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March, 2012

  1. Lefter 52 ~ Steam gives way to Sail

    March 23, 2012 by emweb

    In the old days when steamships started to prevail, a simple rule was made: steam gives way to sail. With (often) greater weight, speed and manoeuvrability, it was far easier and safer for a steamship, with a turn of the wheel and a change in engine speed, to give way to sail, which might have to trim sales and more to effect even a simple course change.

    This went through my head this morning when an incident happened while I was biking.

    I don’t do this for fun or transport – it’s exercise, pure and simple. But I often have to bike during Auckland’s rush hour.

    I have several times noticed the antipathy some people in cars have for those on bikes. What I find absurd – and scary – about this is the huge imbalance in power the two modes of carriage represent. A massive car, heavy with steel, with the power of dozens of horses, against a spindly bike motivated by the power of one person.

    Sometimes the way bikes act is inevitable. For example, if you reach the bottom of a hill, you have to brake, and modern bikes are almost universally braked by hand levers.

    Firmly braking as you go, it can be virtually impossible to hand-signal your intention to turn, but if it’s a left turn, this hardly matters to traffic. So it’s either hand-signal and be going too fast to actually turn, or brake and turn left at a safe speed, without impeding or influencing traffic … but without signalling.

    The fact you can only do one or the other doesn’t stop some people shouting angrily and/or tooting, though, despite the complete non-impact on their commute such a manoeuvre represents.

    Today, though, I transgressed. The traffic lights ahead of me turned red, and I needed to turn left on my bike. I did so, on a wide road and with the traffic just beginning to advance from the right, with their green.

    I didn’t impede anyone’s travel, as the road was wide, but hey, I did run a red light. But all was fine, as it was of no impact, except the fourth car chose to slow down so the driver could remonstrate with me through his window.

    Which did actually impede the flow of traffic, as cars behind him had to slow in turn.

    “Hey,” he yelled, “You shouldn’t have gone through a red light.”

    “Why?” I replied.

    “It’s not cool.”

    “I didn’t impede the flow of traffic,” I yelled back, not adding that he was, by slowing down to shout at me. “Get over it.”

    OK, and then I added “Dickhead!” which I regret. Sorry about that, self righteous traffic-concerned chap of Auckland.

    He motored off. Probably I upset his day a bit.

    But what the hell? OK, I broke a rule, that in this instance was of no consequence. I have always chosen which rules I break and which I choose not to. I consider that my right.

    But once again, somebody in a vehicle, with huge potential power over me, decided that somehow I, on my little bike, messed with his day.

    Jesus Christ, get over yourself.

    But it did make me think about power, again.

    Also, I recall that the day after the election, Green co-leader Metiria Turei no less waved me through a traffic chicane – more often than not, drivers will take the initiative and sweep through these towards you rather than give way, leaving you to brake no matter your speed.

    Now, I didn’t start out for this to be an allegory about political power and what party to follow, but sail is so much more elegant than steam. Isn’t it? And so much better for the planet.

    In the power stakes of New Zealand, though, where is the power that opposes the National Government? It doesn’t appear to lie with Labour. David Shearer still hasn’t made an impact. He’s either holding himself back, or asleep at the wheel. I imagine he’s still dealing with internal party issues or something. The Greens and Winston Peters seem to be grabbing all the initiative, and honestly, National has been a soft target of late.

    I reckon if Shearer sorted things out, and made an imprint on his party, the rest of the country would take notice too … but so far, nothing.

    Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about after I wondered why a man in a car felt he had to tell me off about running a light that didn’t impact anything or anyone.

    Apart from his sense of self-righteousness.