World Book and Copyright Day

From the news release:
On 23 April 2009, we will celebrate the 14th World Book and Copyright Day, proclaimed by the UNESCO General Conference in 1995 to promote greater awareness of the importance of books in the world.

In order to support the Organization in today’s society, this year international professional associations are once again kindly invited to play an essential role in informing and mobilizing both their members and their external networks of experts and stakeholders.

For this edition of the Day, UNESCO suggests to explore the topic of the paramount function of books for the development of quality education, as well as the link between publishing and fundamental rights.

One of the cool things my wife did this past year was to apply for and receive a $600 minigrant to buy books for her English as a Second Language unit that had been limited by ancient, archaic texts. Even more impressive, she got a publisher to donate – that is, give for free – an almost equal number of books.

Something I know from personal experience is that teachers often spend money out of pocket for books and supplies that they bring to the classroom. In honor of today, perhaps you might contract your local school or PTA to see what books they might need. Or contact your local library; ironically, in a period of increased demand for library services, library budgets are being slashed.

So buy a book, for yourself and/or for someone else.
An action film, Salt, starring Angelina Jolie, will be filmed in part on the streets of Albany. Some folks are up in arms, even though the schedule suggests that it won’t disrupt the morning or evening commutes. I think the real issue is that there was NO information at all going out to the general public until a couple days ago about something that begins today, and there is a lot of misinformation floating out there.


How To Ride a Bicycle in the City

I ride my bicycle in the city of Albany, New York at least seven months out of the year. I tend to ride when the ground is free of ice and snow. I’ve developed some rules for riding, based on my experiences.

1. Wear a helmet.
If you’re over 14, you may (edit: WILL) be mocked – “What, do you think you’re riding a motorcycle or something?” My advice: wear a helmet anyway.

2. Signal.
I get amazing amount of yielding by cars because they actually know my intentions. Or maybe it’s just the shock of seeing a bicyclist actually following the motor vehicle rules. Do this in spite of the fact that:
* Other bikes don’t signal.
* Cars often don’t signal, especially when they are turning right.

3. Keep right. Go WITH the traffic.
I’ve actually had debates about this from drivers and bicyclists, who think I should go against traffic like a pedestrian on a country road. Read the manual.
What I’ve learned from trial and error, though, is that when you’re riding to the right when there are no parked cars, and parked cars are coming up ahead, you need to be out from the curb at a suitable distance as though a parked car WERE there, moving out at least a car length before reaching the parked car. Otherwise, you may appear to be lurching into traffic.
One of my favorite moments is when I’m riding, and a bike, obviously NOT keeping right, is heading toward me. My solution: keep right. But be prepared to stop. (Not so incidentally, this is also the rule when two people are walking towards each other – keep right – unless you are in England.)

4. Use lights, front and back, not only when it’s dark, but at dusk, dawn and when it’s foggy. Reflective clothes and other items are a good idea as well.
If a large percentage of cars have their lights on, that’s usually a good signal to do likewise.
Since most lights are only useful to be seen, rather than for seeing, I’ve opted that if I only have one light available, to put it on the back if possible.
I also suggest that you get a removable front light. Not only does that keep it from “disappearing”, but you can use it as a flashlight if you’re walking from a dark garage to a building.

5. Follow the rules of the road, but not at your peril.
I stay on the road, as opposed to the sidewalk, except in those places where the road is too narrow to feel safe. If I do ride on the sidewalk, I yield to the pedestrian.

6. Focus.
I don’t recommend headphones, because I think you need to hear what’s going around you. Suffice to say, I don’t suggest cellphone use, either.

7. Maintain your bike.
Put air in the tires. I’m not mechanically inclined, so I take it to the bike shop at least once a year to be checked out, especially my brakes.
My personal experience is that I like the bikes with the wider tires. They’re not as fast, but they are less likely to blow out from broken glass and other debris than the bikes with thin tires.

8. People are unpredictable.
I now expect people to walk in front of my bike at an intersection where I have the right of way, and for cars coming out of driveways to pull right in front of me, where I also have the right of way. I still need to be vigilant about:
* people coming from between parked cars
* drivers opening car doors
* people chatting on the driver’s side of the car
* people and cars turning around in the middle of the street and coming back from whence they came

9. You probably can’t outrace a dog.
Even back in high school, I’d ride down some dead-end street, seeing no canines, and yet, seconds later, they’d be about a half dozen, barking at my tires. I’ve found stopping, then walking the bike to be a useful response.
Some people recommend squirting dogs with water or pepper spray. I have used neither, so I cannot speak to this point. I HAVE heard stories, though, about people using pepper spray and have the wind shift, so that they become the victim of the spray.

10. Some people are just hostile to bicyclists.
At least twice a year, some yahoo in a car, usually in the passenger seat, will make some untoward comment. You have two options: ignore it, or be prepared with some pithy retort; they’re driving away, so make it short.
On at least two occasions, I’ve received the insult, and they’ve driven off, only to catch the traffic light, allowing me to pull along side of the truant. “Ha, ha, only kidding!”, they always reply, nervously.
Still my favorite insult was from someone sitting on his front porch, who yelled out as I was riding by, apparently without irony, “Get a car!”

(Graphic from here.)
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.
I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.
It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.
I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
— Susan B. Anthony


Shared Roadway: HA!

If I’m ever ever on my bicycle and get into an accident with a car, this is the most likely scenario: I’m riding as far right as possible, with traffic, as the law requires. I go straight, while the car next to me makes a right turn so that I plow into the side of the vehicle, which did not have its directional signal on. I say this because it’s almost happened more than once, or a close variation. Just last week, this variation. Car is at the red light. I pull along side of it. It starts to turn right, heading toward me – we weren’t even in the intersection yet, so I guess he wanted to hug the curb. I say, very loudly, “WHOA!” And he stopped. No, he did not have his right directional on. If he had, I would have held back. The apparent optional nature of the right directional signal makes it very difficult, not only for bicyclists, but for pedestrians as well.

Now do I always obey the laws of the road while on the bike? I do not. There are certain places in Albany (New Scotland near CDPC, Western Avenue between Pine and Manning, much of Lark Street) when I just don’t feel very safe on the narrow roadway, when cars have come dangerously close in the past. And, in these cases, I head for the sidewalk, always yielding to the pedestrians, as it is THEIR turf. When I’m on the roadway, however, I do the right things; I signal, I stop at red lights and stop signs, etc.

There’s a traffic circle around the Harriman Campus and also at Corporate Woods that have signs reading “Shared roadway”. This is peculiar in that most roadways, with the exception of the Interstates ARE – supposedly – shared roadways.

In re: this, three items caught my attention. The most direct is the death of a young woman on her bicycle in Albany. The usually mild-mannered Daniel Van Riper scolds the media and others for blaming the victim in his June 10 and 21 posts here. The second is a piece ADD wrote about the environmental impact of the automobile. The third is the widely-noted Vatican rules of the road:
1. You shall not kill. OK, stolen from the “other” Ten Commandments, but a good idea.
2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm. By “communion, I don’t think the Vatican meant giving someone the finger.
3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events. Why, oh why, do people speed up to a red light?
4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents. Some time ago, I had read this theory that all of those steel tanks on the road somehow isolate us from each other.
5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin. Sin in a car? Why, whatever did they mean?
6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so. This could cover everything from drunken driving to the road raged to those who’ve lost the ability to drive due to age.
7. Support the families of accident victims. Amen.
8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness. Interesting. I’m a big fan of true reconciliation.
9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party. YES! That means all up and down the chain, from trucks watching for cars to bicyclists watching for pedestrians.
10. Feel responsible toward others. Ultimately, what it’s all about.

(DVR and the Vatican in the same post. Will wonders never cease?) ROG

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