Friday, September 26, 2008

Bicycle Safety

As a commuter via automobile, motorcycle, and bicycle, I am keenly aware of the dynamic interactions between vehicles of differing proportions. As a result, I ride my “higher risk” conveyances very cautiously and try to avail myself of the safest route in a given situation. According to Washington State law, a bicycle is considered a vehicle and is expected to follow the same rules as motor vehicles. Yet there are many situations when it is simply suicidal to pretend I’m anything but a bike (narrow, winding, shoulder-less roads with fast moving traffic, to name one). I want to share a situation that I encounter nearly every bike commuting day, with the hope that a little education will result in greater safety for cyclists. Two streets intersect, and the street I’m traveling on has stop signs. I stop and wait for an opportunity to cross the intersection. Invariably a car will stop for me, even though it doesn’t have to, intending to yield the right of way. This is a courteous, thoughtful, and dangerous thing to do. It is dangerous because the motorist cannot force the traffic in the opposing lane to stop for me. It reminds me of the fairly common situation in which a motorist traveling in the left lane stops for an oncoming car turning left in front of him. This seems to be the "nice" thing to do, but the motorist cannot control whether the driver in the right lane will stop. Treating bicyclists more like motorists, and less like a special class of vehicle, is safer for everyone concerned. Although the situation usually dictates the best course of action, a good rule of thumb is -- if you wouldn’t yield the right of way to a car, you probably shouldn’t do it for a cyclist.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I am an environmentalist, but not a raging, pathological one. I try to commute to work on my bike as much as possible and consume resources sparingly, but I don't preach to others. I don't workship Gaia, nor do I passionately embrace my forest friends of the wooden variety. I do like trees though; you've got to if you live in the Pacific Northwest. Yet I think a lot of committed environmentalists believe we are depleting our resources, and once they're gone the world will end. Many radicals actually believe they care more for the environment than others. This is a perverse way of thinking, because it assumes that people are indifferent to a declining quality of life. If there is a nexus between the environment and quality of life, then it stands to reason that we are all environmentalists to one degree or another. Most people are driven by self-interest, so it's logical that they want clean, pristine surroundings and enough resources to maintain or improve their standard of living. It's not really a matter about who cares more, but a difference of opinion about what can be done to preserve our surroundings and conserve/expand our resources. I don't think it's a zero-sum game. There is just too much curiosity, innovation, and imagination on the earth to limit us to what we've got right now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Against the Grain

It seems that no matter where I've lived during my life, I've never fully assimilated into the dominant culture. There has always been a certain tension, whispering that somehow I am different from the rest. It might have something to do with my semi-nomadic life journey, which has taken me from Los Angeles, to Salt Lake City, to South Korea, to Seattle. I have lived in the Puget Sound region longer than any other place, so I am comfortable calling it home. Yet even here I cannot help but reject many of the social, political, and cultural ideologies that are commonly held by the mainstream community.

I was a toddler during the 60's, yet I missed much of the anti-establishment movement and only learned about it later as a teenager and young adult. While there is something about the peace & love generation that strikes a chord with me, I believe it generally devolved into a radical movement with very negative elements that can still be seen today. Part of me wants to "stick it to the man," but the other part recognizes that the man is generally a productive and positive contribution to society.

In politics I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the conservative/liberal continuum. Socially I'm conservative and pro-life but I also feel the government should do what it can to help level the playing field. I believe in rugged individualism and personal accountability, but also accept the notion that some are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. There are some Libertarian principles that ring true for me, yet I feel the movement is largely irrelevant and guided by some crackpot theories.

Utah and Seattle are polar opposites; Utah is a bastian of conservative thought, and liberalism dominates the culture of the Puget Sound. The ideological rift between western Washington and eastern Washington is interesting; there are still some today who feel eastern Washington should secede and become its own state, with Spokane as its capital. I don't believe secession is the answer, but the idea demonstrates the extremes that people do consider.

My right-brain thinking lends itself well to the culture of Seattle, but I will never accept blue hair, tattoos, and multiple piercings as the fashion norm. These freaks need to realize that no one will ever take them seriously looking like they do. However, I respect creativity and individual expression as long as it doesn't create hostility or negatively impacts others. The flip side to this is the overly puritanical attitudes of religious conservatives. I am a person of faith, yet I cannot help feeling like a rebel compared to others in my congregation (ward). Sometimes I'll get a puzzled look if a wear something other than a white shirt to church. I heard a joke about three things one can do to stay out of the bishopric: 1) wear colored shirts; 2) grow a beard; and 3) call everyone by their first name. I no longer have a goatee, but I cannot part with my soul patch.

Although Utah is a conservative state, I recognize that the higher population centers, like Salt Lake, are gradually becoming more liberal. I think this is the natural progression of urban growth -- the idea that as the population grows and people are crowded into smaller spaces, the greater the urge to foster a sense of community. I think community is laudable and something we should aspire to, but when taken to its extreme it becomes communism, which I think is very bad. I also think in higher population centers there is a tendency to dehumanize people and view them as objects, or obstacles to overcome. I especially feel this when trying to negotiate a busy city street full of pedestrians.

The conservative side of me believes that the family is the fundamental unit of society. I think we should rely on family for everything and look to the government as a last resort. Unfortunately, due to bad luck in some cases and poor choices in others, reliance on the government is a first resort. Government should be there to provide some welfare assistance, but it's important to understand that government will never care more for the needy than family will. That's one of the reasons I think there is too much emphasis on the presidency of the United States. Some feel that the person who occupies the oval office will have a huge impact on their lives. These are the same people using the phrase "Think globally, act locally," yet they can't help their neighbor or be civil at the grocery store. I believe that we make the biggest impact on the local level, and that really begins with families, friends, relatives, and neighbors. I think the most important work I can do is to teach my kids to be honest, productive, law-abiding, educated members of society (queue the Whitney Houston song).

So for most of my life I feel I've gone against the grain, but perhaps subconsciously, and now consciously, there's an optimal tension I need to maintain my equilibrium.