Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coming up for air

Sorry I haven't posted for so long--work and other matters have been and will continue to keep me away at least until next week some time.

The end of this semester cannot come soon enough.

While I'm here, though, I do want to draw attention to Michael James' comment at my previous post. There are rumblings out there--quiet ones, to be sure (we're on bikes, after all), but this spring they are pretty audible.

I'll see y'all soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Be careful. We're out there.

Just a quick acknowledgment that everywhere I go of late, not just in my part of town--which has what I'd guess is the heaviest bike traffic in Wichita--cyclists of varying levels of seriousness are far more numerous on the streets than last year. That's good.

What's not so good, though, is when--as I observed last night--a whole gang (by which I mean a half-dozen at least) of these folks think it's okay to just sort of roll out of the alley by the Society of Decorative Arts building at the intersection of Seneca and McLean without checking for oncoming traffic . . . one of whose number happens to be the author of this blog.

Had I hit one of them--how would that be for some irony? Right up there with semiotician Roland Barthes' crossing a street against the light and being run over by a truck.

This isn't meant to be a Dumb/Ignorant/Careless Cyclist post. It's more in the vein of those "It's the first robin of the spring" posts combined with those "Look out for little kids because school's back in session" PSAs. Well, that, and a "Gee--both McLean and Seneca (at least between Kellogg and the river) could really use dedicated bike lanes" post.

It's great to see all the cyclists out there. Really. But cyclists, let's do what we can to keep some of you around long enough to learn the rules of the road and ride accordingly. And motorists: Patience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunday's Readers' Ride: A Lutheran and a rabbi go for a bike ride . . .

(Note: Later I'll replace this note with a link to a map of the route I and then Moti and I took; check back again in a day or two.)

This past Sunday dawned ominously for anyone looking forward to a pleasant ride: it was chilly, overcast and threatening rain . . . and our constant companion the wind, this time in the guise of a steady 20 mph north wind, was paying a visit. I ran a quick morning errand to the post office and the downtown Intrust bank on my bike, and when I turned up Waco to head back home, let's just say my first thoughts were not informed by Christian charity. That was the slowest 4 blocks, psychologically-speaking, that I think I've ever ridden. Still, within half an hour of getting back home, the clouds began to break up, and actual direct sunlight appeared. So, in my best tough-guy mode, I thought, "It's on."

My route over to the intersection of Kellogg and Armour was one that I had ridden from east to west before, but never west to east: thus, the initial climb up the hill on Mt. Vernon that begins immediately past the intersection with George Washington really took me by surprise with its steepness. Of course, I'd already ridden about 6 miles and, as I noted here, I'm not in the best shape after the long winter layoff. So: combine my weariness from that with heading north into the wind when I picked up the Gypsum Creek path at Woodlawn, and the upshot is that, by the time I reached Kellogg and Armour a few minutes before 2:00, I was glad to sit a spell.

A little after 2, Moti (he of the excellent blogs FedReb and Jewish Simplicity and a long-time good friend of this humble blog) arrived, and we chatted while waiting to see if others would arrive. Moti is the proud owner of his father's '70s-vintage 3-speed Raleigh with, as Moti put it, "all original equipment." He said his dad had bought it, rode it a couple of times, then just put it away in the garage--thus, in terms of miles, his bike is basically brand-new. Moti bikes daily from his home to the office (a distance of a couple of miles) and runs other occasional errands via the bike. We also talked about our respective work and families and "politics" in the very vaguest and wide-ranging of ways (I don't intend anything by that other than the fact that we didn't dwell on any topic in particular), and a bit about variations among Jews' observance of the Sabbath and the work of the Wichita branch of the Jewish Federation (for the benefit of this Gentile).

No one else joined us, and so at 2:20 we set off. Despite Moti's living just a few blocks away from where we were, this was his first trip down the Gypsum Creek path. He seemed to like it. And I have to admit that I liked this about him: When we reached the sewer line construction at the path's intersection with Pawnee that I'd mentioned here, he saw that we could easily get around it and continue on our way. And so we did.

We rode together to where the new extension intersects with I-135, and there Moti turned back for home. Along the way, we talked about other possibilities for rides: I mentioned my recent post soliciting proposals for neighborhood rides, and Moti mentioned the possibility about longer rides outside the city, such as up to Newton. Both these suggestions strike me as muse-worthy, and I hope those reading this who are so inclined will join us in musing on these and/or other possibilities for exploring the city and environs by bike.

Then, the ride home. It must be a function of topography, the distinct impression I have that the winds along the long north-south stretch of the Arkansas River path seem more intense, there below street level by the river bank, than they do at street level. Whatever the case, the winds were so strong (and I a bit weary, after having by that time ridden around 20 miles) that I had to pull over to the side a couple of times to rest a bit. But by the time I got home, I had to say to myself, "Good ride." It was a genuine pleasure to meet and talk with someone who has faithfully read this blog for many months of its still-young existence; and, my weariness was itself confirmation that I needed the exercise. Yes indeed: it was all good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Hobby Economy": Not just for your mama's basement anymore?

Deluded by grandeur, or a worker-bee in the new economy? Image found here.

Via Andrew Sullivan comes what is, in effect, an economic answer to--and justification for(!)--the question, "Why do we blog?": "Hobby Economy," by Rob Horning. You'll want to read the whole post, especially if, like me, you even find yourself wondering what good(s) (in all its senses) blogging on things like, oh, I don't know, riding a bicycle around Wichita contributes to the real-world commonweal. But what follows are some especially pithy passages that ask us to consider re-thinking traditional notions of economies, commodities, the relationship between labor and wages, etc. (Note: The passages are cut-and-pasted from Horning's post; all wording is his. Emphases, however, are mine.):

[T]he internet, as a relatively affordable and powerful means of production available to many noncapitalists, has perhaps started to make possible an alternative to wage legitimation of labor. Tyler Cowen, in a post from a month or so ago, responded to BusinessWeek economist Michael Mandel’s theory that the alleged productivity gains from the IT boom of the past decade and a half were illusory. Cowen writes, “My take is this: there was some productivity growth but much of it fell outside of the usual cash and revenue-generating nexus. Maybe you will live until 83 rather than 81.5 and your pain reliever will work better. In the meantime you will read blogs and gaze upon beautiful people using your Facebook account. Those are gains to consumer surplus, but they don’t prop until the revenue-generating sectors of the economy as one might have expected.” In other words, gains in productivity derived from things like the internet aren’t showing up as more money in our pockets, and they are not showing up as corporate profit, but they do exist in a kind of nascent alternative economy. The “consumer surplus” is being generated outside of capitalist structures, outside of the market, though it is still occurring within a capitalist, consumerist society. It’s being made through activity that has in the past been generally dismissed as hobby behavior—collaborative open-source projects, online content production and archiving, tagging information, sharing and organizing useful data, etc., etc. The internet amasses this effort, consolidates it, distributes the example and rewards of it, and draws more people into contributing.
Weirdly, I feel fortunate to be able to be motivated to do all this work for free. The source of that motivation remains obscure to me, but it’s clearly a product of the (perhaps imaginary) audience the internet appears to marshal for my activity. Getting paid might even discourage me. Right now, I keep writing in part because my motives are obscure. They taunt and provoke me, make me restless and frustrated with procrastinating. If there was a cash payment involved, I’d know exactly why I was doing it, and would feel much better about procrastinating and putting in only the amount of time I thought I was being paid for. I suppose there’s a chance that I like not having a price attached to what I am doing here because it frees me from having to see how little it is really worth. But the more ambiguous rewards, those that the internet as a means of production allows for, seem to be more generative—one must keep trying different things to try to secure them.
Re technological innovations on the Web such as open-source software:
Since no wages are paid to produce them, and they generally don’t cost anything once they are made, they are outside of the market; yet they exist, and innovation is clearly being harvested there. But the use of innovation and productivity to justify income inequality doesn’t hold up—innovation is taking place outside the income-distribution system; the winners in that system are gaming in in some other way—through financial chicanery recently.
If our social production in our spare time on the internet is where we experience the true gains in our life—if that is where we notice marginal improvement, if that is where innovations beneficial to society are being developed more or less spontaneously (see Clay Shirky’s book)—a sensible society would permit us to spend more time doing that stuff. The market and wages don’t direct us to do it, but we do it anyway. Theoretically (and this is getting pretty techno-utopian), we will be able forgo wages (work less) in favor of such social production, since the rewards we get from online participation come cheap. Whether or not employers will be so flexible is another question—traditionally, according to Marx, employers must purchase our labor in blocks of time so as to squeeze surplus value out of us.

An important question is whether this nascent hobby economy now developing alongside the capitalist one has become symbiotic with capitalism—is it helping to perpetuate a system that would otherwise become intolerable without the outlet that it provides, while feeding traditional capitalism with innovations to keep it dynamic?

This last segment is especially intriguing to ponder, in that some descriptions of capitalism-as-system-of-power contend that that which could potentially challenge capital's hegemony becomes co-opted by it so as to render it harmless or, at least, less-threatening. Still, the Internet economy--the exchanging of information and ideas--is clearly the engine driving recent discussions popping up everywhere, it seems, about the need to re-think and, even, re-engineer most if not all of that which has made possible our consumerist economy (most philosophically at Front Porch Republic; pragmatically at any number of the newish urbanism blogs). It is way too early to know how this new economic model will effect real change, but the ubiquity of the 'Nets makes it clear that it will, and profoundly.

UPDATE: Karen of Delano Wichita kindly linked to this post and added both some links in the same vein and some ruminating on existentialist questions pertaining to the Delano District. Local folks--especially those interested in thinking about notions of neighborhood and community that aren't entirely contingent on state action (or lack thereof) or on the usual ways of thinking about economies--should pay a visit over there and, maybe, get inspired.

A tentative idea: Neighborhood Rides

This morning, while thinking that we've run out of major bike-paths to explore on our Readers' Rides (at least till the main connector between the Arkansas River and Gypsum Creek paths gets built) and catching up with Karen's yeo-woman's labor of a blog, Delano Wichita, it occurred to me that an ideal augmentation of the Readers' Rides would be pre-routed rides through the city's neighborhoods. A basic subtext of this blog is that cycling can help foster a sense of neighborhood and community and, really, what better way to see what a neighborhood is really like than by walking or riding through it? I admit to there being two political angles to this, as well: biking through some neighborhoods in town could oh-so-subtly impress upon riders the value of adding sharrows along some streets, if not full-blown bike lanes; and it would drive home the idea that "community" consists of more than retail businesses.

Here's where readers can join in the fun: I'd like to invite readers in the city to propose routes that are pleasant and relatively safe, traffic-wise, through their neighborhoods, map it using a map-making program such as MapMyRide or Veloroutes, and send me the link, either here in comments or via e-mail. Think as well about what neighborhood warts you'd like for us to see--not just the Norman Rockwell stuff. The idea is for us to see a community's strengths and weaknesses so as to begin discussions that could jump-start and foster a stronger sense of identity for that part of town. Anyway, I hope that those who propose these routes will also be willing to serve as our guides along these routes, so also suggest possible dates and times for these rides when you'd be available, and I'll post about them here--as will, I hope, those other bloggers who are neighborhood-inclined.

Neighborhoods such as the Delano, Riverside, and College Hill are obvious candidates for these rides, but here is a map of other possibilities to consider.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Readers' Ride: Some good news

Route: Map My Ride. I wasn't able to save my route on Veloroutes, alas. Weather: cool-ish, but the rain held off.

First of all: There's some storm sewer construction that is entirely blocking the Gypsum Creek path on the south side of Pawnee; thus, our ride on Sunday will be shorter than I'd anticipated. But this isn't the good news.

This morning, no one met me at Linwood Park, so I set out on my own. It was a good ride, though my tiredness at the end was a reminder of just how long it'd been since I last rode for any real distance. But this isn't the good news, either.

It is this: Mt. Vernon from Greenway almost to Broadway now has brand-new dedicated bike lanes on the street. As in, solid lines on the pavement on both sides of the street, bike logos in the lanes, No Parking signs, and even signs telling bikers to ride with the flow of the traffic. They are spiffy, let me tell you, as are the new sidewalks (the old ones had been difficult in places even to walk on). Also, there are some marked bike lanes just north of Pawnee on Minneapolis and Swan, intended to help ease passage from the Canal path over to the new sidewalk crossing at Pawnee and Minneapolis. These are only on one side, though, and this morning they were filled with standing water from last night's rain, so they didn't elicit quite the same glee from me as I passed that way. Ah, well.

As I've mentioned before, Mt. Vernon is in the process of having storm sewers installed; the stretch with the bike lanes is the completed part of that work, and the preliminary re-paving of the two blocks or so up to Broadway has been done. The sidewalks still have yet to be done. Meanwhile, on the east side of Broadway the construction in the street has begun. So, it indeed appears that the work there is following the recommendation listed in WAMPO's Priority Missing Links list (see #13).

Anyway. A sincere thank-you to the City of Wichita for providing these lanes. I'm very much looking forward to seeing more of them.

I left a little early this morning to get a look at the new Midtown Bike Path, which as you know was just opened. It's very very nice, though it makes some odd hooks here and there as it approaches some streets. But on the whole it is very functional. And, it's already been put to some pretty intense use: one straightaway has numerous very long skid marks from bike tires.

Then it was off to Linwood Park, where I waited for others to arrive; I finally left around 9:20. The ride down to Pawnee and then through the quiet neighborhood to the pedestrian bridge that crosses I-135 at Wassall was very pleasant. It's a minor complaint to note that the bridge is the weak link in the connections between the Gypsum Creek's western terminus and the Canal path's southern one--crossing over by walking the bike just took a couple of minutes. Since I last rode the new stretch, the city has seeded and covered the dirt along the the path. I met no other riders and, strangely, I didn't see any dogs out; but I did meet something I hadn't counted on: small swarms of insects flying just about head-high. A couple flew into my eye at different times, making steering a bit tricky. A pair of goggles might not be a bad idea to wear along that way.

After riding to George Washington, down to Oliver, then along the turnpike up to the construction at Pawnee, I turned back and, when I reached the Geo. Washington-Oliver intersection, I noted the time: I was curious to see how long it would take to get from, more or less, McConnell to my place. The short answer: about an hour--about the same time it takes to go the way I had been going. Following the paths adds about a mile to the trip--from 10 to 11 miles--but that's more than compensated for by being a safer route that cuts out a net four traffic lights and the hard-for-me climb of the overpass over I-135. Bike-to-Work Week should be a good time to try it out under actual commute conditions.

I'm looking forward to meeting some of you tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 on the south side of Kellogg at Armour.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April Readers' Ride

It's spring! Finally! Time, therefore, to resume our approximately-once-monthly Readers' Rides this weekend. We'll explore most of the Gypsum Creek path, with a deviation from the path at George Washington to include the just-opened stretch I posted on a while back.

Saturday, April 18th, 9:00 a.m.: Meet at the south end of Linwood Park (the intersection of Mt. Vernon and Kansas). We'll follow the Canal Path south to Pawnee, continue south along Minneapolis and Minnesota to the pedestrian bridge over I-135, cross over to Wassall to pick up the head of the new path, then ride along it and the Gypsum Creek path up to where it intersects Kellogg (at Armour).

Sunday, April 19, 2:00 p.m.: Meet on the south side of Kellogg at Armour and ride the same route in the opposite direction.

As always, this is a friendly, meet-and-greet recreational ride; our only goals are to meet like-minded people, explore one of the city's bike paths, and have some fun. So, please feel welcome to bring family and friends. I hope to see some of you there on Saturday and/or Sunday.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Midtown Bike Path ribbon-cutting

From Randy of the Coasters Bike Club comes this post (complete with KAKE video) about Wednesday's Midtown Bike Path ribbon-cutting. It looks like a decent crowd was there--good to see. It was also gratifying to hear Sharon Fearey's observation in the video that this path fulfills the very real need of giving kids in the near-downtown area a safe path to walk or bike on to get either to the schools the paths pass or to Riverside Park. In other words: bike infrastructure has benefits beyond the obvious that are as valuable (if not more so) than the obvious.

Thanks for sending me the link, Randy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Here and there

I didn't have a chance to do this yesterday . . .

I wish to extend congratulations to Lavonta Williams (District 1), Jim Skelton (District 3) and Janet Miller (District 6), who won their respective City Council races this past Tuesday. As readers know, Williams and Miller were kind enough to take time to send me their thoughts on cycling infrastructure (Williams' is here; Miller's is here. Given all sorts of political and economic realities, some imposed on us from without, some not, Wichita finds itself at what I would argue is a crucial crossroads regarding the funding of infrastructure. Cyclists have an opportunity to play a significant role in the setting of priorities. We will be in that mix, just because of the nature of those realities. But just how we are part of that discussion will be in large measure up to how much we speak up about what projects would better serve the needs of cyclists who see cycling as more than recreation. This blog will do what it can, but--let's be frank--blogospheric triumphalism is a delusion under which some bloggers labor. Those interested in these discussions will need to do more than read this blog.

Speaking of voting with our feet (as it were): did anyone get to attend yesterday's ribbon-cutting for the Midtown Bike Path? Leave a note (or links, if you've posted something) in the comments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New bike-path opening ceremony

Via a commenter comes news from the Coasters Bicycle Club that on Wednesday the 8th at 6:00 p.m. there will be a ribbon-cutting to mark the opening of the Midtown Bike Path. The festivities will be at Otis Park, NW Corner of 13th and Market. I will be in class at that time, alas, but I hope some of you can make it there to show your approval of this newest addition to Wichita's cycling infrastructure.

I noted the announcement of this path back in October (you'll find a map of the route there), and a few weeks ago I rode the path for its then-completed length of Central to 11th. I'll just repeat here what I said in October: this is nice to see (and, I might add, in a part of town where numerous near-downtown people who don't fit the usual image of Bike-Commuters use their bikes for just that purpose). That said, a genuine need, for purposes of overall connectivity between/among the major paths already existing, remains a couple of east-west routes that intersect those routes and run into the urban core. As I noted earlier this morning, right this moment we have a perfect forum for voicing our support for this need: a period for public comment on the spending of federal money set aside for transportation. Make it to Otis Park Wednesday if you can and wave at/shake hands with the public officials there if you can; but don't forget to e-mail some folks about ARRA projects, too.

ARRA Project Public comment

Via Jane Byrnes ("janebb AT sbcglobal DOT net"), the Bicycle and Pedestrian Representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Plan Project Advisory Committee (MTP-PAC), comes WAMPO's list of projects identified to receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (that's "Stimulus Package") money. Appendix E is where the list actually appears. WAMPO is receiving public comment on the list until 8:00am Monday, April 13, 2009; you can e-mail your comments to Brenton Holper at "bholper AT wichita DOT gov"

As far as cyclists and alt-transportation are concerned, there's not much there: a combination bike path/sidewalk along Andover Rd.; bike racks placed at various places along bus routes to encourage bus usage by cyclists, and the transit department's purchase of three hybrid vehicles. Most of the rest consists of resurfacing projects, though a stretch of Maize Road will be widened to 5 lanes.

I admit to not knowing just how firm this list is--the now-familiar term "shovel-ready" seems to be a defining criterion--but I made note to Jane and will cc to Mr. Holper the fact that according to WAMPO's "Priority Missing Links", the already-listed projects of re-striping Douglas from Webb to the Canal Route and restriping Waterman from the Canal Route to the river so as to create dedicated bike lanes (paint-ready projects?) would cost an estimated $81,000 total. Given both the cheap cost and the enormous value these east-west routes would add to the existing system's connectivity, maybe enough people writing Mr. Holper could sway his panel to do some reshuffling of funds.

Just a word about Jane--and thanks to the anonymous commenter who gave me her name: as a result of our brief exchange of e-mails, she strikes me as being a strong advocate of cycling and pedestrian interests. She herself is a member of the Sierra Club and a health and fitness advocate; she has a brother who is a bike-commuter; she is concerned about increased sprawl into farmland and the (so far) car-first infrastructure that comes along. She describes herself to me as "carefully assertive": a nice phrase. It'd be good to let her know that we have her back. Squeaky bike-wheels get the funding grease.

Further comment: It seems indicative to me of the default assumption about cyclists and how best to serve them (the subject of this recent post) that a) there's only one "shovel-ready" project involving cycling infrastructure; and b) it's a combination bike path/sidewalk that is c) located in the far suburbs (AND, again, runs north-south)--this, when the WAMPO Priority List contains a total of 3 re-striping projects that would create bike-lanes on east-west streets that are, apparently, not deemed shovel-ready. Granted, re-striping doesn't put many folks to work, nor does it do so for very long--the other purposes of ARRA projects--and no one argues that already existing streets don't need repairing. But still: only one bike-infrastructure project is ready to go? Really? This lack is obviously not WAMPO's fault: they've done their work.

More planning--that is, some actual engineering--please. Especially given the fact that, sooner or later, transportation, energy, liveable-city and sustainability will become issues that cities and states will have to address, let's see some signs that in Wichita, cycling-infrastructure and mass transit and alternate transportation projects are something more than afterthoughts.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Road class 1

Over at Carbon Trace, Andrew has posted a podcast (13 minutes) in which he interviews two instructors of the Road Class 1 session, sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. Some of the commentary is Springfield MO-specific, but I could tell, just from having listened, that I would benefit from taking such a class. Moreover, it's perversely comforting to learn that . . . how to put this delicately . . . examples of bad riding habits are to be found everywhere.

Anyway--I hope you'll give a listen, if you have the time. Alternately, if you've gone through one of these courses yourself, I hope you'll share your experiences in the comments.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Bubbafication of Bike Culture

Via Austin on Two Wheels, who needs bike lanes and dedicated paths when you can scrounge up an 8x8, a 2x6, and two tall-boys?:

Lavonta Williams' position on bicycle-advocacy issues

What follows is the statement just sent me by Lavonta Williams, candidate for the District 1 seat on the Wichita City Council, the elections for which are this Tuesday, April 7:
John, I am sorry it took so long to respond - but I am very interested in increasing the opportunities of bike paths within our Wichita community. All of us should be intersted - no matter which district because I for one want to make the connections across the city. I sit on a Health & Wellness Coalition and we are looking at the possibilities of Wichita being involved in Complete Streets. It looks as if there might be 2 more paths created soon if funding becomes available. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
As noted earlier, the appearance of this letter here should not be construed as an endorsement of this candidate.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Changing "default assumptions" about cycling: The case for the need to do so

Two recent news stories, one from Oregon and one from yesterday's Eagle, are worth addressing, especially as, to my mind, they serve as a fairly accessible entrance into something more existential I've been giving some thought to of late regarding my sense of the status of cycling culture in Kansas--or, at least, in Wichita.

The Oregon story comes by way of U.S. News and World Report and is rather provocatively titled, "Do Bicyclists Deserve to be Taxed?" It concerns a proposal before the Oregon state legislature to require cyclists "to pay $54 every two years for a bike registration - the same price as a car's registration." The argument in favor of the proposal is pretty straightforward: cyclists use the roads, just like motorists; therefore, they should contribute monies toward their upkeep. The arguments in opposition are varied but equally straightforward: a bike's wear and tear on the roads is minuscule in comparison to that of a car; many cyclists own cars as well and so would be asked to in effect pay double into the system; would cyclists be assessed this same fee per bike?; etc. As you might imagine, in bike-friendly Oregon this proposal is getting a fair amount of discussion. As you'll see in the article, some make an argument that I find a bit surprising: that cycling contributes so positively to the welfare of both cyclists and those who choose to drive--and therefore should be encouraged--that they fear the tax could persuade some to stop commuting via bike and discourage others from taking it up. Others, though, counter that the tax will go toward the maintaining of cycling infrastructure (in Oregon, that's not a small investment, either) which, it stands to reason, cyclists should be willing to fund.

I'd just push that last statement a little harder: while one can quibble with proposed amount for the tax (it strikes me as a bit high, especially if it's the same amount at which a car is taxed) or method of assessment (maybe there could be small surcharges for bike purchases and on certain ordinary but necessary maintenance-related items, such as tires, tools, etc.), the state should feel no reluctance to ask cyclists to be asked to help maintain the infrastructure which makes their cycling safer. Though bike infrastructure is relatively cheap, it's not free; having it is a privilege and not a right. Speaking for myself, this blog's implicit assumption is not to presume that the city and other governments owe cyclists anything in the way of infrastructure. Sure: I keep harping on wanting to see one or two genuine, right-through-the-middle-of Wichita, east-to-west bike paths or dedicated bike-lanes, that request isn't exactly on the Founding Fathers' list of self-evident truths. Or, at least it's not on the Kansas version of that list.

That brings me to the Eagle article, "Bob Aldrich says Janet Miller's mailer could mislead voters." The chief issue in the piece is whether Aldrich, in not permitting public comment at a meeting of a planning commission subcommittee, was in violation of citizens' right to petition if not in violation of committee rules. However, the commenter forwarded me the link because in the piece Aldrich addresses Miller's mailer's noting of Aldrich's not approving a proposal to link the northern terminus of the K-96 Bike Path with the north end of the I-135 Canal Path. Aldrich "opposed the bike paths because he felt the money would be better spent on the city's crumbling roads." The commenter also speculates that because of that oppostion, Aldrich hadn't responded to the e-mail I sent him and Miller, in which I asked them to state their thinking on cycling's place in Wichita's transportation scheme.

Perhaps the commenter is right that Aldrich is reluctant to state such views here, but I would be disappointed if that were the case. It's obvious that this blog favors more and improved cycling infrastructure for the city, but neither cyclists nor motorists would argue with Aldrich's position that the city's streets are in a bad way and urgently need attention. His argument is not only perfectly legitimate, it's also pretty compelling--especially during a time when revenue for infrastructure will be reduced for some time to come. If by any chance you or someone on your campaign committee is reading this, Mr. Aldrich, I sincerely ask that you consider speaking to this issue via this forum. I promise that the full and unedited text of your response will appear on this page. I'm not at all hostile to reasoned, reasonable discourse and debate--the John Brown picture notwithstanding.

And here's the crux of the matter for cyclists in Wichita: if the right to free-to-cyclists bike infrastructure isn't a self-evident one in Oregon, of all places, it's considerably less self-evident here. This seems borne out by, if nothing else, the fact that, of the 6 people running for city council in next Tuesday's election, I have received responses from two of them. I hasten to add that I don't resent their not having responded--they have campaigns to run, after all; it's not as though I'm a potential donor or someone who commands a great deal of political clout (the Underserved Cyclist demographic is still pretty small in this town, you've got to admit). It does seem to suggest, though, that when candidates speak of their vision for the city, bicycle infrastructure is on the periphery, as it were. This means that our task here is a rather different one--and, frankly, a more a priori one--and thus a very difficult one: to begin to shift the default setting for thinking about cycling from where it presently sits in the minds of many policy-makers and politicians (not to mention many citizens--cyclists as well as motorists). Here's how I put the matter the other day in an e-mail to Randy of Kansas Cyclist:
If the default setting for assumptions about cycling in this state--or in Wichita, for that matter [. . . ]--remains "middle-class white people tooling around on Saturdays by the river" and "Spandex-wearing racers in the Flint Hills," we're not going to see much money for even something as simple as sharrows, much less true bike-lanes or "complete-streets" projects.
So: projects may get proposed but don't get funding because, well, the powers that be don't see any evident need for them--"Look at all those bike paths not getting used during the week!" (That's because many of the paths don't actually go where many people work.) In the meantime, people who'd like to bike-commute stay off the streets, and then when the issue of bike lanes gets raised again, there's still no apparent need for them because there's (still) no one cycling on the streets. In the collective mind's eye, cyclists remain recreationists first, almost to the exclusion of any other conception. It all becomes a vicious circle/self-fulfilling prophecy (take your pick).

I'm interested in exploring some ideas on how to begin breaking out of that cycle that incorporate both national trends and things I and others have observed here in Wichita. As I have said many times before here, it's difficult to imagine a city better suited to a thoughtfully-planned on-street cycling infrastructure, in terms of topography and present size, than Wichita is. (The wind is another matter entirely, of course, but . . . oh, well.) The problem is that the right people (and the right number of people) aren't seeing this potential, in large measure for the reasons I mentioned above. This is something I'll be returning to as my schedule permits, both here and at the KTOC Bike and Pedestrian forum (which you should also join); in the meantime, though, I encourage you to give this thought as well and post your responses at your own places--and be sure to leave links here in comments or e-mail them to me

You going to argue with this man?

"You will ride with us!"

Click image to enlarge. Photoshopping courtesy of the Mrs.

I in no way want to distract from Neil's effort over at Bike Wichita--do be sure to let him know that you'll be participating--but I got to thinking of Kansas-specific images that could be used to promote Bike-to-Work Week, and a little musing (along with my wife's skill) led to this. Hope you like it. If you do, credit where credit's due and all that.

Anyway--it was either John Brown or, uh . . .

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bike-to-Work Week in Wichita

"Recycle," a free-to-download image from Start-Thinking.

I confess to wanting to post a little something about Bike-to-Work Week, an event sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists to encourage and promote awareness of bicycle-commuting, to be held May 11-15, but just hadn't gotten to it. But today, via both Randy of Kansas Cyclist and prolific commenter Anonymous, I learned about a new blog, Bike Wichita, which appears to have been around for about a week and which, at the moment, is geared toward encouraging individuals and businesses to participate in and support Bike-to-Work Week. Neil has also provided links to other sites and posted other material intended to motivate and/or inspire.

Bike Wichita sees to be a project of a green-minded advertising and promotion firm here in town, Start-Thinking. Here's another of their images intended to encourage the viewer to think a little more greenly: As it happens, Bike-to-Work Week is also my school's finals week, which means that my schedule will permit me to participate: a first for me this spring. I hope some of you will head over to Bike Wichita, get inspired, do a little advance thinking about a bike-route to your workplace--highly recommended--and then saddle up on May 11-15.


Thanks to following some links suggested by that most-prolific of commenters in the blogosphere, Anonymous, this morning I learned for the first time of the Kansas Transportation Online Community, a service of KDOT. KTOC has been up since January of this year (here is the press release); as you'll see, its intention is to bring together anyone and everyone, whether or not you're a Kansas resident, with an interest in transportation issues. Even ordinary mortals can join it, and--despite the fairly lengthy sign-up process--I want to encourage you to at least go have a look.

The Bike and Pedestrian section of the forum is in need of some conversation: before I posted something there this morning, the most recent post had been back in January. However, if the combination of increased traffic here at this blog and the more-numerous bike-commuters in my neighborhood that I've been seeing of late mean anything, it's that there's growing interest in discussions of securing a more prominent place for cycling-as-legitimate-transportation in discussions and planning for infrastructure. Maybe we collectively can begin to shape things in that direction.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

More catching up . . .

The poster-art for Art of the Bicycle, to be held this year on July 31. Image found here.

Some links of possible interest, some cycling-related, some not:

Cycling in Wichita has now joined the Streetsblog network of blogs. Streetsblog is part of the Livable Streets Initiative, a grassroots movement comprised of bloggers interested in urban transportation and infrastructure issues. I think what joining means practically for this blog is that they'll link to the occasional post here. So, like, cool.

Sunday's Eagle had a nice story by Denise Neil on Wichita's one-man local-blog aggregator (and very good friend of this blog and my other blog), Bobby Rozzell of Douglas and Main. Go and read, and note the passing reference to a blog kept by "a passionate cyclist." Given my long hiatus, I confess to cringing a bit when i read that . . .

That same article also makes reference to "a pack of opinionated Delano residents." The leader of that particular pack would be Karen of Delano Wichita: the place to go for news about the Delano and discussions of Delano-specific issues. The big news from her blog is that she and others have plans to begin a Farmers' Market in the neighborhood with a tentative opening date of the first Tuesday in June. If you're in the area and would like to express your interest in participating as a vendor or a shopper, visit Delano Wichita and/or write Jill Houtz at "jill DOT houtz AT gmail DOT com"

Here are two great new-to-me resources for loftier discussions of urbanism and community. Via Cordelia over at The Phenomenal Field comes Where's "Introducing Urbanism: Top Books for Curious Novices". The titles are accompanied by paragraph-length assessments of their respective merits. Meanwhile, via my friend and local blogger Russell Arben Fox of In Medias Res comes news of Front Porch Republic, a group blog where really, really smart people (Russell among them) write out of the common assumption that "scale, place, self-government, sustainability, limits, and variety are key terms with which any fruitful debate about our corporate future must contend." A good place to start, and certainly a set of ideas this blog has come to take as givens.

Over at Carbon Trace, Andrew interviews two Springfield, Missouri, bicycle patrolmen. Pictures and Fun Facts, including--who knew?--the fact that Cannondale builds a bike they sell exclusively to police departments. They like their gig:
“Officers on bicycles, from a public perception angle, are far more approachable than an officer in a car,” [Carl] Schwartze says. The public even approaches bicycle patrolmen more readily than officers on foot. There’s something about a bicycle that makes them seem all warm and fuzzy, I guess.

Unless you’re a criminal, that is. Their attitude shifts in an interesting direction.

“There’s nothing more fun than a foot pursuit on a bicycle,” Schwartze says, grinning broadly.

Finally, just a quick note to thank you for reading. I was gratified to see visits here jump dramatically when I resumed posting--indeed, and curiously, the jump actually occurred the day before I started up again. But all that has less to do with me than it does with the fact that this town's cycling community has grown just in the brief span of time this blog has existed. The vast majority of visitors here come from either Douglas & Main (thanks again, Bobby) or Google searches for, well, blogs about cycling in Wichita. This little blog, haphazard and inadequate, is where they land. Here's hoping that it'll become more worthy of their visits here.

Catching up on e-mail; a future Readers' Ride

During my time away from the blogosphere, I fell waaaay behind not just on reading blogs but, even, e-mail. So, this being Lent and all, I want to send out a mea culpa to my regular e-mailer Mark who, unbeknownst to me, had written me on the 27th about his adventures on the new stretch of the Gypsum Creek path even as I was writing my own post about it. To read the e-mail and my post together, you'd think I was cribbing from his letter without acknowledging it: he even mentions the trickiness of negotiating the pedestrian bridge, just as I had done in my post. Had I read his e-mail in a timely fashion, I would have said something to that effect in my post.

Some time ago, my bloggy friend Moti, he of the excellent blogs Jewish Simplicity and Fed Reb, teased me that, being Jewish, he wouldn't know about that nagging sense of guilt arising from Original Sin. And, you know, lucky him. Still, while I'm not exactly wearing hair-shirts and hiding bloody scourges over here, some things need saying, you know? So: apologies all around for being a negligent correspondent and visitor to your various places. I promise to amend my blogospheric life.

Okay: enough atonement. I'm Lutheran, not Catholic.

While reading Mark's e-mail, I found myself thinking, Hey! Didn't Spring officially arrive two weeks ago?? Six inches of snow can blur memories of the daffodils and day lilies I had seen blooming only the week before. So, Spring. That means that a young (and, in my case, middle-aged) cyclist will turn to thoughts of . . . our first Readers' Rides of the year. Let's tentatively schedule them for the Saturday and Sunday after Easter (April 18 and 19). By then, we should be able to leave the sled dogs at home. Later, I'll post the particulars of times and places to meet, but it seems appropriate to me that our route be the Gypsum Creek path, including the new stretch. For new readers: last year we had these get-togethers approximately once a month during seasonable weather. The goals of the Readers' Rides are simple: 1) Visit and ride a bike path; 2) Meet and enjoy the company of like-minded folks--especially important in a town like Wichita, where the cycling community isn't exactly omnipresent (yet). Feel welcome to bring along spouses, family, Significant Others, and friends: this won't be a race but a relaxing rec-ride. Those who have done these in the past have told me they've enjoyed themselves, and I certainly can say the same.

As I said, I'll announce more particulars soon as I work them out. In the meantime, I hope you'll plan for those dates with the Readers' Ride in mind.