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


Unknown said...

I just recently strapped a marine canister airhorn to my handlebar to alert the drivers who routinely fail to yield while turning left at one particular intersection on my daily commute. The first time I used it, everyone noticed except for the oblivious left-turner who was putting me in harm's way. Whether you use a bell, a horn, or your voice, some people just will not pay attention. I hope that cyclists who install horns on their bikes do not rely on them to keep them safe. There is no gadget that can take the place of staying alert, riding defensively and taking responsibility for your own safety.

Anonymous said...

But, Steely Dan also sang

Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel

Not to mention

The Cuervo Gold, the fine Columbian
Make tonight a wonderful thing

Sometimes you need a horn to wake the drunken, drugged up driver Jack----- the hell up!

As the Dan itself warns, you can't expect help from law enforcement

The hangman isn't hanging
And they put you on the street
You go back, Jack
And do it again

I want a horn I can dial up to eleven, nay, to 19!

Arcwelder56 said...

Here in California, there are some drivers who think honking at them is an act of war and react accordingly. Also, given that a number of them have their audio systems on full blast, they can't hear you, whether you're using a brass bell (as I have) or a klaxon horn. My bike bell is nice for alerting pedestrians who insist on standing in the bike lane while they wait for the light to change, but beyond that, I rely on my own reflexes and street smarts to determine whether a driver is going to cut me off or fly through the intersection without stopping.

Conrad said...

One of the nice things about bicycles is their relative silence compared to cars. I wouldn't use a horn. Personally, I don't even use a bell, and I know a lot of people would disagree with that. I feel like they startle pedestrians and sometimes even other riders. I prefer to pass people silently but with adequate space. If a person is walking or riding erratically, feathering your brake or saying "on your left" should suffice. I don't like it when cars honk at me, and I don't need a bell ding from a cyclist. Just pass responsibly and I'll keep on riding in a straight line, thank you very much.

town fool said...

I had an Airzound thingie-majigger on my bike for about a year. Maybe used it once? Then decided to just take it off.

The main reason was that if a car cut me off, my reactions were; one,evasive maneuver; two, yell at the top of my lungs; three, shake my head in disgust. If i needed to find the horn then blow it while all this was happening, then i most certainly would have been hit. Thus defeating the whole purpose of the horn "keeping me safe".

So i'll stick to staying alert and yelling when needed.

Unknown said...

I yell. Usually a "Hey!", occasionally a "WHAT?!"

I have to admit, I had no idea of the level of snarling anger I could put into one syllable until the first time I felt endangered with my daughter behind me in the bike trailer. It was just a simple, and loud, "HEY!" but, well, let me tell you, the animal protecting its young came through loud and clear. And fer damn sure got the driver's attention.

Mark_D said...

I lived in Chicago (proper) for a couple of years, not to far from North Beach. I hate to say it but I gave up cycling for those couple of years. The paths were filled with runners and bladders, and the streets were covered in cabs/busses. I personally don't think the cabs would even listen to bike horn, no matter how loud. I'm not convinced it will be effective. Sounds great, not sold on it. Thanks for covering it!

Richard Risemberg said...

Bell, loud but sweet. Sometimes a shout--usually "Yo."

If there's time, whistling--classical music motifs, in fact. People notice.

If shouting, a bass voice gets more attention.

Blitzem said...

To get the attention of pedestrians, a gentle self ringing jingle or goat bell works on the path, except for the earphone crowd.

But to alert drivers, the next frontier is to hack into their sound systems.

A rickroll would be a perfect wakeup call. And no (external) noise pollution.

We need an app for that.

Vixhen said...

I'd prefer an app that allows me to speak through the sound system, but with a Darth Vader voice modulator.

"You may wish to reconsider your left turn tactics, Driver."

Then the app would turn on the emergency flashers, kill the engine, and play La Cucaracha on the car horn.

OnStar would start screaming "PULL UP PULL UP TERRAIN APPROACHING" while the seat belt locked.

The moon roof would open just as a bird poop-laden Death Star drone dropped its sloppy load.

Then, and only then, would the app cue Sir Astely to spread his love in song.

Android edition available soon!

Tom C said...

Usually after evaluating the situation and object to be passed, I whistle a little tune while slowing and just ease on by whenever it is safe, using a bell when on a tandem.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine a little surveillance drone virtually tethered to my bike, flying 15 feet or so up. Could be a real equalizer in court. Particularly in fatal accidents.

Could also have a horn. A low two tone foghorn effect would be cool.