Category Archives: Dumbness


30 Days of Biking – Day 5

Commuted to work. While the fixie hipsters usually stick to the north-south direction on Capitol Hill (or simply hang at the tennis court/bike polo ground at Cal Anderson Park), I had one riding ahead of me down Pine this morning. No brakes, fishtailing repeatedly to come to a stop, wearing massive stereo headphones and no helmet. Pure, unadulterated dumbness.

Miles: 6
Weather: Overcast

Helmet Laws – an Impediment to Bike Share in Seattle?

According to Seattle Bike Blog, both Seattle U and King County are looking seriously at bikeshare programs, akin to Denver’s B-Cycle program. One interesting point at the end of the article is that our mandatory helmet laws represent an impediment to launching a bikeshare program, and that perhaps we should subsidize helmets or amend the law to exempt bikeshare.

These are two horrible ideas. Subsidizing helmets does nothing to solve the spur-of-the-moment nature of taking a quick ride that makes bike share so appealing (I know . . . let’s also subsidize backpacks to carry the helmets – and then pass a law requiring everyone to carry their helmet at all times!). And excepting bike share creates nothing but ride and enforcement confusion. So here’s a thought – why not just shit-can our mandatory helmet laws? There’s no evidence they do any good, and we can now add “discouraging bike share programs” to the litany of ills visited by this particular little bit of nanny-statism.

This isn’t to say I think wearing a helmet is a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s dumb to ride in the city without one. But it should always be a matter of rider choice. While I’ll always tell you what I think the right choice is, there’s no reason for our government to dictate that choice for you.

Bikes – Not in the Constitution

You’ve never had to look very hard to find thick-headed fools in the U.S. House of Representatives; citizens of towns far and wide have reliably sent a collection of rigidly-thinking nitwits to Washington.

But wide-eyed wunderkind Duncan Hunter (R-CA) may take the cake. An adherent of the Constitutional fetishization gripping a sizable chunk of the GOP these days, Hunter – who serves on the House Transportation Committee – opined in a recent interview with DCStreet Blog:

  • On getting people out of their cars and into other modes of transit:  “So no, it’s not one of my priorities at all to get people out of their cars. I like my car.”
  • On public investment in transit infrastructure:  “So if transit makes sense and it can be done on its own and pay for itself, then absolutely.”
  • Finally, on the fact that a small portion of federal highway dollars have historically been used for bike infrastructure:

DH: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

SB: How is it different?

DH: I think it’s more of a recreational thing. That’s my opinion.

It’s hard to overstate how ass-wipingly stupid these comments – as well as Hunter’s “corny” admission that he liked legislation relating to the military and postal roads because these things are “actually in the constitution”  – are, particularly coming from a government leader who should know something about transportation.  A few of the more gaping holes in Hunter’s thinking include:

  • No transportation infrastructure – least of all highways – “pays its own way,” except via complex modeling that takes into account benefits to the commons.  We invest in transportation infrastructure because it’s necessary to achieve these common goods.  It’s fair to ask whether any infrastructure investment is worth the cost, but Hunter apparently exempts roads from this analysis because he “likes his car.”
  • Highways aren’t “in the Constitution.”  Neither, of course, are cars or planes.  Yes, the “post Roads” mentioned by Hunter are in the constitution, but – far more relevantly – so are the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses, by which Congress has had, since the earliest days of the republic, broad power to regulate.
  • The mind-boggling stupidity of Hunter’s distinction between “recreational” bikes and the (by implication) “non-recreational” cars and planes should be evident.

This priestly adoration of the text of the constitution – while simultaneously ignoring over 200 years of judicial interpretation except where it supports one’s views – is infantile and dangerous.  Pols like Hunter, who don’t know the first thing about the constitution, happily parrot back whatever they’ve heard that supports their worldview.  They’re like 6-year-old Sunday schoolers who just learned their pets get to go to heaven.

Bikes aren’t in the constitution?  Well, neither is a world with equal rights for women and minorities.  I wonder what Hunter’s take on that is.

h/t Commute by Bike

Bike Licensing

July’s Momentum magazine features an article on bike licensing that goes over the well-worn reasons why bike licensing is a bad idea.  There are many, but we really need only focus on two:

  • It costs more to administer and enforce administer a licensing regime than would be recovered in licensing revenue; and
  • There’s no public safety benefit from licensing.

Nonetheless, calls for licensing of bikes continue.  These arguments go along the lines of:  “Bikes get to be in the road, so they should be licensed like cars.”

That’s impeccable logic – if you’re six years old.  In the real world where we grownups live, people ask whether it makes sense to enact costly programs that serve no purpose.

I don’t think that advocates of bike licensing are so stupid that they honestly believe licensing is sound public policy, or that they possess the charmingly naive belief that licensing is a necessary corrective to a troubling inconsistency between two (radically different) types of vehicle.  So let’s call it what it is:  passive/aggressive bike-hate.  It would be refreshing if they’d just come out and say:

“We don’t like you people on bikes.  You add precious seconds to our commutes and confuse us while we chat on our cell phones and shave.  For that reason we’re going to put whatever impediments we can in the way of your using OUR roads.”

A Suggestion on Where You Might Put Your Horn

I ride on Capitol Hill every day; the drivers are generally polite and accustomed to sharing the roads with bikes. It may be that this general amiability, familiar as it is, is what makes the odd instances of boorish driver behavior harder to tolerate.

While I can understand the occasional driver inadvertence or mistake (“they’re just thinking about Christmas,” as my friend Lisa used to say), something about a driver honking at me makes my blood boil.

I’m not talking about a honk I’ve earned – if I’ve done something stupid or inadvertent (yes, people on bikes transgress as well), I’ll take the honk with equanimity.

But that’s rare. The honks that really get me, that make me want to stop in traffic, roll back to the driver’s window and make sure they understand – in the event they haven’t been told before – what an insufferably moronic tool they are, are the impatient, yippity honks of drivers behind me, aghast that I have TAKEN THE LANE.

As anyone who has spent any time riding in the city knows, it is often safest to take the lane. You’re more visible, you’re out of the “door zone”, and you’re not encouraging drivers to attempt to pass you unsafely. I almost always take the lane when going downhill or riding on narrow residential streets.

This should be no affront to drivers, as it would be if a cyclist were, say, to take the lane riding uphill on Pine. Yet, yet, yet. I’ve been honked at on Aloha when I’ve taken the lane to make a left turn; honked at downtown when I’m riding faster than most traffic but not fast enough for the impatient jerk behind me; and honked at in numerous other places for having the temerity to prioritize my personal safety over the right of a driver to go as fast as they want, unsullied by the vision of driving behind a bike.

But this morning’s honk, the inspiration for writing this screed, was the prizewinner. I thought at first the honk was intended for someone else: I was descending Olive Way, a narrow street, lined with cars and one lane in each direction. It’s also only about four blocks long and ends in a stoplight. Why would anyone honk at a bike under such circumstances, especially one that’s probably exceeding the speed limit? But then a second, more insistent honk followed, from the gasping roach of a car behind me. For some reason, the reptilian brain of the driver was telling him “must . . . beat . . . bike . . . to . . . stoplight.”

With age and judgment I’ve conquered my impulse to throw back a quick Philly salute, content to offer an incredulous look while riding blithely onward. But one thing is sure – your impatient little road raging honk isn’t going to get that bike out of your way.