Let's Talk Cycling

I went to Brighton Town Hall (2300 Elmwood Ave.) for the Let's Talk Cycling discussion. It turned out to be the featured lecture at The Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club meeting that night. After some Sierra Club business, Jean M. Triest was introduced. She's a Traffic Safety Specialist at The Monroe County Department of Public Safety. As a reasonably well-seasoned cyclist, her talk was a bit on the basic side for me — bikes need brakes, reflectors, a bell, and a headlight and taillight for night; bicyclists are recognized as legal drivers; ride in the same direction as traffic; use hand signals; obey traffic-control devices; be visible; be predictable; etc.

She cited a study from The League of American Bicyclists that examined the causes of bicycle accidents. She started out with some myths and the first was surprising: "traffic passing from the rear is the biggest risk to a bicyclist" is a myth. In a chart she showed me afterward, when comparing types of accidents with bicyclists, getting hit from the rear is the least likely kind of accident. The most likely cause of accidents — 25% — was riding in the wrong direction. Poor lighting is another problem cited (and cited separately from rear-end collisions).

I was getting kind of jaded about the whole thing.  For the question in my mind was, "if I do all this stuff, how much can I reduce my risk?"  As best I could tell from anecdotal experience, even if I'm a perfect cyclist, my odds are not that much better than if I was not that good.

I decided to dig around a bit and found the Crash-Type Manual for Bicyclists by Carol Tan and The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center [although the information resides at The Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center.] It's a detailed summary of a study (although inconveniently stored in 73 separate PDF files) on the underlying causes of bicycle accidents. Indeed accidents from the rear are comparatively rare (less than 3%), much more likely on roads higher than 60 KPH (37 MPH), and much more likely in unlit areas at night.

In perusing the data, I noted that by using the same techniques to avoid an accident while driving an automobile, I can avoid the vast majority of the accident types between a bicycle and a car. From there, I can further reduce my risk by being seen: in cases where the bicyclist was otherwise not doing anything out of the ordinary, most of the accidents could be attributed to the driver not seeing the cyclist. It's rather obvious to say this, but most drivers don't want to get into an accident, even with a cyclist — and it's clear from watching a busy roadway that they're generally excellent at not colliding with stuff.

And much of the advice Triest gave was along the same lines: be seen, behave like a car, and don't not behave like a car — stand your ground. By following this advice, it's unlikely you'll ever be in an accident on a bicycle, at least with a car. And if you do get into such an accident, it can be traced to not following that advice.

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The Bothersome Man at the Dryden

I'm not referring to someone who was bothersome, that's actually the name of the movie: Den brysomme mannen (The Bothersome Man). Ali and I got a chance to see it at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.)

It was a remarkable film. It documents the purgatory-like existence of a man after he tries to kill himself. Basically he's brought by bus to this city, given a decent job and a decent apartment. At first he's complacent, but he finds it irritating that everything is "72° pleasant" all the time. None of the food has any flavor or smell. He meets a woman who seems nice but is just as interested in him as she is in decorating the house. When he tells her he met someone else and wants to break up, she suggests that it wait until Saturday because they're having guests over.

The people of the town cannot understand why he is unhappy — after all, everything is pleasant. It very strongly rang true for me and I empathized with the protagonist Andreas [well, maybe he's the antagonist … no, perhaps just a pestisnist]. It seems a lot of people believe that complacency and safety are the pinnacle of human existence. Safety and comfort are good and fine, but continuing to grow and to achieve is much more important to me. And the way to do that is to increase interaction with other people — especially those that are bothersome to you.

I believe that I get and deserve a huge amount of control only of that inside my mind. When I encounter a situation that makes me feel that outside influence has that control then I want to understand why. It may be a situation that is dangerous — a manipulation that is destructive — but in my experience, it is more likely a situation that is a stimulus for growth.

I guess in a way, I feel that all growth comes from irritation and adapting to that irritation. Once you grow enough you no longer experience that irritation — even when the conditions present a similar scenario (i.e. if you had not grown, you would continue to experience irritation).  A physical example might be that of learning to play guitar: as you learn, your fingers get irritated from the strings, but after a while, your fingers develop callouses. The strings did not change and you did not avoid the irritation — and now you have grown the ability to deal with that irritation.

I remember years ago when I was living on Burkhard Place and people would come to visit the neighbors and use their car horn as a doorbell. It irritated me to no end because I had no way to stop them from doing that. There were vengeful acts I devised, but none could teach the world. I fantasized that I'd go outside and ask them to stop, then play out the sarcastic scenario that they would say, "my goodness! I thought that when I pushed this button that only my friend would hear — I am deeply sorry and won't do it again."

But in the end, I was awakened one morning at 3 a.m. and tossed and turned in bed until it finally hit me: it's just a noise. I can reassign all sorts of noises in the world and some — while pervasive (like the noise of the wind) or loud (like birds chirping) — I had already set up in my mind to be ignored. I learned that I could reassign the sound of cars honking on the street to just another noise. It was remarkable: I actually did it. And while I can still be annoyed by it, I no longer get impotently irate at people who do it.

Now, an alternative would be to move far away from people and their cars with horns. But there is a tremendous sacrifice in that — that one isolates themselves from the rest of humanity. And having selective interactions with people — especially with the behavioral pattern of always going away if it is irritating — suppresses personal growth.

And as populations increase and energy stops being so darn cheap, the necessity to interact in close proximity is a necessity. One way to do that is to impose the serenity of suburban life onto individuals — externally manipulating them to ensure they conform to the lowest common denominator. Another is to teach people to adapt and to grow — or rather, to rekindle and foster the capacity in all of us to do so.

Unfortunately, there seems to be tremendous pressure for the former. And this pressure leads to a milquetoast gray society. It does not foster a great civilization, but an impotent one. And as for the United States, there is a promise of opportunity — but that promise cannot be upheld simultaneously with a promise of serenity.  So as a conservative, I favor the tradition of opportunity that I was taught.

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