Thursday, July 31, 2008

WAMPO Survey

Via Kansas Cyclist comes news of WAMPO's General Transportation Survey.

And please note, out-of-towners: "Incidentally, this survey is not limited to Wichita residents, so if you have a few minutes, please take the time to advocate for improved bicycle, pedestrian, and mass-transit on behalf of our friends in Wichita."

You know what to do.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Apologies . . .

. . . for the light posting here of late and into the next few days. Some writing of a non-cycling-related nature has my attention just now.

I hope to return with new stuff this weekend.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In the news . . .

It's a few days old, but it's still good to see some local-media coverage of commuter-cyclists.

Jim Grawe of KWCH posted this story, "Wichita Bike Riders Running Out of Room," on July 25, 2008 on the KWCH website. Grawe interviews Erick Riedell, who apparently commutes into the downtown area. Some of what Riedell says will be familiar to local cyclists (on the city's bike-paths: "They're great if you're going where those paths go, but if you don't live near a bike path and you want to come to Old Town, there's no paths coming downtown."); some, less so--at least in my (admittedly-brief) experience (on impatient motorists: "They'll throw bottles and spit on you and throw trash out the windows."). The story concludes with a general statement about how the city plans to link bike-paths together and make some major streets bike-friendlier (as I've noted elsewhere, most recently here).

The chief value of such a story is not in informing those of us who get about town but in informing those who don't. We become a little more visible via this piece, which is to the good.

Douglas and Main

Local folks may be interested to know about Douglas and Main, a brand-new blog run by Bobby Rozzell that functions as something like a clip-service of noteworthy posts on Wichita blogs. Bobby was kind enough to link to both this blog and good old Blog Meridian, and I'm grateful for that.

Go check it out, and be sure to let him know if you have a blog and he hasn't listed yours yet.

[Edit: I've corrected the spelling of Bobby's last name. Sorry about that.]

"Sad Bikes"

By John Glassie. Image found here.

Via The Daily Dish comes this picture by John Glassie. Follow the link in the caption above to see more. At their best (whatever that means for pictures like this), these pictures teeter in that uncertain area between sadness and laughter.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Choosing a Bike"

The site Commute by Bike has a list of over 40 articles in a section called Commuting 101. Since the subject came up in my friend Cordelia's comment on this post, I thought I'd direct your attention to their article on choosing a bike. It lists all the variables the commuter-cyclist-to-be should consider when shopping: the terrain of your route, traffic, your physical condition, the types of bikes, whether to buy a new or used bike, and where to buy it, and more.

It's a thorough list--and the list of articles is thorough as well. Go have a look.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A cautionary tale

File under some category like "Damned if you do . . . " or "Stuff happens" or "Be sure to wear your helmet" or some such:

Yesterday I went to Brownie's for my first haircut there, and was made to feel right at home (thanks, Ronnie!). When I told Ronnie I was a cyclist, he told me that two of his regulars are as well, then told me a story about one of them.

This fellow, a lawyer who bike-commutes to his office daily, approached the intersection of Hydraulic and Douglas(?--I know Hydraulic is right) recently, where he found some street construction that caused him to think that it would not be safe for him to be on the street with cars as well. He decided to get to the corner and cross at the crosswalk. While he waited for the light to change, a car, approaching the intersection too fast, swerved to miss the road equipment and ended up jumping the curb at the corner, hitting the cyclist and knocking him into the air. He had trouble catching his breath; the motorist who struck him thought at first that he was having a heart attack when she came over to check on him. She called 911. Ronnie jokingly asked him if she had a heart attack when she learned that she'd just hit a lawyer.

The cyclist ended up with a couple of broken ribs and a crushed helmet that very likely spared him a serious head injury. I suppose that that's the real take-away from this story; I mean, aside from just not having been at that particular place at that particular time, what else could this man have done to keep this from happening to him?

On the other hand, I don't think Ronnie was trying to dissuade me from this cycling stuff. After all, he told me that I and my bike are welcome there any time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some observations on this cycling-lifestyle thing

Via the Bike Commute Tips Blog comes a story noting a correlation between the upsurge in cycling as an alternative transportation and an upsurge in cycling-related injuries. Well, yes: I've noted in, and linked to, various places which sound various cautionary notes regarding cycling safety on the streets. This is advice that I personally have been careful to heed--advice, I might add, that has already spared me from a couple of close calls with cars, if not actual accidents. (In particular, a most grateful tip of the bike helmet to BicycleSafe for #s 4 and 5.)

But safety isn't the subject of this particular post. It's this passage from the story:
Mike Schatz figured it was the right thing to do. Horrified by his first $70 trip to the gas station, Schatz drove to a bike shop last month, plunked down $2,500 on a new touring bicycle and began two-wheel commuting from his Grant Park home to his office in West Midtown.
(italics mine)

I obviously don't know Mr. Schatz, and I sincerely wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries. Nor am I the sort of person who gets all soapbox-y about how people should/shouldn't spend their money. But, like, wow: Even if I had $2500 to spend on a bicycle (full disclosure--that's a bit less than two months' salary for me, and I pay rent and enjoy, you know, eating, so you can do the math), I'm not the sort of person that would spend that kind of money to get some exercise and save money on gas--the reasons Mr. Schatz gives as his reasons for buying his bicycle. So, as I read that I thought, All other things being equal (I don't know the distance he commutes or the terrain of that commute, so maybe such a bike really would be useful for him), does a bicycle that costs that much really better accomplish what my humble Fuji does?

Well, no. So, even as I wish Mr. Schatz well, I found myself wondering as well just what he had bought--or, perhaps better-phrased, bought into--when he bought his bike.

All this is on my mind for a couple of reasons. First up is the blog Bikes for the Rest of Us, which has this as part of its manifesto:
Sometimes I wish Greg Lemond never won the Tour de France in 1986.

At the time, in the excitement surrounding the first American win at Le Tour, there was talk of a “renewed interest” in bicycling. As it turns out, there was a renewed interest in the sport of cycling, but not in building a real, pervasive bike culture here in the United States.

In fact, bike shops across the country began putting aside their single speeds, 3-speeds and cruisers to make room for expensive, lightweight, “high-end” racing bikes. In other words, bike shops lost interest in selling regular bikes to regular people.


My hope is that higher gas prices will not only change the way Americans think about bicycles but also the way the bicycle industry thinks as well, so that we can finally have bike shops selling bicycles designed for regular folks who just want to ride from point A to point B and aren’t interested in paying a fortune.

Or winning the Tour de France.
Exhibit A of the sort of audience Bikes for the Rest of us is targeting is a fellow Wichitan named Todd. Over at his appropriately-named The Todd Blog, he recently posted this query, with questions, about the possibility of his bike-commuting. Go and read--it won't take long. As you can see, he doesn't want, or need, much; nor can he afford much. He just wants to Do Something, some little Something. Todd's thinking is very much in the spirit of this recent post of mine.

I'd just say, by way of winding all this up, that I'd hope that those of us without (or even those of us with) Mr. Schatz's means not let that get in the way of trying to achieve the sorts of ends Todd hopes to achieve.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"'Cause after all, he's just a man."

Setting: The front entrance, dimly lit (for it is just past sunrise this Wednesday morning), of your correspondent's apartment. His faithful Fuji Crosstown 3.0 sits quietly by the door.

The door opens, and in walks your correspondent, laden with groceries.

ME (cheerily, but somewhat guiltily): Oh--hi there!


ME (still cheerily): I'll be right back! [leaves, closing the door]

All is quiet for a few minutes. Then the door opens again, revealing your correspondent with yet more groceries. He sets them on the kitchen counter and turns to address his bike.

ME: Please, please don't look at me that way!


ME: I know how this looks--I do. But I had to use the car this morning!


ME: I had to! I mean, I got all this stuff--and I bought frozen stuff, and butter, and milk and orange juice!


ME: And you--you don't have panniers yet.


ME: Yeah, yeah, I know--"Whose fault is that?"


ME: You know, I hate it when you don't talk.


ME (bargaining): Look--I'll make it up to you! We'll ride to the bike store--just you and me--and buy you a cute little tire-pump! Would you like that?


ME: Air--a bicycle's botox!


ME (sensing the mood is softening): And then next payday, we'll get you--we'll get us--a nice set of panniers! No more of this sneaking out on you. What do you say??


ME (walking over and stroking CROSSTOWN's frame): Well--that's as good as a yes, I'd say.


Your trite environmental sentiment for the day

"We can all do something."

My long-time bloggy friend Pam of Tales from the Microbial Laboratory is, in terms of geography, about as far removed from Wichita as one could be: she lives on the South Carolina coast, where she conducts research on microbes that live among coral reef ecosystems. Oh--and she gardens and loves (good) poetry, too. But--the blogosphere being the strange place that it is, she and I have come to know each other, for which I'm glad.

Anyway. The other day, she posted a blurb on behalf of Al Gore's new project, We Can Solve It--and a rejoinder to those whose criticism not just of Gore but of other proposals to reduce our dependence on carbon-generated energy is, in essence, it'll cost too much/we shouldn't do anything until others do, too/What will we have to give up?/etc./etc.:
I think it's alot of baby steps - little changes that globally result in big changes - and old technologies coming back (rain barrels!) and new technologies coming forward.

I love this stuff because it makes sense. We need to get the price of icynene down to where we all can afford it. We need to quit taking our leaves to the landfill - and leaving them on our land. Grow your own lettuce in the winter. I'm tring to build a LEED certified home, and I'm saying 'no' to a paved driveway it really necessary? I could go on, but I need to go back out into my garden and weed before it gets crazy-hot. But I guess how I feel is that we can all do something here - and the things we need to do aren't necessarily big or expensive. Just do something. It becomes contagious.
In response, I forwarded her a link I'd found somewhere--I don't recall now--to something called The PB&J Campaign, a project of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs. Their goal is simple:
The PB&J Campaign is working to combat environmental destruction by reducing the amount of animal products people eat. The PB&J Campaign approaches positive change one meal at a time by illuminating the differences one single dining decision can make.
And here are some numbers to contemplate:
Each time you have a plant-based lunch like a PB&J you'll reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets. For dinner you save 2.8 pounds and for breakfast 2.0 pounds of emissions.

Those 2.5 pounds of emissions at lunch are about forty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions you'd save driving around for the day in a hybrid instead of a standard sedan.

If you have a PB&J instead of a red-meat lunch like a ham sandwich or a hamburger, you shrink your carbon footprint by almost 3.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
Full disclosure: I have no interest in becoming even a vegetarian, much less a vegan or some such--I do loves me the occasional rib-eye and pork ribs--but I've been choosing to eat much less meat of late, in large measure because of the sorts of statistics the PB&J Campaign highlights. There's also the not-insignificant matter of simply being mindful--and respectful--of where the vast majority of our beef, pork and chicken comes from and how it's produced: a process invisible to almost all of us these days. To my mind, the PB&J Campaign's great value is in making people more aware of the fact that environmental expenditures also figure into the statement "where our meat comes from."

So, yeah: "We can all do something." And all that little stuff, if done by enough people, adds up. So, go and make yourself the occasional PB&J.

Or, go ride a bike.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WAMPO and wampum

My running into some below-ground utility work on Mt. Vernon just west of Broadway this morning reminded me that I wanted to draw your attention to the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's (WAMPO) Regional Pathway System Plan, adopted last September. I hope you'll go and have a look at it. It provides considerable context to Sharon Fearey's remarks in her e-mail to me last week:
The city is working toward connecting a lot of the bike paths we have so that they can be used to navigate through many parts of the city. We are also starting to focus much more on what we need to do to become a more pedestrian and bike friendly community through things like complete streets that are designed for all types of transportation. Although many of these things will still take years to implement, we are much further along in our discussions than we were when I first got elected to City Council in 2001.
The WAMPO document notes that the money isn't available to implement all its proposals--at this stage of things, it's more like a wish list. But what a wish list! With its prioritizing of increasing connectivity among already-existing bike-paths and identifying east-west and north-south street routes that can be made bike- and pedestrian-friendlier in various ways, along with developing new bike-paths along creeks in still undeveloped areas, it's a most-impressive document.

And some parts of it are indeed in motion: the utility work along Mt. Vernon, for example, is a prelude to its eventual conversion from what's basically, in its wider manifestations, a 4-lane undivided road into a two-lane road with a dedicated center left-turn lane and bike lanes on either side.

For some of these projects--such as the conversion of the 17th Street railroad into a path--property-owner considerations and concerns will cause delays; with the others, money will be what keeps them from being built right away. But in politics, squeaky wheels get the grease, and the WAMPO document makes the crucial point that none of this will happen if people--city councils and their constituents--don't take ownership of them. Speaking of which: if you care about any of this, you owe a debt of gratitude to the Oz Bicycle Club for participating in the production of this document. I'm looking forward to becoming their newest member: maybe I can make their squeak a little bit louder.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Choose 2 Bike in Wichita?

Some more advocacy news . . .

Last week I ran across a program called Choose 2 Bike, co-sponsored by the city of Kansas City (MO) and five local bike-dealers. The idea is that contestants write in to tell how they would use a bicycle. Their contest ends on July 25th; four winners will be selected next week. The winners will be given a new bicycle, helmet and a lock and key; they will agree to make short trips around town between August and October and blog about their experiences. The idea is to raise awareness in the city about cycling's potential for things other than recreation or the Tour de France.

Anyway, I sent an e-mail about all this to Doug Kupper, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department here in Wichita, asking him about the possibility of doing something similar here. I received a brief e-mail from him this morning in which he expressed interest in learning more.

I'll let you know if I hear any more from him. In the meantime: I hope that any of you familiar with Choose 2 Bike will leave a comment here regarding your impressions of it.

More links

Some things soon to appear in the right gutter . . .

Via David of The Practical Cyclist Blog in Washington, D.C., comes a collection of how-to videos from Rivendell Bicycle Works in California. Below is the video for mounting a tire. Note the high production values.

David, along with someone named Freewheel, also has a blog called Bikes for the Rest of Us, a blog dedicated to offering quick reviews and links to bicycles specifically designed for urban use and transport. The current post on folding bikes by Dahon is especially cool.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Ride #1: Canal Route and 21st Street

This is the first post in an occasional series in which I'll ride and report on the dedicated bike paths in the city.

The map of my entire route is here. I didn't note my exact departure time from the apartment, but I rode the entire route in a little over an hour.

To start things off for the Sunday Ride series, I chose to ride the length of the Canal Hike and Bike Trails (not sure why it's plural . . . ) and a return home via 21st Street. I chose this route for several reasons: 1) It's relatively close by, and the morning feels like it will be hot today; 2) Friends, curious about my route to work, have asked me if I know it, and I don't; 3) As I've mentioned in a couple of places in this blog, it's a goal of this blog to convey to visitors (and to my council representative) that bike-commuting should be seen as something more than the Yuppie Thing it is often presumed to be--indeed, for many in the Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods just to the north of downtown, as well as for many street people, cycling is the way to get to work and to run errands. North of Kellogg, the Canal Route runs through the heart of working-class Wichita, and I wanted to get a sense both of how practical it is as a commuter route and much it's used. As for 21st Street, it is a major artery through Wichita's Hispanic neighborhood, and I was curious to see how bike-friendly it is.

The Canal Route is, in one sense, a study in contrasts and, in another, a model of consistency. First, the contrasts: North of Kellogg, I-135 is elevated, and the bike-path takes advantage of that by being routed underneath the southbound side of the interstate. As a result, the scenery isn't much to brag about, and there's a fair amount of loose gravel on the pavement. The path has lights installed along it, but the lamps aren't in the best of shape. Something that impressed me about this part of the route is that, in addition to the through streets often being bike-friendly, a few pedestrian bridges also span the canal, allowing for convenient access to the path from the east side. Also, a couple of the street crossings have pedestrian-controlled traffic lights. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by that portion of the route. South of Kellogg, meanwhile, I-135 is at ground level and so the path wends its way through residential areas, greenbelts and parks. Often, the path is fenced off from the residential areas as it runs along in the spaces between backyard fences and fences demarcating highway on-ramps. I have no idea how those portions of the route would feel after dark, but in the daytime the proximity of the houses made them feel safe.

Now to the consistency: For one thing, it's a rare stretch of the route that's exposed to full sun--something not to be dismissed lightly on a hot morning like today. This next part, though, strikes me as strange: It's as though whoever routed the path wanted it to be more entertaining than practical; thus, north of Kellogg, it slaloms around the bridge piers and, between piers, often curves for no practical reason. The same is true south of Kellogg. There's no way my route map can account for all those curves and, because I don't have an odometer on my bike, I can't say for sure, but I'd guess all those curves added well over a quarter-mile to the total length of my ride. There's no denying that, north of Kellogg, the curves make the route (emotionally) diverting to the point that you don't mind as much that pretty much all you have to look at is concrete and asphalt; on the other hand, though, the abundance of bike-tire tracks short-cutting across the bases of those loops suggests that many if not most people who use that stretch aren't there for fun but to get somewhere. South of Kellogg, meanwhile, some of those curves occur in the above-mentioned fenced-off stretches, creating a couple of blind corners that, if you're not cautions, could easily end up putting the "rec" in "recreation."

All in all, then, the Canal Route is shady and fun and, especially north of Kellogg, certainly has features intended to ease access to it. However, its slalom-y nature suggests that it was envisioned as serving primarily for recreation. That's not a bad thing, mind you; but as I imagined using it as part of my commute to McConnell (ultimately not practical, but it does head in the right general direction), I found myself thinking that the curves would cause me to feel as though I wasn't making good time. But that's just me.

21st Street, meanwhile, seemed surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning. Even so, people were patient with me to the point that, when I was waiting to turn left on to Waco (there's no dedicated left turn lane there), the motorist in the eastbound inside lane on 21st deferred to me to turn left. The street itself isn't particularly bike-friendly, but drivers seemed clear on the idea of sharing the road. Though I rarely have occasion to head that way, I'm glad to have made the trip there.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In which your correspondent talks a bit about his bicycle

Image found here.

My bloggy friend Cordelia of The Phenomenal Field (who, you know, apparently has a life--which is unfortunate because otherwise she would probably post more frequently than she does) recently posted on her decision to bike-commute to work and how, according to Bike Commuter's gas-saving calculator, she'll end up saving much more money than she had thought. There's also something in there about getting "shapely calves" in the bargain, too. Now, like me, she seems to be seeing bicycles everywhere she looks. Cordelia is not a Wichitan, but after visiting this blog she e-mailed me to suggest that visitors here might be interested in learning how I had come to decide to buy my Fuji Crosstown 3.0 (pictured above).

Well, maybe you will be.

Once I'd made the decision to buy a bike, I started looking at how much money I had for this enterprise. Not much. So, I oh-so-naïvely asked friends what kind of decent bike they could recommend for, say, $200. That seemed reasonable to me; everywhere I looked, it seemed, I was seeing $85 bikes from Wal-Mart--how much more could a good one cost? They alternately a) laughed in my face and b) said I'd only find good used bikes for that price--and to be wary of buying a used bike. But whether a) or b), they also all said: Go to a reputable shop to buy it. That, in retrospect, was the best piece of advice anyone has yet given me about all this.

By the end of June, I'd done some extra teaching and had a little extra money; I'd also done a little research and learned that Fujis had a good reputation for building solid bikes that didn't also cost one's first-born. So, when I walked in the doors of the east-side Bicycle X-Change and said, "I'd like to see a good in-town bike for around $300" and the dealer said, "Here's what you're looking for" and walked over to the Crosstown, it felt right.

I should say here that I'd not regularly ridden a bicycle since high school, so having a bike that felt responsive but sturdy was important to me. So, in addition to the Crosstown I test-rode a rehabbed touring bike, but it felt so light that it startled me. So, the Crosstown it was. No regrets, either.

I got lucky--I know this. I should have researched more than I did; on the other hand, though, a limited budget has a way of defining one's horizon. That's why the advice about seeing a dealer is the single-best piece of advice I can pass on to you, too. That, and thinking about what you want and need in a bike--psychologically as well as physically.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The case for walkable cities

My day for counter-intuitive arguments . . .

Yesterday over in the right gutter I posted but didn't announce a link for WalkScore. WalkScore is a Google Maps app that attempts to show how walkable a neighborhood is: it shows you how close to you things like libraries, grocery stores, parks, pharmacies, etc. are.

Matthew Yglesias, a scary-smart center-left political blogger, strong advocate for mass/alternate transit solutions and high-density development, and an avid cyclist, makes a compelling case for making more parts of more cities more walkable. Referring to a map showing Washington, D.C.'s, walkability, he says:
If you know the city at all, you'll see that being pedestrian-friendly is a strong correlate of being prosperous. This reality sometimes tends to confuse the debate over planning for walkers. Because walkable neighborhoods tend to be inhabited by well-off people, the whole topic gets construed as a concern "for" well-off yuppies. But really that's backwards. Walkable areas tend to be full of relatively rich people because they're relatively rare and relatively desirable -- their scarcity means that the less prosperous are priced out of these areas, but if we shifted policy to increase the supply of areas with good pedestrian access, people of more modest means would be able to afford them.
I don't think it's absurd to push this a bit further and say that the more people you have walking in a neighborhood, the more likely they are to trade with neighborhood businesses (if they're there), saving them time and money and helping those businesses prosper--and, perhaps even attract more businesses there.

Those are, of course, long-term occurrences. But a city with a long-term vision, willing to be patient to see the results, could stand to benefit more of its citizenry in this relatively inexpensive way.

"Weighting mistakes"

Via Andrew Sullivan comes this post by Jonah Lehrer that speculates that, at least for some home-buyers affected by the housing-mortgage crisis, their problem might be, paradoxically, that they thought too much about their decision:
Ap Dijksterhuis, a psychologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands (and expert on unconscious thought), has done some cool studies that look at how people shop for homes, and how they often fall victim to what he calls a "weighting mistake". Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion in the suburbs, with a forty-five minute commute. "People will think about this trade-off for a long time," Dijksterhuis writes. "And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad." What's interesting is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes. They'll imagine all sorts of scenarios (a big birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, another child) that will turn the suburban house into an absolute necessity. The lengthy commute, meanwhile, will seem less and less significant, at least when compared to the allure of an extra bathroom.
Then, after citing some depressing statistics about (car) commuting, Lehrer, goes on to add:
According to Dijksterhuis, these people are making themselves miserable because they failed to properly "weigh" the relevant variables when they were choosing where to live. Because these deliberative homeowners tended to fixate on details like square footage or the number of bathrooms, they assumed that a bigger house in the suburbs would make them happy, even if it meant spending an extra hour in the car everyday. But they were wrong.
Our natural tendency is to want to satisfy wants, and that, in the abstract, isn't a bad thing. But when wants supercede or become mistaken for needs, then problems arise.

Not that I think that, as a cyclist, I've become an expert in all this--I can easily see, just from the vantage point of my desk, all sorts of things that I've wanted to have that aren't doing me a heck of a lot of good right now--but as I've said before, cycling has a way of helping to clarify the distinctions between wants and needs.

Anyway. Quite apart from whatever lessons this has for cyclists, I found this made for intriguing reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quick notes

I'm in the middle of some writing that suddenly got "hot" and which may cause me to be away from "here" for a day or two. But I did want to note a couple of things from yesterday before I forgot them.

Yesterday, while Googling about, I bumped into a site called Find a Safe Ride in Wichita. It's a Google Maps application that allows registrants to locate and briefly describe potential hazards for cyclists. As it turns out, Wichita is one of ten cities served by The Right Ride (one of the others is Kansas City). When I learned that Chris Braiotta, the site's creator, lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, I e-mailed him to ask the obvious question. His reply:
it's simply because someone asked. I created the site just for Boston at first, but then the requests started rolling in for other cities. I think Wichita came along in April when a Army sargeant [sic] stationed there asked for it, and in addition to being happy to help out I didn't want him to shoot me.
So he's not entirely altruistic. But no matter: I hope Wichitans will find their way there and have a look around. I should note, though, that though I'm supposedly registered, I've not been able to log in this morning. When that changes, I'll note that here.

Cycle Chat #2: Yesterday while returning from my morning walk with my dog Scruffy, we met Eric, a resident in the complex where I live, who was wheeling a Schwinn hybrid out of his apartment as we walked past. We chatted very briefly, as he was headed to work. He said he has been bike-commuting for about two and a half years; he has a commute of about nine miles in all (I'm sorry to say I don't remember now where he works). It's a choice that he's pleased to have made and stuck with.

Along these lines, I've seen a couple of other bikes in the complex with panniers and other commuting accoutrements, and yesterday during my evening walk with Scruffy we saw about a half-dozen such folks heading home. We're out there. We are not yet legion for we are not many. But that's changing.

Finally: yesterday during the morning rush hour I rode the route to work that I posted about here. This time, McConnell's west gate was open and so I rode onto the base to the building where my office is--from my apartment to there, a distance of not quite 10.5 miles. When I talked with my colleague Larry (the subject of the first Cycle Chat) back on Tuesday, he said he thought Mt. Vernon would be much busier at that time of day, but that turned out not to be the case: if there was more traffic, it was only a marginal increase. On the ride back home, though, I had to wait for two trains, and a street crew had dug a trench across the street a couple of blocks west of Broadway to lay some pipe. Moreover, I should also note that in that same couple-of-blocks stretch to the west of Broadway, the asphalt has begun to wear away, exposing the original brick paving beneath the streets are originally brick, and whenever they have utility work to do there, the city simply patches over the bricks with asphalt. It's, um, bumpy through there. But the advantages of that route remain so high that I'm willing to put up with them. The bike, of course, might have another opinion on this matter; we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sharon Fearey responds

Some of you may remember this post, in which I posted some excerpts from an e-mail I sent to Sharon Fearey, the District 6 representative on the Wichita City Council. This afternoon, she e-mailed me a response. It appears below, in its entirety:
First, let me congratulate you on becoming a bike-commuter. That is exciting. I agree that things in Wichita aren’t as bike friendly as they can and should be, but there are some things in the works that I hope will make it better. One of the big things we are doing in through our Park, Recreation and Open Space master planning project. Although this focuses on biking as recreation in a lot of ways, some of the suggested outcomes would work for commuting, too. The city is working toward connecting a lot of the bike paths we have so that they can be used to navigate through many parts of the city. We are also starting to focus much more on what we need to do to become a more pedestrian and bike friendly community through things like complete streets that are designed for all types of transportation. Although many of these things will still take years to implement, we are much further along in our discussions than we were when I first got elected to City Council in 2001. Finally, there is a plan to turn the abandoned rail corridor that runs along 17th Street into a bike path. Unfortunately, this plan does not have the backing of one of the Council Members, Vice Mayor Schlapp, who represent the area. The corridor also has a lot of utilities in it so a light rail system would be difficult in that location. I hope I have helped address your questions and concerns. Please let me know any time you need additional information.

Thank you,

My initial response is it sounds as though some good things are in store for cyclists and pedestrians on down the road. As time permits, I'll do some poking around to see if I can find more specific information on the proposals she mentions. Time to get some education.

Also, I'll be interested in learning the nature of Ms. Schlapp's opposition to converting the 17th Street corridor into a bikepath. It goes without saying that if anyone reading this lives in Wichita's District 2 and has an interest in this subject, she'd be more likely to listen to a constituent than to some pedal-pushing blogger from near-downtown.

More to come on all this.

Cycle chat #1

The pedestrian/bike bridge spanning the Arkansas at the Keeper of the Plains. Flickr image by Cody Lee Dopps.

My post yesterday concerning my friend Russell's cycling, combined with my growing curiosity about other cyclists that I see out and about and the conversation with the motorist I mentioned here, got me to thinking last night that, as I begin to recognize other riders and they me, I should try to overcome my natural shyness and engage them in conversation about their cycling routines, their thinking about cycling metaphysics (here is an example of what I mean by that), their cycling rants or raves, or whatever else is on their mind that they don't mind sharing. In other words: something like "man-on-the-bikepath" interviews.

As it turned out, today I got a chance to do just that. I had just crossed the Arkansas via the newish pedestrian bridges that span it and the Little Arkansas at Keeper Plaza (my full route map is here, if you're interested), when I happened to run into a colleague of mine named Larry, out for a ride on his recumbent bike. This isn't Larry the Movie-Guy, a name familiar to readers of my other blog, but the present Larry also happens to teach math. Larry, who lives somewhere just to the west of Sedgwick County Park, is in his mid-fifties and was once quite the cyclist, from what I understand. But back troubles led him to recumbent bikes and, though he's not a bike-commuter per se (he teaches most of his classes out at Butler's Andover campus), he rode his bike from home to McConnell one day for a class there during finals week this past May, and here he was downtown, on his way to the central branch of the public library to drop off some books. "My excuse to do a little riding," he said.

Back in May, I had told him of my intention to get a bike and start commuting, and so he asked me about my bike (about which more in an upcoming post). I asked him about the recumbent bike; he said it took him about a month to get really comfortable with it. (Some journalist I am: I just realized I hadn't asked him how long he's had it.) It's an open-road sort of bike, he said, noting that you can't turn too sharply with it. Regarding its physics, he told me something that I hadn't really thought about before: he said all the balancing is done with the body, that the arms "just hang there" on the handlebars. He has an odometer on his bike; at the point where we met each other, he'd travelled 6 miles.

So anyway: Larry, I'd say, is something more than a recreation cyclist, but not exactly a a bike-commuter. But no matter: here he was, 6 miles on his journey with another mile or so left to the library, with his only way back home the bike underneath him. Props to him, I say.

An interview with a Wichita bike dealer

Hey! Have a look at this!
Bike sales are also brisk at Heartland Bicycle in Wichita's Old Town, said owner Byron Fick, a former Hutchinson resident.

"I haven't set any records, but sales have been up," Fick said. "There are seven bike shops in Wichita, so it gets spread around a little more than in Hutchinson. On average, we have the same amount of business."

Just like Harley's Bicycles, Fick's store has plenty of customers buying accessories or complete bikes and helmets to ride back and forth to work.

He likes to tell customers if they drive a large SUV, four or five tanks of gas would pay for the bicycle and some of the gear. Then when they've saved the money they would have spent on another tank of gas, they can buy shoes, a pair of glasses or something new for biking.

While some are probably spending their economic stimulus checks at the gas pump, Fick has also had customers using the check in his shop.

"I know six or seven customers who said that was what they chose to spend their stimulus check on," Fick said.

One customer in particular, coming from Salt Lake City, earmarked his stimulus check to buy a bike for his father.

The surge in business, and more people commuting to work, hasn't peaked yet, shop owners said.

That might come when gas sits at the $4 mark, said one salesman at the Heartland shop.

Meanwhile, Fick sets an example by commuting to work.

"Any rider starting out can ride 10 to 12 mph," Fick said. "Then, after getting used to the bike and interfacing with the bike seat, they can average 12 to 18 mph."
Wonderful to see, eh? Except: This article didn't appear in the Wichita Eagle but in the online edition of the Hutchinson [KS] News.

I myself found this story via the newsfeed for cycling news at Kansas Cyclist (thanks again, Randy)--see the nifty widget over in the right gutter I've added? But if a goal of cyclists here in town is consciousness-raising among Wichitans regarding cycling and cycling issues--as, in my humble opinion, it should be--it's a bit frustrating to see a piece like this appear in an out-of-town paper that, I suspect, even Eagle-readers are unlikely to run across.

Ah well. The journey of a thousand miles begins . . . with a kick of the kickstand.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Wichitan on his cycling lifestyle

Over at his excellent political philosophy blog, In Medias Res, Russell Arben Fox, a prof at Friends University whose posts I always learn much from, has just put up a post extolling the virtues, as he sees them, of this very blog. Thanks to him for that, and welcome to those of you finding your way here from his place.

Russell also posts on just how much he and his family use their bikes, and the reputation he's acquired at Friends (not to mention a bit of envy he inspires among colleagues) as a result of his cycling:
I've never cycled professionally, never raced, only ever used my bike to get to school and now to get to work and in between, when times and circumstances have been amenable to it, to go on rides with the kids or to get some shopping done. When all is said and done, I guess that adds up to making me a fairly serious cyclist. Here's the six-mile route I ride pretty much five days a week, rain or shine (the link says 5.5 miles, but I've clocked it, and I think the difference comes in the bike map's inability to accurately calculate my path through Town Square West's huge parking lots). . .


My commuting has gotten me some notoriety here at Friends; on bad weather days, my students will make jokes or express disbelief that I rode in that morning, and my leaving meetings early so I can manage the 25-35 minute ride home (depending on traffic and weather) before, say, one of the girls have to be taken to piano lessons have attracted a little envy from other faculty members occasionally. All in all, I guess it is a "lifestyle," or at least a regular enough part of my life that I can't imagine myself getting along without my bike. I hope to be able to continue to ride here in Wichita and elsewhere for decades to come.
Though I've not been riding nearly as long as Russell has, I can already say that I fully concur with the last two sentences.

Thanks again for the kind words, Russell.

A new commuting route, and some impromptu witnessing

Route map is here

The goal for this ride was to try out a new commute route to work and run an errand while I was at it. The route, I think, will be a fine one--much better than the initial one I'd tried out--but the errand-running didn't go so well.

First, the latter: the gate at McConnell I usually use was closed today, and that caused me to have to ride around to the other side of the base to an office across the street that the college uses for advising and enrolling students. So, that added some roads to my ride that will not be part of my commute. But the actual distance I'll be riding will be perhaps a mile shorter in all than what I rode today. Another problem: at about mile 6 I suddenly felt very winded, though my legs felt fine, so I found a safe place to pull over and rest for a bit. From there till I reached the office (about mile 11), it was very rough going physically. But at the office I rested for a half hour and had plenty of water and some slices of a peach, and the return ride felt very easy. When I got home, I knew I'd had a workout, but my body didn't feel as though it was going to up and quit on me.

Now to the route itself. The route I'd take when I drove to work is fine for a car but risky for bike riders. The bike path along the west bank of the Arkansas covers about a third of the distance; the problem has been thinking about a street route that's more or less direct but that I'd stand a better chance of surviving each day. Pawnee to George Washington by car is fine, but Pawnee on a bicycle? It's heavily travelled, and there's a fairly steep hill just to the east of the intersection with Hillside that I did NOT look forward to trying to climb out of a dead stop. So, last night I looked a city map for a route that'd allow me to use as much of the bikepath as possible and use a street that runs parallel to Pawnee and also intersects George Washington.

Fellow Wichitans, allow me to sing the praises of Mt. Vernon Street as a bike route for the south central part of town: 4 blocks north of Pawnee, it's a through street (because of I-135 isn't elevated there, there aren't many of those in that part of town), but it runs through residential areas so speeds are slower and it has less traffic. It has a couple of rises to it (one of which is the overpass over I-135), but they aren't as steep as the one on Pawnee. I still need to work on my conditioning (see above) to climb them with ease, but that will come. Meanwhile, Greenway (which I took south from Harry to reach Mt. Vernon) is a very wide street that runs along the river's east bank--though there's no bike path on that side, Greenway's width makes one unnecessary.

So: I think I have found my commute route. My plan now is to ride it during morning rush hour to see if I'll be just as enamored of it when I have to ride it for real.

The witness: On the return trip, I was pulled up at the intersection of Harry and Greenway, waiting to turn left onto Harry. An man in his mid-late 50s or so in a pick-up pulled up to my right and asked, "How many miles to the gallon does that thing get?" I told him, "Lots." There's no light at that intersection, no one was behind us, and neither of us was in any hurry, so we chatted for about a minute. He said, "I've been thinking about getting me one," to which I said, "The more I think about it, the more reasons I find that this was a good decision to make." He expressed concern about cars; I told him that I hadn't had any trouble yet--which, apart from some bone-headed things I've done, has been the case. Anyway, a break in traffic appeared, and I thanked him for the chat; he said, "Be careful."

All in all, a good ride.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Beginning to think like a cyclist

Today's route here.

What started out as a purely recreational ride this afternoon--a pleasantly warm day, no urgent place to go, the desire for a bit of fresh air and exercise--resulted in my finding a better route to the nearest full-service grocery store.

I knew that the Little Arkansas bike path runs north of North High School, but I'd not been on it north of 13th Street, so I decided to head up it, just for fun. There is still construction going on at the 13th Street bridge, but there's also a temporary asphalt path running from street level down to the path on the north side of the bridge. The path runs up to 19th Street, where it dead-ends at a small neighborhood park. I'd originally been planning just to turn around and head back home, but I realized I was not far away from 21st and Amidon (where the grocery store is located). I'd not been happy with the first route I'd taken to the store, so I decided to explore the neighborhood for a route to 21st and/or Amidon. Sure enough: I soon found 20th Street, which makes a sharp north turn and turns into Woodward, which intersects 21st directly across from the south end of the store.

When I returned, I calculated the distances of the two routes and discovered that not only was today's route much safer (the only major streets to deal with are 13th and 21st, and those only to cross) and much more aesthetically pleasing (well over half the route is through greenbelts on dedicated bike paths), it's also shorter by half a mile. Not bad, I figured. I wasn't pushing at all hard, and I had made the round trip in under an hour (I was out relaxing, remember).

My mistake with the first route had been thinking about it in terms of the city's grid of major streets. At least in this instance, I saw, it gained me nothing as a cyclist to think that way. There's more to say about some of the implications (beyond time and distance saved) of thinking against the grain of the grid, but I'll leave that for another time. For now, I'll just sum up by saying, Lesson learned.

We're listed in Kansas Cyclist [Update: and Bicycle Commuting, too]

Thanks to Randy Rasa for e-mailing me to let me know that this humble blog now appears on the Personal Web Sites page of the Kansas Cyclist website. I have found many of the links and some of the content you see here via Kansas Cyclist, so it's gratifying for this newbie blog to be included among folks who've been cycling--and blogging about it--for much longer than I have been.

Randy wrote to me, in part,
It's good to see someone from Wichita get on the bicycle commuting bandwagon. There are a few cycling bloggers in the KC area, but not so much in the rest of the state.

Randy also let me know about Map My Ride, a service at its base similar to Veloroutes but with many more features. Very kind of him.

Anyway, thanks again, Randy.

UPDATE: I wanted to draw your attention to Bicycle Commuting, month-old cycling forum devoted exclusively to various issues of concern to bike-commuters. Dan, the site's webmaster, e-mailed me to welcome my registering with them and to let me know that the site now has a bike-commuting blog directory, on which this blog is the first entry. I hope those of you with blogs that would qualify will find your way over there, register, and have your blogs listed there.

A cyclist's death in Wichita

From Kansas Cyclist comes this story of a cyclist who on the night of June 12 was struck at an intersection not far from where I live and who eventually died of his injuries on July 5. The accident happened at McLean and Central, which locals know is a roundabout where Meridian also intersects.

The following, I hope will serve as a reminder that traffic laws and signage aren't just for motorists and pedestrians:
Investigators determined the SUV driver had the green light at the intersection, and witnesses said [Kevin] Keller ignored the “Don’t Walk” pedestrian traffic signs. The driver of the SUV won’t face charges because Keller was determined to be at fault in the accident.
UPDATE: As Anon. notes in his/her comment below, this is a somewhat risky intersection even for motorists, because of the odd angles at which the streets intersect there. Cyclists passing through there would be well advised to observe the lights and WALK signs--especially at night--and proceed with caution.

Cycling in the rain; or, defying the cultural logic of Late Capitalism

Friday evening, I had my biking all planned for the next morning: a trip downtown to the Farmers' Market and thence to Bicycle X-Change on West Douglas to buy a set of hex wrenches for my bike (I should have thought of this back on that heady day when I bought the bike, I know), and maybe even a trip over to the art museum (Saturdays are free admission). But. As I begin writing this, it's early sunrise on Saturday and it's pouring down rain: there's thunder and lightning, and--continuing this getting religion metaphor--my fledgling faith is being sorely tested as we speak. Stay in and say The hell with it, or saddle up and say The hell with it? Or triangulate the matter and blog about it?

Heh. You lucky people.

Earlier this week I rode a fair distance in a moderate, steady rain (I wore a windbreaker but no poncho) and, aside from being absolutely soaked through didn't mind that at all (I was concerned about wet brakes, but that wasn't a problem). But this . . .

Prior to today, my thinking about how weather would affect my cycling was chiefly confined to the winter. There will be a fair number of days from November through early March where cycling will be just too cold and/or too risky an option. But I frankly hadn't thought through the equally-basic truth of Wichita weather that the summer is extremely changeable. Thunderstorms usually pop up in the afternoon and evening, but since (for now) I don't plan to ride at night, those didn't worry me too much. What I hadn't thought through was the psychological impact on me of such things as trying to pedal head-on into a steady 20 mph wind (no freakish thing in Wichita) or, this morning, looking forward to some morning cycling only to wake up to a downpour like this.

To the dedicated cyclist, as to the farmer in his/her way, weather--Nature, more generally--matters. That would seem to be so obvious as to go without saying, except that for the past long century or so Western culture has been resolute in doing what it can to render Nature into something of no consequence. That's the source of the discontent (in a Jamesonian spin on Freud's sense of the word) I feel this morning: Nature is Mattering in a most hellacious way this morning, and I don't want it to.

Here's Fredric Jameson himself to explain what I mean by that:
In modernism, . . . some residual zones of "nature" or "being," of the old, the older, the archaic, still subsist; culture can still do something to that nature and work at transforming that "referent." Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good. It is a more fully human world than the older one, but one in which "culture" has become a veritable "second nature." Indeed, what happened to culture may well be one of the more important clues for tracking the postmodern: an immense dilation of its sphere (the sphere of commodities), an immense and historically original acculturation of the Real[.]. . . . So in postmodern culture, "culture" has become a product in its own right; the market has become a substitute for itself and fully as much a commodity as any of the items it includes within itself: modernism was still minimally and tendentially the critique of the commodity and the effort to make it transcend itself. Postmodernism is the consumption of sheer commodification as a process. (Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, pp. ix-x)
All this is a long way of getting to something that I came to realize this morning: that resistance I was feeling to saddling up and saying To hell with it was both a reminder of the truth of Jameson's argument regarding Nature's having been refined out of existence (that was the "resistance" part) and, on the other, my recognition that cycling repudiates that very argument. Nature matters after all. Or again, depending on whether you think of cycling as a return to some simpler, more elemental way of performing a job of work, or as an implicit critique of The Way Things Are.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, cycling does both.

Because Nature matters to cyclists, they become different sorts of consumers of their world. Topography and weather and their bodies' and bicycles' needs, not fantasy, shape their choices--indeed, those factors reacquire an immediacy that, Jameson argues, postmodern culture had assumed for them. The local and immediate are what catch and hold their attention. Theirs are pragmatic sorts of choices, and being compelled to make such choices has a way of revealing just how superfluous and self-indulgent most people's choices are. This, of course, is something the vast majority of manufacturers, marketers and merchants would prefer we not dwell on too thoughtfully or for too long.

I'm not arguing that serious cycling is at its heart anti-capitalist but, rather, that it goes against the grain of how consumerism has come to shape our thinking about wants and needs and how to meet them. It thus opens up a space for the individual to see him- or herself relative to those dynamics and respond with a bit more autonomy than s/he might otherwise have.

Over at In Medias Res, my friend and fellow Wichitan (and cyclist and thinking-locally advocate) Russell Arben Fox has been thinking recently about late capitalism's effects on food production and has a typically rich and meaty post up on the subject. I encourage you to read the whole post, but it's in the paragraph below, a critique of a comment in an interview made by Michael Pollan, best-known for his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, that Russell makes a distinction that gets at the sort of autonomy that I mean above:
There is much wisdom in that passage, with its invocation of Burke's "little platoons" and its slam on Friedman's "flat," globalized economy. It is properly suspicious of corporations and respectful of localist "economies of place." So what's the problem? Nothing really...except that, in the end, it seems to posit the revival of such localism in terms of "resistance" to a government invariably corrupted by various industrial and "expert" interests. The goal is local "autonomy," which--unless one wishes to get all philosophical and argue over different interpretations of Kant--is, politically at least, another way of saying local "independence." And I've nothing against independence. But an independence that does not address how that locality is not just supposed to become free, but also how it is to be sovereign--that is, able to establish itself, govern itself, exercise authority over its place and build something lasting there--is not really going to be able to pull off the kind of cultural transformation John [Schwenkler, in an article here advocating that "renewing the culinary culture should be a conservative cause"] wants to see happen. He speaks, to be sure, of nurturing self-government, but also of resisting government--which is sometimes necessary, but which also leaves the door open to libertarian assumptions that I do not think are helpful to his--to our--cause. (Russell's italics)
In the comments section for Russell's post, I noted that it seemed to me that his distinction between independence and sovereignty could be extended by analogy to discussion of neighborhoods
in urban areas that themselves are diverse economies in miniature--here in Wichita, for example, I have in mind the Delano District, which lacks only (and thus could use) one of those small "corner" grocery stores (not a convenience store, and not some fru-fru gourmet food store) to achieve a kind of economic sovereignty relative to Wichita. Compare Delano, though, to the Hispanic/Asian neighborhoods just to the north of downtown Wichita, which have numerous "corner" stores of just this sort.
I went on to mention that, at least in those cities I'm most familiar with that are encouraging people to move into urban centers to live, developers are building shops and restaurants like crazy . . . but no corner grocery stores. The effect is something like a bedroom community turned inside-out: now, people have to leave the neighborhood not to work but to buy food to prepare and eat.

No: cycling can't make corner markets appear in a neighborhood. But I think that cyclists, by being alert to and patronizing their neighborhoods' products and services, can play a role in affirming the community as a place unto itself, with a measure of (economic) sovereignty relative to the city that surrounds it. To tar with a broad brush: cars encourage us to leave the immediate area, to perhaps even see that space as in some way lacking, and don't encourage us to get to know the neighbors--they insulate us from a community's "weather," from its nature. Bicycles encourage their riders to take stock of that same area's resources and, at least in my own brief experience as a cyclist, to see it as richer than they once thought it to be. Far from being "flat" economically, the business topography of healthy communities is varied and often surprising.

As it turned out, the rain let up enough that morning that I was able to run my errands without feeling as though I was riding through a car wash. At the bike shop, when the clerk saw the hex tool set I'd selected, he said, "Oh--we have a less-expensive one over here." He walked over to the display rack to find it, gave it to me, rang up the sale, and I went out to my bike to tighten up some bolts. He was happy, and I was happy. And I'll be sure to go back.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Anarchistic Urban Cyclists"

Over at The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan (himself a cyclist) has some links to discussions of cyclists who don't obey the rules of the road: this one, in which he links to a post by Will Wilkinson, kicked things off yesterday. Today, he posts a couple of readers' responses to that post here, and links to an Ezra Klein response to Wilkinson here.

In that second post, one of Sullivan's readers gets things right:
Cyclists often seem to want to have it both ways: to ignore rules of the road, but then also to complain that cars don't give them no respect. It seems obvious that the rules of the road are a common language that in the end ensure the greatest safety for the greatest number of people.
I'd just amend that, based on almost being run down today on a sidewalk by two cyclists riding two abreast, to include pedestrians somewhere in all this.

All this echoes something I mentioned in a comment over here:
As for the idea of bike-friendliness: Probably more important than infrastructure changes, there also needs to occur a sort of consciousness-raising--and among cyclists (who need to observe the basic rules of the road) as much as among motorists.
What else to say? Bikers can't merely expect to be shown respect because they've asked for it loudly. They need to show through their own actions that they have earned and deserve that respect.

Friday, July 11, 2008

In which your correspondent finally confesses to have gotten religion . . .

. . . about this bike-commuting thing.

What follows are excerpts from an e-mail I sent this morning to Sharon Fearey, Wichita City Council's District Six representative (roughly, as this map shows, the northwest corner of downtown and points north and west):

Dear Ms. Fearey,

I write to you both out of ignorance and a desire not to take up too much of your valuable time.


I was wondering if, in your contacts with other constituents or discussions with your colleagues on the council and at Visioneering Wichita meetings, you've had discussions about initiatives resulting in infrastructure improvements that would make streets safer and more amenable for cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation. Some hasty searching didn't turn up any such discussions, but I could very well have just missed them. The Vision Document [pdf file here] does mention cycling, but within the context of recreation; it doesn't appear to address making streets bike-friendlier.

Many people in your district besides myself use bicycles not merely or only for recreation but as a practical mode of transportation, and I'm certain more would if they felt the streets were safer for them. The long-term health and economic benefits, not just for them but, indirectly, for all citizens (not to mention more local and global economic and environmental benefits), are indisputable, it seems to me. Thus, I respectfully ask you and your colleagues to consider bringing this issue up for discussion.


One final question: to your knowledge, has there been any discussion of a future use for the abandoned railroad right-of-way between Wichita and Andover? I'd think that would be an ideal candidate for conversion to a trail or--may I dream a bit?--some sort of commuter rail route.

I'll post Ms. Fearey's response here when it arrives.

Some thoughts about Wichita State U's bike-friendliness

A Miró mural dominates the entrance to the Ulrich Art Museum on the WSU campus. Image found here.

Yesterday's trip took me to the library at WSU. Anyone who has biked at WSU knows that, as far as riding around is concerned, the campus is ideal for just such an activity: slow traffic, lots of shade, wide, wide sidewalks, and the added treat of passing by many of the school's fine collection of sculptures. For me personally, feeling more than a bit stressed from having ridden on a busy 13th Street and then Hillside, tooling about the campus provided an oasis-like physical and mental relief.

My mood changed a bit, though, when I arrived at the entrance to the library. Despite a wide-open layout there that would easily allow for the placement of bike-racks near the doors without at all causing crowding around or impeding access to them, there were none. I finally found a small (6-bike) rusting metal rack on the south side of the building, being used at the time by two other bikes but literally gathering leaves and other debris. While I was happy that I found a rack, it occurred to me that as I rode about the campus, I didn't recall seeing any other bike-racks at all. I'm sure they're there; they're just tucked away in inconspicuous places near the various buildings.

As I thought about why this is, I came up with a couple of ideas. WSU is predominantly a commuter school, and the campus itself is fairly compact and easily walkable; servicing cyclists isn't therefore, a pressing need the way it is at other, larger schools because not many students feel a need to use bikes there. However, the immediate neighborhoods provide lots of cheap housing to students, and if current trends about cycling continue as they are, it's not hard to guess that more students will begin biking to school. Perhaps, come the fall, the administration will feel the need to provide more--and more conspicuously-placed--bike-racks.

Yesterday's trip

Route map.

This is mostly an excuse for me to play around with and introduce those not familiar with it to the Veloroutes mapmaking thingy (hat-tip: Noah of KC Bike Commuting). If you visit the link, you'll see my comments about the particulars of the route.

Additional notes: You'll also see that Veloroutes calculates distance, times and speeds. Due in large measure, I suspect, to construction and fairly heavy traffic (for midday) on 13th, it took me about half an hour to ride this route both ways. So, I averaged less than 10 mph, there and back. But also, I confess to still not feeling especially strong in the legs. I can't outrun cars, I know, but I'm still self-conscious about not wanting to be perceived by motorists as an impediment to car traffic. So far as I could tell, though, they were respectful of my presence.

The optimist in me thinks that, as it sinks in that gas costs will cause many to re-think their transportation options, and given the absence of dedicated bike lanes here in town, cyclists will begin to get more respect from motorists. Let us hope. However, in the official print media, I'd settle for "notice": seeing the many links in Bike Commute Tips Blog to newspaper articles about the recent rise in bike sales and bike-commuting made me curious about whether such articles had appeared in the Wichita Eagle. As far as I could tell, though, the answer to that question is No.

To borrow a phrase, hope for change.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We have our work cut out for us

While Googling about for links and such, I bumped into a blog called Bike Commuter Tips Blog, which, well, sounds like something this blog and its readers should link to. Done.

Anyway, over there appears this post from last year that lists and discusses the U.S. Census's list of the ten best and worst cities for bike commuting, as measured by the percentage of folks who do so. Have a look:

The top ten U.S. cities for percentage of bicycling commuters:

City / Percentage
Portland / 3.5
Minneapolis / 2.4
Seattle / 2.3
Tucson / 2.2
San Francisco / 1.8
Sacramento / 1.8
Washington DC / 1.7
Oakland / 1.5
Honolulu / 1.4
Denver / 1.4

The bottom 10 U.S. cities for bike commuting:

City / Percentage
Dallas / 0.2
Nashville / 0.2
Oklahoma City / 0.2
Charlotte / 0.2
San Antonio / 0.1
Omaha / 0.1
Wichita / 0.1
Indianapolis / 0.1
Memphis / 0.1
Kansas City (MO) / 0.0

Be sure to note Paul's comments on undercounting of cyclists and the trips they make via bicycle.

The comments section contains a fair amount of discussion on why, in general, cities in the Midwest and South dominate the Bottom Ten list. But the larger point remains: Portland is at the top of the list in large measure because it consciously creates space on its streets to safely accommodate both cyclists and drivers. Wichita does not: here, so far, cycling is seen, at the level of city planning, as predominantly a recreational activity. To be fair, the city could make the argument that there just aren't enough riders to justify modifying infrastructure, but that begs the question of whether the lack of such accommodations has contributed to keeping people off the streets who would otherwise consider cycling to work and elsewhere on a regular basis. Another factor to consider--and I'm just speculating here, is that because Wichitans have one of the nation's shortest average commute times--an average of 16.5 minutes--perhaps the cost of gas (which is also around .30/gallon cheaper than the national average right now) doesn't (yet) hurt people enough to consider riding bikes to work.

Anyway. Some things to contemplate.

The adventure begins

Thanks, Zunguzungu.

Welcome to Cycling in Wichita, which is/will be about exactly what the title suggests: my notes on getting around the Air Capital on a bicycle, along with some musings of a more philosophical nature regarding how cycling re-shapes how we think of pragmatic issues such as transportation and transit issues, as well as discussions of such things as the notion of community, our habits as consumers, etc.

Why this blog, on this subject? Well, for one thing, I feel a bit like the fellow on the Raleigh, blogospherically-speaking: Wichita has some wonderful dedicated bikepaths but its streets aren't particularly bike-friendly. Meanwhile, some Googling about turned up several local clubs and blogs about touring, racing and recreational cycling (which, as time permits, I'll be linking to over in the gutter). However, I didn't find any local blogs dedicated to the thrills and chills of using a bike in town as primary mode of transportation--or, for that matter, how cyclists might engage each other and non-cyclists (not to mention, potentially, our elected officials) in discussions about how addressing cyclists' concerns can make a city more livable for everyone and not just people on bicycles. Maybe I just didn't find them. So, one hope I have is that people will find this blog and together we can foster a virtual and, eventually, an in-person community that the 'Nets are supposed to be so conducive in doing.

The other is that I find I have much more to say about all this than I had thought would be the case when I first decided, back in May, to buy a bike for my primary in-town transportation. As you'll see below, I'd already written several cycling-related posts at my other blog, but the people who visit there are almost exclusively not just out of town but out of the country. Some of the things I want to post on regarding cycling here in town simply wouldn't be of interest to such folks. But neither would local people be well served with only vague commentary about my routes--they'd want to know some particulars. So, when I realized that if I wasn't careful my other place would be overrun with posts on cycling, I decided to create this place.

For some initial context, readers should know that I live in the Riverpark Plaza apartments, located at the corner of West Central and Waco streets. Geographically, I could not be better-located as a Wichita cyclist: I'm in the city's center; and Riverside Park, directly across the Little Arkansas from my apartment complex, provides easy access to those wonderful bike-paths through Oak Park and along the Arkansas. However, I teach for Butler Community College's McConnell AFB site; bikes are allowed on base, but commuting there will be a challenge due to major roads to be crossed and the fact that shortcuts through residential areas are risky options. Fortunately, though, I have the summer to work all that out.

To give you some idea of what to expect to find here in the future, here are links to earlier cycling posts at my other blog:

Pedaling as butterfly-wing flapping

The experiment begins

Cycling and the fostering of community

As I get/make time in the next few days, the right gutter will fill up with links to sites that I hope other cyclists will find useful. If you have suggested links, let me know, either in comments or via e-mail at "blogmeridian AT sbcglobal DOT net".

Enough preamble. Welcome, and thanks for reading this far.