd.

Survival is not the issue of course, at least not usually. There are no lions hunting down bicyclists. With a reasonable amount of attention, care and safety equipment, most commutes end safely. So why do I fidget uncomfortably at crosswalks? Over-apologize for showing up at a nice lunch with helmet and messy hair? Drive at the least little excuse, even when the weather is beautiful and there is plenty of time? A young friend who is living in China put it well, noting that she enjoys being car-free in Beijing, loves walking and is used to taking extra time to get places, but that's partly because everyone else is doing the same thing. When she visits home in California she goes back to driving even though walking is easy, comfortable and practical, and even though she is one of the most intelligent and environmentally sensitive people I know. "We do what everyone else does," she said. "It's as if we can't help it."

This made us both laugh a little guiltily because, the thing is, we can help it. We are not gazelles. We don't have to follow the crowd. This is one of the cool things about humans.

No disputing though. It ain't easy.  The herd instinct is  strong. How many compromises does spawned? How deeply ingrained is the willingness to go along with the flow, even when it doesn't make sense? What does it take to change directions?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Close Call

It is summer and the weather is fine, the breeze cool and the sun warm. It's a perfect time to start bicycling.

There is a change in the bicycling population since last summer. Gasoline has been over $3.85 a gallon for months, and this might be having an impact. A few more cyclists are out during rush hour. The cycling outfits look more planned, the panniers a little more worn, as if they get used regularly. It isn't like biking is even close to the norm, but bikes are a tiny bit more of a presence. I feel almost jaunty in my yellow reflective windbreaker, flying past the cars that are lined up for the lights. Then ...

It's 5:30 on a busy road and there are many of us waiting for the light to change, dozens of internal combusters, one bicyclist and one pedestrian. When the light turns green the intersection is blocked by cars that didn't make it through. Everyone impatiently inches forward. When the intersection clears, the pedestrian and I ease into the crosswalk, just as a large pickup roars it's engine and heads for us, turning right. Ahhh!

Phew, he sees us, and brakes in time. Safe again.

The driver avoids my eyes when I grin in a friendly, no-harm-done kind of way. I wonder if he saw us from the beginning and was just being obnoxious. My heart thuds, my hands shake.

Bicyclists who ride by choice rather than necessity take a big risk. And for what? I try not to think about it. It's not so hot for walkers, either. A May 2011 news story reported that the Eugene/Springfield, Oregon area where I live has the worst record for pedestrian fatalities in the state.