Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kick those cyclists while they're down

Seattle got a new mayor last year, Mike McGinnis, and he rubs some folks up the wrong way because he's a committed cyclist. Recessions always bring out the worst of self-interest, as everyone is having to make hard choices about what where we, as tax payers, should be spending our $. I heard some guy on the radio recently pontificating that we shouldn't waste our $ on public art, and it's better to use that money to let builders just get on with building more stuff without pesky government oversight. Now, personally, I'd rather support some sculpture on a street corner than put up with yet another boxy 4-unit townhouse complex so inappropriately designed anyone with a car bigger than a sub-compact can't actually drive into their own garage. But that's me.

The local newspaper has been doing an ongoing series called "Reset 2010" wherein they prod readers to reconsider our local governmental spending priorities in the light of state tax shortfalls.

Recently it was "kick those irritating spandex people" day, with columnist Joni Balter writing:
"The bicycle lobby helped elect the mayor and now it wants significant bike striping all over town in return." Read the full article: "Now is not right time to ask Seattle voters to fund bicycle improvements" here.

As a cyclist who also drives a car, I get a tired of such either/or logic. If you build the bike infrastructure, people will use it. I often ride on two streets: 32nd Ave NW and 24th Ave NW, which, during the past 18 months have been painted, where wide enough, with a bike lane and in the narrow bits, been "sharrowed," that is, had the road surface stenciled with the symbol that means: "motorists and cyclist need to share this road." At first, it felt strange heading my front wheel at the apex of the sharrow, which notes the position on the road where it's safest for cyclists to ride, but if you do it, you avoid the danger of being "doored" by someone opening the driver's side door into your path. Sure, it costs money to sharrow the road, and motorists are puzzled and sometimes get a bit upset initially, but after a while everyone adjusts and it's the new normal.

Striping a road is an investment in the future of the community. You may not use it now, as you don't ride a bike. But that can change. If it's safer to ride on the road, you will be more likely to do it. It has similarities with using tax payer $s to fund public schools. I don't have any kids in the public schools, but I still pay my property taxes, as a downpayment on the future. When I'm retired and need to use my pension, the kids I supported in school will be grown up and paying back into the system by paying into social security. I invested in their future, they invest in mine.

If you think about funding road infrastructure improvements that expand the possibilities for multi-modal use, whining that "we're shoving aside the cars" isn't necessarily valid. I wonder what the bottomline, $-wise, really is. Cutting out all the white paint still won't build us a new 520 bridge, and when we come out of the current recession, we'll still have terrible traffic and too many of us will be obese because it's still too dangerous on the road if you don't drive, and too darned difficult to incorporate biking short distances into our normal life because cyclists will still be marginalizes as wierdos, instead of normal people like everyone else.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pacific Northwest's free biking rags and politics of riding

Around Seattle you can pick up free copies of local bicycle publications. The BicyclePaper calls itself the "Northwest Cycling Authority Since 1972."

I picked up the August issue at my local car roof rack retailer. I'm far from being involved in race events, so I sometimes wonder if this newspaper has anything to say to me. It does. Tucked in among all the reports of people setting records in local velodrome events, and an interesting piece by a local physical therapist on whether a midfoot cleat position will give me more racing power and economy [would this have made pushing Sir Gulliver up some of those Breton hills any easier, I wonder?] is this one: "League of American Bicyclists 2010 State and Community Rankings" on page 6. Apparently I happen to live in the number one bicycle friendly state, followed by Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. For the reports, go to LAB. There's a related one from Alliance for Biking and Walking 2010 Benchmarking Report that gives a shout-out to Idaho, along with the usual suspects WA and OR. What is it about rainy places?

This is a nice antidote to the reactionaries out there who think that people who ride bikes are the Anti-Christ. The LA Times recently carried a story about the 100-person town of Black Hawk, Colorado that has banned bikes from its narrow horse- and buggy-era streets, because they inconvenience the tourist buses dropping off weekend gamblers at the local casino. Hmm. I wonder how many of the town fathers have ever sat on a bike? But, those gotta protect the revenue stream to those one-armed bandits, right?

Here in Seattle we have a lot of noise without much light being shed on the city's plan to put 125th Street, another of our dangerous and congested roads on a "diet." The Seattle Department of Transportation has reduced and reconfigured lanes elsewhere in the city [Fauntleroy, Nickerson] to force speeders to slow down, stop terrorizing pedestrians, and open the roads to other users besides cars. The battle lines are being drawn, with the extremes dividing into the "get off your duff and ride a bike, you porkers" and "roads were built for cars, goddammit, so-you-bikers-git-the-heck-outta-my-way" camps. Read about it in The Seattle Times.

Unless asked, I don't think I'll be sharing my recent experiences riding in a first world country where nearly everyone, from cars to tractor-trailers actually slow down behind cyclists out on the open road.

Writing and biking

I've cleared out the Seattle Public Library's collection of bike trip narratives, and bought a couple of books in London to see how others have written about their experiences.

So far I've finished Eloise Hanner's The First Big Ride: A Woman's Journey [2000]. It's interesting to read a first hand account of doing a cross country charity ride, back when these rides were novel. Sincere and nicely written account of a ride that started in Seattle and ended in "the other Washington," as we call it around here.

Perhaps it will be as wonderful as Erin Warmbrunn's 2001 Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman's Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China and Vietnam.

Next it's on to Gwen Maka's Riding with Ghosts: An Englishwoman's 4,000 mile solo ride from Seattle to Mexico [2000] and Anne Mustoe's Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World [1998].

Hmm. Is this possible? Eloise started in Seattle, as did Erin and Gwen. Dare I look at Chapter 1 of Anne's? Who knows, maybe she also started here.

Must be something in the water around here. I'm in good company.

Monday, August 9, 2010


When you come back from a "big one" like riding France, adjusting to life back home is a strange experience. For the first few days of jet lag, you wake up in the middle of the night, find yourself staring at the bedroom ceiling, and asking yourself: "where am I?" For the first few times I somehow convinced myself I was still in France, in a hotel whose name I'd forgotten, and that I needed to remember next morning when I loaded up to make sure I had enough fruit and baguettes to make it to the next town.

You come home, you drop back into the life of family and friends. It's nice, but unsettling. While I was away Seattle apparently skipped summer. It's raining and dreary. The Blue Angels did their fancy air tricks over the lake this past weekend for Sea Fair, to an audience clad in fleece and raincoats. Huh?

The other big surprise is getting back on any other bike you happen to own. I took my road bike for a quick spin around Magnolia and I almost crashed. I can't seem to clip into the pedals and the seat feels too high. Still, once I got through the wobbles, I found I could ride straight up the biggest hill in town with barely a sweat. That was nice. Somewhere during my time away, I got fit.

So, while I'm figuring out where to find a new job in my old profession, I'm working through my notebooks, editing my photos, and writing a few query letters to various media outlets.

And, planning another ride. This September, I'm setting up a solo ride from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Phoenix. More elevation this time, more mileage, replace those medieval villages with big open spaces, and very few places to grab a croissant and cafe creme, but riding in France taught me that I can ride anywhere I feel like. It's all about attitude and grabbing the opportunities out there as they float by.

It's also about editing the load I plan to carry, based on my experience of just what is truly essential on a bike tour. Here's a photo from early in my learning experience. Sort of says it all about how I first set out.