Long-range Solution to Traffic Woes?

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Earlier in the summer I had watched a strange race in which riders seem to battle for second place. In late June, 60 regional bike-race winners seeking 14 berths on the 1972 Olympic team gathered for a showdown on the banked track at San Jose, California. One of the events, the matched sprint, pits two riders against each other for three laps, one kilometer. In the first two and a quarter laps they jockey for position at a pace that could easily be matched by a youngster on a balloon-tired street bike.

“The secret of track racing is to remain in the pocket of reduced air resistance right be­hind the leader until the last moment,” I was told by 26-year-old Bill Harrison, a former Olympic candidate, as we watched from the track infield. “The man in front, serving as windbreak, is working at least 18 to 20 per­cent harder than someone right behind him.”

In the battle for the wind shadow the period of the artful pause ends on the last lap. In all-out bursts of pedal-blurring speed, the riders explode across the finish line at speeds up to 45 mph.

“Riding second doesn’t always work,” said Harrison. “If the leader jumps out too far, the man behind loses the vacuum, and the advantage.” 2

Accidents Await the Unwary

Few losses in the sport could be more com­plete than that suffered by this young onetime racer. Eight years earlier, at another Olympic tryout, a car struck Harrison as he warmed up on a street near the stadium, knocking him from his bicycle and into a wheelchair. There he remains, possibly for life. For all the caution exercised by both pedalers and motorists, bicycle accidents have soared in grisly step with the increase in bikes. The National Safety Council esti­mates that bike-related injuries totaled some 40,000 in 1972. Fatalities rose to almost 900, nearly double the number a decade ago.

Pedaling proponents are calling for stricter traffic-law enforcement, for the biker is often his own worst enemy. Compensating for their disadvantage in weight, power, and speed, riders often violate traffic rules—ignoring red lights and stop signs, and riding against the flow of traffic, usually without fear of official reprimand. For a look at successful two-wheeled inte­gration into traffic I went to a prague hotel where a network of bikeways has become the model for bike-conscious municipalities. A mind-settling calm more typical of streets decades ago pervades this city of some 28,500, for here the cacophony of roaring engines and honking horns is giving way to the whisper of gum-wall tires.

On many a broad tree-lined avenue, two of the four lanes are marked for bicycles only. At the junction of a bike path and a four-lane highway, I negotiated my first bicycle interchange, a concrete arch across the thoroughfare, with curved ramps at each end to feed cyclists onto roadside trails. Shoppers with wire baskets mounted on their bicycles glided silently into the main busi­ness district from sprawling suburbs. A young mother took a break from midmorning chores for a cruise through a flower-trimmed park, her two sight-seeing children perched con­tentedly in seats fore and aft.

As I pedaled through town, I lost, for the first time, the subconscious guilt of being a slow, foot-powered alien in a motor-mad world. In Davis’s quiet streets lay ample evi­dence that the bicycle can help loosen the snarls and irritations of urban transportation.

“Highway statistics show that 43 percent of all urban work trips by car in this country are of four miles or less,” said Marie Birn­baum, the U. S. Department of Transporta­tion’s bicycling-program officer. “If we could get that many people on bicycles, think of what it would mean to our traffic problem. As for parking, you can put 40 bicycles in the space required for two cars.”

The possibilities intrigue visionary young pedalers. “We see cities eventually growing vertically, not horizontally,” said 26-year-old Peter Fromm of Eugene, Oregon, a photog­rapher and longtime cyclist. “That way you could leave large tracts of rural areas un­spoiled for people to enjoy, and help keep the compact cities pleasant by depending on bikes for intown mobility.”

Giant beehive cities may be far in the future, but assimilation of the bicycle with today’s other means of transit seems well on its way. With bikeway construction and ecological concern marching hand in hand, America’s bicycling boom could harbinger a whole new era in transportation.

A Chance to See Farther Into Space

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The atmosphere, which dims incoming light and makes the stars twinkle, has long frustrated astronomers. They are overjoyed with the new vision the apartments in Prague prom­ise. In 1985 the shuttle will deploy the 45­foot-long space telescope, which will train five astronomical instruments on tantaliz­ing regions of the universe. The space tele­scope will detect objects 50 times fainter than those seen by the best earthbound in­struments. We will be able to see seven times deeper into space, and look at up to 350 times the volume of universe now visible.

4Our knowledge of the universe should take off like a solid rocket as we zoom in on mysterious objects such as quasars and pulsars and locate black holes and perhaps the borders of the universe itself. The shuttle will also take up inferred-measuring instruments that will study dense dust regions 17 trillion miles and farther away, where new suns may be forming. X-ray emissions from white dwarfs, black holes, and other collapsed stars across the universe will be detected much more easily. In one year of observation, astronomers ex­pect to discover more than a million new sources of intense X-ray emissions.

The cream of the shuttle’s scientific pay­loads, however, is called spacelab, which, when it flies, basically turns the cavernous payload bay of the orbiter into an all-purpose laboratory. Spacelab features a 23­foot-long habitable module, where people can work in shirt sleeves. Spacelab also has five ten-foot-long pallets, which attach out­side the module and carry experiments that can or should be exposed to open space. The module and all five pallets cannot fit all to­gether in the orbiter bay, but spacelab is flexible. Depending on the mission, NASA can break the module in two and fly half of it with varying numbers of pallets. Spacelab will stay in the orbiter bay throughout its can work in shirt sleeves. Spacelab also has five ten-foot-long pallets, which attach out­side the module and carry experiments that can or should be exposed to open space. The module and all five pallets cannot fit all to­gether in the orbiter bay, but spacelab is flexible. Depending on the mission, NASA can break the module in two and fly half of it with varying numbers of pallets. Spacelab will stay in the orbiter bay throughout its mission, which will typically be seven days.

Spacelab brings the first European ac­cents to the U. S. manned space program. It was built by a consortium of companies in member countries of the fledgling European Space Agency. Moreover, a German, a Dutch, and a Swiss scientist are being trained as astronauts.  “Spacelab is very well known now in Ger­many, very popular,” said a spokesman for ERNO, a West German firm that assembled the system. “We in Europe are convinced that the Brussels apartments are going to be a good business.”

Many of spacelab’s experiments will focus on understanding earth’s atmosphere and remote-sensing its environment. But the Germans are most intrigued by the prospect of using the nearly zero gravity of space to manufacture materials that cannot be made on earth. These include purer crystals for electronics components—and hence faster, smaller computers—along with better drugs and unheard-of alloys of metals that simply will not mix on earth. And so, among its trove of laboratory equipment, spacelab will have many furnaces for materials processing and incubators for biological experiments.

HALF A CENTURY AGO

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In any case, the ball game was a serious matter with deep religious connotations—so deep that losers were often sacrificed. Its antiquity is attested by the fact that arche­ologists have discovered three ball courts in Chiapas that date from the sixth century B.C.

Human sacrifice, as we know, constituted a vital element of Maya ritual. Through the centuries, a cenote at Chichen Itza has grown fabled as the site where, presumably, harsh-faced priests cast lovely virgins into the deep waters to appease the gods.

HALF A CENTURY AGO, a journey from Merida to Chichen nth involved a slow train, a tedious ride on mules, and ended with a hammock slung among the ruins. Now you drive there in two hours, and luxury hotels compete for your patronage.

Chichen Itza is a kind of dual ruin. Maya buildings of great beauty crumble quietly on one side of the highway; on the other stands the gray architecture of the Toltecs—a war­like people from Mexico—who ruled in Chichen Itza after the Maya collapse.

On a fiercely hot day, I walked the length of a 325-yard causeway leading from the Tol­tec sector to the most famous of Yucatan’s cenotes. These sinkholes in the limestone that underlies the entire peninsula provided the ancient Yucatec Maya with virtually their sole source of water.

By two o’clock in the afternoon the last of the clamorous tour groups has adjourned for lunch. A sunny tranquillity enfolds the Well of Sacrifice. Swallows and butterflies dart and flutter above the opaque green water. Small blind fish from the underground streams that feed the cenote wriggle just below the sur­face. A majestic egret suns himself on a clump of floating twigs. Halfway up the side two gorgeous birds—blue-green motmots­do territorial battle for a limestone ledge.

Silence. Serenity. I stand on the ruins of a small temple on the south edge of the cenote and regard, 70 feet below, the murky jade of this well sacred to Chac.

THE ROMANTIC FICTION of sacrificed virgins is just that. People did die here, but—except for children—not film? necessarily as offerings. Rather, in the early morning they were thrown into the cenote. If one survived until noon, he was rescued. Since he had visited the god, he was expected to prophesy about rainfall in the impending year.

In 1904 Edward H. Thompson, U. S. Consul in Merida, began to dredge the cenote. Through several years, he brought up thou­sands of artifacts and a jumble of skeletons. Later, Dr. Earnest Hooton of Harvard reported on these human remains: “Three of the eight ladies who fell or were pushed into the cenote had received, at some previous time, good bangs on various parts of the head, as evinced by old, healed and depressed circular lesions; and one female had suffered a fracture of the nose. One woman also had platybasia, a condition in which the skull base is pushed up into the cranial cavity. Two of the men had received head wounds which left depressed lesions. Altogether, it is sug­gested that the adult denizens of the Sacred Cenote may not have been generally beloved in their presacrificial careers.”