the bright white light of the bike

SEATTLE IS ONE OF THREE HUBS of the sunny, funny Pacific Northwest; Portland and Vancouver (the one up north) are the others. These three cities are home to many who truly live in a land that wants to be the home of the brave and the free: they host so many liberals and progressives and greens and socialists others of the ‘enlightened’ ilk that Oregonian and Washingtonian Democrats look like the oh-so-safe middle-of-the-roaders that they so often are! But because they/we are so very visible, the uncounted mass of those who think quite the opposite often go unnoticed.

In fact, in Washington, those of us who dwell west of the Cascade Mountains are positively loathed by our fellow Washingtonian who live to the other side of those peaks. The east-siders are more rural, many are farmers, and most vote against their own best economic issues by being swayed by all the usual wedge issues: creationism-as-science, gay marriage, women’s lib, and the current brouhaha over the illegal immigrants that work for them.

we’re stopped at an intersection with a notoriously long red light and it’s well past dusk night-time and everyone has their lights on the guy behind us has the most gawdawful bright white lights and even worse they’re set higher off the ground than a normal car’s and even worse they’re blinking on off on off like a bloody strobe light like when I was a kid and I was so much younger then and waiting for the speakers to start blasting some long forgotten local band doing their endless version of goddamn the pusher man and oh shit I’m having another on-off on-off flashback then I remember that it’s 2015 and I’m in washington and not in some black-walled psychedelic dance hall in pennsylvania in 1969 and the lights keep flashing on-off on-off and then the light turns green and we speed off leaving him and his on-off on-off lights behind because after all we’re in a car and he’s on a bicycle a bloody f*cking bicycle

There have even been some half-hearted attempts by the east-siders to secede from the rest of us and form a 51st state of Eastern Washington!

The fact that every county in that non-nascent (unnascent?) state depends on Olympia sending them a huge portion of the taxes paid by the librulls and the nerds and the fags from the western side of the state currently holds the secessionist movement at bay. And then the east-siders complain that the west-siders dictate terms to them regarding the allocation of those tax dollars—which is true, but it is the west-siders’ tax dollars that are being used.

Of course, if the state were divided, East Washington could then charge whatever the market would bear for the water that West Washington currently just pays them what they want, so the end might be a sort of economic parity minus the current resentment.

But what the hell do I know, right?

Bike lights are becoming brighter and brighter as companies try to compete with the growing urban commuter market.

Those furshlugginer lights

But let’s get back on topic: those furshlugginer bright white blinking lights on the front of bicycles that are catching on fast here in the Seattle area! A little research on the Internet (“Long live net neutrality!”) showed me that I am not the only person responding to these new-fangled high beams on bikes! In fact, the complaints go back at least five years, when these lights first began appearing on the roads.

On the Ask Portland website I found “Can a front bike light be too bright?” (December 1, 2010) by Jonathan Maus. It opens with a bicyclist complaining about being blinded by a strobe light from another bike followed by Mr. Maus’s answer: “It’s difficult for me to see the road in front of me and it can’t be that different for our friends in cars. Does anyone else think that there is such a thing as too bright?”

“As with many issues, there’s what’s allowed in Oregon law, and then there’s common courtesy. In this case, we’ll have to rely on common courtesy because the ORS says nothing about the maximum brightness of bike lights. Bike lights are becoming brighter and brighter as companies try to compete with the growing urban/commuter market.”

Based on Jonathan’s understanding of the law in Oregon (and it’s rarely that different in Seattle), we (and “we” are everyone else on the road at night: in a car, on a bicycle, on a motorcycle) must rely upon the consideration of the bicyclists, many of whom are notoriously militant about being anti-automobile. You know, the obnoxious ones who give the terms “liberal” and “green” a ban odor to other liberals and greens.

Several of the comments on Ask Portland for Maus’s editorial addressed my issue and others:

“It’s not so much the brightness that’s the issue for me—it’s the aim of the light. Many people with über bright lights that I’ve come across will aim the light straight out, as opposed to angled down a bit. I suspect this has to do with the larger radius of light that the brighter lights put out.”

“I had to stop and wait for two people to pass going the other way on a bike boulevard this fall because they were riding two abreast with four very bright strobe lights on the front of their bikes. It was literally impossible for me to see anything as they came towards me. If your light is the equivalent of several car headlights we all see it and strobing only makes it more difficult to see anything else.”

To get the disco dazzle off Seattle’s streets, all we have to do is complain.

On bike bullies

There were other sites where editorials were written and complaints were made by editors or readers concerning this situation. On the Crosscuts website I found “Bike bullies: Turn off those blinking lights!” by Eric Scigliano (November 25, 2013). He gets right to the point:

“The scariest thing about biking at night in Seattle isn’t the cellphone-jabbering SUV drivers or the bone-crunching potholes. It isn’t the slick mats of rain-sodden leaves waiting to turn unwary riders into convalescing ex-riders. It isn’t even the wheel-grabbing, rider-flipping streetcar tracks misplaced in the curb lanes on Westlake Avenue.

It’s other cyclists—specifically, their high-powered, strobing and flashing headlights, shin[ing] straight into the eyes of motorists and other cyclists, transfixing them with disco-ball distraction.

German-style requirements for shielded, flash-free headlights would remove the guesswork [and] the need for courtesy and the hazard. Absent such standards, Seattle Police could do a lot to stop the blinking with a little targeted enforcement. Even on the street flashers would be easier to nail than most other traffic offenders, since they’ll likely still be flashing whenever police catch up with them.

That is, if the police know to go after them. ‘Most of our bicycle enforcement is for complaints,’ says Captain Mike Nolan, the Seattle Police Department’s traffic division commander. ‘Those are usually for running stop signs or red lights.’ To get the disco dazzle off Seattle’s streets, all we have to do is complain. But not just on a blog.”

So, that means I have to STOP complaining about these bright, ballroom style strobe lights on this blog and START phoning the police while I am on the road and the offender is there, too. I do not look forward to making those calls . . .




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