Monday, May 04, 2009

Q: What’s more dangerous than global warming?

A: Riding a bicycle

OK, I’ll admit it; the global warming stuff is scaring the bejeesus out of me. You’d have to be half brain dead to think that melting glaciers, weird weather and rampant drought are not very, very serious problems.

There's no twisting my arm; I’ve drunk the kool-aid. Global warming is serious and I am not going to be an innocent bystander on the road to geothermal destruction.

So, I am paying attention and doing all that makes sense. I’ve taken a job four miles from my domicile. I drive a four-cylinder car, as does my wife. I have two trash bins in my kitchen, one for bio-degradable waste, the other is for recyclables. And, I avoid using my car whenever possible.

Which brings me to the bicycle.

I bought a bicycle a few months ago in order to kill two birds with one stone: to get some ‘free exercise’ and also to do my part bucking the trend toward environmental Armageddon. I mean, I going to go to work anyway, so I might as well burn some calories on the way there. And, there is both a moral and financial exhilaration that comes with filling the tank every two weeks. Win/win as they say.

Well that’s the dream. Let me tell you the facts. Riding a bike from West LA to Santa Monica is like going all in with the chips that represent the remainder of your lifespan. First, most streets do not have bike lanes. This means that I am forced to share the roads with four thousand pound monsters traveling at forty miles an hour, any one of which can just flick me off planet Earth with nothing more than a nudge from its right fender. And, if the fender does not get me, an open driver's side door on a parked vehicle will. The best case is that I can see it coming and hopefully avoid throwing myself over the handlebars as I careen to a stop. The worst case is that I go flying over the door into traffic, in which case I’ll get a one-way ambulance trip to a local hospital.

And then there are the alleys and driveways. I have to watch each alley and driveway that I pass to make sure that there is no vehicle emerging. In most cases the driver will not see me coming. And, if he or she does, it has been my experience that most times it just won’t matter. The vehicle keeps going on just the same. It’s as if I have a sign on my back that says ‘Hit me’.

There is no place for bicyclists on the thoroughfares of the American city. Don’t let the Save the Planet mumbo jumbo fool you. When it comes to LA, New York, Boston or Chicago, Mother Earth has been bought off by the Big Three, or what’s left of them.

But, there is a little, millimeter size sliver of hope. Some cities get it. If you live in Barcelona, you can walk up to a ‘share a bike’ stand and take a bike through a myriad of bike lanes to your destination. Pickup, ride, drop off…simple.

The same is true in Paris and Rome. We’re not talking about a few bikes for the Birkenstock crowd. According to a friend of mine from Paris, the City of Lights is going to put 400,000 bikes on the street. This is a lot of drivers to take out from behind the wheel.

Sour grapes aside, I’ll still keep at it. I need the exercise. When worse comes to worse, I'll ride on the sidewalk despite the fact that my municipal guide to bike riding in Los Angeles advises me not to. Who knows, maybe the bike thing will catch on.

Keep hope alive.