Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bicycles, transit, and a gulf full of oil (June 1, 2010)

Current mood: peeved

Three news stories this week, seemingly unrelated, but are they, really?
  1. Local: Bicyclist killed by car while on way to work
  2. Regional: Public transit faces 20% service cut due to funding problems
  3. International: Gulf of Mexico oil gush still unchecked after six weeks

There is no cause-and-effect between any two, that much is certain. However, life is never simple, is it?

Let's start with the oil disaster. Beyond the inestimable environmental damage and the blame, guilt and lawsuits certain to come out of this, we have to ask the question, Why was this hole drilled in the first place? Answer: Our unending thirst for easy petroleum. This might be BP's hole, but they wouldn't drill if there wasn't money in it. Who do you think is buying all that petroleum? You and me, and all our friends and neighbors, that's who.

Question: What can you do to cut your consumption in half in a year's time?
Answer: Ride a bus, and ride a bike, to the exclusion of the automobile.

Let us turn our attention to the bus situation. Pennsylvania has underfunded its public transit systems for decades, and this year, all the grand hopes and schemes came crashing down. Harrisburg legislators have to come up with funding not only for transit but also highway and bridge funding. In the meantime, Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) has to pass a balanced budget by the end of June. Being about 20% short on funding, they will simply cut 20% of the service. How will people get to work, if there is no bus to ride?

Question: How will you get around if there is no bus to ride?
Answer: Many will drive. The enlightened among us will use a bicycle.

Now, as to bicycling. I am sure that Don Parker's last words to his wife and kids going out the door on May 27 were not "I'll see you in heaven, as I'm getting killed on the way to work this morning." What will it take to make our roads safer for cyclists? Several things. Better roads, for one. Extra space on many roads is non-existent. That, unfortunately, is the rule, not the exception. All you get is a driving lane barely enough for two cars to get by, a stripe of paint, a foot of gravel or grass, then guardrail.

Second, better driver training. Whether suburb or city, most motorists do not know the rules regarding cyclists, and many view all cyclists with contempt. Third, better handling by police and media during accidents. Far too often, a bicycle accident is given little more credence than a road kill deer. Just complete the template, file the report, and move on to the next item of business. All of these must change, and quickly!

Finally, put this all together. The solution to cycling catastrophes is to remove cars from the road. Had that driver been on a bus or bike, the accident would not have occurred. Being on a bus or bike is also the ultimate solution to the oil problem, at least future ones. But we cannot get out of our own way, legislatively speaking, to remedy either the transit funding or the road design.

The solution starts with you. Never mind the service cuts, ride the bus anyway. Never mind the dangers, ride the bike anyway. Never mind politics, put people in Harrisburg who will fund transit and get the roads built and the laws changed so bikes can have a better time of it.

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