Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bicycling was a wash in Seoul

SEOUL — I had hoped to get in a bike ride along the Han River during a week in the South Korean capital for the wedding party of son Matt and wife You Kyoung. But it was a wash — literally.

Flooding on the Han River in Seoul. Photo by the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Nearly a week of torrential, almost non-stop rain over the Korean peninsula caused horrendous flooding and massive mud slides. Much of the riverside park space and sections of the bike trails were inundated.
The bicycle trails are a part of an effort by Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon to persuade more Koreans to ride bicycles in this vibrant, high-tech megacity. This low-tech means of transport ties in with the nation’s green growth strategy, which also includes solar and wind power, hybrid gas-electric cars and buses powered by compressed natural gas.
Only about 1.6 percent of Seoul’s commuters use bicycles, partly due to a lack of dedicated paths. That compares with nearly 40 percent using bikes to get to work in Amsterdam, the world’s most bike-friendly city, and about 6.4 percent for Portland, Ore., which boasts the highest percentage of bike commuters in the United States.

Cars inundated by flood waters in Seoul. Photo by South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Seoul’s municipal government announced plans on Oct. 22, 2008, to build 207 kilometers (129 miles) of cycle paths over the next four years.
The aim is to increase the number of Seoul’s bike commuters to 4.4 percent of the populace in 2012, 7.6 percent in 2016 and 10 percent in 2020.
On Sept. 17, 2009, the city announced plans to introduce a bicycle-rental program modeled on the Velib system in Paris — on a much larger scale.

A bike share station outside the headquarters of the Korean Broadcasting System in Seoul

The sheer size of the Seoul, the fifth-largest city in the world, might be a bit off-putting for anyone daring to venture out on two wheels.
With a population of more than 10 million, Seoul is bigger than New York, and it’s the center of the world’s second-largest metropolitan area with more than 24.5 million inhabitants. Only greater Tokyo is larger.
Because Seoul has a surface area about six times that of Paris, the Koreans plan to integrate the bike paths and rental stations with bus and subway routes to accommodate longer commutes.
The idea is to make bicycle paths only a part of a worker’s commuting route. Bikes could be carried on buses and subway cars or rented at bus and subway stations and returned to any rental station in the city.
The paths would reach into all corners of the sprawling city. Bike parks, fitted out with shower rooms and lockers, would be placed at 16 subway stations so Seoulites could use both bicycles and public transit to get to work. In some cases, the number of lanes for motor vehicles on major roads would be cut to create new cycle paths.
Major segments of the current network of bike paths criss-crossing Seoul are those on either side of the Han River, which flows east to west through the city and empties into the Yellow Sea, the West Sea to Koreans.

A poster offering a bicycle tour along the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas

The bike path on the south side of the river starts upstream around Gwangnaru area on the east side of the metropolis and runs 41.4 kilometers (25.72 miles) to Gangseo Wetland Park near the mouth of the Han River. The bike path on the northern side of the river starts at Gwangjin Bridge on the east and runs 39.3 kilometers (24.4 miles) downstream to Nanji Han River Park. Bicycles can be rented at various places along the riverside near subway stops.
That was my plan — to ride along the Han River as far as time allowed. But it will have to wait until our next visit.



Filed under Travels, Urban cycling

Be careful out there

As we go into our 20th consecutive day of 100-degree temperatures in Dallas-Fort Worth, a sad story out of Wichita, Kan., takes on special relevance and provides some lessons.
Larry L. Godfrey, an experienced cyclist who was training for a charity ride, was found dead on Saturday, apparently of heat stroke, along a road near Oxford, in Sumner County southeast of Wichita.
Godfrey, 47, was riding alone on a regular training route from his home in Arkansas City, Kan., to Oxford and back, a round trip of about 50 miles. The temperature that Saturday was about 105 degrees.
When he arrived in Oxford, said a report on Wichita TV station KWCH/Channel 12, he called his wife at 11:05 a.m. to say that he was turning around and heading home. At about 11:50, he called his wife again to tell her that “he was in distress.”

Larry Godfrey

His wife jumped into her car to try to find her husband along his training route. But a sheriff’s deputy patrolling Oxford Road found Godfrey first, the TV report said. “He was not breathing and had no pulse. Emergency crews adminstered aid, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.” Godfrey still had water in his hydrapack, and doctors believe he had a heat stroke, the TV report said.
Godfrey was training for a two-day bicycling fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The 150 mile, two-day ride begins Sept. 17 in Olathe, overnights in Lawrence and ends Sept. 18 back in Olathe.
I had my own experience with overwhelming heat on July 2, the Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend. The temperature that day, too, was well over 100 degrees.
I and a group of friends were cycling from downtown Fort Worth to downtown Dallas along an indirect route of nearly 50 miles that aimed to avoid much of the traffic in this sprawling Metroplex. (See July 8 blog post, “Craziness in the genes.”)
After 41 miles, in a leafy neighborhood of north Dallas, I hit the wall. My caring friends recognized the onset of heat exhaustion, brought bottles of cold water from a house on the street where I bonked and commandeered a garden hose to spray me with cool water to bring down my core temperature. One rider, whose wife happened to be visting her father in Dallas, asked her to fetch me in her minivan and take me and my bike to a downtown resturant where we were planning to have lunch before taking the train back to Fort Worth.
The experience drove home a couple guidelines that I had ignored myself many times while cycling in very hot weather: Don’t ride alone. And choose a route where help is readily available in case of an emergency.
Be careful out there.


Filed under Environment, Training

Tracking fires for cyclists

Touring cyclists traveling around the United States during this exceedingly hot and dry summer might find very useful a new tool from the Adventure Cycling Association.
“Every year, it seems that a few routes in the Adventure Cycling Route Network are affected by forest fires, usually when smoke reduces visibility to the point where authorities close the roads,” says the bicycle advocacy group based in Missoula, Mont. “That’s why we at headquarters have created a new resource, which we’ve dubbed the Adventure Cycling Association Fire Map.”
The new tool uses a Google map of the United States overlaid with the association’s route network, nearly 41,000 miles of bike-friendly roads criss-crossing America. The map is linked to the U.S. Forest Service’s GeoMAC fire incident database.
“The perimeters of every fire in the U.S. are updated daily and displayed on the map with our routes,” Adventure Cycling Association reports in Wednesday’s edition of Bike Bits, an e-mailed compilation of news about cycling. “Riders can easily zoom in on fires near their route and click on the fire icon to get more information.
“The link in the balloon will direct users to a website with the latest status of the fire. If there is a closure on the intended route, contact information can be utilized to call local agencies for detour information. There’s also information on wind direction and speed, which can be used to estimate smoke coverage.”
The association says it hopes eventually to add “flood, weather, and snow-depth overlays” to make the map even more useful.

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Filed under Cycling across America, Environment, Travels

To save precious minutes

It may seem like a small thing, maybe frivolous to some. But placing 911 locator signs along biking and hiking trails could make the difference between life and death.
As early as next week, the Tarrant Regional Water District will begin placing 77 locator signs on a stretch of trail along the Clear Fork of the Trinity River, from the trailhead at Texas 183 southwest of downtown Fort Worth to the confluence of the Clear Fork and West Fork just north of downtown.
“The signs read ‘your 911 location is,’ followed by ‘CF’ for Clear Fork and a corresponding number,” said a Wednesday report on KXAS/Channel 5. “When people call 911, they can tell the operator the location letters and numbers so the operator will know where they are.”
The stretch of trail getting the signs — about 10 miles — is probably the most heavily used of Fort Worth’s extensive Trinity Trails network, mostly along the Clear and West forks. It passes through Trinity Park, skirts the museum district and the Fort Worth Zoo on opposite sides of the river and ends near several large apartment complexes.
The signs will allow emergency responders to pinpoint the location of, say, a crashed cyclist with a head injury or a jogger suffering a heart attack, saving precious minutes and maybe lives.
The water district is spending about $10,000 for the signs, which will be placed about 1,000 feet apart along the trail, Channel 5 said.
“It’s a relatively small cost when it comes to saving people’s lives,” Channel 5 quoted a water district spokesman, Chad Lorance, as saying. “So if we save one live, it’s well worth it.”


Filed under Texana, Urban cycling

America’s future: More roads, more cars, more congestion

“It hurts to lose the 405 even for a weekend not because freeways are so valuable or because we love them so much but because we’ve painted ourselves in a corner in terms of mobility. We have left ourselves no escape hatches or viable alternatives.”
— Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, on this weekend’s shutdown of the 405 Freeway

It’s called The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: “If you increase the number of highways in a city by 1 percent, it causes driving to also increase by 1 percent.”
In other words, members of Congress and state and city planners who believe that more highways or more traffic lanes on existing roads is the answer to congestion are only exacerbating the problem.
The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion comes from the title of a 2009 study at the University of Toronto by Matthew A. Turner and Gilles Duranton. The study was cited, and Turner was interviewed, in a July 9 National Public Radio report on plans in Greater Los Angeles to widen one of its major arteries, Interstate 405.

Expect big delay on the 405 Freeway this weekend. Bloomberg photo by Jonathan Alcorn

The 405, driven by an estimated half-million Angelenos every work day, traverses Greater LA from the San Fernando Valley in the north to Irvine in the south. A 10-mile stretch of the 405 will be closed for about 53 hours this weekend, from Friday night until the early Monday morning.
Construction crews for the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project will be demolishing part of the 50-year-old Mulholland Bridge in the Sepulveda Pass area of the 405 to build a new and wider bridge and add a northbound high-occupancy-vehicle lane.
Locals are preparing for what’s been dubbed “Carmageddon.”
The aim of the project, of course, is to ease traffic congestion. But Turner told Guy Raz, weekend host on NPR’s “All Things Considered” program, that the Interstate 405 improvements project will actually make traffic worse.
“What we found,” Turner said of the University of Toronto’s research of traffic in 228 U.S. cities, “was that in cities where there was more roads, there was more driving. In particular, if you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities.”
So if Americans had more transportation choices — commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, buses — they’d drive less? Right? Well, Turner’s answer was surprising, and an indication of the depth of this country’s love affair with the automobile.
“What we find,” he said, “is that as you increased a city’s stock of light rail or bus cars, that there’s no impact on the amount of driving.”
How, then, do we deal with traffic congestion?
“We have really a small number of possible policy responses to congestion,” he said. “One is capacity increases; one is transit increases. And the third is congestion pricing. And what we’ve shown is that the first two of those policy responses are unlikely to work, which leaves congestion pricing.”
Such cities as London, Singapore and Stockholm have adopted “congestion pricing,” which means that motorists are charged a toll to drive into the centers of the cities. Turner said that Stockholm, specifically, has seen a 50 percent reduction in travel time at peak times because of the tolls.

Countdown to the closure: From the website on the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project

All of those cities have very good public transportation, which makes possible “congestion pricing” for cars. In Stockholm, many residents commute to work by bicycle. And London, under Mayor Boris Johnson, has been been aggressively increasing the number of bicycle lanes to sharply increase the number of bike commuters.
But many cities in car-centric America lack decent public transportation, and many Americans probably wouldn’t stomach having to pay to drive into city centers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York unveiled on April 22, 2007, a plan for the city’s long-term sustainability through 2030. The plan, PlaNYC 2030, included among its transportation initiatives a congestion fee for driving into or within Manhattan’s central business district. That part of the proposal, which had to be appoved by the State Assembly, ran into opposition and was never put to a vote.
So, in my lifetime at least, the future of transport in America is more roads, more cars, more congestion. As the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times observed, “we’ve painted ourselves in a corner in terms of mobility. We have left ourselves no escape hatches or viable alternatives.”


Filed under Americana, Environment, History, Politics, Urban cycling

What’s wrong with this picture?

Frivolous? Not in the national interest?
— On July 7, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.,
chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced that his proposed long-term federal transportation bill will eliminate dedicated funding for projects that encourage bicycling and walking. He referred to these programs as “not in the national interest.”
In the Senate, lead negotiator James Inhofe, R-Okla., declared that one of his top three priorities for the transportation bill is to eliminate “frivolous spending for bike trails.”
— In a 1998 book, Bill Bryson wrote about a trek along the Appalachian Trail with Stephen Katz, an old buddy from Iowa. Here’s a passage from the book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, that caught my attention:
“Now here’s a thought to consider. Every twenty minutes on the Appalachian Trail, Katz and I walked farther than the average American walks in a week. For 93 percent of all trips outside the home, for whatever distance or whatever purpose, Americans now get in a car. On average the total walking of an American these days —- that’s walking of all types: from car to office, from office to car, around the supermarket and shopping malls — adds up to 1.4 miles a week, barely 350 yards a day. That’s ridiculous.”
— Then there’s this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

An image from a CDC webpage on obesity. It must be trying to suggest something.

“More than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. During 1980–2008, obesity rates doubled for adults and tripled for children. During the past several decades, obesity rates for all population groups — regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region — have increased markedly…
“In 2008, overall medical care costs related to obesity for U.S. adults were estimated to be as high as $147 billion. People who were obese had medical costs that were $1,429 higher than the cost for people of normal body weight. Obesity also has been linked with reduced worker productivity and chronic absence from work.”
More statistics from the CDC: “23.6 million people in the United States (7.8% of the total population) have diabetes. Of these, 5.7 million have undiagnosed diabetes. In 2007, about 1.6 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people aged 20 years or older.”
And Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90-95 percent of diabetes cases, says the CDC, “is linked to obesity and physical inactivity.”
So Republican congressional leaders consider projects that encourage bicycling and hiking as “frivolous” and “not in the national interest”?
What’s wrong with this picture?


Filed under Americana, Environment, Politics, Urban cycling

Craziness in the genes

“Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.”
— A message once affixed to my late mother-in-law’s refrigerator

What are the chances?
Two members of the same immediate
family, father and son, nearly overcome by extremes of temperature, one of heat the other of cold, on the same day, at about the same hour, more than 800 miles apart, while engaging in their favorite pastimes?
The day was July 2, the Saturday of the Independence Day weekend.
I decided the day before to join seven friends in a bicycle ride from downtown Fort Worth to downtown Dallas.

Son Thomas

Our youngest son, Thomas, an avid skier who lives in Denver, was closing out the the ski season at Arapahoe Basin near Keystone, Colo., about 836 miles northwest of Dallas-Fort Worth.
The driving distance from downtown Fort Worth to downtown Dallas on Interstate 30 — almost due west to east — is about 30 miles.
But to avoid traffic in this sprawling metropolis, we chose a safer, indirect cycling route that took us northeast toward Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, through the upscale development of Las Colinas in Irving, around the northern edge of Bachman Lake and Dallas Love Field into the leafy neighborhoods of north Dallas. That route is nearly 50 miles.
The temperature was forecast to be over 100 degrees as we gathered for a planned 9 a.m. start at a coffeee shop near my house on Fort Worth’s Near South Side. We didn’t get away until after 9:30 and were supposed to meet another rider at a Starbucks in Euless along Airport Freeway at 10 a.m. But we didn’t get there until after 11 a.m. and didn’t get back onto the road until almost noon.

Refueling at Starbucks. From left Emily, Keith, Brian and Tony

By then, the sun was high in a cloudless sky and we had already passed a time-temperature sign that said 105 degrees. During a hydration stop at a convenience store as we pushed into north Dallas, I was feeling the effects of the heat and thought about calling my wife for a rescue. But I rode on with my younger, obviously fitter, companions.
After more than 41 miles, I hit the wall, bonked, ran out of steam. I pulled into a shady driveway to try to recover. I was nauseous, my legs were rubbery and I felt like crawling into a cool, dark hole to die. When my fellow riders rode up to offer aid, one of them said: “Hey, this is where one of my best friends lives.”
We roused the friend, who builds bicycle frames in a workshop behind his house. He brought bottles of cold water, and an elderly gentleman who lives across the street offered his garden hose. My riding companions sprayed me with cool water until I began to feel human again.
I thought briefly about continuing the ride to a sports bar in downtown Dallas, Dick’s Last Resort, where we planned to have lunch before taking the Trinity Railway Express back to Fort Worth. But my companions wisely advised against it. One rider, whose wife happened to be visiting her father in Dallas, gave her a call. Like a guardian angel, she came in her minivan to pick up me and my bike and deliver me to Dick’s Last Resort.
While waiting for my friends to arrive on their bikes, I rehydrated with two pints of beer. I was amazed at the recuperative properties of Blue Moon and Shiner Bock.
Later that evening at home, as I checked Facebook, I came across this post by son Thomas: “Tried pond skimming at A-Basin today. Epic fail!! One of my skis is at the bottom of a lake, I’m bruised and bloodied and I think I’m suffering from hypothermia. Great end to a ski season though.”
“What in the heck is pond-skimming?” I asked Thomas by phone.

At Dick's Last Reort. From left Brian, Dave, Tony, Emily, Keith and Paul

His explanation: As the snow melts at the end of the ski season, the water pools in “ponds” at the bottom of the ski slopes. Skiers shushing down the slopes aim for the ponds and try to ski across them like water skiers. The mayhem is regularly captured on video and posted on YouTube. (See a couple videos below of pond-skimming at A-Basin.)
Thomas, who had been wearing swimming trunks to ski in 72-degree weather, said his teeth were chattering so rapidly when he emerged from the icy water that he couldn’t speak. He was taken down the mountain in a snowmobile.
He had to drive back to A-Basin on the Fourth of July to retrieve the ski that had been fished out of the pond. I, too, was without some essential gear for a time. In my addled state, I had left my iPhone and hydrapack in the minivan that rescued me. I drove to my friend’s house later in the day to pick up the stuff.
“Oy vey!” my wife, Mary Ellen, responded to Thomas’ Facebook posting. “One family member suffering from hypothermia and another from heat exhaustion!”
What are the chances?


Filed under Environment, Texana, Urban cycling