Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Safety Solution or Noise Pollution?

While I think we all can agree that there are no guarantees in life other than the basic certainty that something, at some point, will kill you and I think most of us also agree that taking reasonable precautions and trying to behave in safe manner is a good and prudent thing. But one person's reasonable precaution is another person's over-reaction. We, as individuals, can only see the world through our own eyes and, as Steely Dan noted, "the things you think are precious I can't understand." There is also the problem that we are much better at detecting and reacting to threats of the moment than we are at seeing long term consequences that result in increased threats to our safety. This, in large part, is why many people think sitting on their couch is safe while riding a bicycle is dangerous, when in fact our comforts are more likely to kill us.

Our individual actions take place within society and in sum alter society and those alterations are not always the desired outcomes. Take, for example, the car alarm. The original idea is that of a device that goes off when someone messes with your car, scaring them off and alerting you and your neighbors to a theft in progress. Now, it seems like darn near every car has a car alarm. I've heard dozens, heck hundreds of them go off. Because of people fumbling with their keys, or a big truck rolling by, or because of a bunch of things other than a crime in progress. I don't think "Oh my, a crime is in progress, I will leap into action to thwart the criminal!" No, I think, and you may as well, "Jeez, some idiot's alarm is going off. Again!"

It is thoughts like these that came to mind when I saw the Kickstarter for Loud Bicycle: Car horn for your bike. I understand the sentiment behind the device and I think the man behind the project, Jonathan Lansey is an earnest, well-meaning guy. I know some cyclists who are enthusiastically backing the project and, of course, BikeSnobNYC gave the project great press by mocking it mercilessly. My own thoughts are more mixed. I think it's too big and too loud and I'm not that confident of it succeeding. But a part of me fears that it will succeed and thus add to the cacophony of our city soundscape. Giving a bicycle the arrogant voice of the automobile isn't the answer I choose.

Christine and I use bells, specifically the classic Crane Bell. It's small, brass, loud and attention grabbing without being obnoxious and it never needs batteries. It's like a little gong.

There are times, however, when I can see the need or desire for something with a more piercing tone and another Kickstarter seems more in tune with my thoughts on warning devices. This device, called an Orp, is a small dual decibel bike horn & warning light. It looks like this:

I like the two levels of noise the Orp has and the attention grabbing light is nice addition as well. I'm not sure I'll be getting one, but I'm thinking about it.

I don't know what the marketplace and the street will decide is the right kind of warning device for a bicycle. What's your solution? Do you ding, beep, whistle or yell? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA