Archive for January, 2012

We have had an interesting community discussion this week in light of a decision made by our City Council. Like a play in three acts there has been a character who has played a starring role throughout this “drama” though he has scarcely been seen. That character is the automobile.

Here is how it has played out.

The Council tentatively approved the move of a popular gymnastics business to a part of town zoned as an automobile only retail area. This “auto lane” is designed to make it possible for people shopping for a car to have a “one stop shopping” experience to compare different brands in one location. Though not an “auto mall” (common around here) it plays the same role on a somewhat smaller scale. The Council wrestled mightily with this decision because if it allows a conditional use permit to the gymnastics group it will lose future revenue from auto sales in this zone.

It turns out that revenue loss could be significant for the city. Auto sales are the single largest source of sales revenue for the city and while a number of sites there sit empty, the city fully expects them to be filled in the years ahead providing much needed revenue for our Northern CA town. (Which, like other CA towns, is starved for revenue due to Prop 13 (and other measures)).

The irony is bitter.

Our small town fancies itself (with reason) as the “bicycling capital of the US” and has the goal that 25% of all trips in town will be by bicycle by the end of this year. Further, it has set a more ambitious goal that by 2050 fully half of all trips in town will be by non-automobile sources. Despite these goals the Council found itself in the difficult position of having to promote auto sales to achieve revenue targets needed to keep critical city services funded. Of course our local citizens are not the only ones buying cars in these establishments, but our simultaneous commitment to lowering our carbon footprint by moving away from car use while promoting auto sales is paradoxical to say the least. Some might be less kind and call it hypocritical.

And so in Act 1 of our local play we find the automobile playing a key role in our lives. Indeed, it is playing a central role because it is driving basic decisions about how we will generate revenue for our town.


A “Dooring” Retold

Posted: 18 January 2012 in Riding

door ( \ˈdȯr\

definition: the act of opening a car door and striking a passing bicycle rider

Example: After parking, the motorist failed to scan the street before opening his car door and doored a bicycle rider who was passing his car.

While the above definition cannot be found in any dictionary that I am aware of, it is a term that is known by and and instills great fear in any urban bicyclist.  Exact statistics on the number of doorings that occur locally or nationally are not available because they either go unreported or are reported simply as bike/car accidents (or just bike accidents).  The following is the recounting of a dooring that occurred locally as told by “J”–a resident of our town who was doored.

Interviewer (I): Walk me through when it happened, where it happened and then we can get into the details of how it happened.

J: I was talking to my girlfriend on the sidewalk and I had just told her that I loved her and “see you later” and I started down the street and someone who had been sitting there for quite a while all of a sudden opened up their door.

I: And where was it and when was it?

J: It was in April of 2011 and it was in broad daylight.

I: So the car that opened the door was parked by the side of the road.

J: Uh huh…

I: Was there a sidewalk that the car was parked?

J: Yes, it was parked in front of a house that’s got a pretty good sized width sidewalk.

I: Was there a marked bike lane there?

J: Two traffic lanes but no marked bicycle lane.

I: Talk to me about where you were riding in relation to the car of the door that hit you and why you were riding in that position–that space.

J: There was traffic to the left of me and I was riding along and I had already passed the bumper of the car when the door started to open in front of me.  So, there was no chance or time to react except for to put my hand up and catch the door.

I: So walk through that. So when the door opened what happened?

J: I caught the car door and got a compound fracture in my right forefinger.  I slowed myself down.  The bicycle got catapulted into the middle of the street and I continued over top of the door and then went down on the asphalt and got a broken humerus, exploded my elbow and bumped my head…

As I put my hand out to catch the door all of a sudden it just stopped… and it gave me a laceration of my liver and when I hit the pavement I got a compound fracture of my humerus, exploded my elbow and cracked a tooth… The laceration of the liver occurred when the door stopped swinging…

I: When you say the bike got catapulted out what do you mean by that?

J: It knocked the bicycle out of the path that it was traveling and catapulted it into the street.

I: Then what happened?

J: I tried to stand up, noticed the broken arm and put pressure on my head because I thought my skull was cracked. And the compound fracture on my forefinger was squirting and I thought I wasn’t gonna make it. Ninety percent of all head injury cases are fatal.

I: It turns out you did not have a serious head injury.  The blood off you head was from your finger.

J: I had a serious concussion.

I: Did the police come? Did the ambulance come?  Who came?

J: The fire department showed up and transported me to the hospital.

I: And what about the police?  Did the police come and interview you about the event?  Did you talk to the police?

J: Yea, but the police told the people in the car that as far as they were concerned I rode my bike up the stairs and rode down and crashed into their car.  That I crashed into their car.  They didn’t even file a police report just an incident report. They should have done a traffic report bicycle versus car but they just wrote it up as an incident–just me just falling off my bicycle.

I: So as far as you know the driver of the car was never charged with anything.

J: No.

I: How long were you in the hospital?

J: Several weeks.

I: Are currently having any therapy related to the injuries?

J: Yea, umm, my elbow has plates and screws and I am supposed to have physical therapy for a year for the elbow and the finger.

I: Do you still ride your bike?

J: Yea

I: Do you find yourself riding it any differently now as a result of what happened there?

J: No.  There’s nothing… If it happened again it would probably be the same scenario because when there’s traffic to the left of you you have to get a little close to the car sometimes.

Note: There is quite a bit to learn from this incident in terms of how one might avoid such situations, what car drivers could do differently, how such incidents are reported and, most strikingly, the danger it represents.  If “J’s” experience is any indication, the number of “doorings” may be underreported.  Even if they are not, they do occur and their effects can be devastating.

Follow this link to watch a video of a “dooring” caught live on camera.  CAUTION: while brief, the video is quite disturbing:

“Mr. Rearden,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier he world bore down on his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?”

“I… don’t know. What… could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

(From Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957–over 7,000,000 copies sold to date)

It is hard to believe that my mom has been gone these seven years.  Mourning in the time immediately following her death was muted by the fact that mom had “left” us many years before, the victim of that poorly understood, mind stealing affliction she always referred to as “that Alzheimer’s.” Over time, and to my great surprise, my mourning has deepened and stretched to the point that I feel her loss spread over large swaths of my life.  As I try to understand why I come back again and again to the reality that not only do I miss mom’s smile, her gentle ways or her hospitality, but I miss (we all miss) the kind of person she was.  I have a gnawing suspicion that mom’s kind is an endangered species, but that no one is counting the loss.  I fear that one day we will wake up and realize her species has disappeared altogether.

Let me try to explain…

Rick Perlstein argued (fairly convincingly to me at least) that we all live in “Nixonland” now but in recent months I have become convinced that where we all really live is “Randland” (as in Ayn Rand).  Others have pointed out the influence of Ayn Rand in our current political discourse (just one example here) and I will not repeat their arguments. (more…)

“I can’t do it.”

Posted: 5 January 2012 in Faith and Life

I was talking to my grandson on the phone.  He’s two and a half and learning to talk.  He had something exciting to tell me but at a certain point lacked the words or ability to string the words he knew together to make me understand.  He handed the phone to his mom and said “I can’t do it.”

I have spent most of my adult life believing I could “do it”–whatever “it” might be.  One of the great deceptions of privilege is that we believe we can do what needs to be done in order to _____________ (fill in the blank: have a good life, resolve conflict, save children’s lives, have a successful career, heal brokenness, etc.).

Saying “I can’t” is a betrayal of our birth right.

Saying “I can’t” is an admission of failure.

Saying “I can’t” means one has given up.

At least, that’s how it feels looking down the years from where I sit at 50+.  And those feelings lead to a smoldering anger or a kind of depression as the weight of the impossible presses down.  I am convinced that this is the root of the so-called “mid-life crisis”:  waking up to the reality that it is not mine to “do”, even if I think I can (must).

Thinking about my grandson’s willingness to say “I can’t” reminds me that, while that is true, it is also true that I love him anyway. Not for what he does (says) or doesn’t do (say) but for who he is.  He can “be” a little boy and he is really good at that.  And in the “being” he does some pretty amazing things. He brings smiles and laughter and a sense of life full of possibility.  Those are possible for him in just being. They are good things.

Can a two and half year old be my role model?  In this he can and is. There is much I can’t do and the sooner I get around to ceasing to try, the healthier it will be for a lot of people, myself included.  But I can still “be” and, taking my grandson as an example, there is great value in that.