Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

See you next week.

Friday, November 21, 2008

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Readers' Ride report; a Wichita cycling eccentric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hither and Yon #3

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

A round-up of things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Readers' Rides postponed

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

While I have your attention . . .

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

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

Thank you,

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