Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Putting a Price Tag on Everything

I was recently cycling from church back home through Bush Park. Going along slowly as I do, there a plenty of opportunities to see interesting things along the way. As I started to pass by the Bush Barn Art Center, I came upon this scene:

In an effort to put a monetary value on a tree, a large price-tag was tied around the trunk, complete with explanatory text. It was all very nicely done and made its point quite effectively.

The project has obvious merits and I cannot fault any of the specifics. I later followed the suggested web link to a nice web site that had all sorts of information about trees and their impact on urban environments. Yet, somehow, I felt a surge of frustration in reading it. Perhaps it was that dollar sign on the tag.

Over the years, the need to justify everything in terms of monetary value has become intense. There is hardly a single moment in life that we cannot somehow trace back to a cost or a pecuniary benefit. Being "monetized" is our way of life now. We have become "made of money," as my mother used to say about some avaricious people.

The "Every Tree Counts" campaign is simply trying to speak to us in our own language I suppose; but, what an impoverished language that is, bespeaking an impoverished spirit.

In general, I very much like trees. The sound of wind through tree branches, or the cool air under a spreading oak on a hot summer day delight me. The way an old tree has absorbed the eras during which it has lived, or quietly presided over years of change intrigues me. The effect of lots of warm wood in a home or church building or other interior connects me with earth and sky and seasons. I grew up in this part of the nation; trees and wood are part of what defines life and landscape.

There are times when trees must be cut down, and there are times when trees should be saved. Economic factors, of course, play into these decisions. (though it does seem that the calculations can be "adjusted" in fairly creative ways to get desired results). I am not a "tree-hugger" in the romantic sense, nor am I a "mow 'em down" pro-development zealot. I prefer to look at the whole, trying to bring about and preserve a certain balance in the lived environment between change and continuity. The trick is in how to make judgments.

The problem with the approach to understanding trees (or other things) taken in this instance is that it is a furtherance of the old story in America: Creation has meaning to the extent that we can measure and put a money value on it. 

I think about this sign and then I think about my time at an Indian Reservation and talking with members of the tribal community there about their relationship to nature. A discussion got going about the recent stealing of some huckleberry plants from native lands by non-Indians. In addition to the fact that crimes of trespass and theft had occurred, a much more serious matter was brought up: the huckleberry plants form a "tribe," just as "alive" and valid as the human population. Together with the salmon, the rocks, the forests, the deer, and all the other "nations" which shared the Creation with the resident tribes, the "huckleberry tribe" had a sacredness that needed to be honored, not ripped willy-nilly from the earth for monetary gain. In this logic, if it can happen to huckleberries, why not people? American Indians know that story all too well.

I found much the same thing in Ireland, where freeway expansion plans often were at odds with sacred groves of trees. Frustrating to modernity and efficiency, yes; but a counter to the view that the ends justify the means at all costs, especially those without a dollar sign attached to them.

Now, I am not suggesting we all adopt an indigenous viewpoint on trees, rocks, or nature. Instead, I am advocating an alternate, or perhaps and additional approach to the discussion--one that will prove both more equitable and more inspirational over time.  I think it both a kind of spiritual and intellectual poverty to teach and practice a way of life where monetary value is the final, highest, and essentially only way to "value" something.

I think we should begin by viewing a tree not as the sum of its financial benefits or its utility or inconvenience to us but as a presence, a part of the whole that has benefits far beyond what can be measured in terms of gallons, pounds, or dollars. These tools for measurement have their place, and I am not against their use; but only in conjunction with other ways of valuing, other approaches to meaning. A "both-and" approach would be ideal.

Perhaps, in addition to the monetary and scientistic information provided on the tag, a passage from an appropriate poem or lyric should be provided--just something to say that this tree is more than a price or a tool for our benefit. As it stands, this campaign seems to me to reinforce a rather sinister aspect of our cultural inheritance: that of extractive self-justification.

Whenever we look at the Creation primarily through the lens of what it does for us, we are essentially following in the footsteps of the extractive colonists who came before us...and who left such a legacy of destruction and spiritual impoverishment behind them. We are liable to repeat their folly in unintended ways because we are still using their thinking, albeit in a different manner.

So, while I am hardly up in arms about this little reminder of our cultural impoverishment, I do feel it is worth taking up a "minority report" about its assumptions and aspirations. I would suggest that it what is needed is a dose of people like John Muir or Wendell Berry, in addition to (and really above) all the numerical arguments. Only a deeper reason for trees, streams, meadows, ecosystems, and ultimately people, will stand up to the ever-shifting and greedy rationales of those who play with numbers to justify their goals.

Otherwise, someday we are each going to be required to don such tags ourselves. I just hope my tag--and yours--will indicate we are enough of a benefit to keep around.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

So: Which is It?

There are a lot of times in life when we are legitimately confused. I’m not talking about the times when we are willfully confused (being exasperated with ludicrous bureaucracy) or tactically confused (casually “forgetting” when it suits), or even confused for the sake of saving someone else’s feelings (there is a fine art to this in clergy life). No, I’m speaking of the genuine confused article.

The occasion for this post comes from two signs on Church Street as one heads north, each purporting to herald the start of the pedestrian-only sidewalk safety area downtown.

The first sign is at Trade Street, in front of a block of sidewalk that gets relatively little pedestrian traffic.

The second sign is at Ferry Street, at the start of a much busier block next to the historic Methodist church, and a more logical place, overall.

The question is: which is it? Are both signs needed? Does the zone start on Trade or Ferry on the east side of the block?

Now, I have an ulterior motive here. When travelling south along Winter Street after leaving the Capitol grounds, I often take a right on the vestigial, old part of Ferry and travel a couple of blocks west towards the intersection of Church and Ferry (one of the many major speedway intersections in this part of town, slicing everything into odd-shaped sections so that motorists can travel at high rates of speed—except when they can’t, which is fairly often). I then cross the Mario Andretti Memorial Speedway there and head south on Church (on the sidewalk) to Trade, where I cross the eastbound part of this Military-Industrial Road Complex in order to get to the quiet part of Church Street and resume my travel south toward Bush Park on the street itself.

Now, in order to do this, I need to travel on the sidewalk that one block between these two signs (because it is a one-way street going north). If I am riding my bike to do this, I am apparently violating the law—something I’m not keen on doing.

I bring this all up for a wider reason, as well. Salem is a bit of a crazy quilt for transportation cyclists who, like myself, prefer quiet streets rather than risking life and limb on the big speedways rammed through the fabric of our fair city. Getting from one place to another is frequently hampered by these asphalt-and-concrete barriers. Since they are normally of the one-way or divided highway type, these roads present difficulties for cyclists making our way across town. There are usually alternatives, but they tend to be much more circuitous, risky, or actually more likely to put one in conflict with a pedestrian than the block I’m bringing up (this is the case in the area I mention, as the logical alternative is to take the pedestrian path and underpasses from Church over to the Willamette campus…but that really does put one in contact with a lot of pedestrians and several blind corners).

Church Street south of downtown is a natural bike route to Bush Park. It is a good place to cross Mission Street (a better-than-average crosswalk with an island and at a point where that infamous thoroughfare is at its narrowest), and there is a path up the hill to the park’s interior (though it would much better if the old carriageway were restored as a multi-user path…another of my hobby-horses).

Yet, once one gets to Trade and points north, Church turns into quite another critter, much less friendly to cyclists (of the normal sort). Getting from Church to Winter is generally advisable, allowing one to use the Capitol grounds to head north or to connect to points east. This, too, has its own challenges, but is much less anxiety-producing than continuing north on Church. It is that connection from Church to Winter that makes the confusion about whether the block in question is (or is not) in the Pedestrian Safety Area.

When I am walking downtown, I really don’t like having to dodge cyclists on the sidewalk. So, I am cognizant that me being on the sidewalk anywhere in that area is not optimal. However, the maze of cycle-unfriendly possibilities makes it unclear what the best way to get from downtown to Bush Park is.

Winter Street is generally the best bet, except for the rather dreadful intersection with Bellevue—the traffic signals there do not seem to be actuated by cyclists, meaning that one either waits for a car to make the light change, or one has to dismount and push the pedestrian crossing button. If this were to change, it would make Winter the clear first choice (except for the endless construction at the hospital). The lights at Winter and Mission now seem to respond to cyclists, and that leaves the Bellevue signal the big problem.

Well, that’s a lot of verbiage to ask: “Which sign is telling the truth?” I hope someone can tell me. Until then, I’ll ponder the possible hidden meanings of it all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

An Oatcake-y sort of day...

All year, but especially during Lent, one of my favorite snacks is the lowly oatcake. They are easy to make, easy to clean up after preparing, and very healthy. They are especially tasty with a hot cup of tea, and go marvelously with a good, sharp cheese 'round about four o'clock of an afternoon. I'm told they are splendid with paté...I'll have to try that sometime after Easter.

When the weather is unsettled, stormy, or "cold and raw," these little numbers are just the ticket. We have had a couple of oatcake-y days this year, and I'm glad to share a simple recipe to grace these less than satisfactory weather days.

The oatcake is a staple of Scottish cookery, and they are also well known in Ireland and other places in that often cold and rainy part of the world. Last summer, while I was in Scotland on pilgrimage, I purchased some examples of the "Real Deal," the (apparently) famous Stockan's Oatcakes from the Orkneys. I dinna' suppose you can get more authentic than that. They were, indeed, very tasty...and their flavor was almost precisely like the ones I have been making for years. How satisfying.

Oatcakes make a great little treat before cycling, especially in winter. I sometimes bring a few to church with me so that before I set out for home at the end of the day, I can have a cup of tea from the samovar (it stands ready to serve out Russian-style tea most of the year in my office--just drop by!) and munch contentedly on some crisp oatcakes (sort of "two-for-the-road" in a healthy way).

There are many ways to make oatcakes. Some like them thick and chewy. Some like them thin and crunchy. Some prefer them round, others square, &c. I tend to like them very thin, crispy, and cooked enough to have a nutty taste (sort of like a cracker, really). When being a bit more fancy, I cut them into circles. Normally, I just roll them out and cut them into rough squares with a pizza wheel (well, I am part Sicilian, so...). I always make a double batch. Being the product of a thrifty culture, they keep for a number days; I never have to throw any away.

Here is the recipe I use, from my very non-Scottish kitchen, but apparently tasting like the genuine article:

Oatcakes (1 small batch)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F (I like to use convection baking, to make them very crisp)

1 Cup Oatmeal (I use regular rolled oats)
2 Tablespoons flour (I use plain, regular might want to very it; it does change the taste)
1/4 Teaspoon baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup hot water (nearly boiling is good)
1/4 Oatmeal (reserved for later)

In a food processor, grind the oatmeal until it is a fine powder. Some might want a coarser grind, but I  tend to like it very fine.

Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Run the processor until everything is very well combined. [I sometimes add a dash of cinnamon at this point...not authentic, but tasty. These cakes by themselves almost have a cinnamon taste to them naturally.]

Add the butter (in one tablespoon chunks) to the dry ingredients and process until it is all evenly distributed (a food processor is splendid for this).

While the processor is running, add the hot water. It should form into a warm ball. Stop processing.

Prepare a board or other surface to receive the resulting dough by pouring the 1/4 cup of reserved oatmeal onto its center. Removing the dough from the processor, place it on the pile of oatmeal. Pat flat. Take a rolling pin and roll out your dough to the desired thickness, using perhaps a bit of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. The oatmeal is there to keep the dough from sticking to the board. It is also rather pretty when you turn the cake over after cooking.

Cut the dough into the shape you desire (a small drinking glass serves well to make circles).

Place oatcakes on a baking tray and put into oven. Cook for 12-15 minutes. Check to see if cooked to your satisfaction. I often cook mine for 18-20 minutes.

Cool on a rack.

Enjoy on your next oatcake-y day!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Seen along the way...

As one pedals about in Salem, various encounters along the way enhance the experience--especially during such a run of fine weather.

This winter has been horrific for many in the Eastern two-thirds of our nation, with massive amounts of snow and well-below normal temperatures. Here in Oregon it has been mostly very warm and VERY dry. We are, in fact, heading into a drought of serious proportions if we do not receive rain and mountain snow in the coming weeks (and the forecast is not making one hopeful).

While this is very disconcerting for agriculture, recreation, fire-fighting, and the domestic water supply, it has been a splendid winter for biking in the Willamette Valley. We have a had very few rainy days, with their attendant gloom and grime. This week was a perfect example: sunny, no fog, a little frost here-and-there, but mostly just delightful. This weekend it may well reach 70 degrees. Sorry about that, my Eastern Seaboard friends....

One day this week I was out and about on the bike and took a few pictures of what is going on. Here are some thoughts...

Out with the old...

The television found in the street near church presented a particularly forlorn example of consumerism's endless cycle of waste. Here is a model I remember when new. It was a rather nice unit and we were happy to have it. Now, it is just more clutter, fit to be chucked out to the roadside (I would say "curb," but there isn't one on this street). In addition to being a sad spectacle of littering, it sums up for me much of what is wrong in our materialistic world. Spattered with mud, it awaits either vandalism or removal; whatever happens, it remains a study in what we do with possessions and (all too often) people in our nation today.

Civic pride...

Most plants seem about a month ahead of schedule this year. The flowering trees, unchallenged by rain and wind, stand out intensely against the clear blue sky. As I was making my way to church I came upon a stretch of flowering plums that particularly caught my eye, in part because of the nearby trailer park. This park is a place where many people are working hard to gain a toe-hold in the American Dream. It is a place with many challenges, many stories, providing affordable housing in a time when this is getting hard to find. The flowering plum trees highlight the fact that the park is an integral part of our neighborhood, graced by nature like all the other parts. We all benefit by the beauty of these trees, especially when they seem almost to float above us like pink clouds.

In a bit of a rush...

The afternoon bicycle commute in Salem is very gradually growing. I notice a few more cyclists each year. It can hardly be called a mob, but there are times when a number of us are making our way together. It is good to see men and women, young and older, fit and, well, not-so-fit, all out there together. Most folks I see nod or wave to each other; we know we are doing something unusual, but we also know it is really a blessing to have this option. The City is making gradual improvements to some of the bike-ways in town, but the preference still seems to be for something akin to "Vehicular Cycling," with its penchant for bike lanes on the busiest streets and the assumption that high-speed driving and average-person cycling mix well. I don't believe they do. When Salem connects downtown to the various flat-land neighborhoods near it via bike boulevards or other safety-conscious strategies, we will see a lot more folks on bikes making the 5 PM rush.

Sign of the times...

People from all over the country have heard about our resident avian celebrity, "Owl Capone." So aggressive have the owls in Bush Park been this year that special signs have been erected to warn of their silent, violent approach (though I'm not sure how you would know to look, given the silent part). The graphic for these signs was a gift from a designer working for a television show (perhaps viewed on the discarded TV above?), and is quite fetching. Other signs with accompanying text about the threat point out, somewhat ominously, that wearing a hardhat is recommended. Since I usually wear a bicycle helmet when traversing the park anyway, I do feel reassured about undertaking this apparently high-risk activity.

*  *  *

Being a utility cyclist means taking in up close the surprising and the unusual. One tends to move from being an observer to a participant. That isn't always an enjoyable thing, but it is mostly a very good thing in our increasingly isolated and abstract world. While I am growing a bit concerned about this summer and what it will be like with no water, it is worth one's while just now to appreciate the passing parade of peculiar, entertaining, hopeful, or quirky events on such beautiful days. It is part of what makes cycling a "broadening" experience, even in our relatively unadventurous corner of the nation.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Phoney War

The technological world in which we live encourages multi-tasking in every venue of life, from bathroom blogging to cycling while on the phone. The above image, gleaned from the Interwebs, suggests a rather leisurely form of this (latter!) activity. I've done this myself, chatting merrily as I traverse the town, or (once in a while) listening to favorite music or to the police scanner if I'm wondering about some nearby sirens. It's American as deep-fried dill pickles.

The problem for me with being on the phone while cycling is that not everyone is equally good at it, and no one is as responsive to their environment when trying to multitask this way as they are when going "au natural" (in the technological sense, I mean).

Generally, I've had good experiences while toddling along on my slow bike and carrying on a relaxed conversation using my earbuds. They don't block all that much outside noise, and I can keep both hands on the handlebars. However, a number of times I've become aware I'm not AS good as I want to think I am at this. Shyness prevents me from going into details, but let's just say that my Guardian Angel is likely a bit nervous when the phone comes out and the earbuds go in.

This is particularly the case with music, as I can get pretty lost in that when cycling. A few months ago I was making my way to church one Sunday morning at sunrise. The crepuscular light was mesmerizingly beautiful as it wove its way through the clouds and along the still dark-shrouded streets. Add to this some beautiful 17th century English music for viols, and you have a moment etched in memory. And yet...

One of the things that I value about cycling is the ability to be deeply rooted in the Here and Now. In a world dominated by "cyber" this and that, there is something truly revolutionary about being completely rooted in the present moment and place.

Being on the phone or listening to music while driving is a complicated subject in itself, with a fair amount of legislation having been brought to bear on the subject of distracted driving in recent years. Yet, cycling often requires sharpened senses and perception as well, making such technological multi-tasking perhaps less than wise.

Yet, I wouldn't want to see an absolute ban on the practice. As with a great many things, I find myself skeptical about too much regulation of something like this. There are times when a peaceful phone conversion while cycling seems just the ticket. The issue is knowing when not to make a call, or when to hang up.

Beyond the question of plain old safety, there is the matter of escaping what is sometimes called "the sacrament of the present moment." Cycling allows one to engage deeply in this gift. So much today seems to encourage us to seek stimulation of the electronic or communication variety. As I reflect on my life, however, I see that it is only when I am rested enough (on all levels) that my communication, my observation, and my study yields real and lasting results. It is also the case that escaping from the present circumstance allows one to continue the shielding and isolation that marks so much of modern American civic life: being too busy, too self-absorbed to care or learn. I want cycling to be part of a life with plenty of shalom, in all the senses of that complex and rich Hebrew word.

So, I do still put my earbuds on from time-to-time and plug them into the phone when I think I need to make a call along the way...but I'm doing so much less now. It just seems not only wiser, but much more honest to the experience.

This Lent I am planning to do a fair amount of review on the theme of how electronic communication has affected my life in a number of areas...and this is one of them. In a season that emphasizes listening and silence, it may be a good time to declare a cease-fire in the Phoney War.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Importance of Being Seen

Building on the theme of my last post, I'm thinking about the issue of visibility while riding.

I have found it very helpful to be pretty illuminated while out on the streets of Salem. This time of year the skies are often grey, the landscape murky, and combining this with the average harassed and distracted motorist makes for an added sense that being visible is not only desirable but the kind thing to do. I'm not even going to speculate (for now) on what the effect of our new marijuana laws will bring after this summer.

When I drive at dusk or at night, I occasionally come upon cyclists who have only reflectors to illuminate their bike. I usually wish they had a bit more to alert me or others of their presence. I sometimes physically cringe at the risks people take biking. Being sympathetic to cyclists as I am, I still feel that a little investment in lights would be tremendously helpful to all involved.

This brings up the problem with a great many cycles sold in our country--they assume daylight or optimal conditions riding. I realize there are many kinds of cyclists and cycling out there, but using a daylight bike at night is dangerous for rider and driver alike. Having a devil-may-care attitude about this is profoundly unwise, though I realize part of the problem is that suitable lighting costs a fair amount. If more bikes came with suitable lighting when purchased (rather than as an option or an aftermarket add-on), the problem might be diminished some.

Bicycle lighting is required at night, this is often ignored for financial as well as other reasons. I hear a lot about this from folks who only drive cars. They are very quick to point the lack of adequate lighting on some bikes. Yet, interestingly, when I was making my way to church one dark Sunday morning and using my lights, a parishioner remarked that my lights were TOO BRIGHT! He said that having such bright lights on a bike was distracting. Yikes. The lights I own are not top-of-the-line mountain trail models...they are really just good, standard street-rated lights.

What I took away from this interview was that for at least some motorists, the mere fact that there are bikes out there at any time is the problem. I had to inform this person that such a comment presented me with the "damned if you do/damned if you don't" dilemma. I figured I best err on the "do" side.

There are a lot of solutions out there for the visibility problem. Some of the more effective I have found are:

  • A truly bright flashing light in front and back. I know that when I come upon a bike at night that has a bright red LED flasher (especially with an alternating or semi-irregular pattern), I really take notice. Having a flashing white light in front can also help a great deal for oncoming traffic. This is in addition to a steady light that I use to see the road with...I know it seems excessive, but they really are two different things.
  • Some sort of spoke lights. I have something called "The Monkey" that creates multi-colored patterns in my front wheel--quite visible at night. It has proven very effective from long distances, as it is unusual and eye-catching. While weighing a bit, it is worth that weight for the times it has alerted others to my presence. It also makes me rather happy to see it rotate as I make my way along the dark streets early in the morning or at night.
  • Reflective side-walls on tires. These really show up well at night and make very clear that I am riding a bicycle, even from a long distance. 
  • A bright raincoat. On really grey, rainy days I find that having a bright yellow coat helps make me that much more visible to drivers, as it may be seen in over the hoods of cars when one or more of my lights is obscured.

These are all expensive additions to the most basic bike cost. However, it seems to me that we live in an era where folks are intensely distracted and this level of visual insurance is a wise investment...though it is a pity it costs as much as it does.

When I drive at night, I am sometimes aware of just how many signs are stuffed into the visual field all at once, each one demanding my attention for a split-second...and this on top of the attention I should be giving to what is going on with my car, other traffic, and anything that happens to be going through my head at that moment. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but it seems to me that we are asking a great deal of many drivers today.

I was recently at an antique auto museum and was musing about how things might have changed in the traffic department over the years. The relative fragility, slowness, and openness of early automobiles might have engendered a bit of humility that our current crop of isolate and armored machines do not. Being visible as a cyclist and pedestrian is perhaps an unfortunate expense being required of us, but given what we are up against today, it seems increasingly reasonable.

I just wish that it weren't necessary. But, there is fodder for another blog post...the ways in which we live now diminish our humanity.

Until then, stay safe and stay visible!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Reactivating and a Some Thoughts about Experience and Respect Amongst Transport Modes

I’m finally starting to come out of blog-hibernation, though this would hardly be of interest to anyone. Yet, I’ve been thinking about some things that I would like to share abroad in the Salem thought-world.

Over the last months a number of pedestrians have been struck and killed or injured in town. This is much more likely, I suppose, in the grey winter months with their late dawns and early sunsets. However, I have noticed in the reporting that the tendency is to imply that it must always be the fault of the pedestrian (and, by extension, the cyclist when a bike is involved). Nothing so explicit as: “the earnest driver inevitably had to hit the irresponsible person choosing to walk in a city built for cars,” but more along the lines of “the victim, who was found to have articles of non-reflective clothing on….” Well, perhaps not that blatant, but the point is always there: unless a person is decked out in LEDs head-to-toe, brandishing a spotlight, and sending out flares, you are just a menace if you are not encased in your protective/aggressive metal exo-skeleton on the streets of Salem. Regardless of the actual conditions involved, the presumption is that anything not in a car is an accident waiting to happen.

Since I drive a good deal (much more lately than I would like, really), I am well aware that a great many pedestrians in Salem are clothed in dark raiment, and that there are a good number of very foolhardy cyclists in town who disobey traffic rules and common sense…riding the wrong way on streets, dashing out in traffic, failing to obey traffic laws and signs, and being nearly invisible in the night.

I get it. I’ve seen it. I’m with you.

I am also very aware that those who walk or bike should take precautions to be visible by choosing some lighter-colored or reflective materials on clothing or footwear and having front-back-side lighting and reflectors when biking at night.

But…I also know that as a motorist I often feel a deep sense that I should be able to move along at my desired pace unimpaired by other cars, let alone by pedestrians and cyclists. A tremendous sense of impatience with anything or anyone slowing me up can steal across my mind when out and about. Auto-entitlement happens to me, as well.

It is just like the way riding a bicycle makes one want to disregard stop signs so as to keep the momentum going and not dismount at each intersection, or the way being a pedestrian sometimes makes one want to take advantage of gaps in traffic to make mid-block crossings that might be legal but are (in practical terms) quite dangerous—so as to get to where I am going just a bit faster.

What I am saying is that just as cyclists and pedestrians need to put themselves into the seats of motorists, so motorists need to put themselves into the shoes and saddles of pedestrians and cyclists so as to be more alert and observant, as well as compassionate and careful. This is much easier to do when one has experience walking or biking on a regular basis. It is very easy to forget these things when in our vehicular cocoons all the time.

As I go about my business in Salem—with all of the poor biking, driving, and pedestrating (okay, that’s not a word) going on, it is tempting to become rather cranky about the OTHER person and his/her faults. But, this isn’t really very helpful. It is just more of the same rancor that raises but never solves problems. Rather, it would be better for more folks to know what it is like to be on foot around town or to experience what goes on when trying to use a bicycle in this remade-for-cars city.

Then, for the majority who drives, the temptation to make a sudden turn into a parking lot across a break in oncoming traffic will not merely be an academic exercise in flooring it: it will be accompanied by an experience-driven reflex to check and make sure no-one is walking along the sidewalk when I dart in, or cycling towards the point of my intersection with the bike lane.

We can all use a bit more compassion, a bit less entitlement, and a great deal more experience. I would very much suggest that rather than focus only on armoring pedestrians and cyclists, we work towards a city of greater respect for each other’s situation. Such respect comes from truly understanding what it is like to be that person in some small measure. It means getting out of our well-worn and blinkered lives.

Accidents and tragedies will continue to happen in this broken world; but, there is no reason to make them more likely by blithely reducing the others we encounter along the way in our travels to mere inconveniences. “There, but for the grace of God, go I….”