Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another sort of Critical Mass?: Some observations regarding last night's Delano Neighborhood Association meeting

Image found here.

Thanks to Karen (she of Delano Wichita--her post on the meeting is here, by the way) and her kind note in a comment, I attended last night's meeting of the Delano Neighborhood Association (DNA), which had as guests two representatives of Wichita's planning commission to discuss progress on Delano's neighborhood revitalization plan (which, by the way, includes a rails-to-trails conversion that will cut an east-west route through about a third of the breadth of the neighborhood)--and surprise (to me) visitor, District 6 council member Janet Miller (An added bonus: a representative of the Wichita Public Library was in attendance, as well, ostensibly to talk about the library's summer reading program but who fielded questions about the new central library building, to be built in Delano). It was a pleasure to meet both Karen and Janet and, even though, as Karen phrased it, I actually live in "Greater Delano" and not in the actual neighborhood, I was made to feel welcome there. I look forward to attending future meetings.

Karen told me that last night's meeting was well attended--she'd done a good job of getting word out: all told, there were about 20 people there.

Some personal impressions later. First, though, a few words on the rail-to-trail project. Here's a summary description:
Convert vacated railroad right-of-way into a linear park with small plazas, water features and activity nodes; thus connecting neighborhood parks and expanded recreation opportunities in the neighborhood and the waterfront.
The route appears on the city's bike-route map as the tan line running about a block north of Douglas from the west bank of the river to two blocks west of Seneca.

As the description makes clear, this project would be very much in the mode of the recently-completed Midtown Bike Path--and will cost about the same amount of money to build ($1.7 million in all). And about that money: According to the handout given to us by the Planning Commission's Dave Barber, the money is currently in the city wish-list, but not until the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As I listened to the discussion, it was clear that everyone who spoke is in favor of getting this project done; indeed, the recurring question was, in essence, Why isn't this thing built already?--and one person mentioned the Midtown Bike Path by way of implying that Delano's wishes for something similar had been passed over in favor of the wishes of another part of town. Barber pointed out that the Midtown path had also been years in the making, from proposal to ribbon-cutting, and the solution to ensuring that the Delano project stays in the funding pipeline is to keep speaking up on its behalf in meetings and in letters to our representatives (Janet Miller and Paul Gray)

(Aside: as a first-time visitor to DNA, I'm afraid to say too much on this matter, but it seems clear that Delano folks don't feel that their wishes for their neighborhood always get acknowledged at City Hall.)

This project, it's clear, matters to Delano folks, not just in and of itself but also because it is the first step in the direction of achieving something larger, also mentioned in the Revitalization Plan:
Create a world-class multi-use neighborhood village, taking strategic advantage of proximity to Exploration Place, the Arkansas River, Downtown, and the Museum District. This will serve as a catalyst for additional fill-in and renovation.
A fuller description is here--scroll down about halfway to find it.

As I understand it, the linear park would run through that part of the Delano envisioned for this space and would itself serve as a catalyst for the development sought there. I will need to pick the brains of those in the DNA who are more knowledgeable about the initial discussions of the Urban Village, but it's clear from the description of the concept that it's very much in line with notions this blog has supported with regard to creating urban spaces that envision people actually living there--and not just in the Delano, either. Surely, there's space elsewhere for such a concept.

Some personal impressions, now, colored by both my usual optimism and by the fact that I'm going on first impressions. Last night felt like an important night for the Delano. On the one hand, there were folks who have lived in the community all their lives and who love it and its potential but who, well, have been at this for a very long time (some of these folks are in their seventies and eighties). The changes they want to see, they know they will not live to see completed--thus for them, to borrow a phrase, the fierce urgency of now: they know how bureaucracies work, that once some money actually gets spent on something it's hard to shut it down until it's completed. On the other hand, it seems equally clear, thanks to folks like Karen stirring the pot, that the chance to get these things started on is stronger than it has been in some time. She told me, in fact, that she'd Twittered so much about the meeting that Cindy Klose got in touch to ask her if the station should send a crew to the meeting. (I told Karen that she should have said, "Yes--there will be people there with hand-painted signs!!") And even better, there are friends of cycling and livable cities on both the council and in the Planning Office: Janet Miller, whom I immediately liked, is every bit as committed to cycling in person as she is in writing, and she passed on to me the word about cycling allies in Planning.

So, like, good, y'know? But, again: my big lesson and reminder from last night is that true governance at its best, especially at the local level, is not top-down but a dialogue among citizens, elected officials, and administrators. It seems clear to me that, in the Delano at least, there's strong interest among residents for something better for their section of the city and strong receptiveness among those city officials who were there. But the twain need to meet--and keep meeting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Community Bike Shops

Some of Austin Yellow Bike's yellow bikes. Image found here.

Yet another reason (as if I needed another) to love Shearwater (and apologies in advance for the new-to-me tone of this post):

It was via a visit to that band's website the other day that I learned of the existence of something called community bike shops. On the 21st Shearwater will be playing a benefit for the Austin Yellow Bike Project, which is presently building itself a new facility. The YBP describes itself thus:
The Austin Yellow Bike Project (YBP) is a community supported ALL-VOLUNTEER 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to providing human-powered transportation for the people of Austin, running a community bike shop, and educating kids and adults. People-power is a way to limit the traffic congestion of a rapidly growing city. It also provides an inexpensive, healthy, and sustainable alternative to the reliance on motor vehicles. Our project promotes cleaner air, land, and water, while encouraging people to meet their transportation needs through an active lifestyle and community participation.
That same page has links to other, similarly-minded community bike shops in this country; of the states bordering Kansas, only Colorado has them.

A look at YBP's Projects page reminded me of something I've been musing about (and have mentioned in passing in various posts) since I started riding last summer. Here on the western edge of downtown, I see lots of working-class and street folks on bicycles obtained by various means, some more legal than others. It was seeing these folks on bikes of every description and condition that first really drove home to me the practicality of bicycles as economical daily transportation and not just a new, cool thing for yuppies to do. But it has also caused me to wonder if there weren't room in Wichita for a bike-rehab-and-donation program for people in need.

Something to muse on a bit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ride of Silence

Image found here.

Via Kansas Cyclist comes a Ride of Silence organized by Oz Bicycle Club. A Ride of Silence commemorates those killed or injured while riding a bicycle during the previous year.

The announcement follows in full:
Event : Ride of Silence *
Date & Time : 05-20-2009 (6:30 PM)
Description :

Ride of Silence

Date: May 20, 2009

Time: 6:30 PM

This ride is sponsored by the OZ Bicycle Club of Wichita.
On May 20, 2008, at 6:30 PM, we will start at the North West Christian Church, 10850 W.21 st.North, just West of 21st and Maize road on the North side of 21st. The names of those injured or killed will be remembered at this time, if you know of someone whose name was not mentioned, please let us know at this time. The ride will start after the reading.
Please park at the Southeast end of the parking lot. (Please watch for children in the parking lot).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday-Morning bicycling music II

Image from Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

"I Love Watching You Ride Your Bicycle," The End of Science. First I've heard of them, too. But a pretty good post-rock song, if you're into that sort of thing. And hey: it's a free and legal download, too.

Band website; page.

Also via Copenhagen Cycle Chic: From somewhere in India, this remarkably-composed picture by Flickr user Meanest Indian:

For lovers of images of a truly bike-friendly place, Copenhagen Cycle Chic is the place to visit--it will make one wistful and/or check travel package costs on Expedia. Very true: Copenhagen is even further away from Wichita in terms of its cycling culture than it is geographically. Looking at that blog, for your correspondent, is somewhat akin to Moses' getting to look at but not actually enter the Promised Land. But he envisions a future for Wichita when at least some sections of the city (parts of downtown, for example?) could kinda sorta look like that faraway place.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bike-to-Work Day!

Well? Did you do it? How was it? I hope you'll leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.

The Eagle had a nice story in today's paper about Bike-to-Work Day (kudos to John Thompson of Start-Thinking for providing the great quotes and for being a bike-commuter himself. The comments are positive, though they also note the lack of on-street infrastructure for cyclists.

Baby steps/little victories, I know. Still, a good sign, all the way around.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A cautionary tale

Need some, um, persuading as to the efficacy of bicyclists' wearing helmets and obeying traffic laws? Here you go.

Some food for thought for the WDDC, the Delano District, etc., etc.

No time to comment on this (I shouldn't even have been reading what I'm about to link to--Finals Week, you know), but via Matthew Yglesias this morning comes this post from the excellent urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington, DC, on results of the steps that city took in the '80s and '90s to revitalize a formerly-moribund part of their urban core.

A couple of paragraphs:
DC created the DD in 1991 to shape the revitalization of DC's downtown. The office center of gravity had moved to K Street and the Golden Triangle, but as that area filled up, developers began looking back at DC's historic downtown. Planners wanted to avoid reproducing the Golden Triangle's monoculture of law firm offices, low level of ground floor retail, inactive sidewalks, numerous garage entrances and repetition of boring boxes. What to do?

The 1981 "A Living Downtown" plan recommended retail on F, G, and 7th Streets; hotels around the Convention Center, Thomas Circle and "Downtown East" near Union Station; residential development in the Penn Quarter and Mount Vernon Square, and offices around Franklin Square and Judiciary Square. In 1991, DC implemented zoning rules requiring residential units and arts or retail in various areas throughout downtown. The zoning also required transparent glass over a majority of the ground floors on certain streets, with entrances no more than 40-50 feet apart and no garage entrances.

To create an incentive for desired development, the DD created a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program. Any residential, arts and retail, or historic preservation exceeding the requirements generated TDR "credits" that developers could sell to projects in various "receiving zones," including parts of downtown, NoMa, the western half of the Golden Triangle, the Southwest Federal Center, and what's now the Capitol Riverfront (ballpark) area. Buying those credits would allow new buildings in those areas to reach the maximum allowable heights, creating an economic incentive for more housing, arts, retail and historic preservation downtown.
The DD was a great success. Counting buildings currently under development, there will be 12,580 residential units, especially in the Penn Quarter and Mount Vernon Triangle, exceeding the goal of 12,410. Museums and theaters comprise 1,218,000 square feet downtown, concentrated around Gallery Place, beating the goal of 900,000. There are 1,600,000 square feet of retail plus another 400,000 in the pipeline. That falls short of the DD's initial 5,600,000 goal, but planners now believe that goal was probably unreasonable. And many historic buildings remain downtown.
Once the dust settles from Finals Week, I plan to come back to this in combination with some comments over at Momentum, the WDDC's blog--where, by the way, more people need to visit and comment.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Critical Mass event this Friday

The cover for Critical Mass: Bicycling's Defiant Celebration. Image found here.

Via an e-mail from District 6 City Council Member Janet Miller comes new-to-me word that, as of May 7th, Wichita now has a Critical Mass group, with a MySpace page (EDIT: and a website) and everything.

Here's their announcement:
Come join us May 15th for a massive street ride through downtown at 5pm - The Donut Whole 1720 E. Douglas! Mood: rockin'
To be very honest, I have mixed emotions about Critical Mass events. On the one hand, raising community awareness about cycling and the benefits that constructing bike-friendly infrastructure is clearly a good, especially in Wichita, where, as I've noted recently, interest in bike-commuting seems to be on the rise this spring. It's also good, even if it's only a coincidence, that the 15th is National Bike-to-Work Day; the two events, assuming decent levels of participation at each, will serve to reinforce each other. On the other hand . . . .

I'll be wrapping up Finals Week on Friday, so I won't be able to attend Critical Mass. I hope it goes well, though and, assuming it does go well and as I receive news of upcoming rides, I'll be happy to announce them here.

Sunday-Morning bicycling music

Image found here.

Bosques de mi mente, "Los titanicos esfuerzos de una bicicleta oxidada por avanzar" ("A Rusty Bicycle's Titanic Efforts to Move Forward").

If you like this, you'll like all of Bosques de mi mente's work (the name, by the way, means "Forests of My Mind"). . . and, even better for you, it's all available for free. You can find it either at his website or at

Something more serious now . . . The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation has just received funding from the city council to support its development of a master plan for the urban core and has a site called Momentum where it is posting info and soliciting input from citizens regarding their vision of downtown. I just wrote them a long-winded letter in which I expressed my desire that they envision their residents as not just sleeping there or being entertained there but as genuinely living there and so should make the area more alt-transportation friendly and see about recruiting a large full-service grocery store or a couple of smaller ones along those same lines. I hope you'll visit their site as well and write them as the spirit moves you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

John Brown says . . .

National Bike-to-Work Week is next week! National Bike-to-Work Day is next Friday, May 15. If what I have observed round about town these past few warmer weeks is any indication, interest in bike-commuting is growing here in town; I'm hoping we'll be visible enough next week that we'll inspire others to consider cycling to work and motorists generally to see cycling as beneficial to them even if they themselves don't give up driving to work.

I encourage the bike-curious to plot a route to work and give it a try for at least a day or two. If you need maps to help with your planning, click on the "Bicycle Wichita" graphic in the right gutter for a .pdf file of bike routes. For inspiration, visit Bike Wichita. And if you happen to see me out on the south side of town on my burnt-orange Fuji, give me a wave that I'll interpret as a more-or-less friendly gesture, and I'll be sure to reciprocate.

Finals Week is next week; more (and more substantive) blogging will resume here after that. In the meantime, read this post by Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (hat-tip: League of American Cyclists) and take heart that cyclists appear to have the ears of several folks in Washington who actually do have their hands on the purse strings.

(Photoshopping by the Mrs.)