Monthly Archives: April 2010

We need to ‘complete’ our streets


“The only way to solve the traffic problems of the country is to pass a law that only paid-for cars are allowed to use the highways. That would make traffic so scarce, we could use our boulevards for children’s playgrounds.”
Will Rogers, humorist and social commentator, 1879-1935

In too many American cities, the thoroughfares are designed exclusively for cars and trucks.
Walking and bicycling are viewed
as alien means of locomotion and are roundly discouraged. In fact, they can be downright dangerous.
One example that sticks in my mind is from our sojourn in Mobile, Ala., during a transcontinental bicycle journey last fall. We were stuck in Mobile as we waited for Tropical Storm Ida to slosh through Mobile Bay.
I and fellow rider Derrik Maude of England were on the cooking rotation during our rest day, and we had to shop for the ingredients to make sandwiches for lunch on the road for the next day’s 65-mile ride to Gulf Shores.
Our motel was on the west side of Interstate 65. The closest place to buy groceries was a Walmart on the east side of the interstate — not far away as the pelican flies.
But in pedestrian-unfriendly America, the shopping trip meant hiking about a half-mile along the interstate service road in a blustery rain, crossing the interstate on a very busy overpass with a sign that said “Pedestrians and bicycles prohibited” and then walking to the Walmart through acres of puddled parking lots that catered to the same big-box stores you see all over America.
A shopping trip that would have taken a half-hour if we had a car took more than two hours on foot.
This may be an extreme example because of the looming presence of an interstate, which discourages walking and biking like no other thoroughfare. But many streets in major U.S. cities suffer the same affliction: no concessions whatsoever to anyone who wants to move about by means other than a car.

An example of a complete street

It may fall short of the remedy offered above by Will Rogers. But, now, an organization called the National Complete Streets Coalition is trying to change the conventional view that streets are only for motorized vehicles.
“The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities,” the coalition says on its website.
“They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams.”
Complete Streets is spearheading a movement across the country to urge local planners and engineers “to build road networks that are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone.”
A good example of “guerrilla” action to further this aim in Dallas-Fort Worth was carried out by Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood earlier this month.
Called “The Better Block” project, the folks in Oak Cliff chose the weekend of April 10-11 to transform two blocks of North Tyler Street between West Seventh and Eighth streets.
“Armed with about a thousand dollars and some ingenuity, they significantly narrowed the street to slow car traffic speeds, created a protected bike lane buffered from traffic by parking and striping, opened some temporary shops in vacant storefronts, set up sidewalk cafes, and more,” said the Fort Worth blog Fort Worthology. “The end result was a street that was massively more pleasant to be on.”

Tyler Street transformed by Oak Cliff guerrillas. Photo by Bike Friendly Oak Cliff

The blog noted that the project was also good for business: A neighborhood book store, Cliff Notes, reported its best sales day ever on the first day of the event.
The alternative weekly Dallas Observer noted in its blog April 20 that Oak Cliff’s Better Block experiment already is reverberating nationally. A presentation on the project will be made at the 18th annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism May 19-22 in Atlanta.
Here are a couple of videos describing Oak Cliff’s “Better Block” project:

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Books about biking


The library of books about bicycle touring seems to grow by the day. I had been planning to compile of list of books about biking from my own library and others that I’ve read or know about. But another blogger, Darren Alff of Bicycle Touring Pro, has done it for me.
In a Wednesday blog post, he listed 42 books, with a synopsis of each and links to Amazon.com for purchase of the books.
I’ve cited some of the books on Darren’s list in this blog: The Lost Cyclist, by David Herlihy, out June 18; David Lamb’s Over the Hills, published in 1997; and David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, which came out last year.
Others sit on my bookshelves waiting to be read. And still others I hadn’t heard of until coming across this list.
Some of the books are by or about the pioneers of long-distance cycling, such as Around the World on a Bicycle by Thomas Stevens, who made the journey in the 1880s astride a “high wheeler,” or “penny farthing,” bicycle, and Herlihy’s fascinating book about Frank Lenz who disappeared in Turkey in April 1894 during a round-the-world attempt.
Others on the list are contemporary accounts of cross-country journeys, such as the one by Lamb, a longtime foreign correspondent who rode solo and self-contained from Alexandria, Va., to Santa Monica, Calif., in 1994. All of the books, it seems, would be useful resources for anyone contemplating a long trip by bicycle.
But one of my favorite books about early bicycle touring was not on Darren’s list: Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride, by Peter Zheutlin.
It’s the remarkable tale of Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (Londonderry’s real name), a Latvian-born Jew and the working mother of three who sought to escape her humdrum life in the tenements of Boston’s West End by setting off around the world on a bicycle in the mid-1890s.
A poem about Londonderry, published July 29, 1894, in the Buffalo Illustrated Express, summed up the spirit of Annie’s journey:
Away on the road where the dusty clouds whirl
Away with a spirit ecstatic
Goes the cool-as-an-icicle bicycle girl
Bestriding the latest pneumatic;
She heeds not the scoffers who scorn,
Though knickers her kickers adorn,
The cool-as-an-icicle, bicycle, tricycle maiden by no means forlorn.

A last note: Another resource for books about cycling is cycling-books.com: “A world of words on wheels.”

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A ‘sea change’ in how we get around


Since Henry Ford’s Model T’s began chugging out onto America’s primitive roads in the first decade of the 20th century, U.S. transportation policy has catered almost exclusively to cars and trucks.
Bicycles, which enjoyed a golden age in the 1890s, were abandoned for Ford’s “flivvers” and Ransom Olds’ “merry Oldsmobiles.” From the 1920s through the early 1950s, perfectly good streetcar systems were dismantled and destroyed all across the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 tied the nation together in a seamless network of interstate highways, designed, of course, for cars and trucks.
But, now, President Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood is leading what National Public Radio calls a “quiet revolution” in American thinking on how people get from place to place.
Citing a “sea change” in transportation policy, NPR interviewed LaHood as part of a Sunday broadcast piece on the development of trails and street lanes for cyclists and pedestrians in such major cities as Washington, D.C.
“Right now, about 90 percent of the country commutes to work by car,” the NPR story said.
LaHood is trying to change that.
In a policy statement announced March 15, LaHood’s department urged local communities to consider “walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.”
“Why devote resources to a transportation mode that fewer than 10% of the nation is using?” LaHood asked on his blog, Fast Lane, which posted a link to the NPR story.
“Well, bike infrastructure is relatively inexpensive — particularly if you compare it to, say, adding a lane to an existing roadway. Now, imagine if those people who do bike around chose instead to make all of their trips in single-occupancy vehicles. Our already congested roadways would be brought to a halt.”
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois and a weekend cyclist, noted that Lance Armstrong urged his more than 2 million followers on Twitter to listen to the NPR story. The transportation secretary also posted a link to an April 5 interview he did with the New York Times blog Green.
The idea of elevating biking and walking to the level of driving has, of course, stirred criticism.
Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, asked, for example, if Lahood’s judgment had been clouded by drugs. And the National Association of Manufacturers said on its blog, ShopFloor:
“LaHood’s pedal parity is nonsensical for a modern industrial nation. We don’t call it sacrilege, but radical is a fair description. It is indeed a sea change in federal transportation policy that could have profound implications for the U.S. economy and the 80 percent of freight that moves by truck.”
But LaHood says he is heartened by grassroots support for his policy. “On Facebook,” he wrote on his blog, “I sometimes have trouble seeing my own wall posts because bicycling fans have been so busy posting their support for DOT’s bicycle-pedestrian initiative in such strong numbers.”
Local support is key to implementing this “sea change” in transportation policy. As LaHood told NPR’s Guy Raz:
“We’re elevating it to the point where, as we develop new road systems, as we develop communities where people can use light rail or streetcars or buses, bike trails and walking paths will be equal partners, if you will, and equal components of those kinds of transportation opportunities in communities across America.”
With a comprehensive bike plan approved by the City Council and tentative steps taken to resurrect streetcar routes, that seems to be happening in Fort Worth.

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Nomads on two wheels


A quick note for anyone in the environs of Fort Worth who wants a vicarious taste of long-distance cycling:
Laura Crawford and Russ Roca, who are
on an extended bicycle ramble across America, will tell tales of their adventures at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Trinity Bicycles, 207 S. Main St., just south of downtown Fort Worth.
Russ, a photographer, and Laura, a writer and jewelry maker, have been chronicling their journey on the website The Path Less Pedaled and a Facebook page of the same name. They began the trip last July in Portland, Ore., cycled down the West Coast and now are working their way across the United States. They arrived in Fort Worth on Sunday.
During their travels, they’ve been stopping in various cities to give live presentations about their journey and how others can become bicycle nomads.
Bernie Scheffler, owner of Trinity Bicycles, writes on the shop’s blog that a group of cyclists is planning to meet at the bike shop at 5:30 p.m. to ride over to West Magnolia Avenue for dinner.
“If the group is large, we may split up and eat at different eateries, but it will be fun regardless,” Bernie wrote. “Nothing builds cycling fellowship like riding to a meal.”

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Friendships forged on the road


“I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad, 1894

Ain’t that the truth!
A transcontinental journey by bicycle
can reveal a great deal about one’s traveling companions.
More than two months on America’s back roads and byways — experiencing the pains and pleasures of traversing deserts and mountains, forests and swamps; sharing the grocery shopping and cooking; pitching tents in seedy RV parks and rain-sodden campgrounds; riding into the teeth of a tropical storm; and exulting in the accomplishment of piloting fully loaded bicycles from one ocean to another — forges a bond among those who take part in the adventure.
We discover each other’s idiosyncrasies. I, for example, am known as a raucous snorer, so my tent was usually given a wide berth as we erected our temporary homes in nearly four dozen campsites last fall in our eastward progression from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
Another rider became known for his troublesome bike, which twice suffered major breakdowns, and frequently was seen in various bits and pieces strewn on the pavement as its owner disassembled and reassembled it, trying to tweak its performance.
We soon learned that our fellow riders really didn’t care if we looked perpetually disheveled and wore the same set of riding togs and camp clothes day after day. Personal hygiene and variety of wardrobe are difficult to maintain when all your worldly needs for nine weeks are hauled on a bicycle.
And shyness about certain bodily needs is quickly abandoned. As one of our female riders famously remarked: “I’ve learned that on a cross-country bike trip you can apply Chamois Butt’r at a busy intersection, in broad daylight, with absolutely no shame.”
Friendships are formed with a group of special people — some of whom you may never see again, but will long remember.
One such friendship was with a rider from the Netherlands, Gerben Terpstra, who had to endure my snoring on several occasions when we shared a motel room. Gerben — who uses the name “Kevin” in the United States because Americans struggle with the Dutch pronunciation of Gerben — passed through Fort Worth last week with his wife, Hanneke, and we had a chance to renew our friendship.

Gerben and Hanneke Terpstra at Angelo's barbecue joint in Fort Worth. I don't know the guy in the middle

Gerben has a brother who is a physician in Phoenix, so he has been a frequent visitor to America. But on this trip, he wanted to show his wife part of the route we took by bicycle across the United States.
After a delay of three days in leaving Europe because of the cloud of volcanic ash emanating from Iceland, the Terpstras arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on Wednesday evening and spent Thursday exploring Fort Worth with me as guide.
From here, they drove to St. Francisville, La., on the Mississippi River and then will head west through Louisiana’s Cajun country and East Texas to Austin, one of our favorite rest stops on the bike trip. From Austin, they plan to drive through the Texas Hill Country, West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona on the way to Los Angeles for their return flight to Amsterdam.
The journey by car, I’m sure, will be memorable and enjoyable. But for Gerben it will probably pale in comparison to the crossing by bike.

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Scribbling in the ether


I’ve often wondered as I’ve scribbled these posts: How many people out there in the blogosphere are doing the same thing?
Thousands, millions?
So I did a little online research and found a website called The Future Buzz, whose aim is to help users spread “buzz online for whatever you’re doing on or off the web.” The Future Buzz compiled these figures.
— The number of blogs indexed by the website Technorati since 2002: 133 million.
— The number of people globally who read blogs (comScore March 2008): 346 million.
— The average number of blog posts in a 24-hour period: 900,000.
Wordpress, the platform that I use for this blog, says it hosts 297,131 blogs, and counting. That’s a lot of folks scribbling passionately about their pet pastimes.
Whatever your interest, you’re sure to find in the blogosphere someone writing about it — from angling to zinnias, from biking to yoga.
I can’t find figures on the number of bicycling blogs. But the website London Cyclist, which I’ve cited previously in this blog, has compiled its annual list of the top 50 cycling blogs. This one, alas, is not on it.
Besides London Cyclist, I’ve cited two other blogs on London Cyclist’s list of the top 50: The Path Less Pedaled, about an extended bicycle tour that began in Portland, Ore., last spring, and Riding Pretty, “dedicated to all the girls in the world who want to ride pretty on a bicycle.”
The latter is a very good resource on the tweed ride phenomenon.
Texas blogs on the list: Austin on Two Wheels and Austin Texas Bike Stuff.
Add to the blogs the babblings of talk radio and teenage texting, and that’s an awful lot of verbiage banging around in the ether, perhaps being scooped up and analyzed by denizens of an alien world.
Would they conclude that ours is an intelligent civilization?

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A wonder on two wheels


There must be something in Britain’s water. Or maybe it’s in the gene pool.
Whatever the reason, the United Kingdom has produced two of the foremost practitioners of mountain bike artistry: Danny MacAskill and Chris Akrigg.
I’ve previously posted videos of both of them doing impossible things on two wheels — and frequently on only one wheel.
Here’s the latest video of Akrigg dancing with his Mongoose Teocali on the Yorkshire Moors — brought to my attention by nephew Jonathan.
Click on the link at bottom.

Chris Akrigg TEOCALI.0 from chris akrigg on Vimeo.

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