Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's wishing all of you a safe and restful holiday.

See you next week.

Friday, November 21, 2008

President-Elect Obama *hearts* bicycles--and urban policy

Readers may remember that last month I encouraged visitors here to vote for Barack Obama on the strength of his approach to urban and transportation issues. It is a sign of the high priority he has given these matters that he has recently announced the establishing of a White House Office of Urban Policy that will coordinate the activities of such offices as HUD, Health and Human Services, and Transportation. Various commenters on this news note that it has been many, many years since a presidential candidate has emerged from--and spoken to his experiences derived from--a large-city background, and all this bodes well for cities addressing pressing urban planning and transportation issues in a near-future of at-best uncertain state and local revenues.

More good news along these lines: Via Austin Bike Blog comes this Transportation for America post which reprints a response from Mr. Obama to an e-mail petition asking him, should he be elected President, to address urban planning, alternate transportation, and infrastructure issues.
As you know, [investments in infrastructure, green technologies, and high-speed freight and passenger rail] will have significant environmental and metropolitan planning advantages and help diversify our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Everyone benefits if we can leave our cars, walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. I agree that we can stop wasteful spending and save Americans money, and as president, I will re- evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.

I will build upon my efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks. And as president, I will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities.
No matter one's politics, what's not to like? It's neither a liberal or conservative position to say that over 80% of our people live in urban areas and that the needs of those areas and their inhabitants have to be addressed through effective planning, no matter who is in the White House or in Congress. As Matthew Yglesias recently put it,
[T]o my way of thinking an enormous amount of good could be done if conservatives were more interested in applying really basic free market principles to transportation policy. For example, why not allow developers to build as much or as little parking as they want to build when they launch a new development? Why not charge market rates for curbside parking on public streets? How about fewer restrictions on the permitted density of development? Why not reduce congestion on the most-trafficked roads through market pricing of access? It happens to be the case that most of the people who are interested in these issues have liberal views on unrelated political issues, but the specific set of views at hand don’t draw on any deep ideological principles, it’s just application of basic economic thinking to the issues and, as such, is something that should be completely accessible to conservative politicians looking to show that conservative ideas can be relevant to the concerns (environmental concerns, quality of life concerns, economic growth concerns) of a set of people who are disinclined to think of themselves as conservatives.
As I've said elsewhere, such proposals, along with others that enhance public and alternate transportation, are not in the end anti-car but end up enhancing everyone's quality of life through quieter and less-congested roadways, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, cleaner air, healthier people, and increased revenues for local governments. It's my hope that Wichita and its new city manager are listening.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Readers' Ride report; a Wichita cycling eccentric

What has not kept me from posting on last weekend's rides? Well: now that I've dealt with the last of those delays by having my internet service restored, I can offer up a brief report.

I overslept on Saturday the 15th, and it was cold besides. Sunday the 16th, though, could not have been a better day for a ride: sunny; slight breeze, temperatures in the upper-50s/lower-60s. So, I headed down to the softball fields at Plainview Park; and even with a stop for a brief repair (my bike didn't shift gears properly and the chain got hung up between the frame and the rear gears) I arrived there just before 1:00.

No one else showed, alas, but I was still happy to be out. Here's the Veloroutes map of my route. From the softball fields, I followed the bike path up to the intersection of Bayley and Armour, then doubled back down the path to Mt. Vernon and turned west there. I didn't trace the entire route; for those interested, though, it's almost exactly 6 miles from the intersection of Mt. Vernon and George Washington to my apartment, so I ended up riding 20 miles in all.

The main thing I was looking for on this ride was progress on the path-building along Gypsum Creek from Pawnee to Woodlawn. Things looked about the same, as far as I could see, but that means only that: I couldn't see all that far.

On the way home, I had my first truly close call with a car. I was heading west on the Harry Street bridge, approaching the intersection with McLean. A car was at the intersection, stopped for the light and waiting to turn left (south) on McLean. There were no cars in my lane. When I was about 50 feet from the intersection, the light turned green. Suddenly, before the car in the other lane had started forward, a large white truck cut between the car and me. I don't know how close he actually came, but it looked close. I could easily have touched the side of the truck as it passed. But no matter: he certainly could--and should--have waited the few seconds behind me that it would have taken me to reach the corner and get out of the street and onto the bike path there.

Both the ultimate cliché and the ultimate indignity: the truck had Texas plates. I am proud to be a native-born Texan, but I swear that some people feel that the combination of a crew cab and the badge of "Texan" gives them the right to do especially bone-headed things behind the wheel of said crew cab.

Except for the close call, it was a good ride: good enough to cause me to hope for a few more days like it during the winter.

Via Douglas and Main comes the story of Bob Hughes in ncbeat.com by Stephanie Barnard. "Bicycle Bob," who lives just east of downtown, has been getting around by bike since the late '60s and has "about 75" bikes in various states of repair. He figures he's been hit by cars about 40 times. Best quote: "A bike is nothing but a new pair of shoes with a round sole." Anyway: go and read.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hither and Yon #3

Angry Jack's Tube Tree, out behind the Bicycle X-Change's West Douglas location. Click to enlarge. Image via Riders of Rohan.

A round-up of things:

I've been instructed not to apologize for my silences here, so I'll just say that work and other obligations have kept me from here. I am looking forward to our rescheduled Readers' Rides for this weekend, though, and I hope we have the combination of other folks and decent weather. On Saturday the 15th at 9:00 a.m., we'll meet on the south side of Kellogg at Armour; on Sunday the 16th at 1:00, we'll meet at the softball fields at Plainview Park.

Though I wasn't able to do the Readers' Ride this weekend, I was out errand-running on my bike Saturday morning: my first chilly-weather ride, about 10 miles in all. Despite the stiff north wind (which, because of my route, fortunately was something I didn't have to contend with for very long) and a temperature in the mid-30s, I was dressed warmly, if ridiculously, enough (only my toes got a little cold). I was wearing "civilian" clothes, though: a warm but not breathable lightweight jacket; jeans; heavy gloves; a wide elastic band over the ears, tennis shoes. It worked--I stayed warm--but I won no style points, and I was distracted at times by the bulkiness of it all. Maybe Santa Claus will bring me some more-appropriate cold-weather gear . . .

On Election Day I walked to my polling place (I had considered riding, but I didn't know if there would be bike racks; as it turned out, there weren't). At any rate, at the intersection of Central and Wichita (Wichita runs between the county courthouse and the county jail, in case you were wondering), a Cornejo Construction crew was busily at work digging up not only a good bit of sidewalk but also a lot of soil. As I wondered what they were up to, I suddenly remembered the recent news of the new downtown bike path. So: it's good to see that work has indeed begun on that project.

Via local and loyal reader Mark comes some welcome news for touring cyclists:
The United States is on a path to creating what could become the largest official bicycle route network in the world, thanks to the approval of a new plan by America's leading authority on national route designations. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has just approved a National Corridor Plan laying out the framework and guidelines for the development of this system.

The plan identifies corridors connecting America's urban, rural, and suburban areas. The corridors cover well over 50,000 miles, which, if transformed into routes along roads and trails, would create the largest official bicycle route network in any country or on any continent. By comparison, the planned Euro-Velo network in Europe is projected to be 60,000 kilometers or 36,000 miles.
You can find further information, including criteria for routes and links to other trail sites, here.

Mark was also kind enough to send along a link to a map showing proposed routes: (pdf file). The astute among you will note that Wichita is included on one of these routes.

You may remember that last month I noted that an Obama administration would be keenly interested in developing alternative-transportation networks. News of the development of this bicycle route network, along with the new administration's transportation policy priorities, is all welcome news to cyclists who use their bikes as more than recreation.

I'm surprised that this thread didn't attract any comments. If you're wary about ratting on your fellow cyclists, you can always post anonymously.

Quote of the week? From the Springfield [MO] News-Leader (via Carbon Trace): "Our study showed people were going fast enough to warrant a higher speed."--Earl Newman, Springfield city traffic engineer. You should read the article, but the upshot is that the city is raising speed limits on some streets for no apparent reason other than the fact that people are already driving faster anyway. Along the lines of this reasoning: one of the local television stations recently had a story in which a reporter confronted drivers who were ignoring school zone speed limits. So, maybe we shouldn't have school zones? Many in Wichita are so small (often about half a block) that the temptation is indeed strong to simply ignore them. Or what about those pesky stop lights? And those folks that drive over 100 mph on the Kansas Turnpike--should we accommodate them as well?

Human nature being what it is, there are folks who push limits, whatever those limits might be. Their default setting for driving speeds is, Whatever the sign says plus 5 (or 10 or . . . ) mph. My former mother-in-law is such a person; her motto is, "You know how fast you need to go." There's no way to safely accommodate such people and protect the safety of those of us who have better control over our ids. Some laws are meant to inconvenience us--for our own good, and that of others. Besides: in these days of greater awareness of fuel consumption and the near-certainty that gas prices will rise, driving slower--enforced through current or reduced speed limits--is an excellent way to reduce fuel consumption.

Mr. Newman is, I'm certain, a fine American. But his thinking about speed limits (not to mention its implications for pedestrians and cyclists) seems born of an earlier America of cheap gas and bikes on sidewalks. Those days are receding from memory. It would be to our mutual benefit if our city planners, you know, planned--for a coming future and not for a past that no longer serves us well.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Readers' Rides postponed

I regret to announce that I will have to postpone the announced Readers' Rides for this weekend. I would like to re-schedule them for the following weekend, Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th, at the same times and places as announced earlier.

While I have your attention . . .

Recently in comments, Joe Mizereck asked me to pass along the following bike-safety issue:
Good morning John. I need your help in getting the word out about a jersey I have developed to remind motorists that they need to give cyclists at least 3 feet clearance when passing from the rear. This is a law in 12 states in the US, but a universal need. Please share my website link with your friends www.3feetplease.com

Here's what one site said: http://womenscycling.ca/blog/?page_id=45

Thank you,

Joe Mizereck
"3 Feet Please" Campaign
916 Shadowlawn Drive
Tallahassee, Florida 32312

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A non-cycling bleg

As part of my Composition II students' requirements for their research projects, I am requiring them to keep a blog whose posts deal with source material they encounter for their topics. The chief reason I want them to keep one is to try to make them more aware of audience as they write, to make "audience" less of an abstraction yammered about in the relative vacuum of the classroom and more of a reality, and engage with people who may be so kind as to leave them comments on their posts.

People like . . . ::looks around:: . . . people like you!

I'd like to encourage you to have a look at their blogs (here is a list, along with brief descriptions of their subjects). If you find one (or more) that interest you and you're so inclined, I hope you'll leave them comments, ask them questions, etc.

It takes a blogosphere to educate a class.

Thanks in advance for considering doing this. I'll be away from "here" for a few days; I'll return sometime early next week. Thanks as always for visiting and reading and commenting.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Group rides, this weeked and next

Just to make sure these don't get overlooked . . .

You got a costume and a bike but don't think you have anywhere to go this Halloween? Or you'd just as soon do without the costumes but would just like to join a nice, sedate group ride next weekend? Then have a look here.

Open thread #2: Cyclists' friendliness

Over at Carbon Trace, Andrew notes a dearth of smiles and waves from fellow cyclists when he's out and about; he wonders if that's due to a lack of a true cycling culture in this country:
I think smiling and waving will occur in the United States when we get a few more cyclists on the road and, thus, create a larger, shared experience. But I think the practice will disappear again when we get as many cyclists on the road as there are in Europe. In the United States today we have individual bicycle commuting cultures. We are bicycle cultures unto ourselves because, frankly, those of us who do it don’t see so many others.


We are, then, loners. Cultures of one.
I don't know--maybe cyclists in Springfield, Missouri, are more stuck-up than the ones I encounter here. But more seriously, I commented on his post that I greet the cyclists that I pass and, almost without fail, they return it. I don't get the feeling that they feel they must do so just to be polite, either: they seem to find a small measure of pleasure in knowing someone else is on to this cycling thing.

But, you know: anecdotal evidence can take one only so far. I know only what I know, and Andrew's post made me curious about how others perceive the cyclists they encounter. So, consider the comments section your space for sharing your sense of their friendliness.

Fruit from The Vine

The Vine is The New Republic's group blog on energy and environmental issues and policy. I thought I'd pass along some links to posts that connect either to cycling or to larger issues of which cycling is, potentially, a part.

In these excerpts from an interview with Joe Klein, Barack Obama demonstrates his grasp of the interconnectedness of issues--for example, how present methods of food production affect, obviously, not only food quality but also energy policy and health care issues.

Here is a brief discussion of how the credit crisis and recently-falling oil prices are affecting alt-energy projects.

This post examines the fact that highway projects have an easier time of receiving approval--and funding--in this country than do mass transit projects. The result: a backlog of transit projects awaiting approval while highway projects get the green light, as it were.

And finally, this post notes that over the past 30 years, California's efficiency regulations have created almost 1.5 million jobs while causing the loss of only 25,000 jobs, and this amazing tidbit:
[E]fficiency measures are far and away the quickest, cheapest way to make massive emissions cuts and curb energy use. In theory, if every state adopted the efficiency measures that California has on the books, we could cut electricity consumption by 40 percent and would never need to build a single new polluting power plant again—all without hiking energy bills. And, while some entities lose money (the electric power industry, say, or developers who have to spend more upfront on green buildings), everyone else ends up better off.
This is informed, thoughtful--and optimistic yet pragmatic--writing about best, smartest practices in environmental and energy policy. Go have a look.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Readers' Ride #3 Announcement

Mark your calendars and bundle up for Saturday, November 8, at 9:00 a.m. and/or Sunday, November 9, at 1:00 p.m. for the next Readers' Ride. Each day, we'll ride the length of the Gypsum Creek Bike Path.

On Saturday the 8th, we'll meet on the south side of Kellogg at Armour; on Sunday the 9th, we'll meet by the softball fields in Plainview Park.

Judging by the folks who have attended the two previous Readers' Rides, only really nice people read this blog. I can't think of any better reason to join us on the 8th or the 9th. Pick a day, and we'll see you then for a pleasant few hours of relaxed cycling with like-minded folks.

And while I'm at it: Don't forget this weekend's Riders of Rohan and Wichita Bike Collective group rides.

UPDATE: Randy of Coasters Bicycles Club sends word of Hallowheelie 2008 to be held October 30 as part of the Thursday night Pub Pedal (which gathers at the Shamrock Lounge 1724 W Douglas Ave, at 7:00pm). Costumes, of course, are expected.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A new bike path! But . . .

In the news this morning:
Bicycle riders will soon have a new path to navigate through downtown Wichita.


The bike path will run from Central and Wichita streets, north to 9th street, then northeast in the former Union Pacific Railroad Corridor to 15th and Broadway.

The $1.35 million project will feature 10-foot-wide bicycle path with entrance arches at both 8th and 15th streets, plus a plaza with a clock tower and drinking fountain in Otis Park at 13th and Market.
The plan will be presented officially today at 5:30 pm at the Midtown Resource Center at 10th and Broadway; construction begins on Thursday and is expected to be completed by April.

Wichita needs bike-paths, no question, especially one that runs through the core of the city as this one does; and I'm pleased to see that this one will make use of part of an abandoned railroad right-of-way. So, why am I (still) a bit underwhelmed?

Here's the route, and (in case anyone needs a reminder) here is a map of currently-existing and proposed routes. As you can see, Wichita is pretty much set with north-south routes on both sides of the core--and, again, it's indeed good that this new one will actually go into that core--but this still does not provide what, in my view, the bike-path/lane network here most lacks in order to become more useful as an alternate commuter/transportation network and not primarily a recreational function: an east-west route that passes more or less through the city's middle. The proposed multi-use conversion of the abandoned railroad right-of-way that parallels 17th Street and then turns southeast to head toward downtown would be an ideal instance of what I mean here; some corresponding route west of downtown would balance that.

In the case of the eastside route, I know there is (or was, in the past) resistance (and, apparently, some legal obstacles as well) to that project. In the post I just linked to, Ms. Fearey also acknowledges that bike-path projects currently in the works assume cycling to be primarily recreation. Clearly, those impediments need to change and perhaps are in the process of changing; they could use nudges of various sorts, though.

So: two cheers for the new path. Here's hoping that sooner rather than later we'll have an announcement of an east-west path or two that will link the east and west sides of the city to its center.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What if Wal-Mart wanted to move into the Delano District?: Big-box retailers and the idea of community

This is only tangentially cycling-related, I know. Visitors here also know, though, that a larger concern of this blog is the taking seriously of the importance--indeed, the near-certain coming--of the of the need to change fundamentally how we think about and travel between/among our living and work spaces (thanks, Andrew) and the role that cycling, and mass/alternate transit more generally, can play in that discussion.

Via Matthew Yglesias comes this meditation at Greater Greater Washington on the place of big-box retailers in an urban environment. These posts, along with the comments in each, make for "Hmmm"-inducing reading, especially as I think about these questions with regard to our much-smaller city.

Truth be told, I personally find Wal-Mart loathsome and do what I can not to shop there. But--as commenters at both posts say--what's loathsome about these stores is certain business practices of theirs and not the big-box concept per se. Humans in the West being the capitalism-trained Pavlov's Dogs that we are, we have come to crave and even insist on selection and, if possible, low costs--in both price and the effort required of us to acquire them--for our goods. Hence the insidiousness of the big-box retail model accompanying their above-mentioned loathsomeness. Suburbia may be in decline, but does that imply as well we'll soon be hearing the death-knell of the big-box? Or will it take on some other form? Have a look at the comments at those posts for some examples of those possible forms that already exist, here and there.

Complicating my thinking about all this is the still-fresh memory of my recent trip to Mexico City. Mexico not only has Wal-Marts, it also has its own, domestic versions of big-boxes. Yet, as I noted in my comment on my recent post on my trip, almost everyone, except for the extremely-well-off living in the hills above the city, lives within a block at least one pharmacy or small grocery store or small clothing store or myriad little restaurants or . . . you get the idea. As for other, more esoteric needs, they are easily accessible via the city's excellent subway and bus systems--so much so that, as my wife noted several times, you don't really need to have a car to get around there. That urban environment presents a convenience of a different sort. It, frankly, is something like what I have in mind when, in past posts on this blog, I've talked about the idea of "community" (as distinct from "neighborhood," which I think of as being more overtly residential in nature).

So: what if Wal-Mart approached the good people of the Delano District (for the benefit of out-of-towners, here is that district's vision of itself) and said, "We've had a good look at your neighborhood revitalization plan and think we have some ideas for how we might be a good fit, both for what you envision for yourselves and for our goal of making some money." That's an enormous open-ended question, of course, but one I think worthy of pondering by all concerned interests before we get too far down the road of thinking about and planning for the changes in urban and suburban landscapes that we're all but certain to see in the coming decades.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Halloween group rides!

'Tis the season, no?

The mysteriously-named Anonymous left the following comment yesterday afternoon at my post on Riders of Rohan; rather than distill it into a colorless announcement, I thought I'd post it in full here. And a query: The Wichita Bike Collective? Googling turned up nothing. I hope someone will e-mail me or leave more information in comments.
So Frida​y the 31st Rider​s of Rohan​ will be hosti​ng a spooo​ky criti​cal mass ride,​ costu​mes highl​y encou​raged​.​ There​ will be tomfo​olery​,​ shena​nigan​s,​ and of cours​e,​ lots of candy​.​ We will be meeti​ng in the Delan​o round​about​ aroun​d 6, try to ride out by 7. Don'​t miss it!

But SATUR​DAY,​ the fun conti​nues!​ The Wichi​ta Bike Colle​ctive​ will be holdi​ng the first​ annua​l Hallo​ween Bike Socia​l,​ proba​bly in River​side Park.​ There​ will be bbq, bike races​,​ bike polo,​ sweet​ jamz,​ proba​bly whisk​ey (​kevin​ ware will be in town,​ after​ all)​,​ and vario​us other​ forms​ of bike relat​ed mayhe​m.​ Also,​ for anyon​e plann​ing on being​ badas​s enoug​h to ride throu​gh the winte​r (​serio​usly,​ let'​s do it) I will be shari​ng some tips I got from some kids in Fargo​ in a winte​r ridin​g works​hop after​ the festi​vitie​s.​

Of cours​e,​ there​ is no charg​e but the WBC will be accep​ting (​read:​ plead​ing for) donat​ions to help offse​t the costs​ of the event​ (​food,​ mainl​y.​ also party​ strea​mers)​ AND to help fund the openi​ng of our commu​nity bike shop!​ Also,​ donat​ions need not be monet​ary!​ Bring​ your old bikes​!​ parts​!​ Tools​!​ cupca​kes!​

I'd like to have live music​ but I don'​t reall​y wanna​ deal with logis​tics of power​,​ noise​ etc of full bands​,​ so I'm just gonna​ encou​rage acous​tic guita​rs (no djemb​es!​ or bongo​s!​)​ and if anyon​e wants​ to take "the stage​"​ (​i.​e.​ picni​c table​)​ and play a set or so, AWESO​ME

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vamonos en bici! (ojalá pudieramos): Some comments on the state of cycling in Mexico City

UPDATE: I'm late in noting this because I've been away from the blog today, but: a big belated welcome to visitors from Urban Velo. I hope you'll enjoy your visit here.

The poster for the 1er Congreso Nacional de Ciclismo Urbano, held this past June in Mexico City (image found here); and the logo for Bicitekas, a Mexican bicycle advocacy group (image found here).

The Spanish portion of this post's title reads, "Let's go by bike! (if only we could)." That pretty much sums up the matter for cyclists in Mexico's capital.

I'm not a big fan of the term "working vacation," but there's no other way to describe the 5-day trip to Mexico City that the Mrs. and I just returned from. The official reason for our going was so that I could get a look at some examples of colonial architecture and paintings for my sabbatical research. However, this was also the Mrs.' first trip to Mexico City, and so we made sure we got some sightseeing in as well. At any rate, while we were out and about in the city I also made some mental notes on the present state of cycling in what may be the world's largest city. Sorry: no pictures--we were having issues with cameras that affected the pictures I'd gone there to get in the first place.

The short version of this: Wichita cyclists have little to complain of, relatively speaking. As impoverished as we are here regarding cycling-infrastructure resources--to the point that, yes, Randy, we just kind of shrug at the absence of bike racks on buses here--cyclists in Mexico City have disadvantages that few of us can imagine. Envision a population 3 times that of New York living in an area about the size of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. Imagine not the highways but the major thoroughfares of a city having the width, traffic load and almost the speed of the traffic on I-135 or I-235, but with roundabouts and traffic lights at those roundabouts. Fantasize, if you will, a city whose traffic laws, according to my friend and Mexico City native (and fellow blogger) René, "are more like gentle suggestions." And conceive of a city that has some very nice parks but no greenbelts linking them because a) the city is so densely-built up and b) it has no rivers or even creeks flowing through it. Oh--and do I even need to add that, at least downtown, there are no bike lanes to be found, and no guarantees that motorists would observe them or the police would enforce them even if they were there? Those are the challenges facing the serious cyclist in Mexico City--and, for that matter, cycling advocates and city planners who want to change the state of things there. You know things are pretty bad there when you run across things like this Reuters story about a nude-cyclist protest to gain attention for cyclist safety. Or another way to put it: one night we were walking along Insurgentes (one of the aforementioned thoroughfares) when a cyclist passed us on the street--wearing all-dark clothes and no helmet on a long-in-the-tooth one-speed with no rear light or even a reflector--and I shook my head in wonderment at his audacity. The Mrs. asked me if I'd be riding on this street if I had my bike; I said, "Are you crazy? I'm afraid to ride on Pawnee!"

The Mrs. and I spent most of our visit in the center of the city, so what follows is not necessarily true of some outlying areas. Where we were, though, we saw few cyclists: in our five days there, I saw as many cyclists as I see on one ordinary day in Wichita. Except for two skinny-tire types (cycling shorts and jerseys, helmets) we saw one night in the upscale Polanco district north of Chapultepec Park and some kids in the same park one day, most of the cyclists appeared to be using their bikes as transportation and, in one case, as an aid in his business (he had a milk crate filled with prepackaged snack foods that was strapped to his bike's rear rack). They reminded me a great deal, in fact, of the cyclists I've seen in the Hispanic neighborhood just north of downtown Wichita: folks who use for the exceedingly practical reason that they're cheaper than driving. These bikes we saw weren't exactly the latest in commuter bikes, either: most of them were old one-speeds like the one I described above. A couple of the bikes were in the Wal-Mart dirt-bike style, but with names in Spanish. Perhaps they were built in Mexico?

For all its massive problems, Mexico City has some features to it that, with some skillful planning and some laws firmer than "gentle suggestions," could make it a good place for cyclists. The city government is promoting cycling as transportation via posters that we saw in various places. It already has a marvelous and heavily-used mass-transit network consisting of a subway system and buses of various sorts, some with dedicated lanes that run counter to the flow of traffic that motorists seem to stay out of. Also, people there (and throughout Mexico) are naturally accustomed to walking to get from place to place, much more than we in the States are, and sidewalks, though crowded, are usually wide enough to accommodate pedestrians. But we shall see what happens there; and in any case, I suspect that changes benefiting cyclists will be long in coming there. As valid a concern as those of cyclists are, Mexico City has, I must admit, more essential problems to contend with. After all, this is also a city whose government feels the need to post reminders that women are people too and so should be treated with respect.

First things first. As I say, we in Wichita do have some things better than they do in other places.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The path with no name

My route: Map My Ride; Veloroute. As noted below, the path proper (which has no official designation) begins just south of the intersection of Bitting and 13th and runs north.

The other day, I mentioned that, according to the minutes from the September meeting of the Riverside Citizens Association, "[w]ork has started on continuing the path going north of 13th street at Minisa and Bitting Street allowing access clear from 21st to the entire Riverside Park System." I went on to note that, according to the city's map of bike paths ([pdf]) the path presently runs along the west bank of the river up to the 18th Street bridge, where it crosses over to the east side and continues on through Woodland Park up to 21st Street. Then, the path heads west on 21st. Given the apparent incongruity between the statement in the minutes and what the map shows as already existing, I thought I would go have a look at it.

I'm not sure I know any more now than before I rode out there. The map is indeed correct, and that part of the path that runs north from 18th up to 21st is very nice. That path and the existence of the Arkansas River bike path both already "allow access clear from 21st to the entire Riverside Park System" . . . or would, if the path I rode this morning were extended south from 13th either along the river or via a bike lane on Bitting down to Riverside Park; from there, it's an easy matter to find one's way over to Murdock and then head over to the Big Arkansas River.

An even more logical solution to linking the paths would be to build a path along that stretch of 13th that runs between the two rivers. I rode that way once back in the summer: the lanes are narrow, as are the sidewalks, which themselves are (or were, back in July) in poor repair. Anyway, a link there would, if done right, kill several birds with one stone.

So, as I say: I'm no clearer now on what the minutes describe than I was when I first read them. The links to the system at 21st are already in place; where the connections are missing are to the south of 13th. Should any Riverside people come across this post and know more than I do, I hope you'll leave a comment.
Just a note to let you know that this blog will be "dark" for a few days while I deal with some sabbatical-related things. See you next week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Planet Bicycle #3: Hey, you neighborhood associations

Dream this:

Except: this is no dream. It's a viable, vibrant city.

Yes, it's Amsterdam again, from Amsterdamize by way of Carbon Trace. We can't build this . . . but surely here and there in Wichita--or just about anywhere--it would be possible to create a several-blocks area with the feel of this space. Old Town on good days occasionally has this feel, though with fewer bikes . . . why not other places in town? Delano District, I'm looking at you in particular.

More on this later.

News from the neighborhood(s): A mixed bag for bike-friendliness

Advance warning to non-residents of Wichita: what follow is pretty Inside (Wichita) Baseball, though one could make the case that our particulars may sound familiar to residents of other cities that are less than bike-friendly.

I'll preface all this by saying that it's not entirely proper of me to be critical of what follows. Many of the decisions were made early in my residency here; out of ignorance or sloth, I've not been involved in the decision-making that I could have been involved in; it is possible that infrastructure changes to streets to include bike lanes don't need to be stated in light of other, previously-made decisions (see, as one example, the WAMPO link over in the right gutter); and of course, pending the fate of The Complete Streets Act of 2008 (S. 2686), these plans may yet change in the future to conform to that act's requirements if they do not already. So, then, the more appropriate way to take this is as observation based on what I know and observe.

First of all, some good news for Riverside cyclists: I'd not been by North High School since work on the bridge was completed, so this morning I was pleased to see that the path that runs north along the Little Arkansas from Minisa Park now has a short southern extension that passes underneath the bridge and follows the river to the Bitting Street bridge. This allows cyclists to avoid the intersection at 13th and Bitting, which, especially when school is letting in/out, gets very busy. But for some reason there's no cutaway to allow cyclists to leave the path and get on to Bitting easily.

That last sentence is, in essence, the Wichita bike path system in a nutshell as it stands today. (Some of) the pieces are in place, but the other pieces that would link them up (some little, like the cutaway, or a bike path of a hundred yards or so that links the Arkansas River path to O. J. Watson Park; some much larger and more expensive, like east-west extensions and bike lanes that connect the north-south routes), either aren't there or aren't yet there (more about the latter later). Mind you, I say this as one speaking from the perspective of someone who uses his bike for transportation purposes in a city whose bike system conceives of cycling in primarily recreational terms. The absent cutaway has the effect, intentional or not, of discouraging cyclists from riding on the streets. I wish that that were otherwise.

Anyway, in a moment of serendipity I stopped by Riverside Perk for an iced latte (how elitist of me, I know: a bike-riding college-educated white boy stopping not for coffee but for an iced latte) and found an issue of the Riverside Citizens Association's October newsletter; it so happened that at the September meeting my council representative, Sharon Fearey, addressed the Association about some cycling concerns, as well as neighborhood-related matters that to my mind should be of concern to cyclists. The path that runs along the Little Arkansas doesn't have either an official name or its own map on the bike paths web page; according to the minutes though, "[w]ork has started on continuing the path going north of 13th street at Minisa and Bitting Street allowing access clear from 21st to the entire Riverside Park System." That path presently runs along the west bank of the river and stops just north of 18th in Woodland Park, so I assume that the path will be extended along that side of the river. But when I looked at the bike paths map just now, it shows, as already existing, a route that crosses the river at the 18th Street bridge ad then follows the east side of the river up to 21st. I hadn't realized this before; in the next couple of days I hope to have a chance to investigate it.

The other bike-path news concerns the one that runs right by my apartment complex--it follows the river's east bank from Nims Street to Murdock. It is in very poor condition: in places, it's hard even to walk it, much less ride a hybrid or road bike on it, and when the river rises (more than a few times a year after heavy rains), parts of it are impassable for days. The city's options are to spend the estimated $700,000 to make the needed repairs and modifications or to abandon it to the apartments' owners and let it be their responsibility. It's a real Hobson's choice, especially given that the landlords are not exactly proactive regarding maintenance of their property. So far as I can tell from the minutes, the city hasn't made a decision. Speaking as a cyclist who happens to live next to this path, I would prefer to see it repaired, whether by the city or the landlords; right now it's an eyesore that has more appeal to gang members and vagrants of various sorts than it does to the residents who live next to it. But I'm not blind to the cost involved, either. Moreover, even if the path were repaired and improved, it still wouldn't really "go" anywhere: it basically helps speed up downtown people's access to the Nims and Murdock Street bridges leading into Riverside Park, which is nice, but it's no one's idea of a path that improves the functionality of the city's infrastructure for cycling.

Ms. Fearey also announced that several neighborhood revitalization plans have been adopted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the city council and are now officially part of the City and County Comprehensive Plan. Here is the list of all the various neighborhood plans; below, I've linked directly to the plans for the neighborhoods I live in or near or pass through on my commute route:

Delano Neighborhood Revitalization Plan

Midtown Neighborhood Plan

South Central

21st Street North Corridor Revitalization Plan

As I hinted at the beginning of this post, there's nothing in these plans that speaks specifically to bike-friendliness as part of their respective sections on improvements in infrastructure. The Delano District's plan does mention converting a railbanked easement into a combination bike/pedestrian path and greenbelt space. But, as I also said at the beginning, it may very well be that bike-friendliness is already included in these plans as part of larger, city-wide objectives and so isn't explicitly mentioned--at least, not in those sections I looked at today. But I don't know for sure. As time permits, I'll be sending out some e-mails to see what I can find out. Also as time permits, I would like to dig into these plans more deeply--especially the Delano plan: it differs from the others I've linked to because it operates from the proposition that it is less a neighborhood than a community, part of but, in its essence, distinct from Wichita. I'm very much in agreement with that sentiment, as I've stated before; what I'll be looking for and posting on will be how the Delano District plan proposes to develop and enhance its sense as a community unto itself.

An addendum now: Back in July, you may remember, I posted a link to a WAMPO survey asking people to rank transportation priorities. If you're curious, here are the survey results.

Seriousness below the silliness

The folks over at Austin Bike Blog recently held a contest whose entrants replied to this question: "What's the biggest thing you've carried on your bike?"

Chris of Madison, Wisconsin, won:

As I looked at this picture, I found myself thinking of my bloggy friend Cordelia's recent post on turning her old Schwinn into an Xtracycle and wondering whether, if she were to do that, she would start making a little extra money on the side as a freight-hauler as, it seems, Chris could do if he were so inclined. More seriously, though, I was reminded that while this picture looks a wee bit absurd to us here in our motorized culture, in many, many places throughout the world sites like this would not seem at all so strange. In case you haven't seen them or, for that matter, known that such organizations even exist, over in the right gutter under the heading "Saving the world (NGOs with a focus on bicyclists and cycling)," I've posted links to some NGOs whose mission is to either build or refurbish bicycles and get them to people in Africa to use for transportation and business (also noteworthy is Kona's AfricaBike program, which donates specially-designed bicycles to doctors in sub-Saharan African communities to allow them to more efficiently serve their communities).

Cycling, for many people (whether they know it or not), is (or can be) a practical means of transportation. But for many parts of the world, a bike is more than practical--it's essential.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cycling Chat #4 and misc.

The Jeep Compass folding bike. Image found here.

In matters of the actual kinds of bikes available these days, I am still very very ignorant. Thus it was today that at Keeper Plaza on the way to work, I saw a folding bike in person for the first time and got all giddy and called out to its owner if I could ask her some questions about it. Rather than flee in terror or threaten to call the cops or something, she was kind enough to spare a few minutes to talk about it with me.

This was how I met Jill Houtz this morning. Jill and her husband own the Secret Gallery, a pottery gallery and studio. Because they live in the upper story of the building that houses the gallery, Jill, when she shopped for a bike for exercise and recreation, needed something light enough to carry up the stairs and compact enough to carry around in her car. So, she settled on the Jeep bike you see pictured here. Though it looks heavy in person, it's actually surprisingly light, and folding it up looks simple and easy. Though she doesn't ride the bus, for cyclists who do as part of their commute (not really necessary in Wichita, but many cyclists in larger metro areas do) a folding bike would be extremely beneficial, seeing as Wichita buses don't have bike racks.

It was a pleasure meeting and talking with Jill and learning a bit more about folding bikes. She's good people, as they say down South. And, her gallery is on Meridian--not at all far from here--so I am looking forward to paying a visit in the near future.

Other matters now: The weather this morning was just about ideal: sunny and cool but not chilly, and the wind held off until I got on base. That said, though, the ride in had its share of adventure:

1) While pulled over to talk to the Mrs. on the cellphone, a pit bull (no leash, not behind a fence) suddenly appeared in the yard across the street from me and seemed undecided about whether to approach me. I decided not to wait for him to decide and rode off slowly. He didn't follow; apparently, he didn't find me interesting enough . . . which, come to think of it, is the way most people find me as well.

2) The western end of Mt. Vernon now has a very deep, very wide ditch running down the middle of it to accommodate the installation of a large storm sewer pipe. This is good news in the long run--the long-term plan for Mt. Vernon in WAMPO is to widen it and install bike lanes. Until that time, this construction and the still-ongoing work on Mt. Vernon for a couple of blocks either side of Broadway I'll be detouring around all that for the foreseeable future.

3) While I saw no interesting dead animals today, I somehow narrowly avoided dispatching a squirrel to join the ranks of the uninteresting ones. It dashed in front of me so quickly that it was gone before I quite realized there was anything there, much less react by swerving.

These things aside, though, I felt surprisingly strong at the end of it. Perhaps that resistance training I did on Sunday had something to do with that.

UPDATE: I had intended to mention as well (but forgot to in the heat of the blogging moment) that the price of gas at some stations here is now well below $3 a gallon--it's dropped about one dollar/gallon since I bought my bike at the end of June. In case you're wondering: Nope. No regrets. Conservation of resources and reducing carbon footprints and all the rest remain just those things. Besides: while in one sense I'm saving less money these days by cycling, in the way that matters more to me--the spending of money--as I pedal my way past the two gas stations on my commute route, that amount remains at $0.

A follow-up . . .

. . . on the new tax credit for employers whose employees cycle to work, via Matthew Yglesias. He provides more details and a helpful reminder to cyclists to be proactive about this with their HR people at work (the rough-and-ready spellings are Yglesias' own):
There’s a provision of existing tax law called the “Transportation Fringe Benefit.” Employers can offer the Transportation Fringe Benefit to their employees. It allows employees to receive a tax-exempt benefit of up to $215 per month for drivers participating in qualified parking plans or $110 per month for those who use transit or vanpooling.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer represents Portland — the bike commuting capital of the United States — and was formerly Portland’s Transportation Commissioner. He introduced the Bike Commuter Act last year that would amend section 132(f) of the IRS code of 1986 to include “bicylces” in the definition of transportation covered by the qualified transportation fringe benefit.

His Act was incorporated into the bailout package and signed into law. Since the mechanism of the subsidy here runs through your employer, it’s possible (like, I would say) that many employers won’t realize this change has been implemented starting next year so people may need to show some initiative to actually get their new bike Fringe Benefit. I’ll try to stay abreast of this issue and let folks know what they need to do. (emphasis added)
And as he updates, I'll pass the word on here.

As I've said before, Yglesias is a political blogger, but he's also very interested in and smart about many areas of policy, especially urban and transportation policy, and he averages one or two posts per day on these topics. If you're interested in these matters and/or want to learn more, you should be reading him.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Open thread #1: Fixed-gear bikes

I ask this out of ignorance: What are the virtues of fixed-gear bicycles?

At the first Readers' Ride, both Bryan and Peter rode fixed-gear bikes, but it simply didn't occur to me to ask them this question. So, I asked Chris yesterday, and he didn't know, either--only that they seem to be a pretty popular choice among cyclists of late.

So, I hope that you fixed-gear types will reply in the comments. Thanks in advance for the education.

Hither and Yon #2

UPDATE: Welcome to visitors from Austin Bike Blog! As a native Austinite myself (Beat OU!!), I'm doubly pleased y'all found y'all's way here and hope you enjoy your visit here.

A round-up of links and some recent past adventures, in no particular order:

A bit of silliness from my other blog about Elmira Gulch as Kansas cyclist archetype.

Via Bike Commute Tips Blog and BlogNetNews's Cycling page, the news-to-me announcement that part of the just-passed $700 billion-dollar bailout bill was the inclusion of a $20-per-bike-commuting-employee tax break to employers. While Paul of Bike Commute Tips rightly notes that it would have been preferable to include monies or incentives for infrastructure changes leading to bike-friendlier streets--and of course, it goes without saying that we'd all have been much better off without the need for the larger bill of which this is a part--it's also true that this sort of program should help as well in "trickle-up," grassroots movements to encourage cycling and, via growing numbers and awareness, cause municipalities and states to see the value of cycling and mass transit and plan (and invest) accordingly.

Cycling Chat #3: File this under "In case you need another reason to bike-commute." A while back, I biked over to a nearby laundromat with a small load of clothes. While there, a couple walked over to my bike and began talking about it, so I went up to them and struck up a conversation. It turned out that the man had just bought a new bike from Wal-Mart (they don't have much money) and that he has been using bicycles as his primary transportation since 1986. The chief reason for that, he shared, was that one night that year he had been driving while drunk and had an accident. He decided then that perhaps a bike might be a better option for him because, and I quote, "I like my beer."

The pragmatics of cycling manifest themselves in many ways, do they not?

From the League of American Bicyclists comes their list of bicycle-friendly businesses, recently announced at Interbike, the largest bicycle trade show in this country. A quick survey of the list reveals a depressingly-familiar East Coast and West Coast heaviness; on the other hand, though, I'm glad to see the good people of Clif Bar & Company on the list: not only do they make a superior energy bar, they are seriously committed to being good corporate citizens.

And finally: You may have heard that there's a national election next month. I happen to support Barack Obama's candidacy and hope you will consider doing the same. I respect that enormous problems face this country, problems that can appear to dwarf urban policy concerns in terms of importance. Certainly, I'm not a single-issue voter and discourage those who are from thinking like that.

But: if I were, and urban policy were my single issue, here's what I would say about that. First of all, I would make the argument that wise decisions with regard to urban policy have the clear long-term benefits of making our nation a more energy-efficient, healthier and more prosperous place for more of its citizens. And to that end, a thoughtful person who cares about urban policy should strongly consider voting for Obama. Of special interest to cyclists is the following passage from Obama's 12-page Urban Fact Sheet [pdf]:
Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning
Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Better transportation alternatives will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spent commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

John McCain's website has no comparable section on urban policy. The American Energy page of his site does address developing alt-fuels and fuel efficiency in cars and improving buildings' energy efficiency; to be sure, those are important tasks to take on. However, unless he addresses them elsewhere McCain's website does not include mass/alternate transportation as being, even potentially, part of the "transportation sector" that, to my mind, should also be considered when addressing our cities' and citizens' future prosperity. Another way to put it: it is not an anti-car argument to say that the fewer cars are on the streets, the more livable--the healthier, the more prosperous--cities become. And of course, there are other ways to reduce the need for cars besides mass transit, such as programs to make it feasible for more workers to be able to afford to live closer to where they work (which Obama's fact sheet also addresses).

As long-time visitors to this blog know, I see real potential in Wichita as regards such matters. It's the biggest city in the state, but its still-short average commute times tell me that it is an excellent candidate for a well-thought-out transportation plan that makes room for pedestrians and mass/alternate transportation via Complete Streets and a re-imagining of the relationship between people's workplaces and residences. It seems to me, if the candidates' websites are any indication, that Obama has considered all this far more carefully than McCain has. If these policy matters are of concern to you, I would urge you to consider all this as you weigh your choices this coming November.

No more politics here--I promise.

But, along the lines of urban and transportation policy, Matthew Yglesias makes the case for congestion pricing.

Readers' Ride #2: Southwind Suicide-Ride

This past weekend was the occasion of the second more-or-less monthly Cycling in Wichita Readers' Rides, this one along the venerable Arkansas River bike path. Saturday's ride was an intimate one: no one was able to meet me at the southern terminus at Garvey Park, so on the way back home I took a quick sidetrip through O. J. Watson Park then took Pawnee back to the river. The park didn't seem to have any dedicated bike paths, but that morning there were only a few cars and some runners to contend with. It was a pleasant place for a leisurely ride.

Now Sunday's ride, on the other hand . . .

I have never before worked so hard as a cyclist.

I was pleased to be joined by Chris of Random Chaos (his take on Sunday's ride, the title of which accurately sums up things for me as well, though I didn't ride nearly the distance he did) is here). Admittedly, when I made my way up the embankment at 21st Street Park and felt the full force of yesterday's steady south wind, I was afraid neither he nor anyone else would show . . . and, truth be told, I wasn't so sure I should have shown up, either, as I contemplated the ride back home. Kansas' very name comes from a Sioux word that means "south wind," and I doubt very seriously that any other state name so closely and unambiguously unites signifier and signified as "Kansas" does. At any rate, it was certainly true yesterday. Anyway: Despite ominously warning me just that morning that if it was windy he wouldn't show, here Chris came a few minutes before 1:00, having ridden all the way from his neighborhood near Harry and Webb. What a man.

While we waited to see if others would show, we talked shop. Chris is a friendly, articulate fellow who, just as his blog indicates, is serious about cycling for practical reasons and is interested in doing his bit for advocacy by being a positive presence on the streets when cycling. He got into cycling back in February for fitness purposes; he's the owner of a schweet-looking Felt bicycle (a new-to-me brand) that, as he reports over at his blog, he's customized a bit.

At about 1:15, we headed out. At first the ride was pretty pleasant. Most of the path north of downtown was fairly protected from the wind, and so we could ride and talk as we did. But just south of Exploration Place the river and path run more or less due south, and it was for that entire distance that we rode directly into a wind that was never less than 15 mph and occasionally gusted so hard that it felt as though it briefly stopped my forward progress. Just north of the Harry Street bridge, I told Chris that I had to stop and rest a bit.

As we did, an older man came strolling up the path and "conversed" with us. Actually, that's not quite the word: Chris will confirm that, aside from his telling us that we were headed the wrong way (i.e., into the wind, and never were truer words spoken) and briefly telling us that he worked for Meals on Wheels, for the entire time (15-20 minutes) we were there he only told us riddles. Some samples of his wit: "Q: What did the fish say when he swam into a concrete wall? A: Dam!" "Q: What do you call pallbearers in Oklahoma? A: "Carry-Okies" ("Karaokes"). He was the Henny Youngman of riddles . . . except, not to be mean, I liked Henny Youngman more. We might still be there yet--he was certainly in no hurry to be on his way, that's for sure--if I hadn't decided that I had rested enough.

We set off again, and the wind was every bit as strong as before. I was soon worn out again, and as we approached the Pawnee Street bridge (about a mile south of where we had stopped to rest), I gave very serious thought to telling Chris that this was just nuts and we should bag the rest of the ride. But no, I told myself: we had just a couple more miles to go to Garvey Park; riding into this is good for building up endurance and strength; what commentary on my manliness would my quitting now offer up to Chris?; etc., etc. And besides: my legs, though a bit weary, still felt okay.

We rode on and eventually reached Garvey Park. As Chris and I chatted, I confessed that I'd almost called Uncle, and he admitted that he would have been okay with that if I had.

Men are weird that way.

The ride back, this time with the wind at our backs, was the stuff of what makes cycling in Kansas a pleasant experience 50% of the time. My bike felt like it had magically acquired a carbon frame like Chris's bike, and we zipped along until, at the Harry Street bridge, we parted company.

I told Chris that, weather permitting, I hope to continue scheduling these Readers' Rides through the fall and winter, with the next one for either the weekend before or the weekend after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, we'll keep a weather eye . . .

Thanks again for joining me, Chris.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I'll be posting more, my pretties . . .

Image via Andrew.

This is mostly an excuse to post this iconic image of the antithesis of bike-commuting--and wouldn't you know it, it would be an image from the first thing most people think of when they think of Kansas.

(I suppose we should be fortunate that there is very little cycling in In Cold Blood . . . )

But, sans the grim visage, note that in this picture there are some things that today's Wichita bike-commuter can envy and perhaps even relate to: Miss Gulch's upright position; the practical rear rack, the fact that her environs are so safe she feels no need to wear a helmet; a wariness, if not loathing, of dogs little and big . . .

As Jacob Boheme says, to know good, one must also know good's opposite.

Anyway. To come either today or tomorrow: a report on this weekend's Readers' Rides and a rather haphazard round-up of links to things that, slothful cycle-blogger that I've been of late, I just hadn't gotten around to posting here.

Another cycling-news resource

Via Andrew comes news (for me) of BlogNetNews' cycling page. It's a feed aggregator of cycling blogs whose feeds are registered with it. It so happens that Andrew is also this page's editor, so props to him.

I've added their widget over in the right gutter directly below the Kansas Cyclist's news widget; and pending approval, this blog's feed will be added there as well.

I hope you'll have a look. If you've been reading around the cycling-blog portion of the blogosphere, you'll see lots of familiar names, not to mention lots of new ones.

Riders of Rohan patrol the blogosphere

I had intended to post a link to this earlier, but seeing Riders of Rohan's flyer at Bicycle X-Change yesterday reminded me: RoR has a MySpace page. As I mentioned before RoR meets every Friday at 7 pm at the Vagabond on Douglas in the Delano District. Those of you looking for a different sort of cruising-on-a-Friday-night experience might want to check them out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yeah, but it's a warm 20-mph wind

At least it was today. But the calendar tells me it's October--how many warm winds do we have left this year?

The morning ride to McConnell was a bit chilly, but the air was dead-calm. As the sun began to warm the air, it was actually quite pleasant for the last couple of miles. This afternoon, though, was another story entirely: a steady 20-mph northerly wind that, given my route, I had to ride directly into for a total of about half the ride. Even with shifting into an easier gear that I'd never felt the need to use before, the ride home took about an hour. (Usually, it's 45 minutes, though I've been known to make it in 40 if traffic permits.)

I've been home almost 3 hours and my legs still feel tired from the ride home.

Aside from the usual and obvious lack of bike-friendly streets here in Wichita, another possible explanation for our city's abysmally-low percentage of folks who commute to work occurred to me on the ride home today. Perhaps folks have given bike-commuting a try in the past but--as will happen sooner or later here--end up riding on a day when the wind is blowing hard and steady and they get home and wheel the bike into the garage and decide they've had enough. That is of course their choice, but I would say to them, were they to ask, that that decision comes of not fully dissociating from recreation their image of cycling. If they instead framed their riding in terms of transportation, the wind doesn't blow any less hard, but I suspect they would persist: cycling-as-transportation shifts one's focus to concentrate more on the long term than on the short term.

Usually, it so happens that my commute is fun, or at least enjoyable. On some days, though, it is work to keep going--and by this I mean mental more than physical labor. This, for me, was one of those days. But, truth be told, I've not had very many of those days.

Oh: and in case anyone is thinking I'm just a wimp about this wind thing, have a look at Chris's recent post over at Random Chaos.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cycling in Wichita Readers' Ride #2

(Assuming, of course, I still have readers . . . )

I'm still here, and I hope y'all are as well. Let's try another Readers' Ride--two, in fact--and ride the Arkansas River bike path. My hope with scheduling two rides is to accommodate more folks who might be interested.

On Saturday, October 4, at 9:00 a.m., let's meet at the trail's southern terminus at Garvey Park (the corner of Washington and Galena); we'll ride to the trail's northern terminus at 21st Street Park.

On Sunday, October 5 at 1:00 p.m., we'll meet at 21st Street Park and ride south.

These will be easy rides in terms of their pace; the idea is to meet other like-minded folks and their families and Significant Others. Cycling in Wichita can be a lonely business at times (the activity, I mean--not this blog); it's good for all of us to be reminded that we are not so alone as we sometimes feel while we're riding.

I look forward to seeing you this Saturday and/or Sunday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Yesterday's commute: The Arkansas River Path as alluvial plain, and other observations

As local folks know, on Friday and Saturday we got enough rain here (none of it from Ike--this rain was the weather gods' special gift to southern Kansas) to cause rivers and creeks to rise substantially. I didn't go to the base on Monday, so yesterday was my first ride that way since the rains.

This was another time that I wished I had any sort of digital camera. For most of the stretch I ride (from Exploration Place to the bridge at Harry), the path had been under anywhere from 1' to 4' of water (for those who haven't been there, at the path's closest approach to the river the path is a foot or so above the water). For much of the way, the path now resembles a hard-packed dirt path--the concrete in those places just isn't visible. Flotsam and jetsam litter the path and leave telltale signs up the embankment to show how deep the water got. In one place close to Exploration Place, there is a 15-foot long, foot-and-a-half diameter tree trunk on the bank between the water and the path. A couple of park benches on the path have substantial debris caught on their armrests.

So: this was obviously nothing compared to the floods that used to occur here before the Big Ditch was dug, and certainly like nothing that Texas experienced over the weekend. Nevertheless, it can become too easy to think of the Arkansas as yet another of those shallow and slow-moving, easily-controllable Great Plains rivers and forget that Nature (still) Matters.

Other stuff now:

Last week, I noted that I had found that day's ride very difficult for me physically. Peter and Coppercorn were kind enough to weigh in with suggestions for how to handle cooler weather; and so yesterday morning, the weather being comparable, I took their suggestions to heart. On last week's ride, I'd worn a sweatshirt; this time, I wore just shorts and a T-shirt (though I had warmer gear packed, just in case). Also, I made a conscious effort not to try to go fast but just take it easy. After all, as Andrew of Carbon Trace says--nay, declaims here, there's no reason at all to sweat on a bike. (I was also recalling my membership with these folks). At any rate, I took it easy, not trying to go "fast" and in a fairly easy gear. I figure my speed was around 10 mph. If it had not been for the Mrs. calling me via cell-phone while I was en route, I would have made the trip in about 50 minutes: about the same amount of time I have done it in the past when pushing harder and having to rest as a result. Even better, I had to shift to an easier gear only once, when climbing the Mt. Vernon overpass at I-135. I did sweat--sorry Andrew, but it's what I do--but nearly as much as I usually do. The trip home, meanwhile, though always easier than the morning ride, was even easier, with no shifting at all for the I-135 overpass. So: Slow-biking it is from here on.

On the way home, I almost hit a middle-schooler, also on a bicycle, at the intersection of Mt. Vernon and Estelle. He was getting ready to cross Mt. Vernon as I approached from the east and had just looked in my direction before looking west and, as he did so, began to cross. He just flat hadn't seen me. I had to shout at him twice before he turned my way, and even then I had to brake to keep from hitting him. I do find it a bit humorous, though, that that has been thus far my closest to having an accident with anyone. On the other hand, for the first time in my time cycling a motorist behind me honked at me as I waited at a stop sign. I suppose he couldn't see it, but I felt it prudent not to pull out in front of a school bus. As it turned out, though, when I did cross, I could hear his car die. His impatience, I suspect, had less to do with me than his internal-combustion-challenged Buick.

No interesting carrion sightings to report, you'll be relieved/disappointed to learn.

So: all in all yesterday's ride was a good one, my best in terms of my physical well-being.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Traffic lights

Via Kansas Cyclist comes a news story from Ft. Collins about bike-friendly traffic signals: metal-sensing devices in the pavement that can detect the smaller quantities of metal in bikes as they approach intersections, thus changing the lights more quickly.

Sort of off-topic re cycling but still having to do with traffic lights: from 1985-1987 I lived and taught English in Durango, Mexico. There, traffic signals' green lights would flash for a couple of seconds before turning yellow and then red. All other cautions about driving in Mexico notwithstanding, I (a motorist myself while I lived there) always thought that cities in the States would do well to have such a sequencing--how many of us, after all, have found ourselves approaching an intersection and been caught in that awkward place where the light turns yellow and we have to decide whether to slam on the brakes or speed through the intersection? That extra warning of the flashing green, I'd think, would make intersections safer for all concerned--cyclists, too.

All this reminds me as well of Wichita drivers' propensity to not signal lane changes or turns at intersections, but that's a whole other post.


Sorry for being away from here; numerous distractions, some happier than others, some more pressing than others, have kept me away.

Discipline, discipline.

50-state Bike-Friendliness Rankings

The League of American Bicyclists has just published a ranking of the states in terms of their bike-friendliness. Kansas ranks a surprising 25th, ahead of all its contiguous neighbors except for Colorado. That said, those of us who live anywhere west of Lawrence know that urban areas can do much more to improve that ranking.

Follow the link to an interactive map to get explanations for each state's ranking.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11: The Life/Art Confluence

Note: The following, cross-posted at my other blog, does not have much to do with cycling per se, but I include it here in part because of the day but also because I mentally composed a large part of this post in my head as I rode to and from McConnell back on Tuesday.

The cover art for Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, originally scheduled for release on Reprise on September 11, 2001. Wikipedia. Image found here.

I have posted before about this day: the usual sorts of posts one has seen or will see on the anniversary of this day. In rereading my versions of those sorts of posts, I see no need to add to them.

Instead, I want to simply note a couple of musical moments that are especially striking for their timing and place and that for me, seven years on, still resonate powerfully.

I'll just let you ponder the eerie confluence of cover art and planned release date for Wilco's album. But the music, too--not just lyrically but sonically as well--is a powerful irruption of our usual ways of thinking about what our expectations and assumptions are regarding "pop music." Just what does it mean when Jeff Tweedy, in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," sings, "I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue"--and in that wavering nasal-y voice of his, no less? And how is it that that tinny electric piano riff in "Poor Places" nevertheless manages to sound so grand? No matter. Whatever Wilco is selling in this album, I'm still more than willing to buy.

Here are some selections to listen to:

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
"I'm the Man Who Loves You"
"Poor Places"

The other moment I want to mention is Laurie Anderson's performances in New York on September 19-20, 2001. Though she was ostensibly on tour in support of her lovely August 2001 studio release Life on a String, those songs, in combination with older material (1980's "O Superman" most especially), become quite powerful in this moment. Yet she makes no claims to know or see anything more than anyone else does, as you'll hear in her spoken intro to "Here With You."

Here are those tracks:

"Here With You"
"O Superman"

And here is the first paragraph from her liner notes for this album:
Playing my music on September 19th at Town Hall was one of the most intense evenings I've ever had as a performer. Live music is about being in the present and many people had been living almost exclusively in the present since the 11th of September. The atmosphere in the city was eerie, like during a strange holiday. The driven people in New York had all suddenly experienced enormous fear and uncertainty. Unable to predict, we were simply looking and listening.
Even if you're not a fan of Anderson's music, there's little sense, listening to this, that "you had to have been there." At that point in time, we all were there.


I am stunned and pleased to share with my readers that Freewheelin', sponsors of the free bike-share program at both of this year's national nominating conventions for President, has identified this blog as a Favorite via Blog Catalog. Here, by the way, is Freewheelin's blog. Perhaps, to Freewheelin's mind, a bike-blog is a bike-blog is a bike-blog, and never were truer words spoken of the blog whose words you're reading now. But still.

As you probably know, several cities in this country, inspired by the overall success of Paris' year-old bike-share program, are experimenting with similar programs. Freewheelin', though, has some especially serious corporate support behind its efforts in the form of the HMO Humana; and it seems that, until or unless state and federal commitments to such projects--either directly through setting up such programs or indirectly through making streets bike-friendlier--municipalities and corporations will, for now, be the way to go in establishing them.

Anyway. I hope you'll go and visit Freewheelin'.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Wichita cycling blogosphere grows!

Written by Chris, who appears to live in the College Hill area, Random Chaos is a brand-new blog. Its maiden entry, from Monday the 8th, concerns a ride he took down Douglas to West Douglas Park and back. He's very detail-oriented; he includes information on his heart rate and even on his cadence.

Chris already is a serious cyclist; here's hoping he keeps spreading the word via his blog as well. I hope you'll go over and make his acquaintance. And of course, if you have or know of another Wichita-area cycling blog, I hope you'll let me know. The more of us are out there in the blogosphere posting on our experiences, the more we might get others to be thinking about cyclists before they see us out on the streets.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rousing the blog from its slumber

Apologies for the silence on this end. The combination of getting some reading done before books had to be returned, preoccupations of various sorts, and nothing especially compelling about my own commuting have kept me away from here. Todays' trip, though, provided me with a couple of things worthy of note, along with a question to ask.

The question first: Is it harder to ride in cooler weather than in warm weather? This morning the temperature was in the low 50s--by far the coolest weather I have yet ridden in--and by the time I got to McConnell, I felt physically like I did the first time I rode out there . . . which is to say, awful. Heat wasn't the problem, though; I just couldn't catch my breath. The afternoon, though, was great: temperatures in the 70s, and I had no troubles with the climbs.

I'd appreciate any insight that those of you experienced in riding in cooler weather might have.

The most momentous commuting news is that on Mt. Vernon as of last week, for a couple of blocks on either side of Broadway, the city is laying water and/or sewer lines, and so for that little stretch I have to detour with the rest of the traffic. I read somewhere that that work will be going on until this January. The detour doesn't add any distance to speak of, but now I don't have a traffic light to aid me in crossing Broadway.

Odd sight of the day: The Harry Street bridge, where it crosses the Arkansas, comes through again. Last month, it was a large turtle that had somehow made it halfway across only to be killed by a car. Today, it was a skin that looked like--in size as well as appearance--it had come from the belly of a decent-sized alligator. No alligators this far north, so what I saw today of course begs the question . . .

One of these days, I hope to post on something other than odd bits of carrion.

This afternoon, I saw a car with a front plate that read "#1 Sooner Fan." I (born and raised in Austin to love all things Longhorns) instantly thought, "Some folks, you just want to light a candle for them until they get better."

And: even though gas is now down to $3.39 a gallon for regular, each time I go out, I see more and more cyclists: folks wearing backpacks, some with panniers on their bikes, but too many without helmets, even on the streets. Still: our numbers are growing . . .

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back, and a couple of announcements

I'm back from my (really) extended weekend, and I hope your holiday was at least half as restful and pleasant and bratwurst-filled (there went the diet for a couple of days) as mine was.

While I was away, two folks informed me of new-to-me activities in the area that Wichita cyclists might appreciate knowing about:

Randy of Wichita's Coasters' Bicycle Club sent me this via e-mail:
4th Annual Midwest Bicycle Fest

Sunday, September 28th
10:00am - 4:00pm

Riggs Park, Haysville, KS

Free Family Fun!
Come Talk, View and Ride, Custom, Antique and Unusual Bicycles.
Contests, Door Prizes and People's Choice Awards.
Free Hot Dogs and BBQ.
Kids Crafts.
Win a custom Bicycle.
Ride the 7 Passenger Conference Bike and More
That sounds like great fun. I hope that some of you will be able to make it.

And, in case you didn't see this in the comments for the previous post, Michael posted this:
[J]ust wanted to let you know the Riders of Rohan meet every Friday at 7pm at The Vagabond on Douglas in Delano and ride all night. Kinda like critical mass but every week! and it's a gang... I'm traveling until October but the rest of the gang should still be meeting up. check it out, hope to see you there when i get back to town!
Orc- and Uruk-Hai-hunting on the streets of Wichita on Friday nights?? If I only had a sword . . . and a headlamp for my bike . . .

As for me, I'm way behind on blog-reading; as I run into things that seem post-worthy, they'll be making their appearance here later on

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On holiday

Today's Wednesday, right?

Speaking for myself: As far as the concept of a "week" is concerned, while on sabbatical all that can go a wee bit awry from time to time. I'm more or less on schedule with the rest of the world this week because I've been following the Democratic National Convention and, wouldn't you know it, they've scheduled their speakers in accordance with--get this--the days of the week. So, yeah: Wednesday. But I swear to you that yesterday, for the first hour or so, I thought it was Saturday.

Anyway. Today might as well be Friday for me, because after I keep my unofficial office hours today, I'll be heading out of town to make this holiday weekend, like, really, really long. I'll be away from "here" until after Labor Day--which will be, um, Tuesday I think. The day after Labor Day being Tuesday, I mean.

Let's just call this my personal little Year of Confusion.

Have a safe and relaxing weekend. And thanks for supporting this blog with your visits and comments.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday Ride #5: K-96 Bike Path

Route map:MapMyRide (I'm sorry to say that Veloroute was not cooperating for me as of this evening; I'll try again tomorrow.)

As announced here back on Thursday, today was the big inaugural gathering of Cycling in Wichita readers and interested others (that's way too wordy for a T-shirt; I'll try to come up with something snappier for next time). Two other folks joined me: Brian and Peter, both of whom not only visit this blog but have actually left comments in the past. Just after 9:30, we left Grove Park, crossed Hillside, and rode the length of the K-96 Bike Path. Aside from our getting caught in a brief rain shower on the way back and my nearly causing Brian to crash when I slowed down suddenly, a good time was had by all. This was by far my longest ride to date, and I'm happy to note that when I got home I felt like I could keep on going.

Both Brian and Peter pulled up on fixed-gear bikes, so today was my introduction to this sort of bike. That's not saying much, of course, given how new I am to cycling. Moreover, both had experience with this bike path--Peter, in fact, uses a stretch of it on his daily commute to Beechcraft. Brian is a native of Wichita and has at one time or another ridden all the city's bike paths.

This bike path was a treat to ride. Between Hillside and Woodlawn, the path passes through grasslands and dense stands of trees in creek bottoms, which gives this path a very different feel from any of the other paths in town. Chisholm Park, in fact, is a Wichita Wild space--a habitat preserve; if it weren't for the paved path and the traffic noise from the highway, you'd likely not know you were in the midst of suburbia. From Woodlawn on, the path either passes through residential areas or hugs K-96. The path is in good condition for its entire length--in fact, it is in better overall shape than the Arkansas River path. Aside from some mild rises on its eastern side, the path is fairly flat.

As I saw at Sedgwick County Park last weekend, lots of riders were out this morning, especially in Chisholm Park and along the path's eastern side. These folks tended to ride in packs, though: more families and groups of cyclists. For that reason, it didn't feel crowded on the path, even though it was busy.

As Brian and Peter and I talked about bike paths in town today, we each lamented the lack of a centrally-located east-west route for cyclists; so, when the path crossed the abandoned railroad right-of-way that runs just south of 17th Street, I know I couldn't help but feel a bit of frustration that, as things stand now, the plans to convert it into a path are on hold.

So, yeah: we had a good time--so much so that we'll try this again toward the end of September.