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.