Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On holiday

Today's Wednesday, right?

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday Ride #5: K-96 Bike Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2008

50 States--100 Bike Blogs

I learned today that Cycling in Wichita was chosen by Jason of 100 KM as one of two Kansas cycling blogs to appear on his list of 100 U.S. cycling blogs (the other is the inimitable Commuter Dude, somewhere over in Johnson County.

As all of us know, sometimes a little question starts pestering us--an intellectual itch needs scratching. Jason's was, Can I find at least two cycling blogs for each of the 50 states? The answer, after a couple of weeks of searching, is Yes.

Here follows are some of Jason's guiding principles for choosing the blogs that would appear on his list:
I didn't have a completely set criteria for the bike blogs I chose beyond only two per state, but I did favor those that update regularly when I could. I tried to mix in some famous (dare I say canonical) bike blogs that I read regularly, with a bunch of others that I hadn't come across before. I also wanted to get a good mix of mountain bikers, bike commuters, hipsters, advocates, roadies and randos- and I think I did fairly well in that regard. The cycling diversity that I found throughout the country was downright American and reinforced what a powerful and unlimited tool for fun, utility and community the bicycle is.
Somehow or other, this blog fit in there, and I'm humbled and honored that it did, especially when any number of equally-deserving blogs could--and in some cases should--have been chosen before this one was.

I'll be putting a link to this list over in the gutter; in the meantime, I hope you'll go visit Jason's list, visit some blogs and, as Jason notes, get a sense of the diverse community that cyclists form in this country.

Thanks again, Jason.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let's meet, shall we?

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Douglas and Main! Please consider yourselves invited to join me/us on Sunday as well.

What do you have planned for Sunday, August 24, at 9:00 a.m.?

If you're in the neighborhood and are able, I hope you'll consider riding over (or bring your bike(s) if you drive) to the trailhead on Hillside (just north of 27th Street) at Grove Park to meet me and whoever else might show up. Bring family/friends/Significant Others for (weather permitting) a morning of meeting and greeting me and fellow visitors to this blog, and a (very) relaxed ride either around the park or down the K-96 Bike Path.

No need to RSVP; just show up on Sunday, and we'll leave from there at 9:30.

I hope you can join me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cycling on the sidewalk

Ray of Bike Noob confesses and explains his rationale. Andrew of Carbon Trace links to Ray and offers his own take.

What say y'all on this?

I'm in no position to pontificate one way or the other. Personally, I use either the streets or designated bike paths; but on occasion, due to heat or getting winded, I've been known to hop onto the sidewalks for a little bit until I feel stronger. That happened much more often during my early days of cycling than it does now (the weather is cooler, and I'm in better shape now). But I am of the opinion, and I've seen it borne out, both while out and about and on others' blogs, that riding in the street and observing of traffic laws (riding with traffic, taking your lane at lights, stopping at lights and stop signs) is on the whole not only safer but faster than (proper) riding on the sidewalk is. And (okay, here I will pontificate a wee bit) if we want to see the day when cyclists are regarded by motorists not as moving road hazards but as also deserving of the same care and caution as other motorists are, the only way that will happen is if we're on the streets as well--it's then that cycling ceases being thought of first as recreation and, instead, as legitimate transportation.

As a commenter says in response to Bike Noob's post, if you feel uncomfortable in the street, you should consider changing your route to your destination. To which I say, "Absolutely!" If I hadn't found Mt. Vernon as an alternative to Pawnee for my commute, I'm not sure I'd still be persisting with cycling to work. As Robert Frost says in a rather different context,
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Though I'm not sure Frost's speaker is being entirely truthful here (read the whole thing carefully), I assure you that, as regards bike-commuting, I am.

Sunday Ride #4, Part II: South on Arkansas River Path, Herman Hill Park

Though the bike I saw it on was a road bike, yesterday I saw a commuter heading north on McLean with an engine assist like this one--first one I've seen. Image found here.

Route maps: MapMyRide; Veloroute. Official map of Arkansas River Bike Path here. As when I went north on the Arkansas path, this was in its essence an out-and-back trip, with a side trip across the river at Pawnee to check out the greenspace just south of that street, about which more later. The route is basically flat; the path is in decent to good shape, though there are some drainage problems where the path passes alongside O. J. Watson Park. The one notable road hazard is at the railroad trestle south of Broadway: there, the path narrows and turns sharply at the base of one of the bridge piers, and gravel from the trackbed is scattered about on the path. If geese count as a road hazard, you'll want to watch for them along Greenway just north of Garvey Park: you almost have to nudge them with your bike before they'll deign to waddle off the path.

(Pictures would be nice, you're thinking, and you're right. When I get a little money . . . )

Tuesday morning: another cool morning, no place to be at any set time . . . I highly recommend that y'all get yourselves one of these sabbatical things.

The day after I bought my Fuji, my first real excursion on it was south on the Arkansas Bike Path. That, combined with the fact that my daily commute runs south to where Harry crosses the river, means that most of yesterday's trip was familiar to me. Some Saturday or Sunday, I'll ride down to try and get a sense of how utilized this path is. Yesterday, though, I met only one other cyclist south of Pawnee, and he (older man, on a cruiser) was clearly just out for a relaxing ride. As, of course, was I.

Re the southern end of my route: The Google Maps apps I used--and for that matter, the "analog" (read: paper) city map I have here are simply not correct in their depiction of the area around Garvey Park. Washington St. abruptly ends where it intersects with Galena; and to Galena's south, it's basically parkland and an elementary school, as near as I can tell. The city's map of the park is the accurate one. At any rate, it's from Garvey Park to, more or less, where Gypsum Creek empties into the river that the city will be building the connector between the Arkansas River and Gypsum Creek paths that I've mentioned before. The park's developed section is quite small, with a community garden, a (very) small playground area, a few picnic tables, restrooms, and a place on the river to put in canoes and kayaks. Most of its acreage is given over to habitat preservation, and it's down at the river's edge--lots of cottonwoods, sandbars--that you can get a sense of what the river once looked like along its entire length through this part of the state. So, while it'd be hard to imagine spending an entire day there, Garvey Park is a nice, quiet place to relax for a bit before heading back up the path.

It was partly accidental and partly out of curiosity that I visited Herman Hill Park on the return trip. Heading south, I noticed that south of Pawnee on the east bank there appeared to be a bike path that wasn't on any of the city's maps, so on the return trip I crossed the river at Pawnee to have a look. No bike path, but this very nice park instead. Herman Hill is one of the city's older parks, but not too long ago it received a dramatic facelift. Already home to a filtration plant that treats storm sewer water before passing it on to the river, the city has built a facility dedicated to teaching people about water's role in the environment: there's a building with exhibits and classroom/meeting space, and outside is a fountain, a small recreation of a creek and wetland, and a nice view of the river. There's also a disc-golf course there, plus the requisite playground area, picnic tables, etc. As with Garvey Park, Herman Hill is not a place to spend an entire day, but it's definitely a quiet, easily-accessible spot of green on the river more than suitable for an hour or two of relaxing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If they can make it there . . .

A pedicab goes down the dedicated lane for it on the newly-reconfigured Broadway north of Herald Square.

Matthew Yglesias has links to two excellent discussions of Complete Streets among his posts for today. In the first, he links to an article in the Boston Globe Magazine; in the second, he links to a post from Streetsblog on the new "Broadway Boulevard" project. Go have a look.

Yglesias argues that a citizenry gets the city it has the will to work toward, that the form it takes is not inevitable:
[A] town or city needs to decide whether or not they really think that maximizing vehicle speed is the right priority for the design of their streets. If you decide to make it the priority, then you’ll wind up with a city that’s bad for pedestrians — narrow sidewalks, wider roads to cross, walk signs that only work if you press a button, intersections where walkers defer to turning traffic, etc. — and at the same time you’ll have fast-moving vehicles that tend to collide with human beings in a relatively deadly manner. If you decide not to make it the priority, then you get the reverse — wide sidewalks, narrow road crossings, adequate walk signals, and intersections where turning traffic defers to pedestrians. Cars will move slower through your city and there will be fewer car-person collisions and those that do occur will be less lethal.
And, I'll just add: streets with fewer cars, because alternate methods of getting about town will be more appealing.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Today's commute: things noted

Out to the base and back today, I saw a good half-dozen folks who looked like commuters: no spandex, most with helmets, a couple with panniers, all of them with packs. Also, this afternoon one of the elementary school's bike racks held at least six bikes when I went by around 3:30.

At school this morning I spoke to my colleague Kerry, who teaches biology. During Finals Week this past May, she and her sister took a bike tour of Tuscany while I proctored one of her exams for her (I offered to fax her the Scantron sheets (the "bubble" sheets so beloved of your public school days of yore) so she could score them and enter the grades, but she e-mailed me back to say that the Scantron machines there only read Italian. Smart-ass.) Anyway, I asked her how her trip had been, and we got to talking about cycling. Turns out, she's considering biking not only to the base but to her classes out in Andover as well. The distances for her would be about the same in each case (she lives in College Hill). Moreover, she said she's thought about starting a cycling club for the college, which would of course be a Good Thing.

Add to this a conversation with a long-time adjunct of ours who saw me ride in and another chat with one of our advisors who said I've inspired him to get to exercising (because of various ailments, cycling isn't an option for him, but he's consulting with his doctor about possibilities). So, Bobby, if you're reading this and are still worried, I'd say today was a pretty good day for passive-aggressive proselytizing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fashion statement

Over at Carbon Trace, Andrew answers the familiar question of what to do with your bike helmet when you arrive at your destination by saying, "I wear mine like a hat.":
Now I’ve had students tell me that’s a huge fashion faux pas. I tell them I’m not out to impress anyone with my looks, and, besides, one of the perks of being an academic is that people kind of expect you to be a bit odd.
Preach it, brother. We are, after all, Academics Who Bike.

No wonder bike helmets are egg(head?)-shaped.

He goes on:
Wearing the helmet instead of stashing it in my backpack (always with me when I ride) also allows the people I encounter to ask: “Do you ride a bike?” They know the answer. They’re aren’t looking for an answer. What they want to know is why I ride or how I manage it. Some are even looking for encouragement to do it themselves. So I always answer: “Yes. I ride most of the time. In fact, I’ve cut my driving down to once every couple of weeks.”

And then the conversation begins.

The conversation is the point. It’s the thing. The helmet makes it possible. No one is afraid to talk to a guy wearing a bike helmet because, I assume somewhat fancifully, they figure there’s no way they can be any weirder than I am. I must be safe to talk to.
Andrew is right about this last, of course. It's not the figure that one cuts while cycling or when one dismounts that is the point of cycling. It's the dialogue that is the point of this sort of cycling he and I and, I gather, many of you reading this, are interested in.

Now in my case, I remove the helmet (that old rule about gentlemen removing their hats in the house), but I still have my share of conversations with folks. Something I neglected to mention in this post is that at work I have a long walk down the hall from where I leave my bike to my office and so I'm certain to run into a colleague or someone else, helmet tucked under my arm, in all my sweaty glory, before I can dash into the bathroom to change my shirt at least. But the effect on others is the same: they ask if I rode my bike in (Duh, people--look at me!), how it's going, etc. I bear witness as best as I'm able, not with the goal of converting but with the goal of being something like proof that bike-commuting is more than possible.

And then I dash off and try to make myself look a little more professional.

Sunday Ride #4: North on Arkansas River Path to Sedgwick County Park

Maps of route: MapMyRide, Veloroute. In essence an out-and-back route, with a big loop around the perimeter of Sedgwick County Park, the zoo, various county offices, and the baseball diamonds at the corner of Ridge and 13th. On the way north, I took Charles Street (located just north of the intersection of 13th and McLean); on the return, I took the bike path, which runs along McLean. South of 13th, the path is basically level; between 13th and 21st, the path arbitrarily ascends and descends the bank. One warning: at the 21st Street bridge, which the path passes under, there's construction occurring directly over the path. There's a "Sidewalk Closed" sign but no barrier in place. The amount of debris (concrete, pieces of wood, etc.) on the path makes pretty plain that during the work week, you'll want to go up to street level and cross that way.

Another cool day (we Wichitans collectively must be engaged in some serious clean livin' to have been blessed with this early-fall-like weather), another longish ride for me.

As the city's bike paths go, the Arkansas River Bike Path is its crown jewel. It's the longest (almost 14 miles); it's the best-maintained; its route--it passes through downtown, the Museum district, and links up at the north end with paths that run to the Sedgwick County Zoo--is great for visitors wanting to cycle to the city's Greatest Hits. It's clearly intended primarily for recreational cycling, but its generally north-south route, along with its length, its passage along the western edge of downtown, fairly easy access to it at its northern end for West Wichitans, and its eventual linkage at the southern terminus with the the Gypsum Creek path (which I posted on here), make it a decent commuting route.

I briefly considered riding the entire route as I'd done with the Canal and Gypsum Creek routes but in the end decided to ride the southern half on Tuesday. Just in case anyone is wondering . . .

It was a cool Sunday morning, so I expected to see folks out--but the pedestrians and other cyclists (more about the latter later), especially downtown and at the park, were numerous enough that we had to be alert for each other. It was fun. I was especially intrigued to see a fair number of cyclists who were clearly older than I am--some appeared to be in their 60s. Wearing the cycling jerseys and spandex shorts. Passing me by, no less. Today also gave me my first glimpse of West-Side cycling culture in Wichita, and--at least as far as rec-cycling is concerned--it seems to be alive and well: in addition to the ubiquitous Treks there were lots of folks on cruisers, and a couple of mothers were towing small children in trailers. As I rode along Westdale Road, I happened to glance into a house's open garage and was startled to see about half a dozen bicycles leaning against one of the walls.

I'd like to wonder aloud a bit about these spandexy folks or, as Andrew calls them here, the "thin-tire" crowd. Thus far, because most of my riding has been during the work week, I've not had too many encounters with them. Today, though, 4 or 5 of them passed me, and though they all warned me as they approached, I found myself thinking, "Don't these racing bikes come with some sort of bell or horn or something? Or are bells for weenie cyclists?" (My Fuji came with a bell.) While I don't begrudge them their desire to attain and maintain a certain speed, it seems to me that attempting to do so on a bike path on a weekend with lots of folks out--and not just slow-pokes like me, either, but pedestrians as well--is, well, in its way akin to motorists presuming that cyclists have a lesser right to use the streets than they do. They--the thin-tire folks--would have had more success had they been on the street, or had they just driven out of town a half hour in any direction. The last thing we need to have happen is incidences of cyclist-on-cyclist road rage on bike paths.

All that said, though, they aren't entirely to blame for wanting to ride there. The simple truth is that there aren't many other places for them to go on that side of the city: west of I-235, there are no other designated bike paths for folks to ride on except at the park and the connecting path to the north end of the Arkansas River path. That's about a quarter of the city that, relative to the rest of Wichita, is woefully underserved as regards bike paths or designated bike lanes on streets. The WAMPO proposals recognize this, but its list of priorities (pdf file) don't rank west-side projects very high.

I'd like to say that the crowded paths are a nice problem to have, but it seems to me that they indicate instead that, as the city has grown to the west, it and the county have fallen behind in providing bike-paths and bike-friendly streets (yes, that's true all over town, but I'm speaking relatively here). Until that circumstance changes, "sharing the road" will be a needed principle to apply on at least some of Wichita's bike paths, too. At least on the weekends.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sunday Ride #3: Gypsum Creek

Route map here. The path itself has some brief but easy inclines, with the exception of where it passes underneath the bridge at Pawnee: there, the incline on the north side is very steep, with a curve right at the base of the bridge pier--great for adrenaline junkies heading that way from the north, but potentially hazardous for runners or cyclists approaching from the south. In general, though, from north to south the path runs downhill.

[Edit: A reader has alerted me that, at least for him, the route marking on the MapMyRide link doesn't appear. If this has been a problem for others, please let me know.]

Eh, so it's Saturday and not Sunday. This morning was too deliciously cool to let pass by without going on a long ride. Well, okay: long for me. As you'll see if you look at the map, it was a little over 22 miles, and including a 10-minute break at about the half-way point, it took me about 2 hours in all to ride it.

The Gypsum Creek Bicycle Path is something of a misnomer: though it does indeed follow the creek in places, it's more accurate to say that it at present follows the creek's general course across the eastern and southern quadrants of the city. That is in the process of changing, though: down along the creek from Woodlawn to Pawnee, a distance of about a mile, there's a great deal of construction going on that looks a whole lot to me like it will result in space for a bike path. Not only should the new route be much more scenic than the current one in that area, which provides sweeping vistas of the Kansas Turnpike, it will also shorten the overall distance by perhaps a half mile. I also understand that there are plans (the official phrase is "active planning") to link up the southern end of this route with the Arkansas River Bike Path, which would facilitate commuting from downtown and the near-west side down south.

So, then, this route indeed has real potential to be a first-rate north-south commuter route for cyclists who live on the eastern and southern sides of town. My daily commute crosses the southern portion of the path at the intersection of George Washington and Oliver, which is just north of the west entrance to McConnell, and the path continues south to what used to be the Boeing plant and is now Spirit Aviation. Meanwhile, as I learned this morning, the construction on Kellogg means that the northern end terminates on the south side of Kellogg at Armour. I assume, though, that once that's done some sort of provision will be made for the path's crossing Kellogg as it had once done. There's one difficult street crossing, where the path intersects Lincoln at Armour--the chief difficulties being that that street is busy no matter the time of day, and there's no traffic light there.

Given all the obvious improvements going on along this path, I hate to say too much that's too negative, because it may be that what I'll be mentioning will be addressed as well as part of those improvements. But just in case . . . For one thing, the route map shows the path's southern end extending considerably south of 31st Street; what I found, though, was that the path (a dedicated bike lane, by the way) just ended about 100 yards south of 31st, with a sign declaring as much. So, I crossed over to the path on the other side and found that asphalt path almost completely overgrown with grass. I don't know the history of those paths, but given that they are on both sides of Turnpike Drive south of 31st, it's pretty clear that once upon a time the city wanted to facilitate bike-commuters to the Boeing plant but, for whatever reason, at some point could/would no longer justify maintaining it. The path's condition at its northern end, along Armour from Lincoln to Kellogg, isn't much better. Here, Armour is divided, and the creek (such as it is--along this stretch, it's more like a constantly-running storm sewer than a creek) runs down the median. A point in this path's favor is that it has little of the pointless winding about that other paths in town have--only at Plainview Park does it indulge in this sort of thing. The newer stretches are concrete and are in great shape.

So, as I say, it may be that these problems will be addressed along with the improvements and changes to the path. But the path, though pretty bumpy in those overgrown stretches, is still ride-able--and at its very best (from Pawnee to Harry) is pretty darned nice. Those changes in the path's route that I mentioned above are occurring in that same already-nice stretch and will make it even better.

Many thanks . . .

. . . to bike-blog extraordinaire Cyclelicious for the very very generous plug for this humble blog.

Welcome, visitors from thence. I hope you'll have a look around and enjoy some of what you find. And to my regular visitors, if you haven't already you'll want to make yourselves acquainted post-haste with that bike-blog by the Bay.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Planet Bicycle #2: Mackinac Island

A bike-lot on Mackinac Island. Image found here.

This morning, while beating the Google-bushes in search of Academics Who Bike, I happened upon Bike Noob, kept by Ray, a professor of journalism at Texas State University, née Southwest Texas State University (which, by the by, saw fit to award your correspondent with an MA in English back in the dark ages of 1989). Ray is not, strictly speaking, an AWB, seeing as he does not also keep a day-job blog. But I've linked to him anyway in the Cycling Blogs section because he's a good writer and he's from home.

Anyway. The picture you see above was taken by Ray during his and his wife's recent trip to Mackinac Island, which he posts about here. Mackinac Island, located in Lake SuperiorHuron, is accessible only by ferry, and the only permitted modes of transportation there are horses and bicycles. It's not quite Amsterdam or Copenhagen or what Andrew saw in Helsinki as shown in this post, but it's a glimpse, no?

School zones; miscellaneous observations

Yesterday I rode my usual route to McConnell and back, but the afternoon trip was different for me in that yesterday was the first day of school. So, on my return I experienced the school-zone traffic around the two elementary schools on Mt. Vernon that I ride by.

What I encountered yesterday was by far the heaviest car traffic on that street I had yet encountered. Mt. Vernon is only one lane wide at both schools, and the street doubles as a pick-up/drop-off zone for parents and kids; add to all that the reduced speed for the school zones, and it should be pretty clear that no one will be zooming through there in the early mornings or mid-afternoons. But while encountering such congestion might have been frustrating for motorists who just want to pass through, for me it was actually calming. The traffic is stop-and-go, and motorists are looking out for kids anyway, so that helped my visibility for them as well. Of course, I had to look out for kids, too. So, even with the heavy, stop-and-go traffic, my ride home just took 50 minutes (usually, it's 45).

The one downside: yesterday afternoon was a bit humid, so the exhaust fumes from cars and buses just sort of sat there while I just sort of sat there, too.

Yesterday's oddity: a very large turtle that had been run over, at the midpoint of the Harry Street bridge where it crosses the river--the oddity, of course, being how it had gotten there.

I saw a fair number of cyclists out yesterday compared even to when I started riding a little over a month ago, folks who either had panniers on their bikes or were wearing packs (or, in the case of one fellow, a medium-sized duffle bag). And this is in south-central Wichita: a part of town, keep in mind, that's far from affluent. Judging from comments folks leave here and e-mails I have received, in other parts of town there's proportionately more interest in cycling-as-transportation, if not an actual increase in numbers. Though gas prices have dropped to around $3.56/gallon here (earlier this summer, they were over $4.00), I suspect people have figured that it's inevitable that gas will be going back up again before it comes back down, and they have some choices to make. In a growing number of cases, they seem already to have chosen bikes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In which your correspondent finds himself at the tip of a blogosphere spearpoint

Image found here.

[UPDATE: Welcome to visitors from HuffPo's bike culture page. I hope you'll have a look around--especially if you're from the Wichita area.]

Like Byron (if one squints one's eyes in one very particular way), I awoke this morning and found myself famous--thanks to my bloggy friend Cordelia, who has placed me on said spearpoint:
AWB's [Academics Who Bike], we'll call them, because BA's or AB's (Biking Academics/ Academics Biking) takes away their Ph.D.'s. I wonder if this is a new phenomenon, or if academic types who already have blogs (and bikes) will be starting up new, subsidiary blogs to accommodate their interest in bike culture and bike commuting. (I should add that I mean "subsidiary" in the business sense, not in the sense of "less important.")


Based upon my [two-blog] sample (cough), AWBs appear to have a strong desire to compartmentalize, hence a separate blog for this facet of their existence, yet express an equally or more powerful will to integrate the actual biking (but not the blog) into various facets of their lives, e.g. it's not '"about the bike;" it's about bike culture and environmental and social concerns, and about not getting squished. Well, okay, sometimes it is about the bike, but not in that spandexy sense.
Cordelia has so far identified this blog and Carbon Trace, the bike-blog of Andrew Cline, a professor of journalism at Missouri State University in Springfield, as fitting her definition above. For the curious, Rhetorica is Andrew's day-job blog.

I know of other bloggy academic types who also cycle to work but who don't have a separate blog for their cycling. So. This tip-of-the-spear thing is kinda cool, but it could also be that Andrew and I are just a bit nuts, starting up yet another blog as we are.

Still, if he's nuts, he's my kind of nuts: In this post, in which he notes with pleasure his being identified as part of the AWB phenomenon, Andrew explains his own bike-blog's origins and purpose in terms strikingly similar to those I used in Cycling in Wichita's inaugural post:
what I find more (rhetorically) interesting is the idea that we AWBs blog about biking as way to more fully integrate biking into our lives. Nail well struck. I do not need Carbon Trace to motivate me to commute on a bicycle. I’ve been doing that for four years.

What this blog does do (for me) is begin the process of making my biking political, i.e. not just practiced but practiced with a rhetorical intention. I intend to see a picture some day of public space in Springfield that resembles the one I recorded in Helsinki [scroll down his post to see it].

I do not mean political in the sense that I will try to exert political power to compel others to bike. Rather, I see Carbon Trace as a potential guide, resource, and bully pulpit with which to persuade my fellow Springfieldians to stop using so much gas and start burning more calories for the individual and communal good it would do.

I hope that readers will help Andrew and Cordelia and me identify other AWBs as well--academic types who have both a day-job blog and a bike-blog. We'll add them to the two-blog list we currently have.

A Complete Street in DC

Via Matthew Yglesias (not just a well-known political blogger but also a cyclist and strong advocate of re-imagining urban spaces in ways that permit more and varied transportation uses) comes this post from Greater Greater Washington about the redesign of U Street to accommodate more pedestrians, bike lanes, and buses--both the good things and the could-be-better things. For those of us far away from DC, this post nevertheless offers up observations and ideas applicable to any metro area contemplating its future transportation needs . . . like a certain city in south-central Kansas . . .

The conversation begins

Something I've not commented on here but which deserves some mention is the fact that my commuting to work via bicycle has been the subject of many conversations involving not only me and my colleagues but also, I've learned, among my colleagues when I'm not around. They have questions about my route and whether I've had trouble with motorists; they mention that they've been dusting off their own bicycles and thinking about them as a way to get some exercise. I can only assume that those of you reading this who are also commuting to work have had similar conversations. This is all to the good, especially in a town like ours with a, shall we say, nascent cycling culture.

But I've also learned a bit anecdotally, here and there, about cycling's past here in Wichita. My colleague Larry the Movie Guy for some reason told me yesterday that when he worked for Cessna (about 20 years ago) "a few" of his co-workers cycled to work--"and one guy even ran to work!"

Our numbers are growing: I learned yesterday while I was out at McConnell that some students have asked about base regulations governing cycling onto the base. Some are choosing to cycle because of fuel costs; others have some problem or other with their cars' documentation (expired/no insurance?) that won't permit them to bring their cars on base. But no matter. The regulations for bikes are minimal; moreover, the base, as I've mentioned before, may be the bike-friendliest place in Wichita. Also, our building has a small bike rack by the entrance. While I don't expect to see it filled to overflowing any time soon, it'll be nice for my Fuji to have some company this coming semester.

As I was leaving our Rock Road office with my bike yesterday, a woman waiting to enroll said, "That there is the best transportation you can have."

So how about you other bike-commuters? Are you having these conversations as well?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alternate route to work

Route map here. Description: Home to Keeper of the Plains Plaza, then south on the Arkansas Bike Path to Harry; left on Harry across the river, then right (south) on Greenway to Mt. Vernon; left (east) on Mt. Vernon to Woodlawn; right (south) on Woodlawn to bike path paralleling Pawnee; left (east) on the bike path to Rock; right (south) on Rock to base entrance, then to Dole Center. The route is fairly level, though just east of the intersection of Mt. Vernon and George Washington there's a fairly abrupt rise; also, McConnell sits on a piece of higher ground that both Pawnee and Rock gradually climb toward.

As local folks know, of late we've had wonderful weather for cycling here in town: cool mornings, warm-but-not-hot afternoons. I had some business to take care of out at McConnell, and so I rode out there this morning and returned in the afternoon. I didn't push hard going either way, so each trip took me about an hour.

I had to take this route because my previous base pass had expired and the only place to get new ones is at the Rock Road entrance on the east side of the base--for me, the far side of the base. So, this route is a little over a mile longer than my usual route will be. That rise on Mt. Vernon is one that I won't have to deal with on my commute.

My chief concern with this route was with car traffic on Rock Road,a major commuter route to the base and points south. I got there at about 9:00 this morning, and so traffic was very light. Even so, I'll be riding during rush hour, so I'm very glad I won't have to ride on Rock when I take my usual route.

Finally, a word about the bike path that runs along Pawnee between Woodlawn and Rock at the north end of Cessna and the base: physically, it's a great path: concrete, nice and wide, and fairly new so it's in great shape. Moreover, it is a safe and practical way for people living east of Rock to gain access to the Gypsum Creek Bicycle Path where that path crosses Woodlawn, and it would work for folks who live close by and work at Cessna or the base. But the key phrase here is "it would work." Across from the entrance to Cessna, there is a turn off the path that connects with the street; but while there's a traffic light at that intersection, I don't recall seeing, on the bike-path side, a way for cyclists or pedestrians to control the light. So, crossing at that intersection is still pretty risky. Also, the path has the same slalom-y quality that the Canal Route has: great for recreation, but for a commuter it might create the sense that s/he's not making good time.

So: If I had to--and on occasion, I might (sometimes the base closes the gate I usually go through)--this commuter route will work. It's not a bad route by any means, but I much prefer the route I'll almost always take.

(It's good to be posting something here. I should be a bit more regular in posting for the foreseeable future.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Checking in

Sorry for the light posting here; I've been busy with academic work, and I've not had occasion to ride lately, aside from a trip to the WSU library on Wednesday. It was on the return home on that trip, on Murdoch at about 3 in the afternoon, that I had a couple of close calls with cars trying to pass me that could not move to their left because of traffic on that side. By that time of day, Murdoch had become busy. I'll have to find an alternate route for afternoons.

On the other hand: On July 4th weekend I filled up with gas in Topeka and drove down; I had half a tank of gas left. Here it is, the 8th of August, and I still have most of that gas left still. True, I've not had to leave the apartment much, period, but whenever possible I've ridden the bike. It's paid off in my not having to buy gas for over a month, as well as all that good-for-your-health, reducing-carbon-footprint do-gooder stuff. On Monday I'll have to drive out to El Dorado, but I don't foresee needing the car on anything like a regular basis until I resume teaching full-time in the spring (I'm on sabbatical this fall--hence the academic work I mentioned above). Even then, I hope to ride the bike to work at least twice a week.

So: that's the news from the banks of the Little Arkansas. I hope to be a bit more regular in my posting here after Monday.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Make a pledge, (maybe) win a bike

Recent visitors here may have noticed the widget for 1 World 2 Wheels over in the right gutter. My motives in adding it are almost but not entirely altruistic.

As the title of this post states, from now until the end of August, if you pledge to cycle a certain number of miles per week, you become eligible to enter the daily drawing for a Trek 7.2 FX that's being given away each day until the end of the month. So, hurry up and enter and keep alive my streak of never winning anything so grand.

Monday, August 4, 2008

So--how are things going here?

I'm pleased and humbled to note the gradual increase in visitors--especially local ones--to this site. They clearly aren't coming here because of this place's years-long presence in the blogosphere or its reputation for being [TV announcer's baritone here] "Wichita's Cycling News Authority." No--they're coming here because people around town are getting interested in cycling as a serious, practical mode of transportation, and they're interested in knowing what sort of online resources, what sort of community, virtual or otherwise, exists in Wichita. And for better or for worse--I'll let them be the judges of their fortunes--they've found this blog.

To them I say, Welcome. But I also want to say that no one should regard this blog as some sort of final destination for information on cycling here in town. That's way more ambitious--not to mention pretentious--than I aspire for this blog to be. As I note over in the copy at the head of the right gutter, you really should also have a look at the links to city sites, local dealers, cycling clubs and blogs in the area, if you want really practical information. I learn much from them, too.

The other small hope I have is that I can both stay on top of and encourage visitors here to get involved with cycling-advocacy issues here in town as they arise and I/we learn of them. One easy way to begin that is to mention again the WAMPO survey of prioritizing transportation infrastructure issues that I linked to here and encourage you to participate if you haven't already.

Anyway. Again, welcome. Thanks for visiting. Have a look around. I hope this place will be useful to you as you explore the small-for-now world of cycling in Wichita . . . and inspire you to help make that world a little bigger (and friendlier).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Ride #2: Downtown to Grove Park and beyond

Kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs help city park staff with planting native plants at the new trailhead linking Grove Park to the K-96 bike path at Hillside. Image found here.

The route: East on Murdock to the Canal Route (which I posted on here), north to 17th, east to Grove, north to Grove Park (28th Street), east through the park to Hillside, then about a mile along the western end of the K-96 bike path. The route is mostly level except for a gradual rise on Grove from north of 21st Street to the park. Route map here.

First of all, a confession. I've reached that point in this cycling thing where, this morning, I actually felt an emotional need to go for a ride. Yesterday I had planned to go to the WSU library, but when I learned that, for now, they don't open until 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and we also are under a heat advisory until Monday . . . well, suddenly the books already piled up here seemed more necessary for me to look at. Still, even though I was doing the sensible thing, I still wanted to ride. And this morning, as I walked Scruffy, the want became a need. Hence, in part, today's ride, which I finished up in about an hour.

Yes: My name is John B., and I'm a bike-aholic.

The other reason I went to Grove Park is the picture you see here. I wanted to see this little project; also, in anticipation of cooler weather, I'm looking forward to riding the length of the K-96 route, and I wanted to try out this morning's route to see if it would be a practical way to get to the trailhead.

I suppose most any major city feels bike-friendly at 7:00 in the morning, but this morning, the still-cool weather and the near-absence of traffic combined to make this one of my most enjoyable rides yet. When I got home, I was my usual sweaty mess, but darned if I didn't feel really relaxed, as opposed to tired.

I had some advance concerns about the stretch on 17th and then Grove; the neighborhoods immediately to the east of I-135 can be rather dicey in places. And, sure, this part of town isn't what one would describe as manicured. But few of the houses are truly dilapidated, and the folks who were out and about greeted me and I them. A motorist stopped at a stop sign where her street intersected with Grove saw me coming and, even though she had plenty of time to proceed, she actually waited for me to pass before she went on. Of course, is there any mellower morning than a Sunday morning?

Grove Park was a real treat on the whole, especially if you're interested in recreational cycling. The western end of the park, where I entered it, has a rather hard-bitten look to it (the play area there is all sand and gravel, and there's no shade), but the road along its southern border is well-maintained. The trailhead area really is quite nice: it's part garden, part evocation of Wichita's trail days, and part art project, with a fiberglass Conestoga wagon and buffalo, and some large plinth-like rocks on which are carved words and images intended to interpret the virtues the pioneers would have required for the journey west--or, for that matter, any cyclists who'd be coming through there in a few hours in the 100-degree heat expected today. After crossing at Hillside and riding for about a mile on the K-96 route (in that stretch, it skirts a large field that, if one didn't pay attention to the houses on its southern flank, would give you the feeling about being somewhere well away from the city rather than smack dab in the middle of suburbia. Back at Grove Park, I rode on one of the dedicated bike paths, which follows a creek that demarcates the park's northern boundary. The creek is hard to see from the bike path: trees intervene between the path and the creek, which is for the good, seeing as the creek is at the bottom of a very steep 20-foot-deep ravine. But the path for a time meanders well away from the parking lots and athletic fields, and once again the feeling one gets is Being Out in Nature.

The trip home was all downhill--literally, yes, though not enough to insist on it, but figuratively as well. As I said above, when I got home, I felt relaxed rather than tired.

I'd gotten my fix. I'll be okay today.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Saturday-morning musings

A "Share the Road" sign from Marin County, California. Of course. Image found here.

Somehow, I don't see the City of Wichita adopting this sign any time soon. Now Lawrence, on the other hand . . . I do like it, though, because the yin-yang symbol does suggest something that I think is true about bike-friendliness and, more particularly, the Complete Streets movement: that at its best, transportation options should complement each other rather than conflict with each other. The usual Share the Road signs, though, tend to emphasize compartmentalization as the philosophical goal. Turf, territory, the notion of "special interests" seem implicit in such signs; and while, yes, bike lanes are de facto markings-off of space, re-imagined streets do feel more like a shared space than a segregated one.


Blog Flux now has a Groups feature in which like-minded folks can arrange themselves into virtual collectives. It's a bit different from the usual directory listings in that the groups are more subject-specific than directory entries tend to be (this blog, for example, appears in "Local" in one listing and "Environment" in another because this isn't a "Sports" blog, and those directories didn't have any other options that worked as well). Anyway, as of this morning there is now a Cycling Blog Group which, as I type these words, has Yours Truly as its sole member. As others join, it's my hope that it will be a source of information and inspiration.

Well-bikey check-up

The 31st marked 30 days since I purchased my bike. As part of their new bike sales, Bicycle X-Change includes free 30-, 60- and 90-day inspections, so I rode mine down to the Douglas store to have them look at it.

When I told the Mrs. about this, she said, "Awww--like it's a baby?"

Hence the title of this post.

Anyway, something unusual had happened early last week while I was out errand-running that I learned more about on the 31st: just as I was about to turn right off a street, the handlebars suddenly slipped down to their lowest position. I was so startled that I nearly lost control, but I managed to get out of the street safely. When I got home, I couldn't figure out how to re-adjust the handlebars as they had been, so I thought, The 31st is coming up, and the bike is certainly rideable. We'll figure it out then. Turns out, the bolt that holds the handlebars at the angle had fallen out, something that the service guy says rarely happens. He told me I'd need to tighten it up every 5th ride or so.

I'm learning, I'm learning.

Actually, the relative simplicity of the bicycle-as-machine is such that I do want to be more savvy as regards its maintenance. Otherwise, I'm every bit as much at the mercy of my ignorance of it as I am of my car that requires not a human being but a computer to diagnose its ailments.

Say what you will about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a work of philosophy, but as a meditation on how it's really kind of weird how we've become disconnected from the very machines that humans have after all designed, Pirsig seems right on to me. The nifty thing about bicycles is that they truly are elegant machines in their simplicity; and even someone like me, someone not especially mechanically-inclined, can appreciate that to the point that I want to do more than just sit back and admire that elegance but tear my hair out when something goes wrong with it. So, one of these days I'll get my hands on a Fuji maintenance manual and occasionally provide y'all with some grease-monkey posts.

Anyway. The bike is otherwise fine, you'll be pleased to know.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Planet Bicycle

Marc, from, and Marie from Copenhagen Cycle Chic, on the streets of Amsterdam, talk smack about the bicycle cultures of their respective cities:

Amsterdamize Bicycle TV : Riding With Marie from Amsterdamize on Vimeo.

I think that for us Wichitans--well, okay: for this Wichitan--the best description of our mood while watching this would be a sort of sad wistfulness. Still: something to aspire in the general direction of, if not actually to.

(Hat-tip: Cordelia)