Monthly Archives: September 2011

A pioneer of urban cycling


John Lindsay’s tenure as mayor of New York is probably best remembered for the sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 and the snowstorm of 1969.
The nine-day strike by the trash collectors in February 1968 caused nearly 100,000 tons of garbage to pile up on sidewalks and in doorways. Some of the heaps caught fire, wind blew the refuse through the streets and rats gorged on discarded food scraps.
On Feb. 10, 1969, the worst blizzard in eight years dumped 15 inches of snow on New York City. The mayor was castigated for giving priority to Manhattan in clearing the snow at the expense of the other boroughs.
But I wonder how many remember that Lindsay, who served two terms as mayor from Jan. 1, 1966, to Dec. 31, 1973, was an early advocate of urban bicycling, bike lanes and livable streets.
I’ve been rummaging through files of black-and-white negatives of photos that I shot when I lived in Manhattan for three years during Lindsay’s tumultuous time as mayor. Among them are images of Lindsay leading a group of cyclists through Central Park. I don’t remember the date, but the photos were probably shot in the summer of 1969.
Last year, the Museum of the City of New York on the Upper East Side staged a retrospective exhibition on Lindsay, the city’s 103rd mayor. The exhibition prompted a June 14, 2010, column by Yonah Freemark on the website Next American City. Freemark praised Lindsay for “his willingness to experiment with the urban environment” and said he advocated policies that were ahead of their time.
“Yet the greatest forgotten achievement of Mayor Lindsay was his dedication to livable streets,” Freemark wrote. “Not only was he known for walking the streets of areas of the city previously thought off-limits to a white mayor, but he led parades of bicyclists down boulevards. His Parks Commissioner Thomas P.F. Hoving initiated a weekend ban on automobiles in Central Park during the mayor’s first year in office — a policy that has stuck into place. And the mayor added some of the first bike and bus lanes in the country. He also closed Fifth Avenue to traffic on Sundays beginning on Earth Day 1970.
“Unfortunately,” wrote Freemark, “Lindsay’s record was largely ignored once he left office. Mayor Ed Koch, who was in office between 1978 and 1989, backtracked and attempted to ban bikes entirely from some Manhattan avenues during the summer of 1987. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shut down a pedestrian area on the Bronx’s Grand Concourse in 1996.
“Only in recent years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has the city made encouraging pedestrian and cyclist use of the streets a higher priority, with projects like the closing of some major roads to cars during summer weekends. The Lindsay experience, however, shows just how quickly similar advances in urban policy can be thrown away.”

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An unexpected photo op


I should always carry a camera with me during my walkabouts and bike rides around Fort Worth. You never know when a photo opportunity might present itself.
This morning, as I was walking my dog in the Mistletoe Heights neighbood on the city’s Near South Side, I came across a vintage Radio Flyer scooter propped against a bench at The Triangle, a triangular patch of green space that serves as a neighborhood gathering place.
I didn’t have with me my favorite camera, a Canon PowerShot G12, so I used my iPhone.
Using the Picasa 3 photo-editing program on my computer, I amped up the color saturation a bit with a photo-editing program on my computer.
No one else was at The Triangle when I passed by, so I have no idea who owns the scooter or why it was propped against the bench. But it made for a pretty nice photo.

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The start of a splendid adventure


“Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’…”
— Song lyrics by Jerry Reed, from the 1977 film Smokey and The Bandit

Two years ago today, I remember exactly what I was doing.
It was a beautiful Sunday
in Southern California, and I, along with 14 of my new best friends, was embarking on a 3,130-mile, 65-day bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
All 15 of us had gathered the previous Friday evening at the Point Loma Hostel, our lodging in San Diego, for a meal and a chance to meet. After all, for the next 65 days we’d be sharing meals and living space along with the pleasures and pains of a transcontinental bicycle trip. We’d get to know each other like family — strengths, weaknesses, eccentricities, special talents.
Certain rituals have to be performed before the start of a such a coast-to-coast bike journey. So on Saturday morning we all rode our bikes to Ocean Beach for the baptism of our rear wheels in the Pacific Ocean. The ceremony was carried out with little fanfare, but with a lot of picture-taking, amid surfer dudes, skateboarders, dog walkers and sunbathers. What they thought of 15 cyclists dipping the wheels of their fully loaded bikes into the ocean I can only guess.
The wheel-dipping was followed by a shakedown ride to Cabrillo Point at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. It was a tough uphill slog with nearly 50 pounds of gear on the bike, but it was a good test for the next day’s start of the trek to Florida and the Atlantic Coast.
On Sunday morning, pumped up by the start of a splendid adventure but filled with apprehension about the long road ahead, we pushed off from the Point Loma Hostel. It was the first crank of the pedals on a journey that would take us along the southern edge of the United States, through California along the border with Mexico, and then on to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and finally Florida.

The first crank of the pedals at Point Loma Hostel in San Diego. Photo by Roger Leddington

Our arrival date in St. Augustine was fixed at Nov. 21, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. At St. Augustine, we would dip our front wheels into the Atlantic, a symbolic completion of the journey.
In addition to our personal gear — tent, sleeping bag, clothing, tools, etc. — we all had to carry bits and pieces of cooking gear and supplies for our daily meals. Cathy Blondeau, from Canada, carried a large cooking pot perched upright on her rear rack. On one side of the pot, the side that would be seen by passing motorists, she used a Sharpie to print the word “Florida,” with an arrow pointed forward. On the other side of the pot, she wrote “San Diego,” with an arrow pointing backward.
Sunday’s ride took us steadily up hill, past Qualcomm Stadium where we had to dodge the traffic of fans arriving for a San Diego Chargers game, and into the Laguna Mountains.
The distance for that first day was 43 miles to a campsite a couple miles east of the town of Alpine. All went well, except that the blazing sun and heavy-duty climbing pushed one of our riders from Europe to the verge of heat exhaustion.
At the outset of our trip and throughout, we frequently encountered curious onlookers who asked such questions as: Where are you going? How long will it take? Where’s the support vehicle? You mean you don’t have a sag wagon? You have to carry everything on the bike and camp in the desert?
The reactions to our answers ranged from heartfelt wishes of good luck, to looks that said, “You’ve got to be crazy!”
At Cabrillo Point on the day before our start, a woman out for a recreational ride on her bike, stopped and queried me about the gear I was hauling and our destination. After I outlined the contours of our journey, she just looked at me for about five seconds, mouth agape, before finally saying: “I’m wordless. I just can’t imagine that?”
I, too, sometimes had trouble imagining it during the months of training and preparation for the trip. And now, with a whole continent ahead of us, it was finally happening.
Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’!
I remember it like it was yesterday!

NOTE: If anyone wishes to read a chronicle of this journey, go to the Archives listing on the right side of this blog and click on “September 2009.” Previous blog posts, dating back to April 2009, deal with the training and preparations for the trip.

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A gift of photography


Almost all of the posts on this blog have something to do with bicycling, one way or another.
Put this one under the category of “stuff I learned from my sons,” which I’ve written about in a previous post, particulary in regard to photography.

A photo by son Thomas for an AP story about the snowboarding documentary "The Art of Flight"

Two of my sons, Thomas and Ben, have a deep interest in photography and a gift for taking fine pictures. I’ve been studying their techniques and trying to learn from them.
I featured a selection of bicycle photos by Ben, an amateur photographer, in a Sept. 7 blog post, “Where bicycles rule.” The photos were shot in the Netherlands, where Ben spent a couple weeks this summer.
Today, I feature a photo essay by Thomas, shot May 8 in the Snowmass ski area of Colorado. Thomas, who works for The Associated Press in Denver, captured the images for an AP story about a spectacular new documentary on snowboarding, The Art of Flight. The film opened Sept. 7 in New York.
I, of course, am biased, but I think the photos are pretty good.

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‘The plague of the pavement’


All is not well in bicycling heaven.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, bicycles
are everywhere, and 55 percent of Copenhageners travel daily to work or school on a bike. “Cyclists in Copenhagen travel a total of 1.2 million kilometers (745,645 miles) by bike every day,” boasts a city website.

City of Cyclists logo

But that popularity of two-wheeled transport has prompted a backlash among pedestrians, says a story in Wednesday’s New York Times, “In City of Cyclists, Pedestrians Feel the Squeeze.”
“We call cyclists the plague of the pavement,” the Times quoted Mikael le Dous as saying. Le Dous, a 56-year-old power plant engineer, is head of the Copenhagen Pedestrian Association — and a cyclist himself.
He complained that Copenhagen’s ubiquitous cyclists ignore traffic lights, ride the wrong direction on one-way streets and plow through pedestrian areas without dismounting.
There’s a lesson here for urban cyclists everywhere, particularly in cities where cycling has not become generally accepted. Cyclists who flout the rules of the road, who are discourteous in their encounters with pedestrians and motorists, who arrogantly act as if the bicycle is, or should be, the only means of transport, blacken the name of all cyclists.
To get a taste of the cycling scene in Copenhagen, check out the video from the city webpage “City of Cyclists.”

Copenhagen City of Cyclists from Copenhagen City of Cyclists on Vimeo.

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Paperboys and vintage bikes


“It meant a lot to me as a kid. Today it’s basically something that doesn’t exist.”
— Matt Lauer, host the the NBC morning program “Today” speaking of his first job as a paperboy

Charles Holmes, a fellow participant in Fort Worth’s nocturnal bicycle rides, passed along to me a snapshot of his father, a cyclist from an earlier time, as he was about to embark on his daily mission of delivering newspapers on the city’s west side.
“The photo is of my father, the paperboy, rolling out of the driveway onto Clover [Lane] on April 10, 1938,” Charles wrote in a post on the Web site RadRod Bikes.
Charles’ father was a Depression-era kid and he and all his brothers had jobs. “They were paperboys,” Charles wrote. “And the cycle they used, or rather shared, has captured my imagination for years. What a bike. It was old, beat, tough, it worked, it had to, it was a RatRod. What a grand time that must have been.”
The bike in the photo, Charles wrote, is a 1930 Elgin.
During the 1930s, Elgin bicycles were sold by Sears Roebuck & Co., in its stores and through the company’s mail order catalogue. Sears used the Westfield Manufacturing Co. of Westfield, Mass., to produce many of the bikes and, at the time, Sears was one of the biggest marketers of bicycles in the United States.
The only relic that Charles still has to remind him of his father’s and uncles’ days of delivering the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the Arlington Heights neighborhood is a hole punch that made triangular holes to mark payments in subscribers’ receipt books.
Like most newspapers these days, the Star-Telegram no longer uses paperboys to deliver its daily product. Contract distributors are used instead.
The decline of the use of paperboys coincided in many communities with the disappearance of afternoon newspapers. The delivery times for afternoon papers worked better for school-aged children than did those of morning papers, which typically were delivered before 6 a.m.
Wikipedia offers this tidbit on the history of paperboys: “Newspaper industry lore suggests that the first paperboy, hired in 1833, was 10-year-old Barney Flaherty who answered an advertisement in the New York Sun, which read ‘To the Unemployed a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper.'”

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Where bicycles rule


My oldest son, Ben, a gifted amateur photographer who lives in Taiwan, spent a couple weeks in the Netherlands this summer.

Ben

Before his trip, I asked him to take a few shots of Holland’s long-flourishing bicycle culture to post on this blog. Today, he delivered by e-mail a series of stunning images that I wish I could claim as my own.
In a nation that has more than 12,500 miles of bicycle paths, where about 37 percent of trips under 1.5 miles are made by bicycle, and, of course, where bikes are as ubiquitous as tulips in springtime, Ben had photo opportunities at every turn. And he made the best of them.
Check out the slide show of his photos.

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Cycling in the news


Nearly every day I troll the Internet in search of snippets about bicycling. Here are a few from today’s cull:

– After John Markoff crashed on his bike while riding downhill at 30 mph on the back roads of the San Francisco Peninsula, he was alert and oriented when the medics got to him. But he had no memory of what led to the crash. “Ultimately,” he wrote for The New York Times Science section, “I was able to put the puzzle together with the cyclist’s equivalent of a black box: the digital record of my speed, location, pedal rate and heart rate that was stored in the Garmin cyclometer on my handlebars. I also learned that other cyclists involved in accidents have been able to use similar data to prove what happened in their crashes.”

Neighbor and fellow cyclist Josh Lindsay checks out the Velib system during a bike ride in France this summer

– Since Paris Mayor Bernard Delanoe introduced the first Velib rental bikes in 2006, Parisians have embraced the bicycle in numbers not seen since World War II, says Bicycling magazine. Today no less than 20,000 Velib bikes, can be found a hundreds of stations on the city streets of Paris. As a result, cyclists can simply pick up a bike from one of the stations, go for a ride, and drop it back at any station they choose. But this quiet revolution would not have possible if it weren’t for the expansion of bike lanes or bike-friendly lanes. Currently the mayor’s office claims 645 kilometers of protected or semi-protected routes.

– “I learned long time ago that my body is what I have to work with,” writes Dennis Wyatt, managing editor of the Manteca Bulletin of Manteca, Calif. “I’ll never be an athlete but I can maximize the body I was dealt in the DNA sweepstakes. So what if I can’t even throw like a girl? And just because I’m a klutz who could give Chevy Chase a run for his money doesn’t mean I have to sit on my tail. Exercising and your health should be about you and not about anyone else whether it is Jack LaLane, Lance Armstrong, or some chain-smoking mountain biker.”

– The Leopard-Trek cycling team is joining forces for the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the RadioShack team formerly led by seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, according to news service reports.

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