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?

Monday, January 18, 2010

New places to visit

Via Kansas Cyclist and River City Cyclist, here are some new-to-me area cycling blogs . . . and a bike-powered delivery service:

Adventure Monkey. Eric is an avid cyclist and photographer in Emporia. His pictures are chiefly landscapes, and most of them are of the Flint Hills and other Kansas-y places.

Cycling and CX. David is in Newton and describes his interests this way: "I teach debate and love cycling. I talk about those things."

Vélocourier Wichita. Serves much of central Wichita during the daylight hours of the business week.
I'll be posting links to these folks in the appropriate places in the right gutter.

Douglas Design District Streetscape Improvement Plan: Some comments

Image found here.

Yesterday, while bumping around the Wichita blogosphere looking for stuff that might be of interest for readers of this blog, I ran across the Douglas Design District's streetscape improvement plan, which was submitted last month. The plan amounts to a re-imagining of three miles of Douglas from Washington east to Glendale (one block east of Oliver), and much of it will look very familiar to those who know that stretch of Douglas that runs from the river to Seneca (the plan even comes with a "Lessons Learned from the Delano District" appendix): a reduced speed limit (from 35 to 30 mph); two-lane traffic each way with landscaped medians from Washington to I-135 and, east to Glendale, one lane of traffic each way with a dedicated left-turn lane; curb bulb-outs that create space for buses to pull over at stops; wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. But the Design District's plan differs in a truly important way: It is a full embracing of the Complete Streets concept, with dedicated bike and bus/parking lanes on both sides of the street.

If and when it's built, Douglas will serve as an effective demonstration of the most counter-intuitive argument in favor of the complete street concept: that reducing the number of lanes dedicated to cars and adding dedicated bike and bus lanes actually increases a street's traffic-bearing capacity and efficiency. The Design District report states again and again that, based on their modeling, eliminating two car lanes and adding the bike and bus lanes will not appreciably slow traffic flow, and the reading I've done elsewhere regarding other cities' experiences confirms this. As genuinely nice as it is to have Mt. Vernon as a smaller-scale Complete Street from the river to Broadway, that stretch (almost exclusively residential) just doesn't have enough traffic to demonstrate the truth of that argument. Given Douglas' literal and figurative centrality in Wichita, the evidence will be if not unavoidable, then at least more evident to more people.

No: I will rarely if ever ride my bike on that stretch of Douglas. But the point of infrastructure is not to benefit the few but the many. Complete Streets don't benefit only cyclists and pedestrians at the expense of motorists; they're designed to make streets safer and more efficient for everyone who uses them. The even greater good, meanwhile, will be that other neighborhoods will see this and begin dreaming dreams for their own major thoroughfares. And you know the rest.

Wichita Cycle Chic?

This picture and the accompanying post sparked a heated discussion of, well, how to write about women on bicycles--on a bike blog in Portland, Oregon, of all places.

The bicycle . . . became an important part of the history of the emancipation of women. The bicycle gave women a freedom of movement that few had known. Even the restrictive clothing of the day--long, flowing dresses that clearly didn't work on a bike--began to wilt before the new device. . . . Susan B. Anthony declared that the bicycle "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." . . . [However,] Marguerite Lindley, a professor of physical culture in New York, warned in 1896 that cycling hindered "feminine symmetry and poise" and was a "disturber of internal organs." --Jeff Mapes, Pedaling Revolution, p. 34

I am asked to volunteer on a committee for a bicycle organization “because we need more women.” The person who invites me says that he had been frantically calling every woman he knows in the bike scene, and explains that at this point, expertise matters less than gender. --Elly Blue, "Editorial: My Year as a Woman in a City of Bikes,", January 12, 2010.

[W]hen more women begin riding, that will signal a big change in attitude, which will prompt further changes in the direction of safety and elegance. I can ride till my legs are sore and it won’t make riding any cooler, but when attractive women are seen sitting upright going about their city business on bikes day and night, the crowds will surely follow. --David Byrne, reviewing Pedaling Revolution, quoted here.
Navigating gender politics is tricky, as any thoughtful person will tell you. Navigating them by bicycle in Wichita may be more fraught with peril than I know.

I'll just blurt out my question: Do you know or have you seen women here in Wichita who regularly bike for reasons other than recreation?

Over the weekend, as I read the first two passages quoted above and was reminded of Byrne's declaration, I was struck by the irony that despite the bicycle's role in changing social attitudes among and about women, nowadays biking for utilitarian purposes is, even in bike-friendly Portland, a predominantly male activity. Anecdotally, I can attest that here in Wichita, I see plenty of women riding recreationally but have yet to see a female cyclist who is obviously commuting; I have seen a couple of women on bikes at the grocery store, though. Of those readers who visited here regularly, the vast majority were men. The first sentence in Byrne's quote is surely right, and it is indeed something I hope will come to pass in Wichita. But it's the implications of his second sentence--in particular, the adjective "attractive"--that also seems to have been a sticking point regarding the post accompanying the picture above. More women, we hope, will be attracted to cycling because of its practicality and because, as I have said in various contexts, cities benefit from having more cyclists, male and female, out and about. To focus on the, shall we say, aesthetics of women on bikes is potentially patronizing or demeaning. The Cycle Chic movement, as I note in particular here, with its goal of "riding pretty," seeks not to separate practicality from aesthetics but observe that, for women in particular, looking good matters no matter how they commute. Commuter-cycling would seem to present challenges for women that other modes of transport do not, especially in cities that aren't bike-friendly. Cycle Chic's implicit rebuttal is, Not necessarily.

So, Wichita. As I also note at the end of the post I just linked to, it may be too early for Wichita Cycle Chic to emerge--after all, we have no cycling culture at all to speak of--but I'd dearly love to be proven wrong. For, you see, one thing that Pedaling Revolution makes clear with regard to cycling culture is that what we might see as success at consciousness-raising is actually more akin to self-fulfilling prophecy: If you ride, they will join you.

At least, I hope so. They have to see you first.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

WAMPO meetings and WDDC doings

First, the WAMPO meetings: The next two will be on Tuesday, January 19th, at 1:00 pm., and Monday, January 25, at 1:30 p.m. Both will be held in the Large Conference Room on the 10th floor of City Hall. The initial list of projects to be discussed at these meetings is here (.pdf file). (Bike and pedestrian projects are on the first two pages; some of the bridge and road projects include bike and pedestrian accommodations as well, so be sure to look through the whole document.) I cannot say with certainty that all these are still being considered, but some of them are.

I will make the meeting on the 19th, but duties call on the 25th; I hope those of you with work schedules that permit such things will be able to attend. It's my understanding that warm bodies, there, being warm on behalf of these projects, count for a great deal. I would just make the quick observation that, yes, many of the road projects designed to expand capacity for cars will include 10-foot-wide multi-use paths, but it seems that the Powers That Be would save a great deal of money by building narrower sidewalks and making narrower lanes for cars that would then permit the addition of bike lanes on these streets. Assuming the same number of lanes for motorists and a modest amount of bike traffic, you'd actually increase the roads' capacity and save on construction costs as well. But maybe in these days of budget shortfalls, I'm deluded into thinking that more efficient use of transportation monies is a better idea than it in fact is. In any case, I plan to speak up on behalf of some bike lanes on the 19th, and I hope those of you in attendance will as well.

Now on to Wichita's downtown development. The overview for the downtown master plan--really more like a statement of principles and the justification for them--is here: as you can see in the presentation, the consultants the city has hired value walkability, which is, in the abstract, good news for us livable-city types. The next big public events will be on Thursday, February 25th from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Temple, at which Jim Cloar will talk about the movement from planning to reality; and a charrette all day on Saturday, February 27th at the Wichita Art Museum. The gathering on the 27th sounds like it could be really fun. Thursday's, not so much, admittedly, but it's the people planting themselves in hard plastic chairs that get heard at these things. I'll actually be able to attend both of these, so I hope some of you will be there, too.


The human body is not designed to go faster than fifteen miles per hour. Our sight, our ability to interpret things, to process things is bicycling speed. Anything higher is against human evolution. And I'm convinced that as people end up spending more of their lives at a human speed, they're going to be happier.

--Dan Burden, early-'70s cycling advocate, as quoted in Jeff Mapes, Pedaling Revolution, p. 28

Cycling in Wichita is back, though not (yet) with a vengeance. Too much catching up to do with regard to this blog's subject. However, I hope to begin doing some of that catching up this morning and afternoon and have a couple of posts up today.

I received Pedaling Revolution from my in-laws as a Christmas present and have been reading it. Much of it is familiar, but not all, and seeing as its tone is that of the passionate advocate, it preaches pretty directly to this particular choir. But the quoted passage is here as an indirect explanation for why this blog has languished for so long: Due to circumstances beyond my control having to do with my wife's health, I'd not been able to live my life at human speed--some days, at any speed. Regular riding, and blogging about it, became lesser concerns.

It's hard to type when one's fingers are crossed, but I think I can say that things are now such that I can update here on a more or less regular basis. It's good to be back.