Posts tagged ‘words’

February 10, 2012

Mindful Driving, Mindful Biking, and “Accidents”–Part II

This post is Part II, continuing yesterday’s diatribe meditation on use of the word “accident” to describe a preventable negative interaction between a driver and a cyclist or pedestrian.

The conversations I often have after someone on a bike is hit tend to circle around the premise that riding a bike is an inherently risky choice of transportation.

1) First, a reminder of the point I made in Part I: The word “accident” often used in these incidents does NOT apply when someone is in error. 

2) If something does happen it’s not “caused” by riding your bike! 

You could be in a vehicle/vehicle collision, a vehicle/pedestrian collision, a lightning strike or an earthquake. Your choice to bike didn’t create the situation–the driver’s behavior (or yours) did.

When pedestrians get hit by a driver while in a crosswalk no one says, “You know, walking is so dangerous. People really shouldn’t do that.”

They talk about whether the walker or the driver wasn’t paying attention or was somehow at fault, but they don’t blame walking itself. (Nor do they blame driving, you might note.)

If I am riding my bike in the street, following state law and all local ordinances, if anything happens I am not at fault solely because of my choice of vehicle.

Yet that is what you hear when something happens–not, “Drivers and people on bikes should be aware of the laws concerning how to share the road” but rather, “Bikes should stay out of the way of cars.”

And so often people say “cars” instead of “drivers” in sentences like the previous one.

We’re talking about people, people–not their vehicles. It is people who make the choice about whether to behave safely, predictably, and legally. Let’s put a face on this problem and face up to it.

So do we all give in and quit riding our bikes and walking? Heck no—we need more people to get out there.

Conflicts between people riding bikes and people driving cars aren’t a new problem. The first automobile crash in the United States occurred in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist.

Maybe now—116 years later—we can start to get a handle on this if we all drive, bike and walk more mindfully. Here’s to more fully aware drivers, bikers and walkers (aka “people”) on the road and fewer collisions (not “accidents”!) in 2012.

Related Reading

  • Can you honestly say that you drive, bike and walk with full mindfulness and awareness of your surroundings close to 100% of the time?
  • When you talk about something happening that involved a vehicle with an engine other than the human kind you use on your bike, do you refer to the car or the driver?
February 9, 2012

Mindful Driving, Mindful Biking, and “Accidents”–Part I

This post has its origins in my brush with fate this week, and before that in fall 2010, when two things happened within a few days of each other: Arleigh Jenkins AKA Bike Shop Girl (a blogger whose work I read) was hit by a car, then Matthew Hardie, a young rider in Spokane, was hit. He spent several months in a coma, then passed away just before Christmas 2010.

Because of Matthew the Spokesman-Review covered the “bicycle accidents” of 2010. But–possibly because no one has died recently–no such article was written as a round-up of statistics for 2011. “If it bleeds, it leads” still holds in the news business.

I have described my close encounter earlier this week with a driver who didn’t see me and pulled out in front of me. I was lucky–I had enough room and time in which to avoid the impact.

Matthew was not lucky. He was heading northbound on a steep downhill with the right-of-way on Lincoln; given the steepness of that hill he had to have been going faster than I was on my flat stretch between intersection stops the other day.

He collided with a car whose driver pulled out from a stop sign at Fourth Avenue. It was a classic failure-to-yield on the part of the driver (Matthew had the right of way). But because the initial reports said the cyclist hit the vehicle they made it sound as if it was the rider’s fault, to which the biking community reacted quite strongly.

Arleigh was also not lucky. She put out a comment on Twitter that she was still struggling to reconcile the fact that she’d put much of her passion into promoting biking and had been injured riding her bike by a driver who turned left into her when she had the right of way. She’s back in the saddle now, but it took a while, with quite a bit of off-road riding before she re-entered traffic.

It has been over a year since these incidents happened to others. My own is fresh and vivid, and made me think back to their stories.

With each of these events I get more passionate about two things.

For the first I need to thank Cindy Green, a bike-commuting former Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board member who works at the Spokane Regional Health District. She got me to pay more attention to my language and usage—ironic since I majored in English and linguistics.

1) The word “accident” often used in these incidents does NOT apply when someone is in error. The someone could be the person on the bike, too, but that wasn’t the case in these two collisions, nor was it the case in my avoided collision.

“Accident” means “no one could have done anything to prevent this from happening.” The Spokesman-Review’s characterization of four fatalities in 2010 as “bicycle accidents” is thus way, way off base.

In two of the cases cited in the Spokesman piece the drivers were drinking. Putting down a few shots or beers and getting into your 4,000-pound vehicle-turned-lethal-weapon car is not an “accident.”

It’s a stupid, stupid choice. Those deaths were 100% preventable: no drunk driver, no dead cyclist.

When a driver doesn’t see a cyclist, that potential collision is also preventable if the driver:

  • looks again,
  • is one who is aware that bikes are on the road so the “look” isn’t really just a token head turn without eyes focusing and looking for moving objects that aren’t vehicles (admit it—you’ve done that, and the driver I encountered earlier this week certainly did that),
  • drives mindfully,
  • doesn’t text,
  • isn’t reaching for a Big Gulp or fiddling with the radio station or….

Ditto for the person on the bike who is:

  • looking down to adjust the fitting on a shoe,
  • sneaking up (illegally) on the right side of a car into the driver’s blind spot to duck past a long line of stopped cars,
  • riding on the sidewalk and then popping out into the street unexpectedly and unpredictably,
  • assuming that driver sees him/her (since I’m more vulnerable on my bike than you are in your car I tend to figure it’s in my best interests to own more than 50 percent of the prevention planning),
  • blowing a stop sign because he’s too cool to unclip and put his foot down….

Let’s all ban the word “accident” from our vocabulary except when it truly applies. It’s a collision or a crash or an impact when a driver hits you or you hit a driver or someone hits a pedestrian or a pedestrian steps out in front of someone using wheels–but it’s no accident.

2) The second item speaks to the fear I hear from people who thinking riding a bike is inherently unsafe. I’ll post that as Part II.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Do you think about the language used to describe [euphemism alert!] “negative interactions” between people on bikes and people using other forms of transportation?
December 28, 2011

Wednesday Words: The Mental Effects of Cycling

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, Scientific American, 1896

“[Commuting by bicycle is] an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal through the countryside in the early morning hours, and see life come back and rejuvenate every day as the sun is coming out.”
James L. Jones, former US Supreme Allied Commander Europe, now Barack Obama’s national security advisor

“I’m a cyclist not simply in the sense that I ride a bike, but in the sense that some people are socialists or Christian fundamentalists or ethical realists – that is, cycling is my ideology, a system of thought based on purity and economy of motion, kindness to the environment and drop handlebars, and I want to convert others.”
Journalist Robert Hanks, The Independent, 15th August 2005

“To possess a bicycle is to be able first to look at it, then to touch it. But touching is revealing as insufficient; what is necessary is to be able to get on the bicycle and take a ride. But this gratuitous ride is likewise insufficient; it would be necessary to use the bicycle to go on some errands…Finally, as one could foresee, handing over a bank note is enough to make a bicycle belong to me, but my entire life is needed to realize this possession.”
“Being and nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology”? By Jean-Paul Sartre

“Few articles ever used by man have created so great a revolution in social conditions as the bicycle.”
US Census Report, 1900

A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”

The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!” The teacher praised the first student. “You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do.”

The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!” The teacher commended the second student, “Your eyes are open, and you see the world.”

The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo.” The teacher gave his praise to the third student, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”

The fourth student replied, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings.” The teacher was pleased and said to the fourth student, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”

The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.” The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said, “I am your student.”
Zen proverb

“I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.

“And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

Steve Jobs

November 16, 2011

Wednesday Words: Bicycling Quotations on Metaphors for Life


Noun. 1) A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. 2) A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.

Consider a man riding a bicycle.  Whoever he is, we can say three things about him.  We know he got on the bicycle and started to move.  We know that at some point he will stop and get off.  Most important of all, we know that if at any point between the beginning and the end of his journey he stops moving and does not get off the bicycle he will fall off it.  That is a metaphor for the journey through life of any living thing, and I think of any society of living things.  —William Golding

The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles.  A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom.  The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.  —Sloan Wilson

Life is like riding a bicycle — in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. —Albert Einstein

I suppose that was what attracted me to the bicycle right from the start. It is not so much a way of getting somewhere as it is a setting for randomness; it makes every journey an unorganized tour. —Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

A bicycle ride is a flight from sadness. —James E. Starrs, The Literary Cyclist

Why reinvent the wheel when you can tighten the spokes? —Unknown

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. —Desmond Tutu

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Not that I’ll keep doing quotes every Wednesday, but do you have a theme to suggest and a great quotation to get the ball rolling?





November 9, 2011

Wednesday Words: Bicycle Quotations on Life and Civilization

Many thanks to QuickRelease TV for providing a few of these.

Life and Civilization

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. —H.G. Wells

Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large. —Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin, 15th January 2010

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. —Iris Murdoch, The Green and the Red

…The future mode of transportation for this weary Western world. Now I’m not gonna make a lot of extravagant claims for this little machine. Sure, it’ll change your whole life for the better, but that’s all. —Bicycle salesman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia. —H.G. Wells

Few articles ever used by man have created so great a revolution in social conditions as the bicycle. —US Census Report, 1900

The most vital element for the future of our cities is that the bicycle is an instrument of experiential understanding.

On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time. For a regular motorist to take that two or three mile trip by bicycle instead is to decimate an enormous wall between them and their communities.

In their cars, the world is reduced to mere equation. “What is the fastest route from A to B?” one will ask as they start their engine. This invariably results in a cascade of freeway concrete flying by at incomprehensible speeds. Their environment, the neighborhoods that compose their communities, the beauty of architecture, the immense societal problems in distressed areas, the faces of neighbors… all of this becomes a conceptually abstract blur from the driver’s seat.

Yes, the bicycle is a marvelously efficient machine of transportation, but in the city it is so much more. The bicycle is new vision for the blind man. It is a thrilling tool of communication, an experiential device for the beauty and the ills of the urban context. One cannot turn a blind eye on a bicycle – they must acknowledge their community, all of it.

Here lies the secret weapon of the urban renaissance.

—Kasey Klimes, The Real Reason Why Bicycles are the Key to Better Cities

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November 2, 2011

Wednesday Words: Bicycle Quotations on Experiencing the Moment

I’ve long been a collector of books of quotations. Now, of course, I can harvest them in virtual form. I’m hardly the first to collect quotations on the joys of cycling, but thought I’d share a few thematic groupings like last week’s on women, fashion, and emancipation. Add your favorites!

Experiencing the Moment

When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day’s sensations:  bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay’s call, ice melting and so on.  This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead.  I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity.  But I am mentally far away from civilization.  The world is breaking someone else’s heart.  —Diane Ackerman

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.  Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. —Ernest Hemingway

After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable.  A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go.  You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.  —H.G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance

Nothing compares with the simple pleasure of a bike ride. —John F. Kennedy

October 26, 2011

Wednesday Words: Bicycle Quotations on Women, Fashion, and Emancipation

Some of these are oldies but goodies that you’ll find on other sites—others are freshly picked.

Women, Fashion, and Emancipation

Don’t be afraid of going fast and getting hurt. You can always wear black stockings to cover up the scars! —Marla Streb; spotted at Pedal Panties

Let us now observe a moment of silence for the shiny Lycra stretch pants and neon nylon windbreakers that have been considered, for the past ten years, de rigueur for anyone traveling on two wheels…. A hot-pink boa works as well as a lime-green Gortex windbreaker to make you visible on the road. —Jennifer Worley, The New Colonist

The bicycle . . . has been more responsible for more movement in manners and morals than anything since Charles the Second . . . Under its influence have blossomed, wholly or in part, weekends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language . . . equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation—in four words, the emancipation of women. —Novelist John Galsworthy

[T]he bicycle will accomplish more for women’s sensible dress than all the reform movements that have ever been waged.  —Author Unknown, from Demerarest’s Family Magazine, 1895

“What shall we wear?” is a query rising from every channel of woman’s life: for upon each occasion we must be suitably clad to enjoy its peculiar benefits. This is especially noticeable for such exercise as bicycling, for, in this case, it is not only a matter of appearing well, but the health, the comfort and safety demand a carefully selected costume and equipment. —From The Ladies Standard Magazine, April 1894

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman on a wheel. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. —Susan B. Anthony, New York World, February 2, 1896

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August 5, 2011

Real People on Bikes: A Rose by any Other Name

What happened around 1940? That’s when references to the bicycle peaked in books written in English, according to this Ngram created using Google’s search tool that examines book contents, and references to “cycling” started to climb.

Could it have something to do with the invention of the cable-shifted derailleur in 1938? Or did we just start the trend toward informality, since “bike” starts climbing around the same time?

Trend lines for use of the words "bike" and "cycling" have risen sharply in the past couple of decades, based on a Google analysis of book contents.
Hard to say for sure what happened in 1940 since I hadn’t been born yet, but the rise in references to cycling, biking, bicycles and biking over the past 50 years is heartening, especially if you extrapolate the two blue trend lines that swept sharply upwards in recent years.

Remember the Presidential Fitness Test from grade school? I have dim memories of having absolutely zero hope of completing even one pull-up.

Looking at a timeline where you can learn more about bike history I discovered that test—the bane of many a grade-schooler—launched in the year of my birth, around when the blue lines really started going up, and may deserve some of the credit for increased interest in the bicycle for recreation and fitness. (Maybe because riding a bike doesn’t involve pull-ups, push-ups or curl-ups.)

As another factor there’s Earth Day in 1970 (for the record, I was seven at the time). By 1978 thanks to the oil crisis more bikes than cars were being sold in the US.

Although “cycling” is the most-used term what I find most interesting is the small but steady rise in the use of “biking” over the past 20 years and the sharp increase in the word “bike.”

Cover image of the book Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet by Mia Birk. Available from Amazon:

Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet by Mia Birk. Available at your wonderful local independent bookstore or from Amazon.

A post by Portland planner and bike advocate/author Mia Birk talked about the “real cyclist” phenomenon: fragmentation inside the community of people who ride bikes so that one group defines itself as “real” and others as somehow not real.

As I commented there and in a post on the politics of the Cycle Chic movement, I’m real enough, but I’m moving away from using the term “cyclist” to describe myself. I find the phrase “bike rider” a tad awkward but I like it better, or just “a person who rides a bike.”

I ride my bike: lots for transportation, some for fitness/health, some for time with friends, some to see if I can do a really long ride while supporting some local good cause, and as often as possible with my sweetheart—but always because it’s fun and freedom and now I can’t imagine not riding.

And I call what I do biking as much as—more than—I call it cycling.

Cycling for me summons up Spandex and sweat, intervals and heart rate monitors and pouches of sugary carb/electrolyte supplements.

People who drive cars mostly don’t go around referring to themselves as drivers. They’re people who drive cars, and I doubt they worry about whether they’re authentic or not.

Is the little old lady who only drives her car to church on Sundays somehow less of a driver than the guy in the tricked-out hot rod or the suburban mom in her SUV, let alone a NASCAR or Formula One driver? (Well, okay, maybe those last two.)

It occurs to me that the problem isn’t with defining “real”–it’s the word “cyclist.” I think for the general non-riding public “cyclist” (real or not) brings up images of brightly colored Spandex and Lance Armstrong (they don’t know who Mara Abbott or Cadel Evans is).

If they can’t envision themselves ever being like that–and how many of us can really attain a body fat percentage near zero and wattage in the 400s?–they have no point of connection.

For them “cyclist” just isn’t the lady in heels or Chacos on her step-through with the basket and the ringy-dingy bell. She’s not a “real cyclist.” It’s as if all drivers are either NASCAR/Formula One or they aren’t real drivers.

Let’s be people who ride bikes. Hard to say someone isn’t a real person regardless of her/his choice of bike, clothing, route, or riding pace.

P.S. If this flashback to the Presidential Fitness Challenge makes you nostalgic you can check out the Adult Fitness Test.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Are you for real?
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