Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A quick comment on Waxman-Markey and logic

Something that visitors here might be interested in reading: Over at good old Blog Meridian, I have a post up on illogical--but sound--reasons for supporting Waxman-Markey (the huge cap-and-trade/renewable energy bill that just passed the House of Representatives. Here's an excerpt:
If you've read this blog for a while, you've probably figured out without my telling you that I'm in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the complex cap-and-trade, reduction-in-carbon-based energy, investment-in-alternate-energy legislation that just passed the House of Representatives and faces an admittedly uncertain future in the Senate. My reasons for supporting it, though, include one that may surprise many of you, given that a) it's not usually one that comes up in the debates about the bill and b) that its source is John McCain.

I'll talk about (b) first because it will lead inexorably to (a). At some point during last year's campaign (the primaries, I believe), during a debate when the question was about climate change legislation, McCain said something to the effect that even if reducing carbon emissions does little or no good in affecting what may after all be a naturally-occurring phenomenon, there are still-indisputable goods to be obtained by passing such legislation: a cleaner, healthier environment and greater self-sufficiency (political as well as economic) due to reduced dependency on foreign oil. I agreed with very little McCain offered up as reasons to vote for him, but on these points, at least, he was absolutely right (and would be now, if he still felt it expedient to make them). However, it's equally indisputable that one reason these points don't get raised is that, as desirable as these things are, you can't quantify them so as to include them in any of the various cost-benefit analyses being offered up in support of or against Waxman-Markey. Thus, they become inadmissible as evidence.

Just once, I wish someone would come along and say, When clean-water and clean-air legislation were enacted in the '70s, businesses pitched fits about their increased costs and having to pass those costs on to consumers. Well, sure: and as a result we pay more because businesses were forced to change behavior they were very likely not to have changed out of the goodness of their hearts (because there was a time when it cost literally nothing to dump waste as people saw fit, air and soil and water quality be damned--and it showed, I well remember those days). But is anyone opposed to Waxman-Markey, or anyone opposed to "excessive government regulation," seriously going to argue that that our quality of life would be better if not for the creation of the EPA, given the clear road we'd been heading down? The resounding No we'd hear, true, doesn't fit into a strict cost-benefit analysis, but the fact that it shows people prefer--and benefit from--cleaner air and water surely needs to figure into this debate. Or have our cleaner air and water become such givens (the '60s and '70s becoming ever more distant memories for many of us) that they strangely seem negligible as a consideration?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mr. B. goes to City Hall: A preview

As I noted a while back, I plan to speak before the City Council on Tuesday, July 7th, during the public agenda portion of the meeting, to ask that the Council consider adopting a Complete Streets policy. What follows are some excerpts from what I'll be saying. As you'll see, my goal is to emphasize the practicality of such a policy--something that I think is true and compelling but doesn't often get voiced. Also as you'll see, I'll be referring to the June 11 Complete Streets webinar that WAMPO hosted and that I posted on here.
[O]ne crucial thing the webinar forcefully brought home to me that I would like to share with the Council is that Complete Streets are not just nice to have but are also extraordinarily practical.

During the webinar, one of the speakers described a street in Orlando, Florida, that has recently been converted from a four-lane, two-way street to a three-lane street with dedicated combination bicycle/bus lanes on either side. This street is a very busy one—in its previous form, 20,000 cars a day used it. But since its conversion, that street has seen a 43% reduction in accidents and an 87% reduction in injuries from those accidents—and, surprisingly, an increase in its use of 1,000 cars per day. The lesson here seems obvious to me: by not widening the street but by reapportioning its surface for various uses rather than one, the city of Orlando made that street at once more efficient and safer.

Perhaps the most practical argument in favor of Complete Streets, especially these days, is that some of these projects are much less expensive than conventional street-building and –widening, and some are much cheaper even than bike paths. WAMPO’s Regional Pathway System Plan, adopted in 2007, proposes three major east-west re-striping projects totaling 12.8 miles, one on Douglas from Webb Rd. to I-135, one on Waterman from I-135 west to the railroad tracks, and one on Maple from Garden Plain and Goddard to west Wichita, that in 2007 had a total estimated cost of under half a million dollars—far less money than the cost of the recently-approved and much-needed bike path that will connect the Canal Route path to the K-96 path (for which, by the way, I thank the council for approving).

I am not an engineer or traffic planner, but it seems to me that it is the rare principle of infrastructure design that can simultaneously increase a street’s traffic-handling capacity and actually make it safer, do so more efficiently without widening it, and save the city a substantial amount of money both in terms of construction and, later on, in terms of the costs saved because that street is safer. The fiscal conservatives among us can surely see the financial virtues inherent in these benefits. But there is also the more intangible but no less important benefit that Complete Streets provide: they contribute to making the city a little greener, a little more livable, a place where people and businesses don’t just want to locate but want to stay. It’s the rare idea that progressives and conservatives, that cyclists, pedestrians and motorists can agree upon, but surely Complete Streets is one of them. I urge that the Council consider making a Complete Streets policy an integral part of its planning for Wichita’s future.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Some quick notes from Janet Miller's District VI coffee

This morning I attended Janet Miller's end-of-the-month coffee with constituents, held in its new venue of Mead's Corner. The chief order of business was to discuss the city's projected budgetary shortfall of $13 million for the next fiscal year and some of the measures being considered for dealing with it--some of which you may have read about here. Miller announced that on Wednesday, July 1 in the evening the Council will hold a public meeting in the council chambers. See this story in the Eagle for more information, including an e-mail address for sending your questions about the budget.

Given the subject matter, this wasn't among the cheeriest meetings I've ever attended. But after the meeting's official end, I spoke with Miller for a moment about my upcoming appearance before the Council and some admittedly-vague observations based on some things thought here about the Midtown path and the proposed path through the Delano District. It struck me the other day that, given the new central library's location and the potential for integrating activities between it and Exploration Place and other venues along the river, that might encourage the city to grant a higher priority to funding the Delano District path; when I mentioned this to Miller this morning, she agreed and gave me the impression that she had been thinking along those lines as well. When I mentioned that the path isn't quite in her district, she said that she is a strong advocate for that project and for the neighborhood. Good to know. It is, in fact, something of a shame (and with no offense intended toward the Delano District's other representative, District 4's Paul Gray) that the vagaries of district boundaries dictate that so little of Delano falls within District VI, given that strong advocacy (I think everyone there this morning was from Riverside--that includes the couple who self-identified as being from "North Riverside"). Regarding the Midtown path, she agreed with me that the potential is large for encouraging development and projects along its route that will make it an attractive space for residents. She mentioned to me that a couple of the schools along the route would be creating murals along the path, as well as other projects that would seek to integrate the path with the school's campus. For my part, I wondered aloud if some of the businesses along the path who, let's be honest, have sides facing the path that only a passing freight train could love, could be encouraged in some way to remodel their buildings so as to take the path into account--something along the lines of the Douglas Street streetscaping and facade improvements from McLean to Seneca.

In one way, talking with Janet Miller about such things is preaching to the choir: in each meeting I've had with her, she has never wavered in her commitment to cycling infrastructure and larger issues having to do with livable cities; today was no different, despite the fact that we had just been talking about a very large shortfall in the city's projected revenues for next year. That said, the city is not exactly awash in money just now . . . and even if it were, there's still the fundamental matter of changing hearts and minds so that the city (and the public) come to see that cycling infrastructure, if done right, can be a practical, long-term investment that will not only save the city money over time but also attract and keep people here as the city becomes a little more livable, a little less car-centric. Especially when money is tight, having this conversation becomes even more vital, even with those council people who already agree with you: they need to know their constituents' thinking so they can present--and represent--that thinking in their deliberations and voting.

Local blog round-up III (Heat-advisory edition)

Various things, some of them actually happy, have conspired to keep me from posting this past week; on the other hand, thanks to the Mrs. (a "combination Christmas-birthday-Fathers' Day-anniversary present," she says), I have a new computer monitor! Can you tell?

Anyway. "Summer," as you have no doubt noticed, is now here in spirit as well as in the letter of the calendar. It's in that spirit that, as you'll see, some of the past week's cycling-related posts from the area's bloggers have some strategies for dealing with the heat:

Eddie of Clicks and Whistles links to a list of "brews and bikes": beers that are in some way connected to cycling. Locals may recognize New Belgium's wonderful Fat Tire; my ignorance of the others on the list suggests to me that I have some future research to conduct. In moderation, of course.

I missed seeing this for inclusion in last week's Round-up: Randy and Nova recently went to Galveston, and all they brought us was this video of their ride along the Seawall.

Robert has several posts up over at River City Cyclist. Here, he posts notice of a night ride for 10 p.m. this evening (that's one way to avoid the heat); and here, he makes the case for why it's safer to ride on the street than on the sidewalk.

Russell's In Medias Res isn't a cycling blog, but he has an advice-filled post on on ways to make hot-weather cycling a little easier. Russell's an inveterate bike-commuter, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Also, I want to extend thanks to a few folks who have seen fit to link to this humble blog--thanks to them, some people have found their way here: the above-mentioned Clicks and Whistles; BikeBlogs.com (an online directory of cycling blogs whose orientation is sports/recreation; we're listed in both "Miscellaneous Blogs" and "Regional Blogs"); Green Eco Service's "Kansas" page; and Charleston Cycle Chic. Readers of this blog know there's not a whole lot of ostensible Cycle Chic to be found here (except in the philosophical sense), but I'm still grateful for visitors . . . and I hope they're not too disappointed when they come by.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Local blog round-up II

This week's survey of recent and/or interesting posts from local cycling blogs and clubs:

A quiet week last week on the blogging front.

Bicycleptic goes on a ghost hunt--without his bicycle, but wishing he'd taken it with him.

Eddie of Clicks and Whistles commented on this blog for the first time last week. By following the links in his profile I learned that he is an avid cyclist--in fact, he'd tried to complete Biking Across Kansas this year but had to leave the ride due to some pretty bad knee pain. In my response to his comment, I linked to his BAK posts. Meanwhile, he's gone to the doctor, and here he reports on his knee . . . along with some other minor surgery he had performed that day. Though Clicks and Whistles is not, strictly speaking, a cycling blog, you'll quickly get the message that the man has got it bad for bicycles. There are worse addictions.

It's been a week for injuries that keep folks off their bikes for a while. Over at River City Cyclist, Robert reports that he's been laid low by back pain.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Heads up (with a correction)

I'll be requesting time to speak to the City Council about the virtues of Complete Streets at their weekly meeting on Tuesday, June 30 July 7*. It will start at 9:00 a.m. I hope some of you can make it.

*I learned this week that the Council doesn't meet on 5th Tuesdays in a month.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Announcing the Wichita Bike-Commuter Map project

A little inspiration: The très-cool logo for the NolaCycle Bike Map Project, a little bit about which below.

Some of you know that today is known as Bloomsday: on this day in 1904, the Irish novelist sets the action of his novel Ulysses. That novel describes the wanderings and adventures of one Leopold Bloom in a Dublin so carefully described, you could do a pretty substantive recreation of the city as it was on that day. Certainly, you could map it pretty well. It seems appropriate to me that the project I'm announcing here also involves maps and a city.

I am pleased to announce that Robert of River City Cyclist and I will begin to collect information that will lead to the production of a map of Wichita that will show information that those of us who travel in the city via bicycle--not just bike-commuters--tell us they find useful. But this begs the question: What do riders want and need to see in a map of the city? Established bike-paths and bike-lanes, to be sure, but what else? Recommended routes to shopping, schools, etc.? Information such as the wealth of information the NolaBike project shows (things like pavement conditions, traffic speed, dangerous intersections, etc.)?

To be honest, we don't want to presume--and besides, we hope this project will be at once a collective expression of the local cycling community and a node around which that same community can begin to define itself.

So: please e-mail us with maps of your routes, your suggestions for content, etc. You may reach me at "blogmeridian AT sbcglobal DOT net" or Robert at "robert AT rivercitycyclist DOT com"

Thanks in advance.

". . . and yes I said yes we will map our city Yes."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Turn-of-the-century Topeka Cycle Chic

Earlier today Randy of Kansas Cyclist, apparently noticing the pictures accompanying the Front Porch Cycle Chic posts, decided to humor me surprised me with an e-mail that had a link to this picture (click the image to enlarge it), from Kansas Memory (a service of the Kansas Historical Society):

The accompanying caption reads, "Mr. and Mrs. George Hackney posed with their bicycles, Topeka, Kansas.//Date: Between 1900 and 1905."

In his accompanying note, Randy writes, "Regular folk riding bicycles in everyday clothing ... the days when bikes were respectable adult transportation, even for the elderly... Cool old pic!" Yes, indeed. These people exude Cycle Chic as Randy describes it here: It's hard to escape the sense as you look at this picture that these bicycles were more than simple props for the Hackneys.

Seeing it jogged my memory of something I gave a little thought to as I was looking for images for the Front Porch Cycle Chic posts and I ran across lots of images taken in Wichita of people pictured with their bicycles--individuals, families, and riding clubs: gather up and post a collection of them as part nostalgia trip but also as a subtle reminder that bicycles were once a part of people's everyday lives here. Not such a bad thing to be reminded of. Anyway, look for that sometime down the road.

Just what are we promoting here?

(That is, "we" as in "I" and "here" as in this space.)

Over at Carbon Trace recently, Andy has been looking a little more carefully at the vocabulary he employs as an advocate of cycling. In response to my first Front Porch Cycle Chic post, for example, he examines--and decides to ban from his vocabulary--the word "lifestyle" when discussing cycling. Then this past Saturday, he posts the at first startlingly-titled "I No Longer Like 'Commuting.'" Here's what he means:
I certainly commute to work by bicycle, and I recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. But there is general cultural block that makes riding a bicycle to work seem terribly difficult — especially for women. How to dress. Fear of sweating. Time pressure. Social pressure. Traffic fear. All of these and more play a role in the perception that bicycle commuting is difficult.

I now think emphasizing bicycle commuting as a part of bicycle advocacy is a bad idea. It just throws up too many culturally-bound barriers and fears.
He decides that a better way to promote cycling is to emphasize its utility through his idea of "the 1-Mile Solution" (which I've also discussed).

At one level, I could easily say: Well, part of Andy's day job is teaching rhetoric--of course he's going to fret over little stuff like this, poor guy. But you know, MY day job is teaching English, so language is kind of a big deal with me, too. So, I got to thinking about the cause(s) that Cycling in Wichita speaks on behalf of and the language it uses in doing so. After all: I took up cycling at all primarily because of its usefulness for getting to and from work cheaply. I thought back to the conceiving of this blog when I was thinking about its title, some clunky versions of which would have included some form of "commute." I have spoken many, many times on behalf of the connectivity of already-existing bike paths so as to make them more useful to would-be bike-commuters, and on behalf of the inclusion of bike lanes in future planning to facilitate on-street cycling. Though I have been known to engage in riding just for the sheer pleasure of it (on Saturday, for example, I rode to the Old Town Farmers' market and then visited several of the Delano District's neighborhood garage sales for the best reason of all: Just Because), I barely mention recreational or sport cycling here. And finally, I'm doing a little thinking about a project, soon to be announced here, that I came up with specifically with the needs of bike-commuters in mind. So, I asked myself if all that may have caused some of the more casual visitors to this site to shy away from the idea of just cycling more, and to more places, than they might otherwise.

Short answer: I hope not.

As regular visitors here know, I don't post exclusively on the details of my own commute or on commuting generally. But I do have lots to say about re-framing the way cycling has historically been thought of here in favor of a more-inclusive view whose ultimate goal is a bike-friendlier city: the above-mentioned connectivity between already existing bike paths and more on-street cycling-specific infrastructure, yes; but also fundamental re-thinking about street design and development in general: how and where to design walkable (read: livable) urban environments--something I hope the good people of WDDC are giving thought to, of course, but so also should every neighborhood association. The less car-centric and more people-centric city planning is, the more livable a city becomes.

I don't know . . . maybe Cycling in Wichita is too narrow a title . . .

Sunday, June 14, 2009

WAMPOpalooza: More meetings!--a government entity's idea of after-event parties

Via Jane Byrnes comes the meeting schedule for WAMPO's Metropolitan Transportation Plan Project Advisory Committee (MTP-PAC) and Transportation Policy Body (TPB) for the rest of this year and the first half of 2010. These meetings will concern formulation and discussion of the 2030 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), and all are open to the public. It was my understanding from Thursday's meetings that all these meetings (all on Mondays and Tuesdays) are held on the 10th floor of the city hall building.

Jane notes sends along the following, versions of which you've already heard plenty of from me but which cannot be said enough:
I believe citizens who choose to attend will reap benefits long before 2035. . . . The meetings are short, only one hour so there may not be an opportunity for attendees to speak--but staff assured me that the mere presence of multimodal transportation would be effective.
For convenience's sake, in the next day or so I'll put together a separate entry that pulls together all the LRTP links and post a link to that over in the right gutter. As to "What now?": I have said my words, and you are wise.

Friday, June 12, 2009

WAMPOpalooza: WAMPO Open house

[For the curious, my post on the WAMPO-hosted Complete Streets webinar is here.]

Yesterday afternoon's open house was more sparsely attended than the webinar but, to my mind, more reflective of the city: one, for example, runs a business in Old Town and is interested in public transit; another is a bike commuter in west Wichita, which, as you know, has no paths or lanes of any sort. Perhaps because of this more eclectic mix, my mood this time was the reverse of my mood at the webinar: initial frustration but increasing optimism regarding the future of cycling/pedestrian and public transportation infrastructure in the area. There were two chief orders of business: to present the list of those projects eligible for inclusion in the 2010 fiscal year's Transportation Improvement Program (hereafter known as TIP); and to announce the beginning this fall of work on the Wichita Area 2030 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP--its process is here).

(Full disclosure: As you may have already surmised, this post will be flecked with acronyms of various sorts, some of which I was introduced to only yesterday. I do not pretend to be entirely clear as to the purpose(s) of all the entities indicated by these acronyms, just so you know; what follows is my best understanding of all this. When you find yourself getting confused, do what I do and visit WAMPO's website (though that place, too, is a bit difficult to navigate--perhaps fitting, perhaps ironic, for an office that manages transportation planning and funding.)

The list of eligible TIP projects presented yesterday does not yet appear on WAMPO's website; when it does, though, it should appear here. And keep in mind that literally all we saw was a list of projects--there was not even a summary description of the work each would entail. Even so, every single project listed was a road or bridge project; moreover, as Jane Byrnes (who was also in attendance there) noted, almost all these projects would, in her words, "promote sprawl": they are on the outer fringes of the city. None of them was explicitly bicycle/pedestrian/public transportation-oriented. It's possible that some of the road projects will include some sort of infrastructure feature such as an accompanying bike-path/sidewalk, as was done for the work done last year on 13th Street from K-96 to Andover, or maybe even bike lanes. But based on what we saw yesterday, I have no way of knowing.

But then again, as we were told, the listed projects were only the ones that people had spoken on behalf of. WAMPO's official role is that of a policy body--it facilitates the long-term planning process and determines what projects get funded with the (so far) approximately $11 million/year in federal funds allocated to the area covered by WAMPO's mandate (Sedgwick County, plus Andover and Mulvane). It has no say in what projects actually get submitted to it. That is determined by the elected officials of the municipalities in the county. Hence the futility of my polite but pointed unloading on Derek Clark one of the two WAMPO presenters at the event, about the absence of bike-infrastructure and public transportation despite the fact that the re-striping of a couple miles of streets downtown (WAMPO proposals in the about-to-expire master plan) would cost only a little over $80,000. He was a good sport about it, but he was clear: it's not WAMPO who is to blame for the promotion of suburban sprawl on the city's outskirts at the expense of smarter policies such as Complete Streets. As I noted in the webinar post, the city's hand on these matters will almost certainly be forced by government requirements. But it would be nice, would it not, to see something like Complete Streets at the forefront of thinking for all planning as a matter of policy (assuming we can't have it as a matter of principle).

Something we learned at the webinar is that people overwhelmingly want their departments of transportation to be more people-conscious (rather than car-conscious) in their planning; WAMPO's own survey last year (in which some of you reading this participated) shows we are no different. Yet, the projects that actually get built don't reflect those desires because people don't speak on their behalf at planning meetings, City Council meetings, etc.

And that leads me to the second part of the open house, a heads-up about the start of meetings leading to the producing of the 2030 LRTP. The first step in that has already been accomplished: the survey from last year whose results I linked to just above. Clark noted the overwhelming interest among survey participants in expanding and improving (via, in particular, connectivity) the current system of bike paths and bike lanes. Our task now is to make sure that interest is not only reflected in the LRTP but also, come the portioning out of monies for these projects, that we speak on their behalf to our district representatives and at council meetings.

The initial LRTP meetings haven't yet started but apparently will begin this fall. If you want to receive e-mail announcements of these, contact Kimberly Spielman at "kspielman AT wichita DOT gov" In the meantime, a good place to begin thinking about all this would be to have a look at these chapters (.pdf files) from the Regional Pathway System Plan, which was approved in 2007: A chapter that identifies transit corridors that should be used to facilitate cycling; and a prioritized list of so-called "missing links" in our area's cycling infrastructure. Some of these, it should be noted, have already been completed, are underway (the Mt. Vernon resurfacing), or soon will be (those described as being "actively planned"). But those that remain are very good, functional proposals that have the virtue of improving the connectivity of the existing system.

We're not at the point in Wichita where their merits are self-evident. We're getting there, but these arguments still need their advocates--they can't carry the day on their own.

In Mexico, there's a saying: "If people do not ask, God does not hear."

Time for those of us interested in these issues to get some religion.

Bike Across Kansas

I'd missed this nice story in yesterday's Eagle which interviewed some riders as they passed through Towanda on Wednesday.

Nice passage, in keeping with your correspondent's constant linkage between cycling and the fomenting of community (as opposed to cars' insulating, isolating effects):
"The great thing about BAK (Bike Across Kansas) is you get to stop at places like this," Jim Hadley, another cyclist, said pointing at the cafe. "Yesterday, we stopped in Stafford and had pie and coffee for breakfast at 9 o'clock, but I don't care because we did 75 miles yesterday."

Eric Massanari, a bicyclist from Newton participating in his first BAK, said biking across the state provides a different experience than driving across.

"It slows me down. I tend to notice things that I don't normally," he said. "For instance this morning, the smell of a wheat field on a dewy morning, it's something in a car you don't think about."

WAMPOpalooza: Complete Streets webinar

Image found here.

Yesterday's WAMPO events, the webinar at the City Council chambers and the open house at the Water Center, created in me a strange combination of frustration with the status quo and hope for the future. (Do keep in mind as you read this that I am by nature optimistic.)

For the reader's sake, I'll discuss the webinar here and, in its own post, the open house.

Though there were about 30-40 people in attendance, most of them were city-planner types. To my knowledge, Janet Miller was the only city council member in attendance, though in conversation afterward I was pleased to hear that District 1 representative Lavonta Williams has also been an advocate for mass/alternate transportation (just as she wrote me--us--that she was). It was also my pleasure to meet Jane Byrnes, who, as I've mentioned before, is the the Bicycle and Pedestrian Representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Plan Project Advisory Committee (MTP-PAC). There were a couple of us "civilians" there, too, and they and I chatted and exchanged e-mail addresses. I'm not by nature a networker, but I seem to be headed that way.

The webinar itself was quite informative even for people like me who have a nodding acquaintance with Complete Streets. The moderator for yesterday's meeting was Gabe Rousseau, the program manager for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation; the two presenters were Barbara McCann, Executive Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition; and Michael Ronkin, a former planner with the Oregon Department of Transportation who now consults with municipalities on Complete Streets planning. In his opening remarks, Rousseau (who himself bike-commutes to work) confirmed what I have noted here in the past: that the current administration is keenly interested in promoting (and funding) public and alternate transportation. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (who even has a blog) has in several speeches promoted these other modes and has held up Portland, Oregon, as a model of city planning. Personal observation: when President Obama nominated LaHood for the position, many commentators noted that he had not shown much interest in transportation issues during his career as a senator. Maybe it's just that I've become more attuned to these issues than I'd been in the past, but I can't think of a more engaged secretary of transportation than this one has been. Of course, this may be because the President is engaged on these issues as well . . . still, all accounts are that LaHood has so far shown genuine enthusiasm for his work.

[UPDATE: In today's USA Today is an interview with LaHood in which he says some more of the right things. Have a look.]

I'll refer you to the Complete Streets link above if you'd like a fuller explanation of the concept; alternately, though, take a drive down Mt. Vernon between Broadway and Greenway to have a look at one version of a Complete Street. Here, I'll just share some surprising information that, if presented as part of advocates' arguments in favor of cycling/pedestrian infrastructure, could turn some district representatives' heads. McCann noted that one of Complete Streets' coalition partners--and one of its most vocal supporters--is the American Association of Retired Persons. In a poll of its members, AARP learned that 47% of its members have to cross a street they feel is unsafe to cross; 54% feel their neighborhood is inhospitable to walking or cycling; and 56% strongly support Complete Streets policies. In case it's not obvious why this is important: 1) AARP's support complicates the stereotypical image of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure as for the young and middle-aged and/or primarily for recreational purposes by arguing that complete streets are safer streets (about which more later); 2) Older people vote. They are more involved in local governance than younger people; moreover, these folks want to be out and about, but they--as anybody would--want to feel safer as they go about their business. I'll just add here that in my own riding about town, older people constitute a high percentage (less than half, to be sure, but not too far south of that) of the folks I see on bicycles--on the street as well as on the paths. So, AARP's support is not by any means out of left field.

A question I'd had before yesterday concerned street capacity on re-designed streets. In theory, as I said at the conclusion of this post, "a street designed to accommodate pedestrians, bikers and buses as well as cars actually maximizes that street's traffic capacity: more people can use the same space than if it were designed strictly for automobiles." But I had no evidence--not even Mt. Vernon--that this was true: Aside from the bike lanes and wider sidewalks set farther away from the curb, the stretch of Mt. Vernon from Greenway to Broadway is unchanged--it's still a two-lane, two-way street. Besides, it's not anyone's idea of a busy street. But Ronkin in his presentation mentioned the example of a street in Orlando, Florida, that was once a busy (about 20,000 cars/day) 4-lane undivided street that was converted into a 3-lane street (center left-turn lane) with bike/bus lanes on each side; on that street, not only did accidents decrease by over 40% and injuries by 87%, its traffic load actually increased by about 1,000 cars/day. I could hear the planners sitting behind me oooh and aaah a little when they heard this. The point of this: if done right, Complete Streets kills two urban-planning birds with one conceptual stone--it both increases a street's capacity and makes it safer.

Over 80 political entities--a half-dozen states, many cities, and a few counties--have adopted some sort of official language making Complete Streets the principle that guides project design and funding. Moreover, in Washington the Complete Streets Act of 2009, submitted in both the House and the Senate, is in search of co-sponsors (hint, hint). Given the current legislative climate, language advocating Complete Streets principles is fairly certain to find its way into federal legislation. To be blunt about this, if Wichita (and the State of Kansas) want federal money for transportation (duh!), we'll be seeing Complete Streets principles applied to some near-future construction. But not to all; not all transportation construction is eligible for federal money and so does not have to conform to those design guidelines. Hence the frustration a couple of us felt at the make-up of our webinar audience. Planners can propose and plan out the wazoo, but it's ultimately elected officials who will decide what projects get funded and, for that matter, those projects' guiding principles. The fact that Janet Miller knew everyone in the room either as her constituent (me) or as already active in these issues or as city staff is a little disheartening.

Those of us citizens who stayed and chatted for a while, though, came from all parts of the city, and each of us have heard the same thing from more than one person: "I'd bike to work/the store if only . . . ," that blank more often than not filled in with comments about missing or inadequate or impractical infrastructure. I strongly suspect that if you've read this far, you also have heard these same remarks from others (or have thought them yourself). Two council people that I know of (and Mayor Brewer, judging from his remarks concerning downtown revitalization) are supportive of these matters; but they are only three people on a seven-person council, and in any event they are usually going to vote in accordance with the sentiments of those constituents they hear from the most. All that said, it was also clear from this conversation that some councilpeople are, shall we say, more responsive to their constituents than others are. The point: however cathartic it is to complain to friends or on blogs about the present state of things, these things will not change until/unless enough of us speak up often enough and long enough on their behalf to people with their hands on the pursestrings.

Fair warning: that last sentiment will also be the predominant message of my post on the WAMPO open house, here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Local blog round-up

While trying to fall asleep last night, I thought: Why not try to do for local cycling blogs once a week what Bobby of Douglas and Main does for the entire Wichita blogosphere on a near-daily basis? Surely I can manage once-a-week. So: on Thursdays during the summer, at least, I'll be linking to new and/or interesting posts on the other cycling blogs and news from the cycling-club websites. If it doesn't appear in this space, it either has not been updated since I last checked or it has gone moribund. In the meantime: if you know of other "local" cycling blogs, I hope you'll let me know.

The first notice I want to post here is not from a cycling blog, but bicycles may be involved . . . today begins the Delano Area-Wide Garage Sale. Various residences will be holding garage sales from today through Saturday. Go here for the addresses of who will be selling when and for a link to a downloadable/printable map. I plan to ride through the area this morning before heading to WAMPOpalooza (consider this a reminder of those events, too), so I look forward to the chance to meet a reader or . . . well, a reader.

On to the cycling blogs now . . .

Over at the Coasters' Bicycle Club website, Randy has posted notice that Thursday, July 2 will be the Patriotic Pub Pedal (for more on the what and where of the weekly Pub Pedals, go here).

Over at Bicycleptic, Bryan gives a brief report on his 50-mile ride the previous weekend to benefit ADA that apparently went from El Dorado to Cassoday and back. Bryan is usually a fixed-gear guy, but he reports that the wind that day made him grateful that on that day he had decided to be a mere mortal and leave it at home in favor of a multi-speed.

What to call something that has a website on whose homepage is the declaration that it "is not an organization"? Wichita Critical Mass. I'll just say again that I can fully support Critical Mass's ends--they are why I started this blog, in fact; I welcome a discussion, though, about the means to those ends.

Chris has not posted at Random Chaos since his ominously-titled post from last October, "Am I dead yet?" I sincerely hope the answer is "No."

Anyone want a good-looking tandem bike? Go have a look at the one over at Randy and Nova's place.

Robert continues to add content to Wichita's newest cycling blog, River City Cyclist. In his most recent post, he affirms the sheer pleasure of cycling above and beyond its obvious practical benefits. He's also added RSS feeds for Kansas Cyclist's list of bike rides and, even Craigslist ads for bikes for sale. Go have a look.

Have I missed anyone? Any other cycling blogs out there? Let me know.

[UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias isn't local, but this post's larger message is exactly on-point with regard to today's WAMPO events: the better and more available public transportation is made, the more people of all social classes will use it. In the cities I've visited with robust public transportation that I've used--New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Mexico City--buses and trains are both plentiful AND crowded with folks of every social description. Streets and highways are convenient because they go everywhere--they've been built everywhere. Public (and alternate) transportation options obviously can't go everywhere, but they can be designed to go along the major routes that people tend to travel by car and given their own lanes. Even in Mexico City, drivers respect the dedicated lanes . . . because the buses run so frequently, AND against the traffic besides.

See? There are ways . . . ]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Two quick reminders, and a new link

Today, Biking Across Kansas comes to our corner of the Plains--the riders spent the evening in Halstead (on U.S. 50 just west of Newton), and today they will pass through Sedgwick, Furley, Towanda, and El Dorado on the way to tonight's stop at Eureka (here is the Google Map of the route). For further information, including daily updates, visit the Biking Across Kansas website.

And tomorrow (the 11th), that one-day wonkfest of local transportation planning, WAMPOpalooza: from 1-2:30 in City Council chambers, WAMPO will be hosting a Complete Streets webinar; then from 4:30-6 at the Water Center, 101 E. Pawnee (that's Herman Hill Park, by the way), WAMPO will have an open house to discuss the status of the 2010 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) (a brief description is here).

For those of you interested in gaining some sense of how local planning fits into a national context (read: if you'd like something like an opening act to heighten your anticipation for tomorrow), Streetsblog now has a new page called Streetsblog Capitol Hill, which follows debates, recommendations, and the progress of mass/alternate transportation legislation through Congress. The page went live only yesterday, but it already bears the good news the House Appropriations Committee has just approved $68.8 billion for the upcoming fiscal year for the departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development--a 25% increase over last year. That money, by the way, is in addition to the money to be allocated in the six-year transportation bill presently working its way through Congress. Translation: assuming the economy doesn't utterly collapse and/or the State of Kansas and the City of Wichita have their respective planning ducks in a row, lots of money will be available to do some very good things.

Here's why our participation in these discussions matters: No matter our respective politics, both liberals and conservatives should be able to support mass/alternate transportation projects because of their cost-effectiveness. Yet another message of the picture you see at this post is that a street designed to accommodate pedestrians, bikers and buses as well as cars actually maximizes that street's traffic capacity: more people can use the same space than if it were designed strictly for automobiles--and, in the case of re-striping projects such as some of those proposed by WAMPO, these things are dirt-cheap when compared to widening projects. Public transportation and bike-lanes and bike paths look like luxuries only when people don't use them. But a time is coming, and sooner than we think, when these projects will become more and more necessary if we want to have transportation infrastructure at all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The daily commute: Things observed and thought II

The gateway over the new Midtown Bike Path; click on image to enlarge. Via Coasters Bicycle Club).

Thanks to Copenhagen Cycle Chic's and Streetblogs' and Carbon Trace's linking to the "Front Porch Chic" posts, this humble blog had over 300 unique visitors over the past two days (an average day here is between 20-30). (By the way: you should be visiting those good people on a regular basis, and not just because they linked to my posts.) But with this post, rest assured, I will return this blog's visitor counts back to their accustomed bottom-feeding depths as I talk about stuff that may be of interest only to people in this mid-sized city in Kansas.

As before, what follows is actually a hodge-podge of items in some way associated with getting around town via bicycle, some of which are from before last weekend. Take "The Daily Commute" to indicate more a state of mind than a rigorous recounting of the day's ride.

**Among the items for consideration on today's City Council agenda (WARNING: 429-page .pdf file!!) is a motion to increase funding for design work for the long-discussed bike path linking the north end of the Canal path to the west end of the K-96 path. Apparently, the extra money ($25,000) is needed because the city has asked the designers to make it more shovel-ready so as to qualify it for non-ARRA (you know "ARRA" better as "Stimulus Fund") money (the project wasn't approved for ARRA funds). The recommendation is to approve the funds. It's not clear from the agenda what sorts of schedules this project is on--a fairly tight one, it's safe to assume. I will try to find out more at the WAMPO meetings this Thursday (I think June 11th, by the way, should be dubbed WAMPOpalooza).

I do not have to tell you how much this project would facilitate bike-commuting from the northeast side of town to the urban core. It of course does not reduce the necessity of an east-west route (or two) through the city's middle latitudes, and it obviously does not at all address the complete absence of bike paths of any sort west of Sedgwick County Park. But for those who live near the K-96 path and work in the downtown area or even as south as far as McConnell/Boeing, this linkage suddenly makes both paths much more viable as commuting options than they had been. But here's the deal: though the city's political climate is, I feel, slowly shifting in "our" favor, if the federal money weren't there, it wouldn't get built. According to this story in Sunday's Eagle, the city has a $7 million shortfall in operating funds, a total of $17.5 million in projects on its wishlist for federally-funded environmental and energy-saving projects, but only $3.5 million in federal money. This situation is of course being played out in cities everywhere these days; indeed, we can be thankful that this money, little though it is, is explicitly designated for these kinds of projects.

Still: the fact that this request for more money for design work is on today's agenda suggests that building the path has some priority and that, if the financial stars align properly. work will begin on this project soon.

**Speaking of bike paths long in the works, on Friday I rode down to Garvey Park, which, as you know, is the southern terminus of the Arkansas River path, in part because I had not ridden all the way down there in a while and in part to see if by any chance work had begun on the path to link that path with the south end of the Gypsum Creek Path (short answer: No, at that end, at least). Depending on the weather tomorrow (there's a chance for storms in the afternoon), I may ride out to Plainview Park after my class to see what I can see from there. [UPDATE: Nope--no work there, either.]

Gentle suggestion to the Parks and Recreation Department: The content on the home page for bicycles has not changed in the year that I have been looking at it on a fairly regular basis. I for one would welcome posted announcements of projects, openings of paths, etc., individual maps of the new paths and updates to the old ones showing the new extensions . . . and an updated city map of paths that indicates the newly-completed paths and the new bike lanes on Mt. Vernon: some small gestures to indicate that cycling occupies more than oh-by-the-way status in the city.

**And speaking of newly-completed bike paths, on Friday I had a closer look at the just-opened Midtown path (a map of which I would link to if one were online--see above), and on Monday after class I rode that part of the just-completed extension of the Canal path that runs from the west side of I-135 at Wassal up to Pawnee. The Midtown path, in case you don't know, is a converted railroad right-of-way: it runs from Central right next to the county jail on its west side (perhaps there should be signage along the path warning against picking up hitchhikers?) due north to 9th, where it hitches to the north-northwest up to Prospect Park and Otis Park, continuing on to 15th. I don't know if there are plans to extend the path still further along the right-of-way, but that land appears to available for at least a couple more blocks to the north--ideally, all the way up to 21st Street via the right-of-way or, alternately, from 15th up Market to the future NOMAR International Market (and even if that didn't come to pass, it would appear to be a simple matter to designate a bike lane for a half-mile along 15th over to McAdams Park. Knowing a little about the aspirations the people of the Delano District have to convert their own stretch of abandoned railroad right-of-way, I was interested in looking at the immediate environs around the Midtown path to see if, here and there, there might be occurring a reorientation of the neighborhood in the direction of the path. Well, silly me: the path only opened in April. So, you know the answer to that. That said, though, the potential for that sort of thing happening seems large to me, especially in the area immediately around Otis Park and just to the north. Just a little vision, some money and, of course, clear claim on the property rights up to the actual path . . . but what I saw up there made me feel frustrated that the Delano District's path isn't yet built--around that route, there's even more space for a combination of established businesses and new, mixed-use development to appear and, potentially, become the District's true focal point as a community.

Now to the new southern extension of the Canal path. As I've said before, once I cross Pawnee at the pedestrian-controlled crosswalk, I head straight into the neighborhood: down Minneapolis to Glen Oaks, then left to Minnesota and then south on Minnesota to where it T-intersects Wassal. The official path, though, runs on the south side of Pawnee to the intersection with Southeast Drive, then follows that street south to Wassal. On my return trip Monday, I decided to check out the that path. I must be frank in my assessment: though there are probably legal reasons why it takes the route it does (since the city already owns the land it's on, there were no purchases to have to deal with?), it still makes no real sense. Two examples: on the stretch along Southeast, there's both a bike-lane and a bike path on the same side:an amazing redundancy in a city that is just now adding on-street bike lanes. Meanwhile, that part that runs along Pawnee from Southeast to the ped crossing crosses a couple of very tricky entrances to the large strip mall on that corner. This is a very clear instance when it's obviously safer for a cyclist to be in the street rather than on the sidewalk. As for the route I take, Minneapolis is a wide street with some on-street parking but little traffic, and Glen Oaks and Minnesota are a little narrower but otherwise the same. I much prefer it to the official path.

**As I mentioned last week, I stopped by Tom Sawyer Bicycle Shop, at the corner of Broadway and Mt. Vernon, and I spoke with one of the staff (whose name I didn't get) about the new bike lanes and about the state of cycling in the city. He said he hadn't seen any increase in people riding, or in the store either for that matter. He also seemed fairly pessimistic about the likelihood of more Wichitans' becoming serious riders any time soon. I suggested that perhaps things are changing, but he said that it would take $4/gallon gas to see real change. Granted, Tom Sawyer isn't exactly located in Wichita's cycling epicenter (such as that is); the chief reason I feel as I do about the ground shifting in cycling's favor is that I see so many more people bike-commuting here in the Riverside and Delano neighborhoods than I had seen last year--something that south Wichitans would not necessarily have witnessed. Also, I sense the conviction among the (admittedly few) people I've met in city government that cycling and alternate transportation need to matter more here than they have historically.

But finally, there's a bit of (positive) fatalism at work in me as well: our economy is changing, in some ways gradually and in some not so, as we speak and whether we like it or not, away from its dependence on oil. The Obama Administration has clearly prioritized projects for mass transit, rail, and alternate transportation such as bicycling in its funding. The twin pressures of more people choosing to bike (a bottom-up pressure) and meeting federal requirements in order to obtain funding for infrastructure (top-down) will lead Wichita to add that infrastructure. There are signs that the city is becoming more forward-leaning on these issues. We just need some people to encourage them to keep leaning forward.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Front Porch Cycle Chic: A bicycle on every autarchist's front porch

[Welcome, visitors from Streetsblog(!), which was kind enough to honor this post with a plug on its current front page [update: and welcome to visitors from Carbon Trace, too]. I hope you enjoy your visit.]

The Roberts and Gregory families, Kentucky, early 20th century. Click on image to enlarge. Image found here.

What follows isn't exactly a continuation of yesterday's post. It's more like a picking up of another thread and unraveling a perfectly good idea from Front Porch Republic so as to hastily (and, no doubt, clumsily) re-weave it here in combination with other recent concerns of mine as a garment to hang in cycling's metaphysical closet. I'm not sure, incidentally, whether the following, famous injunction from Thoreau's Walden--"I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes"--implicitly condones or condemns that re-weaving. But if the latter, I take some presumptuous hope from George Bernard Shaw's statement, "All great truths begin as blasphemies."

Enough preambling. On with the ambling.

One of the central causes of what the writers of Front Porch Republic contend is our current cultural and political predicament is a perversion of our understanding of property and the resulting policies and politics arising from that perversion. This matter gets addressed directly in James Matthew Wilson's "The Need for Autarchy": Following Hannah Arendt, Wilson argues that that perversion is the result of "the specious conflation of the idea of private property (which Aquinas was right in defending as necessary to a good society) with that nefarious invention of modern usury, unlimited wealth accumulation." Here's Arendt, as quoted by Wilson:
Private property is not a euphemism for anything I happen to acquire, but a reference to the place in the world that is necessarily mine if I am not to be reduced to dependence on another. The way to secure such property is not usually to expand it and widen its frontiers (though that may sometimes be the case), but to fortify it, to fill it with the productive means necessary to maintain it and for it to maintain me. That kind of security and self-sufficiency-in a word, autonomy and autarchy-requires stewardship and conservation rather than expansion and avarice. Such virtues serve the purpose of having the property remain my property with a permanence approximating to the solidity of its literal foundations. [. . . ] [W]e reply to the capitalist that he does not defend private property but, instead, rationalizes endless wealth accumulation, and in so doing he does not defend the one, best hope for the wide distribution of private property. He advocates, rather, the source of its usurpation and dissolution.
Wilson then sums up Arendt's argument: Private property, once freed of market capitalism's co-opting of it, "is a public good but also provides for the individual household the basis for what is itself a great good, the foundation of a family’s liberty: autarchy [which literally translates from the Greek as "self-sufficiency" and thus is not to be confused with "autocracy"]. And the autarchy of the family household, I contend, is the analogous foundation, the microcosmic model, for still another public good: the sorely needed autarchic independence of our country." (Wilson's italics)

So: what does all this have to do with cycling in particular and, more broadly, issues of livability?

In the first "Front Porch Cycle Chic" post, I noted toward the end that "bicycles' practicality and portability create that version of independence that arises not from mere mobility but from self-reliance in all its senses." Surely one of those senses--or, perhaps, better put, that which is essential to self-reliance--is self-sufficiency. The automobile, while it evokes in the American psyche images of freedom and independence, in fact requires a massive, state- and corporate-maintained infrastructure in order to sustain those images on a mass scale; paradoxically, then, car culture has made us more dependent on both government and business, and less self-sufficient. Moreover--just to revisit the picture you see here within this slightly different context--car culture is both symptom and cause of our consumerist mindset: the automobile consumes and occupies those resources known as raw materials and not just the physical space it happens to occupy but, by extension, the physical space the automobile's infrastructure occupies as well: not just roads and parking lots, but car dealerships and repair shops, gas stations (and, for that matter, a goodly proportion of the petrochemical industry) and, in a more virtual way, the state bureaucracy devoted to the regulation of automobiles--even, indirectly, the space and resources occupied and consumed by the fast-food industry. Yet, as the events of the past year have made abundantly and painfully clear, if no one is interested in buying cars anymore--at least, not this country's current version of cars--suddenly they don't seem nearly as essential as they once did . . . even as their revenue-generating centrality to both commerce and the state has likewise become painfully clear via the loss of much of that revenue. The centrality of car culture to American life thus encroaches on the individual's access to private property as defined by Arendt; moreover, the direct and indirect expense of participating in that culture puts at risk our independence (both individual and national) from others--if not actively excluding many from autnomous participation in it by forcing them into dependence upon others.

As I have mentioned before, it was last summer, when I really paid attention to the fact that many of Wichita's street people and working-class folks use bicycles, that cycling revealed its practicality as transportation to me. Without at all meaning to suggest that we should not be concerned for the welfare of these people, clearly bicycles make their lives a little easier than they would be otherwise: they can cover more ground in search of work and shelter; and, as cheap as bus fare is, owning bicycles allows them to save that money for food and other expenses. A reorientation in our collective thinking in the direction of cycling as practical personal transportation and, at the governmental level, a rethinking of infrastructure (in the form of retrofitting existing streets, planning future streets, encouraging high-density, mixed-use development and discouraging suburban sprawl via zoning and mass transit) would, first of all, have the effect of freeing up some of the space and resources car culture demands. That freed-up space thus becomes more truly public in that greater numbers of people can utilize it. Granted, public space, very broadly defined, is not private property, but in its status as commonly-held property it enriches us, at its best, in a way best described as "aesthetic": culturally, intellectually, emotionally.

[Just a quick aside here: My misgivings about Critical Mass as a concept are connected to this idea. If it's an assumption of Critical Mass that motorists monopolize public roads at the expense (and to the endangerment) of cyclists and pedestrians and thus, in political terms, constitute a tyranny--one I don't necessarily disagree with--it's counterproductive to what should be cyclists' larger cause, gaining and earning the respect of motorists as equal users of those roads, when Critical Mass events in other areas (I cannot speak of Wichita's Critical Mass), at their worst, supplant the tyranny of motorists with a tyranny of cyclists. The fact that it occurs for a few hours on one Friday night a month doesn't make it any less tyrannical. Public space by definition should--and must--always be safely open and accessible to all who seek to use it.]

So, then, due to their lower costs and vastly-reduced demands for resources and infrastructure, the increased and encouraged ownership and use of bicycles presents itself as a means by which many, many more of us can enhance our holdings of private property as Arendt defines that term: that which frees us of dependency on others. At the same time, I'd like to suggest, larger numbers of folks going about their daily business by bicycle also fosters a stronger sense of and appreciation for place and, ideally, can lead to an enhancement of that place's self-sufficiency, its autarchy. In "Cycling in the rain" I try to make the case that cycling by its very nature shapes the cyclist's thinking according to a localist bent. By way of winding up that post's recognition of the Delano District's need of one/a few small full-service grocery store(s), I wrote:
No: cycling can't make corner markets appear in a neighborhood. But I think that cyclists, by being alert to and patronizing their neighborhoods' products and services, can play a role in affirming the community as a place unto itself, with a measure of (economic) sovereignty relative to the city that surrounds it. To tar with a broad brush: cars encourage us to leave the immediate area, to perhaps even see that space as in some way lacking, and don't encourage us to get to know the neighbors--they insulate us from a community's "weather," from its nature. Bicycles encourage their riders to take stock of that same area's resources and, at least in my own brief experience as a cyclist, to see it as richer than they once thought it to be. Far from being "flat" economically, the business topography of healthy communities is varied and often surprising.

Car culture, and all that car culture hath wrought, will not disappear any time soon. But it seems clear that in the decades to come it will not be as pervasive a presence as it currently is; it will no longer be the designated driver, as it were, of the thinking behind infrastructure decisions. Given the enormous individual and collective costs of car culture, I am far from mourning this. So, while I share much of the collective dismay of those over at Front Porch Republic regarding the enormous economic, political and cultural mess in which we find ourselves, I also see signs--and, via the seat of my bicycle, some of the means by which--we can begin to work our way out of those messes . . . and reinvigorate our understanding of and appreciation for community and, in the bargain, become more individually and collectively self-sufficient.

UPDATE: Here is Andy's Springfield-centric version of what I'm after and will pursue in a future post. Thanks again, Andy, for the plug and kind words.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Front Porch Cycle Chic: The revolt against lifestyle

[Welcome, visitors from Carbon Trace(!) and Copenhagen Cycle Chic(!)--and thanks to Mikael for his kind mention of this post. I hope you enjoy your visit.]

Two people converse next to a high-wheel bicycle at the fence of the first home of Alfred W. Bitting, 259 North Emporia Avenue, Wichita, c. 1882. Unknown photographer. Click image to enlarge. Repository: Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. Image found here.

I don't know whether the bicycle in the picture belonged to the Bitting family or to their visitor. But it doesn't matter. What matters for purposes of this (very long) piece is what that bicycle suggests to me and, indeed, what cycling has come to embody for me: an easy, practical means for its owner to maintain a connection with others who don't live within its owner's immediate vicinity.

Something I'd never before imagined myself seeing was a philosophical kinship of any sort between Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Front Porch Republic. But that was before this morning. As strange a confluence as this is, though, it matters to you--or should--if you share my interest in trying to shift the conceptual frame cycling gets placed in by Wichitans--even by most cyclists--known by the insidious term "lifestyle." Until that shift occurs, we'll continue to see really, really nice bike paths built that don't really go to places where people live, work and shop and, at the same time, a continued lack of on-street infrastructure for cyclists that would facilitate their getting to places where they do live, work and shop.

As recent visitors to this blog know, I've written approvingly in a couple of posts over the past few days about the Cycle Chic movement. The idea, despite the name, is really very simple: You don't need a fancy bike or clothes; ideally, you don't even need a helmet. Just put on the clothes and shoes you'd usually wear for work or shopping, dust off your one-speed cruiser, and go. The coolness of Cycle Chic is precisely that the rider wears what s/he usually wears, goes where s/he usually goes and does what s/he usually does--just on a bicycle. There's absolutely no affectation involved with Cycle Chic, no "in" crowd, no special gear; the entire point is not muss and fuss, but the absence of it. Or, as Henry David Thoreau memorably put the matter regarding the general affairs of one's life, "Simplify, simplify!"

But as many of you know, in-town cycling is now, well, chic. Those of us who want to cycle as a practical and inexpensive means of getting around town to do what needs to be done are now a Market: a group of people who need Stuff, whether or not they in fact need that Stuff. And yesterday Mikael of Copenhagen Cycle Chic put up a lengthy post identifying a couple of the more disturbing manifestations of this fact that have recently appeared: Shimano (the company that almost certainly manufactured your 21-speed bike's shifters and derailleurs) is now apparently marketing "'Cycling shoes' that were completely normal shoes, just with a Shimano logo." Or this passage from a recent Reuters story:
In keeping with the city's efforts to promote cycling, luxury apparel maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton asked students at the Fashion Institute of Technology to create chic yet affordable cycling gear.

"We want to do everything we can to raise the profile of biking in New York," Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, said at the news conference to announce the winning design.

"Having functioning, attractive gear so you can arrive at work looking stylish should be very encouraging," she said. "No one wants to show up at work looking like bike messengers."
To which Mikael replies, "Unbelievable. '...functioning, attractive gear'? Open your closets. Buy a chainguard. Fenders. Off you go."

In the face of market capitalism, Mikael concludes, "Let's sell bicycles and bicycle culture. Let's make our cities nicer places to live": activities not usually thought of as being among the contributive causes of the wealth of nations. In other words: the buying and selling of bicycles aside, Cycle Chic is very much about its participants' extricating themselves, if only a little, from the consumerist dynamic.

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

I'm not arguing that serious cycling is at its heart anti-capitalist but, rather, that it goes against the grain of how consumerism has come to shape our thinking about wants and needs and how to meet them. It thus opens up a space for the individual to see him- or herself relative to those dynamics and respond with a bit more autonomy than s/he might otherwise have.
It's here that we perhaps can begin to see why the term "lifestyle" is so unhelpful as a frame for contextualizing cycling. Within the context of economics, that term has the effect of re-inserting cyclists back into the very dynamic that we're trying to remove ourselves from; within the context of debates about city infrastructure, that term makes it all the easier for the skeptical to respond, "No one's making you ride your bikes" or "Get on the sidewalks, then, if the streets are too unsafe."

A quick perusal of the OED is very instructive here: "Lifestyle" first appeared in the 1920s as a term from psychotherapy "to denote a person's basic character as established early in childhood which governs his reactions and behaviour." It was only in the 1970s, though, that the word acquired its current, more familiar meaning, "A way or style of living." Though it's true that, strictly speaking, there's nary a whiff of consumerism in that latter definition, the mere existence of "Christian Lifestyle" stores--I mean, really: ponder the implications of such a concept--is all you need to know about the extent to which consumerism pervades our thinking about how we live: we live as we do because we choose that manner of living; it is our "style." An entire economy has thus emerged whose purpose is to produce and market items that will outwardly mark for others the style we've chosen.

How we live is sold to us rather than constructed by us; "lifestyle" is designed more to say something to impress others than to say something essential about us as individuals.

Front Porch Republic's "About" statement in effect makes these same arguments about consumerism and/but also identifies Big Government as complicit with corporations: an aiding, abetting co-conspirator eating away at the vitality of what, in this blog, I've been calling communities:
The economic crisis that emerged in late 2008 and the predictable responses it elicited from those in power has served to highlight the extent to which concepts such as human scale, the distribution of power, and our responsibility to the future have been eliminated from the public conversation. It also threatens to worsen the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state. We live in a world characterized by a flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms. Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing. We’re in a bad way, and the spokesmen and spokeswomen of both our Left and our Right are, for the most part, seriously misguided in their attempts to provide diagnoses, let alone solutions.
Yes indeed. To link these sentiments more directly to the concerns of this blog: It is a sad irony that our cities, entities deliberately planned by and for human beings, in fact more often than not feel denuded of their humanity--assuming they had any humanity to be denuded of in the first place. This has happened because, too often for the past 100 years, city planning plans not with human beings but with automobiles in mind.

Another essay at Front Porch Republic, Patrick Deneen's "A Republic of Front Porches," examines what it takes to be the signs and symptoms of the dissolution of community (broadly defined) in the U.S. via Richard Thomas's 1975 essay, "From Porch to Patio." In the italicized passage below, Deneen quotes Thomas directly, then comments afterward:
When a family member was on the porch it was possible to invite the passerby to stop and come onto the porch for extended conversation. The person on the porch was very much in control of this interaction, as the porch was seen as an extension of the living quarters of the family. Often, a hedge or fence separated the porch from the street or board sidewalk, providing a physical barrier for privacy, yet low enough to permit conversation. The porch served many important social functions in addition to advertising the availability of its inhabitants. A well-shaded porch provided a cool place in the heat of the day for the women to enjoy a rest from household chores. They could exchange gossip or share problems without having to arrange a “neighborhood coffee” or a “bridge party.” The porch also provided a courting space within earshot of protective parents. A boy and a girl could be close on a porch swing, yet still observed, and many a proposal of marriage was made on a porch swing. Older persons derived great pleasure from sitting on the porch, watching the world go by, or seeing the neighborhood children at play.

By contrast, the patio reflected both new settlement patterns and the increasing desire for privacy and withdrawal from interaction with one’s neighbors. “In communities with high rates of mobility, one did not often want to know his neighbor. The constant turn-over of neighbors worked against the long-term relationships which are essential to a sense of belonging.” The patio, it was believed, was a symbol and practical expression of our independence, our liberation from the niggling demands of neighbor and community. Yet, Thomas insightfully notes that it was just as much a symbol and reality of a new kind of bondage, the bondage especially to the automobile and to the grim necessities of mobility, including long commutes and increasing isolation from a wide variety of bonds.
At the end of his essay, Deneen challenges us "to revive our tradition of building and owning homes with front porches, and to be upon them where we can both see our neighbors and be seen by them, speak and listen to one another, and, above all, be in a place between, but firmly in place." I would like to suggest, in keeping with my sense of the picture that begins this post, that bicycles can play a significant role in that revival by in effect serving as a kind of virtual extension of our individual front porches: as we cycle through our communities, we have an intimacy with them simply not possible when in our cars--and those neighborhoods through which we commute become, if not our own, then certainly something more than some streets with houses on them that automobile travel converts them into. Indeed, I have come to feel an emotional tie to that part of south Wichita I regularly ride through that, I feel certain, simply would not have occurred had I driven that same route. Yet, bicycles' practicality and portability create that version of independence that arises not from mere mobility but from self-reliance in all its senses.

Bicycle-riding thus, to my mind, has a significant role to play in the reviving of the importance of place as envisioned by the writers of Front Porch Republic--and the Cycle Chic movement is, to my mind a version of that role--assuming, that is, that it not be co-opted by consumer capitalism. Far from being merely a "lifestyle," cycling is, in the deepest senses of the phrases, life-enhancing and life-affirming in ways no lifestyle ever could be.

If you've read this far, you probably wouldn't mind reading some more about the self-sufficiency of Cycle Chic. Here you go. Andrew's own gloss on these ideas is not only also worth your time, it's a whole lot shorter than what you just read.

Some new links you may be interested in

Pirates' Alley, in New Orleans' French Quarter. Imagine some spaces like this--a mix of shops, restaurants, and residences, through which automobile traffic is severely restricted--in Wichita's downtown, the Delano District, the 21st Street area, etc. A fella can dream, right? Image via the Project for Public Spaces, about which more below.

Over the past couple of days, I've run across various places and linked to them over in the right gutter. I don't have a real sense of how often those link lists even get looked at, much less used, so I wanted to round up a few of the more significant ones here.

First and foremost, I want to note for you the recent appearance of River City Cyclist in the still-small but expanding Wichita cycling-blog universe. Though it's still early in its existence, Robert, its creator, is thinking big: he even has a separate forum set up. I hope you'll link to him and pay him a visit.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago that I would do, the gutter now features a list of U.S. blogs in the style of the venerable Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Yes: the pretty-girls-on-bicycles aesthetic has its own immediate and obvious virtues; my larger intention in linking to them, though, as I said the other day, is to encourage Wichitans during these days of envisioning what a more livable city could look like to look at these images and ask ourselves, Why can't we have an urban core and a Delano District that foster this, too, along with paths and bike lanes from outlying areas into those areas--and not just on weekends? A city whose streets feel safe enough for women to ride bicycles in street clothes becomes a safer city, period [EDIT: Right on cue . . .]--and, not coincidentally, a city where people (and their employers) will want to live and work.

More imagination-candy: Take a gander at the Project for Public Spaces--a visual treat for those of us who look at all those wasted or underutilized lots and buildings in Downtown, the Delano District and elsewhere in the city and imagine what could be done with them. The concept is a simple one: Attractive, multi-use public spaces not only attract visitors; with the right planning, they attract businesses and residents, too. Located at or near transportation crossroads (in our city, that would be things like intersecting bus routes and bike lanes/paths), they can become the focal points for high-density development that, if done right, creates spaces where people genuinely live--like, for example, shop for food there and not have to leave the neighborhood to get groceries--and not just sleep in overpriced loft apartments.

At any rate, Project for Public Spaces is part of a small gathering of links over in the right gutter called "Community, Urbanism, Policy, Politics." If this sort of stuff is at all interesting to you, I hope you'll spend some time clicking and following links . . . and not forget to attend some meetings.

Douglas & Main bait

As you can't help but see, we're trying out the John Brown-on-a-bike image as a header for the blog. I've been surprised that each time I've used it, no one has commented on the image; I have no idea what that might mean. Meanwhile, lately I've been wanting to do something to enliven the blog's look. The Minima template is, well, minimum: on its own, it conveys exactly zero sense of what cycling in Wichita--the activity itself as well as the blog--is "about."

Too much? (Not just size (the image might need some cropping); I don't at all intend for it to convey the image that I or others on bikes are terrorizing the city; on the other hand, it appeals to me because of its implicit reference to advocacy for cycling issues.) Too joke-y? Not joke-y enough? Should it be more Wichita-centric? How do locals/Kansans see it? How do out-of-staters and foreigners (this blog somehow attracts a fair number of European visitors) read it?

Let me know in comments; I'd especially appreciate knowing if you're local or from out of town, if I don't already know that about you. If you'd prefer to e-mail me your comments, write me at "blogmeridian AT sbcglobal DOT net"

Friday, June 5, 2009

Biking Across Kansas coming to town, sort of

This year's route for Bike Across Kansas. Click image to enlarge. Image from Biking Across Kansas via Kansas Cyclist.

Bike Across Kansas, the state's pre-eminent cross-country cycling event (Randy notes that more than 800 riders will be participating), begins next week. Over at Kansas Cyclist, Randy has a nice preview of the route and points of interest along the way. You can find more, including updates on the event as it happens, at the BAK website.

As you can see on the map (here's the Google Map for more detail), the route comes quite close to Wichita this year, stopping on the evening of Tuesday the 9th in Halstead (on U.S. 50 just west of Newton) and then, on Wednesday the 10th, passing through Sedgwick, Furley, Towanda, and El Dorado on the way to that evening's stop at Eureka. If I were not teaching on Wednesday, I'd head out there somewhere to see the riders pass by and see if maybe, just maybe, I get inspired to ride with them next year. After all, if 10-year-olds and people in their 70s can complete the ride (as has happened in the past, then surely I . . .

If some of you are able to, head on out to some place along their route and give 'em an Atta boy/Atta girl.

June 11: WAMPO (events) Gone Wild!

Thursday, June 11 has turned into a significant day for anyone interested in the future of Wichita's and Sedgwick County's transportation infrastructure--which is very likely you, if you're visiting this blog. On that day, the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WAMPO) will be hosting two events of major importance. I know I posted one of these in my previous post, but for convenience's sake I'll re-post it here.

As I already noted, on the 11th from 1:00-2:30 WAMPO will be hosting the Complete Streets webinar in the City Council chambers. You can learn more about Complete Streets here.

But as if that weren't enough transportation wonkiness in one day for you, this morning via Jane Byrnes I received the following announcement:
You are invited to attend a WAMPO Open House.

When: Thursday June 11, 2009

Where: Water Center, 101 E. Pawnee, Wichita, KS

Time: 4:30p.m. – 6:00p.m.

Stop in anytime between 4:30p.m. – 6:00p.m. and get the most up to date information regarding the 2010 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

A brief summary of the TIP can be found on the WAMPO website: [here]
As I noted in my post on the Delano Neighborhood Association meeting, the City's representatives could not have stated the matter more bluntly: People who speak up in favor of issues gain their collective ear (and money)--if enough people talk it up enough. Those of you in the area who, like me, want and envision for Wichita a transportation infrastructure more accommodating of alternate and public transportation--the 11th will be your day to be a warm body in support of that vision. As I've been saying in various ways in these last few days, I sense we are at or very near the point where we can tip the discussion in this city in the direction of gaining more attention and resources for alternate transportation and the larger issue of how to make Wichita a more livable city.

I'm planning to be at both events. I hope to meet some of you there. I'll be easy to spot--I'll be the one glassy-eyed with optimism.