America has its head up its ass!

In spite of the direction in which the caption seems to point, it's not about politics this time.

Sub-headline: "Bikes told to take a hike"

San Diego in my experience is one of the most fitness-conscious, physical cities we have. Its citizens are outdoor-sy, even fanatical, in their devotion to recreation and splashy exertions of all kinds.

I have no way to gauge the comparative level of San Diegans' intelligence with the American average, but it regularly manages to attract its youth in from under the sun to its own well-endowed schools and universities.

Finally, it's hardly arguable that the city has prospered enormously throughout its history from the contributions of the huge proportion of its residents who were not born in the U.S.

So it's very sad that it is in this good city, or at least at its borders, that an extraordinary scenario unfolded in the last year which I see as a metaphor for our larger society's sheer stupidity and laziness, and not incidently its newly-energized strain of nativism.

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 2 — In this, the land where the automobile is king, at the busiest human crossroads in the world, the lowly bicycle had a brief moment of glory. For a time, two wheels were faster than four.

This was in the days and months after Sept. 11, when border agents were checking every trunk and lifting every hood, and the inspection lines for cars were three hours long. The pedestrian lines were no shorter, since they had swelled with people who had gotten out of their cars.

But people in the bike lane breezed through. Word got out. A bike rental business bloomed.

It didn't last. Officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service shut down the outdoor bike lane in midsummer, saying they were afraid that the 3,000 commuters from Mexico using it — among them housekeepers, schoolchildren and even some people in wheelchairs — were a danger to themselves as they slipped out of the lane to weave in and out of the lines of idling cars.

As a result, local lawmakers are boiling, a group of border entrepreneurs are broke, and again it is left to the Mexican workers to suck it up and rise five hours before the workday begins to beat the rush.


When they shut the bike lane, which was roughly a foot wide and skirted auto traffic, immigration officials promised to look into a more functional permanent one. A study commissioned by the immigration service showed that one could be built for about $500,000, but no government agency wants to pay for it.

"It's just not cost-effective, I suppose," said William B. Ward, port director of the border crossing.

The local congressman, Bob Filner, sees bureaucracy at its worst. "The whole thing is a joke," he said. "They found a way to get 3,000 people out of their cars, and they say, `Hey, we better get rid of this.' "

Although it was on a relativley small scale, a rare opportunity to eliminate pollution, reduce traffic, contribute to personal health and fitness, and reduce travel time all with a simple change in approach was literally thrown into the laps of a bureaucracy which would never on its own have created such an excellent solution to the horrendous problem its system (for protecting us from those foreigners) had itself created. But that same bureaucracy could not accept the posssibility of an adjustment to that system, and the solution was summarily rejected.

While this may be an insult for San Diego, it should be regarded as a real embarassment for the nation.

How do we get out of this hole?

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Published on October 8, 2002 11:15 PM.

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