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.

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