Saturday, April 3, 2010

Nerium oleander

On the Map, This is a Bike Route

The bush enthusiastically waving in your face in this photo is a Nerium oleander, a hardy and drought-tolerant creature which grows like mad if you water it, and produces long-lasting and (to me) quite beautiful flowers in different colors, usually pink or white. They are used along the edges of yards and if given free reign, will tower up to twenty feet or so and end up being a bear to trim back. One salient feature of the oleander is its toxicity. According to the wikipedia link above, its parts are not something you want to eat or rub on you (or burn and inhale, or drink as a tea, etc). Fortunately, they are not usually like poison ivy or oak, which you don't even want to touch. I can normally brush past this bush and not immediately collapse in spasms or acute dermatitis. One common and very plausible mode of trouble with these bad boys is catching a leaf in the eye though. That can mean a swollen face / eye and a trip to the ER. I more or less think about catching a leaf in the eye every time I squeeze through this choke point. 

Lest you think I'm bitching about the oleander doing its grow-thing or being toxic, I am most definitely not doing that. I love those green leafy exuberant flower-bearing shade-makers and know well that if I eat one or have some other run-in with its deleterious toxic constituents, it's my own damned fault. In the desert, there are many growing things that deserve your respect and caution. Grow baby grow, I say. However, the photo also shows 44th Street, looking south, from just north of the Arizona Canal crossing there. That section of sidewalk with the inviting-looking gravel spilling onto it is the canal, and the section of the street that narrows and rises is the bridge over the canal. The cars in the photo are doing 45mph+ (70 kmh+). I drive it in my car frequently, and by this point northbound, you're moving right along, 6 lanes plus the center turn lane of fast-moving cars.

On the bike map, which was used by the world's most popular search engine to map its new bike routing feature, I assume, this section of 44th Street is listed as a bike route, which it more or less has to be, since it does link up Campbell Ave (the stoplight in the photo) and its bike lane, with Lafayette. Without the linkage, those two excellent bike routes (not to mention the AZ Canal and its bikey goodness) would appear to intersect in nobikesland on a high traffic street with narrow choke points. Hey, wait a minute, that's what they do. I've tried riding the street here, which would appear to be the right thing to do, both because the map says it's a bike route, and because the sidewalk is narrow and often used by peds. During non-peak times that works. But when the rush hour folks are barreling along here six-wide to get to the next parking spot, it's nothing short of treacherous on a bicycle. The right lane over the bridge is not wide enough here to go side by side, and at morning and evening the lighting can be tricky with the shadows from the date palms and stuff. If I had been riding northbound and Mr. Foglight Mustang above had suddenly noticed me just as we reached the choke point on the bridge, I wouldn't blame him much for whatever happened next--what's he supposed to do? What should I do on a bicycle? If I'm ahead and it's safe, I'll take the lane, of course, and all will usually be fine. But the combination of sudden narrowing, weird shadows, high speed, slight uphill, and end-of-day tiredness often seems to take the edge off of some people's driving (mine too), and I've had one too many close encounters here. So I admit I usually try to ride the sidewalk here. Which brings me up close and personal with the oleander. 

Toxic plant or toxic traffic, choose one. It's a classic reciprocal zugzwang scenario with an asymmetric cost model. A corbomite maneuver solution may be required, like taking a swim in the canal to avoid a crash. But my bike is not made of corbomite. And I am not James T. Kirk. Photon torpedoes are not an alternative. But one thing I am sure of: cutting back the oleanders still won't make this a bike route. It should be taken off the map. Get up. Go ride.   

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