the bright white light of the bike

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

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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