Monthly Archives: June 2009

Be extra careful in the Sunshine State


“People are very nice to cyclists in other parts of the world, but around here they just want you off the road.”
— Scott Gross, manager of Jacksonville bike shop Open Road Bicycles

Florida licenseCalifornia and Florida, the states where we start and end our transcontinental bicycle journey this fall, are the two deadliest in terms of cyclists killed in traffic accidents, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
California, where we begin the trip Sept. 18 in San Diego, was in second place with 109 cyclist deaths in 2007, the latest year for which information is available.
Florida, where we end the journey on Nov. 21 at St. Augustine, topped the list with 119 deaths. New York was third in 2007 with 51 cyclist deaths. Texas, my current home state, recorded 48 and Louisiana 22.
A total of 698 “pedalcyclists” — the term used by the NHTSA — “were killed and an additional 44,000 were injured in traffic crashes,” the agency said. “Pedalcyclist deaths accounted for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities, and pedalcyclists made up 2 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year.”
“More than 52,000 pedalcyclists have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932 — the first year in which estimates of pedalcyclist fatalities were recorded,” the agency reports on its Web site. “The 350 pedalcyclists killed in 1932 accounted for 1.3 percent of the 27,979 persons who died in traffic crashes that year.”
The agency said that the highest number of cyclist fatalities ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was 1,003 in 1975.
BikeFloridaLogoThe involvement of alcohol — either for the driver or the cyclist — was reported in more than a third of the traffic crashes that resulted in cyclist fatalities in 2007. In 33 percent of the crashes, either the driver or the cyclist was reported to have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter or higher.
I’ve trolled the Internet to find out why Florida tops the list or is near the top year after year. Some suggested reasons: Florida’s balmy climate and large population equates to more cyclists who are on their bikes yearround, a lack of biking insfrastructure such as bike lanes and wide shoulders, a dearth of connecting pathways between neighborhoods and workplaces, shopping centers, schools, etc., and a car culture reluctant to make concessions to cyclists.
Whatever the reason, I plan to be extra careful in the Sunshine State. I’d hate to be injured or killed in the final stages of a 3,160-mile bicycle trip across the country.

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‘Poor little Jimmy’ in Chicago, 1968


"Poor little Jimmy" getting thwacked on the Michigan Avenue bridge, Chicago, 1968

"Poor little Jimmy" getting thwacked on the Michigan Avenue bridge, Chicago, 1968

“Fundamental police training was ignored, and officers, when on the scene, were often unable to control their men. As one officer put it: ‘What happened didn’t have anything to do with police work.’”
– The official report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (called The Walker Report), 1968

“Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all – the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
– Mayor Richard J. Daley, 1968

This post, prompted by a story in today’s New York Times, has nothing to do with bicycling. But some readers of this blog who know of my past life as a journalist/editor/foreign correspondent might find it amusing.
The Times story was about a reunion of Chicago police officers who were on duty during the street disturbances surrounding the Democratic National Convention in August 1968. One quote, in particular, caught my eye:
chicago police 1968“From the pictures the media showed, it always looked like poor little Jimmy was getting attacked by the police, but what they didn’t see was what Jimmy did just a minute before,” said Tom Rowan, 65, a retired officer. “Everybody who got hit during the convention may not have deserved it, but 95 percent of them did.”
For the record, “this little Jimmy” was working as a reporter for The Associated Press at the 1968 Democratic convention, assigned to cover the street disturbances that were expected to — and did — occur during that tumultuous week.
I wrote a memoir of that week in 1996 for the Star-Telegram. The story was published on Aug. 25, 1996, the eve of the opening of the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In it I wrote of a confrontation between reporters and police that occurred on the night of Aug. 25, 1968, on the Michigan Avenue bridge as a mob of demonstrators, driven out of Lincoln Park by imposition of an 11 p.m. curfew, surged toward the Loop.
richard-j-daley“But at the downtown end of the bridge, crossing the Chicago River, was a shoulder-to-shoulder cordon of Mayor Daley’s finest,” I wrote.
“And that’s when I wound up becoming one of the first news media casualties of what the Walker Commission report on the violence called a ‘police riot.’ I and several other reporters had tried to stay ahead of the mob as it moved down Michigan Avenue, and we found ourselves on the middle of the bridge with the protesters at one end and the police at the other. One officer broke ranks and thwacked me several times across the shoulders and head with his stick before being restrained by a commander.
“I wasn’t badly hurt. But a picture of that encounter appeared in a Chicago newspaper, and I was called to give a deposition to the investigatory panel headed by Daniel Walker, vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. I gave the officer the benefit of the doubt, noting that my press credentials were in my pocket and that he might have mistaken me for a protester.”
I wonder if Officer Rowan was the one who thwacked this “poor little Jimmy” that August night on the Michigan Avenue bridge.

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Some innovations in cycling


Bike lane lightA couple of items on innovations in bicycling came to my attention this week, courtesy of The New York Times and the e-mail news group of the Fort Worth Bicycling Association.
Thursday’s Times and the newspaper’s Web site carried a piece on the popularity of folding bikes among the estimated 2 million people who commute to work by bicycle. See the story and the Web site’s slide show of various models of folding bikes.
An e-mail from a member of the FWBA told of a light that can be attached to a bike’s seat post to allow a cyclist to create a personal bike lane at night. The device, called LightLane, was “created for a design competition to promote commuting by bicycle.”
“Bike lanes are an effective means of improving safety for motorists and cyclists,” says the Web site for LightLane. “However, due to the high cost of installation, bike lanes are not widely available. Instead of forcing cyclists to adapt their behavior to the existing infrastructure, the bike lane should adapt to the cyclist.”
Check out the video showing how the LightLane works.

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Hellish milestones in Texas


Philip Sheridan“If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”
– Civil War Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan, 1866

Two milestones were passed this week:
– “For the first time in 2009, at 2:43 p.m. Tuesday to be precise, the weather station at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport recorded 100 degrees,” said Wednesday’s Star-Telegram.
Heat wave– At around high noon on Wednesday, as the temperature was creeping past 100 for the second straight day, I passed the 2,000-mile mark in my training regimen for a bicycle ride across the United States this fall. I’m now two-thirds of the way to logging 3,000 training miles — since Jan. 1 — before the Sept. 18 start of the transcontinental ride in San Diego.
It’s summertime in Texas. The temperature was in the high-90s as I finished today’s ride. The thermometer, in a shaded spot on the north-facing front porch, reads 102.6 degrees as I write this, showered and refreshed, at 5 p.m. The outlook for the rest of the week: 100-plus-degree days until Monday, when the temperature is expected to reach only 97.
margaritaIn northern climes, in places like Minnesota, several months of the year are conducive to holing up inside with a cup of hot cocoa. The same applies to Texas, in a different part of the year. But the palliative beverage is more likely to be a pitcher of frozen margaritas.
Fortunately, I handle the heat pretty well and feel like this 66-year-old body is getting into pretty good shape. But I’m not looking forward to that long stretch across the northern Sonoran Desert, through such “Arizona Outback” towns as Quartzite, Hope and Salome, as we head for Phoenix and a day of rest and recuperation on our eastbound journey to Florida.
The high today in Phoenix was expected to be 104 degrees. The outlook for Friday, again 104. And for Saturday and Sunday: 106.
I wonder if Gen. Sheridan ever visited Phoenix in the summer.

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A river dead to navigation


Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark

“. . . [T]he object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, and such principal streams of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, … may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce …”
– President Thomas Jefferson, instructions to Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark before their 1804-1806 exploration of territory acquired in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase

Dead end Missouri
For someone who grew up on the Mississippi River, one thing was very noticeable during a June 11-14 bicycle ride along the Missouri River on the Katy Trail: the complete lack of commercial traffic on the Missouri. (See June 17 blog post, “Cruisin’ on the Katy: Part II.)
We didn’t see a single towboat or barge on the 150-mile stretch of river from Boonville, where the Katy Trail joins the Missouri, to St. Charles, the St. Louis suburb just upriver from the Missouri’s confluence with the Mississippi. I saw one outboard-powered johnboat on the river at St. Charles.

The untraveled Missouri River near Rocheport, Mo., the first overnight stop on our Katy Trail ride from Clinton to St. Charles

The untraveled Missouri River near Rocheport, Mo., the first overnight stop on our Katy Trail ride from Clinton to St. Charles

The Missouri was virtually dead to navigation. President Jefferson would be very disappointed.
The river was running high and fast during our ride. At one point, I stopped to watch the swift current treat a large navigation buoy — anchored on the river bed — like a fishing cork, completely burying the buoy in the water for several seconds at a time.
But high water, caused by snowmelt in the Rockies and heavy rains upriver, has been rare along the Missouri in recent years. A drought that began with the turn of the 21st century lasted well into the century’s first decade, accelerating a steady decline in barge traffic that started around 1977, when barges carried about 3.3 million tons of goods on the Missouri.
“In 2002, the amount hauled dipped below 1 million tons and has failed to reach that level again,” said a Jan. 7 story in The Kansas City Star. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that barges hauled about 300,000 tons in 2007 and 350,000 tons in 2008. That compares to the Chain of Rocks Lock on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, where barges hauled 68 million tons in 2007.”
Missouri River basinOther problems for navigation on the 2,540-mile-long Missouri: The river has no lock system like the Mississippi, so it’s narrower and faster than the Mississippi. That makes it difficult to handle the loads that are typical on the Mississippi above St. Louis: 15 barges, three abreast, lashed together. Water levels are unpredictable, dependent, of course, on rains and the Army Corps of Engineers’ release of water from six reservoirs in the Dakotas and Montana. And in the heartland drained by the Missouri, it has become cheaper to haul grain by rail than by barge, partly because of the higher fuel costs of navigating a fast-flowing river.
lewis-and-clark-in-canoesIn the time of Lewis and Clark, said Peter Geery, a St. Charles resident whom I interviewed for a 2002 story about preparations for the bicentennial observance of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Missouri River at St. Charles was about 1 1/2 miles wide and about 17 inches deep. It had a channel from 3 to 5 feet deep, and the current ran at 2 to 4 mph. After years of dam and levee construction by the Corps of Engineers in the 20th century, the Missouri at St. Charles now is less than two-tenths of a mile wide, has a channel 9 to 30 feet deep and a current of 7 to 12 mph, said Geery, who participated in a re-enactment of the Corps of Discovery’s expedition aboard locally built boats.
All of this has made for a busy Mississippi River and a virtually dead Missouri. In 2006, about 60 percent of the nation’s agricultural commodities were exported on the Mississippi.
A bargeload of corn and soybeans on the Mississippi

A bargeload of corn and soybeans on the Mississippi

Grain tows on the upper Mississippi move about 22,500 tons (15 barges each carrying about 1,500 tons). That’s equivalent to about 225 rail cars or 865 tractor-trailer units.
North of St. Louis on the Upper Mississippi River, towboats usually pack 3,000 to 5,000 horsepower. As the river becomes deeper and wider below St. Louis, the boats are larger because they’re allowed to push more barges. Some towboats on the lower Mississippi can produce up to 10,000 horsepower.
As a kid, I used to stand on the limestone bluffs at Alton, Ill., on the Mississippi just upriver from St. Louis and watch the steady flow of barge traffic up and down the river. The Mississippi, for me, was a source of never-ending wonder, and a broad, brown avenue to a much larger world: Memphis, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and places even farther away. I fantasized about working as a towboat deckhand to get to New Orleans and then signing on as a merchant mariner to see the wider world.
A kid on the Missouri River these days would be deprived of such daydreams.

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Biking with the fishes


During last Sunday’s weekly bike ride with neighbors along Fort Worth’s Trinity Trails, we passed under the North University Drive bridge and found one of the honchos of a local bike shop, Colonel’s, and his wife.

From left: Jeff Gibbons, Steve McReynolds, Richard Stubbe, Kathy McReynolds, Ralph Waterson and Jim Peipert

From left: Jeff Gibbons, Steve McReynolds, Richard Stubbe, Kathy McReynolds, Ralph Waterson and Jim Peipert


From left: Richard Stubbe, Larry Kreitzer, Jim Peipert, Kathy McReynolds, Jeff Gibbons and Ralph Waterson

From left: Richard Stubbe, Larry Kreitzer, Jim Peipert, Kathy McReynolds, Jeff Gibbons and Ralph Waterson

We stopped to say hello and had our pictures taken in front of a fish mural under the bridge. These photos ended up on Colonel’s blog.

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English ‘lord’ gives Phoenix its name


Jack Swilling, founder of Phoenix

Jack Swilling, founder of Phoenix

As recently as 1868, the place in the northeastern Sonoran Desert that became the site of Phoenix — the nation’s fifth-largest city with more than 1.5 million people, and a rest and recuperation stop on our eastbound bicycle journey across the United States — was a tiny farming settlement irrigated by canals drawing water from the Salt River.
And the handful of inhabitants still hadn’t settled on a name for their community.
Some called it Pumpkinsville, because pumpkins grew in the soil watered by the Swilling Irrigating and Canal Co. The company was established by Jack Swilling, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War who prospected for gold in Gila City before drifting down to the Salt River Valley. Swilling saw the
Pueblo Grande

Pueblo Grande

ruins of Pueblo Grande, built by the Hohokam people who mysteriously vanished around 1450 A.D., and the remnants of about 135 miles of canals used by the Hohokam to water the valley. He figured that a new community could flourish in the valley if only it had some water.
In 1868, as a result of Swilling’s labors, crops began to grow. Some called the settlement Swilling’s Mill, some Mill City. Swilling himself wanted to name the place Stonewall, after Confederate general Stonewall Jackson.
Darrell Duppa

'Lord' Duppa

But the matter was settled by an eccentric wanderer from England, who came into this world in France, where his parents were living, as Bryan Philip Darrel Duppa of Hollingbourne House, County Kent.
After schooling in France and Spain and excursions to South America and New Zealand, “Lord” Duppa turned up in 1862 in Prescott, where he was said to have come to investigate mining shares owned by an uncle. Later, he was one of the first settlers to claim land at what is now 116 W. Sherman St. in Phoenix.
But the “new settlement needed a name if for no other reason than to tell shippers where to send supplies,” says Lawrence Clark Powell in Arizona: A History, written to celebrate America’s bicentennial as one of a series to include all 50 states.
“The eruditon of ‘Lord’ Duppa settled the argument,” Powell wrote. A bunch of the early settlers were “gathered convivially … at the Pueblo Grande — the Indian ruin restored in our time by Dwight B. Heard as a museum-monument along the Grand Canal of East Washington Street — when the perennial question was asked. Where are we?
Phoenix rising

Phoenix rising

“Whereupon Duppa clambered to the top of the ruined wall and, raising his cultured voice, proclaimed to somewhat short of a multitude, ‘As the mythical phoenix rose reborn from its ashes, so shall a great civilization rise here on the ashes of a past civilization. I name thee Phoenix!’”
The board of supervisors in Yavapai County, which at the time encompassed Phoenix, officially recognized the new town on May 4, 1868, and formed an election precinct.

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Share the road, y’all: Part II


I wrote on June 8, “Share the road, y’all,” that Texas cyclists could take some solace from at least one good bill that emerged from the dysfunctional 81st biennial session of the Texas Legislature. But we cheered too soon.
Senate Bill 488 would have made it a misdemeanor for motorists to drive too near to cyclists and other “vulnerable” road users.
safe-passing-newAccording to a story in the June 8 Star-Telegram, the key provision of the bill said that a “driver must vacate the lane that the vulnerable road user is in if the highway has at least two lanes in the same direction; or pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance, defined as three feet for a car or light truck and six feet for commercial vehicles.” An offender would have faced fines from $500 to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail, depending on the severity of the violation.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis

One of the three co-authors of SB 488 was rookie Sen. Wendy Davis, a cyclist, runner, former Fort Worth city councilwoman and neighbor.
failure perryBut our nimrod governor, Rick Perry, vetoed the bill yesterday on the grounds that SB 488 “would create a new class of users of roadways, called ‘vulnerable road users,’ which would require specific actions by operators of motor vehicles.” I guess those “specific actions” would have included using common sense in sharing the roadways. See the BikeTexas Web site for details.

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The hurricane season of 1559


pensacola-beach-sign-for-weI learn something nearly every day as I gather string on the places we’ll pass through on our eastbound bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla. — like the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States.
Before I acquired my new knowledge, places like St. Augustine or Santa Fe, both settled early by the Spanish, might have come to mind. Or perhaps the English settlements at Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, or Jamestown in Virginia. But I would be wrong on all four counts.
No, the first European settlement was at Pensacola, in what is now the far western portion of the Florida Panhandle, only a few miles from the Alabama state line.
span-caravel_12906_mdSpanish explorers, seeking ways to exploit this newly found continent, started poking their caravels’ prows into Pensacola Bay, just east of Mobile Bay, shortly after Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513.
Don Diego Miruelo is thought to be the first to sail into the bay in 1516. Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda is believed to have entered the bay and traded with the native people in 1519. He was followed by Pánfilo de Narváez and Alvar Nunez de Vaca, with about 240 followers, in 1528. Captain Diego de Naldonado sailed into Pensacola Bay in 1540 and returned each summer until 1543 hoping to find survivors of the ill-fated expedition of Hernando de Soto deep into the interior of the continent. He was the first European to stay any length of time.
He must have liked what he saw, for on Aug. 15, 1559, some 1,500 people, led by Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano, arrived on 11 ships from Vera Cruz, Mexico, to establish a settlement, which they called Bahia Santa Maria de Filipina.
Unfortunately, it was hurricane season. Only a month after their arrival, on Sept. 19, the infant colony was struck by a hurricane that killed hundreds of the settlers, sank five ships, grounded a caravel in an inland grove and ruined the settlement’s supplies.
About 1,000 survivors tried to resupply and resuscitate the settlement but abandoned the effort in 1561. About 240 people sailed to Santa Elena (today’s Parris Island in South Carolina), but another storm struck there. So they sailed to Cuba and scattered.
pensacola beach with birdThe remaining 50 at Pensacola were taken back to Mexico, and advisers to the viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco, concluded that northwest Florida was too dangerous to settle.
It took more than a century for that notion to wear off. The Spanish re-established a permanent settlement at Pensacola in 1696. It was occupied by the French in 1719, but another major hurricane devastated the settlement in 1722. The French evacuated and the Spanish returned.
Our bicycle caravan will be passing through Pensacola at the tail-end of this year’s hurricane season. I hope we have better luck than that first group of Spanish.

Pensacola in 1885

Pensacola in 1885

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Don’t try this … anywhere: Part II


bike-crash-cartoonDuring a recent visit to San Antonio to celebrate my father-in-law’s 91st birthday, nephew Jonathan tipped me off to the bicycle wizardry of Briton Chris Akrigg.
On May 21, I posted a video of Scottish cyclist Danny MacAskill doing amazing things on a bike in Edinburgh, “Don’t try this … anywhere!” So here is a Chris Akrigg video.
Is there something in the water in the British Isles that nurtures these two-wheeled savants? Check out Chris Akrigg and compare.

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