21 May 2011


THE RAPTURE. The End of Days is upon us. Well, sort of. Well, not really. In all three of the world's Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the end of the world is prophesized. Within fundamentalist Christianity, it takes the form of The Rapture, when select believers will allegedly be gathered into the air to meet Jesus. For the rest of us, the news is not so good.

Predictions of the timing of The Rapture occur with some regularity. For instance, Rapture warnings were issued in 1844, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, and now 2011. Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping (whose previous predictions failed) has been telling the world that on May 21, 2011, God's elect people will be taken up into heaven. In addition, Camping predicted that --

~ Earthquakes will happen across the world, all at 6 p.m. local time.

~ Approximately 3 % of the world's population will be called to heaven. (That works out to roughly 180 million souls.) Does anyone beside me see the elitist illogic of these numbers?

~ The end of the world will take place six months later, on October 21, 2011.

Well, the time has come and gone, and no signs of Rapture, or even mild ecstasy. Religious fruitcakes have been with us since, well, since the start of religion. Their ravings would be amusing if they weren't so downright pathetic. They only serve to embarrass and discredit religion in general, a fading belief system which contradicts and discredits itself just fine on its own. One could have made a small fortune by approaching everyone with a Rapture sign and asking, "Would you like to put a little money on that?"

KAMIKAZE CYCLISTS. The U.S. is, unfortunately, a country whose highways and city streets were mostly designed with the automobile in mind -- partly a calculated connivance between auto makers, the oil and steel industries, and government planners; and partly a result of the unavoidable fact that America covers such a large area. In Japan and in Europe, mass transit and high-speed rail are modern, safe, fast, and inexpensive to use. Trains and buses serve nearly any destination you need to reach. But then, those places are geographically small compared to the vast distances in the U.S. Hence (in part) the appeal of individual, gas-consuming cars and trucks.

But increasingly, sheer economic pressure is forcing us to look at other ways of getting around. As some of us make the transition from gasoline-consuming internal combustion engines to alternative forms of transportation, many choose to travel by public transportation (trains, buses), by hybrid cars or motorcycles, by bicycle, even by foot. It is a laudible effort, but not without its risks.

Consider the bicycle -- once restricted to a few fitness freaks and green enthusiasts, bikes have become much more mainstream. Their growing numbers have brought increasing conflict with motorized traffic, even in those enlightened cities with dedicated bike lanes. And "conflict" between a 2000 lb.-to-24,000 lb. object and a 25 lb. object, generally results in injury or death whoever is guiding the smaller vehicle. In heavy traffic, it's easy to understand why -- bikes are small and often hard to see. Some cyclists are careful, but many other cyclists simply assume the right of way and make quick, unpredictable, and dangerous maneuvers in traffic. And make no mistake, bicycles are part of traffic, and subject to the same laws as cars.

I've been a professional driver for years, and have seen just about every bizarre, self-destructive behavior imaginable on the part of both car drivers and bike riders. In the case of bikers, who are utterly vulnerable, how much sense does it make to assume that you have the right of way, that everyone else will see you and yield to you? How much less sense does it make to ride at a high rate of speed (for a bike) in the traffic lane (even when there is a bike lane next to you); or to switch traffic lanes without either signalling your intent or checking for oncoming traffic; or to ride inches from the sides of parked cars, any one of which may suddenly open a driver's door into your path; or to ride at speed on pedestrian sidewalks, dodging and weaving and missing those on foot by inches or less? This segment of the biking population feels a clear sense of entitlement -- they are small and quick, they do not pollute, and the world should see and recognize their virtue and always yield to them, no matter how assinine their riding.

Recently NPR aired a segment on the causes of bike/car collisions, trying to parse out whether drivers or riders are more at fault. The results were mixed and inconclusive. The segment did feature a very useful graphic showing how to avoid the 5 most common bike/car collisions. And here is another terrific resource, a layered slide show demonstrating the integrated skill layers of competent bikers. Bottom line, I can tell you as one who has ridden bicycles and motorcycles, as well as one who has driven cars, trucks, and buses, that while the larger vehicle should always watch out for the smaller one, the smaller one has an equal responsibility not to create dangerous situations in which the rider will always be the loser. Cyclists -- ride responsibly, wear colorful, highly visible clothing and safety gear, obey all traffic laws as though you were a vehicle (because you are), and make conservative choices. You will be adding to the public image of bikers, and you will be protecting yourself from needless injury or death.

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