Disappointed by the litter, I asked our Israeli tourguide, "Why doesn't Israel do something about all this litter?"
He looked down at the mess, as if he'd never really seen it before. "Litter?" he asked. "Right. We should do something about it. And it's on our list. But there are other things we have to get done first. Litter is not at the top of the list."
That's easy enough to understand. Higher up on the agenda are the existential challenges.
My commute downtown this morning isn't the Mideast Peace Challenge.
But there are many expectations of me and I'm favoring the existential ones.
You see, I'll be on a bicycle.
The law, the automobile drivers, and — especially — the local bicyclists who advocate for mutual respect on the road want me to stay in the street, on the right, and stop at traffic lights and (I suppose) stop signs.
They want me to follow all the laws as if I were driving a car.
Even Doug Morgan gives me disapproving puppy-lawyer eyes when I ask if he really thinks I need to follow the traffic laws. "What you are doing is, of course, wrong," said Doug when I described my standard bicycling procedures, which are indeed, of course, wrong.
What I'm Doing
I ride guided by the following priorities, in order of my obedience:
- Maximize my personal safety and the safety of others.
- Obey traffic laws.
The traffic laws are important, but — with the order of my priorities — I will always choose personal safety and that of others over traffic laws.
Some Laws Were Made For Obeying
I hereby promise to follow the laws of physics: gravity, centrifugal force, momentum, and center of balance.
I also promise to follow the laws of etiquette. I will stop, dismount, and walk my bike whenever I am anywhere near a pedestrian. That's just simple courtesy. I will signal my intentions to all.
But Some Laws Might Get Me Killed (This Morning).
The law that I ride in the street might get me killed.
We all know how distracted drivers (including me) can be.
The clearest view of this sad state of affairs is from the handlebars of a bicycle. About half of all drivers are surprised to see me, because they are erstwhile occupied with sipping, tuning, reading, navigating, texting, singing, thinking, eating, picking, and — oh, yes, with whatever cranial capacity remains — operating a one-ton assembly of steel, rubber and glass.
I have almost been struck by several cars, driven by people who either never saw me or lost their momentary focus on my safety. (In their list of priorities, I am not much higher than "3. Don't drive over the dead skunk.")
(For more on automotive safety, read Malcolm Gladwell on automotive safety.)
Where People Are Killed
I once told our kids, when they were playing near the street, the following statistics as quickly I made them up:
Ninety-five percent of kids killed by cars are killed in the street. Five percent are killed in the first 10 feet of the lawn or on the driveway. None of them are killed when they are upstairs in the house.
Where I am on my bike has a lot to do with the probability of survival.
You will find me on the sidewalk. Or in intersections that are empty, even if I am crossing against a signal, if that's what is safest for me.
I live a fairly legal life. Feel free to call me inconsistent. I also teach ethics. Feel free to call me an annoying fraud.