Monday, October 21, 2013

Cycling in Canberra (cont.), oil

If you want any proof that a good number of car drivers here in Canberra simply despises cyclists, you do not have to look any further than their reaction to cyclists riding across zebra crossings.

A few days ago (I waited with writing this to get some distance, so it is less of a rant), I rolled down a hill towards a zebra crossing. There was one car that had already driven over it and several that were lined up in front of it, and none of them moved because this was a T-crossing and dense traffic was flowing along the bar of the T. So I rolled down the hill, across the crossing, and then stopped right behind it to wait for the lights to get green so that I could get across the bar of the T myself, if you get the picture.

Now the guy standing with his car right in front of the zebra crossing grew visibly upset when he saw me approaching. At first he made a half-hearted attempt to roll forward to block the zebra crossing so that I could not pass, but then he probably realized that that would be too irresponsible or prickish a thing to do and resigned himself to merely shouting at me.

Is that really necessary? Consider the situation.
  • I did not slow him down by riding across because he was stuck in a traffic jam anyway.
  • I did not endanger him, anybody else, and not even myself, which is generally the reason why cyclists are supposed to dismount before crossing, by riding across because he was stuck in a traffic jam anyway.
  • I did not inconvenience him in any way whatsoever because he was stuck in a traffic jam anyway.
Although, perhaps the last one is not entirely correct. Let me try again: I would not have inconvenienced him in any way whatsoever if he had not been an unpleasant character who is viscerally offended by the sight of cyclists riding their bikes. Yes, that looks better. (If you are a kind person, you might submit that he is perhaps just a stickler for traffic rules. But sorry, no he can't be, because then he would not have tried to block the zebra crossing first.)

In this case his behavior was particularly stupid because he could not move anyway. The problem is a more general one though. What do you do when you come towards a zebra crossing when there is no traffic jam, when the cars stopping to let you cross could in principle be moving? Do you always dismount?

From my perspective, it is like this. I come towards the crossing, slow down and prepare to stop, and some car driver sees me. Because they know that somebody crossing the zebra crossing has right of way, they also slow down and stop (unless they are real pricks). Now I have two options: I can (1) stop entirely, laboriously dismount from my bike, and push it across, or (2) wave a thank you to the car driver and quickly ride across. The thing is, which option makes the car driver angry will depend on their personality.

Somebody like Mr I-Hate-Cyclists from above will want me to dismount, so if I don't do so, he will shout abuse at me. If I do so, experience shows he will most likely use the time I need to dismount to run the crossing and deny me my right of way.

Nice and sensible car drivers, on the other hand, will not mind me riding across because that allows them to continue their own journey as quickly as possible. If instead I dismount, they will most likely think to themselves, "what an idiot, why doesn't he just ride across instead of walking across, taking five times as long? There is no danger, I already stopped for him!"

In other words, I could facilitate the flow of traffic while antagonizing unreasonable people, or I could slow myself and everybody else down while antagonizing reasonable people. That is not really a conundrum, is it?


Also a few days ago, I had a chat with two reps of a producer of lab consumables. It turns out that oil is so expensive now that companies (not them of course, that was their pitch) are producing shoddier plastic consumables, trying to use less high quality oil and to replace it with cheap substitutes. And some of these substitutes leach into the tube and interfere with scientific measurements and molecular reactions.

Quite apart from the question of how we will manage food production for several billion people, transport, electricity, and heating when the fossil fuels are gone, just consider this small issue, materials science. Look around your living room, around a supermarket, around a scientific lab. What the heck will we do once we cannot produce plastic anymore? Can you even imagine that?

Please remind me again why the use of petrol-powered private cars has not been outlawed worldwide ca in the early 1980ies, because sorry, somehow I don't get it. We are all sawing off the branch on which we are sitting, and we cannot even pretend we don't know.

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