Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some comments on the WAMPO MTP 2035 list

As I posted last week, WAMPO has arrived at a final list of transportation projects eligible for federal funds from 2010-2035. Here is that list (bike/pedestrian projects lead it off); and here is a map showing the locations of the projects.

First, a quick reminder of what WAMPO does, because that will have a bearing on some of the comments that follow. The Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is comprised of municipality and county officials, as well as other groups of various sorts who are interested in/affected by transportation and its infrastructure. WAMPO looks at proposals for transportation projects from Sedgwick County and the municipalities therein, plus Andover, and through a combination of consultations of federal funding priorities and guidelines, public meetings in the area and surveys of citizens, it determines which of those projects a) are eligible for federal funds and b) have broad-based support for their funding. (If you're truly obsessed about this sort of thing, you won't want to miss these long posts on WAMPO meetings back in January, here and here.)

NB: Just because projects made the final list does not guarantee that they will be built. Municipalities and the county will build these, or not, based on interest the public shows in them. The NW By-pass, for example, has appeared in several of these project lists but has yet to be built. WAMPO's next public meeting will be Monday, June 28 (here is the agenda); the official acceptance of the project list will be in July; what lies ahead now will be WAMPO's functioning in an advisory capacity from here until 2035 and, in a few years, beginning work on the new master plan for the area.

So. What do we have in the MTP 2035? Well: from the standpoint of cycling/walking infrastructure a mixed bag to be sure, but one that is beginning to reflect a positive shift in prioritizing bike/ped facilities. Some of that shift is due to the change of administration in Washington, but some is due to local attitudinal shifts among the public and in several municipalities in the area. Also, as I've noted in a couple of older posts on WAMPO, it officially is a neutral arbitrator regarding a project's eligibility for funds, but because it also compiles the various lists of projects from which the final one is drawn up, it too can determine, in a passive-aggressive way, those projects that would have greater value in reducing traffic (and thus pollution). As just one example, in the middle stage of the selection process for these projects, there were four lists prioritizing a different traffic consideration, such as bridge repair, reducing congestion, etc. Each of those four lists contained all the eligible bike/ped projects and funding to allow Wichita Transit to expand bus service in the area. Also, a little reading between the lines of this overview document--in particular p. 4, which addresses land use and environmental issues--suggests (to me, anyway), that WAMPO would like to see municipalities address the issue of sprawl. Thoughtful land use, such as high-density, mixed-use development, makes for easier decision-making when it comes to transportation infrastructure. In short, in this MTP are some quiet but clear suggestions to the Powers That Be regarding future planning.

All that said, one could still wish that more (and/or other) bike/ped projects had been proposed besides the ones here. The primary objective with the bike/ped projects is to create some connectivity among already-existing paths to make them more useful as genuine travel routes for cyclists. Thus, on the list there's the path that will connect the southern terminus of the Arkansas River path with the Gypsum Creek path's Planeview Park terminus, and the path that will run from McAdams Park (the north end of the Canal path) to Grove Park (the north end of the K-96 path). Both these paths should encourage bike-commuting from outlying areas on the east side of town into the downtown area. There's also the conversion of the abandoned railroad right-of-way from the 8th/9th street and I-135 exit to 17th and Oliver, a much-needed in-town east-west route which should also encourage bike-commuting into the urban core. These are all important projects, and we should be glad that they are there. But, once again, the west side of Wichita (by which I mean everything west of downtown) will see no bike/ped projects; nor is there one east-west route that is anything like the length of the Canal path and the Ark River path. The first omission remains a mystery to me; the second would easily (and cheaply) be remedied by a simple re-striping of a street like Douglas. Re-striping, though, is not yet eligible for federal funding, as I found out at a WAMPO meeting back in January. That sort of thing is for the city to decide--and for us to encourage the city to decide it. Something else to keep an eye on: a total of almost $10.4 million not earmarked for any one project but to be used for bike/ped projects over the course of the 25 years covered by this MTP. That kind of money can build lots of bike paths . . . or, if Complete Streets legislation passes Congress, re-design and/or re-stripe a lot of streets.

I should note that in addition to the stand-alone bike/ped projects, several of the road and bridge projects also incorporate bike/ped-friendly improvements. These will be mostly unsexy things like new sidewalks and pedestrian crossings at intersections. Still, anything that can contribute to lowering our disproportionate share of Kansas' bike/ped fatalities is more than welcome. It's also very gratifying to see funds for expansion of Wichita Transit into a grid-route system with commuter routes to outlying towns.

So, in short, MTP 2035 doesn't do everything we should want to see a diversified transportation plan do; on the other hand, though, if we squint at it in the right way, it serves as a template for where we should want to go. But infrastructure is in its essence reactive rather than proactive: it goes where the people are and reflects their priorities regarding land use and their preferred means of getting around. The government entities WAMPO serves are the ones who can be--who should be--proactive.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Alternate transportation makes good financial sense, too

Bundle's map showing the gasoline and maintenance expenditures for the largest U.S. metro areas. Click to enlarge.

Via Andrew Sullivan this morning comes an article in Bundle titled "Our car addiction," which notes and tries to account for state-to-state variations in household spending on gasoline and maintenance. The specifics of the data are new, but the larger conclusions we can draw from them will be familiar to anyone likely to be visiting a cycling blog. Still, there's nothing wrong with a little reinforcement.

Some excerpts:
The average American spends 72 minutes per day in transit. Most of that time, we're driving: to and from work, school, the grocery store, the movie theater. Every year, that's more than 290 hours of drive-time radio, talking back to the GPS and wondering why, for the millionth time, people think it's okay to drive 60 in the left lane. It's a lot of time.

It's also a lot of money. The average household spent $5,477 on gas and auto expenses last year, according to Bundle data, an amount which accounts for about 14.5 percent of daily spending. [This data does not include spending on food and rent/mortgage.] That's more than we spend on groceries or utilities, and more than we spend on travel, entertainment, clothes and shoes, and hobbies — combined.


The good news is, how you get to work — and with whom — is something we can control, much more than we can control the price of gas, the traffic, the weather, or even the length of our commute. For most people, there's very little that's truly "discretionary" about gas and car maintenance. But this — adding a passenger to your commute or hitting the park-and-ride — is a much easier, cheaper change than, say, buying a more fuel efficient car, or moving closer to work.

This isn't an environmental argument. (That's for a different site.) It's a financial one — and one that makes intuitive sense. Most people use their cars primarily for commuting; if you can split those costs with another person, you can spend half as much. That could add up to several hundred dollars of savings a year. To which I say, "Going my way?"
What else to say? As the penultimate paragraph makes clear, the stereotypical single-driver commute all the way from home to work and back again is a financial luxury that, with a little thought, we can cut back on here and there and, in so doing, save some money and, maybe, improve our quality of life in the bargain. The elegance of such an argument is that it cuts across obvious political and philosophical divides and appeals to our financial self-interests. It just so happens that acting on one's self-interest, in this fairly rare instance, also indirectly benefits one's fellow citizens--even those who don't change their driving habits.

Here in Wichita, home of one of the shortest average commute times in the country, it's historically been hard to encourage people to consider these arguments. However, as gas prices slowly increase, as bus service is expanded to serve the nearby outlying communities and bike paths are built that makes the current system more practical for bike-commuters, driving less becomes an easier choice to make for more of us.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Not-so-fun fact from the WAMPO MTP 2035 project list report

I'm out of town this weekend and will have more on the WAMPO report next week, but here's something to contemplate in the meantime:

According to the section in the draft on bicycles and pedestrians, the area under WAMPO's administration has 15% of Kansas' population but accounts for 25% of bike and pedestrian fatalities in the state.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Family Bike Day!

[Now corrected to reflect the correct date.]

Here's an indication of just how "away" I have been from this blog:

I found out only today via the Wichita Bicycle Collective about last week's first annual Mayor's Family Bike Day. I hope it went well.

I am very very happy to learn that events like this are being scheduled. This gathering, along with such events as I Bike Douglas and other organized rides last month in recognition of National Bike Month, an emerging group of people interested in promoting riding, support on the City Council for cycling and pedestrians, and policy decisions in Washington that will give higher priority in funding to alternate and public transportation, cannot but help Wichita become a little more bike-friendly . . . and healthier, and greener, and safer.

A couple of links

Let's just ease back into this, shall we?

WAMPO is seeking public comment on its draft of the the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) 2035 through June 18. Go here to have a look and offer your opinions; I'll have a post here soon that will comment on what's there.

The Kansas Online Transportation Community (KTOC) now has a blog dedicated to bike/ped issues in Kansas called Active transportation. Becky Pepper, KDOT's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, is its author. It's brand-new; its first post is a reminder about the importance of wearing a helmet when cycling. In the accompanying e-mail, it's billed as being devoted to "all things related to bicycle and pedestrian transportation in Kansas and beyond." "All things" is a lot of territory; my hope is that it really will include discussions of infrastructure and long-term planning at the state level for cyclists and pedestrians. Even if this is a token gesture on the part of the state, well, I can't think of any truly transformative movement that didn't include token gestures at the governmental level.

My colleague Paula has started a blog called Love Local Food in Wichita, Kansas, whose title kinda gives away its subject. Paula provides tips and leads not just on sources for food grown locally (to those who write her, she'll e-mail a list of local-food folks) but, even, advice on potential, unexpected wild foods (her current post is a brief reminder about the potential pleasures and real risks of wild mushrooms). Even better: Paula is a formally-trained dietitian, and her husband Chris is a trained chef.

Both her knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject are palpable in her posts. If your interests lie in her direction, I hope you'll head on over there.

EDIT: I've just learned that we now have a cycle-chic blog, ICT Cycle Chic, written by Matthew. As those of you who have followed this blog know--those of you still around, that is--the Cycle Chic movement is something I've enthusiastically promoted for some time now, up to and including some wondering-out-loud posts about a Cycle Chic movement here. Well. It's here--or its blog is, at least.

Yes--it's my intention to get this thing going again. I have some catching up to do re this blog's subject, so a more substantive post is still forthcoming. But I'm happy to be able to say that here for the first time in a long time and not have it feel like a false promise.

See you soon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Checking in; Bike Fort Worth

Apologies for not having posted in a while. School has gotten busy for me and will be for a few days more yet.

In the meantime, though, have a look, if you haven't already, at Bike Fort Worth, the (truly) comprehensive bike plan the city passed this past week. As you'll see, the city is not investing only in infrastructure but also in cyclist and motorist education, too. Here's an excerpt from Fort Worthology's overview of it:
Bike Fort Worth is a radical shift in transportation planning here in Fort Worth. Our current bike transportation network is a paltry 100 miles, most of which is off-street recreational trails and the rest being a handful of sharrow routes and a scant 6.4 miles of dedicated bike lanes. Bike Fort Worth will massively increase our bike network to nearly 1,000 miles - 224.7 miles of off-street trails, with the majority of the network shifting to on-street: 1.4 miles of bus & bike-only lanes in downtown, 218.3 miles of sharrow routes, and a huge 480.3 miles of dedicated bike lanes. The plan also calls for radical increases in the amount and quality of bike parking, minimum bike parking requirements in zoning, establishment of bike commuter facilities at transit hubs to tie into our bus, commuter rail, and planned modern streetcar systems, education programs for cyclists and drivers, new traffic ordinances to (among other things) require drivers to yield to bikes and to give at least 3 feet of clearance when passing, establishment of a city bike fleet for city staff use instead of cars in the urban core, establishment of bike counts, and much more. The plan calls for innovative solutions like Bicycle Boulevards, bike boxes, contra-flow lanes, physically separated cycle tracks, colored bike lanes, bike-only traffic signals, and more. The plan aims to triple or more bike commuting in Fort Worth by 2020, double or more the amount of all bike trips, reduce crashes by at least ten percent, and attain a Bicycle Friendly rating from the League of American Bicyclists (Austin is currently the only city in Texas with such a designation).
All this is estimated to cost around $158 million over the next ten years. It's clear to me, though, that Fort Worth has gone all in on this bike-friendly thing; it'll be more than a little interesting to see how other cities in the region respond to this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Northern Flyer Alliance in the news

This morning on KMUW, there's a nice interview with Deborah Fischer Stout and Evan Stair of the Northern Flyer Alliance about recent developments in the Alliance's efforts to bring passenger rail service to Wichita and south central Kansas. Each speaks in particular about pending legislation in the Kansas legislature that will put up funding for upgrading already-existing rail lines that, once approved, could lead to passenger service here as soon as three years from now.

Go and listen.

Wichita's not-so-visible cyclists--beginning the conversation

[UPDATE: Welcome to folks visiting here from Biking in L.A. I hope you'll not be too disappointed that you found your way here.]

This picture is from a neighborhood in Queens, New York, but such a scene is not at all uncommon north of downtown in Wichita, either. Image found here.

One of the hardest jobs cycle-advocacy people have ahead of them in most places, but especially in a city like Wichita, is to re-frame the case for on-street, in-town cycling infrastructure so that can be seen as filling a genuine need. That need, moreover, is best described as "economic," and in exactly the same sense that many road projects are described as filling economic needs: shorter/safer travel times. That re-framing needs to happen not just for non-cyclists, who tend to think of cycling primarily in recreational terms, but also for themselves, for whom cycling is a choice and not a necessity that circumstance has forced on them.

Streetsblog recently had an article that serves as a good place to begin that re-framing. The writer, Sarah Goodyear, uses a post from the North Carolina blog Honking in Traffic as its starting point; the following passage comes from that blog:
The Latino immigrant bike commuting out of necessity is a rare sight out on the country roads. But it’s not so rare in cities and towns across this country. According to the Alliance for Biking & Walking report [which I made reference to yesterday], while Hispanics now make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 22 percent of total bike trips. If this data is accurate, then that population is overrepresented among bicyclists, while perhaps underrepresented in the popular media image of who bicyclists are[.]
I don't claim any special righteousness on this matter; it is true, though, that the daily sight of working-class and street people on bicycles in the neighborhoods immediately north of downtown was what initially moved me to consider cycling as a regular mode of transportation. It's for these folks' reasons as well that I've applauded the Midtown Bike Path as providing the very practical services of a safe route to school for kids in the neighborhood and a safe, off-street commute route into the urban core.

But more can and should be done along these lines. With regard to NOMAR and the revitalization of 21st Street, for example, unless I've just not seen it, I've seen nothing in those plans that accommodates cyclists, and nothing that serves further to link that part of town with the urban core (the midtown path, after all, is over on the northwest side of downtown). Yet, doing so, via a couple of well-chosen re-striping projects running north-south, would be a practical--and inexpensive--no-brainer. The current bike projects emphasize connectivity between already-existing bike infrastructure, and those are of course important. But equally--more, I would claim--important is the providing of space for safe, on-street cycling in those parts of town where people ride not for fun but out of need and where riding on poorly-maintained sidewalks is hazardous. I hope to encourage a dialogue among those who may be reading this who live north of downtown and those of us not part of this underserved neighborhood, that together we can re-frame cycling's image to include its serving a practical economic need for a large number of fellow citizens.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted Councilman Paul Gray's dismissive attitude toward the needs of cyclists--in particular, his statement that he didn't know anyone who biked to work. I said by way of response that "there are lots of people you don't know--and many of them would ride bikes to work if the city would spend a few tens of thousands of dollars and re-stripe a few streets." I'd like to amend that statement a bit: There are lots of people who already do bike to work--and, if you'd literally just look out your office window or the doors of City Hall, you'd see them. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you should meet some of them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Should we negotiate with the automobile? Or would that be appeasement?

Via the weekly WAMPO update comes a link to a recent study that I had seen a couple of weeks ago and had wanted to link to and then, as I am wont to do, forgot about it. Now that it's appeared again, I'd like to link to it and make a connection between it and the recent story in the Eagle that I mentioned in Sunday's post.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has just completed a benchmarking report (the Quick Facts Sheet is here) that shows that, nationwide, 9.6% of all trips in this country are made either on foot or by bike (those numbers are of course higher in urban areas), yet transportation funding for bike/ped infrastructure accounts for only 1.2% of federal funding--and it may just be that that funding disparity partly explains why cyclists and pedestrians account for 13.1% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. The fact that WAMPO sees fit to forward this along is, I think, further confirmation that it sees such things as important and seeks to encourage the area's municipalities to give some thought to these issues.

Randal O'Toole's recent visit to town and critique of Wichita's apparent direction in favor of making downtown more walkable is worth taking another look at, especially his comment that (quoting from the article here) "'pedestrian-friendly' development — a cornerstone of Wichita's downtown effort, usually means car-hostile." This of course begs a question: That there is something to be gained in keeping downtown "pedestrian-hostile," some greater good that is worth continued occasional-yet-increasing cyclist and pedestrian deaths, seeing as the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians increased by 42% between 2000 and 2007 and will only continue to increase--whether or not cities and states plan accordingly for those increases.

O'Toole frames the issue in adversarial terms: cars vs. pedestrians and cyclists; the latter two, being the weaker entities, must perforce surrender space to the stronger. It's as though, in fact, that in such a framing autos are assumed to be feral creatures to be accommodated at all costs by us weaker mortals and so, if we appease them by providing them (and then stay out of) nice, wide lanes and plenty of (preferably free or at least cheap) Sudetenland-like parking lots, we will have peace in our time with them.

My analogy is, of course, absurd (I hope no one takes offense at it); but too often it is indeed true that it is the existence of cars, over and above what is better or at least preferable for making a place more livable, that has shaped the cities we live in--and, of course, our decisions about infrastructure priorities. That Mr. O'Toole apparently feels we are compelled to lie prostrate before the automobile and its needs would seem to me a surrender of liberty that, as I said in yesterday's post, I'd think he'd want to resist mightily as the good libertarian that (I assume) he is.

To frame this discussion in Us vs. Them terms is not helpful, in other words. With careful, thoughtful planning, we can easily create urban cores whose streets can accommodate both cars and people afoot and on bikes and whose land-use laws can lead to less need for cars (and lest anyone misunderstand me, not needing a car is not the same thing as being hostile toward them). Those who read the comments section for the Eagle article will find what follows familiar, for a couple of folks there already pointed this out: Complete Streets designs result in streets that can bear the same or greater amount of car traffic as conventional streets and, at the same time, apportion space for cyclists buses and pedestrians--all the while making those streets safer for everyone. The Douglas Design District sees the wisdom in executing a Complete Streets design on one of the very busiest streets in the city, as I noted last month.

Such a reasonable accommodation makes the street, again, a truly public space, and a safer one as well. If this is appeasement, then sign me up.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Local blog round-up (Super Sunday edition)

An antique bike in New Orleans' French Quarter. Image found here.

In the spirit of Super Sunday, here at the top of this week's Local Blog Round-up you'll find some links to some prominent New Orleans cycling blogs. But Colts fans shouldn't despair; at the bottom of this post you'll find an equal number of Indianapolis cycling blogs.

N'awlins blogs: NolaCycle Bike Map Project, What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today [UPDATE, Feb.8: have a look at What I Saw's chronicling of "mass high fivery" in the Quarter after the game], On the Rivet with Randy.

Hmm: "Local" and "blog" in the title are a bit troublesome, as they were last week. Ah, well. Things do happen elsewhere than the area cycling blogosphere that seem, to your correspondent, to be of interest or in some way pertain to that which we're about here at this site. So, like, Deal. And for my part, I'll come up with some permanent title for this feature that is more inclusive.

Friday's Eagle had this story about a talk given here in town by Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute. According to the article, O'Toole's talk wasn't especially Wichita-centric; it was more of a general critique of recent tendencies in urban design to create a more walkable urban core, as well as the usual methods of encouraging businesses to build downtown and the financing of such projects. Cato's reputation as a libertarian think tank precedes it, so O'Toole's observations should have come as no surprise to his audience. Personally, I'm puzzled by O'Toole's implicit support of a car-centric infrastructure; that infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain and so requires lots of (taxpayer) money, not to mention government regulation: two things that good Libertarians would resist. I'd think that the bicycle would be an excellent choice for Official Vehicle of the Libertarian Party. But I do admit I was glad to see this bit in the article:
O'Toole encountered some pushback from members of the audience who said there are a lot of Wichitans who want more walkways and bike paths.

"I don't think it's a fad like you're saying," said resident Janice Bradley.
Even better is the give-and-take in the comments section. Those supportive of a more walkable downtown acquit themselves quite well there; they respond to O'Toole's defenders there with actual, well, arguments in favor of walkability.

Keep in mind that at a certain level, the comments are worth only what they are worth. Who knows, really, the extent to which the ideals of bike-friendliness, walkability, and all the rest are becoming more prominent ideas here in town. The fact remains, though, that people are making arguments on their behalf in public fora, and that is very much to the good.

I don't think Kansas City has a Cycle Chic blog yet, but via Kansas Cyclist comes an announcement of something that not even all Cycle Chic cities can claim: a Tweed Ride, to be held on April 3rd at Loose Park. As Randy notes, Tweed Rides are popping up in lots of places with fairly well-established cycling communities; the idea is to evoke something of the elegance of cycling from a century before and have a good time while doing so (and I also think I detect a humorous hitching onto of the Steampunk movement). The KC riders' organizers are pretty self-aware (pay very close attention to the prize categories, for example), but their larger purpose is, I think, the same as that of promoters of Cycle Chic and, thus, a serious one: Not only do you not need to be an athlete to ride a bike, you don't need to dress like one, either.

On to the blogs, now:

Two bloggers went out in last weekend's snow and brought back pics. Over at Adventure Monkey, Eric went for a Sunday ride in the snow. Here's what he saw. Meanwhile, Robert of River City Cyclist went out with a friend along the Arkansas River path and later posted these pictures.

From Bike Topeka come two items of interest. First is another very nice write-up, this one in the Washburn Review, about Topeka's new Community Cycle Project. The other is that Topeka is participating in a pilot project, sponsored by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, called the Capital City Wellness Project; part of that project is called the Bikes for Wellness Program. Cyclists who have a program sticker on their helmets can show this sticker at participating businesses and receive discounts for their goods. I would think that something like this would be easy and inexpensive to implement here in Wichita--and not necessarily through government agencies, either . . .

Speaking of bicycle collectives, Wichita's own version of that enterprise extends an invitation to Riders of Rohan's two-year anniversary celebration on February 26th.

And--as promised . . .

A scene from Indianapolis's burgeoning bike culture. Image found here.

Indy bike blogs are very hard to come by--surprising, given the national reputation of The Indy Cog. I gathered via my bumping around that Indy cycling culture is about as nascent as Wichita's is. Having said that, though, if folks from Indy happen to find their way here and know of some good cycling blogs, by all means be sure to let me know in comments. Urban Indy is not, strictly speaking, a bike blog, but one interested in livability issues; meanwhile, there's Indy Bikehiker, the blog of a self-described "theological jackalope" (a Wesleyan-oriented advocate of peace-and-justice issues) who also happens to be an avid cyclist.

That's all for this week. Enjoy the game!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Daily Commute IV: Things thought and observed

A deer at Chisholm Creek Park. Image found here.

Friday was head-out-to-Andover day. A quick look at the forecast (20% chance for snow; high in the mid-'30s), a quick decision ("I'll risk that"), and I set off.

I'll dispense with all the I'm-woefully-out-of-shape stuff first. The results of my hiatus from regular cycling over most of the summer and into the fall and winter really showed yesterday, especially on the return trip: even if I hadn't stopped to talk to the Mrs. via cellphone, it would have taken over two hours for me to get back home. By the time I made it downtown, I decided I was just too tired to risk riding in the street on 8th or Murdock or whatever it is (which is what I usually do), so I rode on the sidewalk till I reached Waco. My legs felt such that I was afraid they would feel terrible this morning. But, amazingly, they don't. There's weariness today, but not soreness. So, I know the next trip will be easier.

Now, on to the happier Cycling-in-Wichita talk. I know the route I've chosen is not the most direct, but I like it: it's scenic for much of the way, and because almost all of it consists of dedicated bike paths, I'm able to travel a bit faster than I'd be able to on the street. Also, once the connecting path from MacAdams Park (the present north end of the Canal Path) to Grove Park (where the K-96 path begins) gets built, that will cut at least a mile (not to mention some pretty rough pavement on 17th St.) off this route.

The way out: Though it was overcast, it wasn't too cold, and there was no wind. I didn't know how passable the paths would be, whether the previous night's rain would take care of most of the snow; and I admit to being a little worried about the condition of the path under I-135 as well. As it turned out, though, the Canal Path was completely clear and almost completely dry--just a little mud in a couple of places. It also appeared, at least on that part of the path that passes through Chisholm Creek Park, that the city had cleared the snow off the path some time before. Elsewhere, there was some slush and standing water to contend with, but nothing bad. There was actually more snow along Rock Road at the bike/ped crossing than there was anywhere else. I saw a couple of people out on bikes; they seemed to be rec-riders, though. (Since I didn't have to be in Andover until 10 that morning, I missed whatever commuting "traffic" there is on the north and east sides of town.)

Without any question, the most pleasant part of the ride was through the park. Some birds were foraging for seeds, and I startled a couple of deer who saw fit to run right in front of me (I saw either another one or one of these two on the way back as well). I'm already looking forward to riding through there in the spring.

The east side of the K-96 path, as those who have ridden it know, crosses the abandoned railroad right-of-way that runs along 17th St. As I mentioned a while back, one of the WAMPO-approved projects is a conversion of this same right-of-way, but only from I-135 to Oliver. It was hard not to gaze westward down the easement and think how much more connectivity the bike-path network would gain by extending the path at least to K-96, or even (a boy can dream, can't he?) on in to Andover. Alas, it may be the case that there are disputes over just who has clear title to the right-of way along that stretch; and it's my understanding that the council member through whose district the right-of-way runs opposes such a project in any case. I of course wish neither were the case; if any of you reading this happens to feel the same way, especially if you live in that district, I hope you'll let that be known.

Those of you who live on the east side of town know that 13th St. has recently been widened and, as part of that work, now has for most of its length one of those soon-to-be-ubiquitous 10-foot-wide multi-use paths. What can I say?--it's a concrete sidewalk. But it's in good shape, and the people who live nearby seem to use it. Compare/contrast, though, with the, ahem, "work" done to some sidewalks at the corner of Piatt and 21st St. (which I passed by on the way home--I changed my route home a bit) to patch up after some underground utility work had been done: Just a mound of asphalt, with no effort made to level it out, to replace the sidewalk that had to be removed and that, a few good rains from now, will crumble away. To assume that this sort of thing is okay to do because it's in a part of town where people aren't likely to complain about half-assed work (sorry, more polite language won't do) like this is beyond cynical.

I reached Andover and went to Butler's facility on 13th St., a couple blocks east of Andover Road, where I tutor on Fridays. While I was there, I had a nice conversation about my ride over with a colleague who lives not too far from me. She said she's been giving some thought to riding out to Andover as well when her schedule permits; she has to get her bike in shape first, though. So: maybe another commuter.

A quick word about Butler's bike-friendliness: It's lacking. Its buildings don't have dedicated bike racks (I locked mine up on a railing by some stairs), but I know students ride there occasionally, so a rack would be nice to have. Butler will soon be launching a wellness program, but we don't yet know the details of that. I am hopeful that cycling will somehow figure into it; if it did, bike racks might make an appearance as a result. Also, one of Andover's WAMPO projects will be the building of, you guessed it, a multi-use path that will run along Andover Rd. from 13th to 21st street--right where Butler's other two Andover buildings are, along with a middle school and a high school. There's a lot of pedestrian traffic through there, so the sidewalks are much needed.

The way back: By the time I left Andover at about 1:30, the north wind was beginning to blow a bit and, when I reached K-96, some sort of precipitation started to fall--not snow, but at least some of it was freezing, I think. That let up around the time I got off the Canal path to turn west for home. But the only misery I felt was just from being so tired.

The upshot: All told, it was (still) a good ride. I know this because I'm looking forward to next week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

WAMPO updates

Via WAMPO's Valerie Robinson come these reminders of this month's meetings:
On Monday, February 9, 2010, at 1:00 PM, the Metropolitan Transportation Plan Project Advisory Committee (MTP-PAC) will be meeting in the Large Conference Room on the 10th floor of Wichita City Hall. At 3:00 on that same day, the Transportation Policy Body (TPB) will meet in the same room. The stated agenda for MTP-PAC is as follows: "[M]embers will continue development of a final project list for the MTP. They will also discuss project cost and revenue inflation assumptions as related to the project list." (The WAMPO-obsessed among you will remember that I posted that the first part of that agenda began last week.) As for the TPB, there's no agenda description, but that meeting is also open to the public.

On Thursday, February 18, 2010, from 4:00-6:00 PM, the MTP will hold an open house at the WATER Center, 101 E. Pawnee Street. If you would like to be part of the selection process for these transportation projects but have so far not participated in the WAMPO survey and/or have wanted to but not weighed in on these meetings, attending on the 18th will be crucial: On the 22nd, MTP-PAC will be determining the final project list, and that will be formally presented to the TPB on March 9.

I'll be in attendance at both next Tuesday's meeting and the open house, and I'll have posts on those events here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Local blog round-up (snow day edition)

This year's route map for Biking Across Kansas. Image found here.

No trip to Andover today, as Butler cancelled classes for the day. So, my faithful dog Scruffy and I stayed inside most of the day, watching it snow, listening to music, and reading blogs. And what did you do with your time today?

The blog links are forthcoming. First, though, a reminder and some "ringer" entries: a couple of things that aren't local or in the immediate area but are indeed worth knowing about.

The reminder: Sunday the 31st is the last day to participate in the survey for the Wichita Initiative to Renew the Environment, which I posted on and linked to here.

I learned just a couple of days ago by accident (through a link to this humble blog) of the existence of Bike Topeka, a fairly new blog that appears to be very much a part of a burgeoning cycling community there. Topeka has of late become a hive of activity regarding cycling and livability issues. Most local folks know that Topeka's city council passed a Complete Streets ordinance back in November, and in this recent article, the city council overrode (by an 8 to 1 vote) the mayor's veto of a plan to fund the extension of a bike path. Today's post is a reprinting (if that's the right term in the online world) of an article that appeared in the online edition of the Capital-Journal about the just-opened Topeka Community Cycle Project. (We have one of those, too, as some of you know--drop me a line, guys; I'd like to pay a visit.) Anyway, it's good to see these green shoots of bike culture springing up in the state capital.

Meanwhile, from more or less the corner of the state opposite Topeka comes the news via Kansas Cyclist that Garden City's comprehensive plan calls for a complete streets policy. I can only say both that a) I'm happily stunned to learn that Garden City is this forward-thinking; and b) that it's frankly a bit embarrassing that a city of around 20,000 in a remote area of the state is more forward-thinking in its street planning than the state's largest city is. I know, I know: change is coming here, too, and sooner than some might think. But still.

On to the round-up. Not many new posts out there, so apologies for the brevity:

Speaking of the Wichita Bicycle Collective, it's beginning to stir from its winter hibernation: It now has a clean garage and everything. An early spring on the way?

If you haven't found your way to Adventure Monkey yet, you need to. Eric's generous entries (a combination of trip diary, motivation and really fine photographs of Flint Hills landscape and buildings and small towns) are infectous in their joy and enthusiasm. In this post from last Sunday, Eric rides into a strong north wind to Council Grove and brings back some stunning pictures, especially of clouds moving in.

The Coasters Bicycle Club has a quiz up that tests participants' knowledge of Coaster club and Wichita bicycle lore. I failed miserably, but you probably won't--and even if you do, you get the answers and get an education.

Over at River City Cyclist, Robert announces his intention to ride in this year's Biking Across Kansas. He is nervous but excited and even has a "battle plan" to get in shape for the June ride. Wish him well.

That's all for this weekend. There'll be another round-up next weekend

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More good news for the Northern Flyer Alliance

A week ago I posted on the cause of the Northern Flyer Alliance, which seeks to establish regular passenger rail service between Ft. Worth and Kansas City by way of Oklahoma City and Wichita. Today, along with President Obama's trip to Tampa to tout the investment of $8 billion in ARRA funds for high-speed rail, the White House released a list of funded projects. And there on page 3, last but not least, is grant money for further studies in several states, among them Kansas. This isn't rails-on-the-ground news, of course, but it is a vote of confidence in the Alliance's work thus far, a vote that I hope will attract the attention of regional and state bodies who have their hands on purse-strings. But an even better way to attract that attention is if the Alliance can show a broad range of support among people in the region. Be sure to visit the Alliance's website and join, sign and circulate the petition to reclaim Union Station, etc.

Still need more persuasion? Are you thinking this is some wild-eyed liberal idea? Then have a look at this letter from the mayor of Meridian, Mississippi.

UPDATE: More detail in this story in yesterday's Eagle.

Down to the WIRE

I really should read my e-mail more often . . .

Via Janet Miller's District 6 weekly e-mail to citizens in her district (which I received Monday and I'm just now reading (I am a bad citizen)), I learned more about something I'd heard news about on the radio, the Wichita Initiative to Renew the Environment (WIRE), sponsored by the KU School of Medicine and incorporating the involvement of numerous citizens' groups around town. WIRE is asking people to do some reading and see some videos addressing various environmental concerns in the area--not just the familiar ones of waste, air and water but also land-use concerns. For each of these, there's a survey which asks participants to prioritize these issues as concerns and their interest in addressing them.

There's some urgency to completing the survey: WIRE wants to have your--yes, your--input on this survey by the end of January so that it can submit its findings to the EPA in March as part of a grant application. On the one hand, this is very short notice, I know. On the other, it's supposed to be damned cold this weekend. So, since you're probably going to be staying inside, filling out an online survey which gauges your concern and interest in local environmental issues strikes me as a decent way to spend a part of your weekend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Daily Commute III: Things thought and observed--and a Thank You

The astute among my readers have no doubt noticed that for a blog called "Cycling in Wichita," there's been precious little posting about cycling here since I began posting again. Now that the new semester has begun and my bike is up and running, I should be able to post more regularly about things I see while I'm out and about. Yesterday I rode out for the first time this semester, about which more later.

A couple of words about my commutes this spring. Yes: it's plural. I teach at McConnell four days a week, but my schedule is such that only Tuesdays, for now, work well for me to ride there on my bicycle. I may add Mondays to the list after spring break (one of my afternoon classes will end then), but we'll have to see. I'll also need to change the route map I've linked to in the right gutter: It's the same up to where Mt. Vernon crosses I-135; from there, I now take the Canal path south to Pawnee, get on Minneapolis south to Wassal, then take the footbridge across I-135 to make use of the new-ish path that runs past Joyland and then Gypsum Creek to George Washington. It's longer than the old route but takes about the same amount of time because I don't have nearly as much traffic to contend with. On Fridays I tutor in Andover, and beginning this semester (though not this Friday because the weather is supposed to be bad) I'll try out this route. I know it's not at all direct, but 13th in town is heavily trafficked in the mornings; besides, I'm in no hurry. I'll let you know how it goes.

Even though it was in the upper 20s or low 30s yesterday morning, I rode to work wearing cargo shorts, a lined windbreaker over a t-shirt, and gloves; aside from my ears getting cold, I was quite comfortable: It was sunny and there was no wind to speak of. I know, though, that such an outfit won't work on days when it's cold and the wind is blowing or it's raining. I saw a couple of other riders who looked like they were commuting to work, but judging from the gravel in the bike lanes over on Mt. Vernon, I imagine that winter weather reduces our numbers. Some drivers on the stretch of Mt. Vernon between Southeast and Broadway, on my afternoon commute, seemed a bit impatient with me as they passed (the street is pretty narrow there, and it was rush hour as well), but no one honked or cursed me or tried to injure me.

One nice addition since last summer: at the intersections of Mt. Vernon with Main and Water (each of those streets is one way in that part of town), there are now three-way stops at those intersections (Mt. Vernon traffic used to have preference there). The stops have the effect of slowing traffic a little more, thus benefiting cyclists in the lanes.

Just a quick visit for a moment to the Wichita front in the tensions between cyclists riding on streets and motorists: I spoke with two colleages yesterday at some length about my riding into work. Neither rides a bike to work (though one of them, in her college days thirty years ago, regularly rode from Wichita to El Dorado), but each is supportive of increasing cycling infrastructure on streets and to the rights of cyclists to be on the street in the absence of bike lanes. But, neither can abide cyclists who behave as though traffic laws don't apply to them but who, in the same breath, ask that motorists respect them. My colleagues, I repeat, are not opposed to seeing us on the street. They welcome us, in fact; they understand that, times becoming what they are becoming, having more cyclists on the road is a good thing. What they do not welcome is scofflaw behavior on the street.

Rather than wade into debates about Idaho Stops and such this morning, I just want to complicate the discussion a bit by suggesting that it's a mistake to turn the dynamic into a simple Us vs. Them debate. That leads to polarization, and we see how well that's working in Congress these days: after a while, no one is really listening to each other. Speaking frankly, cyclists' justifying running red lights by arguing things like cars are bigger than us sounds whiny, even if it is true. Semis are bigger than Mini Coopers; should that give Minis the right to, oh, drive underneath the trailer if they so desire? Cyclists are on much firmer ground when they assert that under the law, when they are on the street they, too, are operators of vehicles and should be regarded by others as such. But that also should mean that cyclists should behave as though they regard themselves as such, as subject to those same laws.

Some of those motorists out there, they like seeing us out there; we make some of them feel guilty for not being out there themselves. Good. Especially in a town like Wichita, we can't afford to tick those people off.

Enough of that. On to some happier (if self-centered) news. One of my above-mentioned colleagues is involved in the College Hill Neighborhood Association and had, as she put it, a teeny-tiny hand in discussions regarding the Douglas Design District's recent streetscape proposal. As we talked about the plan and its likelihood of being implemented, she told me that in discussions someone used something I had written somewhere in support of its Complete Street design. It of course pleases and gratifies me to know that I contributed to that discussion in some small, positive way. I can't tell, just by looking at hit counters, who is reading and to what good or nefarious uses (or any use at all, for that matter) they put what they find here. This blog doesn't receive a lot of traffic to begin with, and much--perhaps the majority--of the traffic is not from Wichita. It's hard to know, therefore, whether this blog is doing what I intend for it here in the Air Capital (see the banner for a statement of that intention). I have a little evidence now that people are reading and thinking about this stuff. I am glad. And I thank you for reading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Yesterday's WAMPO meeting: Notes, comments, and some musing

A glimpse of Wichita's future? Light rail did come up, sort of, in yesterday's meeting. More about that later. Image found here.

From one point of view, Monday's WAMPO meeting covered little ground beyond a (very) initial discussion of the committee's sense of the various scenarios to determine which projects would be approved for federal funding for this new master plan. From another--mine, at least--yesterday was valuable in that it led me to think about what appear to some basic truths about how transportation planning has been handled in the past in Wichita and how that probably needs to change.

First, something of a housekeeping note regarding the WAMPO survey seeking public input on the projects to be funded for the 2035 master plan: Those of you who took the survey may have noticed on the for the "Transit/Maintenance and Operation Scenario" that (at least so far as I could see) the only description provided was that it entailed the removal of 57 projects from the Initial List. At the meeting, I asked where one could find that list of 57 projects. Kimberly Spielman, the Public Involvement Coordinator, said that the link for the various additions and removels was on the page linked to up above but, as it happened, she had just that morning noticed that the link was well to the bottom of the page and was easy to overlook. She said that after the meeting she would relocate the link so it would be much more visible, and I'm happy to report that that indeed has been done. (Here is that link, by the way.) Again: If you've not visited and taken the survey, please do so. They seem entirely sincere when they tell me they want public input; Ms. Spielman seemed very pleased that I had posted a link to the survey on my blog. And: February 22 appears to be something of a deadline for participation in that survey, as it will be on that date that the committee will examine public input and make a final selection of a scenario.

BUT: before you visit the survey, some things came up in the meeting with regard to the various scenarios that you'll want to know. So: Wade with me a bit into the weeds of WAMPO wonkiness. I promise it will lead, Prufrock-like, to an overwhelming question facing not just WAMPO but all such advisory committees--and, for that matter, the municipalities they serve. So. Let us go and make our visit.

As occurred last week, there was another presentation of the various scenarios that are the subject of the online survey. Yesterday, though, Mitch Coffman and Chris Nazar, who are, respectively, the project manager and consultant (the folks who determine the extent to which how these scenarios and the addition/subtraction of specific projects affect traffic flow) provided more information about the Transit/Maintenance and Operation scenario and its 57 deleted projects. (Full disclosure: This is the scenario I chose--not that you should, of course.) They were deleted because they did not alleviate congestion enough to justify their expense. While that certainly sounds fiscally responsible, Nazar reported that among those deleted projects are several bridge rehabilitation/maintenance projects that, clearly, are important for reasons other than alleviating congestion. (Which would we rather have: slow-moving traffic across a bridge or a collapsed bridge?) So, Nazar said that the committee might want to consider adding at least some of the bridge projects back to the scenario. And, of course, the committee could tweak any of the other scenarios as well if it so chose.

Now: Here's where the overwhelming question arose (for me, at least) that made me strangely happy I had attended. Just after presenting the committee with this new information, it seemed clearly Coffman's and Nazar's desire to lead the committee to express at least an initial preference for one of these scenarios ((snark alert)That's what their PowerPoint slide says the committee needed to do, after all . . . (snark alert off) But, in their defense, they're just doing their job: by mandate, the committee has a deadline to meet for presenting the final list to both the government and the area municipalities who will then pick and choose from the list what projects they'd like to see built.) But Richard Schodorf of Wichita's Transit Advisory Board asked a pretty good question, which I'll sum up as follows: Does the initial list of projects or the various scenarios in fact reflect a coming future reality, or does it instead reflect the assumption that the future will look pretty much like the present, only with more people? Schodorf noted the present, less-than-adequate-but-improving state of bus service in Wichita (though--good news!--there's a projected increased ridership of around half a million for this year) and called attention to those cities in the region either building or considering light rail systems, not because it's the cool thing to do but because they are looking ahead to a future of growing metro areas, pressure on budgets due to the need for increased infrastructure and constrained revenues, higher gas prices, and the need to move people around efficiently. He noted the complete absence of light rail proposals from the initial list of projects and asked, quite passionately, whether that was a mistake.

Two responses to Schodorf emerged in the ensuing discussion, though they merged, to my mind, at the same place. The first response, coming from a member of the committee (I didn't catch her name) who was responsible for selecting the projects on the initial list, said that she and the others involved had a total of around 300 projects submitted by the municipalities in the WAMPO district and had done, to her mind, an excellent job of selecting only those projects that seemed especially valuable (there are around 120 projects on the initial list). The other response, articulated chiefly by Tim Norton, the chair of the committee, was two-fold: 1) That all the scenarios under consideration included a substantial funding increase for Wichita Transit that would permit a grid-route system (rather than the current hub-and-spoke system) and commuter service to outlying communities in the WAMPO district (basically, Sedgwick County plus Andover); the Transit/Operations and Maintenance option, in fact, includes enough money so that people would be able to ride the bus for free. Along with the fact that none of the scenarios calls for removing bike/ped projects from the final list, it's abundantly evident to me that WAMPO is very much in favor of mass transit and alternate transportation 2) Light rail systems need a vibrant urban core to make good financial sense, and Wichita, to be perfectly honest, does not yet have that. Once more people are living and working (not just playing) downtown, then it would make sense. In the meantime, though, WAMPO needed to see some evidence of not just the desire for light rail but also the need for it. (But that is also true, at least for this incarnation of WAMPO, of traditional road projects: the Northwest Bypass (project #366, on p. 9 of the initial project list) pretty much was eliminated from consideration for the final list during yesterday's meeting due to the fact that it does not serve any obvious need that anyone can tell. So, WAMPO will pour concrete, but it won't do so indiscriminately.)

In the back-and-forth between Schodorf and Norton, I learned that some initial research into light rail has been done, and there may yet be included some money for more. This is good to know. But--and this is crucial--WAMPO does not propose projects. The municipalities do that. WAMPO only decides which proposed projects are worthiest of consideration that comply with rules for federal funding and fall under budget; it's still up to the municipalities to decide whether to build those projects. So, WAMPO can at best adopt a passive-aggressive stance with regard to the selection process by deciding to prioritize projects that, for example, won't contribute to sprawl--which I think one can argue it is doing via nixing the Northwest Bypass and its protecting of the bike/ped projects and funding increases for Wichita Transit. But still: it can work only with what the cities in its area propose for consideration. Those of us interested in seeing WAMPO endorse more (and more kinds of) mass/alternate transportation need to encourage our cities' representatives to make decisions regarding land use that make such projects not just nice to have but really, truly practical.

We need a new status quo, in other words. It appears to be on its way. Let's help it along a little.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New WAMPO survey now online

[UPDATE: Just a quick note to remind people that the next WAMPO meeting to discuss the plans that are the subject of this survey is tomorrow (Monday the 25th) at 1:30 on the 10th floor of City Hall.]

As mentioned in my post on last Tuesday's WAMPO meeting, the survey regarding the 2035 master plan is now live. I just finished taking it; you should know that it will require at least ten minutes from you of looking at maps and project lists, in addition to a PowerPoint-style presentation that talks through the different scenarios presented at the meeting on Tuesday.

A few things to keep in mind:
1) The map shows projects that are explicitly bike/pedestrian projects in green; keep in mind, though, that many of the road projects, especially in outlying areas, include the 10-foot-wide multi-use paths. Of interest to Delano District folks: one of the bike/ped projects is the conversion of the abandoned railroad right-of-way that runs from Seneca northwest to Meridian; meanwhile, folks near the old railroad corridor that roughly parallels 17th Street should be happy to see that corridor's conversion to a path from I-135 to Oliver. True, these are presently a few years away; but, for reasons I mentioned in last week's post, external circumstances may very well compel the city to speed up the construction of bike/ped and other public transit projects. I'd also note that, of course, I would much prefer to see more green on the map--in particular, more east-west routes and something/anything west of Sedgwick County Park; but the ones that are there will add connectivity to a bike/path system that, as users know, is sorely lacking it.

2) As near as I can tell, while the various scenarios involve the removal of various larger road projects, all assume expanded bus service to outlying towns (Andover, Derby, etc.), and none involves the removal of bike/ped projects.

3) As one of the slides in the presentation tells you (and as I reported last week), none of the scenarios appreciably reduces congestion or drive-times--doing any one of the scenarios has the same overall value as doing nothing at all. So, the survey in essence asks citizens to express a preference for an overriding priority that future transportation planning and construction should address.
I didn't develop this idea in that last post, but: The WAMPO region is of a size (i.e., not populous enough) that truly massive mass transit projects that would lead to reductions in road traffic, such as light rail systems, don't make financial sense. If a transportation priority for the coming decades is to provide transport options that encourage people to leave their cars at home a little more often, the entities best able to do that right now are the municipalities, via zoning that encourages high-density, mixed-use development and discourages sprawl, and via adding on-street dedicated bike lanes (or even sharrows) on those streets where it makes good transportation sense to do so. We obviouly have some work to do in persuading (some of) our elected representatives to this way of thinking, as Jim notes here, but not only is this a Good Fight, it will become, whether said representatives like it or not, a more and more necessary fight.

So, WAMPO needs to hear from us via this survey; but so also do the municipalities who present their wishlists to WAMPO--and who, in any event, have more power to effect real change in transportation (via not building a single road) that will make their cities more livable.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Local blog round-up (bike repair edition)

Image found here.

It had been my intention, last weekend and this, to ride around to a couple of places to get a sense of the current state of things regarding the overt subject of this blog. Alas. I came to realize last Saturday that a) my rear tire wasn't holding air; and b) my tire pump was broken and so couldn't air up my tire. So, as I type this my bike is up on the rack over at Bicycle X-Change; in return for this link to their place, my bike is getting some new tubes and the basic maintenance stuff, for--wait for it--full price for all of it! Oh, these perks we get in Blog Land!

(Just so no one misunderstands: Of course I didn't tell them I'd be mentioning them here, much less hint around for a discount. If my tires hold air and hold up through the coming year, I'll be more than happy, and Bicycle X-Change will get more of my business and, I hope, some of yours as well.)

Here are some links to what local and area cycling bloggers have had to say in the recent past:

Actually, this first post isn't especially recent (it's from last August), and it isn't from someone who self-identifies as a cycling blogger. But Jim's open letter to the City Council and, in particular, District 4 Representative Paul Gray is worth drawing belated attention to. For Councilman Gray to be dismissive of cycling on the grounds that it isn't a major form of transportation and no one on the council bikes to work is, sadly, a widespread attitude here--one that runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously, one hope I have for this blog is that it can do something about at least complicating that attitude. True: not many people bike on a regular basis here in town, but more people should--and would--if the city were inclined to be more foreward-leaning in providing infrastructure and encouraging development that is conducive to cycling. As for the "no one I know" argument, well, the rebuttal to that is, "Well, there are lots of people you don't know--and many of them would ride bikes to work if the city would spend a few tens of thousands of dollars and re-stripe a few streets."

Okay. Consider the choir preached to. Thank you, Jim, for your post. I don't know how many people read it, but it needs to be re-read. Here's hoping some eyeballs find their way over there.

Over at Adventure Monkey, Eric has two long but worthwhile posts up (with pictures) about a couple of long-distance rides he's just made. But they're more than simple "this is what I saw" posts; Eric has a long-term goal of getting in shape for this year's Dirty Kanza 200, so he writes as well about the psychology of these long rides, especially when confronting fatigue or wind. Their honesty and enthusiasm make for compelling reading, I think. Here, for instance, Eric's great lesson is that physically he can hang with at least some folks more accustomed to riding long distances; and here, he writes compellingly about the power of visualization to get him through a stiff headwind:
Even on the way back riding into the wind, I was pushing harder than I have in a long time. I felt great, mentally and physically. Any negative thought was captured and removed before I let it fester in my mind. It was a dreary morning with a strong headwind, and it felt great to be alive. Part of this was because I was on a bike. Bicycles are magical and have the power to let you experience the world first hand in a way that can only be felt while powering yourself on a bike. When I had made it home and completed my ride, I felt incredible, invincible. My adventure Monkey was curled up in a ball, sucking his thumb, asleep with a full belly.
Good stuff and, in all seriousness, something I'll hang on to the next time I hit that strong headwind those last couple of miles of my commute to McConnell.

Over at Cycling & CX, David does some out-loud planning for National Winter Bike to Work Day (back on January 20) in his role as the faculty sponsor of the Newton H.S. Bike Club. Here's hoping that went well. David's post leads me to throw out a bleg to my reader(s): Do you know of any other school-sponsored cycling clubs in the area? Let me know if you do, either in comments or at "blogmeridian AT sbcglobal DOT net."

At River City Cyclist, Robert posts on the small dirt track at Chapman Park; he includes a satellite photo and some pics on the site itself. It appears to get little use, so those who are so inclined need to head down there and remedy that particular problem.

Randy of the Coasters Bicycle Club notes that the club will be participating in the Delano District's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday, March 13.

That's all for now. The next round-up will be next weekend-ish.

[Update: I've been fiddling around here--I've added a "Search Cycling in Wichita" box, rearranged the links some so that they feel a bit more logical in their sequence, and added some links (in particular some more Cycle Chic blogs) and a Streeetsblog badge as a small thank you to them for having featured a couple of posts of mine on their main page. Some more rearranging to come, perhaps.]

"Objects in the Road"

I know, I know: "Ethics at 6 in the morning??"" Where's my coffee?, you're thinking. Bear with me.

Andy Cline of Carbon Trace has a nice post up on thinking ethically about street traffic that puts things quite elegantly, I think, while at the same time exposing blind spots, as it were, in the thinking of otherwise decent people when it comes to their sharing the road with bicycles. Read the whole thing, of course, but here are some snippets:
I ask [students] to identify with one or more of the various theories of ethics or at least talk about something they found interesting. For many students these are their very first stabs at thinking about ethics on purpose.


Several students agreed with the idea that other human beings are not means to our own ends; they are ends in themselves. And I chimed in that living up to this deontological ethic would argue that, say, we should not treat people on the road (using whatever conveyance) as objects to be gotten around; rather we should treat them as people sharing a public space.

This is where the discussion gets interesting because acting in this way flies in the face of what the culture teaches us driving is and what the automobile — the machine itself — teaches that we should expect. And guess what? A big part of what the culture and the car teach us is that traffic laws are suggestions, enforcement is a hassle unless it’s happening to the other (object) guy, and 40,000 people dead per year is just the price you pay for a transportation system.

How do we change that?
Good ethicist that he is, Andy goes on to answer.

This struck me because, when I mentioned in one of my classes that I'm a cyclist, a student sort of blurted out, "I hate cyclists in the street." I took no offense and she didn't mean it personally--but that's precisely the problem: Her statement reveals indifference (at least, when she's in her car) to drivers other than herself. Yet, it's such a common attitude that I don't have a ready rebuttal to it. I mean, it's hard to rebut indifference. It's hard to get someone to see how indifference is potentially harmful to others.

I think, though, that Andy has provided me (and you, too--if you care, that is) with a means of doing this.

Of course, cyclists often also exhibit that same indifference via they way they regard the traffic (and the laws regulating that traffic), even as they insist on respect from motorists. This post is for those folks, too.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Speaking of downtown grocery stores . . .

This month's issue of the College Hill Commoner has a story on p. 5 titled "Bus Station Bodega," about Ray Sales Co., located at 206 S. Emporia. It's mostly a human-interest story, though it also contains some wistfulness about how the business will change now that the Intrust Arena is a going concern and WDDC is getting revved up. (Ray's has been there almost 40 years; "funky" is a pretty apt description of the place, judging from the article, so something is bound to change.) At any rate, for those of you persuaded of the need for small corner grocery stores' inclusion in mixed-use developments and older parts of town, and for those of you wondering how new downtown development will affect the area's character and its long-time business people, this story is well worth your time, I think.

As for such a store's capacity for community building, how's this for a quote: "'We get all kinds in here,' [Rusty Johnson, one of the workers] says. 'Most are nice. Every once in a while you'll get somebody who's having a bad day or off their meds, but it hasn't happened in a while.'"

Good news for the Northern Flyer Alliance

[Jan. 24th: Those interested in furthering the cause of the Northern Flyer Alliace should read this comment by the Alliance's Board of Directors.]

[Jan. 23rd: Edited to explain to out-of-towners the particulars of Wichita's present passenger rail service (or lack thereof).]

The proposed route for the Northern Flyer. Click image to enlarge. Image found here.

For most people in this country, trains are nostalgic, romantic. For millions and millions of people all over the world, though, trains are a vital means of moving large numbers of people efficiently and safely over long distances. I have some personal experience travelling by train. When I lived in Mexico in the mid-'80s, I made several long-distance trips by train; when time wasn't of the essence (Mexican trains are not as punctual as European ones), that was my preferred way to travel in that country. On all these trips, the trains I rode were crowded with people from every social class--for long distances, the train was cheaper than the bus. As our nation contemplates a coming future when we will be less dependent on oil, passenger rail needs to become a much larger presence in our nation's transportation system. The Obama Administration recognizes this in an admittedly modest way, having included $8 billion for high-speed passenger rail in last year's stimulus package. The recently-proposed high-speed rail system in California alone is estimated to cost $45 billion. While expensive, such systems are still far cheaper than are equivalent infrastructure investments in expanded highway and air travel needed to move the same number of people.

Wichita at present might as well not have passenger rail service. The nearest stop is in Newton, about 20 miles away. That in and of itself isn't terrible--people often drive much farther to get to an airport--but for train travellers south of Wichita, there's at present only the most indirect means of getting here. As my mother (who lives in Austin) and I learned to our dismayed surprise when she was considering taking the train here for a visit a few years back, travellers in Texas wanting to get to Newton have to go by way of Chicago before doubling back and travelling half again the distance they've already travelled. As the map above shows, the addition and upgrade of a few hundred miles of track would cut well over a thousand miles out of that journey; that connectivity should also encourage more people to consider taking the train here in the Plains states as rail travel becomes more direct.

So, very much in keeping with this blog's larger subject of alternate and mass transportation, I wanted to pass along some information about the Northern Flyer Alliance, which seeks to establish regular passenger rail service from Kansas City through Wichita and on to Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. I'd heard through the news last year that the Alliance had formed, but I confess to not having investigated further. However, the Alliance has been participating in WAMPO meetings, and it was through a WAMPO e-mail yesterday and a visit to WAMPO's website that I first visited the Alliance's website.

The Alliance has posted the results of a study conducted by the University of Kansas that determined approximate costs and benefits of regular passenger rail service through south-central Kansas and the midsection of Oklahoma. A summary of the study is here; the summary of the summary is that passenger rail would indeed be a good investment for this region, with a break-even return on investment in the first year of operation and annual revenues generated by business travel and tourism through the region. Here in Wichita, the trains would stop at the old Union Station depot downtown.

Such as this blog can offer, we support these findings and urge that passenger rail become a reality in the area. I suspect there's a strong need and desire for this service; speaking for myself, I'd dearly love one day to meet my mom at the train station--or, for that matter, take the train to Austin to visit her.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The WDDC's Goody Clancy presentation: Some comments

This presetation took place back on the 13th. I wasn't in attendance, but today through the wonders of e-mail I received links to both what was shown to those who were there and a survey of audience responses to what was said.

Here is a link to the presentation made to the audience. It's full of familiar topics--and full of familiar ways of talking about making downtown "livable": the demographics of the city according to ages, sizes of households and incomes; what sort of housing people would like and can afford; what downtown would need to offer in the way of housing, shopping, dining and entertainment (note those latter three items--I'll come back to them later) to attract people to downtown; and, as I mentioned a while back, the theme of making downtown more walkable and bike-able. These are, of course, very good things to see being said, for all the reasons that all of you reading this blog probably know by heart.

Here, meanwhile, is a survey or audience responses to the presentation. I'd like to highlight some of the findings that I think are in some way attention-getting.

In response to the question "What is the most significant challenge for downtown housing, the largest number of people (42% of 131 surveys completed) said, "Building new housing at a price the market can afford." This is good to see. My sense of other cities' attempts to make their downtowns more livable is that housing costs and rents there effectively price people out of the market who would would otherwise be good fits for the urban core. The rent ranges that the research suggests the market will support seemed surprisingly reasonable, in fact. Now: whether builders and other investors will actually want to sell or rent at affordable rates is another matter.

For the question "What is the most significant opportunity for downtown retail?" the largest number of respondents (31%) said, "Satisfy unmet demand in the Wichita region for retail options in walkable settings." Again, good to see, and matches the results of the responses to the question, "What is the most significant opportunity for a more walkable downtown?": The two highest responses were, "Satisfy unmet demand in the Wichita region for living, working and/or shopping options in walkable settings" (36%) and "Make downtown streets more interesting and vibrant" [whatever that means] (35%). And finally, when respondents were asked to select from a list of items the three streetscape improvements that would most effectively improve walkability and transportation options in downtown, "Street amenities" received the highest number of responses (89), but in second and third place were "On-street bicycle lanes/cycle tracks" (55) and "Pedestrian wayfinding" (48).

The respondents, whoever they were, have the right ideas, it seems. I do wonder, though, whether anyone said anything about the need for a few small but full-service grovery stores for the 3,000 or so people the consultants say they think would like to live downtown. Perhaps they would be included in the category "retail"? (I won't go into the vagueness of a lot of the language in the presentation and survey questions.) I'm asking this because, as long-time readers of this blog know, I think that such places contribute significantly to a neighborhood's livability by not just selling food for residents but also providing them with places to meet and come to know each other as they visit there a couple or three times a week (the stores are close enough to walk, so there'd be no need either to drive or make one big trip per week). They contribute to building a sense of place, in other words. To encourage people to live downtown but not provide places to shop for food just turns downtown into another suburb, in terms of traffic patterns: traffic doesn't get reduced; those nice wide sidewalks don't get used as much as they could or should. Shopping, dining and entertainment are all well and good; but if people are genuinely living downtown, as opposed to, basically, just sleeping there, they'll need stuff other than places to amuse themselves. Stuff like, you know, food.

Central Wichita is already underserved by full-service grocery stores; to add yet more people here yet otherwise not plan for something so basic as places to buy food would be a mistake, I think. I'll spare you more ranting about this tonight and instead remind myself (and you) that perhaps the best place to rant further would be at next month's charrette at the Wichita Art Museum, as I noted here.

In addition to the survey, there's an attached article about the presentation that appeared in the Eagle. Curiously, it dwells at considerable length on something that the survey doesn't mention: the glaring need for hotel space downtown. While over 70% of business travelers to Wichita conduct business downtown, that area has only 12% of the town's hotel rooms. Another need, one the survey and the article both address, is the need for more office space downtown that's suitable for the technology that businesses require these days. The upshot of all that is that several large buildings, some of them multi-use, will be recommended in the urban core. Assuming the same people who work in those buildings will also be living in them or within a few blocks of them, then daytime automobile traffic should be much less than it would otherwise be.

As I think about WDDC, I keep going back to something we were told in the WAMPO meeting on Tuesday: That whether all or none of the projects under consideration were built, congestion and drive times would remain the same under any course of action. While I understand that it's a transportation board's job to build transportation stuff, it seems to me that it'd be a wiser course of action for municipalities to reduce the need for future road capacity by adopting policies that positively encourage people not to drive so much. Zoning that encourages high-density, mixed-use development in already-built areas--such as what will be happening downtown--is one of those ways. So is the development and expansion of public transit and alternate transportation. The idea is to provide infrastructure and options to get people to consider changing their behavior, rather than enabling the behavior and at the same time kind of hoping they'll see the light and not engage in the behavior being enabled. WDDC, it seems, is, or wants, to be headed in a positive direction. If they're not, they certainly talk a good game.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Notes and observations from Tuesday's WAMPO meeting

Catch WAMPO MPT 2035 planning fever!! Here is a PSA intended to stir your inner transportation wonk.

Tuesday afternoon's meeting of WAMPO's Metropolitan Transportation Plan Project Advisory Committee (MTP-PAC) was informative and thought-provoking in ways I had not anticipated. There was a fair amount of wonk (which I'll go light on in this post) presented via PowerPoint slides and 3-ring binders that can hold two reams of paper, but I was able to step back and see a larger picture of the future--one that, compared to how things are now, looks pretty good for cyclists, pedestrians and advocates of public transit and, if certain other things come to pass (as they appear they will), will look even better.

First of all, a quick word about how all this works: WAMPO in essence serves as a kind of mediator between, on the one hand, the Federal government and its rules governing the allocation of monies for transportation projects and, on the other, the various municipalities in the immediate Wichita area with their wish lists for projects. WAMPO seeks to prioritize these projects, but it's ultimately up to the communities to build them. Thus, I learned, when I asked during the public comment segment, why there are no on-street bike lanes among the projects despite the fact that bike lanes are dirt cheap compared to the proposed off-street 10-ft.-wide multi-use paths (which cost about $1 million per mile to build): As of now, federal money will fund these streets' construction only if those paths are included. If the Complete Streets Act becomes law, the rules will change. Until that time, the decision to incorporate bike lanes is up to individual cities.

As my friend Jane Byrnes (WAMPO's cycling and pedestrian rep) put it to me, this meeting was all about pouring concrete. It's unfortunate that many of the projects on the initial list (all of which, by the way, are still under consideration) either deal with or will encourage more sprawl. But it's also the case that a lot of that concrete will be poured on behalf of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Moreoever, as I'll explain a little later, it may yet come to pass that for various reasons, there's a good chance that less of that automobile-centric concrete will get poured.

Kimberly Spielman, WAMPO's Public Involvement Coordinator, in addition to being responsible for drawing my (and thus your) attention to the PSA linked to above, made a couple of announcements of interest to most people who've read this far. The first was that the next WAMPO open house will be on Thursday, February 18th at the Water Center (101 E. Pawnee) from 4-6. Citizens can look at the list of proposed projects, ask questions, and offer comments. Despite the rather awkward meeting time, I recommend trying to attend if at all possible. At last summer's open house, I was able to meet other like-minded folks; and if my experience at yesterday's meeting was any indication, the WAMPO folks do indeed note--and appreciate--who shows up and who speaks up. Spielman's second announcement was that WAMPO will soon be posting an online survey that will allow the public to express its preferences for projects on the initial list. When that appears, I'll be sure to point you its way.

The next and longest segment of the meeting was a discussion of five or six travel demand models whose intent is to gauge the efficacy of the implementation of all, some, or none of the projects with regard to decreasing congestion and drive times. Apart from the various proposals for bus routes out to outlying communities, none of the models took into account alternate transportation or variables such as increased gasoline prices, federal mandates to reduce pollution levels, etc. Be sure you notice this: The results of the various models was that there would be no appreciable difference in reductions of congestion and drive times, no matter what projects were or were not done, or even if none of them were done. I'm sure you're thinking exactly what I thought as I sat there: Why do any of the road projects at all, then? Why not, instead, invest in trying to encourage more people to stay off the roads? A partial answer is that some of these projects need to be done for maintenance or safety reasons: bridge repair, the re-engineering of intersections and on- and off-ramps, etc. But by no means do all of the projects fall under that category.

As I alluded to above, other factors may come into play, some sooner than others, that will make less urgent the need to increase road capacity for cars. All that the model creators took into account was expected population growth; other members of the Committee, though, asked them to revisit their models to take into account such things as increased fuel costs and the fact that, with the EPA's new air quality rules, Sedgwick County will be found to be non-compliant and will therefore have to take steps to improve air quality through, chiefly, reducing the number of automobile trips made in the county. In other words: though buses were figured into the models we saw today and showed a modest increase in actual numbers of daily riders even with free fares figured in, it seems all but certain that traditional transportation projects will be de-emphasized, and public transport, ride-sharing programs and (in conjunction with ordinances that encourage high-density development) walking and cycling will, in the coming new decade, play much more prominent roles in the area's transportation future.

As I have noted many times on this site, I believe cycling can play a more vital role in that future through a combination of more on-street bike lanes (especially east-west routes and any routes at all west of Sedgwick County Park) and linkage between existing bike paths. None of the bike/ped projects on the list are located west of the park. Linkage, though, is another matter: The two long-promised projects that will link up paths, the one that will run from McAdams Park to Grove Park to link the Canal and K-96 paths, and the one that will run from Garvey Park to Plainview Park to link the Arkansas River and Gypsum Creek paths, are on the initial list and, several people told me, are all but certain to make the cut (Federal scoring of projects prioritizes bike-infrastructure these days). Also proposed is the conversion of the abandoned railroad right-of-ways between Andover and Wichita. I also chatted after the meeting with Dan Squires, a city engineer with the city of Derby (which, some of you know, has been building a pretty extensive bike-path system), and he mentioned plans for Derby to link its paths not only with some paths proposed to be built south of McConnell (thus, via Oliver and Mac Arthur, there'd be connectivity with the both the Gypsum Creek and Arkansas River paths) but also with Mulvane's paths.

So. Changes are coming to this area's transportation. Some of it will be forced on us, but I sensed no resentment of those facts among MTP-PAC members. Jane Byrnes confirmed that impression, in fact, that WAMPO recognizes the importance of a robust alternate transportation system to this area's future development and health. This may sound as though interested parties need do nothing, but though funding for bike and pedestrian projects is more certain than it is for other projects, it's not certain that all of them will be. That's where public input is needed: the Committee and, later, the various cities need to know which projects are important enough to people that they'll make time in the middle of a work day to speak up on their behalf.

The next meeting is on Monday the 25th at 1:30 on the 10th floor of City Hall. See you there?