Monthly Archives: June 2011

A tale of two cities


The contrast could hardly have been starker.
Here we had the outgoing mayor,
Mike Moncrief, and City Councilman Joel Burns, at a ceremony this morning officially opening Fort Worth’s network of urban bicycle lanes, talking about such things as smart growth, improving the environment, fostering healthful habits and easing congestion by getting more bicycles onto the city’s streets and roads.

Cyclists gather for ribbon-cutting ceremony in downtown Fort Worth

But in the adjacent city of Arlingon on Tuesday night, at a City Council hearing on a biking and hiking plan for that city, bicycles were depicted by a vocal, organized group of critics as tools of tyranny, and bicycle lanes as part of a sinister socialist plot to force Americans to give up their cars, adopt two-wheeled transport and move from the suburbs into high-density, crime-ridden central cities.
And besides, they said, bike lanes will decrease property values. (See June 29 blog post, “A parallel universe in a city next-door.”)
Arlington’s Hike and Bike System Master Plan, a sharply scaled-back version of the original proposal, was approved by the City Council on 5-4 vote. For final passage, the plan requires a second reading before the council and a final vote, expected to be on Aug. 2.
Councilman Mel LeBlanc spoke for the council opposition, and Mayor

City Councilman Joel Burns, left, and outgoing Mayor Mike Moncrief cut a ribbon to officially open Fort Worth's downtown bicycle lanes

Robert Cluck, apparently feeling the heat of the vocal critics, voted against the plan.
“The city of the future is not the city that puts bike paths in,” LeBlanc said. “It’s the city … that has a very low tax rate and a very low debt ratio. The city of the future is the city you can move to and not be robbed by taxes.”
Tell that, for example, to Minneapolis, or Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo. — or Fort Worth. All of those cities are considered very desirable places to live. (Just last week, Fort Worth was designated for the third time since 1964 as an “All-America City” by the National Civic League meeting in Kansas City.)
And all of those cities have taken aggressive steps to encourage people to ride bicycles — not as part of a United Nations conspiracy, but for such common-sense reasons as easing congestion, reducing environmental pollution and promoting health.
In contrast to the pain and angst in Arlington over installing a few bike lanes, Fort Worth’s City Council unanimously approved on Feb. 8, 2010, a “comprehensive bicycle transportation plan.” Bike Fort Worth aims to increase the number of bicycle trails, on-street lanes and signed bike routes from about 100 miles to nearly 1,000 miles over several decades.
The plan also proposes to sharply increase the number of bike commuters and “attain official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community through the League of American Bicyclists” by 2015.

A bronze statue of Mark Twain along Fort Worth's Trinity Trails network

The city has been quickly implementing the plan. Bicycle lanes and racks have been installed on Magnolia Avenue, a bustling thoroughfare of restaurants, shops and watering holes on the city’s Near South Side; along major streets into and around downtown; along West Seventh Street from downtown to a thriving district of museums, restaurants and bars that some have dubbed “little Dallas”; and around Texas Christian University.
The urban bike lanes are designed to connect with the city’s excellent network of paved trails, mostly along the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River.
At this morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the downtown lanes, Councilman Burns, a Realtor whose District 9 includes downtown and the Near South Side, spoke of the economic benefits of bike lanes.
“Studies have shown that bike lanes are not only good for our health and the environment, but they’re also good for the health of the economy,” Burns said, noting that bicycle lanes promote tourism, drive traffic to local businesses and increase property values.
“Neighborhoods become more desirable when traffic slows down and residents have more transportation choices,” he said.
Are you listening, Arlington Realtors!
So which is the city of the future? Mel LeBlanc’s Arlington, where many residents seem to be mired in the 1950s? Or Joel Burns’ Fort Worth?
I’d put my money on Fort Worth.

For a full report on the ribbon-cutting ceremony check out the video below, shot by Kevin Buchanan for his Fort Worthology blog.

Fort Worth Bike Lane Ribbon Cutting Ceremony from Kevin Buchanan on Vimeo.

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A parallel universe in a city next-door


For an advocate of bicycling, attending the final hearing on a hike and bike master plan for Arlington, Texas, was like traveling to a parellel universe.

A packed Arlington City Council chamber

It’s a place where bicycles are an insidious threat to the American way of life. A place where a plan for bike lanes is an effort to deprive righteous, God-fearing folks of their automobiles. A place where bicycle lanes drive down property values. A place where apartment buildings attract transient riff-raff and become hotbeds of crime. A place where the Founding Fathers almost certainly would have been against bicycles — had they been invented then — because they are tools of tyranny.
“I see tyranny in Arlington!” bellowed one opponent, with rhetorical flourishes reminiscent of Patrick Henry’s 1775 “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech. Describing himself as a veteran and former police officer, the man accused the Arlington City Council of violating residents’ “civil and constitutional rights” by pushing the bike plan “down our throats.”
A woman opponent suggested that the plan for bike lanes was a sinister United Nations plan “to force people to ride bicycles.” Another woman accused “our Republican mayor,” Robert Cluck, of “signing on to socialist agendas.”

Many supporters of the plan rode their bikes to Arlington City Hall

A silver-haired man described bicycling as a “hobby,” dismissing its use as an alternative means of transportation. “Don’t ask me as a taxpayer to spend millions of dollars for somebody’s hobby,” he said.
Arlington, by the way, is a city of about 375,000 between Fort Worth and Dallas. It’s home to the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, the Texas Rangers baseball team, Six Flags Over Texas amusement park and a large campus of the University of Texas. But it has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the United States without public transportation. Each time a public transportation initiation was put on the ballot, it was voted down, led by the critics who argued that buses would cause congestion and bring unsavory characters to Arlington.
More than 300 people attended the 2 1/2-hour public hearing and City Council vote on the proposed Hike and Bike System Master Plan. At a cost of about $55.3 million over three to four decades, the plan calls for building a 125-mile network of on-street and off-street bike facilities, as well as 149 miles of sidewalks to help residents get from neighborhoods to city parks, schools and other destinations.

Bernie Scheffler, owner of Acme Bike Co., speaks in support of the plan

Judging from cards and lists signed in the lobby outside the council chamber, 182 people attended the meeting in support of the plan and 133 people in opposition. Allowed two minutes each to voice their opinions, 43 people spoke in favor and 27 against. Many attendees who favored the plan wore yellow T-shirts with messages of support paid for by Acme Bike Co. and other local businesses. The shirts were distributed outside City Hall.
Among those who spoke in favor were representatives of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Arlington Management Corp., the University of Texas at Arlington, the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau and Dan Dipert, an Arlington businessman who for 40 years has operated a fleet of charter tour buses that bear his name.
Describing himself as a “Razorback through and through,” he told of a recent visit to his native Arkansas to see his mother in Conway. Home to the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College, Conway has bicycle lanes.
“If those hillybilly, redneck yahoos can have bike lanes,” Dipert asked, “why can’t we?”
The speaker who attracted the most attention was Jodi Lee Ryan, who bicycles despite her multiple sclerosis. She came with her service dog, Cinder, to urge the council to support the plan.

Jodi Lee Ryan and Cinder. Star-Telegram photo by Richard W. Rodriguez

“My bicycle is my life line to the world,” she said. “It doubles as a wheelchair when I want to do errands close to home. It is my recreation. Many of my disabled friends ride. We want bicycle lanes.”
As the council prepared to vote, a motion to kill the hike and bike plan was offered by Councilman Mel LeBlanc. “The city of the future is not the city that puts bike paths in,” LeBlanc said. “It’s the city … that has a very low tax rate and a very low debt ratio. The city of the future is the city you can move to and not be robbed by taxes.” LeBlanc’s motion was defeated.
Robert Shepard, who offered a motion to approve the plan, responded emotionally to critics in the audience who claimed that the hike and bike plan was railroaded through without input from Arlington residents.
He said that the plan was the subject of several public hearings during the two years that it was being developed, that the city contacted neighborhood associations for opinions on the plan and sent out multiple e-mails and placed newspaper ads about the hearings. The plan being voted on, he noted, was itself a compromise in response to critics.

One of the T-shirts worn in support of the plan

The final plan, called “Option C,” he said, was scaled back significantly from the original “Option A,” an $88 million proposal that called for 281 miles of on-street and off-street hike and bike paths.
“Any notion that this was shoved down anyone’s throat is frankly offensive to me,” Shepard said.
In the end, the council voted 5-4 in favor of the plan, with council members LeBlanc, Robert Rivera, Gene Patrick and Mayor Cluck voting against it.
It was somewhat ironic that Cluck voted against it. Several who spoke against the plan had accused Cluck of embracing it. And a newsletter handed out by the opposition group Save Our Streets, criticized the mayor for his “extreme green agenda which includes, among other things, a belief that Arlington streets need to evolve toward a future where everyone rides a bicycle and only the fortunate few enjoy the advantages of motorized transporation.”
As I said, some of these folks live in a parallel universe.

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‘The holy grail of ultracycling’


She almost seems to be saying that the Tour de France is for a pampered, inferior breed of athletes. But I reckon she knows what she’s talking about.

Leah Goldstein

“With the Tour de France, you stop at the end of the day — you rest, you get a massage, eat a meal, sleep and then start fresh the next day,” Leah Goldstein says in a New York Times story published today. “But with RAAM, you don’t. You’re sleep deprived and disoriented.”
The Times story was a report on this year’s RAAM, the Race Across America. The newspaper called the event “the holy grail of ultracycling, a discipline that attracts athletes eager to test the bounds of human endurance.”
This year’s RAAM, which began June 14 with the start of solo women and men 60 and over, followed by solo men the next day, covered 2,989.5 miles from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md.
To officially complete the race, riders have to finish the course within 12 days, covering a minimum of 250 miles a day. The deadline to complete this year’s race was 5 p.m. Monday. Sleep is optional on the ride.
Goldstein, 42, completed the race in just over 11 days, the best time of the two women who finished this year. She’s a personal trainer from Vernon, British Columbia, and a former professional cyclist, a champion kick boxer and member of the Israeli military’s commando-training unit. She has also competed in a women’s version of the Tour de France, La Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, or simply Le Tour Féminin.
This year’s overall winner of the Race Across America was 28-year-old Christoph Strasser, who completed the ride in 8 days, 8 hours and 6 minutes, more than 200 miles and 16 hours ahead of his closest competitor, for an average of nearly 400 miles a day. He worked as a bike messenger in his native Austria to help raise the $50,000 to finance his RAAM appearance.

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The ‘Austin of North Texas’?


It’s very gratifying to see that Fort Worth is pushing ahead with its goal of becoming a bike-friendly city, as judged by the League of American Bicyclists, by 2015.

A cyclist tries out one of Fort Worth's new bike lanes. Star-Telegram photo by Ron T. Ennis

The city has approved a comprehensive bicycle transportation plan; it makes regular improvements and expansions to its fine network of paved bicycle trails, mostly along the Trinity River; it’s considering a bike-sharing plan; bike lanes are being delineated on key thoroughfares in and around downtown; and Mayor-elect Betsy Price, an avid cyclist, has been urging employers to provide shower facilities for cyclists who want to ride to work.
Here’s a link to a story in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram about the city’s latest efforts.
An online comment on the story paints a contrast between what’s going on it Fort Worth compared to the eastern anchor of the Metroplex, Dallas:
“I find it very interesting FW, even though its had its right-tilted leanings in the past, is becoming the more progressive city in the Metroplex when it comes to bikers. Dallas has dropped the ball on bike lanes for quite awhile because they cant ‘agree’ how to handle the lanes. Cowtown is more and more becoming the ‘Austin of North Texas’ because of not only its progressive civic policies, but for its quality of life. It’s another reason the wife and I are moving that way as well.”

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Making the Katy truly statewide


Bicycling the Katy Trail across Missouri, which I’ve done three times, is a hugely enjoyable experience on one of the best rails-to-trails projects in America. But it can leave a rider vaguely unsatisfied.
The reason is that the trail is not truly a statewide route. It currently runs between Clinton in far western Missouri and St. Charles, a St. Louis suburb, in the east. The main missing piece is between the current western terminus and Kansas City.

The current Katy Trail

“Some 300,000 visitors hike, bike or stroll some portion of the Katy Trail State Park every year,” Mike Hendricks wrote for The Kansas City Star in a story posted Sunday on the newspaper’s website. “At 237 miles, it is the longest hiking/biking path of its kind in the United States. From St. Louis in the east to Clinton in the west, the Katy follows the route of its namesake, the former Missouri Kansas and Texas Railroad, nearly the breadth of Missouri.
“But just nearly.”
Now, the finishing touches are being put on the first 3.16 miles of the Rock Island Trail, a rails-to-trails project that will link Kansas City to the Katy. That part of the trail, beginning near Pleasant Hill, southeast of KC, is expected to open in several weeks, Hendricks wrote.
Pleasant Hill would be tied into the regional trail network in and around metropolitan Kansas City, Metro Green.
The rest of the 46-mile Rock Island Trail between Pleasant Hill and Windsor, on the Katy Trail, is expected to be finished within four years. Clinton, to the southwest of Windsor, would then become the terminus of a western spur on the statewide route.
Realization of that last western bit of a trans-Missouri trail, which not long ago seemed a hopeless prospect, is an intriguing tale as told by Hendricks. It involves the bankruptcy of a railroad, the ruination of a popular state park by the failure of a reservoir’s dikes, a lawsuit against a giant energy company and a monetary settlement that made the Rock Island Trail possible.
At the eastern end of the Katy Trail, a cyclist traveling from the west might also experience a sense that the ride across Missouri is not quite complete. The Katy peters out just east of St. Charles, short of the state’s eastern border, the Mississippi River.
It is possible, however — as I did the last time I rode the trail in 2010 — to get onto Missouri 94 and cycle through the rich bottomland along the shoulderless, somewhat dangerous, road to West Alton, Mo. From there, a cyclist can pick up the West Alton Trail, which parallels U.S. 367 to the Clark Bridge across the Mississippi into Alton, my hometown. The plan is to eventually extend the Katy Trail to the Mississippi at Alton via the West Alton Trail.
Completion of the Rock Island Trail in the west and extension to the Mississippi in the east would truly make the Katy Trail a statewide bike route.

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The cardboard nutcase


Could a bicycling helmet made of cardboard protect your cranium just as well or better than that cool, multi-vented, aerodynamic polystyrene job you paid 150 bucks for?
Industrial designer Anirudha Surabhi Rao thinks so, and he has a video to prove it.
The recent graduate of London’s Royal College of Art developed for his final school project a sturdy, recyclable bicycle helmet made of cardboard. The idea won a 20,000-pound grant in 2010 from the James Dyson Fellowship, which aims to foster innovation by supporting talented Royal College of Art designers. Rao is now seeking production partners.
Expanded polystyrene, a slightly harder version of the white foam used to make cheap ice chests and packing material, has also been used for decades in bicycle helmets to absorb the shock of a blunt impact. But Rao says his helmet, called the Kranium, does a much better job of protecting a cyclist’s head in a crash.
When the Kranium was tested against polystyrene helmets made to British standards, Rao says, his cardboard helmet absorbed four times more impact energy than the conventional helmets.
“The ribs of the structure have been designed to accommodate movement in some places, whereas it remains perfectly rigid in some areas,” Rao says.
“Thus during a crash the force peak of the impact is absorbed by the ribs tending to flex and de-flex. The remaining amount of energy is then absorbed by the crumpling nature of the corrugated ribs.”
The cardboard ribs are treated with a waterproof acrylic compound and then encased in a plastic outer layer so it won’t fall apart in a rainstorm. Also, the custom-made Kraniums ensure a perfect fit because the customer’s head is scanned and made to those exact measurements.
Take a look at the video and judge for yourself.

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An epic journey long forgotten


Just about everything I know about the photograph shown below is contained on the image itself: a name, a hometown and evidence of an epic journey through the United States, Europe, Canada and Mexico.
The Lone Star Rambler, as J. Carroll Davis of Fort Worth called himself, had ridden 59,018 miles by the time this postcard-sized image was handed out. Long-distance cyclists sometimes carried photographs of themselves to give to people curious about their journeys or to sell at lectures to help sustain themselves during their travels.

Davis apparently slept along the road in the trailer he hauled behind his bike. It appears that he may also have cooked inside the trailer, judging from the small chimney on the roof. I’m guessing that the trailer is of wood and it appears to be homemade.
The photograph has no date, so I’d have to guess at that, too. Judging from Davis’ clothing and bicycle, I’d reckon that the photo is from the late 1940s or early 1950s.
A copy of the card was given to me by a cycling friend, Ralph Watterson, who has a business called Old Home Supply in the historic Fairmount neighborhood on the Near South Side of Fort Worth. Ralph salvages fixtures and fittings from buildings set for demolition and sells them to people restoring old homes. He also frequents flea makets and yard sales in search of items to sell in his shop.
I can find nothing about J. Carroll Davis or his journey on the Internet. So if any reader of this blog can supply additional information, I’d be very grateful. A bicycle ramble equivalent to more than twice around the world at the equator deserves to be remembered.

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Cycle chic in Cowtown


Fort Worth, which boasts it’s the place “Where the West begins,” has long had “cowgirl chic,” stylish women’s western wear featuring such elements as full skirts, boots, cowboy hats, colorful embroidery and turquoise jewelry.
Now it’s working on “cycle chic.”
Further evidence that my hometown has a blooming bicycle culture was the launch this week of a website called Fort Worth Cycle Chic, whose mission is “promoting stylish urban bicycling in Fort Worth, Texas.”
The website is the brainchild of Kevin Buchanan, a local writer and photographer and creator of the blog FortWorthology.

Kevin Buchanan

Since 2006, he has chronicled on his blog such Fort Worth happenings as restaurant openings, restoration of vintage buildings, the emergence of food trucks and creation of a bicycle infrastructure, particularly in the neighborhoods of the Near South Side and downtown.
“Fort Worth Cycle Chic seeks to showcase to the world the shifting, growing bicycle world of Fort Worth,” Kevin wrote on the introductory page.
“Once the exclusive realm of the hardcore road warriors forced to fight traffic on streets not designed to safely promote bicycling, Fort Worth has begun building bike lanes and racks and promoting bicycle usage for all via its Bike Fort Worth plan.
“Today, there are many facets to the Fort Worth bike world, and we’d like to showcase the fun, the laid-back, and the stylish. Fort Worth Cycle Chic will consist of photographs of stylish Fort Worth cyclists (both ladies and gents), in both posed portraits and candid street photography.”

Some of the Bicycle Betties: Harley, Ghazal, Melissa and Jasmine

The first subjects for Fort Worth Cycle Chic are the Bicycle Betties, a ladies-only bicycle group on the Near South Side. Kevin, a gifted photographer who owns a range of vintage cameras that still use film, arranged a shoot with the Betties and used some of the photos on the inaugural page of Fort Worth Cycle Chic. He also posted a selection on Flickr.
The new website, Kevin notes, can be traced to Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagen, who launched Copenhagen Cycle Chic in 2007. He coined the phrase “cycle chic” to describe the art of riding bicycles in regular, preferably fashionable, clothing. There are now Cycle Chic websites all over the world modeled on the Danish site.
Kevin says he plans to update Fort Worth Cycle Chic regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays and sometimes post photos on Saturdays. “As we get established,” he wrote, “this post frequency will likely increase.”
It promises to be a site well worth bookmarking. I’ve added it to the “blogroll” in the right-hand column of this blog.

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And it’s not even summer yet


The temperature in North Texas is in triple digits already, and we’re still more than a week away from the start of summer.
The photo at left is a screen grab from my iPhone at 4:49 p.m. today. The forecast is for temperatures over 100 through Saturday.
The radio reports that the temperature is 106 degrees in Wichita Falls, about 120 miles north of Fort Worth.
God only knows what the temp will be on Aug. 27 when Wichita Falls hosts its 30th annual Hotter ‘N Hell 100 bicycle ride.
The event, always nine days before Labor Day, probably won’t have much trouble living up to its name this year.
No, I didn’t ride today.

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Live each day as if it were the last


I received some sad news over the weekend: Nick Venuto, a California cyclist whom I met briefly in the fall of 2009 at the outset of a trans-continental bicycle trip, was killed May 31 in San Diego as he was riding his bike home from work.

Nick Venuto

The news was passed on by John Vandevelde, Nick’s uncle, who was a fellow rider on our journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla. John had introduced Nick to participants in the cross-country trip as we gathered at Point Loma Hostel for the start. Nick and John’s three grown children rode with us on Sept. 20, 2009, on the journey’s 43-mile first leg, from San Diego to a campsite in the Laguna Mountains a couple miles east of Alpine, Calif.
Members of our cross-country group also met Nick’s parents, Nick and Judi Venuto of Austin, at a party in Austin hosted by my brother-in-law and his wife about halfway through our trip along the southern tier of the United States.
“Nick had become quite an accomplished bike rider, doing double centuries, and having earned the California Triple Crown jersey by completing three of those in one season,” John wrote of his nephew in an e-mail.

A ghost bike in memory of Nick Venuto

“In a sense he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and the accident had little to do with the fact he was riding a bike, and in another sense it had everything to do with the fact that he was riding a bike,” John wrote.
“He was on a separated, dedicated bikepath that parallels an east-west freeway north of San Diego, the 56 or Ted Williams Freeway. A driver lost control of her car, veered off the freeway, went across some landscaping, flipped, and landed on the bikepath, hitting two riders.
“Nick died on the spot and the other rider was critically injured, but is recovering. The driver had minor injuries. Nick was 40, in his prime in his career as a financial executive, married, two kids 12 and 8. Just awful.”

Nick and Deborah Venuto and their children, Nicholas and Marisa

A memorial bike ride and walk for Nick will be held July 9 in San Diego. For any readers of this blog who live in the San Diego area and wish to particpate, the event begins 8:30 a.m. in the south parking lot of San Diego’s Westview High School. The distance of the ride will be 10.7 miles, and the walk 2.6 miles.
Nick’s brother, Tony, has created a memorial website for Nick, which has information on the July 9 ride/walk, a selection of photos and an obituary with highlights of Nick’s life and cycling career.
In his e-mail, Nick’s uncle offered some wise parting words: “So be safe out there and enjoy every moment like it could be your last.”

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