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.