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Riding In The Nanny-State Rain

When I bike to campus and back, I don’t wear a helmet. This is a conscious choice — I’m aware of the risks and I own a helmet. But I like the freedom of riding without a helmet. Helmets feel stifling, and I probably wouldn’t bike much if I actually had to wear one. This was the one thing I thought I liked about Seattle — my understanding until recently was that although King County had an ordinance requiring helmets, Seattle had an exemption. I thought that was just grand, and often wished that my hometown, Bellevue, would have also exempted the city limits. However, I just learned that in 2003, Seattle made bicycle helmets mandatory. So, officially, there is no longer anything for me to like about Seattle. That is unfortunate.

More unfortunate is the UW’s new campus safety campaign, “Look Up!” I ride a bike for convenience — so when the UW implements new rules that make biking to class less convenient, that makes me unhappy, and, honestly, less liekly to bike at all. They claim it is for safety — but I have never hit or endangered anyone on campus, and I only rarely endanger my own life while biking around campus. Let me state for the record that I would not be opposed to a fine or some other punishment for running into somebody. What I am opposed to is being punished for what someone else may (or may not) have done at some point in the past. When I bike I am conscious of others, and I avoid hitting them — I think that is all I should be required to do.

Instead, I am now told I will have to frequently dismount at certain places on campus (“whenever pedestrians are present,” which means always), I am supposed to yield to all pedestrians and motor vehicles (except when a signal gives me a right-of-way [ie, the driver waving me by isn’t good enough]), and am given the clear message that there is no speed limit, but that “any speed deemed unreasonable is a violation.” Who decides what is unreasonable? It’s all a bunch of crap that makes riding less enjoyable. Basically, it is going to suck to ride bikes around campus for a while, until they forget about this or I find out if its easy to ride away from cops — or if its not easy, until I end up in University Jail, or wherever they put violators.

Now get this. On the next page of the pamphlet where I read the announcement of screwing-over-all-bicyclists, I read about a program designed to get more people to ride to campus, called “Ride in the Rain.” They have a competition about who rides to campus more (I ride every day), with prizes and a party at the end of the rainy season to encourage riding. Well I have some advice for these people-in-charge: maybe if you didn’t make it so inconvenient to ride, more people would ride to campus of their own accord, and you wouldn’t need a whole office full of people consuming my money to encourage me. And people wonder why education costs keep going up.

One Response to “Riding In The Nanny-State Rain”

  1. Ryan Says:

    On 11/9/06, Ed Lazowska wrote:

    I must say that this seems like at least 90% bs to me. I would be really interested to know if there had been significant real safety problems that motivated this crackdown. Thanks for the warning though.

    My sentiments exactly. I am an avid bike-to-school kind of guy, who has never endangered or hit or even grazed anyone on campus. I go slow in crowds and I’m responsible on the pedals. I haven’t seen or heard of any cyclist-pedestrian or cyclist-automobile incidents. That isn’t to say there aren’t any, but certainly the problem doesn’t seem to be pervasive. I get the feeling that someone “felt unsafe” because they were walking around not paying attention and a bike went by them and startled them, so they came up with a brand new safety initiative to make biking to school that much more painful.

    What really gets me is that on the very next page of the pdf flier, they are advertising the “Ride in the Rain” program to encourage more people to bike to school. Well, maybe if they didn’t make it unreasonable to bike around on campus, more people would choose to bike to school without a program encouraging them…


    But yes, thanks for the warning. Now I’ll just have to avoid the cops on campus rather than cordially waving to them as I ride by too fast without my helmet ignoring the stop sign and crashing into pedestrians on every side.


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