Speaking Out

My Buddy the Bike

At worst, professors Shapiro, Chance, Mann, Kunreuther and Malamud's piece concerning bikes on campus (Almanac, October 26, 1999) carried a sinister threat: deal with us, give us what we want, live with it--we're here to stay. At best, they indicated a fondness for Little Bo Peep's Theory of Social Equity: Leave Us Alone And We'll Come Home, Wagging Our Tails Behind Us.

Three times in as many paragraphs, I saw 'fast', 'rapid', and 'rapidly' to describe bicycle-riding on this campus. And that's the problem, isn't it? Sidewalks--footpaths in Commonwealth countries--are not multi-use facilities; not with pedestrians going 1-4 m.p.h., bicycles 20. The charge of the Light Brigade maintained a steady 17 m.p.h into the Russian guns. A letter to the DP some years ago had the writer actually suggest the problem bike riders faced was pedestrians making sudden, unanticipated lateral moves--like swinging a briefcase, scratching a nose, pointing to the skyline, looking at a watch.

He urged us to walk in straight lines.

A co-worker graced the cover of the Summer Pennsylvanian, speeding across the 38th St. Bridge--that same bridge with well-posted signs where a student's mother had her collarbone broken by a bike rider who remounted and made away, free as a white stallion thundering across the prairie. Both wheels in the photograph were entirely off the ground. On any vehicle--two-wheeler to eighteen-wheeler--that indicates no steering, no brakes. He was going so fast he was airborne, 100% out of control.

One of the sweetest, kindest women I know smacked her bike into one of the biggest men I know. He was coming out of the men's room. She regularly rides down a long, inside corridor. If late for work, she moves at velocity.

So carefully designed 'speed bumps' are not going to change rude, reckless bikers intent on proving just how 'fast', 'rapid' or 'rapidly' they can crank their five hundred dollar heavy cavalry beasts through crowds of milling infantry.

The turmoil we leave in our wake sure doesn't help the cause. I don't own a driving license. My bike is my buddy. My buddy and I have twice gone as far as Australia; New Zealand four times. But bicyclists have become much too casual with other peoples' rights, dragging out such puerile excuses as automobiles don't respect our rights so that means we can jump the curb and zip passed your elbow, or there isn't a bike rack within my frame of convenience so I have to chain an expensive Mongoose to a handicap rail. We blithely ignore pleas to walk where cycling isn't permitted, ride dangerously close to building lines (1994; 3401; Fed Ex driver: broken wrist, broken back, her hand actually on the door-pull when struck) and act as self-righteous, go-anywhere wardens of the environment: 'I'm the planet's non-polluting future so everybody better scramble outta my way.' That arrogance risks bouncing us and our antics off this campus. All it takes is pancaking one important administrator or somebody's damaged parent not content to sue for $50,000.

--Jerry Briggs, Mail Room, Van Pelt Library

Ed Note: In last week's Speaking Out, at the end of Dr. Paul Root Wolpe's letter of suggestions on bicycle safety, a response was promised for this week. The response has been delayed, but will be published as soon as it is received from the Administration.

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions.

Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines.

Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Eds.


Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 11, November 9, 1999