Monday, April 23, 2012

Uppity Bike Commuters

The irrational street battle between cars and bikes should be a problem with logical solutions, but something about the bicycle in America implies a Cause to some and a lack of Faith to others. Riding a bike becomes a political act and creates activists, ones with real bodies that, with one slip or negligent driver behind them, can pay for it with a life, limb or mobility [read: Independence]. On the other side of the divide is the driver, the commuter trying to get to work as quickly as possible, which can be very very fast in a vehicle. The bicyclist may also be propelling themselves to work, but is not seen to be on the way to the same sort of job or destination as the driver, who believes the bicyclist is acting to slow progress.
I believe carbon credits should be available to human people, not only corporate people. The act of riding a bike to work or wherever has a measurable postive and dramatic effect on resources and the urban environment. In so many cases, driving short and medium distances within San Francisco itself is unconscionable. If any city lends itself to walking, it's this one. Riding a bicycle, though, is a fraught proposition; a heart-stopping obstacle course of inlaid rails, car doors, potholes, jaywalkers, and disappearing dedicated lanes; a tricky landscape all but invisible to drivers. The person behind a wheel might perceive the bicyclist as lawless, unpredictable, and righteous in all the wrong ways when the bicyclist is acting in mortal self interest. The bicycle is also, and not incidentally, one of the most energy-efficient transportation modes ever invented.
Uppity Bike Commuters Cars are like white people: an unseen, dominant and dominating force whose power is both unspoken and total. A car driver would be pressed to think of themselves as Supremacists, but in America, its rule is a given. Any call for accountability, much less accommodation, on the road is met with offense, as if an attack on the person and not the mode has been launched. It is an ideology of supremacy, one that assumes and takes power as a birthright while inflicting punishment for nonconformity in such a way as to put the offending party -- the minority -- in a defensive position outside the commons.
But a bike rider is not only and always a bike rider. He is also at times the driver, the pedestrian, the citizen using other modalities, ones that are perceived by the majority as either entirely 'innocent' as with the Pedestrian, or 'obvious' and unquestionable as with the Motorist. These titles, though are not intrinsic but an occasional ones. They are us. By defining 'them,' the bicyclists, as a Class with an immutable political agenda, a wedge is created that separates the Uppity from the Go-Along-Get-Alongs.
A third force, though, is here to interject its own intrinsic power beyond all others, effecting all: Mother Earth. Call it what you will -- Climate Change, Global Warming, Peak Oil -- it has always mattered as much as geography, politics, pleasure, or war. Clearly, there's something happening meteorologically, with the Weather, that challenges how we have lived and gotten ourselves around since the Industrial Revolution. Few live walking distance to work, but have extreme commutes over whole regions costing hours, resources, and ultimately society. It is unsustainable in its current form. Moving ahead requires a change of mind. So let the pedaled wheels go 'round and start a new country up. Until vehicles radically reinvent the combustion engine any alternative from the Segway to the Bicycle must be championed. We can agree that anything beats sitting in a car by the side of gridlocked road, out of gas, waiting in vain for help to arrive.

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