A few days ago, as I was cranking my way home from 25 miles of biking, I caught a snippet of a yell from a car that passed me.  “–On the sidewalk!”.  Although in 90% of the cases where people try to communicate something to me from the window of a moving car I fail to comprehend them, I can guess what the intent behind this one was.

I have friends who complain about cyclists riding on the streets.  To them, the only reason someone would ride in the street when a sidewalk is available is to make the motorists angry, which makes them angry.  I understand this.  It’s inconvenient to slow down for a bicycle, and often difficult to pass one.  However, as an across-town cyclist, I want to explain some of the reasons for riding on the street, even when that street has a sidewalk.  So, if you see me riding down the road, this is why.

3.  Sidewalks are typically poor conditions for riding.  If you’ve ever walked on one, you can probably envision what I mean.  Sidewalks are most often composed of concrete squares which, after a few years of weathering and settling typically fall out of alignment, creating a series of steep bumps and drops.  While this is not such a huge issue for mountain and bmx bicycles, hybrids and especially road-bikes have a greater difficulty handling them.  Furthermore, crossing streets from a sidewalk path often means hopping at least one curb, and a bad curb hop can lead to a flat tire or worse.

2.  Technically (and legally), the sidewalk is for pedestrians.  When people bike on the sidewalk, not only are they unwelcome, but they are a potential danger to pedestrians.  When given the choice between endangering pedestrians and inconveniencing motorists, I tend to choose the latter.  There is an exception to this, however.  The newer, extremely wide sidewalks (we have many in and around Lee’s Summit) are especially designed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.  They are wide enough for a cyclist to safely pass a pedestrian, without forcing either off the path.  There is still the danger of injuring a pedestrian, but this is reduced as the sidewalk is widened.

1.  Finally, the number one reason I ride on the street is this: we need more bicycles on the roads. That’s right.  I know it’s inconvenient and sometimes dangerous as a motorist to deal with cyclists, and the same certainly applies to cyclists dealing with motorists.  However, the more we mix the two, the better each side will be at dealing with the other.  Essentially, the more bicycles on the roads, the safer it will be for cyclists on the roads, because both the motorists and the cyclists will be more experienced at handling the situation.

Violence and Pacifism

September 22, 2009

As a side note in one of our discussions in my Ethics class, the topic of pacifism was brought up, and our professor suggested that “pacifism is not something we can apply on the political or social level”.  I was surprised, but the class seemed to be in general agreement with this notion.  Of course, I didn’t voice my disagreement, so there could have been others like me, who simply failed to represent the other side, but I noted a wave of non-verbal agreement.

I started wondering about the logic in this claim.  I do believe that we can solve conflict without violence, and I believe in pacifism, but I also see the truth in my professor’s words.  So why is it, that pacifism is not realistic?  Why do we still feel the need to cling to war?

Well, maybe pacifism isn’t socially/politically realistic because we don’t believe that pacifism is realistic.  We don’t believe in pacifism, so when we move toward peace, we still keep our violence tucked away, in case we should ever need it.  And as long as we still have our potential for war, everyone else is going to do the same.

The Cold War was just a dramatic metaphor for the way our world powers interact.  It would be crazy for the United States to disband its military, wouldn’t it?  We would be trampled underfoot!  And so we continue pouring fortunes into our weaponry, while we dream bloated dreams of peace.  And the lowest of us starve and suffer under oppression and misfortune, and we cut funding for schools and social service projects.

We don’t need war to solve problems.  Our famous world-changing figures, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, teach us that.  So why do we even have war?  Well, the only decent argument for having a strong military in a society that strives for peace–at least that I can think of–is self-defense.  Is that it?  We need war so we’ll be safe from war?  I suppose violence is the world’s biggest self-fulfilling prophecy.