Thursday, June 4, 2009

The daily commute: Things observed and thought

A sign like this one now appears at the intersection of Mt. Vernon and Market. More about this welcome development below. Image found here.

First in an occasional series . . .

Unless otherwise noted, what follows is a description of my route from downtown to McConnell: From Keeper Plaza, south along the Arkansas River path to the Harry Street bridge; south for a block to Exchange; south to Mt. Vernon; east along Mt. Vernon to Minneapolis; south on Minneapolis to Minnesota, then over to the Canal Route path; south to Pawnee, crossing at the new bike/ped crossing at Pawnee and Minneapolis; south on Minneapolis to Glen Oaks; east to Minnesota; south on Minnesota to Wassal; cross I-135 via the pedestrian bridge; pick up the new extension of the Gypsum Creek path at Wassal; east on that path to George Washington; then south along GW to McConnell.

**During the summer, at least, both "daily" and "commute" are misnomers: I teach only on Monday and Wednesday mornings, but I will otherwise be out and about on my bike. Just so you know. So, what follows are Things Observed during yesterday's ride.

**I lost count, but yesterday I saw a good half-dozen cyclists along my route; all but two of them appeared to me to be bike-as-transportation types (i.e., panniers, handlebar pouches, etc.). As I've already noted in several posts this spring, my purely anecdotal survey of things is that substantially more people are using bikes to get around the city than was the case at this time last year. This is happening, you'll note, not because all that much has changed in terms of infrastructure but because of external pressures beyond the city's control but to which it eventually will have to respond in the form of accommodating these people's choices--just as, beginning around a century ago, cities, states and the nation gradually responded to mass ownership of automobiles. Far better, in my view, to respond proactively now, while the expense of responding is still relatively modest . . . but if you're reading this, you likely need no persuading as to the truth of this. Still: it's important for those of us who already recognize this to acknowledge--and tell others--that the ground in Wichita is shifting, household by household, in favor of choices that will contribute to making our city a more livable, healthier, safer place.

**The re-paving and re-striping of Mt. Vernon proceeds apace. Work is finished now from Greenway to Broadway, with dedicated bike lanes on both sides of Mt. Vernon up to Market (one block west of Broadway); there, to accommodate a dedicated left-turn lane, the bike lane disappears and in its place appears a "Share the Road" sign. Meanwhile, re-paving (but not re-striping) is done on Mt. Vernon from Broadway to Topeka; in the very near future, then, re-striping and (I assume) new signage will soon appear. I can't tell how much usage the lanes are getting; some gravel has already accumulated in them, and I didn't spot any tire marks through it. Still, that stretch of Mt. Vernon--that running west from Broadway to the river--is the stretch less travelled. As the bike lanes are extended eastward (that is still the plan, right, City of Wichita?), the Mt. Vernon route will become more useful to east-west commuters and, I hope, see more use . . . which, one can hope, will encourage the city to fast-track some of WAMPO's proposals for re-striping other streets to incorporate bike lanes.

As it happens, Tom Sawyer Bicycle Shop is located at the corner of Broadway and Mt. Vernon; on Monday afternoon I plan to stop by on the way home and chat with them to get a sense of how much the new lanes are getting used.

**Back in March, I'd noted signs that the extension of the Gypsum Creek path would have some additional landscaping. That's since become the case: there are substantial plantings of trees in various places, including evergreens in a couple of stretches intended to serve as screens between the path and residential properties. Also, where the path crosses Hillside and intersects with George Washington, there are now water fountains and stands for those waiting to catch buses. Right now, a large pile of dirt being used for landscaping (in the form of terracing) on the east side of Roosevelt is covering the path, but that work should be finished soon.

**On the first day of class, I'd told my students about this blog and said a few words about cycling as being about more than recreation or exercise; among other things, I'd mentioned that depending on how you tally such things, that about 80% of all car trips in this country are of distances less than 2 miles and that most anyone could walk or ride a bike that distance "to pick up a can of pop at the Quik Trip." Well: on Wednesday, one of my students asked if I'd biked to the base and I said I had. He volunteered that he'd taken his bike for a spin on Tuesday--he was going to visit a relative who lives four blocks from him and was about to jump in his car to go there when, he said, he got to thinking about what I'd said about all those short car trips and decided to ride his bike there instead.

Who knows if my student's decision will result in some larger commitment to cycling? The important thing to me, though, is that he considered it and acted on it--he now sees cycling as a possible alternative when, before, the idea hadn't entered his mind. He is one person. But so am I, and so are you who reads this. It took my seeing working-class and street people on bikes to begin giving serious consideration to cycling as transportation. All it takes is enough people seeing enough others cycling on the streets to and from work, school and shopping to encourage them at least to think about cycling as legitimate transportation, period--even if they don't see it as an option for themselves.

**A (very) long-term goal: to get a city ordinance passed forbidding steady wind speeds greater than 20 mph . . .

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