23 March 2023

A Barrier To What--And Whom?

If you have studied any post-Renaissance history or theology (and you thought I wasted my youth only  on the things the young waste their youth on!), you have heard the question, "How many angels can dance on the head (or tip) of a pin?"  The question was posed, rhetorically by 17th Century Protestants to mock Scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and of angelology, a hot topic among Catholic theologians of the time. 

Oh, by the way, one answer to that question is:  an infinite number, as angels don't occupy physical space.

(So when a former partner of mine called me an "angel"--before she knew me better, of course!--was she really referring to how skinny I was at the time?)

Now, if you are not a transportation or utility cyclist, this question may seem as esoteric as the one about celestial beings and fasteners:  How many cyclists does it take to lift a cargo bike over a route barrier? I think it's the structure of the question makes it seem, at least rhetorically, as detached from any real-world concerns.  Then again, it could sound like a joke like "How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

(The answer to that one is "Fish!"  What else could it be?)

The question about cargo bikes and route barriers is important, though, if bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles are going to become an integral part of any city's transportation system.  Those little fences, in zig-zag patterns at the entrance to some bike lanes and pedestrian-bike overpasses, are supposed to keep motorbikes out, but in reality, they don't. Moreover, nothing is done to enforce stated bans:  On some lanes, I see four or five motorized bicycles and scooters for every traditional bicycle.  Those barriers do, however, inhibit or prevent access for wheelchair users and the aforementioned cargo bikes.

Possibly the worst examples I've seen are the barriers on each end of the pedestrian-bike overpasses over the Clearview Expressway (a.k.a. I-295) in the eastern part of my home borough of Queens. Not only do they inhibit access for wheelchairs and cargo bikes, they also endanger cyclists or pedestrians entering exiting them because, once you go through the barriers, there is nothing separating you from the expressway's service road, where traffic enters (on the east side) or exits (on the west) at Expressway speeds (50MPH+).  I occasionally use those crossovers when cycling to or from Fort Totten or other areas along the North Shore.

If you look closely at the right side of this entrance to a Clearview Expressway overpass, you can see the zig-zag barrier.

For a time, bicycles were actually banned as a result of an eleven-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a car when he tried to exit the overpass.  In a way, that doesn't surprise me:  Most planners and politicians aren't everyday cyclists or even pedestrians, so they can be depended on to simply ban something when it could be made safer.  In the case of the Clearview overpasses--and, I suspect, the one in the Tweet I've included--accessing and using a lane should be made safer for all non-motorized (and wheelchair) traffic, and a ban against anything with a motor (besides a wheelchair) should be enforced. 

22 March 2023

Secondary Victims Of The COVID-19 Bike Boom?

The COVID-19 pandemic led, at least in places that weren't under hard lockdowns, to a kind of bike boom.  As public transportation systems shut down or imposed severe restrictions, people who hadn't been on bikes in years were pedaling to their jobs (if they had to work in person) or to shop or run errands.  And folks who were working from home were going hopping onto the saddle for exercise and to de-stress from being cooped up in front of a screen.

Like the Bike Boom of the 1970s, the COVID epidemic was great bike-related businesses--at least some of them, for some time.  During the first few months of the pandemic, bikes and anything related them were flying out shop doors and keeping Amazon delivery workers busy.  In time, though, some shops and web businesses became victims of cycling's newfound popularity.  Shops ran out of inventory as supply streams dried up.  Some kept themselves open by repairing bikes that people were resurrecting from basements and garages.  But as cables, tires and tubes became difficult to find, they took to cannibalizing other bikes--until there were no more bikes to "harvest."  With nothing left to sell or even use for repairs, a number of shops--including longstanding and prominent ones like Harris Cyclery--to close permanently.

Now there might be some secondary victims, if you will.  Among them is Moore Lange, a UK distributor that went into receivership last week after more than 70 years in business.  Their offerings included bikes and parts from a wide array of brands like Forme, Lake, Barracuda, Microshift and Vitesse. 


According to Moore Lange director Adam Briggs, the company's troubles can be traced, ironically, to supply streams flowing again.  Actually, the trickle or dry bed turned into a torrent:  "[L]ots of stock arrived in the first quarter of 2022," he explained.  "There was a year's worth of bikes arriving in the UK at that time"--just as the Boom was turning into murmur--"which meant there was a massive oversupply."

Apparently, in the UK as in other places, the demand for bikes and anything related to them is falling from its 2020-21 heights.  Distributors and some shops now are overstocked, at least in some items, which led to "significant discounts," according to Briggs.  Given that profit margins are significantly smaller for bikes than for other items, a decrease in sales has led to a "perfect storm" for some shops and distributors like Moore Lange. 

The company's inventory will be auctioned off.  If there is a silver lining in the clouds of this storm, it is for British cyclists who are looking for good buys on bikes and parts.


21 March 2023

Cycling Through The PTSD of History--My Own and This Country's

Spring arrived yesterday at 17:24 (5:24 pm) local time in New York, where I am.

At that moment, I just happened to be out on Dee-Lilah, my custom Mercian Vincitore, for an after-work ride.  I knew I'd have about an hour and a half of daylight from that moment on, and I intended to take full advantage of it.

The sun shone brightly; there was scarcely a cloud in the sky.  But the wind, gusting to 40KPH (25MPH), and the temperature, which barely broke 5C (40F), reminded me that winter would not loosen its grip so easily.  Still, the ride was delightful because of Dee-Lilah (Why do you think I so named her?) and because I'd had a full day of work- and non-work-related things.

Also, I may have felt the need to work with, if not out, the lingering sadness I felt:  Yesterday marked twenty years since the United States invaded Iraq.  If 9/11 was America's first step into the quicksand of a perennial war, on 20 March 2003, this country had waded into it, at least up to the waist. If I believed in karma, I would say that the trials and tribulations this country has suffered are retribution for that act of violence--which was precipitated by one of the more monstrous lies told by a public official.  (That so many people see such dishonesty as normal in political and official discourse is something else I might have taken as some sort of cosmic payback.)

US Marines in Kuwait, near the Iraq border, the day before the invasion.  Photo by Joe Raedele, Getty Images

I remember that time all to well.  For one thing, I marched in the massive anti-war demonstration a month earlier, where I was just a few bodies away from those horses NYPD officers charged into the crowd.  For another, I was preparing to live as the woman I am now:  I had begun therapy and counseling a few months earlier, and started taking hormones a few weeks before that demonstration.  All of the jingoism and drumbeats I heard in the lead-up to the invasion-- not to mention the invasion itself, premised as it was on lies--disturbed me because they showed how profoundly disrespectful some people can be toward other people simply because they are darker, speak a different language, worship differently (or not at all) or express their gender or any other part of their identity in ways that are not accepted by the society around them.

Sometimes I am called "over-sensitive:"  I have PTSD from a few things that have happened to me and sometimes I think I suffer it simply from having been alive when great evils were committed.  It's a good thing I have my bikes, and riding!