Monday, June 27, 2011

Narcotic summer effect and a two-wheeled jolt to reality

This is the time of year when Latvia, indeed, the entire Baltic-Nordic area blossoms into summer with long bright evenings and never-quite dark nights. The Midsummer or Jāņi festival is the pinnacle of "Latvianness" with its Līgo songs, beer, traditional cheese, bonfires and celebration. Everything looks rosy and this year, there was a long holiday weekend of four days to take a break from work.
With the sunny streets filled with tourists and the often glum population looking a little better, the summer in Riga can have a kind of narcotic effect, exaggerating the things that are good about life here and putting the deep, fundamental crises in the economy, politics and society in the background.
This evening I was shocked out of the mild euphoria when, while crossing at a green light (for pedestrians) on a one-way street, a burly man on a bike whizzed by narrowly missing me and turning into the street in the wrong direction.  I was so startled that I yelled after him the Latvian equivalent of "watch where you are going, motherfucker!" (Skaties kur brauc, mauka! -- the English translation expresses the emotional gist and is not literal). Anyway, the dude actually circled around to mutter something at me, but that was the end of it.
I have written about reckless cycling earlier and how it brings out a lot of contradictions. On the one hand, bike riding is "green" and makes economic sense for those who don't want to pay upkeep on a car or public transport fares.  A number of my work colleagues ride bikes and I would never wish them ill. I  may have earlier written (after some near misses by two-wheeled assholes racing and weaving down sidewalks) that I regard news of bike riders being knocked down by cars as "one less" (temporarily or permanently). That is a bit harsh, and the irony is that the urban bike cowboys usually aren't the ones who get taken out by motorists, they are usually someone out in the country, alone on a dark dirt road who gets mowed down by the local shit-faced (lopā for my Latvian readers) country boozehound weaving down the road in a car.
There has been a campaign to alert drivers to the increasing numbers of bike riders and their "invisibility", but I would not risk anyone's life on the assumption a series of TV ads will change the generally savage (though less than some years ago) attitude of Latvian drivers. In any event, there is really no place for bike riders. There are few bike paths and the riders forced on to the sidewalk by traffic probably have no choice. They do have a choice about their speed and the possibility to use a warning bell to indicate they are approaching to pedestrians.  Unfortunately Riga is not, in terms of infrastructure and societal behavior, nor will it be for decades, anything like Copenhagen or Amsterdam or even Stockholm, where there is a civilized order for both motor vehicles and bikes. Bike riders will continue to be a threat to the rest of us and some of the rest of us (in cars  and trucks) will menace those on bikes. The low-intensity conflict will go on, with casualties on both sides.


Anonymous said...

It will get worse, as there is Rules in the making that bike riders will have the right to cross pedestrian zebra crossings riding, not pushing their bikes. Few bicycle riders at the moment observe it anyway, but then the fault of any possible accident will be transfered to car drivers. And while driving allowed 50 km/h, you cannot count on a bicycle rider at the speed 30 km/h appearing on "zebra" crossing from nowhere... (the proposed rules kinda mention that bicycle riders will have to cross these "zebras" at a walker speed, but they do not do it now and I do not believe they will do it after it will be legalized. And anyway, I have never yet seen a traffic policemen measuring bicycle riders' speed with a radar.


Anonymous said...

The biggest and probably the only problem is that police most of the times coudn`t care less about cyclists. We have defined rules and everything for car drivers and its preaty clear what you can and cannot do. But for cyclists... Most probably don`t have any kind of license, don`t know much about traffic rules and don`t feel that they are participants of the traffic at all.
If CSDD and police would enforce more strict policies it would be a lot better. For example - license should be a must - either drivers license for cars or a cyclists license that even teenagers could get. Same goes for helmets - not so many use them and you don`t see police stopping these people to remind them to use helmets, check if they are sobber etc.
If police together with CSDD would enforce more strict policies there would be less careless and drunk driving. Because atm you know that no one is going to stop you and do something (unless ofc you do something really bad).


Anonymous said...

It's not entirely true about police not checking cyclists - on several occasions I've witnessed policemen stopping a cyclist for an alcohol test, also - for not having enough reflectors where riding a bike in the evening. However I agree that a licence should be compulsory (though pedestrians probably would need one in that case as well - as they are usually even less informed about traffic rules). As for helmets - as long those are not required by law, no helmet is not an offence and police can't do anything about it.
And a comment to Uldis - a radar can not detect bicycle rider's speed.

Anonymous said...

For the sake of revenge you can walk like westerners do, always making others guess where you are going next. Stroll slowly in a hectic manner, stick your head in the sky, look nowhere, once in a while raise your hand suddenly and point your finger at something interesting you see. When somebody cuts you off, stare at him and say sorry. Better do it in a group of three or four blocking the whole pavement and always always stare at the person with a bowed head and red face who finally has managed to get you by. Don't forget to stop for no reason to piss off those behind you. When you are in a shop, suddenly stop and turn your cart 180 degrees with a full blast without checking who approaches from your rear. Then zombie on to meet Margaret and start a meaningless conversation in a busy aisle such as "hi, oh hi dear! it is a nice day, isn't it? it is indeed, ha ha ha haaaa. Well c ya later! "